Life stories

What I’ve learned about career change (after interviewing 100 midlife career changers)

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Over the last two years, I met people who’d lived about 600 months when they decided to change careers. To do work that mattered more, to them and others around them. And in less than an hour, I fell in love with each of them, just a little. 

They offered me lessons in career change that impacted my outlook, my work...and my life. I can barely remember how I was before I met them.

And here are a few of those lessons that might help you too.

  1. We generation Xers are in our 40s or 50s now and we need to work. It’s where we hone our self-esteem, our self-worth and our funds to enjoy life, in our own way. For better or worse, we’re going to be working for a very long time. 

  2. There are many partners in law or accountancy firms who “can’t afford to retire”. Even though they earn £750,000+ per annum! So, I guess they made a decision one day, that stuff was more important that freedom and fun? 

  3. “Safe” doesn’t exist in corporates - especially after a 50th birthday. So, we need to design a career that could last a long time, because it needs to. Especially if we have dependants - old or young.

  4. Fear is everywhere but we can train ourselves to squish it long enough to try something. A little experiment that won’t change the world. But might just change our world. 

  5. Security is as addictive but it’s a habit that can be broken, with no need to go cold turkey. We don’t need to risk it all to be happy but we do need to take the blind-fold off. 

  6. So many of us successfully sleep-walk into a career coma which ends in a frightening career cul de sac. And the only way out, is to switch off autopilot and put your hands on the wheel. Scary as it seems. 

  7. No-one values you or your career beyond what you can do for them, this year. So we’re left holding the career bag with our name engraved. And need to carry it creatively for the next decades.

  8. If your job is eroding you, your mind will tell you in a whispered warning.  If you don’t listen, it will begin to shout from weird parts of your body. And if you still don’t listen, it’ll scream at you all the way to the hospital.  

  9. An ever-present urge to escape usually means we’re not thinking straight. We believe the only way is to throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s not. But we sometimes need help to differentiate the baby from the bath water.

  10. Confidence grows with action. And shrinks with inactivity to keep us stuck. Hop on a tourist bus to a new rough destination, then hop off and see how it feels.  Small steps. Low bar. Ace it. Then bigger steps. Higher bar etc. 

Still reading? Thank you - Here are a couple of bonus extra lessons.

  1. There’s a way to use design thinking to tweak work with life and test reactions. Test reactions within you and yours and then test reactions commercially. Before signing off on final designs.  

  2. Time is more precious than anything else. What if we counted it in months, or days or even hours? So that we might not waste another hour doing work that didn’t matter enough. To us or those around us.

I met 100 people who had lived about 600 months before they decided to change careers, to do work that mattered more.

They took a pen to their work to design it differently

And began their first draft of the next chapter of their work story

Before another month evaporated.  

If you liked this you’ll love this…

X Change: How to torch your work treadmill, retire your boss, dump the ingrates, torment the passive-aggressives, escape the toxic office, get your fierce on and design the career that lets you live, love and laugh after 40. 

The one thing I lacked (that would have shaved years & at least £20000 off my career change costs)

5 years ago, I first noticed a slow, dripping tap of career dissatisfaction. But it took me years to figure out the one thing I lacked to enable me to fix it - and save lots of money and painful, wasted energy at the same time.

If I’d invested time and energy (or paid someone to help me) in this one thing, I could have turned off my slow, dripping tap of career dissatisfaction years earlier.

If I’d invested time and energy (or paid someone to help me) in this one thing, I could have turned off my slow, dripping tap of career dissatisfaction years earlier.

The dripping tap numbed my wins and my losses. 

Flattened my fun. 

And coloured my days slightly grey.  

But I shoved the fear of big change around next year’s corner. 

A prison of my own making

The career I’d gifted 20 years of my youth to, had morphed into a prison of my own making. From this prison, my window of opportunity felt like it was shrinking the closer I aged towards 50.

I’d worked hard. And saved hard. Maybe even enough for a great escape - but not without a plan. 

Plan A was definitely fading.

To be frank, so was I. 

Another year passed but no plan magically materialised. Because I still had no idea where to start. 

Escaping from my self-made, comfortable career prison took me about 4 years but it shouldn’t have.

Escaping from my self-made, comfortable career prison took me about 4 years but it shouldn’t have.

A leap that nearly broke me

When the dripping tap switched to full flow, I jumped from Plan A without a parachute, of any colour. And crash-landed at university, trying to master psychology. 

Far from a soft landing, it was the hardest year of my life!

Not kidding.

The wrinkles on my brain and my face slowed my learning. 

I donated every ounce of energy to getting great marks - all the time believing I was on the brink of failure. I did well and felt proud, for two minutes, before the fog of reality returned. 

I STILL had no Plan B to go forth with.

And STILL didn’t know how to start one. 

I STILL didn’t know anyone who had one - or one that excited them.

STILL didn’t know where to start figuring out what I’d be good at, or (whisper) maybe even great at. 

I STILL didn’t know how to get paid to do work that I might love.

But mostly, I STARTED to wonder if I might look back on my career with regret asking “What if?

The unusual question that changed everything

Then, I whispered to myself a tough question: 

“How am I going to live a life, with the freedom to do work that makes me feel great AND work that matters so much I get invited onto BBC1 Desert Island Discs?

That’s how I knew I still had hope

I just needed my Plan B. A bloody great one! 

Big B.jpg

So I put my newfound research skills to the test and scoured the globe to learn everything possible about career change.

And created a methodology to design bespoke Plan Bs Plan Bs for individuals, like me, who’ve got plenty left in the tank and don’t want to waste another minute wondering.  Plan Bs designed around personality and unique talents, combined with lifestyle and freedom desires.

And I implemented my own Plan B - doing work that’s fun and that matters.

Incase you’re wondering, I’m quite a way off being invited onto Desert Island Discs! BUT I’m a heck of a lot closer than I was 5 years ago.

2 years ago.

Yesterday. 

Check out my “Where to Start” guide to career change at your age and talk to me about designing your Plan B

 









How to tell if you're in the wrong career (Hint: Flight, Fight, Freeze behaviours)

Let’s face it, some of us just need a new job to re-invigorate our relationship with work.

Others feel a deeper level of satisfaction.

We instinctively know that a shiny new office, a different commute and fresh faces won’t touch the sides of our work dissatisfaction, if we are still doing a similar job in a similar industry.

Flight - Fight - Freeze. Common reactions to being in the wrong career.

Flight - Fight - Freeze. Common reactions to being in the wrong career.

The blame game

Close to the end of my first career, I answered a few head-hunting calls of my own and after several great meetings, I went cold on them and couldn’t quite articulate why.

I can now.

I realised the problem wasn’t my company, my boss, my commute, my industry or the culture.

THE PROBLEM WAS ME.

I simply didn’t want to do the job that I’d spent 20 years getting really good at anymore.

I instinctively knew that I’d bring my giant bag of work unhappiness (a weird concoction of boredom, under-challenging work, frustration with them, frustration with me…and the list went on) to any other similar role in the same industry.

I was ever so slowing fading out.

Wearing down.

Losing my mojo.

Off came the blinkers!

That’s when I began to notice things I’d never noticed before. I opened my eyes to my own behaviour and the behaviour of others around me.

Every week of my old career, I had the privilege of talking to c50+ midlifers.

Midlifers who were not as happy as they wanted to be in their work.

Midlifers who would take my head-hunting call.

I’d also had the privilege of talking to lots of work colleagues, some of whom were not as happy as they wanted to be.

I started noticing behavioural patterns in individuals who were in the wrong career.

Not all of these behaviours were being displayed consciously.

You might recognise some of them in you.

3 types of behaviours that demonstrate you might be in the wrong career:

The Flight Response is just one reaction to being in the wrong career.

The Flight Response is just one reaction to being in the wrong career.

Flight:

  • Asking headhunters to “get me out of here”;

  • Resigning without a plan;

  • Frequent unexplained illnesses;

  • Expending a great deal of energy attempting to get signed off on sick leave;

  • Intensive holiday planning (beyond their normal holiday excitement);

  • Unusual impulsive behaviour;

  • More sick leave days than ever before in career;

  • Buying business domain names for future possible businesses;

  • Spending rainy day savings on random business ideas that don’t appear to be well-thought out.

Getting annoyed, showing frustration and being angry are all wrapped up in the Fight Response to being in the wrong career

Getting annoyed, showing frustration and being angry are all wrapped up in the Fight Response to being in the wrong career

Fight:

  • Applying for lots of jobs that seem very similar to your current job;

  • Applying for any job that is not your current job;

  • Bad-mouthing your current boss far and wide in an attempt to let other divisions know that they are open to new opportunities;

  • Making sure the world knows that you used to do great work…when things were different.

  • Displaying pissed-offness in almost every work conversation (more than the usual grumpiness associated with people our age!)

  • Endlessly bad-mouthing work colleagues, bosses, other divisions, your division, the industry, and the list goes on.

The freeze response to being in the wrong career often revolves around self-talk so it’s harder to notice in others.

The freeze response to being in the wrong career often revolves around self-talk so it’s harder to notice in others.

