A model for increasing clients’ ability to tolerate uncertainty and to foster productive career exploration in the indecisive person
By Isabelle Falardeau
Anxiety is a normal emotion we experience when we’re apprehensive about a distressing event that may threaten our physical or psychological integrity. It puts us in a vigilant state, which allows us to mobilize our resources in order to tackle the challenge successfully. Abnormal anxiety, on the other hand, occurs when a person overestimates or imagines a danger, while underestimating his or her capacity to deal with it. It’s normal to feel a certain degree of anxiety when it comes time to making a career decision. In fact, many anxiety-provoking questions are part and parcel of the career-choice process: What if I choose the wrong career? Will I find a job at the end of my training? Will I be happy and good at this work? What if I don’t like my job after 10 years? Abnormal career anxiety is seen in people who have a low tolerance for uncertainty. Unfortunately for these people, the career counselling process is peppered with this uncertainty, from beginning to end. In such a situation, the only way people can reduce their anxiety is to learn how to tolerate the grey areas, the unanswered questions, ambiguous information, and so on.
Depending on where they sit in the normal vs exaggerated anxiety spectrum, our clients can be divided into two broad categories: those who are able to tolerate career-choice uncertainty, and those who have such difficulty coping with this uncertainty that they seek to avoid the feeling through a range of behaviours (e.g. latching onto their first idea, avoiding thinking about their indecision). Obviously, people do not necessarily fit neatly into one of these two categories, and the dividing line can be somewhat porous.
In addition to tolerance for uncertainty in their career choice, our clients exhibit varying degrees of career exploration behaviours, which can advance their thought process toward a reasoned decision. Based on these two facets of indecision – uncertainty tolerance and career exploration – here are the four distinct faces of career indecision.