For the Year of the Boomer -- 2014 is the year the youngest Boomers turn 50 -- here is another installment in my survey of 50 Boomers across 10 career categories who have reinvented themselves within the last 10 years.
Career reinvention may be a radical shift from one industry to another, or the fulfillment of a long-held dream to start a business. A career reinvention can also manifest as a kind of "radical sabbatical" -- a risky move that serves to both re-focus and amplify our career expression, making us more marketable, building renewed confidence, and broadening our exposure to attract more attention -- and more business.
When we are stuck in career doldrums, we have to be alert and pay attention to crazy opportunities that just drop in our lap -- opportunities that we might otherwise pass up.
Clare Novak jumped at such a chance to redefine her career and dig her way out of hard times. Clare worked as a management trainer across a range of corporate businesses, and by all indications was quite satisfied with her work. But while she had been happily chugging along for 18 years in her Chester Springs, PA consulting business, the economic downturn hit, and she began to lose clients. A number of companies, it turns out, had figured out how to automate much of the training process that had been the staple of her core business. When she got down to only one remaining client, she began to seriously contemplate other avenues, and smartly realized she needed to consider a wider range of options.
When an international contact of hers wrote asking her for a referral suggestion for an open position in Islamabad, Pakistan, she jumped at the position herself -- despite some serious reservations about the working conditions and the environment for a single Western woman in a Muslim country. The position had her name virtually written all over it. As quoted in an article in the NY Times, her reaction was: "The only person I know who would go there is me."
At 58, Claire moved to Islamabad on a 24-month contract to serve as a Human Resources advisor to nine power generation companies. This was a chance for her to recharge her career with a high-profile position that gave her experience and credibility in a new incarnation of her training and consulting career. She also felt inspired and fulfilled by the chance to make a real personal and professional difference for the people and departments she was consulting to. Despite the challenges of working and living in a restrictive Muslim society, she prevailed, knowing that she was making an investment in her future.
Back in the U.S. since the end of the Islamabad contract, Clare has resumed her consulting practice, and is building traction in the improved economy, leveraging her evolutionary Pakistan sabbatical to sign new clients and broaden her business footprint.
In an earlier time, Clare might have folded her consulting business and limped her way into an "early retirement." That is no longer an option for a longer-living Boomer generation, where our longevity is going to allow us to make meaningful contributions in the workplace for much longer than previous generations. In fact, our experience, particularly experience born out of adaptability and reinvention like Clare's, is what is going to make us more and more valuable. The key, as Clare discovered, is to be willing to pivot as necessary and adjust to where the business world is going -- not to cling to outmoded business models or outdated skills.
Examine your life up to this point: What fascinates you? What, even if I don't fully understand it, really lights me up? What is worth doing? What's most rewarding and where can I make a contributions? Dr. Shep Nuland, a retired surgeon-turned-author who was interviewed by Mark Walton, author of the book Boundless Potential, suggests, "...look back, begin to rediscover who you were when you were 15, 25, or 30 with all that wide range of things that fascinated you that you gave up to become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, business executive and so forth, to care for a family or whatever."
Explore ways in which your personal fascination can be translated into action -- into real-world work you would deeply enjoy, and that would empower you to succeed, Walton writes. Track all the different activities you do, both at work and outside of work, and write down whenever you find yourself experiencing "flow," Walton advises. This concept, created by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is characterized by a sense of being so engaged in the activity that time disappears; a sense of clarity, energy, creativity and joyful mastery. What aspects of your work or leisure activities evoke a sense of flow?
"After being a 'grownup' for 20 to 30 years, there is a certain 'tranquilized obviousness' to our lives, to who we 'hold ourselves' to be," writes Mark Walton, author of Boundless Potential. "We have become, in many ways, what we print on our business cards... Psychologists call this 'institutional identity.' It took us a long time to develop these roles for ourselves, and if we have been successful, they have served us quite well. ...Recognizing our fascination necessitates looking behind the labels we have adopted, penetrating our own PR." Flickr photo via: Needoptic
As you weigh your reinvention strategy, consider work that leaves a legacy. Psychologist Erik Erikson said "In adulthood you learn to know what and whom you can take care of." As author Mark Walton writes in the book Boundless Potential: "...Erikson held firmly to the conviction that by creating a legacy through our love and work, by paying it forward, we generate, for ourselves, a higher order of existence -- a level of well-being and self-fulfillment that is otherwise rarely experienced." Flickr photo via: TinyTall
Whether your reinvention involves a project, a role, a career, a business or a nonprofit, think like an entrepreneur, advises Mark Walton, author of Boundless Potential. Consider marketplace structures and unserved niches of demand that will allow you to pursue your new work. On the financial side, pay off any revolving debt, such as credit cards, and figure out exactly what you are spending each month. Then, set aside at least six months' of living expenses to help fund your transition. Don't buy into the illusion of safety of a full-time job, Walton adds, noting that the unemployment rate for post-midlife workers doubled from 2007 to 2009, to the highest level in at least 60 years.
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