As you might expect, given my career choice, I have designed my business around one of my unique strengths which also gives me joy – helping people through a proven career un-sticking process specifically on a one-to-one basis. The one-to-one element was no accident. Not only does that format play to my strengths - I’m scared witless of presenting to groups! But, I had hit a problem in my business…
In October and November, I was fully booked with one-to-one clients fulfilling my mission to “eradicate unnecessary career unhappiness - one mid-lifer at a time”. BUT, I realised that even if that situation were to continue forever, I was going to be 90 years old before I make a decent dent in the raft of mid-life professionals in UK who are seriously career stuck.
So, I decided to conduct an experiment to test an idea – not an easy idea for me. Not an idea that would allow me to stay in my comfort zone. In fact, it was an idea that every bone in my body was resistant to – presenting my ideas on how to un-stick your career to a group.
The test question: Would it be possible to teach a small group the basics of unsticking their careers in 2hrs in front of people they don’t know?
I asked for help from someone whose superpower means she can take embryonic ideas and make them real - Rebecca Moody. Rebecca kindly helped me design a group workshop idea into an experiment from which attendees would walk away with both an understanding of the secret to career happiness and some practical tools to help them kick-start a DIY unsticking process.
So, one evening a few weeks ago in the Zoo Café near Godalming (the funkiest commuter Café I have ever seen) Rebecca and I co-hosted the first MidlifeUnstuck “Unstick my Career” workshop.
How scared I felt conducting this experiment:
As I bombed down the A3 the second after the babysitter arrived, I looked and felt like a loonie coaching myself aloud that this experiment was “brave not stupid” whilst almost vomiting into my lap with nerves and fighting back the “What the hell am I doing?” feelings seeping out of every pore. I was undoubtedly afraid, feeling totally exposed and decidedly vulnerable. This was very different to presenting to groups in my old career – everything I would be presenting would be my ideas, my research and my programmes. Amongst other fatalistic mantras and plentiful swearing, this is the type of self-chat that was going on in my car:
“Why the hell did I agree to this when I knew I get nervous speaking in front of groups?”
“What if I couldn’t communicate my knowledge and ideas?”
“What if my introverted self - who prefers one-to-one communication - doesn’t allow me to speak in straight lines?”
“What if I didn’t look like a career change expert after years studying and working to try to become one?”
“What if I am publicly exposed as a fraud?”
“What if everyone cancelled at the last minute?”
“What if they were all horrible people (or other such less gentile words)?”
“What if they all stand up, walk out and ask for their money back?”
Essentially, I was party to endless fearful conversations led by my own brain, trying to get me to turn around, let the babysitter go home early and do something less scary instead (see sofa photo above). It was bloody hard to keep driving towards (what I perceived to be) imminent failure.
Did I turn the car around and head back to my comfy sofa?
Only in my dreams. The shame of not doing what I ask my clients to do on a daily basis would have crushed me. I did exactly what I advise all of my clients to do…I took one step outside of my comfort zone and analysed what happened.
I stepped out of the car after doing my 2 minute power pose (from Amy Cuddy's tedtalk) in the surprisingly gigantic commuter train station in the middle of nowhere. Still alive.
I walked in the door of the Zoo Cafe. Still alive.
I pretended Rebecca my co-host and co-owner of the Zoo Café that my nerves were excitement. Still alive.
I noted Rebecca’s eye for design which had transformed the venue from funky commuter café offering trademarked Cups of Awesome to sparkly, inviting, candle-lit group cave. I smiled. Still very much alive. I might even breathed!
I said “Hello” to the first smiley, lovely career-stuck individual. Not only alive but I could feel my shoulders relax to half-mast.
I nearly bear-hugged that poor lady simply for turning up but when I got close, I could sense a little of her own personal nerves. I breathed. It was going to be ok. I had not thrown myself to the Lions. This was an experiment not a death sentence.
The “Experiment and analysis” phase is something I talk a great deal about with clients who are a fair way down the un-sticking path. There often isn’t a big leap from one career to another but lots of testing of mini-ideas and noting how the world reacts. That evening, I re-lived all the feelings I had had when I first started the business and crikey it was painful...very far from comfy. These experiments and tests are outside our comfort zones…but that’s kind of the point.