Freeze:

  • Carrying your resignation letter in your lap-top back and constantly day-dreaming of the moment you can hand it in;

  • Waiting until you have a million dollar idea for your future business while getting less and less effective at your day job;

  • Continually convincing yourself that your current career is “not that bad” – but the thought of doing it for another year (never mind decade!) makes you feel ill.

  • Wishing and hoping that someone will email you with a new job via www.linkedin.com tomorrow morning;

  • Ignoring Sunday night blues;

  • Ignoring the fact that your role is physically and mentally draining the life out of you;  

  • Digging deep to work harder in the belief that this tough period will end magically with a happy conclusion.

  • Praying for voluntary redundancy to be offered;

Later, when I learned more about the psychology of work, I discovered that career change is viewed by the brain as DANGEROUS and it prompts these three types of reactions.

You can transform it into a less fear-filled activity by bringing it to the forefront of your mind. Dealing with it consciously, you might find the idea of changing career or maybe just re-designing parts of it ABSOLUTELY EXCITING and FREEING.

How to reduce the Fight-Flight-Freeze reaction so that you can move forward…

  1. Start by researching individuals who’ve already changed career successfully, which tells your brain that career change is possible…without being eaten by wolves. Here’s a fabulous mini-book to get you started.

  2. Read about, chat to or interview more people like you who have changed careers for the better. This allows the brain to get very comfortable with the idea.

  3. That comfort will then give you the freedom and mental space to begin to build a great Plan B that will allow you to do work that you might really enjoy, for a very long time.

How it feels to have moved beyond Fight, Flight or Freeze

Here are a couple of quotes from midlife professionals who faced up to their natural Flight-Fight-Freeze human reaction to change, and so freed themselves to do work that they now love.

“It feels great being creative all day. We feel happy, proud and confident in what we have produced and we are having such a lot of fun along the way.”

Kate Gregory - Ex Aerospace & Defence Career to Gin Distiller
I love my work now. I learned that I am never going to retire. I’m going to be carried out in a box."

Andy Eaton - International FD to small business owner

Then what?

If' you’d like a partner-in-design who has worked with hundreds of midlife professionals to help them design more satisfying and fulfilling work, why not book in for one of my 30min “Light at the end of the tunnel” conversations? These calls are currently free and I guarantee to offer you at least two personalised recommendations to kick-start your career overhaul -whether we work together or not.

Life’s too short to do work that doesn’t make you happy


What does a 21st century midlife crisis look like?

Does it exist? Is it a male phenomenon? Has it changed over the decades? Is it just about blowing a load of cash on a Porsche or is there something deeper?

About 5.30pm on a Tuesday, a few weeks ago, whilst standing half way down my garden (the only child-free zone I could find) I ended up chatting on the phone to the amazing journalist Zoe Williams about the modern midlife crisis.

An old-fashioned midlife crisis used to involve the purchase of a fast car.

An old-fashioned midlife crisis used to involve the purchase of a fast car.

It might have been a normal day for Zoe but not for me.

When she opened the conversation with “Hi, it's Zoe Williams from the Guardian”, I smiled one of those smiles that starts in your toes and ebbs towards your earlobes at the speed of light. “Hi, Zoe Williams from the Guardian!” I squeaked in reply.

Apparently I squeak when I meet someone I’ve admired for a few decades - who knew?

When I first came to UK, I remember reading her articles in the weekend sections of the broadsheets - often hungover after an expensive night drinking cheap wine in London. We were similar ages and she spoke to my generation as if she was inside my head.

So, 20 years on, she was still a journalist and a great writer and she was calling me!

To be fair, it was a bit of a mad time. I was two weeks away from publishing my first book X Change: How to torch your work treadmill, when I saw a request from her on twitter looking to talk to someone who:

  • identified as female; (yes)

  • knew something about the midlife crisis; (yup)

  • and ideally had experienced one of her own (Hell yes! I created a business because of it!)

My hand shot up faster than a five-year-old trying to impress Miss Honey.

In our half-hour chat, Zoe probed my mind like the experienced journalist she was. In return, I tried so hard to impress her that by the time I got off the phone, I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT I’D SAID.

A nail-biting few weeks followed.

Imagine my stomach churn when, my whatsapp friends got in touch to say they’d been reading about my midlife crisis in the Guardian!

Holy hell! What had I done? What had I said?

They forwarded me the article and my blood pressure returned to normal as I read Zoe’s brilliantly-researched, cleverly crafted article several times to allow it to sink in.

Sure, I had been probably a little too open about my own melt down around 43. But I’m always honest about that and talk about it regularly on video, in talks, in this blog and in my book.

Zoe had very kindly mentioned my new book so people started getting in touch that day. So many new people checked out my website and signed up to my “It’s not too late and you’re not too old” newsletter that I almost wept with joy.

Please do read Zoe’s article in The Guardian:

But, if you’re stuck for time and just wanted to know what I said, here it is:

  1. Sometime in our 40s or 50s we have to start working a heck of a lot harder at liking our bodies than we used to. Probably due to the impacts of metabolic slow-down, illnesses or sheer bloody exhaustion! Some people view this as their midlife crisis but it’s much bigger than that.

  2. Midlife crises of the Porsche-buying variety are old hat for most of our modern society. Midlife men in Lycra is the modern form but, let’s be honest, some men just love cycling fast in tight clothes talking about power-to-weight ratios. My lovely husband is one of them so I need to tread gently here!

  3. In my opinion, the new midlife crisis manifests itself as a career crisis in our 40s/50s which has become comfortable to talk about in recent years. The timing of this seems to also coincide with the modern 50-year-old corporate toast phenomenon which I’ve written about a great deal.

Midlife Men in Lycra don’t signal midlife crisis any more than buying a Porsche. Some men (my husband for instance) just like wearing tight-fitting clothes while cycling and discussing power-to-weight ratios. Other men (my younger brother for instance) just like Porsches ;)

Midlife Men in Lycra don’t signal midlife crisis any more than buying a Porsche. Some men (my husband for instance) just like wearing tight-fitting clothes while cycling and discussing power-to-weight ratios. Other men (my younger brother for instance) just like Porsches ;)

Here’s the article again - have a read and let me know if you agree or disagree.

If you couldn’t give a monkeys what we name this feeling of dissatisfaction that you’re experiencing and want to crack on designing your way out of it, why not book in for one of my “Light at the end of my tunnel” calls? In 30 mins, after hearing your story I guarantee to give you at least two personalised suggestions to kick-start your career overhaul so that you can stop wasting time doing work that you don’t love.

You might also enjoy these articles:

Yet another scary career experiment..how to prepare for your first podcast

Had I lost my mind? Why the heck would I deliberately put myself out of my comfort zone and face potential rejection and criticism while recording myself stumbling about in a conversation in front of people I don’t know?  

165million potential podcast listeners - that’s why!

If I believed in my message enough, I’d be prepared to put myself through a bit of pain to get my message out to many more people? To do little experiments that might be a bit uncomfortable and expand the reach of my message? Wouldn’t I?

I’m always talking to my clients about moving out of their comfort zone to try new ideas and to show that it doesn’t kill you, I write about them as honestly as I can.

But, sometimes I miss the safety of hiding behind a giant FTSE 250 business!

4 years ago I left my corporate career behind. Escaped to do a MSc Psychology. Then created my first ever business (Midlife Unstuck) to help other professionals in their 40s and 50s design more satisfaction into the second half of their careers.

But 2 years in, I hit a bit of a wall getting my message out there and decided to throw myself to the media wolves and narrow in on a PR strategy. For too long, I’d been hiding behind social media spreading my message - oh so slowly - which has been fruitful but very slow going.

I’m a fan of experimenting with your career and I like to practise what I preach, so after pitching successfully to the wonderful journalist Zoe Williams, I was grateful for a few mentions in one of her Guardian articles on 21st century midlife crisis.  

Confidence heightened, I decided that podcasts might be a way to get some more eyes (well…ears actually) on my business.

But I was scared.

Still am, if I’m being honest.

Me and my fear

  • Introvert 👍

  • Struggle to talk in straight lines 👍

  • Would prefer to interview rather than be interviewed 👍

  • Don’t like being the focus of attention 👍

  • Anxious about sounding like a “too-big-for-my-boots, arrogant, know-it-all” 👍

  • Need to grow my business so that I can keep doing work that I love forever  👍

So where to start?

I keep battling with this fear of putting myself out there so I set challenges to help me get out of my own way.

I keep battling with this fear of putting myself out there so I set challenges to help me get out of my own way.

Frightened that I might stop if the going got tough, I made myself a promise that I would pitch to 25 different podcasts before deciding whether they were worthwhile or not for my business.

I wrote the promise in big letters on my office whiteboard, added it to my This is my era 90day planner, told my kids about it (they’ll never let me forget!), made it the wallpaper on my phone and started an trello checklist.

The research stage - it’s easy to get stuck in this stage because it’s not painful and I like planning. But planning isn’t doing…

The research stage - it’s easy to get stuck in this stage because it’s not painful and I like planning. But planning isn’t doing…

Then I went about making it happen.

