Archive | Career Advice

Imagine Ten Alternative Careers: An Exercise

toll booth
toll booth A blogger I admire once posted a list of jobs she’d love to have if she weren’t a writer. They included forest ranger, meteorologist, TV news broadcaster, librarian and a water slide tester. (Yup, that last one really does exist – go check out her link.)

She posted this list for fun, but my guess is that the reason her list ran such a gamut of professional opportunities is that each hypothetical career spoke to a different aspect of her personality.

It’s fun to try to imagine all the things you might do if you weren’t doing whatever it is that currently defines your profession/lifestyle. But it’s also really useful.

If you’re even vaguely contemplating a career change, you need to think really carefully not only about what you’re good at, but what you enjoy. Often, discovering a satisfying career is not so much about the job title itself, but the various tasks you do as you go about your day, and how those complement your skills and interests.

To that end,  for all those out there contemplating a mid-life career transition,  here are my top ten would-be careers. Then it’s your turn:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: New Jersey Turnpike Exit 11 Toll Booth at Night via Wikimedia Commons

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How I Finally Came To Enjoy Work In Middle Age

molting

moltingI’ve got a confession to make:  For the first time in my life, I’m enjoying work.

I realize that’s not exactly a shocking admission for those out there who find their work to be fulfilling.

But I’m well into middle age and have been working for the better part of three decades. And it’s only in the past few months that I wake up and truly look forward to the day ahead.

 

Wearing a Costume to Work

It’s not that I haven’t enjoyed the various jobs I’ve held over the years. I feel privileged to have worked across multiple sectors:  academia, the government, the media, non-profits. Each job I’ve held has been an enormous learning experience, not to mention the source of life-long friendships.

But I never felt 100% myself in any of those jobs. It was always as if I were wearing a costume to work. And waiting for someone – possibly myself? – to rip off the mask and reveal the real me cowering underneath.

Taking time off for self-discovery

So after I was laid off from my last job, I made a determined effort to sort out this whole work thing for once and for all. To do this, I formed a sort of chrysalis around myself. Much like the butterfly, who needs to form a hardened, outer shell so that it can finish growing before it emerges, fully formed, into the world, so too did I feel that in order to properly check in with myself, I needed to check out with others.

So I stopped talking to other people about what I wanted to do with my life and spent more time pursuing a range of activities designed to help me gain clarity on my professional future. (I even uploaded the image of a chrysalis to my Facebook page to be sure people knew where I was “at” psychologically.)

It worked. One of the many things I did last year was to spend time as a visiting fellow at a local university. Mostly, this meant writing my book in a different environment. But it also meant attending seminars around campus on topics I was interested in, blogging here and there, (as well as fantasizing that I’d been cast in a remake of Brideshead Revisited…)

But the more I began attending workshops by assorted academics around campus, the more I would find myself subconsciously re-structuring these talks in my head. Why didn’t she start with that slide? I’d wonder. Or: Wow. This is a potentially interesting topic but I’ve been sitting here for ten minutes and I still don’t know why I’m here.

The same thing happened with blogs I would read by academics read that were written by academics from all over the UK. The content would be brilliant. But the blog would read more like a short essay or – worse – an academic article, footnotes and all. Somehow, all these great ideas weren’t translating into engaging content.

One day, sitting in back of a lecture hall, I realized I could help.

Back to the Future

Last spring, I launched my own communications consultancy . The goal is to help people write, speak and lead more effectively. To do this, I offer a combination of personal coaching and group workshops. So far, I’ve worked mainly with the higher education sector, although I’m beginning to branch out into the private sector as well.

It is, in many ways, a perfection combination of the assorted skills I’ve honed over a lifetime:  writing, editing, coaching, and public speaking, with a bit of improvisation tossed in for good measure. But my new business also draws heavily on all that social science training I got back in the day – the side of my brain that craves order, logic and coherence.

There’s nothing weird here at all except that  if you had told me 20 years ago when I left the higher education sector that I would be back teaching at the university level – and enjoying it – I’d have laughed you out of the room.  And yet, here I am, going to the library and preparing lecture notes and helping students of all ages improve their writing and communication skills.

More importantly – and to come back to the beginning of this post – it’s fun!

Molting into the Integrated Self

So maybe the punchline here – if I can beat the butterfly metaphor into the ground – is that molting in adulthood doesn’t have to be about a radical break with the past.

