Profexistential Crises: The 'what the f#*! am I doing?' moment

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I remember about three years ago, I was pitching a real estate client with my partner at the time on some social media services. In true consultant form, I had no real expertise in social media marketing, but a consultant never admits he is out of his depths. I spent 72 hours giving myself a crash course in the basics of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and the newcomer, Instagram, then designed up a nice PowerPoint to drive home our offering.

I was flat-out awful. My voice quivered, my mind went blank no less than five times, and I knew that the client was never actually interested in us in the first place. However, the deeper concern was that I didn't know what the hell I was talking about and it caused me to overcomplicate the situation. I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't know what I wanted to do, and I didn't know how anything in the world worked.

I was in a perpetual state of panic -- I had been in one since 2009 and I this would continue clear through 2016...

My problems then were no different than the problems hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young people go through everyday: the "what the f#*! am I doing" or "profexistential crisis". You think to yourself, "what am I even good at?" or "why am I doing this job?" Neither question yields the answers that provide comfort and problem either intensifies or one gives in over time. 

When I got to Southern California Neuropsychology Group in 2014, I was in the midst of an extreme profexistential crisis. I was up to my 7th chakra in debt with no solid technical skills and an ego that wouldn't bode well in most entry level jobs. Moreover, I had spent the prior three years as a self-professed consultant; working in a traditional environment would be a stretch. The real problem I had was that I didn't really understand what business was or how it worked and consequently limited my options severely.

If you're panicking, don't

Profexistential crises appear hopeless. Camus said of existential crisis that many look into the relentlessly neutral abyss of the universe and simply can't cope; I'd wager the same is true for career paths. As social organisms, we rely heavily on support and direction and sometimes it appears that the business community does not provide such luxuries. We have all these personal life experiences and informal skills, but businesses look for licenses, certificates, and degrees, few of which are appealing and of those, most seem impossible. 

Breathe

Businesses are rather simple systems founded on supply and demand. Over time, these systems appear to grow more complicated, but they aren't: you need to be where something is needed. That's it. As a young consultant, I was constantly trying to create these fanciful models and frameworks for getting client interest because I was scared they wouldn't want what I had to offer. I couldn't code. I couldn't do multivariate analysis. I didn't have an MBA. What the f#*! what I good for?!

Moreover, I didn't really know what I wanted to do; sure I had vague notions of the kind of legacy I wanted to leave behind, but I didn't know what kind of technical process went with this. I was never a con man, so I was unwilling to fake it until I made it.

What I started to do was breathe and take a top down perspective of the industries I found interesting. I would look at companies' websites, read about them in the news, and eventually started looking at their job postings. I had picked up the internship,  permitting me a little professional legitimacy. I relentlessly studied business proper and the types of roles that drew my attention.

Profexistential crises should not be seen as negatives, but signals that your mind is picking up on inconsistent patterns in your work and behavior. When you start hearing those internal alarms, its time for you to start reading, studying, and immersing yourself in the experiences that fit your fancy. 

Life is not a race; it doesn't matter if you're 25 or 75, profexistential crisis happens to us all. Those that heed its warnings, do their due diligence, and commit to executing a personal strategy find themselves on greener knolls much faster than those that freeze up, shut down, or straight up ignore.

Bryce Brown
Partner,
Conover+Brown