On Fear of Quitting One's Job

in psychology •  7 months ago

(Particularly, on my fear of quitting my job. I would guess that this fear feels similarly for other people. But people are really different from each other, so your experience might be far from mine.)

So I'm thinking about quitting my job to start my own business. Naturally, I feel fear about the outcome.

But not just one kind of fear. I have many different species of fear in me. Some are obvious and demand that I think about them explicitly. Others are more subtle, and somehow worry me while causing me to explicitly ignore them, like uggh fields

So I think it would be good to develop a botany of the different kinds of fear growing in my psyche. At least that way I can perhaps dig them out.

First off, there's the straightforward fear of poverty.

I might exhaust my funds in a futile attempt to start my own business, have to take much shittier job to make rent and buy food, and then spend the next ten or twenty or thirty years trying to save up as much money as currently have now, and then die. I might get cancer, and be unable to pay for chemo because I lack insurance or have cruddy insurance, and die. I might have to move to someplace where I know no one so I can get a job, become depressed and get stuck in a rut in life, cease functioning because of my depression and lose that job, and become homeless, and die.

I think I mentally examine that fear frequently. It's the most visible fear. But it is not terribly well-grounded. I haven't had a great deal of trouble getting a job before, so it's mildly unrealistic to think I'd have enormous problems if I tried again. This fear basically consists of a worry that the worst-possible-event could happen, for a long sequence of possible events. And that's basically unlikely.

The first fear is about negative things that could happen, without a job. But the second is about a fear of positive things I could miss out on, if I did not keep my current job. It's the fear of opportunity cost.

So, the business might succeed partially, but I might not make much money on it. I might not be able to buy a house, then, for many more decades, and waste time renting while eking out a precarious existence, before eventually taking a conventional job before retirement. Or I might have difficulty getting married and / or starting a family because of my more precarious income. Or someone might create some anti-aging treatment that lets one live forever, and I might be unable to afford it when I otherwise could, and I might therefore die at the end of a natural life rather than seeing the sun die out as a red giant before leaving on a spaceship to see the Andromeda Galaxy several million years from now.

I'm not sure how to evaluate this fear. In certain respects, this fear is about things that are certain to happen: no doubt cool, experience-driven vacations are aided by having a steady job. But at the same time, I certainly miss many interesting experiences by remaining employed in a 8-to-5 job, and lose off on many skills by sitting in front of a desk every day. I'm sure I could be learning more, trying a greater variety of things, and experiencing the world more broadly.

Both of the above are fears related to straightforward material advantages. I think when I explicitly try to formulate "things I fear" these two are most prominent.

Here's the thing, though. I don't think these are necessarily the most actually motivating fears, even though they are more prominent. I think more motivating fears are sometimes implicit. And these more motivating fears relate to how other people perceive me.

Here's a third fear. I'm afraid some friends will think I'm a picky, excessively spoiled individual for wanting something more interesting than my current job. I'm afraid you, my reader right now, will think that trying to shift jobs when one has a pretty good job is something perpetually dissatisfied individuals do. I already have a job that pays above-median-household-income-for-where-I-live -- but I still want to drop it? I mean, really, what kind of a person am I? Just who do I think I am?

I don't think there's any solid reasoning behind this fear. True, unless you make above-median-income, it's hard to save enough to try your own thing. I am definitely lucky to be able to consider doing it. But there's nothing wrong with trying to do the best you can with what you have, even if what you have is something fortune and not skill or merit has given you.

The weird thing about this is that, despite the lack of grounding of this fear, I can still get mildly upset when I think about it. These potential, almost entirely hypothetical social repercussions of what other people might think of me somehow move me. Perhaps it's the case that we're deeply programmed by evolution to worry about what other people think. Getting kicked out of the tribe, in the past, meant death. So this kind of worry-about-perception can bother me, even when it's almost entirely groundless. It certainly takes effort to ignore it.

The fourth fear is also a worry about perception, tied to a worry about who I am.

This is the fear that trying to start my own business will show unpleasant things about me. I'm a afraid that I will fail, and others will see me as foolish for having tried. I will be seen as having tried to reach above my skill level, to have revealed myself as a hopeless dreamer. When people talk about me, they will talk about me with slight smirks on their faces and with ill-concealed humor in their tone. In their minds, I will have joined the countless ranks of self-deluded individuals who reached for a goal but fell many miles short of it. And ultimately, they will be right, because I will have been a self-deluded individual who reached for a goal and fell many miles short of it.

This fear, like the third, is both about how other people perceive me and about who I am. It is not about about what happens to me. I think, like the third, it taps into that evolutionary fear of being-kicked-out-of-the-tribe.

And this fear of self-delusion is not entirely without basis. People who try to start their own business often lack self-knowledge. Surely one should consider it as a kind of caution, and double and triple check one's plans, and run them past difficult critics who one trusts, to make sure that one inhabits reality.

But to listen to this fear entirely would preclude reaching for anything at which one might fail, for fear of being revealed as less than one judged oneself to be. Students in Dweck's growth-mindset-versus-fixed-mindset experiments, infamously, decided to attempt easier tasks after being praised for their intelligence... because they were afraid of failing them and thereby showing that they were not intelligent. And thereby, of course, doomed themselves to doing worse in the future because they learned less.

So this fear, to, I think, should be handled with extreme caution. It masquerades as a kind of outside view of one's own skill. But I think in some ways it might be the most groundless of the above.

I haven't actually decided on what I'm going to do. But enumerating these fears has helped me a little, inasmuch as it's made me more confident in my analyses of things, and a little more aware of groundless worries that

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