Ready to Reboot Your Career? How “Reinventing” Worked for Me, More Than Once.

Careers can get old for a lot of reasons:WLI Conference 2008 2

  • Boredom when the work gets too predictable
  • Declining fulfillment from achievements
  • Disenchantment with a job going no where
  • Curiosity about what’s out there
  • Compensation ceilings that won’t meet future needs

I’ve experienced all of these at different times. Each one caused significant stress, confusion, and frustration–sometimes all at once.

I tried to force my way through them, telling myself that they were just temporary and would pass. But, of course, they didn’t and they don’t. The only way to get beyond these bumps is to change–not our favorite thing.

It’s not about reinventing your self.

Finding your way to a different career is not about reinventing who you are. Rather, it’s about redirecting your path so you can do work that fits who you are.

In my view, unless you are severely limited by problematic behaviors, trying to remake your essential self is an exercise that keeps you from going where you need to go.

Instead, redirect yourself by aligning your capabilities, interests, and energies to a more suitable line of work.

On the surface, this may sound pretty easy, but it isn’t. Each redirection means:

  • Acclimating to a different industry and/or workplace
  • Forging new relationships
  • Adapting to financial impacts
  • Dealing with potentially negative feedback from friends and family
  • Fear, self-doubt, and a new learning curve

There is, however, something exhilarating about a big change, so long as you’re ready for it. Newness, discovery, and challenge have the power to put you in high gear.

Keep options open.

This is a timely post for me since I’m getting ready to redirect my “career life” again, building on and remolding the pieces that have served me along the way.

My career unfolded like this:

Primary Career Path: Teaching Management   Consulting

I love words and how they can help us deal with life. So with an undergraduate degree in English, I became a high school teacher. Over ten years in the classroom, I learned how to instruct, manage groups, handle multiple priorities, and influence change.

Eventually, I got bored by routine, frustrated by some decisions, and curious about the world outside the classroom.

I decided to learn about big business by asking to speak to managers in HR about how public education could do a better job preparing their future employees.

Those meetings gave me a comfort level with business people and led to my first job at a large electric utility. There I learned how to manage effectively and lead when the stakes were high.

I also learned how the business worked and where its weaknesses were. After 20+ years as a senior manager there, I’d achieved my goals and realized I didn’t want to go any further.

I left and started a consulting practice, an entrepreneurial venture that would have to support me. I had done some freelance consulting that prepared me for this new venture which has been ongoing since 2002.

Corollary Career Paths: Production Sales

I’d always had a dream to own a horse so I started taking riding lessons when I was 30. Eventually I bought and boarded two horses. I wanted to care for them myself,  so I bought a small farm that needed plenty of work, all of which was new to me.DGL anad Foal

Before I knew it, I was breeding horses (production) for the race track and the show ring. This was an entirely new and foreign industry for me which fulfilled my curiosity, challenged me intellectually, and increased my fulfillment for almost 20 years.

Concurrently, my horse enterprise led to ownership for ten years of an equestrian art gallery, where I learned about retail sales. This rounded out my business resume.

Together, all of these efforts to redirect my career have created a range of experiences I  continue to draw on. Fortunately, careers don’t have to come to an end.

What next?

Career management is our job. It takes introspection and exploration, a good bit of courage and some luck. As our careers evolve, we evolve with them, learning what really floats our boat and what doesn’t.

I still have my original love of words, that’s why I blog. I love the quiet beauty of my farm where I can think and unearth new perspectives free from distraction. I am seeking to uncover how I will redirect again. Ideas come to mind and then fade into others. The same will happen for you until the right answer appears. Let’s continue to keep our options open. I’ll keep you posted on my progress and hope you will do the same.

What’s in your mind right now about how you might redirect your career? What challenges do you face? Sometimes writing it down makes it clearer. I’d love to hear from you.

Got a Job That’s Crushing You? Lift the Weight.

