The Next Act series at Management Excellence is dedicated to helping experienced leaders revitalize and reinvent.
For most of the later career re-inventors I’ve worked with, the wake-up call wasn’t so much a single trigger event as it was a confluence of several issues. A creeping sense of restlessness, a need to feel engaged and even immersed yet again, and a sense of the career-clock winding down are common themes I’ve heard from a variety of professionals. For some, it’s a deep belief that their best work is still ahead of them, just somewhere other than where they’ve been plying their trades. And for others, it’s a life-event…an illness, the loss of a parent or a friend that made them question what they were doing with their time here.
The wake-up call is one that for many is an annoying distraction to be tuned-out. They hit the metaphorical snooze button and wait for a more convenient time to change. After all, change is hard. Uprooting ourselves from a career we’ve labored at for decades is no easy decision or simple task. There’s the loss of status and the loss of security that we trade our time for, otherwise known as the paycheck. Our significant others are comfortable with the lifestyle and nothing creates strain on a relationship like the two parties being out of sync on a major, lifestyle impacting change.
But for some, including myself, the noise was impossible to tune out. No matter how many times I hit the snooze button on massive career change, it would go off again, each time a bit louder in my mind. The loss of multiple family members over the past decade and a medical check-up that sent off a series of red flares were big life-change drivers for me. A remarkable and supportive spouse helped melt my final resistance and I embarked on my own journey into consulting, coaching, teaching and writing.
Blending my own insights, discoveries and mistakes with those generously shared by some of my career re-inventor contemporaries, I’ve compiled a short list of suggestions for anyone considering this dramatic change. Feel free to add to the list with your own suggestions. We all benefit in the process.
9 Tips for Anyone Considering Answering the Career Reinvention Wake-Up Call:
1. Build new skills while you have a steady paycheck. I’ve spent an incredible amount of non-revenue generating time developing new skills. From developing as a graduate management instructor to developing and leading workshops to learning to blog, writing two books and developing as a keynote speaker, I’ve spent untold hours over the past decade practicing. I love the joy of discovery and the slow and eventual development of competence (always aiming for mastery), but it is hard to do this while you are searching for and fulfilling on business.
2. Focus if you can. It helps reduce risk and start-up time if you know where you will apply your energy. One client shifted from corporate to running a not-for-profit focused on a mission important to him. Another bought into a landscaping business. Yet another started his own temporary staffing service in the financial industry. All three of these professionals navigated the transition from their former careers with relative ease.
3. Expect to experiment if you’re not certain where to go. The individual who left to lead a not-for-profit spent time volunteering at several to develop a feeling for the reality of the situation. The new landscaper worked weekends with the seller for awhile and then retained the seller for the season to help out. Thinking of buying a franchise? The best advice I ever heard was, find one 20 miles or more away from your home and get a job there before to decide whether it’s what you imagined it would be. Be deliberate.
4. Find great help fast. I engaged the individual I perceive is the best speaking coach in America to help tune my speaking skills. I started with him thinking I was a good amateur. I quickly realized “good” was liberal. His support has helped me change the game.
5. Get in shape. Seriously. Regardless of what you choose to do, you will need all of the energy you can get and you’ll need a productive way of burning off a whole new set of stress. If the past 30 years in corporate life have blessed you with 30 extra pounds, it’s time to spend a few months shedding that weight, changing your body image and gaining all of the incredible benefits of better physical health. Your current coworkers will marvel at the change and you’ll be feeling physically fantastic when you decide to take the lead.
6. Involve your significant other in the decision process and if possible, venture planning. He or she is an essential stakeholder in you. To a person, the people I’ve talked and worked with on this topic believed that it was essential to involve their other half. In one case where this step was skipped, there was some significant repair work and time required.
7. Do not expect your 30 years of industry contacts to beat a path to your door. This particular issue has proven disappointing for many. You might get lucky and one or several will reach out to support or engage you, but don’t count on it. They don’t know you in the context of your new venture. While this doesn’t mean you cannot market to them, just don’t them to shower you with checks.
8. Don’t preoccupy on infrastructure. Focus on identifying key needs that you can reasonably fulfill with audiences able to pay for you. Focus on building a program to market yourself as an expert. The website doesn’t sell…it’s what’s on the website. You don’t really need an office to start and you sure don’t need staff. Focus on the audience and your value proposition and then focus on ways to find and engage this audience.
9. Do something to move things forward every single day. Nothing helps you overcome resistance better than action. Too many people stew on ideas for too long and fail to do anything about them. If you’re serious about answering the wake-up call, it’s time to get to work.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
This step beyond what you’ve done for so many years can be the most exhilarating phase of your career, but it takes hard work and sheer tenacity to pull it off. There are a hundred good reasons why this is a bad idea. There’s only one good reason that it’s a great idea and he or she is looking back at you in the mirror. After all, it’s your career.