How Picturing the Worst Case Scenario Can Help You Achieve Your Career Goals

One of my most important jobs as a career coach is to ask good questions.

I have a lot of questions in my tool kit, but one of my favorites might surprise you.

“What’s the worst case scenario?”

Sure, this seems like a negative question on it’s face. Pessimistic with a capital P. Perhaps even a question that sets up you for failure.

However, I think it’s actually one of those most powerful career coaching questions in the book and one that can help you prepare and motivate you to move forward.

Let’s illustrate with a little story about parenthood, weddings, and snack bribes.


WHAT’S THE WORST CASE SCENARIO? – PARENTHOOD EDITION

Two years ago my brother married the love of his life and my kids were the ring bearer and flower girl.

The night before the wedding I had a total nervous breakdown thinking that both my one year old and two year old were going to lose their ever loving minds mid-wedding, or run away from the aisle and into a neighboring stream.

None of those things happened though. Everything turned out just fine, and dry.

But as a parent your mind goes there. To the worst case scenarios. To the what ifs, and what will I dos, and what will people thinks.

This can be maddening in parenthood because your brain turns into a hamster wheel. But it can also actually be helpful because you figure out how to prepare for the worst case. In this situation I had a diaper bag full of dry clothes and Goldfish Crackers for bribes.

It was also helpful because when I was freaking out about this worst case scenario, level-headed people talked me down.

“Okay, so that would be the worst case scenario. But realistically the stream is not that close by and your kids are simply not that fast. And if they get scared your mother-in-law is here at the wedding and is going to Grandma like a boss and handle the situation.”

All very good points.

Grandma – Back left. Uncle Josh – Front right. Not picture – Goldfish bribes. We were well covered.

WHAT’S THE WORST CASE SCENARIO? – CAREER EDITION

Time to turn the “What’s the worst case scenario?” question over to career and professional development.

Think of a big beautiful goal and a step you need to take to go after it.

Maybe to get where you want to go you need to call a stranger for a networking call. Or submit a proposal to be a speaker at a conference. Or take a risk and try something you’ve always wanted to do but felt like you would look silly/not fit in/be viewed as an impostor.

When getting ready to do those things starts making you think “Ummm, no thank you. That sounds terrifying” try to re-frame it as “If I do this, what’s the worst case scenario?”

Using our networking example can show you how playing out the worst case scenario in the old noggin can help you in three ways.


1. You get prepared.

Worst case scenario: You pick up the phone for your call, and then within minutes you can tell your new buddy is not that into you. You’re boring them to tears, you’re coming across as foolish, and you’ve burned a bridge rather than building one because you are grasping at conversational straws and idioms.

That wouldn’t be fun. But now that you know what your worst case scenario is, you can prep so it won’t go down like that.

  1. Start by doing your research about the company/industry you are interested in so you have something to talk about.
  2. Prep yourself for the conversation with a dozen questions for the individual you are talking to and be interesting by being interested.
  3. Practice your elevator pitch with a friend or a coach so you can succinctly get across why you’re awesome without rambling.

Picture that “worst case” and then go get yourself ready for it. Follow some advice from Steve Martin and “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Worried about the worst case scenario as you take a big risk and put yourself out there? Take some advice from Steve Martin and "Be so good they can't ignore you." Click To Tweet

2. Your realize how unlikely the “worst case” is.

You are a lovely, intelligent person who has never once in her life bored someone to actual tears.

What are the odds that this networking conversation is really going to go THAT badly? The fact that this person said yes to the call in the first place means they are interested in talking to you.

Of course there are no guarantees that this will go perfectly. Does anything really ever go 100% perfectly? But blowing your chances at the career of your dreams with one phone call? Now that’s incredibly unlikely.

(Breathe in, breathe out!)


3. You realize the “worst case” isn’t so bad.

What if the networking conversation does go super poorly?

All you’ve really lost is about 20 minutes of your life. That’s not even enough time to watch a re-run of The Office.

Also if you didn’t click with this person, there are thousands of more people in your field you could connect with. Many more professional fish in the sea, my friend!

Lastly, the person you struggled through a conversation with is probably going to forget it about 10 minutes later unless you said or did something wildly offensive. Which brings us back to part 1, be prepared and don’t do something wildly offensive.

Easy peasy.

Even this “catch me doing the ugliest cry in the history of ugly cries” wasn’t THAT bad. It makes me think how much I love my family, and how nice my hair looked that day.

WHAT’S THE BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Now let’s get positive up in here! What’s the best case scenario?

Best case scenario for my kids in the wedding was that they would have fun and be adorable and not scream. And that I would stay upright in my wedding heels while pleasantly drinking some wine in the woods instead of rescuing a child from a stream.

Best case scenario for the networking example, you crush it!

You meet someone awesome who you totally connect with. Then that person introduces you to another person, and perhaps someone else. You learn a ton about the industry/company of interest, your name gets tossed into the ring for an open position, you get the job, and then 10 years later are running the whole company.

Wow! Look at you out there achieving your career goals. You’re amazing!

Read More on Networking for Introverts

See it was fine. And you’ll be fine! Seriously.

KEY TAKEAWAYS TO ACHIEVE YOUR CAREER GOALS

Did you skim down to here? Fair enough!

  1. Picturing the worst case scenario can make you better prepared to overcome potential pitfalls in your job search and career development.
  2. The worst case scenario you’re picturing (horrible interview, awkward conversation, no one ever hires you) is very unlikely to happen.
  3. Even if the worst case scenario happens, maybe it’s not all that bad/scary/worth worrying about after all. You can bounce back from that!

So get out there, take a risk, take a chance, make a change, and Kelly Clarkson your way into a big beautiful life! You’ve got this.


With “Be Prepared” from Lion King stuck in my head now,

Becca Carnahan Blog

Read More Posts on Achieving Your Career Goals:

Simple 1 Minute Changes to Help You Achieve Your Career Goals

Networking for Introverts: Overcoming the 5 Major Objections

Cover Letter Tips from a Career Coach (And a Preschooler) – Free Template Included

How picturing the worst case scenario can help you acheive your career goals.
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