As the year winds down, we often get reflective about the career situations we’re in and what may lie ahead. Hopefully, this repost from early in 2010 might help you reset your focus and get out from under.

Oh, boy, it’s exciting to get a new job, especially with a new company. Everything looks so promising. We feel really good about ourselves. You know: validated, reinforced, and successful.                                           

It’s amazing how our careers can start out in one place and morph to another. 

It’s all so gradual that we hardly know it’s happening until one day we realize that we’re someplace that we don’t want to be. Or, more often, a place that’s crushing us. 

I have a talented friend who was hired by a huge company two years ago in marketing communications. After a few months, the department downsized and the work doubled as sales needed more and more marketing materials to cut through the barriers of a tight economy. The demands on my friend accelerated. Other staffers weren’t pulling their weight. So her days got longer and longer. 

Has this happened to you? It has to me. I thought it would be my demise. 

Feeling trapped in your job, paralyzes your ability to make changes. 

Our jobs can’t trap us but we can convince ourselves that they do. After all, we go to work every day by choice. It only takes a letter or a word to say, “Bye, bye.” 

It’s really our personal situations that create the bind. When we have dependents, debts, health issues, and family commitments, we need to keep our jobs, even when they’re wrong for us. 

The demands of our personal lives, coupled with the stresses of our jobs, can drive us to an airless place. Here’s how we often feel: 

  • · Exhausted and unable to think analytically
  • · Defeated and unable to fathom any options
  • · Imprisoned by the workload and the realities of our lives 

Truth is: There are always other options. They may require some creativity, planning, repositioning, and timing, but they exist. 

The struggle is: If you’re exhausted from your “work life,” the idea of exploring options, solving problems, and firing up your smothered optimism at the end of the day is too much. 

So what to do? Start small and focus on yourself. 

  1. Make a list of the little things that make you feel uplifted (15 minutes of quiet time, an outing with a friend, a short walk, a few flowers in a vase). Give yourself at least one daily.
  2. Make two lists about your job: Things I Have to Do and Things That Can Wait (Maybe Forever). Smart employees negotiate work output with their supervisors. If you don’t explain what can and cannot get done reasonably, your supervisor will expect it all. We are not mules unless we agree to be. Heehaw! 
  3. Take a hard look at your personal situation and come up with ways to reduce your obligations and a timetable for how long you believe you need this job. Doing this will help you feel more empowered, since you’re now staying for your personal business reasons. (Your life is your business, remember?) 
  4. Then, develop a career change strategy—one that you will implement while you still have a job. Do this with your timeline in mind and a focus on work that fits you. 

You always have options and choices. 

None of us much cares for change because it’s disruptive. We operate too often on the principle that “The devil we know is better than the one we don’t.” This can make us our own worst enemy. 

Small steps are important steps because they add up. The more you take, the farther you get. Each one helps you get more business fit. 

Getting help can be a really worthwhile investment. You’ll probably only need a leg up and then you’ll be on your way. I’m rootin’ for ya’! 

Do you have an “I feel trapped in my job” story to share or an “I escaped” one? Your story might help others.

Photo from sevgi.k via Flickr

The Ever-Ready Exit Strategy—Your Career’s Best Friend

Jobs aren’t forever anymore. That’s a reality we often try to forget when we (finally) get hired.   

No matter how great our careers are going, things will eventually change and us too. The shine will come off our jobs, the company, our boss, and/or our coworkers. 

When our careers are moving along well, we’re energized. When they’re not, we start looking behind us. 

Time’s up. 

Getting a job is one thing and keeping it another. We tend to invest significant thought and energy in both. 

Like it or not, the time will come when the party’s over and very few have a strategy to deal with that. 

We tend to think of exit strategies as actions a company or entrepreneur takes “to transition one’s ownership of a company…[or] devise ways of recouping the capital they have invested….”  