The Research Stage (safe, safe, safe)

  1. Earplugs in.  Listen to lots of podcasts in your genre.  Seek out podcast categories that work for your business and create a starter list of smaller, newer podcasts in a category where your message would be well received

  2. Make a rough list of 25 podcasts that your message would be useful to the listeners. HINT: Don’t put Oprah or Pat Flynn on your top 25 list - that’s a sure recipe for failure before you’ve even started!  You can work up to them after your experiment has ended and you’ve perfected your message.

  3. Pick one that you particularly like. Listen to at least three or four episodes, review the titles to learn more about the listener interests. Follow the podcast host on all their social media to understand more about them. Comment if you feel strongly on one or more of their posts.  Write a 5 star, very specific, honest review for their podcast.

A short pitch highlighting how your message might help their listeners is key.

A short pitch highlighting how your message might help their listeners is key.

The Pitch (exposing, vulnerable and down-right painful!)

  1. Email your pitch to the podcast host-using the smallest number of words possible covering these three points:

    1. Who you are (just the bits that are specific to their audience);  

    2. Which of their podcast episodes you liked most and why;  

    3. What benefit your expertise might offer their listeners and whether they think you might be a good guest.    

  2. Repeat Research Stage (3) and Pitch Stage (1) until you get a “YES - I’d love you to come on the show!”

  3. When you have your first “Yes” start to prepare clear answers to their standard questions. Jot notes down on the key pieces of your work that you really feel would benefit their listeners.

Ok - time to get your shit together to make sure you do yourself justice in front of the mic.

Ok - time to get your shit together to make sure you do yourself justice in front of the mic.

The Recording (less painful but nerve-inducing nonetheless)

  1. Make sure you have the correct recording link that the host sent to you to hand (saves you sending a panic email to the host 5 mins before the start time (which I’m embarrassed to say I did!)

  2. Sort out your recording kit - often just a pair of standard iphone earphones with a microphone is fine.  I used Jabra earphones with built-in pull down microphone which I already owned. But some like to have the stability of a separate mic and get a blue snowball microphone.

  3. Make sure you’re in the strongest internet spot in your home/office and have closed the windows to reduce noise.

  4. Keep your bottle of water and your preparation notes close to hand.

  5. Plan and prepare your introduction story lasting a few minutes.  This is when the host allows you an uninterrupted few minutes to talk about yourself and your business. Easy to waffle here but it’s better if you have your story succinct with the most relevant parts for their audience.

  6. Listen really carefully to the host to answer their questions specifically.

  7. Ask a few questions of the host during the recording, as you would in a real conversation. This also gives you a moment to breathe.

  8. Perfection is boring. In life we occasionally stumble, say the wrong word, need a second to think and say inappropriate comments. They can be edited out if it’s a disaster but the more it sounds like you and the host are having a conversation, the more natural it will feel to the listener.

  9. It’s unlikely you’ll feel relaxed but you do need to smile so that you sound relaxed.

  10. Laugh and interact like the wonderful human you are and reap the benefits of having your message broadcast from the rooftops.  Share and market the podcast jointly with the host AND in your own world.

A word of gigantic word of thanks here to Michelle Reeves, author of The Happiness Habits Transformation and host of The Ideal Life Club podcast.  I didn’t tell her at the time but she offered me my first ever guest spot on her podcast.  

Michelle is a masterful interviewer who made me feel like I was the most interesting person in the world (which is definitely one of her Superpowers).  She gave me time to breathe in between questions by commenting or summarising what I’d said and generally made the experience far less like childbirth than I thought it was going to be...I would even go so far as to describe it as fun!

If you are reading this as a virgin podcast guest, I encourage you to give it a go. Why not join me on my 25 podcast pitch challenge and let me know how you go?

If you’re reading this as someone who is considering designing more satisfaction into your work, know that these sort of out-of-comfort-zone experiments are necessary…

Unless, of course, you want to stay where you are.

Listen here to my first ever podcast - then drop me a line to tell me what you think.




























6 skills to help future-proof your career (and earn a good living into your 50s and 60s)

In this article, you’ll learn what aptitudes you need to either learn or hone in order to increase your potential to earn a very good living over the next few decades.

By 2030 (I'll be 58yrs old then!) 800 million jobs are expected to be lost due to automation and the robotic workforce, according to a study on the future of work by the Mckinsey Global Institute. The research was performed across 46 countries and 800 occupations.

So what?

We’ve all seen this happen over our working lives in low-wage occupations (annoying automated call centres, smart cleaning systems, advanced analytical tools, humanless order-taking etc) but what about our high-wage occupations?  

To future-proof our careers, we need to specialise in the very special, high-value human talents that are very difficult to automate or replicate by technology.

To future-proof our careers, we need to specialise in the very special, high-value human talents that are very difficult to automate or replicate by technology.

Can CEOs/MDs roles be automated?

Mckinsey Global Institute specifically estimate that 20% of most CEO’s workload could be automated today by adapting current technology and that percentage is only going to increase each year. But, the line in their report that got my brain fizzing was “Capabilities such as creativity and sensing emotions are core to the human experience and are also difficult to automate.”

So, I picked up Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” again, in which he predicts that career success in the future will rely on our right-brain skills (see below) rather than our logical left-brained skills which got us to where we are today.  

Why?

Because right-brain aptitudes are very hard to automate, so these will be the aptitudes that will offer us high-value work in our late stage careers.

The left-brained activities will be automated.

According to Pink, the Top 6 right-brain aptitudes that hold the power to future-proof our careers are:

  1. Empathy

  2. Using stories to persuade and communicate

  3. Big picture thinking

  4. Design

  5. Humour, laughter, game playing

  6. Seeking out and connecting purpose and meaning?

FB 6 human skills diff to automate.png

How many of your daily activities utilise these aptitudes?

If the answer less than four or five, I’d urge you to work out ways to learn these skills, practise them until they become natural enough to build into your daily work.  This new learning, combined with all of your experience to date, has the power to future-proof your earnings for the next couple of decades.

If you’re already using many of them, keep honing them until they become some of your Superpowered offering that lets you stand out from the competitive marketplace, now and in 20 years time.  

Quick and dirty analysis - my former career v my new career

In my 19 year corporate career,  I used only two of these aptitudes daily (EMPATHY and SEEKING OUT PURPOSE & MEANING) so the writing was on the wall.

I’ve analysed that I'm now using five out of these six right-brain aptitudes in my daily work.  That said, many of them are newer skills that I’m constantly learning more about by reading books, watching Youtube, consuming Ted Talks and generally experimenting with them in my daily work and life.   

Today, (oddly perhaps?) the PLAY element of work is the trickiest one for me to build into my work. Thankfully, my two daughters are helping me out with that one! I’m also in the process of learning more about DESIGN which interests me but I feel way behind the curve having had very little exposure in my life so far.

Should you worry?

There is no need to be in any way worried about the next decades of your career - if the work that you love AND your Superpowers include skills that computers find hard to perform. But even if they don’t, there’s time to learn them and layer them into your future work.

Impacts of right-brained aptitudes in interviews for left-brained roles

In my old world of head-hunting, my specialism could have been described as seeking out the perfect left-brained Finance Director to help companies grow financially.

I saw the left-brained activity forming the basics of a role profile. But, I found those who were able to display high-performance in right-brained aptitudes in interviews were much more successful.  

Success came more often to:

  • Those who could empathise with the specific people problems within the business;

  • Those who could convince the CEO/MD/HRD of their personal fit by telling impactful head and heart stories in a way that fit with the company culture;

  • Those who demonstrated their bigger picture vision of finance and connected it to the design of their roles (and their teams’ roles) to import greater meaning into the purpose of their finance team.

  • Those who appeared to be more fun to work with!

FB Past, present, future.png

Past, present and future for executive roles

In the past, left-brained skills were base level requirements for many senior roles. Right-brained aptitudes were a differentiator.

Currently, value is placed on the combination of left-brained and right-brained aptitudes.

In the future, right-brained aptitudes will be base level requirements.

To earn a good living well into our 50s and 60s, we need to have all six of these skills in our experience tool-kit and have honed them into our Superpowers.

I bet my entire career on it!

If you’d like some help with over-hauling your career, figuring out your Superpowers and getting a plan in place, take a look at a couple of ways I can help you.






The first emotion you need to embrace to begin your career change (even if it hurts like hell!)

In this article, you’ll discover the emotion that has the power to keep you stuck forever (when you avoid or numb it) or drive you towards freedom through action (when you embrace it).

To admit this emotion to your friends and family can hurt like hell at first!

To admit this emotion to your friends and family can hurt like hell at first!

I’ve conducted some very niche career change research. Over 100 people who describe themselves as happier after re-designing their work have kindly allowed me to dig around their change stories.

Every single one of them, no matter what their career was before or after they made changes, experienced one emotion at the beginning of their journey that freed them to do work that made them happier.

Which emotion?  

  • Bravery?  Not always

  • Fear of taking risk? Not always.

  • Anger at feeling stuck? Not always.

  • Anxiety around change? Not always.

  • Worry around potential failure? Not always.

  • Status anxiety? Not always.

So, come on, which emotion did all 100 experience at the beginning of their change?

They all experienced enough vulnerability to say to themselves:

“I am stuck somewhere I don’t want to be and I don’t know what to do about it!”


