My 2.5 Career Reinvention Lessons: No.1 – You Are Not Your Resume


In researching and compiling this series on boomer reinventions over the past months, I’ve learned a lot about how our generation is coping with living longer and working longer in a society and economy that aren’t quite ready for us to be prolonging our careers. Successful reinventors are those who, by necessity in one form or another, took risks and dared to move outside of their comfort zone to create a more viable life for themselves.

This week, it occurred to me that I have something to say and to share about this process as well, from my own experience as something of a serial reinventor, as described in my TEDx talk on this subject in 2012. What I didn’t go into in the talk were the details of my reinvention experiences and how they can serve as guidelines for all of us as we ponder the questions: “What am I going to do with my life after 65?” and “How long can I sustain my career momentum – and income – as I get older?”

Three key lessons have emerged out of my experience. Here’s the first one:

You Are NOT Your Resume. Many of us go through life and career believing that the track we’re on is cast in stone. We have become so used to the job, the company and the routine, that we mistakenly think that these define us and what we are capable of doing. We become identified with the job. But we are not our jobs. We are far more than that. Our resume is no more than a summary of past activity. It does not define future potential, future ability or future performance.

In 1988, at age 35, I was a Hollywood film production executive and had just helped engineer the sale of a fledgling production company from one larger corporate parent to another. Even though I had been key to the deal closing, the new owner had no plans to keep me on, and I was told that my position was going to be eliminated. It is no secret that entertainment is a volatile field, and this was not the first time that different agendas or corporate politics had pulled the rug out from under me. Still, I was dejected. I had put a lot of effort into this deal, and to be impersonally shunted out of the way felt unfair. More than unfair, I thought it was a bad business decision and a missed opportunity. For perhaps the first time in my career, I had nothing to lose: I was already fired. So I put a proposal together on why they should keep me, what the opportunity was and how I could execute it for them. They listened, reversed their decision and the company we started is still operating and very successful.

I count this experience as a “half reinvention” — it wasn’t a pivot externally, but it was very much an internal transformation. While I had previously conceived, pitched and completed a number of business projects, this was the first time that I had overcome this level of adversity to turn my situation around so completely. It was something that I had previously done for other people, but never for myself.

Most importantly, I did not let what I had done define what I could do. The new owners were looking at me as a resume. They didn’t see anything on paper worth holding onto. They had no idea that I was a resource – until I showed them.

In the second of three installments, I’ll talk about what happened to me when I hit what seemed like a dead-end wall in my career, with no possibility of turning back.

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John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.

Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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