For some individuals navigating the mid-career blahs involves taking on added job responsibilities or even changing positions within their firms. Others seek out new experiences by shifting firms or possibly taking on like-kind roles in new industries.

While there’s work involved in all of those cases, the degree of difficulty is relatively low for job changers compared to the challenges faced by those I reference as career reinventors. For this latter group, the process of determining what to do is the first big challenge. In this article, I share ideas on the method of determining purpose and cause as part of your career reinvention work.

Career Reinvention is Much More than a Job Change

Career reinventors are individuals so fundamentally dissatisfied with remaining in place or making what they perceive are token adjustments in their situations, they’re willing to increase the difficulty and risk factors in pursuit of “something” important to them. Of course, wrapping their brains and arms around the “something” is often a challenging proposition.

Your First Instinct is To Pursue Your Passion. It’s Usually Wrong

It might sound odd for a career reinvention coach to suggest that pursuing your passion might be the wrong thing for you to do. Consider it a bit of tough love.

Hobbies mostly make lousy businesses. We’re typically passionate about hobbies because they intrigue and reward us psychologically as we engage in them. They put us in contact with others who share our interests. And, they’re fun because they don’t feel like work.

Unfortunately, most hobbies are financial money pits—taking way more than they ever give back in dollars and cents. Psychologically, I get it—they’re priceless. Just tread carefully if you’re thinking of putting your hobby to work.

Reinventing Your Career Shouldn’t Mean Taking a Vow of Poverty

While some individuals are fortunate enough not to need income, most of us need to eat and otherwise finance our lifestyles. Career reinvention does mean investing in yourself—you are your business/product—however, the goal isn’t to perpetually burn cash. I coach individuals to find that sweet spot where interest, ability, and marketability converge. Without marketability, you’re back to having a costly hobby.

And yes, I know it sounds a bit crass to talk money when your real motivation is to come to grips with your higher sense of purpose as in, “What is it that I was put here to do?”

You’re Solving for Next, Not for Forever

Career reinvention is more about tuning in to something important to you at this phase of your career and life, and not necessarily about fulfilling some greater existential need. This is why I encourage career reinventors to reframe what they mean by the term: purpose.

Think purpose with a lower-case “p.”

If you’re willing to go to great lengths to reinvent yourself in your career, it’s a fair bet you want to focus on doing something for someone that means something to you (and them). I call this “purpose” with a lower-case p, to contrast it with some higher-order existential “Purpose in Life” search. We’re all on that same journey; however, don’t conflate it with the way you make your living at this moment in time.

Self-Discovery Provides Important Clues

In the career reinvention coaching process, we take the time to gain insights into individual’s backstories, how others perceive their superpowers, and what they’re like when they are at their absolute best in their work. The output of this self-discovery process offers valuable clues to abilities and interests, but not marketability. That comes at a later stage.

Some of the clues to purpose emerged from the following insights:

  • The technology executive is at her best when she’s coaching and developing new managers and emerging leaders.
  • The marketing professional is at her best when she’s inspiring individuals to innovate and create by using dance and movement. (I love this one!)
  • The corporate finance professional is someone great at helping aspiring entrepreneurs deal with money issues when their focus is elsewhere.
  • The software developer who is at his best as a musician and photographer.
  • The later stage IT professional who thrives in the chaos of start-ups.
  • The product professional driven to leverage her wisdom in pursuit of social causes.

Now Comes the “How?”

Wrapping your brain around the purpose or broader issue that is important to you at this life-stage is essential. It sets the direction. However, determining how to best do it in a way that is marketable and valuable to your audience is the real trick. I call this, “finding the cause.” For every well-articulated statement of purpose, there are many ways you can bring it to life.

Consider the individual motivated to help develop new leaders. This sense of purpose at this stage can manifest in multiple forms (causes). The individual can become a coach and hang out a shingle. The individual can write books, develop online courses, become a teacher, or join a firm that trains new and emerging leaders. The real trick is in figuring out the best way to bring your purpose to life.

First, Assess the Right Vector For You:

If you’ve hit that stage of career restlessness referenced at the top of this article, take some time to think about and document your answers to the following questions:

  1. Do you like your current organization?
  2. Do you have or can you create opportunities to add-on to or shift your role in your current organization?
  3. If staying in the same firm isn’t a key driver, might you be motivated to shift industries in a like-kind role as a means of re-energizing your career? This is particularly relevant if you love what you do but prefer to be exposed to some new variables.
  4. Do you feel a strong drive to radically shift what you do, where you do it, and even who you do it for?

If you work through this short list and come down squarely in favor of the last question, it’s time to consider career reinvention.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I long ago decided my career was going to be an adventure, not a grind. I also recognized what motivated me at one stage didn’t need to be a life sentence. There are times when we do what we have to as a means of fulfilling obligations. Ultimately, however, the best way to fulfill those obligations is to do what you care about and then to shift or adjust when something inside you tells you it’s time.

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