Then, here’s what happened:

Firstly, by acknowledging their vulnerability in this way, they freed themselves to review their situation from a different angle.

Then they swapped their emotional problem for a knowledge problem - which is a heck of a lot easier to solve!

How others actioned their new knowledge problem rather than hiding their vulnerability:

Each of the 100 successful career changers acknowledged that their vulnerable position and then began solving their knowledge problem in 100 different ways. Here are just of few of them:

  • David initiated a quiet conversation with a trusted HR Director colleague who offered some valuable advice.

  • Ges got in touch with a local career coach for the first time in his life, in his 50s.

  • Kate researched how difficult it might be to actually make her own gin

  • Liz signed up for a bread-baking course to try something new

  • Lindsay began to research an industry that she loved - the wine industry

  • Elizabeth took a break from work to travel and re-evaluate life goals

  • Clare started to draw again after a big gap to see if her talent came back to her

  • Andrea used her redundancy pay-out to create her 6 month writing experiment

  • Charlotte visited trade fairs to get to know a new potential clients at weekends

  • Duncan down-sized to save up enough to buy a company

All of these activities were only possible after these successful career changers embraced their vulnerable positions in a way that allowed them to take action.

Instead of staying stuck doing work that wasn’t making them happy…

They chose to embrace their vulnerability to allow them to move forward.

They chose to:

  1. Stop complaining about work that didn’t fit.

  2. Cease feeling powerless or trapped.

  3. Take little steps to feel a little more control of their work lives.

  4. Learn something new to fill in the blanks of their knowledge problem.

  5. To give something new a try.

Actioning vulnerability means doing something that moves you from the “I don’t know what to do about it” situation to knowing a little more. And then a little bit more. And then, you guessed it, a little bit more.

Any downsides to acknowledging your vulnerability?

LI Hurt like hell.png

Of course!

It can take time.  

It certainly takes effort.  

It leads to action.

It requires a great deal of personal honesty

And (this is a biggie) if you’re the kind of person who always has the answers - it can hurt like hell to say to your partner, children or friends “I’m somewhere I don’t want to be and I don’t know what to do about it”.

BUT…

If you follow up that earlier statement with “so I’m going to do some research to figure it out” you may not actually burst into flames!

You might even become the envy of your friends and inspire change in them.

But who cares what other people think?

There is so much proof in psychological research that embracing your vulnerability can release a whole different range of emotions - happiness, freedom and maybe even joy.

Even if you did burst into flames, might it be worth it to experience work that released those emotions?

If you’re interested in the topic of vulnerability - check out Brene Brown’s Ted Talk.

Your first step?

If you’re getting close to deciding to show a little vulnerability by admitting that “You’re somewhere you don’t want to be and don’t know what to do about it” why not jump on a Light at the end of my tunnel call with me?  

In a 30min phone call,  I guarantee (whether you decide to work with me or not) to give you two personalised recommendations to set you on your way. Oh, and...it’s free!

What have you got to lose?

If you are ready to take your first step to receive two personalised recommendations - click the link/image to book in for a 30min “light at the end of my tunnel call” this week.

If you are ready to take your first step to receive two personalised recommendations - click the link/image to book in for a 30min “light at the end of my tunnel call” this week.

Attitude to money impacts career freedom. A true story and lessons learned.

Our attitude to money and financial considerations have a huge influence on our ability to change career or to design our work differently to how we've designed it in the past.

In this guest article by the lovely Sue Marshall, she tells her story of career change with a focus on how her attitude to money had the ability to both keep her stuck and set her free.

Sue Marshall - a career re-design story with a focus on attitude to money.

Sue Marshall - a career re-design story with a focus on attitude to money.

My historical attitude to money

I’ve never really been focused on making money. It just wasn’t that interesting to me.

I’ve always been motivated by working with people that inspire me and doing a job that excites and challenges me.

I felt that I was incredibly lucky to be able to get paid for working incredibly hard, doing work I enjoy.   

That’s not to say I’m financially unaware – I’ve always maintained a tight grip on household expenses to ensure that the basics are covered. But let’s just say I just didn’t have a very extensive financial vision!  

I knew I wanted to be mortgage free by 50 but that was about it.

Neither my husband nor I come from money, so – once we’d covered the bases, we were pretty blasé about spending.

We both had final salary pension schemes and a ‘survival’ fund of a year or so, so we felt quite virtuous.

Until, that is, things changed. The gap from the point our funds ran out and normal retirement date became gradually more terrifying.  

Gap jump.jpg

Mind the Gap…

When you know something’s not quite right you can bury your head in the sand, or you can make something different happen.

I was worn out.

All that working incredibly hard had taken its toll.

So, I became an ostrich. I continued to work stupidly hard because I had no ‘off switch’ – but my heart was no longer in it.

On the odd occasion I did lift my head and ask myself, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ I remembered The Gap, thought: ‘you’ve just got to keep on going!’ and carried on.   

The Fear

I’ve never felt fear like it.

It was paralysing.

I just kept telling myself to set it aside and keep on powering through. I knew I was hurting myself but I couldn’t stop.

The Moment of Clarity

Clarity rear view mirror.jpg

After a very busy week, I went to see my personal trainer full of aches and pains to see if she could help me loosen up. She sent me to see my doctor.

After a lengthy series of blood tests, examinations and scans I was diagnosed with stress, anxiety and appendicitis.  

An appendectomy followed.

As I was coming around, I remember being delighted that I didn’t have to do anything remotely useful for weeks: that was so not me!

It was right then that I realised something had to give.

Reaching out when opportunity comes knocking

My lucky star hadn’t completely deserted me: whilst I was convalescing, I received an offer to cash in my final salary pension scheme.

A friend recommended a financial advisor who helped me work through that idea and I went ahead: yes, I would lose money on the deal, but it would allow us flexibility over the next 10 years or so.

It probably took a good five months or so to really understand our financial position and our options – my financial advisor became my best friend! If you don’t have one, I suggest you find one, or be prepared to learn about pensions, tax, investments….

Knowledge was the key to reducing my fear

Looking back, I can see that the fact that I didn’t understand our financial position at all was keeping me in that state of fear.

When I learned that I could move my final salary pension to somewhere more flexible...the fear reduced enough to allow me to start to really track our spending!  

Knowledge about career financials

What I discovered

I discovered that WE COULD MANAGE!

Yes, it was a big shock to understand how much we spent on birthdays, Christmas, food and drink. Also, the ‘hidden’ costs of kids who we thought had left home!  

But the biggest discovery was that we could balance things.

And we also have a financial model we can play tunes on:

  • What if the stock market tanks?

  • How much CAN we spend?

  • What if my husband retires this year, next year, at 65?

  • Can we survive if my business makes a loss this year, next year?

  • When will the money run out if we spend x, y or z annually?

We now have a lovely warm feeling about every penny that we bring in because we can now see how it will help us live a little differently.

What I learned that may be useful for others in similar situations

  • Although it’s terrifying at the beginning, becoming more aware of financial patterns, spending and the potential impact of decisions actually reduces the fear

  • Understanding your run-rate/cash-burn is super important so you know how long your savings and investments will last and how/when/if you can access your pension.

  • Go looking for the gaps: the more uncomfortable, the more important it will be for you to address them.

  • For those with partners: initiating dialogues with your other half is important! This one is a bit embarrassing: my grip on the family finances was pretty well total, so the fear was all mine as well. The knowledge and the fear are now shared and everything is so much easier now we make joint decisions.

  • We’ve been transparent throughout with our kids. They have both benefited from the experience – our daughter (25) works, lives and SAVES in London and our son (22) is now fully accountable for his finances in his final year at Uni. (I can’t tell you what a relief that is!)

What I know for sure:

  • Knowledge about our finances gave me my power back.  It allowed me to understand that we have many more viable options than I thought we did. My husband and I have conversations with a deeper understanding of our financial position.  For instance, if one of us wants to retire sooner than we had planned we can talk through the impact and make decisions together. We now know how different our lives could look under a variety of circumstances.

  • We now collaborate in financial decisions more than ever and we’ve happily curtailed our spending in all sorts of ways.  We even tell one another before we buy clothes now! Our decisions are linked in a way that they haven’t been in the past.

Off button.jpg

Changes in me

  • Whilst I wouldn’t wish that period of my life on anybody, in many ways it’s been a gift.  I’m back to being me – and I look after myself these days: I haven’t got to please people or dilute myself to fit in. Financial knowledge has been key to reducing my fear, allowing me to be objective and helping me make decisions that ultimately freed me.

  • I’ve also changed my money mindset: I value it more and have respect for the opportunities it can open up. I’m more grateful for the things I have, and my ability to pause to consider what I really want has increased.  

  • I’m still working on the ‘off switch’ but I’m more able to stop and smell the roses and appreciate things like a walk in the woods rather than delivering to deadlines which are self-imposed these days.

But most importantly, I’m back doing work that I love in a way that feels like me!














What if your first career is the wrong one?

A true story highlighting the potential risks of staying in a career that doesn’t suit for too long.

The words are those of the individual but I have anonymised for their privacy.

