When recovering from a career transition later in life, take the time to reflect on who you are and what you want before jumping into a new job or starting a new business or freelance practice.
While we Boomers have lots of life experience, and the wisdom culled from making many valuable mistakes, pivoting to a new career and a new lifestyle over 50 is a very different proposition from searching for a new job in one’s 30s or 40s. A new career strategy has to emerge organically from deep inside us. Without pondering these questions and figuring out our answers, jumping right into a new job – like a new relationship on the rebound – can be a prescription for failure.
Two recent conversations with senior level Boomer executives going through this process have highlighted some important lessons about what to expect when we’re reinventing.
Marilyn Friedman, a 20-year veteran of DreamWorks Animation and its predecessor company Pacific Data Images, was a casualty of the company’s downsizing strategy. Even though the decision to let her go was not a reflection of, or a judgment against her work, leaving a company that she had helped build was traumatic. Marilyn went through the classic grief stages we associate with loss. For the first three months, she went through the motions of focusing on networking and pursuing leads, but she hadn’t fully let go of her job identity and needed more time to process.
Robin Nasatir was a successful management consultant for over 20 years, who had developed her career at a boutique consulting firm. Thriving on the firm’s selective approach to working with clients, and the variety and stimulation of tackling new challenges with each project, she was able to achieve the kind of work-life balance that she sought. When the firm’s founder retired, Robin was tapped to take over the firm, and ran it successfully for a number of years, but felt increasingly that the work-life balance she cherished was ebbing away. At the appropriate moment, she was able to negotiate the sale of the firm, and departed on her own terms to find her next act.
While Robin’s story might sound diametrically opposite from Marilyn’s experience, she nonetheless experienced many of the same symptoms of disorientation and dislocation. Robin threw herself into looking for the kind of experience she was missing in her old job, but wasn’t taking the time to reflect and recharge. It finally hit her that she needed to let go of her expectations, and her ties and attachments to her old job, before she could actually be open to something new.
Regardless of the manner in which we lose our jobs, it is clear that the real challenges, particularly at our age, are the inner challenges. Both Robin and Marilyn wound up benefiting from three important lessons, which they both agree should be cornerstones of our career reinvention process:
1. Wait as long as you can before taking a new position. This is one of the most difficult and counterintuitive concepts for Boomers, particularly if we are feeling the personal and financial pressure of being out of work. We think we have to “suck it up,” and charge back out into the jobs marketplace, carpet bomb recruiters with 15 different versions of our resume and campaign our way into interviews.
But the downside of taking the wrong job, vs. waiting for the right job, is significant. Remember that we are at a different point in our careers. What worked for us when we were younger is not necessarily going to work for us now. Compromises that we once made to fit in when we needed the work are going to be a lot more difficult now. If we were in a job that we loved, with people who knew us and worked well with us, we may not realize that we are joining an organization where the conditions and culture are not compatible with what we value, and how we work. Before joining a new team, make very sure that you have interviewed them as much or more than they have interviewed you.
Both Marilyn and Robin experienced disappointment when they accepted offers early-on in their reinvention process. Marilyn found herself in a consulting gig for a team that had not agreed on the goals for her position. While the hiring manager thought he was clear about the assignment, his boss had very different ideas, and Marilyn realized that she was the football being tossed back and forth in a corporate power struggle. She quit. Robin took some time to cultivate a relationship with a new consulting firm, but found that her working style was not meshing with the company, and that they were not open to change. She quit as well.
2. Work with a coach. Both executives recommend that Boomers in career transition work with a professional to help guide them on their journey to the right gig. All of the uncertainty surrounding this transition at this age requires more than the hand-holding and encouragement that our friends and family can provide. Working with the right coach can save us the heartache and the hassle of making the wrong move and finding ourselves right back out on the street. That kind of occurrence is not only bad for our soul, it’s bad for our resume.
3. Gain perspective through service. Being out of work can be maddening and frustrating for someone who has been going to an office 5 or more days per week for the last 20-30 years. Don’t stick around the house and either wallow, or get stressed out by the fact that you don’t have a job yet. Volunteer for a local organization that needs you to come in for a certain number of hours each week. By devoting your time and energy to helping others, you can gain valuable insights into your own situation. You never know what will come of it. At the very least, doing uplifting work for others gives you a new narrative that everyone is going to want to hear about. Rather than listening to you bemoaning your frustrating job search, they’ll get to hear about how you and the organization you are working with are making people’s lives better. Don’t discount the power of positive energy: when you are coming from a positive and encouraging place, others will see you as a positive and encouraging person that they – or someone they know who’s hiring – will want to work with.
Marilyn and Robin both followed this path on their journey. As a result of taking the time to clear lingering issues from the past, reflect on what they truly wanted, and spend some time focused on helping others, they have both recently started new engagements with positive outlooks. While the journey took longer than expected, they both feel more settled, more centered, and more appreciative. They are discovering the kind of truly sustainable career alignment that can support them in their careers for as long as they need (or want) to work.