Tag Archives: professional reinvention

Three Mindsets for Professional Reinvention

singing

singingAt this point in my life, I like to believe that I pretty much know what I think about professional reinvention. As a veteran of several career changes, I’ve given a lot of thought to not only how – but when – to embark on a midlife career makeover.

But sometimes the learning one does along the way isn’t so much about adopting new tactics, as it is about discovering new mindsets. Moreover, as someone who’s frequently asked for advice on the subject of midlife reinvention, I find that different messages land differently with different audiences. So it’s always great to have some new frameworks to hand for inspiring others in their own professional development journey.

In the last week, I’ve come across three new mindsets for professional reinvention which I  thought I’d share because they really spoke to me, and may also speak to you:

Don’t get trapped in the ‘paralysis of analysis’

I got this idea from an interview I heard on the wonderful Second Act Stories podcast, which is all about  showcasing people pursuing “second acts” of various sorts in later life. The interview was with a woman called Jane Canapini, who – after spending 20 years in advertising – decided to launch a business devoted to her life-long passion, travel. The business is aimed at a mature audience and is (appropriately) called Grownup Travels. (Great concept!).

Based on her own experience, Canapini was trying to suggest that you don’t necessarily need to over-think career change in midlilfe. Sometimes the thing you ought to be doing is staring you right in the face, because it’s what you were doing in your spare time anyway (in her case, travel.)

I wholeheartedly endorse this principle. I am, by nature, a highly analytical person. I spent the better part of year inside a self-styled chrysalis reflecting on my next career move. But there is something to be said for leading from your gut – or your heart – rather than your brain, in selecting your next move. If you find that you’re stuck for ideas, think about three things you would do tomorrow if you had nothing else planned. Or what you did as a child. (I stole both of these ideas from the amazing Elle Luna, by the way.) Chances are, those are your passions and the answer to “what’s next?” lies somewhere in there.

Sing your unsung song 

This strap line comes from a story I was told by a former colleague who now runs the learning and development program at a large British company. He was telling me about a restaurant he’d recently toured that had received incredibly high ratings for its line management. He was there to see what tips he could glean to inspire managers in his own workplace.

The secret? All managers in this restaurant were required to ask their direct reports what they most needed in order to develop either personally or professionally – even if it wasn’t related to their jobs. In one case, a 21 year-old waitress was empowered to pursue her love of photography, which she was on the verge of giving up because the class she wanted to take conflicted with her waitressing duties. So her boss flexed her schedule to enable her to take the course. He was banking on the fact that if she could feel more fulfilled outside of work, she might come to feel more engaged at work. He was right. Subsequently, she proposed doing a photo shoot for a charity event at the restaurant. It was the proverbial win-win for employer and employee alike.

This woman was only 21, yet she already had an “unsung song.” By the time you hit 50, you might have several of those. As we age, we all yearn for something we didn’t do – the proverbial road not taken. It might be the novel we always meant to write…the sport we always dreamed of playing…the island in the Mediterranean where we secretly hoped to spend all of our summers.

You may not be able to make that “song” 100% of what you do. But you might be able to work it into a portfolio careerpursue a side-hustle, or engage actively in volunteer work.

Give Something Away for Free

This final mindset comes from a wonderful little book a friend gave me called The Go-Giver. The basic premise of the book is that you don’t succeed in life because you take more away; you succeed because you give back.

The lesson for career change is that if there’s something you really want to do, give it away for free. Set up a blog about your unsung song. Give an unpaid speech. Offer free advice or services.

If your eventual goal is to make money off of this passion, you obviously can’t give it away for free forever. But you may find, paradoxically, that if you build it, they will come. More importantly, you will feel that you are not just thinking about, but actually realizing, your unsung song (see point one). And that’s a great feeling.

How about you? What are your secrets for moving forward in a midlife career change?

Image: Close up photo of woman singing by Oleg Magni via Pexels

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Tools for Adopting a Growth Mindset

working woman

working womanOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

One of the things I enjoy most about my new life as a communications consultant is the variety it brings. One day I’m coaching a student on how to write a doctoral thesis …another day I’m editing a policy briefing…and the next I’m delivering a workshop on life skills for offices to a group of statisticians.

But dealing with that variety also has its challenges. Lately, I’ve been spreading my wings outside of the higher education and non-profit sectors to venture into commercial work. And as I begin working with a different sort of client, I am learning how to operate in an entirely new world – one that has its own vocabulary, mores and ethos.

I’ve long been a huge fan of  Carol Dweck’s concept of “the growth mindset.” This is the idea that we shouldn’t think about our basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, as fixed traits that are unalterable. Rather, she encourages people to embrace a “growth mindset,” one where people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. So as I make my foray into London’s financial center, “The City,” to drum up new clients, I am in full-on, growth mindset mode.

Here are five tools for adopting a growth mindset:

a.  Think of it as part of your lifelong learning. Dweck maintains that a growth mindset fosters a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. In a similar vein, one of the key takeaways from reading Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott’s brilliant book, The 100 Year Life, is that we need to abandon the traditional idea of a neatly arranged, three-staged life comprised of education, career and retirement. Instead, we need to embrace a multi-phased life course in which people keep learning throughout their lives, take lots of breaks and dip in and out of jobs and careers.  I think about my immersion in the private sector right now as a form of life-long learning, albeit one that doesn’t happen outside my job, but within it.

b.  Create some affirmations. One practical step that can help cultivate a growth mindset are affirmations. Affirmations are short, powerful statements of self-belief.  I adopted this practice – (which, like many others, I stole from Julia Cameron) – when I was writing my book manuscript last year. Telling myself things like, “I’m a good writer,” “I like my book,” and “My writing engages and connects with readers” was really helpful on those off days where I didn’t have flow or lost confidence in myself. But affirmations don’t have to just be creative. They can also apply to work, e.g.: “I am a great salesperson,”…”I enjoy client relationship management,”…”I love empowering people from all walks of life to achieve their full communications potential.” As a friend of mine who spent 30 years as a consultant in the private sector put it, “Don’t think of the Private Sector Delia as different to University Delia or Non-Profit Delia. She is the same person, who happens to be applying her skill set to a different sector.”

c.  Join a group. Another way to build confidence and gain insight when you’re embracing a new professional identity is to join a group of other people facing a similar challenge. Last year I joined a global network of professional women called Ellevate, right when I was launching my business. 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. I found it incredibly reassuring – and useful – to bounce ideas about marketing, business development and networking with other women who were either going through – or had already been through – a similar set of challenges.

d.  Get a new wardrobeResearch has also shown that what we wear to work affects the way we are perceived by others and the way we perceive ourselves. So if we want to adopt a new mindset – “I am the boss lady now!” – changing our clothes can help change our mindset. I’m already well on my way to rocking the City

e.  In the end, of course, if you really want to lean into your growth mindset, there’s no substitute for Nike’s motto: “Just do it!” I was listening to the Creative Class podcast the other day, when host Paul Jarvis observed that “the cure to fear is action.” Although I normally dislike cold-calling people – hearing this clarion call – I grabbed the phone and adopted a “smile and dial” mindset. And guess what? I landed three leads in 24 hours.

How about you? What strategies have you employed to get yourself in the right mindset for a new professional identity?

Image: Woman taking phone call via Pexels

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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

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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