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 search or starting a new business or beginning a freelance practice.
While we boomers have lots of life experience, and wisdom culled from making many valuable mistakes, pivoting to a new career and a new lifestyle over 50 is a very different proposition than a job search in one’s 30s or 40s. We know too much and have done too much to go back to work just because someone makes us an offer. Without assessing whether or not a new opportunity is really right for us, we could be setting ourselves up for failure at a point in our lives when we don’t really have time left to squander.
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. Her story is one of the seven profiles of reinvented boomers in Boomer Reinvention. The decision to let her go was prompted by the company’s financial troubles – not unlike many of the downsizing stories we’ve heard so much about in the “new” economy. Still, leaving a company that she had helped build was traumatic, even if her lay-off had nothing to do with her performance. Marilyn went through the classic grief stages we associate with loss, and it took her longer than she expected to get clear about exactly what she wanted for her next job and begin her job search.
Marilyn experienced a surprising disappointment when she accepted an early offer and 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. Realizing that she had signed on to a lose-lose situation, she quit. Looking back, she realizes that she should have asked more questions. She knew something wasn’t quite right before she started, but she made the assumption that she could just make the job work once she signed on.
Marilyn’s experience highlights three important lessons, which can be effective cornerstones of your career reinvention process:
- 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 you are feeling the personal and financial pressure of being out of work. The downside of taking the wrong job, vs. waiting for the right job, is significant. Remember that you are at a different point in your career. What worked for you when you were younger is not necessarily going to work for you now. Compromises that you once made to fit in when you needed the work are going to be a lot more difficult now. If you spent many years in a job that you loved, with people who knew you and worked well with you, don’t assume that you are joining an organization where the conditions and culture are compatible with your personality and your values. Before joining a new team, make very sure that you have interviewed them as much or more than they have interviewed you.
- Work with a coach. The uncertainty surrounding a career transition at this age requires more than the hand-holding and encouragement that our friends and family can provide. Working with a career professional can save you the heartache and the hassle of making the wrong move and finding yourself in the wrong job, or pursuing the wrong business venture. Get the guidance and perspective you need. Take the opportunity to work with someone whose experience and wisdom you value, and who can serve as a sounding board for you to workshop your next moves.
- 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 or each month. You never know who you’ll meet, or what will come of it. At the very least, doing uplifting work for others gives you a new narrative that friends, colleagues and professional connections are going to enjoy hearing about. Rather than bemoaning your frustrating job search, you can share about how your work is helping others. Don’t discount the power of positive energy! When you are coming from a positive and encouraging place, others will see you in a similarly positive light – and that may inspire them to refer you to someone who may want to work with you.
Macchiavielli once wrote that we should “never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” By reflecting more deeply on how you want to commit to what is likely going to be the last phase of your career, you are setting yourself up for imminent success.