How to Disrupt Homeostasis in Your Career

Every living organism benefits from homeostasis. It’s the process by which our bodies stay stable even amidst constantly changing variables. Homeostasis is what happens when, for example, you move from an air conditioned car to an extremely warm environment and your body needs to keep your core temperature constant.

The word homeostasis comes from the Greek words homoios, "similar" and stasis, "standing still", resulting in the definition, "staying the same."

Not every function in your body is regulated in order to achieve homeostasis, but most of the important ones are. And homeostats, or the things that keep you at homeostasis, use up a lot of energy in order to keep things in your body the same.

I’m hosting a webinar next week called Should I Stay or Should I Go?, and as I’ve been preparing, I’ve been thinking a lot about how homeostasis shows up in our careers.

If you think of your career as one piece of your entire life system and that system’s default mode is homeostasis, then you can see how much energy is devoted to keeping things the same.

And homeostasis doesn’t necessarily mean healthy - your system simply has an inherent interest in stability, even if it means being stable in a life you don’t love.

Not only is your career part of your homeostatic system, it’s part of other people’s systems as well. If you have a spouse or partner, kids, friends, or anyone invested in your life, then for better or worse, they’d probably like things to stay relatively stable as well - even though they love you.

So you’re part of this system, which prefers homeostasis, and you start thinking about making changes in your career. Maybe you want to change jobs, or industries, or professions altogether. This sets off alarm bells in the system because change is scary and potentially damaging to the way things are.

I don’t mean to make this sound impossible, I just want to honor the fact that making changes in our careers and keeping things fresh is hard work!

Not only are you facing your own internal gremlins that say “don’t change,” you can start to awaken everyone else’s gremlins that say “I won’t like it if you change!”

So what do we do in the face of this homeostatic system when we know in our hearts that something needs to shift?

In my own life and in my work supporting others who want to make career changes, I think the key steps are:

  • Start small
  • Build momentum
  • Be brave

Start small.

Small actions, when done consistently over time, lead to big results. We all know this, but for some reason we remain convinced that we have to make big, sweeping changes instantly. Charles Duhigg, in his book, The Power of Habit, writes that small “keystone actions” like making your bed every morning can actually transform your life.

I’ve found this to be true as well. When a client wants to make a big career change, we start by looking at their current environment and noticing what’s small and needs to change first. If we can’t get a handle on our email habits, for example, it’s going to be really hard to feel clear and grounded enough to leave our job and start anew.

So if you’re stuck in career homeostasis, I’d humbly suggest you commit to one tiny new habit and practice that over the next week.

Just so you know that I’m in this with you: one new micro-habit I’m trying this week is to incorporate five minutes of meditation every night before bed, because eventually I want to do a full meditation practice in the evenings, but right now that feels too overwhelming.

Other ways you could start small are by making your bed each morning, not checking email for five extra minutes when you get into work, or spending five minutes a day imagining what it would be like to do work you love.

These actions will lead you to the next step:

Build momentum.

Momentum is so amazing, isn’t it? When was the last time you really felt like your life had movement and vitality in it? Stability is important in some arenas, but I think too many people settle for worklives that are stale and lifeless.

Taking small steps will start to generate big orbs of energy that propel us into the next thing. Other things that help with momentum are:

  • Keeping track of “wins” or accomplishments at the end of each day
  • Staying totally open to synchronicities and opportunities that come along your path
  • Visualizing the life you want every day
  • Working with an accountability partner or coach

When you’re taking small steps forward and building momentum, you’ll inevitably feel afraid. And it makes sense - almost everything in and around you is interested in homeostasis!

You’re disrupting old patterns, relationships, and neural networks, which will usually result in backlash of some kind, even if it’s just your inner critic going berserk about how you can’t do this, that, or the other thing.

That’s why it’s so important to practice being brave.

This is something I’m really working on lately, because not only do I need to be brave for myself, but I have to be brave for my clients. I have to believe that anything is possible even when they don’t.

What is it to be brave?

The formal definition is “ready to face and endure danger or pain.”

Danger or pain could come in the form of social scorn, the ending of a relationship, the risk of leaving your job for one that’s equally bad - there are all sorts of risks inherent in making change in our lives.

Too often, the people around us are afraid of the changes we want to make because they love us and believe that stability is the same as safety. That’s why making changes with only the support of friends or family can be so tough and why many people hire a coach to snap them out of their fear stories.

We become brave by training ourselves to be brave.

It’s something we can practice, just like those micro-habits I mentioned above. We can speak our minds one extra time, or stay silent for one extra breath, or ask for what we want in some small way. We can get used to taking those risks and show our brains and our fear gremlins that being brave is a good thing.

By taking small steps, building momentum, and learning to be brave, we can gently - but powerfully - disrupt homeostasis in our careers. We can create an environment that’s more conducive to change.

And while it won’t be comfortable, it will be beautiful.

I mean, what’s the point of this life, anyway? Is it to get more and more comfortable and then die?

Things like benefits, a 401k, and a steady paycheck are important - I really do believe that.

But are they the point? Are we here in these bodies, on this planet, to secure our retirement? To stay in one job, one profession, one experience, for 30 years? I don’t think so. And if you’re reading this post, I bet you don’t, either.

If you know you need some disruption in your career, I hope this post was helpful. If you want to go deeper, you’re welcome to register for the free webinar I’m doing, Should I Stay or Should I Go, on July 12th.