What age were you when you decided your forever career? This is one of my daughters aged 11 - it’s hard to imagine her deciding her future at this age. (Lucia)

What age were you when you decided your forever career? This is one of my daughters aged 11 - it’s hard to imagine her deciding her future at this age. (Lucia)

The Beginning and an End

From the age of 12 I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, so I never thought to look at any other careers. 

My father had a small regional legal firm where I did my training contract. Whilst it might sound easy working in a family firm, it was far from it.  I found myself thrown in at the deep end. At the age of 22, on the very first day of my training contract, I found myself in court bringing a case against a fully-fledged barrister.  It was a far cry from being molly-coddled.  After I qualified, I moved to a Top30 regional firm which was a big jump and rather daunting.

Over a two year period I was very ill, at one stage in bed for a whole month. I was ultimately diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME)

Over a two year period I was very ill, at one stage in bed for a whole month. I was ultimately diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME)

While I was doing my training contract I became very ill. Doctors initially thought it was just a bad virus but it continued for so long, I was tested for everything.  I was ultimately diagnosed with ME(CFS) - for which there was (and is still) no cure.  Over a two-year period when I was very ill at one stage in bed for a whole month, I was placed on lots of new drug trials. 

Somehow, I lurched to the end of my training contract and qualified as a lawyer and moved to a much bigger firm.  In hindsight, it was probably too much of a leap and it really took it out of me. 

I’ve always been ambitious and hard-working, and I loved the subject matter but as my legal career progressed, there was an increasing a focus on maximising time and billings. Every minute was billable and it went against the grain.

At the age of 29, after falling seriously again and under-going endless brain, heart and lung function tests, I received a second diagnosis of ME – Chronic fatigue syndrome.  I was devastated!   My body had been running on adrenalin and my GP told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t stop working immediately I would be in hospital before the week was out.

I decided that was the end of my career as a solicitor.

In Tricky In-Between

I arranged a 6-month sabbatical during which time, I became even more seriously ill and ended up resigning. I didn’t work again for 4 years. 

I’d burned out doing work that didn’t suit me but my drive and hard-working personality had kept me going.  I pushed myself to achieve way too much, too soon in my first career.  I used to work to live but that way of working meant that putting myself under pressure was the norm.

I was in my early 30s and all my friends were getting promotions, getting engaged, getting married, having kids and none of that was possible for me. At that time, getting out of bed in the morning was all I could aim for some days.  

I’d never considered any other career other than being a solicitor, ever.  But I made the decision that when I would go back to work, if I could go back to work, I would definitely not be a solicitor.

I’d burned out doing work that didn't suit me but my drive and hard-working personality had kept me going.

I’d burned out doing work that didn't suit me but my drive and hard-working personality had kept me going.

I met with a coach and she asked me questions to help shift my brain from searching for something I could do to pay the bills to what I might really like to do. That was a big mental shift.  She helped me return to an idea from years ago about helping people through divorce without being a lawyer.

Divorce is a topic that most people don’t want to think about.  As I was creating a service that didn’t exist when I started, I needed to get my message out there. 

So, I got some Visaprint business cards printed and headed off to my first local networking meeting.  The first person I met when I nervously introduced myself wouldn’t accept my business card and scoffed at my title.  That knocked my confidence, but I battled on and met some fabulous people who have since helped me in my business so much.   It paid to persevere.

My parents divorced when I was a solicitor.   My mum was a smart women but needed some extra support through the divorce process.  I realised I was explaining things in a way she could understand easily.  I bridged the gap that her solicitor couldn’t fill.  Mum told me afterwards that she wouldn’t have been able to cope if I hadn’t been by her side.  I did that very naturally and it didn’t drain me.  

Solicitors can only help with legal advice and that frustrated me in my other career.  People in divorce need help on finances, emotions, house, children, practical considerations and just an unbiased ear to listen.  I knew based on my experience with my mum that I could offer that.

The New Beginning

I’d never seen myself as self-employed and couldn’t identify with being an entrepreneur. Stability and security were a big part of my personality.

The coach actually found me my first client and told me that I would receive a call tomorrow – a lady who needed help with her divorce.  

With no business card, no website, absolutely nothing,  we spoke on the phone and agreed to meet for coffee. She needed help with the financial disclosure information needed for her divorce but didn’t really know where to start. When I offered to come to her house and help her through it, she burst into tears and gladly accepted my offer. I felt a sense of sheer relief that there was a way I could help people without spending years re-training.  

I felt that I still had skills that others would find helpful and felt reassurance that I still could be useful. 

I learned that I had no office skills as I’d always had a secretary. I had to learn a great deal about myself and learn new skills that would help me to be able to do something different.

I started courses on how to start a new business and began slowly to learn new skills like networking. I also did some training in coaching. I’m not a business person…I wasn’t a business person but I started very slowly.  I loved that I didn’t need capital to set up this business. There were no barriers.

I know I’ve done the right thing every morning. It’s lovely! I get lots of really lovely pieces of feedback from my clients that prove to me that I’m making a positive difference to people going through a difficult time.  That might sound nambie pambie but I’m confident that I will keep doing this for a very long time.  

I received the most wonderful email from one of my clients years ago that said ‘Not all superheros wear capes!’ which I have kept in a special place.

“Not all Super Heroes wear capes” : special feedback received from a grateful client.

I’m surprised by how much I love being a business owner.  I just love the autonomy. The freedom to decide when and how I work.  

I love that I built my own model in an industry that didn’t even exist when I started.  And that I can do business however I feel.  

Self-care wasn’t part of my journey but believe me it is now! I’m not perfect at it but I totally understand its importance for every aspect of life.  We just don’t prioritise it enough and it has knock-on impacts.  My mantra is ‘Be kind to yourself - emotionally, physically and mentally’. If we don’t put on our own oxygen masks first we can’t help others.

I regret that there was no real career coaching available when I was in my teens.  Although I was fixed on being a solicitor I should have looked at other areas.  Areas that might have worked with my personality and talents.

If I had to go through it again, I’d ask for help earlier.  

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This illness might be keeping you stuck (even if you're trying hard to make changes)

Yesterday, I met up with a friend who was annoyed to be attending a party on Saturday night.  When questioned, she simply didn’t want to go. “Simple” I said, “Don’t go!”

Not that simple. She feels strongly that she should attend the party, even though she’d prefer to spend time relaxing with her husband (who’s been travelling all week) as she’s exhausted from her own tough week at work. It was really worrying her. I struggled to empathise – which is not like me.

But, you see, I’d already battled with my own case of Shoulditis a few years ago and came out the other side.  I’d almost forgotten what it felt like.

Shoulditis: An illness where the individual feels compelled to do things that they don’t want to, often based on someone else’s recommendation.

You know how it goes:

  • I should get started on the 5:2 diet soon.

  • I should do a Marie Kondo style clear-out of the garage.

  • I should get up a 5am every day to meditate.

Yeh Yeh Yeh! It’s easy to ignore some shoulds.

Shoulditis - an illness where the individual feels compelled to do something they don’t want to - can impact both life and work satisfaction.

Shoulditis - an illness where the individual feels compelled to do something they don’t want to - can impact both life and work satisfaction.

It can also impact work and your career.

Career Shoulditis: An illness where the individual feels compelled to stay in a job/company/industry/career that they don’t want to, often based on someone else’s recommendation.

If you know someone who is not enjoying their work but appears to be burying their head in the sand, they might be suffering from a serious case of Career Shoulditis

Common quotes from Career Shoulditis sufferers:

They might be saying any of the following in their heads, and if you know them well (or throw enough alcohol down their throats), they may repeat them aloud:

  • I should stay as an accountant/doctor/lawyer because my parents were accountants/doctors/lawyers and it’s what they always wanted for me

  • I should stay as an accountant/doctor/lawyer because I’ve invested so much to get here (If this resonates, read my article on ignoring sunk costs)

  • I should stay because the market is tough and it’ll be hard to get another job that pays this much

  • I should stay until X happens, then I’ll think about what to do

  • I should stay - what would everyone think if I quit?

  • I should stay until I have an idea about my future and can plan it out to perfection

  • I should stay for as long as I can, even though I know the time is coming

  • I should stay because there’s too much going on in the rest of my life and at least its stable

  • I should stay until I get made redundant, then I’ll decide what to do

  • I should stay because I might never find another job

  • I should stay - if I don’t everyone will think I’m having a mid-life crisis

Since my own battle with career shoulditis, I’ve taken to saying “I don’t want to” a great deal especially when talking about my business and I see people actually physically recoiling as if I am behaving like a spoilt child!  

When I say out loud “I don’t want to do X”, people physically recoil as if I’m behaving like a spoilt child.

When I say out loud “I don’t want to do X”, people physically recoil as if I’m behaving like a spoilt child.

That phrase “I don’t want to do X” is considered culturally aggressive (in UK) so I find myself softening it but the result is the same.

I’ve chosen to have my own business because there are 1000s of things that I want to do but I can’t do them all so I need to make choices…to make informed decisions…not decisions based on someone else’s should.

I seek out and listen to advice from all sorts of people who are a bit further ahead of me in their business journey.  I hear such radical advice that it could rock my world if I thought I should do it all.  