I thought that professional reinvention meant doing something I’d never done before.

It never occurred to me – although it should have – that for me to be happy at work, I’d need to do something that was not only authentic, but integrated. That the secret to professional fulfilment lay in integrating my manager and maker selves; to incorporating, as the saying goes, “something old and something new.”

One thing’s for certain: I’m no longer wearing any costume.

Image: Cocoon butterfly insect by GLady via Pixabay

Career Change: The Value of Expanding Your Network

dining room table

dining room tableI’m shortly to commence volunteering at a local charity (non-profit) in London called The Girls’ Network. It’s an organization that pairs professional female mentors with teenage girls from disadvantaged communities in order to inspire and empower young women to pursue education and work. As someone who has both mentored and been mentored in the past, I’m a huge fan of the concept.

As part of the training to become a mentor, the charity asked us to draw our “dining room table,” i.e., those people sitting around a metaphorical dining room table to whom we turn for support and advice in work and in life. And then they asked this question: are there any people at your table who weren’t there a year ago?

To my surprise and delight, I realised that there were. In the past year, I have come to both give and take professional advice from two people I didn’t know before. One is an ex-business school professor whom I met at a creative practice workshop last autumn. In a room rife with artists and teachers clad in rainbow-colored leggings, he and I happened to sit next to one another. We quickly discovered that we had a lot in common: we had both spent a lot of time in universities, we were both in career transitions, and we were both interested in applying creativity training to the corporate world.

The second person is a woman I met through Ellevate, a global network for professional women. Ellevate operates chiefly through “squads” – groups of women of different ages, sectors and stages of their careers who meet virtually over 12 weeks to provide advice and support to one another. At the end of the three months, one of the women in my squad wrote to me privately. She’d observed that we came from very different backgrounds and approached things very differently. She felt that it might be useful if we carried on our discussion together. So we have.

In her fantastic book Reinventing You, Dorie Clark talks about the importance of having what she calls a personal “Board of Directors.” The basic idea is that rather than seeking out one mentor as you change careers, you want to set up a group of people who can offer advice. This diversity enables you to draw on a range of viewpoints – and skill sets – that complement your own. It also gets you away from conceptualizing mentoring as something an older person “does” to someone younger. (My Ellevate colleague is at least ten years younger than me, as were several people in my group.)

There are a few morals to this story. The first is that it’s always good to try new things. Much like joining a new club as a grown-up, getting professional training and participating in networking groups forces you to meet new people. In so doing, you may benefit in ways that are entirely unforeseen.

My second takeaway is that – pace Clark – there really is strength in numbers. As I go about setting up my new business, I find myself drawing on all manner of friends, family members and colleagues – new and old – for input. Thank goodness I have such a deep and diverse network. It’s a great example of what – in their landmark book about the future of work, The 100 Year Life – Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott call “intangible assets” .

Finally, I have learned once again about the power of reciprocity. When I met up with my Ellevate colleague this week on Skype, she advised me on how to approach an upcoming business development meeting. I, in turn, gave her some advice on her website. Win/Win!

Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by a new mentor/friend? How did you meet them? Use the comments section to share. (And, yes, I really would love it if that *were* my dining room table…)

Image: Hampton Court Castle Gardens & Parkland – inside the castle – dining room – dining table and chairs by Elliott Brown via Flickr

Important announcement! If you like my Friday Pix feature, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

Tips for Adulthood: How Career Change Is Like Dating

LoveI have a friend who started law school in her late 30s. There were plenty of reasons for her not to change careers at this point in her life. She had a good job with a major, blue-chip consulting firm. She was making a decent salary, and had a lot of flexibility, often working from home. She was also pregnant with her third child.

And yet, she’d always wanted to be a lawyer.

“How’s it going?” I asked her casually one day.

“It’s fantastic,” she told me. “It’s like finally dating the guy I had my eye on my entire life.”

Wow. I thought at the time. She’s really made the right choice for herself.

Fast forward fifteen years or so and I, too, am in the midst of a career change. It’s not my first time changing careers, but my friend’s comments about law school all those years ago seem all the more prescient this time around.

