How does a behind-the-scenes news reporter morph into a public speaker? By stumbling around several times, in my case. That's because Dorie Clark had not yet written Reinventing You. She could have saved me some time, effort and self-inflicted frustration. Perhaps you, too, want (or must) change professions. Soon.
We Can't Support Your Career Change if We Don't Understand It
My desire to jump into a new line of work seemed perfectly obvious and natural to me because I wasn't changing my strongest, underlying interest: why do we behave in the often unexpected ways that we do?
As a reporter I could feed that strong curiosity. I always had the excuse to ask questions directly and persistently, in ways that are considerably different than casual conversation. As a speaker I have the opportunity to share actionable insights on those same topics, gleaned from social scientists I deeply admire.
Yet we can't expect others to be mind readers. I didn't adequately articulate that continuing thread to my work life when explaining my shift to friends, colleagues or strangers. Many of them could have smoothed the way for me as I attempted to turn the page to the next chapter I wanted for my life adventure -- if they had understood more clearly why I was making the change and how I was suited for it. Dorie cites Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done."
Again, Dorie's very concrete steps for making that change -- and explaining them in credible, vivid ways -- would have helped enormously. For me the big step into the stream of work life happened in high school. A high school counselor diagnosed me as "phobically shy" yet actually I was an introvert with a proclivity for reading and daydreaming. That suits reporters who must get others talking. And paid speakers, like reporters, must share messages, wrapped in stories, which people want to hear.
It's Stressful Enough to Change in Public. Get a Road Map to Guide You
Again I could have used Dorie's eleven-step roadmap for redefining and living my personal brand so it was obvious to others. As an ardent believer in specificity I especially value Dorie's pointers and questions for close self-examination. They are buttressed by relevant stories and examples.
Dorie writes from first-hand experience, going through several distinguished chapters of professional reinvention that included being a political journalist, and a former presidential campaign spokesperson to her work today. She is a strategy and communication consultant who supports organizations in marketing and brand reputation. She, too, writes for Huffington Post. We met at a Renaissance Weekend, where the ethos of generous, mutual support makes fertile ground for testing reinvention.
Some Re-Invention Tips from Dorie's Book:
• To launch her new consulting business: "I honed my narrative (what am I bringing to the table?), crafted my content (so clients could get a taste of my ideas and approach), and began using every vehicle possible - from speaking to writing to enlisting 'validators' - to spread the message."
• Conduct a 360 focus group of friends and colleagues to see how they perceive your brand. "If three people tell you you're a horse, buy a saddle," advised angel investor Judy Robinett.
• Encourage candid responses in that focus group with what executive coach, Michael Melcher, calls "paired questions" such as "What's my strength? What's not my strength?" Of course, you would take a personal inventory, as well, as Meghan M. Biro suggests.
• "Research your destination" then "test-drive your path." Ways to do both include online searching, interviews, moonlighting, volunteering via organizations like VocationVacations and, per executive coach Alisa Cohn, serve on boards that relate to your desired new role. Such advance research and first-hand experience can both confirm (or not) that you'll will enjoy this new kind of work and provide natural relationship-building opportunities in your new arena. Even if you simply want to confirm that your current brand is optimal for you, or to burnish it, these methods can help.
"In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different," Coco Chanel once said. For "leveraging your points of difference, Dorie describes ways to build on your transferable skills, understand what you have and don't, use the power of your identity, start with your appearance as a brand and be aware of the perils of "fixing" your brand. Regarding that last point, one of her exercises is to "Make a list of the things about yourself that most surprise people when you tell them at a cocktail party (you were in the Peace Corps, you speak Finnish, you're a former professional saxophonist)."
If Al Gore and Al Franken can dramatically and eventually re-brand themselves, as Dorie describes in helpful detail in her book, so can you.