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Zeteophobia: Are you Afraid of Making Career Decisions?

Zeteophobia: Are you Afraid of Making Career Decisions?

For many adults, there’s a lot of anxiety around career decision making. From those who have yet to make a decision to those that have and aren’t sure they’ve made the right one, almost everyone is feeling some stress surrounding their career.

The vision of a new career is often the impetus to take the plunge and go back to college and this choice can have many positive career implications. However, despite so many positives we’re still struggling with the feeling that we may make the wrong career choice.

In fact, Career Theorist John Krumboltz coined the phrase zeteophobia to formally describe the variables that lead to career anxiety. While there are many elements at play that can lead to career anxiety, the upside is that things are starting to change.


For some, especially college students who are pursuing a specific degree, the term “undecided” in relation to careers has negative connotations. Many of us feel pressure throughout our lives to make the right decision and remaining undecided leaves us feeling like a failure who is unsure how to make a choice or who fears making the wrong choice. The reason for much of this anxiety is that we’re often not prepared to make career decisions, having never learned the process.

Prestigious Careers

We often feel we should choose an impressive career because society places so much emphasis on our career choice representing who we are as individuals. The pressure to appear important can make us feel unsure about balancing what is truly right for us with impressing our co-workers, friends and family. Being asked about your career in a social setting and relating that you’ve decided to pursue a career that is less than prestigious can be off putting and lead to even more anxiety about our choice.

Informed Career Decision Making

One of the main causes of anxiety with career decision making is not knowing how to make smart career decisions. Traditionally in high school or college, we haven’t placed a lot of value on teaching the career decision making process or career theory.

In the past we were given standardized career tests without any further discussion or guidance other than a page of “suggested careers” that may have contained a widely disparate group of choices. It was assumed that when the time came, we’d know how to make the right decision. Unfortunately not knowing and making the wrong choice has left a lot of us unhappy in our careers, which can lead to more anxiety!

Some of us were sure we should choose a career based on what we’re skilled at or have experience in, regardless of whether or not we enjoy it. This group may feel they’re doomed to unhappiness, toiling away at tasks they’re good at but dislike. While others make career decisions based on what they enjoy, regardless of whether or not they’re skilled or have experience in these fields. This group may struggle to land a job in their desired field without the necessary related experience.

Either way, both choices can lead to worry and anxiety and without any proper career education, falling into one of these two modes of thinking is easy and can often lead us astray.

The good news is that today’s college and university Career Services are much more individualized, recognizing that each person has many variables in their life that can affect and inform their choice. Luckily, making smart decisions based on solid evidence of knowing ourselves, our interests, skills and values and having in-depth conversations with a certified career professional are happening more often.

These conversations allow us to determine a broad yet individualized career direction that can include several position that would work well for us. Realizing that there isn’t just one perfect job, but rather a spectrum of possibilities is integral to our health, happiness and overall quality of life and yes, lessening of anxiety! Additionally, college career services are usually reinforced with other solid career advice from building experience, to creating resumes, to interview skills, and job search techniques.

Additionally, more workers than ever before are enjoying several careers per lifetime. It’s commonplace to change your mind and change your career! Plus changes in the way we work and the industries we work for are happening faster than ever before. Many of the technological jobs of the future may not exist today and consistently updating your skills for these new fields and industries can create well-rounded, flexible individuals who are great for many fields.

Better yet, if you’re unsure about what direction to take with your career, you have the ability to try out different fields in a casual way to help you narrow your options. Volunteering, taking a course or taking on different tasks in your current job are all ways to test the waters.

The Positives of an Open Mind

Open-mindedness is a virtue. While we may not always associate career decisions with being open minded, the reality is that being open-minded about your career is a positive way to view your future and can lead to less anxiety. Making the decision to be flexible and curious can be liberating for many who suffer from undecidedness or lack of confidence in their decisions. We must never forget that our current career is not our forever career!

The idea of Planned Happenstance (also coined by John Krumboltz) is another positive theory that is gaining a wider acceptance. Choosing to embrace unplanned positive circumstances and opportunities that can change your life for the better is a great way to find a long-lasting and rewarding career.

While there will always be some anxiety about the unknown when making career decisions, we’re beginning to see a change in many mindsets regarding career options. From embracing Planned Happenstance to choosing to be open-minded about our future, to learning more about ourselves and the career decision making process, we can choose to stay open and comfortable with a variety of career options. This knowledge can help reduce our anxiety and increase career optimism, confidence, and flexibility.

Request an appointment with a Certified Career Advisor