5 hidden fears stopping SLPs from making a career change —and how to overcome them.
I recently asked the SLP Alternatives Facebook group this question:
71 comments later, some themes emerged:
•Worry about supporting yourself and your family.
•Investing so much time and money into this profession that you don’t want to give up the security and summer vacations.
•Not knowing what other careers are out there that we can do, AND are satisfying.
•Not knowing where to start in the job search.
So being a psychology nerd, I dug deeper.
Because without going full psychoanalysis, each of these concerns pairs with underlying biases that affect everyone going through a major shift—career or otherwise.
So let’s dive into the top 5 biases that hold you back from transitioning to a more fulfilling career with confidence.
1) Sunk Cost Bias:
“You worked so hard for your degree, and it’s a great career; you’re gonna let it go to waste?!” – My family and my inner voice.
4 years of undergrad ((5 if you were a non-traditional major (psychology) like me))
+2 years of grad school.
= a ton of time and money invested.
The Sunk Cost bias says that we tend to over-value situations we’ve already invested time into —even if we know there’s a better option out there.
This bias towards “sticking it out” keeps us in mediocre relationships and jobs that are a bad fit.
Whether you’ve put 20 years into this career or you’re a CF, you likely feel this.
Part of the issue: We feel transition as a “failure.”
School tells us to pick a major. Then a career. And commit to it!
And the more struggle you took to get there, the harder is to leave.
But this is the same psychology frats, cults, and gangs use to make members feel like they can never leave. They haze you. Then offer you “security.”
Granted, a career in SLP is not comparable to a cult! But the time and money you’ve sunk into this path, combined with decent benefits and pay, make it feel like an investment you can’t give up.
Loss Aversion: Why we’d rather protect what we have than risk gaining something way better.
Some studies suggest that people would rather avoid losing $50 than have a good chance of winning $100. In other words, they’d rather cling to what they have, even if there’s a better than 50% chance of improving their situation.
While SLP isn’t super lucrative, it’s just stable enough to slap on some golden handcuffs and the security is hard to give up.
Realize that everything is a time and money tradeoff. But the ultimate sunk cost? Going a whole career not really energized by your work.
The average person spends 80,000 hours at work. How you spend them is very personal. There’s no rule that says you can’t change paths. In fact, that’s now the norm to switch jobs and even careers every few years. While our parents stayed at one company their whole career, we live in a different time.
By becoming aware of the sunk-cost fallacy and loss-aversion, you can start to examine areas in your life where you’re staying in less than ideal situations because “I already put so much time into it.”
I also love and recommend this Fear Setting exercise from Tim Ferriss:
Instead of “goal-setting,” you actively imagine your worst fears of making a big change.
By visualizing “what’s the worst that can happen?” you accomplish two things:
- You usually realize that the worst thing is actually not that bad.
- You create an action plan to address obstacles.
Completing this exercise helped me quit my school job where I was for 3 years. I realized that I can always work part-time, contract, or go back to the schools worst-case scenario.
But I wouldn’t let sunk cost stop me from pursuing a “riskier” career path that has an unlimited financial and personal upside!
Your SLP skills aren’t a “waste” when you enter a new field.
When I started looking for tech jobs, I thought “how are these niche skills relevant?”
But really how are they not relevant?
- Organization and project management: Caseloads don’t manage themselves!
- Empathy and creative problem solving: Session planning and tailoring activities to each learner/client. These are relevant to UX roles, customer support, and content creation.
- Translating dense topics in plain language: We take research and assessment data and make it accessible to parents and colleagues. Written communication skills are the bread and butter of content marketing roles, not-to-mention all online communication.
You already have in-demand soft skills, and your SLP career is proof that you can learn new complex skills, empathize and adapt to different learners and team members, and creatively meet goals, while juggling multiple demands.
But this is just the start.
Pair your SLP-specific knowledge with adjacent skills in marketing, design, or product development, and suddenly you stand out among non-clinical applicants for the 1,000s of ed-tech and health-tech companies that are hiring!
Your SLP skills may not feel like they translate now, but as Steve jobs said,
When you enter a new field, you’ll look back and realize how much your SLP background helped you.
Whether by gaining specific knowledge about communication, psychology, and science. Or, just from juggling competing tasks while adapting to all types of people. So use your unique background to stand out and craft a story around your transition.
“You’re letting the students down!” – My boss when I quit my school-based job.
“Don’t you love working with kids – they love you!” – My family.
“You worked so hard for your degree, it’s a great career; you’re gonna let it go to waste?!” – My inner voice.
Finding SLP felt safe and secure. Even though my own family thought I just treat lisps and stutters, the career came with an automatic cache: “I’m a good person.” “I’m serving the under-served.” “I have a secure path.”
At first, I loved that SLP is shorthand for these positive characteristics in people’s minds.
(Currently, content marketing does not evoke the same response).
But the predictable “Wow, you must really love making a difference every day!” started to feel like gaslighting.
Yes, I love the connection and helping learners improve their communication.
There’s an intrinsic joy that comes from hearing a student produce a new sound. Or winning over a reluctant high-schooler as they nail their presentation.