Well, that’s you: Your life is your business and you’re the sole proprietor. That means your job is your source of capital, something that you need to protect and build. No time like the present, then, to develop an exit strategy to implement when you need it. 

When it’s time to walk… 

Change is both predictable and unpredictable, so we need to be ready to act prudently and strategically when conditions present themselves, like when: 

A line has been crossed—You’ve reached your limit of unfair treatment, broken promises, excessive workload, or disrespect

You’re motivationally bankrupt—Disappointment, negative or no feedback, ever-shifting direction, and disengagement have sapped your energy.

You’ve drawn the short straw—The last-in and first-out formula puts you out the door, or a work assignment that’s detestable is forced on you.

You wake up—The moment of discovery that you’re in the wrong career hits you like a surprise party when it isn’t your birthday.

The perfect job comes along—An opportunity lands in your lap that you never expected, perhaps in another line of work or industry, but it’s tailor made for you. 

I’m sure you can think of other situations that are calls for “exit action.” Often there’s not much time to make decisions or act, so prior preparation is all. 

Be ready…. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to get prepared. Consider these seven steps: 

  1. Stay solvent—Be smart about your money by living within your means, knowing what you can live without, and keeping some liquid asset near at hand.
  2. Create fall back positions—Set up some realistic, money-producing options just in case, like some freelance work, part-time work outlets, or a hobby business.
  3. Don’t burn bridges—Keep your emotions under control and face situations like a grown up, recognizing that we don’t always get what we want and understanding that word about you will travel fast.
  4. Keep tabs—Your records are important assets, so keep them up to date, including contact info for people in your network, the results you achieved in your jobs, and organizational resources you can tap.
  5. Be respectful—When it’s time to go, let your decision be known through the chain of command, avoiding drama. Remember you don’t want to be famous for leaving, but respected and respectful.
  6. Send the right message—Express your reasons in a big picture context, recognizing the positives from your job and acknowledging the factors that didn’t match your expectations. Use clear and calm language.
  7. Protect your brand—Your reputation and image follow you everywhere, both as you enter and as you leave a company. Take a marketer’s approach to your leaving by rising above negative issues and by showing gratitude for the positives.

Keeping it together 

A workable exit strategy is about mindset and practical positioning. The more you can accept the likelihood that you will eventually make a career change, the more you will look at your work as a gateway to another career phase. 

Change is a good thing. It keeps us moving when we may be getting too comfortable. We just need to be ready to make a gracious exit that will neatly open the next door. 

Photo from jm3 via Flickr

 

8 Ways to Make Your Age an Afterthought | Timeless Career Moves

There are a million ways to be self-defeating. Fretting about the impact of our age on our career is a popular one. I hear it all the time: 

  • “I’m right out of college and stuck in an entry level job because I’m the only one who can show my older coworkers how to do stuff on their computers.”
  •  “Because I’ve worked here my whole career, everyone thinks my ideas aren’t cutting edge enough.”
  • “No one takes my ideas seriously because I’m the youngest one on the staff.”
  • “Based on what I see with others my age, I’ll have to wait years before I’ll see any career growth.” 

Sounds like a lot of “poor me” stuff, oh, dear! 

It’s always about our choices.  

We’ve been in charge of our careers from the start. We picked a course of study in school, applied for and accepted the jobs we have, and continue to show up to work each day. If our career isn’t working out for us, then we are the ones to make a change. 

Yes, I know: “It’s not easy to just pick up and get a new job.” And, I agree. But consider this: It’s easier (and less risky) for you to figure out what it takes to make you more valuable at your organization and position yourself for something better than it is to start over. 

Careers are built on ability, not on age. 

Our careers are our business. They are enterprises that we manage. So when they lack oomph, we need to shore them up. 