Things I don’t want to do but others think I should do to grow my business:

(Let it be said, I reserve the right to change my mind with further research or compelling evidence.)

  • I should be politically correct in business

Should I?

I don’t want to tow the corporate line if the corporate line is a lie.   Big companies can say that their recruitment and promotional tactics are not ageist.  

I can now freely say things like “If you are in your 50s and still working for a big corporate – start planning your exit because your company is doing just that” as in my experience it’s true.  One of my most read articles was called 50-year old corporate toast!

The (often politically incorrect) truth is helpful.

  • I should accept every new client request so that I can make more money.

Should I?

I don’t want to work with everyone! I want to work with new clients if I feel they are prepared to commit the time, effort and energy it takes to think through their career from a completely different angle and make the required changes to design more satisfying work.

That’s why I created my free half hour telephone call where potential clients and I ask each other questions to understand if we have the same goals and expectations.

If we are not right for each other, I might know someone who is a better fit for them and they might know someone who is a better fit for me.  

  • I should invest in branding consultants, logo designers, social media teams, content writers, PR businesses, impressive offices etc to make me look uber successful.

Should I?

How would someone else know my personal definition of success?

If I had done these in the beginning, my business would have died within months and I’d have crumpled under the pressure of NEEDING to make a fortune just to cover monthly costs. I would have lost my freedom to work in a way that works for me. 

As it stands, I have a self-designed logo, do all my own social media marketing, write every word that I publish (including self-crafted spelling mistakes!), designed my own website and update it weekly to keep it fresh.  I work from my home office and very nice public locations. And I talk to journalists directly.

All wrong by someone else’s standards.

I love the freedom and control to mess up or be successful and to have them both be my fault.

  • I should pay fortunes for Facebook/Instagram ads, do live videos daily, fill my website with paid advertisements and pop-ups and design on-line webinars to grow my business.

Should I?

Every single one of these growth strategies would crush my enjoyment of creating and designing a business that works for me and gets me bounding out of bed each morning.  

I have decided upon a growth strategy that may be slightly slower but fits my personality, my superpowers, my deep interests in psychology and helping others to stop wasting time doing work that doesn’t make them happy.    

People tell me regularly that I should do things that everyone else is doing and that I shouldn’t be a “lone wolf”.

People tell me regularly that I should do things that everyone else is doing and that I shouldn’t be a “lone wolf”.

  • I should not be a “lone wolf”

Shouldn’t I?

One of the elements of having my own business which was so attractive is exactly the point that I would like to be what was called in my previous corporate career a “lone wolf”.  

When I was leading teams, each of them had at least one “lone wolf” who simply wasn’t a team player and it took a little extra management to get the most out of them.  In contrast, I’ve been a team player all my life, loved team sports, enjoyed pulling teams together towards a joint goal and contributing to team success.

Scary as it is, I have chosen to be “a lone wolf”.  This business will live or die based upon my efforts alone.  So, I want to make sure that when I make decisions to do or not to do something that it comes from me not someone else’s should.

  • My business philosophy should be “The more clients the merrier”

Should it?

When I was setting up my business, I chose not to sell e-cigarettes or sugar water because I want to sell stuff that I believe in.  I chose to sell something that can add to people’s lives but isn’t easy to sell in volume because of time, effort, cost and psychological change processes involved.

I want enough clients to sustain me and my family but I want choice on how and when to work with them.

Revenue is not my only goal.  

Even though my business has only been in existence for just over 2 years and it takes between 2 weeks and 6 months to go through my programmes, just under half of my business has come from personal recommendations.

I cannot tell you what a red letter day it is when I get an email from a potential client who has been recommended to me by another client.  Even though these new clients are “stuck” in their midlife careers in very different ways, they all arrive knowing what to expect with enough energy to contribute to the thinking and change processes.

So what impact could Shoulditis have on your career?

If we let it get under our skins and impact our decision-making, shoulditis can be a hellish illness that keeps us doing stuff that we don’t want to do. 

  • It can make us go to parties when we’d prefer to be snuggled up at home with our partner catching up on a gripping Netflix series over a bottle of wine and a Deliveroo.  

  • Shoulditis can also keep us stuck in jobs, companies or careers that simply don’t fit us any more. It can suffocate our future career possibilities and kill our potential to do work that really matters...to us!

What could you do instead?

Instead of considering “What should I do?”, maybe ask yourself “what do I really want to do?”

Now there’s a question...

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Here’s what happened when I popped my “deeply satisfying work” cherry...

Career change cherry pop

The day it happened

It was a normal Tuesday, nearly two years ago, after my final session with a funny, self-deprecating, engaging and more-than-slightly silvered Managing Director of a technology firm.  My reaction was so physical, it took me by surprise.   

I put the phone down and fancied a coffee.  Whilst walking from my office to the kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice the rising sensation of a whoppingly huge smile spreading like wildfire across my face.  I felt an odd tingling in the deep depths of my stomach which rose to meet and bond with the giant smile before smearing the merged sensation across my entire body in a weird, never-before-experienced way. 

The whole process culminated in…I kid you not…a whole body air-jump! 

What the…?  

What exactly had occurred on that call?

Something marvellous.  My client was delighted that he had been released from the fog of uncertainty about his future work, a fog that had been holding him back. And he told me so. 

I was delighted that he was in a much better place than when we first met but that’s what I had promised.  It should have been no surprise. 

Job done.  Job done well. 

But, when I sat back to consider the impact of that weird whole-body air-jump, I felt both gutted and over-joyed simultaneously. 

GUTTED:

Hand on heart, I can tell you that I never once air-jumped with satisfied pleasure during my 20-year corporate job.

Not once!  Maybe others have?

Two long decades of work hard, play hard but zero air-jumps. 

I hadn’t realised during those 20 years that it was possible to do work that had this air-lifting impact.

This is me air-jumping in life at a gorgeous lake near Kelowna in Canada but I’d never air-jumped in the 20 years of my first career.

This is me air-jumping in life at a gorgeous lake near Kelowna in Canada but I’d never air-jumped in the 20 years of my first career.

Sure, on occasions, I’ve slightly self-consciously high-fived colleagues when I closed a big deal.  But mostly, I recall releasing gargantuan sighs of…tired-eyed, shoulder-slumped relief from the energy it took to close the deal.  Followed by another huge inhale to re-charge for the next goal.

Perhaps I could have been whole-body air-jumping for the last 20 years if I had chosen a different sort of work?

CHERRY-POPPINGLY OVERJOYED:

Gigantic whole-body smiling and uninhibited air-jumping appears to be my version of how it feels to be getting paid to do deeply satisfying work.   

And I’m delighted that I popped that cherry in my mid-forties rather than my mid-sixties.

Better late than never.

Deeply satisfying work vs draining work (even if you’re great at it)

This somewhat silly but personally-memorable moment highlights the difference between doing work that is deeply satisfying and work that you may be good at but it might also be draining the life out of you.   

When I sprinted away from my old career with no clear plan I just knew in my heart that some people in this world really love their work.  I didn’t know any of them…then.  But, I knew that I wanted to be one of them.

I knew that I could be one of them if I could just decipher their secret. 

So, I tracked down individuals who professed to love their work.   I specifically sought out individuals who had stayed in one career for a long time and then prioritised doing more satisfying work.

After 100 interviews with mid-life career changers, I now know their secrets.  

Their secrets inspired me to design my business in a particular way.

The most important secret is that they have designed their work around their “Superpowers”.

A superpower is not an extraordinary magic power. It is a unique very specific activity that you perform in a certain way, better than most people around you and you can’t stop using it. When you use your superpower, you feel deeply satisfied and fulfilled.

A superpower is not an extraordinary magic power. It is a unique very specific activity that you perform in a certain way, better than most people around you and you can’t stop using it. When you use your superpower, you feel deeply satisfied and fulfilled.

Of course, they don’t use that term.  “Superpowers” is a term I use to indicate the specific actions that are powered by your unique signature strengths. 

Superpowers include:

-          the activities that you love doing and could do with your eyes closed;

-          the activities that you always gravitate towards;

-          the activities that you cannot stop doing both at work and in life;

-          and the activities that you would do for free if you didn’t need to pay the bills because the feel satisfying to your core.  

You might notice that these Superpowers are actions not passive traits. 

This is crucial.

When these 100 career changers use their Superpowers in their work, they feel deeply, deeply satisfied. 

Instead of feeling drained to the point of exhaustion after a day of using their Superpowers they feel re-charged and re-booted.  They could use these Superpowers for 8 hours a day and never feel drained. 

Could you use your Superpowers all day every day?

Sadly, in the real world of business, very few have been able to make a living out of exclusively using their superpowers but the happiest career-changers use their superpowers multiple times a day. Occasionally they designed a whole day using their Superpowers - those days were utterly fantastic.   

So, the fundamental secret to doing fulfilling, satisfying and happier work is using your Superpowers as often as possible each day. 

When I use my own Superpowers it feels as though all of my pleasure sensors have fired up at once.  It feels like nothing else in this world.   As you now know, in my case, it brings around instinctive bodily reactions like gigantic, entire face-filling, shiny-eyed smiles and involuntary whole-body air-jumps.  

