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.