Here are five reasons changing careers can feel like dating:

a. It takes a while to sift through the options. I stopped dating before online dating became a “thang.” But even before it was all as simple as “Swipe Left, dating has always been infused with the idea that  just keep putting yourself out there and – to deploy a baseball metaphor- “wait for your pitch.” It can take a while. In a similar vein, career change doesn’t happen overnight.  Shawn Askinosie, author of Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Work, Find Your Calling and Feed Your Soul, notes that it took him five years to bring about his transition from criminal defense lawyer to chocolatier. So don’t rush it. Once you’ve narrowed down your possible career options, make sure you “try on” different options – possibly through job shadowing – to make sure they work for you. As with dating, you may need to go out with a few duds before you find Mr./Ms. Right.

b. Beware of big egos. Including your own. One of the worst dates I ever went on occurred when I was about 23 years old. I’d just moved to Washington, DC and was looking for a policy job. My father, trying to be helpful, asked a friend of his with powerful connections to set up a few informational interviews for me around town. One guy I met with couldn’t really help me find a job, but he did invite me out to dinner. We spent two hours doing nothing but talking about him:  How he’d been voted one of the “50 most influential people under 50” in D.C. How often he worked out at the gym. I gobbled down my Pad Thai and ran for cover at the earliest opportunity. But I learned something on that date that has stood me in good stead through several career shifts: don’t ever let someone’s ego  – including your own – drive you in life. If you’re going after something because of the title or the brand name or the corner office, you’re probably not going to be too happy. It’s OK to make a few mistakes. Useful, even. That’s how you learn. (I never went out on a date with someone I’d interviewed with again.) But particularly if you’re making a career change, try to listen to yourself and get rid of the “shoulds.” The shoulds are often pointing you towards legitimacy, not authenticity.

c. Trust your gut. “Stick a fork in me. I’m done.” A friend of mine uttered these words at his wedding, in a speech explaining how he met his bride. Per (a) above, he’d played the field as a young man. Indeed, well into his late 30’s. But when he met his (now) wife – whom he’d actually known most of his life – he realized that he’d found the right person to marry and settle down with. I’ve never really believed in this notion of “the one” – whether in jobs or relationships. But I do believe that in both spheres, your gut will often tell you when you’re on to a winner. In my own case, I’m currently launching my own communication consultancy. When I left my job a year ago, I had no inkling that I’d be running my own business within a year. Indeed, that wasn’t my ambition at all. But as I thought carefully over the past year about my skills and interests, I realized that this particular career move made perfect sense. “You didn’t find your job, it found you,” as a friend of mine put it. She was exactly right.

d. Something old. OK, so I’ve skipped ahead from dating to marriage. Shame on me. But I’m really drawn to that erstwhile wedding rhyme, “Something old; something new; something borrowed; something blue.” Face it. When dating, we all have particular types we gravitate towards. It might be athetes. Or redheads. Or artists. And even if it’s only a glimmer of that quality, we tend to look for it when we’re on the market for a partner. In a similar vein, most people tend to bring something of their old work selves with them when they change careers. It might be a skill set: Editing. Line managing. Or it might be a body of knowledge: Accounting. Environmental science. And that’s a good thing. It’s really hard to get a new job doing something wildly different than what you did before. Most career gurus advise against a radical shift, at least at first. So having a “type” – a part of you that you like and want to re-fashion – is advantageous.

e. Something new. Back to our wedding rhyme. (Well, you knew that was coming, didn’t you?) Even if you have a dominant dating type, it’s often refreshing to switch things up and go out with someone completely different. Trade in the cardigan-wearing preppy cheerleader with hoop earrings for the mysterious girl in the corner smoking clove cigarettes and smelling of Patchouli oil. So, too, with career change. Be considered in your choice, but once you know what you want, be bold. If there’s something calling your name about working in the outdoors – even if you’ve spent twenty years at a desk – go for it!  I can’t tell you how many friends I have – including myself – who’ve wanted to try something really different career-wise, but ended up going for the safer option. And ended up disappointed. That doesn’t mean it’s always the right time to take risks. But having that spark, that newness, is what will keep you motivated to “keep on, keeping on” with your new professional journey.

Image: Love Couple Happy by Skimpton007 via Pixabay

Note: This article was originally posted on The Ellevate Medium page

Important announcement! If you like my Friday Pix feature, I will shortly be launching a newsletter which offers a round-up of these “good reads” on a monthly basis, in place of this occasional column. The newsletter will also include lots of other juicy bits for those of us interested in the eternal journey of adulthood, including an update on books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and a few guaranteed giggles. If you’d like to get these “Good reads for grown-ups” delivered directly to your inbox, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter by clicking on the “Subscribe to my Newsletter” button on the homepage of this blog.