If you’re not stuck, you don’t need to try anything different. BUT, I was vividly re-learning how trying something different can be bloody scary.
As more people joined us and had a little glass of something awesome to take the edge off the cold evening, I kept breathing and “braved up”. The experiment had begun.
Here’s what happened in my group experiment:
6 absolutely wonderful, successful career mid-lifers walked through the doors. They hailed from music, media, advertising, IT and banking industries. They had totally different disciplines, different family situations, different health situations, different reasons for feeling stuck and different fears of being stuck forever. But they had something in common: they were all, by their own admissions, “stuck”.
After introductions, I talked a little about what being “career stuck” looks like from my research and then I dug even deeper and exposed myself as someone who had been horribly stuck three few years ago. I talked about my own brand of focused-grumpy at work and stressy-distracted at home for years and told them about the day when enough was enough.
We then discussed the very simple key to short-term career happiness – and some of the complexity behind that idea.
We then worked in pairs to discuss the top three things that stop mid-lifers taking control of their careers and top three things that mid-lifers feel when they do regain control.
I presented some of the findings from my upcoming mini book “Dare to Hope” which tells how it actually feels for a selection of midlife career changers before and after they changed their careers (sign up to my newsletter and I’ll send it to you when it’s finished).
We also uncovered the secret to longer term, sustainable career happiness.
Then we did a mini-super powers session which resulted in everyone leaving knowing how to find their own brilliance but needing time alone to think quietly.
Finally we ran through my “Beginners Guide to Mid-life Career Change” (which you can download from my website).
So what? Here’s how one scary, vomit-inducing experiment has changed my business:
I am planning a whole range of these introductions to the “Secrets to career happiness/Career re-design” workshops across the Surrey in 2018 with a similar format. (Get in contact with me if you’d like to co-host one in your locality)
Based on feedback, I’m toying with the idea of breaking my programmes up into modules and offering each of these as group sessions.
I’ve pressed “go” on an idea I have been working on for a while - The design of my first ever 5 day MidlifeUnstuck Transformation Programme in Bordeaux. It is specifically aimed at mid-lifers who are stuck but need to get away from it all to think clearly and would enjoy long country walks, exercise classes on site and healthy food in luxurious surroundings. This is a collaboration with the marvellous bespoke retreat company Pure Retreats. The first two retreats of 2018 have already sold out there are spaces left for March. Check it out here
Test question result: Was it possible to teach a small group the basics of unsticking their careers in 2hrs in front of people they don't know?
Yes. My programmes last between 3-6 months so it would have been impossible to un-stick those individuals fully but I hadn't set the experiment up to fail. What was possible was for me to connect with a larger group of people in their 40s and 50s in order to share insights on re-designing their careers and for them to learn the basics on how to start the in-sticking process at home. I tried to cover a great deal in one short session and the openness to learning and interest in how to get started from the attendees blew me away. For confidentiality reasons, I cannot name these brave, curious individuals who had had enough of banging their heads against brick walls. But I am delighted that they came.
Some of them, I hope, will go on to choose a coach to help them on a one-to-one basis. Others may join some of the future group sessions and move forward over time. Others may sit down over the following few weeks and work through the beginners guide to pinpoint what it is they want, what it is they are great at and what changes they could make to impact their career enjoyment positively.
I don’t believe there are any other options because once you know there is a possible way out, you can’t choose to stay stuck any longer.
For me, this was a very worthwhile experiment that has had a profound impact on me and my business. Whilst I was undoubtedly afraid, many good things have come from the experience.
Was the experiment slick, perfectly presented and did everyone walk off in a cloud of career happiness? Of course not, but it was priced accordingly. That said, I changed the world more than if I had stayed at home on my comfy sofa that night!
Dare to Hope is my new mini-book which has be carved out from my research interviews with 50+ interviews with successful mid-life career changers. To get it emailed directly to you, sign up to my newsletter and it’ll be with you as soon as it is ready.