Lauren S. Grider, DVM, CCFP
In the last article, we followed longtime veterinary technician Sydney* as she investigated job opportunities and identified potential areas of career interest. After using the O*NET Interest Profiler to learn about her RIASEC code, Sydney was able to feel more confident about evaluating potential jobs and finding a good fit based on her interests, skills, and values. After working for two decades in the same position, she was ready to search for a role in which her current needs were better met.
Sydney initially felt a spark of excitement and eagerly made a to-do list for her job search. On the way to work, she listened to podcasts about career development. She spent her lunch hours creating lists of job options and suitable roles. She read all the latest articles on preparing a resume and cover letter. When she could arrange childcare for her son, she spent evenings at industry events and association meetings to listen out for career opportunities. Then, she hit a wall. Between the needs of her family, the demands of her current position, and the stress of confronting the realities of a career change, she became overwhelmed by all the tasks required to realize her plan. As a result, Sydney began second-guessing her decision to change jobs and found it almost impossible to move forward.
Change, Stress, and Procrastination
Change is inherently stressful, even when it is self-initiated. Changes in the workplace, including everything from interpersonal conflicts and shifting job roles to deteriorating working conditions and job loss, qualify as significant life events and contribute to overall stress.1 These types of career issues have an additive effect with other life stressors and impact overall health and wellbeing.1 The cumulative toll of these life stressors is so significant that it can even be used to predict the onset of illness.1
Significant stress and long to-do lists sometimes lead to feelings of suffocation and stagnation. When we feel overwhelmed, it is very tempting to delay important and necessary tasks. While procrastination has many possible causes, low self-confidence, anxiety, and a tendency to focus on negative thoughts are possible contributing factors.3 Perfectionists tend to engage in procrastination as a way to protect themselves from their own fears of failure.3 Finally, we might delay the initiation of important tasks because we imagine unsatisfactory or unpredictable outcomes.2 A change in perspective is often needed to help procrastinators get past their mental blocks.2 Investigating the root causes of an individual’s procrastination allows them to make the necessary changes to engage productively with their goals once more.
Getting to the Root of the Issue
Frustrated by her lack of progress, Sydney sought help from a licensed therapist and career counselor. The therapist began by helping Sydney recognize all the significant steps she had already taken to prioritize the wellbeing of her family and initiate change in her career. Initially Sydney argued, saying that she had done only the bare minimum. However, she was eventually able to agree that defining her core identity and values and researching job opportunities was significant work that deserves to be recognized. This process of taking a step back to appreciate recent accomplishments allowed Sydney to gain some perspective about how hard she has been working and to evaluate whether her self-imposed expectations for progress are reasonable.
Next, Sydney’s feelings of stagnation were explored. The hurdle that is currently preventing her from moving forward with her job search – the task she has delayed and dreaded for weeks – is developing a new resume and cover letter. It is not the process of writing that is difficult for Sydney. She is a strong writer and, though she has not written these types of documents recently, she has spent substantial time researching how to create a modern resume. Instead, it is the content that she is nervous about. She fears that she doesn’t have enough accomplishments to list because she has, in her words, “only ever done one thing.”
Overcoming the Obstacle
To address this concern, the therapist helped Sydney brainstorm a list of all the training, skills, and duties that her longtime veterinary technician position required. Because multitasking and cross-training is common in the veterinary field, Sydney has regularly functioned as a room assistant, pharmacy technician, phlebotomist, dental hygienist, laboratory technician, bookkeeper, surgical technician, surgical assistant, administrative assistant, medical transcriptionist, compliance officer, and human resources manager. She has trained countless staff members and supervised veterinary students dozens of times. She has excellent clinical, computer, and interpersonal skills. Even though she has held only one official title for the past 20 years, Sydney has an impressive level of experience and wide-ranging qualifications.
As the list grew, Sydney became more confident in her ability to communicate her value on paper. The therapist also introduced Sydney to the idea of using a skills-based resume. While traditional resumes focus on chronological job history, skills-based resumes highlight qualifications and experience. Once Sydney was able to imagine her skillset presented in a more optimal format, the excitement about her prospects rekindled and the dread she felt about completing her resume turned to enthusiasm once more. In short, she was able to see her situation from another perspective, and this change helped her get over the hump.
*Name changed to protect anonymity.
This is part three of a multiple part series on career identity and job satisfaction. View the previous part here.
1. Holmes, T. H., & Rahe, R. H. (1967). The Social Readjustment Rating Scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11(2), 213–218. https://doi.org/10.1016/0022-3999(67)90010-4
2. Barth, F. H. (2022) What to do when you just can’t get started: The trouble with our “go-to” stories. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-couch/202202/what-do-when-you-just-cant-get-started
3. Psychology Today. (2022). Procrastination. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/procrastination
4. Perlmutter, A. (2019). Why we need empathy for our future selves. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-modern-brain/201910/why-we-need-empathy-our-future-selves