Career Change: Finding Your Moment In Middle Age

time

timeI had coffee with a friend last week whom I hadn’t seen in a while. She and I used to work together. Like me, she left that company roughly a year ago. And, like me, she’s spent the better part of this year regrouping to figure out what’s next for her professionally.

We share a lot in common, and not only our previous place of employment. Both of us are working mothers. Both of us would like to launch our own businesses. And while both of us have experimented with different ideas over the course of the past year, our plans have evolved into something much more concrete since we last had lunch in March.

The difference is that while I feel like my new professional life is about to take off, she feels that her future is momentarily on hold. A host of domestic issues have simultaneously cropped up that are distracting her from her goals: some unexpected travel…her kids’ education…her new puppy who isn’t yet house trained. (OK, so I can’t relate to the last one).

Crucially, she is also waiting to find out whether or not she will have to go back to a full-time “normal” job in order to help her keep her family afloat.

I don’t say any of this critically. To the contrary,I say it with great empathy. I was her six years ago. Literally.

Back in 2012, I was again thinking about my next career move. (Yes, it’s a condition. My husband likes to say that I’m an “expert in career change.”) I wanted a job that would be both fulfilling and challenging. But I also had two kids aged 11 and 8 who couldn’t travel around the city on their own yet. The “11+ exams”  loomed on the horizon. (If you’re American and don’t know what these are, consider yourself lucky.)

Plus, we were in the midst of trying to buy a house. Let’s just say that having “unemployed” on your mortgage application doesn’t exactly look fantastic.

So I took a job. I was lucky that it turned out to be a good job with wonderful colleagues. But I knew the whole time I was there that it wasn’t really authentically me. Although I was acquiring a lot of new skills, it wasn’t a place that I intended to stay. But I did stay – for five years – because the timing in other parts of my life was never right for me to leave.

I’m in a different place now. My kids are in secondary school. We own a house. Sure, the banister lifts out of the staircase if you put your hand on it. And our shower was recently replaced because sewage – yes, sewage – was clogging one of the pipes in the bathroom. But the house has four walls and a floor. Mostly, anyhow.

More importantly, I feel like things are slowly beginning to fall into place. I finished the draft of a book I’d been working on for ages. Now I’m trying to sell it. I’ve got some potential clients for my soon-t0-be-disclosed business. I may well fail at both projects. But I have enough energy – and a sufficiently  uncluttered horizon – to be able to “take a punt” now in a way that I couldn’t have contemplated before.

I reassured my friend that she just needs to be patient. This may not be “her” moment, just like 2012 wasn’t mine. But if she’s patient, I’m confident that she’ll get there eventually.

How about you? Did you ever put off something you really wanted to do because the timing wasn’t right? Conversely, did the stars ever align and enable you to take a professional risk?

Image: time-2160154_1920 by Sevgi001453d via Pixabay

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs: Every Day is Groundhog Day

groundhog

groundhogThe writer and artist Austin Kleon has a great tip for how to stay creative: “Remind yourself that ‘Every Day is Groundhog Day.’”

The reference is to the Bill Murray film, Groundhog Day,  in which the main character wakes up every day to find that it’s exactly the same as the day before.

Bird By Bird

What Kleon means by this metaphor is that if you’re going to move forward on a creative project, you need to forget that there is a past or a future. If you focus on the past, and regret what you’ve not yet accomplished, you’ll get blocked. And if you focus on the future, and all the next steps entailed in bringing your masterpiece to fruition, you’ll become paralyzed with fear.

In her famous book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott effectively says the same thing. “Short assignments” is one of the ways she motivates herself – and her readers – to just keep going on their projects: start with a sentence, then a paragraph and then a chapter. Don’t try to take on the whole thing at once.

The Challenge of Starting a Business

But the groundhog day advice is also useful if, like me, if you’re thinking of starting your own business later on in life.  Starting your own company is daunting at any age. But it can be particularly challenging for we so-called “silverpreneurs.”

After all, we’ve been around the block for a while. We feel the clock ticking more than the proverbial 23 year-old launching a start-up. We’re impatient to get going already.

