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.

Craving the Secret to Success? Words from the Wise Break the Code | Howard’s Gift

I’m on a constant quest for answers to big questions about the direction of my life and my work. When I was asked to blog about Eric C. Sinoway’s new book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work, I hesitated. I didn’t know anything about Howard Stevenson, the focus of the book. But I said “yes” anyway. I wish it had been written decades ago, when its insights would have spared me so many doubt-plagued hours as I struggled to figure things out for my career path. Fortunately, it’s now here for you.

The secret to success hinges on making the right choices at the right time. Our challenge is to understand the effect our choices will have on us should we pursue them.

If only we had someone to ask, someone with the experience and wisdom to help us see the big picture, someone who can clear away the fog so we can chart the right course.

Enter Howard Stevenson, whose wisdom is the focus of Eric C. Sinoway’s book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work.

Howard spent 40 years as a highly respected professor at Harvard Business School, where his MBA  students included world leaders, corporate CEO’s, and entrepreneurs. He is also an innovator and entrepreneur in his own right, contributing to his distinction, according to Sinoway, as “the father of entrepreneurship at HBS….”

Howard’s books and teachings have created a following of “students” like Sinoway who committed to write this book after Howard’s heart attack, ensuring that Howard’s priceless wisdom would never be lost.

Antennas up

Our career and life choices involve our “inflection points.” We need to be keenly aware of them when they occur and committed to taking the right course of action.

So what is an inflection point? Sinoway writes:

It is a moment when–by choice or not–we pivot from the path down which we were traveling and head in an entirely different direction.

It’s easy to miss or ignore an inflection point, especially when it may not line up with the way we’d planned our course.

Sinoway shares Howard’s explanation:

Inflection points come in all forms: positive, negative, easy, hard, obvious, and subtle. The way you respond–whether you grab hold of a inflection point and leverage it for all it’s worth or just let it carry you along–is as important as the event itself.

In hot pursuit of success, we are frequently faced with inflection points that cause us inner conflict. Howard impresses on his students that “…success doesn’t always equal happiness….” I’ve certainly witnessed examples of that and suspect you have too.

Howard suggests approaching your career by thinking about it from a legacy perspective:

Starting at the end means investing time up front to develop an aspirational picture of your future–a guide for the decisions you make throughout your life.

Knowing what we value in a satisfying career and acting on it are often very different things. What we need to get a firm grip on is the way our notions of success and failure help us or get in our way.

Befriending success and failure

We tend to look at success as reward and failure as punishment for, well, just not being good enough. Our self-confidence, courage, optimism, and sense of self-worth are often held hostage by them both.

Howard removes the weight of success and failure when he says in the book:

You know, people throw around words like success and failure assuming they mean exactly the same thing to everyone–and they don’t….

Have you fallen into that trap?

He adds:

There is no standard metric for evaluating success or failure, in large part because our assessments are heavily affected by the expectations we bring into a situation…our definitions of success and failure change based on personal circumstance; they’re colored by what’s happening around us….

The next time someone tries to detract from your achievements based upon their own measure of success, think of Howard’s words:

 For me, the bottom line is: don’t put yourself in a definitional straitjacket, and don’t allow others to do it to you, either.

It’s inevitable that, from the time we’re very young, we are “shown the way” to success as defined by people around us and the media. No wonder finding our own way can feel confusing, particularly when things don’t go as expected.

Howard offers this perspective:

I prefer to expend my energy only on things that I can affect. What’s past is only useful to me insofar as it offers information to using going forward. ..What other people might call failures I simply see as situations laden with meaning–full of new data and new opportunities for assessing and recalibrating a strategy.

Breaking the code

If you need wise counsel on building your skills, finding mentors, facing your personal truths, attracting the right professional relationships, or achieving life-work balance, you’ll find invaluable perspectives from Howard.

This book reads like a conversation, where we get to listen in. We read about the trials and missteps of others, including Sinoway’s, and how Howard untangles complex career situations, just like the ones you’re facing, bringing important next steps into focus.

The secret to success lies within us. Words from the wise help us break the code.

Got a Problem? There’s a Career for That. | Taking Service to Heart

Real jobs are born out of need. They’re created to solve problems. Solve those problems and create a win-win situation: The business profits and the customer/client is satisfied.

The better we are at solving problems, the more career opportunities we create for ourselves.

Accidental discoveries

I had the misfortune last month of being hit broadside in my new car by a woman who ran the red light while I was turning left off a green arrow. I was not hurt (thanks to my Subaru Outback which deserves a pitch here) and, so far as I know, the other driver only minimally.

A car accident is a problem. In a flash people appear on the scene to help solve it. Others provide help later. Each of these people has a job and a career because car accidents occur frequently. They make a lasting difference when their caring shows. I learned a lot from them.

Police officer–He gathers information for the incident report and later the accident report. Part of his job is to be sensitive to the state of mind of the victims and to be as calming as possible.

Emergency Medical Technician–His/her role is to assess the condition of the crash victims,  provide medical treatment if required, and get a release if either party doesn’t want to go to the hospital. S/he too needs to be observant, patient, and positive.

Tow truck driver–Two tow trucks were required at the scene; my driver was a woman which made me smile. Her job was to get the wreckage off the road quickly and to let me know where the car was being taken. She too was pleasant, efficient, and professional.