Not quite orgasmic but something close.    

Not a bad way to earn a living…eh?


If you are considering working with me to Discover your Superpowers - have a read of this article on the main concerns others have told me they have had before making a decision.



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Spending more money on your kids' activities than your future career?

Spending on kids’ activities is grand…but are you prioritising their ball-kicking over your future career?

Spending on kids’ activities is grand…but are you prioritising their ball-kicking over your future career?

4 years ago, I realised that while we were spending around £200 each month on my daughters’ swimming, netball and gymnastics classes, I was spending £0 on my future career.

We were paying a nanny to take the girls to their weekday lessons.  For the weekend classes, my husband and I would spend a couple of hours escorting them to their lessons where they learned how to do a decent frog kick, perfect a roly poly and shoot a hoop.

Adoring mum as I am, I had a fairly good idea that neither of my daughters were headed towards the Olympic circuit.   But I was clear that I didn’t want to be doing what I was doing for the next 20 years.

When I noted down what was happening, it was the slap in the face I needed.  

The notes from my wake-up call that promoted a re-think of my career strategy….from non-existent!

The notes from my wake-up call that promoted a re-think of my career strategy….from non-existent!

The slap in the face I needed.

It dawned on me that I hadn’t invested a penny of my own money nor a moment of my precious time improving my chances of doing more fulfilling work in my future.  

Sure, I was attending work events and doing training courses paid for by my company (which of course were designed to make me better at my current job).  But for the previous 3 years, I hadn’t prioritised my future career AT ALL!

When I was honest about it, my long-term future career hadn’t even made it onto my to-do list FOR YEARS. 

Why the hell not?

1.       I was flat-out making my then career-family combo work (at least to a level where I was neither afraid for my job nor breaking as a human. For the record, I had returned to work after my first daughter mid 2008 when all hell was breaking loose in the financial world).

2.       I didn’t know what I might like to do in my future work.

3.       I didn’t know what I might like to do in my future work.

So…I admitted aloud what I did know for sure:

I couldn’t admit this out loud and do nothing about it.

I couldn’t admit this out loud and do nothing about it.

And something changed.

A bit of common sense leaked in, as my Dad might say. 

I sensed that I’d be in the same spot, in the same industry, possibly in the same company, in five years, if I didn’t do something.  

Oddly, I’d begun to sense that the silent but deadly 50-year-old corporate toast phenomena would be rearing its ugly head sooner rather than later.

Little by little

I began to invest a little time and a small amount of cash into learning new things.  Why?

  • To get my brain used to learning new stuff because I figured that would be key to my transformation. If you always do what you’ve always done…

  • To give me hope, through action, that I wasn’t going to be doing the same thing forever.

  • To give me, however small, a sense of control over my future.

It's never been easier or cheaper to learn

Here are some examples, many of them free, that I played around with:

·         Duolingo – Fantastic free app for learning another language from scratch or polishing existing knowledge. (Brilliant for kids as well)

·         Khan Academy – Fairly academic on-line courses on everything from programming to engineering and beyond.

·         Udemy – Unbelievable subject diversity - Speed reading, cartooning, digital painting, social media marketing, photography etc.

·         YouTube – all major players in every field have a YouTube presence.  Try their free stuff first before diving in.

·         Podcasts – like YouTube, every man and his dog in every field has a podcast or interviews on podcasts.  There is so much opportunity to spend your commute learning about something that interests you. Listen while you are doing mundane tasks. If I wasn’t doing what I am doing, I would just walk in mountains listening to weird and wonderful podcasts every minute of every day.

Understanding what you don’t know, but need to

Over time, I started to get a sense of where my interests lay. Even though I wasn’t quite sure where I’d end up, I made the decision that I would be doing something for myself.  

That one decision meant that I could get more specific about what I needed to know and began investing in me. Not bags of cash but more than zero.  

Here’s a copy of my starting list:

·         Public speaking,

·         Work psychology,

·         iPhone photography,

·         Psychology of happiness,

·         Article writing,

·         Blogging,

·         Social media marketing,

·         Running a business,

·         PR,

·         Accounting in a one-woman business,

·         Branding,

·         Story-telling,

·         Advertising,

·         Website designing

·         Book publishing,

·         Design,

·         Agile business,

·         Audience definition,

·         Pricing,

·         Meditation,

·         Mindfulness,

·         Life hacks.

If you are smart…

Do this while you’re getting paid a decent salary. 

Use at least one of your commutes each day to do something future-focussed that interests you. Even 30mins a day, during your working weeks, adds up to more than 100 hours a year. Imagine where you could be and what you could know in 100 hours!

If you are to do anything different, you are going to need to exercise your brain – start before you need to.  

You never know where you might end up!


More articles on prioritising your career

Where to start thinking about your career - the first 10 steps

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Common triggers for mid-lifers to change careers



 

 

The fantasy of start-ups after a global career - is it for you?

 Career in global corporates to start-ups…early lessons.

One way to re-design your career is to move into a start-up. But is it right for you?

One way to re-design your career is to move into a start-up. But is it right for you?

Anil was one of the first successful career changers I ever formally interviewed after I launched Midlife Unstuck.

He had spent 20ish years in what could only be described as “a very successful career” by most standards. 

Economics degree.  Summer internships. Investment banking.  MBA from Wharton.  McKinsey.  Fortune 500.  FTSE 100.  London, New York, Paris, Geneva and Stockholm.

He was headed directly towards a country leadership position.  

But…

He wanted “more”.  And figured out that he could find his style of “more” in a start-up.   You can read how he made his move from global corporation role to start up HERE.

I caught up with him again 18 months after he had entered his world of start-ups to see what he had learned about career change along the way. 

Some of you, considering working in start-up might find his takeaways useful….

 Discoveries from my first 18months in a start-up after a 20-year career in global corporations

Anil Saggi

Anil Saggi

Anil Saggi

·        “I thought I’d understood the start-up mentality, having helped shape a start-up within a giant corporation.  But I couldn’t possibly have known until I was on the inside.  I’d researched enough to get chosen for the role but not enough to really know.  That can only be learned by actually doing, by being on the inside and living the start-up ways.

·         Being “all-in” with an early stage business had a much bigger impact on my life than any other role in my career.   It is all-encompassing. There was a huge impact on my partner and my family that I had not fully anticipated.  It infiltrates every moment and deeply changes your mindset.  For instance, I had done lots of travelling during my working life in big corporations but that didn’t compare to the amount of travelling I did in this start-up company, in a bid to make that company successful.  

 ·         Getting used to the high levels of volatility and ambiguity takes time but once it clicks it really clicks.

 ·         The freedom to work in the way that works best for each individual is something that early stage businesses do very well.   It seems more…human.  Large corporations often assume that you are a different person when you are in work as opposed to outside of work - that you require waking from your life’s slumber when you come into work and that you will disappear back into your facebook-scrolling life when you leave!   Early stage businesses get that it’s all one and the same.  That life and work are completely fluid.

 ·         If you are interested in self-development, then a start-up is you.  It challenges almost everything you’ve ever learned from working in major corporates.  There are simply no limits.

 ·         But, if learning fast and holding responsibility for making things fail or succeed isn’t something you enjoy, the stress will hit big time.  Start-ups allow you to learn with someone else’s money to experiment, test and fail.  It’s been absolutely invaluable learning…but not without its own stresses.

 ·         One of the major differences is you are expected to take practical actions to make things happen. I was always an ideas person but never really took the practical steps to make those ideas real.  Now, I have so many ideas for investments and businesses that when I combine those with the practical confidence I feel, I feel the world is my oyster

·         You need to have your eyes wide open financially speaking and decide what you would accept as a “success” if you were to leave 12 or 18mths later e.g. equity.  So many young businesses fail or change investors in the early years, nothing is long-term.  

 ·         Making contacts and expanding networks is always valuable. It’s worth keeping one eye on where you could go after this role.  It usually means out – not up in young businesses.  But the true relationships made along the way will help you create next opportunities.

 ·         You need resilience.  When you exit a start-up, there is no long-term plan and no soft exit.  You just leave.  It’s very direct.  You often retain equity and wish the company well in the future but without you.


More personal observations

 ·         The start-up mind-shift has had an influence in all areas of my life.  For example, I’ve been able to very practically help my wife’s business to find suppliers and help with sales meetings etc that I simply didn’t have the close-to-the-ground skills to help with 2 years ago.

 ·         We underestimate how much we can do in work…and generally in life.  When we are given the freedom and can tap into the necessary focus, great things are possible.  I know people who, in hindsight think they could have been Olympic athletes if they had not spent so much time in the bar, sleeping or on their phone!  I was amazed by how much a small group of individuals can achieve when given an enormous amount of freedom.  

 ·         Career goals should always be evolving – either in reaction to the market or to personal goals.   Leaving your career on auto-pilot doesn’t serve anyone well.

 ·         I feel changed as a business person, but also as a human by my start-up experience. I’m like night and day given how much I’ve learned over the last 18 months.

 ·         I’m a lot less afraid of failure now that I have confidence that I can take an idea and just get on with making it happen.