Much like writing a book, however, there are getting one’s business off the ground takes time: You need to write a concept note, get feedback, and fine-tune it.

There are the also the more economic aspects to consider: You need to research the competition. You need to set your prices. And how on earth do you save money for taxes? 

If you’ve never done this before, there’s also a whole new vocabulary to master.

Finally, there’s all that business development.

“80% of my time is spent on business development; only 20% on delivery,” a friend of mine explained. He’s run a successful communications business for several years. Even so, many days, it’s just about ‘Smile and Dial,’ as he put it, pointing to the phone to indicate the amount of time he’d spent cold-calling that very afternoon.

I’m not Middle-Aged. I’m Zero.

All of this is fun and exciting of course.  I love new challenges.  

But the trick is not to get too freaked out about the past or the future as I build this new thing. If I think too much about the past, I’ll beat myself up for not having hit upon this business idea earlier.

If I worry too much about the future, I’ll start questioning the entire endeavor. (“Is there enough demand for this service? Will it pay the bills? Am I kidding myself about why I bring added value to this industry?”)

I’m also worried that if I get too frightened to take a risk,  I’ll go into “maker” mode,  abandon my idea, and flee to Indeed.com to look at job listings.

So as I go about this journey, I try to keep Kleon’s advice front and center: I’m not middle-aged. I’m zero.

Happy Groundhog Day.

Image: Groundhog via Wikipedia.org

Tips For Adulthood: Five Tips for Professional Reinvention

career change

career changeOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

As a veteran of more than one career change – and on the verge of another – I’ve come to think of myself as a bit of an expert in this area.

But what’s lovely about dipping in and out of the job market is that you always learn something new each time.

In my current process of professional reinvention, I’ve picked up some new tips that have really served me well, so I thought I’d share:

Think of career change as a creative project

I stole this idea from Barnet Bain in his masterful The Book of Doing and Being. I initially picked this book up because I was doing a lot of writing and I thought it might be useful in unlocking my voice. It was. But at some point in the book, Bain explains that your creative project doesn’t necessarily have to be a film or  a novel; it can be a business you’re hoping to build or a professional shift you wish to undertake. This was completely liberating for me. As time wore on, I found that I was applying his myriad creativity exercises to explore my professional journey, not just my artistic one.

Take Your Time

I was really taken by an interview in Forbes with Shawn Askinosie, author of Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Work, Find Your Calling and Feed Your Soul. In the interview, Askinosie notes that it took him five years to bring about his transition from criminal defense lawyer to chocolatier. He advises: “If you don’t discover the internal space where you can ponder your next steps with clarity, you will never find what you’re looking for. As someone who has been living in a self-imposed chrysalis for the past six months, boy did that phrase resonate for me.

Keep Learning

It’s always useful to read relevant self-help books when you’re in the throes of a transition. But this time, I’ve taken that to a whole new level. Spurred on by the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates who spend at least five hours a week learning new things, I decided that I would read more widely, branching off from some of the books mentioned here to books describing what it’s like to be middle aged from a variety of different angles. Of course, learning doesn’t have to take the form of reading. One of the best things about my acting class – which I mostly do because it’s fun – is that it’s also got me thinking about how to incorporate improvisation into my next job.

Decide What Makes You Distinctive

I’ve always counselled people who are contemplating a career change to think about the overlap between what they like and what they are good at. But one of the key takeaway’s from Dorie Clark’s fabulous Reinventing You is that in order to re-brand yourself, you also need to think about what makes you distinctive and leverage those points of difference. Clark tells the story of a lawyer who used her deductive reasoning powers to launch a successful wine business. Turns out, what she thought of as a weak point (having gone to law school) turned out to be a huge strength in the wine field, so that’s now a core part of this woman’s brand. This was an incredibly useful piece of advice for me. I sometimes hide certain aspects of my professional past because they don’t gel with what I think others expect to hear about me. Now I’m championing them; they make me (uniquely) who I am.

Shadow Someone For A Day

Again, this is a no-brainer if you’re trying out something new. But I’d never thought about it as an option for myself until I had lunch with a former colleague who was also in the throes of a career change. An expert in health communication, she’d thought about setting up a social enterprise to teach young mothers about healthy eating and nutrition. The idea was that they could bring along their children to a local cafe and the kids would play while the mothers learned. But after the first meet-up, she realized two things: a. she didn’t like cooking very much and b. she didn’t really want to spend half a day around other people’s kids. So she moved on. Once you’ve narrowed down your possible career options, rather than staying the realm of fantasy – “Gee, I think I’d love owning a bookstore!” – go work at one for a day and see what the manager actually does. A really efficient use of your time.

