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Contemplating returning to work after a career break can feel scary and sometimes overwhelming. We’d like to reassure you that these feelings are very normal as you negotiate the ups and downs of returning to work. However, there are strategies that you can use to overcome them. These can be very empowering and help give you the boost you need to keep moving forward.

Common fears

These are some of the typical worries we hear:

  • ‘I’ve lost all my skills and knowledge after such a long time out’
  • ‘I’ll never get back to speed when everything’s moved on so much’
  • ‘No-one will employ me with such a large gap on my CV’
  • ‘My family won’t cope without me’

Fears such as these can be so powerful that they stop you in your tracks before you even get going.

Managing your Fears

The first step is to recognise that this is your Negativity Bias playing loud and clear! Our brains have evolved to keep us safe. In evolutionary times, understanding all the potential risks of a situation kept us out of danger’s way and alive. Nowadays, our minds have not evolved as much as our environment. So when we’re stepping outside of our comfort zone – such as looking to return to work after a career break – our minds fire up with everything that might go wrong. Your mind wants to keep you safe, but it can just keep you stuck!

Alongside negativity bias is its firm friend and accomplice: your Inner Critic! You’ll recognise your inner critic – it’s the unhelpful soundtrack that plays in your head. It might tell you ‘You’re too old to go back to work’, or ‘You’re being selfish for wanting to leave your family to work. We all have this unhelpful voice – recognising that this is what’s at play here, can help you to gain some distance and objectivity.

When your negativity bias rears its head, first acknowledge these are thoughts not proven reality. Then aim to balance the negativity, seeking counter evidence to reality-test your thoughts:

  • If your inner critic is suggesting you’re not capable, list out your strengths, together with the achievements and experiences that demonstrate what you have done in the past and can do again.
  • If your thoughts are focused on what could go wrong, consider all the things that could go right. We call this ‘positive what-iffing!’. So instead of ‘what if I don’t remember anything?’, reframe it to ‘what if my knowledge comes back quickly once I’m back in role, plus I also have a whole host of transferable skills I can bring to it from my career break?’ It opens your mind to the positive possibilities and helps you to get excited about your return.

Now find your ‘inner mentor’. This is your more compassionate voice, the one that would reassure a friend when they’re doubting themselves. In essence, give yourself a pep talk! Tell yourself, ‘you can do this’, ‘you’ve got years’ worth of experience both pre-break and from your break and they’re lucky to have you!’. Aim to mentally turn down the volume on your inner critic and raise the dial on the volume of your inner mentor!

As you navigate the ups and downs of returning to work, remember that fears and doubts are very normal. They indicate that you are challenging yourself to grow and push out of your comfort zone.