Here are 8 ways to make your age an afterthought and give your career real life: 

  1. Talk the talk—Learn all you can about how your business works, industry trends, the marketplace, and operating process: Share your voice and views with colleagues at every level.
  2. Fix things—Build an ever-increasing proficiency in the technical, procedural, and interpersonal skills needed to raise the bar in your company: Come to the rescue or help avoid a calamity.
  3. Get in the trenches—Find opportunities to put your knowledge and skills to work with colleagues and customers where you gain visibility and insight: Be a hero/heroine when you can.
  4. Be in the ready—Step up to meet a challenge, out of your comfort zone, showcasing your commitment to serve when there’s a need.
  5. Crank it up—Engage the enthusiasm of others for a company initiative and fire up your personal efforts to deliver more than expected.
  6. Keep your glass half-full—Showcase a can-do attitude when work demands are at a fever pitch, presenting ideas, processes, and confidence that are contagious and doable.
  7. Reach out and up—Expand your connections beyond your immediate workgroup, building alliances that help you get work done and create positive buzz about your value.
  8. Make a difference—Contribute new thinking that spawns new ideas and initiatives: Offer to take the lead to break new ground . 

Take the age chip off your shoulder 

Sometimes we use the “age” factor as an excuse for what we aren’t getting done. Look around at the people who are the movers and shakers at your company. Is it their age that you see or the energy they bring to get important things done? 

I’ve worked with people in their twenties who acted like they were 70 and others in their 70’s who got more done than coworkers in their 20’s. The only time career growth is about age is when it’s about the salary money. (That’s for a different post.) When we focus on increasing our capabilities, meeting goals, and exceeding expectations, we can set age aside, because it simply doesn’t matter. It’s your business fitness that keeps your career alive. So, happy birthday to you whenever it is! No matter what your age, it’s always your time. 

What have been your experiences with “age” as a factor or non-factor at work? Any advice for us? Thanks, as always.

Watch Out! Great Careers Can Creep Up on You

Where we start isn’t always where we finish. At least that’s the case with many careers.

It’s crazy to think that when we’re in high school we’d have a clear idea about what we want to do for a lifetime. Nevertheless, we go on to technical school or college choosing a trade or a major which declares, “This is my future.”

The business world is a big place. There are tens of thousands of career paths in as many businesses. So choosing a career is mind-boggling. 

Sorting through it all 

The process usually begins with courses we liked best in school. I said, “My favorite subject is English. So I’ll major in that, minor in education, and become an English teacher.” Whew…I’m done. I’ve got a specialty and a career to go with it to pay the bills. So that was it—until, of course, it wasn’t! 

Careers often start out as a smooth and promising ride before reality changes things. I remember those early-days programmers who loved mastering   computer languages unique to the companies they worked for. It was all good until their companies abandoned those proprietary languages and said “good-bye” to the programmers. 

We need to look at every job as a learning platform that moves us toward a career that suits us. 

Resetting our course 

Each job reveals what motivates us and what doesn’t. We get to test our limits and our principles. We start to zone in on what we’re really good at and what we aren’t. 

If we’re smart, we work with a willingness to try new things, apply our skills in new ways, and meet people with different perspectives. 

Then things start to happen. We stop seeing ourselves as being owned by our jobs but being raised by them. We recognize that we can remix our talents and our interests for career opportunities that are a better fit. 

My disquiet about my early career in teaching led me to into consumer education and then senior manager jobs at a big company. Concurrently, one of my show dogs was ill, so I was often at the vet. Eventually, my veterinarian asked me for help which led to a consulting sidelight, the precursor to the practice I have today. This kind of career transitioning is out there for anyone who’s open to it. 

Take Ray Vallafane. According to CBS’ Steve Hartman, Ray has spent every October for the last 15 years in his basement studio, “reinventing the art of pumpkin carving. Using sculpting tools instead of knives. Ray can now take a pumpkin, and, over the course of about eight hours, transform it into a museum-quality fruit.”  Ray was a former grade school teacher who turned a pastime into a full-time carving career that also led him to sculpting models for toy companies.  Not bad! 