How about you? I’d love to hear other things you’ve done to reinvent yourself professionally.

Image: Clock – Career by Flazingo Photos via Flickr

Tips For Adulthood: Five Tools for Crafting Your Elevator Pitch

elevator pitch

elevator pitchAh, the elevator pitch. That magically concise statement of your background, experience and ambition, all neatly trimmed down to 30 seconds and which can, rendered persuasively, land you your next job.

Simple, right?

Not really. Especially if, like me, you’re in the midst of a mid-life transition.

But even as you take some time to figure out exactly what you’d like to do next, there are lots of quick and easy ways to sharpen your focus, without spending a lot of money.

Here are five tools that have helped me hone my elevator pitch and which might work for you:

1. Read Self-Help Books. I’m a big fan of self-help books, especially if – like me – you can’t afford to pay a career coach. Here’s a list of five self-help books that I’ve found particularly useful for sorting out different aspects of my professional development.The key thing to remember is that in order to really get something out of them, try not to dabble. While it’s fine to start and stop and/or to read them alongside something else, be sure that you read each book start to finish, because each one has its own internal logic that builds, chapter by chapter. Above all: do the exercises. They are there to force you to confront tough questions about yourself and you won’t progress if you don’t use these tools to identify your strengths – as well as whatever it is that’s holding you back.

2. Make a list of key words. In my current transition, rather than starting with a list of jobs I wanted to do, I started with a list of words that captured who I wanted to be and what I felt my strengths were. That process felt not only less daunting than picking a new job out of the air, but also more authentic. By starting with words like “insight,” “inspiration,” and “wit,” I am gradually working my way outward to what I want to do next.

3. Take classes. Once you have a reasonably well-formed sense of what you want to do next, try taking a class in it before you commit. I’ve found that adult education courses can be extremely affordable. Classes are useful because they deepen your skills in a particular area, making you feel more confident that you can execute your dream. You also meet other people with that same dream, which helps you to feel less alone. And particularly if you’re contemplating an array of career choices, experimenting with something in a time-bound way, through a class, can also help you articulate what you *don’t* want to do. Closing doors is just as important as opening them as you hone your vision.

4. Experiment with different Online identities. I happened upon this strategy accidentally. In the course of applying for a fellowship recently, I realized that my public identity on assorted social media platforms needed to match the narrative I had presented in my application. So I gave quickly revamped my Twitter handle. Fast forward a month or two and my self-understanding had moved on. That Twitter handle no longer felt 100% accurate, so I honed it some more. And I’m sure I’ll do that again. Part of how we learn to narrate ourselves – to ourselves – is to narrate ourselves to other people. While it might feel scary to put yourself out there in the public domain, it can actually be liberating. Remember, your online self can change!

5. Play. One of the great insights I got from reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way was the importance of play as a stimulus to innovation. Cameron champions the idea of a weekly “artist’s date,” which is about going out and doing something fun to fuel your creativity: going for a walk and collecting Autumn leaves…grabbing your guitar and singing a tune…taking photos of the morning light during your run. I’ve started taking an improvisation acting course. I don’t know where it’s taking me yet, but I do know that it’s helping me to listen more carefully to myself and to take risks.

At the end of the day, I really do believe the much-celebrated line from The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.” Which is to say that the answer to your elevator pitch – which is in turn a proxy for your next life chapter – ultimately lies within. Hopefully these tools can help tease it out.

Image: R.G.E.M. – Elevator Pitch by aiden un via Vimeo

 

 

A Butterfly Theory of Personal Development

chrysalis

chrysalisI got an email not long ago from a reader of this blog. She shared a poem that she’d seen posted elsewhere on the internet which used the metaphor of the butterfly’s chrysalis to understand those periods when we need to go inside ourselves in order to grow.

The word chrysalis has two meanings in British English: “the hard-shelled pupa of a moth or butterfly” – the one it adopts just before morphing into the adult phase of its life cycle – and “anything in the process of developing.”

I knew precisely why she’d sent it to me. I’ve been in a crysalis-like state since late July when I was laid off from my previous job.

