Carolyn Hax: Job-hunter trying a new career feels like a fraud

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I lost my job last year in a field I loved. Now I am applying for positions I’ve never done before but hope I have something to contribute. The problem is, I’m terrified to the point I think I will fail and I’m being a fraud for even going down this path. I’m middle-aged and part of me says it’s time for a change but I sure am scared. Any help and suggestions would be much appreciated.

Fraud?: Wait a sec. You are applying for jobs you want to do and would take if you got them. Okay so far. If you get the job, you will do the work to the best of your ability. Okay there, too. If you can’t do the work, then your new employer will either train you or reassign you or let you go. That’s all part of the process, too.

As long as you are representing yourself honestly in the job applications, where is the fraud?

Now the fear I understand. Change is hard. But that’s for everybody, not just you. And the biggest thing to be scared of, to me, is listening to the fear, allowing it to persuade you not to try. That’s the scariest outcome there is.

So you’re doing great as far as I can tell. You’re scared and you’re still trying. In certain circles, that is badassery, in fact. Good luck with your search.

Hi Carolyn: Oversharing has been an issue with me for as long as I can remember, and while I was hoping I’d be getting better by doing wild things like listening and asking people questions, showing interest in them first, etc., I feel like I regressed somewhat during the pandemic. I see someone and it’s like PEOPLE! MUST SHARE LIFE STORY!

As I said, better than a few years ago when I wondered why I wasn’t making friends (because I realized much later that I talked THE ENTIRE TIME), but I’m still slipping up and it’s embarrassing. This is probably a combination of anxiety, deep loneliness, and a longing to connect. But I’m never going to connect if I make it all about me! I’ve tried (with a counselor) literally planning out what subjects to cover at what stage of getting to know people, to not scare them off, which I then promptly forget to do. It’s like I turn into a babbling Energizer bunny.

Cannot Shut Up: When you know you need conversational help, just ask for it: “I don’t mean to, but I can get carried away and share my entire life story as soon as someone says ‘Hi’ — don’t be shy about reining me in.” When you get out in front of it, the other person doesn’t have to wonder how to handle their side of the problem. It can even be endearing — but you have to mean it when you encourage people to interrupt you.

If you still find yourself, oh no, 10 minutes into a story about yesterday’s leftover sandwich — then defuse the situation yourself by interrupting your own story. “See what I mean? I am serious, let’s come up with a ‘Stop talking now!’ hand signal.” Show them you won’t take it personally if they separate you bodily from the third half of whatever story you’re telling. Make it part of the fun of knowing you.

There may be things you can do in your own time, too — meditation, reading, yoga, a journal, pen pals — to help you feel more grounded and calm overall.

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