Tag Archives: professional reinvention

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: 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