Then there was Jim Nicholson from the Philadelphia Daily News and now Kay Powell at the Atlanta Journal Constitutional, both journalists who, according to CBS’ Jeff Greenfield, took steps “to breathe new life” into obituary writing. Instead of writing stilted chronicles, they brought ordinary people to life with recollections and anecdotes. These writers forged a unique niche in which they have set the standard.   

Let your real career come to you. 

Sometimes we try way too hard to nail down our careers before their time. Sometimes we’re so impatient that we miss what’s right in front of us. The more we resist what we really want, the more persistent the urge becomes. 

Achieving business fitness starts with committing to discovery. The key is never to rule out career options but to explore what you need to do to get closer to what you seek. Sometimes the right chance will fall into your lap and other times it will sneak up on you. Just do your best to be ready to grab it when it’s within reach! 

What career surprises have come your way? How were you able to spot and then seize them? Thanks.

Got a Job That’s Crushing You? | Start to Lift the Weight

Oh, boy, it’s exciting to get a new job, especially with a new company. Everything looks so promising. We feel really good about ourselves–validated,  reinforced, and successful.                                         

It’s amazing how our careers can start out in one place and morph to another. 

It’s all so gradual that we hardly know it’s happening until one day we realize that we’re someplace that we don’t want to be. Or, more often, a place that’s crushing us. 

I have a talented friend who was hired by a huge company two years ago in marketing communications. After a few months, the department downsized and the work doubled as sales needed more and more marketing materials to cut through the barriers of a tight economy. The demands on my friend accelerated. Other staffers weren’t pulling their weight. So her days got longer and longer. 

Has this happened to you? It has to me. I thought it would be my demise. 

Feeling trapped in your job, paralyzes your ability to make changes. 

Our jobs can’t trap us but we can convince ourselves that they do. After all, we go to work every day by choice. It only takes a letter or a word to say, “Bye, bye.” 

It’s really our personal situations that create the bind. When we have dependents, debts, health issues, and family commitments, we need to keep our jobs, even when they are wrong for us. 

The demands of our personal lives, coupled with the stresses of our jobs, can drive us to an airless place. Here’s how we often feel: 

  • Exhausted and unable to think analytically
  • Defeated and unable to fathom any options
  • Imprisoned by the workload and the realities of our lives 

Truth is: There are always other options. They may require some creativity, planning, repositioning, and timing, but they exist. 

The struggle is: If you are exhausted from your “work life,” the idea of exploring options, solving problems, and firing up your smothered optimism at the end of the day is too much. 

So what to do? Start small and focus on yourself. 

  1. Make a list of the little things that make you feel uplifted (15 minutes of quiet time, an outing with a friend, a short walk, a few flowers in a vase). Give yourself at least one daily.
  2.  Make two lists about your job: Things I Have to Do and Things That Can Wait (Maybe Forever). Smart employees negotiate work output with their supervisors. If you don’t explain what can and cannot get done reasonably, your supervisor will expect it all. We are not mules unless we agree to be. Heehaw! 
  3. Take a hard look at your personal situation and come up ways to reduce your obligations and a timetable for how long you believe you need this job. Doing this will help you feel more empowered, since you’re now staying for your personal business reasons. (Your life is your business, remember?) 
  4. Then, develop a career change strategy—one that you will implement while you still have a job. Do this with your timeline in mind and a focus on work that fits you. 

You always have options and choices. 

None of us much cares for change because it’s disruptive. We operate too often on the principle that “The devil we know is better than the one we don’t.” This can make us our own worst enemy. 

Small steps are important steps because they add up. The more you take, the farther you get. Each one helps you get more business fit. 

Getting help can be a really worthwhile investment. You’ll probably only need a leg up and then you’ll be on your way. I’m rootin’ for ya’! 

Do you have an “I feel trapped in my job” story to share or an “I escaped” one? That would be a big help all around.