Professional Paralysis: How To Get Moving Again

At some point in our professional lives, most of us experience moments of paralyzing doubt and insecurity. The fallout can slow down our career momentum and freeze us into immobility. Authors experience this paralysis as writer’s block. University graduates who pound the pavements in search of work in their field feel it, and those of us who join the workforce after time spent unemployed or in a different industry, know it well. Because these are transitional states, (as in, writing a new book or looking for a job after raising kids), we’re vulnerable to:

  1.  Process overwhelm: Processes can be complex, long and daunting. We face a blank screen and only see looming slog: the number of words we have to conjure, especially if we’re writing a book; the number of resumes and cover letters we have to write, amend, and tweak; the volume of research we have to wade through; the critical selection of ideas and facts we have to assemble.
  2. Goal overwhelm: The goal is a monster, way beyond reach of our puny efforts: it’s the novel, the job, the presentation, the interview. How do we stand out from the hordes of books/candidates out there; how do we weather all the rejection before that one opportunity opens up; what if we’re not up to any of it?
  3. Task overwhelm: The physical stuff—reading, designing, writing, evaluating, thinking, typing, editing.
  4. Imposter syndrome: We’re too old, too young, not experienced enough, too experienced, not good/smart/visible/aggressive enough; in short, we don’t belong, and it’s just a question of time before everyone else figures that out too.
  • Paralysis passes with time, a commodity we can’t seem to get enough of. The only way to alleviate immobility is to take small steps towards rehabilitation. We don’t have to write the whole novel when even a tweet is a challenge. We don’t have to apply for all jobs on all boards. While volume can better our odds, indiscriminately spray painting our resume on every available wall, or sending queries to agents who don’t represent what we write, is setting us up for more than our decent share of rejection. We don’t go to the gym as couch hippos and do ten sets of 30 reps on our first try. Sometimes it’s enough to show up and sit on the bicycle.
  • The goal can intimidate the process, so separate them. Our brains cooperate with our intentions, so if the ultimate intention is to write a novel, the brain will get it without us having to bludgeon our skulls with a keyboard. Drive, ambition and will can take over once the paralysis is past.
  • Change something, anything. Surroundings, direction, approach.
  • There’s magic in surrender and letting go, if we do it at the right time, once we’ve done everything within our control and once we’ve done our best. Holding on too tight brings constricting energy into play, and we want to remain expansive. Do what you can, and let go. Awareness and breathing through the attachment to outcomes may seem simplistic, but it helps to release the tension around a stressful issue.
  • Cut back on, or better yet, cut out weighty expectations and self-punishment. Desperation, tough as it is to overcome, is also constricting (breathe).
  • Make time your friend. Like money, it makes for a relentless foe, and it always wins.
  • Paralysis responds to work, the way an atrophied muscle responds to exercise. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. Practice with small, initial spurts of effort—form and flow will come.

Maybe there’s no job out there because we’re meant to work for ourselves; maybe no agent wants our books, but one million readers do. Maybe we are all those tooooo….s. There will always be competition, someone younger, thinner, smarter, savvier. It doesn’t matter. No, really, it doesn’t. We’re not light bulbs; we don’t depend on anyone else to switch us on in order to shine. Be kind, no matter what, and the paralysis will pass.

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