But the progress was slow, and the stress was constant.
So hearing “you must love it so much!!!!” started to make me feel bad that I didn’t really feel that way. Because I thought, “most SLPs probably do actually feel that way.
This dissonance between inner feelings and a perma-plastered smile grew over time.
Guilt comes in many flavors:
- Identity based-guilt – “I’m an SLP!” “I help people for a living.” “I worked so hard for this; Who am I without this degree and title?”
- External guilt from students, families, and coworkers: “Why would you leave? It’s a great career! “The students need you!” “There’s a shortage of SLPs!”
Trust me, these feelings are hard to overcome. But let me tell you what worked for me below.
Realize that there will always be another student, and another person to help them. This is a tough one because overall the nation needs more SLPs. But you can’t sacrifice your well-being to see little Timmy from Elementary school to high-school graduation. Plus there will always be another student you’re “quitting on.”
It’s hard to let work go when real people are involved. But in the end, we’re replaceable. And if you’re worried about finding meaning and impact, there are ways to have an even bigger positive impact than direct clinical work.
So guilt be damned, you’ll be the light of the change in other roles besides SLP!
3) Imposter syndrome
You’re browsing job boards—and BAM! You find a job that ticks off all the boxes: purpose, pay, and personal interest!
But that good-for-nothing critical voice chimes in: “you think you do that job well — let alone get hired?”
Realize that this voice is:
a) annoying but normal.
b) just trying to protect you.
Here’s the truth about imposter syndrome: It’s a sign that you’re stepping outside your comfort zone. If you didn’t feel it, you might be a sociopath (jk…sortof).
Do yourself a quick favor: Visualize your first day as a CF. What did your day look like and what did you feel? I don’t know about you, but I was scared shitless.
My imposter syndrome started in grad school, seeing my peers. As a somewhat introverted “type-B” male, I already felt like a fish out of water.
“I’m not bubbly enough.” “I’m not organized enough.”
No amount of grad school theory and clinical practice made me feel prepared for the reality of juggling diagnoses, schedules, and progress notes.
But somehow your brain adapts. You find lesson plans and systems that work for you. You realize your differences can be leveraged as unique strengths, not weaknesses.
Looking back, you’d barely recognize your past self on your first interview, or your first day of clinic.
Each step required you to shed your insecurity and rise to a new version of yourself.
•Take stock of past times you’ve felt imposter syndrome and how you took action in the face of it.
•Continue proving you are capable by chunking your skill acquisition into small projects.
For example, if you want to lean into the identity of a “content marketer,” start by writing one blog post about something you know well.
If you’re going for “UX designer” then start consuming blogs and videos, then create a design case study based on a problem you have.
The goal here is taking the first minimum action towards learning and applying new skills. You want to build a habit of small wins, which compound into a portfolio over time.
So lean into imposter syndrome. It means you’re refusing to remain stagnant!
Now you may be thinking, “I don’t have imposter syndrome yet because I haven’t chosen a path. I don’t even know where to start!”
4) Overwhelm from not knowing where to start:
Is this you?:
You’re standing on the pier of your career, looking over the dark waters.
You see boats (opportunities) in the distance, but they’re fuzzy and you can’t tell which ship is worth jumping onto and where to sail.
Or maybe you have some maps drawn up. You know where you’d like to go, but the waters are choppy and shark-invested (with obstacles and competition).
Maritime metaphors aside, without a clear plan, you’re doomed to feel overwhelmed, fall back into bad habits, and give up.
You need to know:
a) what jobs are out there
b) which ones are fulfilling and fit your personal values.
c) how to find great jobs.
d) how to gain and display relevant skills.
e) how to tailor your resume and cover letter to stand out.
I struggled with all of this before breaking into a fulfilling content role in tech. The answer came through a mix of creative networking and taking on projects to build a portfolio—without permission.
The solution for this entire process is too long to write here (I’m only one person!). But sign up for the email newsletter to get free guides when they come out:
5) Final thoughts: Remember the child-like mind.
Children are natural-born scientists. They’re always testing reality to see what’s possible. Whether it’s physics via superman jumps from the couch, or social psychology by learning the power of “no.”
Children don’t neurotically stop themselves and ponder, “wait what will this mean about my identity if I try this new thing?!” “I don’t think I have time for this!”
But somewhere along the line, society and culture tell us what’s “expected” and “normal.”
Subtle, yet palpable messages of “be realistic,” and “don’t question things too much.”
Yet the most successful people tend to embrace failure and cultivate child-like curiosity.
From this place of exploration, you can get out of your own way.
Now I hear you saying, “ok, but I have real responsibilities like bills, health insurance, and my cat’s grain-free pate budget…” (just me?)
Your concerns are valid. But you’re not the first SLP to find a new path with equal or better financial and personal upside (and you won’t be the last).
Barring major health or family crises, most obstacles are self-imposed.
That’s why my goal with SLP Transitions is to not only help you with the practical aspects of finding a career, but the mindset shifts that lead to lasting fulfillment.
I’m here to help—Let me know what’s your biggest obstacle in the comments below, or reach out personally at firstname.lastname@example.org