Changing Careers: the Process of Reinvention

As the Boomers stroll or hurtle into into the last phase of their working lives, we hear the word “reinvention” a lot.  But reinventing yourself doesn’t only apply to Boomers getting older and running short of time, and it doesn’t only apply to changing your work.  If you have been doing something you weren’t really crazy about, or if there is something you have always wanted to do with your time and talent, or if you have been watching transformational change in your industry, or if you just stumbled over a thing you are really good at and really like, then reinvention is just the ticket.

Well.  Not so much, actually, because it isn’t all that simple.  Reinvention is a quick and easy word for a Big Big Change.  In you.   Even people who like change don’t necessarily like being changed.  We can all support change when change is a theoretical, rhetorical, or political concept that aligns well with what we believe are our values.  Until things you reach for in the dark aren’t where they used to be.  Meaning, what you took for granted was not what you planned to alter.

But even if you are motivated, for example, to simply make a living as a teacher instead of as an accountant, the voice in your head that inspired you to make that change has not actually accounted for a.) stretching actual teacher paychecks from now until retirement, b.) actual student attention span and cooperation, c.) school district (i.e., government) management hierarchy, and d.) the difference between your cubicle or office and your classroom, if you get one.  In other words, have you adequately identified your real desire?  Or, in other other words, have you accurately identified all the things that will have to change, meaning those inside of you, some of which you maybe don’t know about?

Here are just a few of the many things that may have to be reinvented on the way to the new you:

1.  Your budget.  If you are the accountant in the example above, of course you have started by figuring this one out.  But for the rest of you, assume you have to start at the bottom of a new hierarchy, at beginner pay or worse, and that you may have to pay for training or education.  Before you dive into that education expense, at least sample the way the new work works, test your assumptions, spend a day in the life of your aspirational role model, and work out the numbers meticulously.  Cash flow is particularly important.  Selling the house to generate the cash for investing in you is not the worst thing you can do, but it might be close.  Consult a conservative expert and know the downside risk.

2.  Your working conditions.  I don’t necessarily mean the door to your office that closes and locks, or the free coffee you and your colleagues enjoyed, or the deadlines you controlled.  I mean that in some of the common places that people want to go to Be The Change, there are not enough dollars to pay for enough people to do the work.  So you do it.  Until it’s done. I mean that you spend your own money on supplies, that you have to raise money to do the projects you want to do, that your future and your pay are not certain, and that all the skills you have don’t necessarily stretch quite as far as the door to your comfort zone entry hall.

3.  Your patience.  Whatever you have been doing, you have been doing more effectively than the thing you have in mind to replace it.  You have shortcuts, habits, wisdom, credibility, language, relationships, and tenure that allows you to look back over your history and forgive yourself the occasional slip.  In your new world, Not.  The only way to the other side is going to be through the woods, reinventing shortcuts, habits, wisdom, credibility, language, relationships, and tenure that permits limited self-indulgence.  Reinvention is also reinvention of the learning process, and many of your new things are going to be really really new, not just to you.

4.  Your relationships.   More listening; more asking; more developing.  Sowing, not harvesting.  Open to feedback and critical examination.  Whatever the motivation to make your change, others will be involved in making you successful.  You have to ask questions and you have to be confident that the assumptions that got you interested are likely not completely valid or even useful.  It’s relationship-building that is the core of successful reinvention; this is not something you can do all by yourself.

5.  Your commitment.  And here’s where this gets tough.  When you are just starting out in your first career or your launch job, or whatever got you where you are, you were younger and maybe a tad more resilient.  Each time we make these big changes, our tolerance for imperfection and inconvenience erodes a little.  And if you have ever hit a big big disappointment, it might erode a lot.  So your commitment has to be crafted, and you have to set your rules for engagement and disengagement intentionally.  You are going to slog through some sadness at the loss of something or things you liked, well before the new things you like present themselves.  You are going to hate some days and be angry with yourself for undertaking this thing.  You are going to be appalled at the real thing hiding behind the thing you were expecting, and turn away shaking your head, unconvinced it will all work out.

It will all work out.

My advice:

Plan exhaustively for the things that matter: like money, relationships with your support system, and sound information about what you are really undertaking, for examples.  Invest in a therapist (a proven professional) before you implement the parts of the plan that require you to sell the house, buy the franchise, head into the desert, join a cult, or sign up for expensive training that requires a big loan.

The process takes as long as it takes, so you need to have checkpoints, benchmarks, safety valves, and contingencies.  Before you stop doing what you have been doing, you must have at least a year and maybe more in reserve funds.  Unless you have been pushed unwillingly into a situation where you have no choice, in which case your plan has to be highly flexible and driven by contingencies and the fundamental law of food and shelter: they come first.

Segue instead of cliff-dive.  If you are an accountant and you want to teach, teach accounting, or even financial management, or even math.   Staying in a subject family makes it easier to exploit one area of expertise while learning a whole new other thing.  As you head for career sunset, you then have a body of work that is more cohesive than choppy.  Choppy is an interesting phenomenon when you see it on a resume, and it’s hard for an employer to entertain.  Continuity, however, is a brand-builder, as it looks more like an intentional progression.

Write your story out as you live it.  This might be journaling, blogging, note-taking, or just memorializing, but it is important.  Your brain is going to be so full of disconnected experiences, emotional reactions, and new information that you will not be able to separate your narrative from your grocery list.  Writing what is happening is a form of planning.  If you are reinventing you, this is the how-to manual that you are creating as you go along.  This might seem like a nice-to-have, but it’s really a must-have.   You have to understand what you are doing as you are doing it, and writing is your best bet for returning to the scene to re-interpret when you need to.

Build strong relationships intentionally.  Even if you find that you have little or nothing in common with your chosen targeted industry colleagues (and that is profoundly unlikely), the process of discovery is most often facilitated by others when we choose to interact.  Even if your process is one of disagreeing with the way things are done and your mission is change, other people are important, and this is a time when you need them.

Just remember, it will all work out.  Once you begin to put a new comfort zone around the new you, you will mostly be where you headed.  But remember–you are expanding who you are, not just redefining your career, and it is worth doing with clear intention and purpose.

 

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