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Overcome Your Return-to-Work Fears

Updated: Jun 21, 2021

Does the thought of going back to work after your career break give you the jitters? It's natural to feel that way, but don't let it hold you back. Find out how to face your fear and get that career or business you'll love

Written by Dr Emma Waltham | Maternity Returners Expert

Confident career woman
Don't let those fearful thoughts hold you back

Returning to professional life after taking a break to look after children can be a scary thought. It’s understandable to feel fearful when faced with going back to something you left years ago. It’s normal to worry whether you will be able to adapt to how the workplace has changed since you left and do a good job.

“In reality though, you have a lot to offer recruiters and if your fears are keeping you 'stuck', it’s time to do something about it”

It's a situation that many women returners face. In reality though, you have so much to offer recruiters and if your fears are keeping you 'stuck', it’s time to do something about it. Read on to find out how to overcome your trepidation and return to work with the mindset you need to succeed.

Fear of Failure

Worries about going back to work are often linked to self-doubts that you are worthy. The time you’ve spent out of work can make you feel out of touch and fuel a fear of failure. You tend to forget what you were good at and instead focus on what you assume will be your weaknesses:

  • Will you still be able to do the job?

  • Will you understand the jargon?

  • Has technology moved on and left you behind?

  • What will people think of you when they know you’ve been on a career break?

  • Will that business idea you have fail?

What are you Assuming?

When you have feelings like this, it’s important to ask yourself ‘What is it that I'm actually frightened off’? What are you assuming that’s making you feel this way? Is it really justified? If it is, look at what you can you change so that you can reduce your fear.

So, if you are frightened that you don’t have the skills you need, for example, look at job adverts and actually see what skills they are asking for. Do you have them or do you have a skills gap because something new has come in since you were working in that area or you want to try something new? If so, you could consider retraining or doing some voluntary work, if you think the gap prevents you returning. You should check, though, that the gap is truly an issue and you are not talking yourself out of a job because of imposter syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome

What’s imposter syndrome? Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes identified this in 1978 and it can come into play when women are returning to work after a break and putting themselves out there. It’s the phenomenon of expecting to fail, in spite of past accomplishments.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • you feel like a fraud

  • you find yourself putting past success down to luck

  • you find it difficult to accept praise

  • you feel like you are going to be exposed if you put your head above the parapet by saying you are qualified/good at, or expert/experienced in something,

  • you want to stay in your comfort zone rather than step out of it

  • you don’t want to put something out there until it is perfect

  • you compare yourself to others and find yourself wanting

  • you think more about what you can’t do than what you can do.

When you've had a successful career or business then had a break to look after children, there is absolutely no reason to believe that you will fail when you step back into the work place. You succeeded once and you will again. If you are having doubts, then really think about what you are telling yourself and if you are succumbing to imposter syndrome.

“Imposter Syndrome is the phenomenon of expecting to fail, in spite of past accomplishments"

Fight the Fear

You might have to dig deep to find these assumptions and recognise them for what they are. I know how it is from my own experience. This year I‘ve had to make some big decisions about branding and marketing my coaching business, which unleashed my own personal imposter syndrome.

When I set up my website, I deliberated for weeks about the domain name. I really wanted to have a ‘proper company’ name rather than use my own name, but I struggled to find anything I liked that seemed right. In the end I realised that I was fearful of using because if I did, I would have nothing to hide behind. I would be saying loudly and clearly, oh yes I’m a career coach and I know I can help you. Look at me! Look at me! This brought on an avalanche of self-doubt. Once I realised what I was assuming about myself – that I wasn't good enough – I decided to ignore my unfounded worries, took a deep breath and chose (And of course it turned out fine.)

“Accept that you will feel vulnerable when you are applying for jobs or going into business and do it anyway”

To quieten your own fears of failure, try:

  • Focusing on what you are good at, not what you find difficult or have no experience of

  • Keeping your mind on your goal, not dwelling on the fear

  • Understanding what is driving you, and why that matters

  • Training or getting work experience if you really do have a skills gap

  • Talking to others – let them tell you how good you are – and asking for the support and help you need

  • Accepting that you will feel vulnerable when you are applying for jobs or going into business, and doing it anyway.

Successful career woman
You've got so much to offer an employer

Go for It!

Looking for work after a career break can bring up all sorts of doubts and fears of failure. This is perfectly understandable, but often they aren’t founded on anything real and shouldn’t hold you back. Now you understand where those feelings are coming from you can act and move forward, and succeed at reaching out for work you will love.

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