What do I mean by this?

Checking Out with Others To Check In With Yourself

First, that I’ve been avoiding people, for the most part. That’s the pupa part of what I’m doing – I’ve formed a hardened shell around my exterior in order to protect myself from outside forces until I’m ready to emerge, fully formed. (And yes, you may thank me for this brisk walk through your sixth grade biology class.)

And that’s because I’ve been trying to decide what my next professional move is, and that requires a great deal of reflection.

While it is both helpful and essential to talk to other people when you’re trying to make a major career shift, one thing I’ve learned over the years is not to talk to them too early on, before your own vision has taken shape.

Otherwise, you’ll find that they get you thinking about how and where, rather than why. And the why is terribly important.

In short, you may find that in order to properly check in with yourself  – whether that means taking an inventory of your interests, figuring out how your assorted, transferrable skills can serve your ambitions, and/or what your “elevator pitch” is going to be – you need to check out with others.

Constructing a New Narrative

But I am also in a stage of growth, which is the second definition of chrysalis. I’ve been keeping a journal and writing a book. I’ve been experimenting with my own creativity.  I’ve (very quietly) taken up a post as a visiting research fellow at a local university. I’m even taking an improvisation class!

I’ve also been spending a lot more time at home doing things I like, such as cooking, watching the 1981 television mini-series of Brideshead Revisited (for the 3rd time) and reading assorted books by John Le Carré, all while nursing the occasional low-alcohol pale ale.

All of these disparate activities are about helping me to construct a new narrative for myself, one that feels more authentic and true to who I am for whatever comes next.

Busy: Back Soon

Someday soon, I am hoping that – like the butterfly – I will shed my protective layer and fly. But that process is never overnight.

It reminds me of the time in one of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories when Christopher Robin hangs a note on his door that reads “Gone Out. Backson. Bizy.”

Yes, I have been busy, but I will be back soon.

Image: Nymphalidae -Danaus Plexippus Chrysalis via Wikipedia Commons

 

Listen To This Surprising Advice From Your Future 90-Year-Old Self

old man

old manI was having lunch with a friend the other day and we got to talking about my next career move. I’m at that stage – once again – where I’m thinking about what’s next for me professionally – so I laid out the three options I’m currently mulling over.

“What do you want me to say?” she asked, when I finished my short speech.

“I want you to tell me which one of those I should pursue!”

She paused and considered my directive for a moment. “What would your 90 year old self advise you to do?”

It was a great question.

Regret exerts a powerful pull on us in adulthood. And she was basically counselling me not to reach the ripe old age of 90 and ask myself, “What might have been?”

But I felt that she was also exhorting me to get in touch with my authentic self. I have a very well developed analytic side to my brain.  If it goes unchecked, I can easily spend my life thinking my way through dilemmas. She was basically saying to me: Don’t think, Feel. Ask yourself what you really want right now, not what you ought to want. In other words, no more shoulds.

Which in turn reminded me of one of my favorite self-help books, about which I’ve evangelized before: Elle Luna’s amazing, The Crossroads of Should and Must. In this book – which is all about uncovering your authentic self – giving up the “shoulds” (what we think we ought to do) for the “musts” (our true passions) – the author has you do a series of exercises designed to elicit your “must.”

One of them which I found particularly effective was to write my own obituary – actually to write two of them. The first is how you *think* your obituary will read when you die and the second is how you’d like it to read. This doesn’t necessarily need to be an exercise about career change, but it’s perfectly designed to explore that realm of life.

Try it. It’s excruciatingly painful and yet incredibly elucidating.

If you’re like me, what you’ll discover is that you could end your professional days with a perfectly respectable career doing X, Y, or Z. Perhaps you’re on a few boards and maybe you’ve even won some accolades.

But while your “likely” obituary might recount a professional journey you won’t be ashamed of, that doesn’t mean that it’s really “you.” And if that’s the case, you might end up closing out your days feeling cheated.

I, for one, don’t want that to happen to me.

Which is why that lunch was a great wake up call to check back in with myself about what I really want to get out of the second half of life. I went back to those dueling obituaries, re-read them, and realized that I was still in danger of having the “wrong obituary” if I wasn’t incredibly mindful about how I approach this whole process of career change.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Image: Jack Shaller by Chris Bentley via Flickr