Insurance adjuster–The adjuster is the insured’s representative with the other insurance company. His job is to record my account of the accident over the phone. He and the other driver’s adjuster make a determination of fault. The adjuster explains the process, advises on next steps, and also needs to be patient and calming.

Material Damage Adjuster/Appraiser–The appraiser determines what the insurance company will pay in damages. This job requires the ability to communicate these hard numbers with the claimant in a way that demonstrates the fairness of the final decision. Just like the adjuster, the ability to be both factual and caring is important.

Body Shop/Salvage Company Staff–Along the way, my car took a stop at a body shop for a more detailed damage assessment. Then it went to the salvage company that purchased it. The staff and owner were professional, sincerely commiserating with my misfortune.

Rental Car Manager–I got a rental from Enterprise where the young woman manager took the time to make conversation before explaining the terms. It turned out that she was eager to develop her leadership capabilities, so we chatted about that. (When I returned the car, I gave her a copy of my book and she waived the gas charge. Okay, I’d only used 1/8 tank over two weeks, but the gesture was lovely.) She treated me like I mattered as a person.

Car Salesman–I called the salesman who sold me the original Outback and left a voice mail that I’d need a new one. He called me at home to cheer me up. He immediately set aside a car for me. I knew I was in good hands.

For my accident case alone, there are nine jobs, representing nine different career paths, that had been created because people like me get in car accidents.

Each role exists to solve a piece of a big problem, helping accident victims deal with and recover from a scaring and costly experience.

Distinguishing yourself

What has struck me most about this experience was the seemingly effortless caring that each person demonstrated. Every person in my chain had a heart for service.

I know that not everyone with a service jobs “gets it” and I’m sure you have a horror story to tell. But, if anything, this accident demonstrated that when you’re in a job that solves a problem for people and you really care, your commitment to serve will motivate your best performance. Let that be you, okay?

Please remember: Stay off your phone while driving. No texting. Wear your seat belt. Be attentive! :-) Thanks.

Photo from @Doug88888 via Flickr

A Must Do! Career Due Diligence |Your Life Is Your Business

We spend hours pouring over newspaper inserts to find the best clothing buys and grocery store coupons. We spend hours Googling information about vacation spots and fitness regimens. All, before we commit.

Shouldn’t we do this for our career choices too? 

Ask any high school student facing college what s/he plans to major in and you’ll hear: English, econ, accounting, pysch. 

Then ask, “Why?” Typical answers:

  • “It’s my favorite subject.”
  • “I get good grades in that subject.”
  • “I want to be an accountant [doctor, teacher, marketer]….”
  • “My parents said that would be a good major for me.”

The problem isn’t these answers: It’s the questions left unanswered like:

  • What careers paths/jobs will that major open for you?
  • Do those paths match what you want from your life? 

A college education today is still believed to be a “leg up” to better jobs, mainly  higher pay and promotions. It doesn’t necessarily mean better for your happiness, satisfaction, or health. So a lot is riding on your major and the jobs attached to it.

Why due diligence? Because it’s your life! 

Students pick majors with romanticized notions about the great jobs they’ll get by being accomplished students. They never talk to anyone currently doing those entry level or supervisory jobs to get a behind-the-scenes look.

I once coached a graduate from a prestigious university whose major was criminal justice. Just before graduation, she realized that starting jobs in her field meant street assignments. No way! So she stayed on, switching to journalism until she realized that starting reporter jobs meant evenings and weekends chasing stories. She switched again to English lit and graduated with no direction, huge tuition bills, and no viable career path.

Hard to believe she didn’t investigate  those job realities the second and third time? It just didn’t occur to her and she’s not alone.

I’ve also worked with many, career-weary adults who took a long time to admit that they had invested years in a career that never fit them. Each one had to either reinvent him/herself or start over. Even with their own experiences behind them, they don’t teach their children how to avoid the same mistakes. Why? Because no one showed them how.

Don’t get me wrong. Every career is an adventure. That’s good. What isn’t good is committing to a career path blindly. Due diligence helps minimize painful disappointment or reasons to start over. You can’t control for everything, but you can avoid lot of missteps.

You need to do this! 

Whether you are a student, an entry level or veteran employee, each time you say to yourself: “I want to be a [job title]:”

  • Write down the name(s) of 5 people in your family, community or among your friends, who are doing that job or one like it
  • Ask them to spend 15 minutes explaining to you what they do on a daily basis
  • Ask what they like best or least, what skills or education they needed, what it takes to get promoted, and who else you can talk to
  • See whether or not their work environment fits you
  • Ask yourself: Can I see myself in that line of work for a long time? 

(This is called information interviewing, a technique credited to Richard N. Bolles, who’s book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, gives the details. Find more on line. See, it’s all out there for the Googling!)

CBS contributor, Ben Stein, says, “The giants I have worked with in my life… found the thing that they were very, very good at, and did that with extraordinary focus.” Then he adds: “…harmonize your goals with your talents.”

That’s big! If your goals aren’t rooted in a realistic understanding of what the job market is all about, harmony is harder to come by. When you’re business fit, you’ve achieved the understanding and insights you need to build your best career. Let the explorations begin!

Have a story about a student who isn’t making the connection between his/her studies and the job market? Any ideas why students don’t explore the real story behind the kinds of jobs they’re after? Your insights can make a big difference!