 ·         After just 18 months start-up experience my whole future career options have been magnified.  Even though the time-frames in start-ups are so much shorter than in any corporate I have worked within, the same cycle plays out.   I’ve got so many more options than I had with my career history 2 years ago. “

If you are wondering what “More” looks for you, you might want to read this article on the Number 1 trigger for career change in our 40s, 50s or 60s which includes a couple of ideas on how you can start figuring it out for yourself.

 

 

(1 year later) Lessons learned from reclaiming Middle Aged Me

career change 40

A while ago, I encountered someone who will forever be called “Middle Aged Me”.

He was close to broken, drowning in a culture that was eroding him to the core. His honest awareness about his situation and where it was headed blew me away but he hadn’t reached his tipping point yet. He needed a big sign. A giant sign that kicked him into take action.

Sadly the sign came. Happily, he was well enough to react.

Here’re what he learned on his mid-life career change journey. If haven’t read his first article - you might like to start here.

Author:                Anonymous

A quick recap 

This is a follow-up to “Reclaiming Middle Aged Me” which Lucia published in March 2018. 

As a quick reminder, my company had been taken over by new investors and I found myself in a culture which conflicted with my personal values and work practices.  This in turn had a detrimental impact on my health, welfare and overall life in general. 

Nonetheless, it still took me a number of years before I did anything about it. 

Ultimately, a serious health scare forced the issued and I resigned without a job to go to.

When Lucia published my article she depicted me as a drowning man.  It still resonates with me today as it captured the totality of my situation and how I felt at the time.    

A number of months have now passed and this follow-up tells the story of what I have experienced and learned since making that momentous decision to leave.  Some things I had predicted, whereas others came as a surprise. 

Hopefully sharing these experiences will provide some insight into what may be expected after leaving the workplace and possibly help others to formulate their own thinking when contemplating the same.  Everyone may of course react differently, but this is my story.

The initial stages

The most immediate feeling was that of enormous relief.  I had escaped and an overpowering weight was lifted. 

I hate mondays

I no longer had to dread the arrival of Monday which so often surfaced as soon as I woke on a Sunday. 

Despite the relief, I wasn’t able to throw myself into lots of new exciting activities to fill my new found freedom.  It was very clear that my energy levels had been sapped from years of pushing myself too hard in a toxic environment and my body simply needed a rest.  There really was nothing left in the tank and I sat for long periods of time just watching the television or doing absolutely nothing.

To be fair, I thoroughly enjoyed this time of relaxation.  It’s amazing how many re-runs of “The Professionals” and “Tales of the Unexpected” you can get through when you put your mind to it.  I wasn’t allowed to watch these when I was growing up in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s (apparently I was too young), but at least they now serve to demonstrate my true middle aged credentials!  

Days continued to come and go and I also soon learned that the time taken to do things expands with the time available.  Breakfast for example can take up to an hour.

Now, I’ve just said that I wasn’t able to throw myself into lots of new exciting activities.  Well, that wasn’t only because of the lack of energy.  It was also because I didn’t really have any hobbies, passions or leisure pastimes in my old life.  This was quite an enlightening (and in hindsight worrying) revelation. 

I now realised that work had become so all-encompassing and time consuming that my personal life had fallen by the wayside at the expense of the corporate world.  Put simply, there had been no work-life balance for many years.  The lesson here is to take a step back now and make sure there are things in your life outside of work.  Don’t let work become the sole purpose of your existence.

Having discovered that I didn’t have any real hobbies, I then set about trying to find some. 

Many years ago I was a keen football player and also enjoyed running to keep fit.  I ruled out a return to football quite quickly (I’m middle aged remember), but running to regain my fitness definitely appealed.  Over the years, my ratio of cake intake to energy burned had become slightly imbalanced and I definitely needed to lose a few pounds. 

However, another lesson was about to land. 

Namely, do give some thought as to what time of year you leave the workplace.  I didn’t really have much choice due to my health scare, but many people won’t have that catalyst and can plan a bit more effectively.  I’m a big fan of hot weather and the sun (especially when it involves sitting in the garden with a beer), but I left work at the beginning of winter.  It was cold, wet and generally miserable for many months. 

Umberella.jpg

My rekindled desire to run again was put on hold as I looked out of the window on many occasions and the little willpower I had simply evaporated.  I know I could have joined a gym, but running on a treadmill was never something I enjoyed.  Another excuse of course, but keep in mind the mental state I had been reduced to.  Things needed to be easy and “right” for me. 

It also goes without saying that sitting in the garden in the rain with a beer is not quite so appealing. 

One thing I did find very rewarding in the early days was the additional time I was able to spend with my family.  My wife and I had more lunches out in the space of a few weeks than we had done for years! 

I went to every school event on the calendar and also spent a lot of time with my Mum.  She lives a long way away, but I was no longer constrained by weekends and could visit her for several days at a time in the week.  These visits to my Mum highlighted another important lesson.  She’s elderly and I would spend my time with her doing lots of jobs around the house and garden that she wasn’t able to do herself. 

Why am i here.png

This added something incredibly important to my life.  I had a purpose again.

Think about it.  We spend decades in the workplace and then (for any number of reasons) we no longer go to work.  It might be short term or it might be permanent.  Either way, my experience is that I began to question my purpose in life. 

When I was at work, I was a senior finance professional doing a responsible job for a large company.  I had “status” (whatever that is) and the respect of my colleagues.  I was also the “provider” for my family.  People relied on me, both at work and at home. 

My exit from the workplace took these roles (which had been in place for decades) away from me. 

The lesson here is to not underestimate the potential to feel a little lost at times following the decision (and ultimate action) to leave.  Try to have something in mind to focus on and give you a purpose to replace that which is left behind.  Better to be prepared than to have a surprise as it was for me.

This rather helpfully leads me on to another surprise to share, albeit the surprise wasn’t mine alone.  It was also for my wife, who is a “stay at home Mum”.  All of a sudden, her daily environment was impacted by another person (middle aged me) with helpful views on what needed doing, how it should be done, who should do it (and most importantly) how quickly it should be done.  Yes, well, that took a little bit of adjusting to for both of us. 

Nothing more to say, it’s all about “give and take” in the end, but just have it on your radar if you have a similar scenario!     

As time progressed

Over time, my mental and physical strength began to return and I felt ready to explore the “what next?” question.  I spent many hours and days looking at new possibilities for the future. 

One avenue involved a complete break from my financial background by dipping my big toe into the world of writing.  I met with various people already established in this world and discovered a number of important things. 

First, while my writing is OK, it’s not quite up to the standard to be a professional (although I could have trained to achieve this). 

Second, it takes a long time to become established and earn a living. 

Third (and most important for me), you spend most of your time on your own in front of a computer.

This set alarms bells ringing as it correlated with another learning I had already experienced.  It’s something quite fundamental, but it hadn’t appeared on my radar before I left work. 

Very simply (and from a very early stage), I experienced social isolation. 

Despite the fact my work environment had become aggressive and unpleasant; I still had friends and colleagues to talk to every day, to discuss the ways of the world and to generally banter with.  This was now gone and at times I felt lonely.  A writing career was not for me.

At the same time as I was having my Shakespearian potential dispelled, I also started to pursue a long held interest in a particular volunteering position.  It’s something that requires a lot of dedication and the various interview processes are both lengthy and rigorous. 

That goes a long way to explain why I hadn’t been able to pursue it when I was in a corporate environment which seemed to absorb all my time.  I refer back to an earlier comment. 

I should have made time for it.  

Suffice to say, I was successful in my pursuit of the role and I now have something in my “non-paid” work life which provides personal reward and enjoyment.

In terms of pursuing some paid work activities (it seemed prudent), I took it upon myself to drive around the local area and make notes of all the companies that were close by.  I was adamant that whatever I did next, it wouldn’t involve a long commute like I’d had in the past. 

I researched the companies to see whether the industry was of interest to me and whether I thought my natural skills (or “superpowers” to use Lucia’s terminology) could be utilised by them.  I also deliberately focussed on smaller companies and was able to narrow my initial list of around 50, down to a potential of 10. 

My career has been spent in large multi-nationals with a heavy demand for the type of work I do.  In contrast, smaller companies don’t tend to have my role as a dedicated resource, but they would benefit from a “short blast” of expertise in my area which could then be taken forward by their incumbent finance teams. 

So, the potential to set up my own company was formed in my mind.  In essence, I would act as a “trouble shooter” who parachutes in for a short period of time, assesses their capabilities, recommends a course of action for improvement and then either departs at that point (letting the incumbents implement the recommendations) or stays to help with the implementation. 

I think it might work as a USP, but I won’t get the chance to find out (at least for a while).  I’ll explain.

As I sit here today

Bounce trainers.jpg

I’m healthy again, both mentally and physically

When spring finally arrived I started running properly and have lost much of the weight I’d gained over the years.  There’s still some way to go, largely because (and just to recap), I’m middle aged and it takes longer to shift these days.  It’s a great excuse and one to be fully exploited.  Also, for those who remember my first article, I’ve come off much of the prescribed medication I talked about at the time. 

My new company idea is on hold at the moment because of an exciting development in the last couple of months. 

In my original article I talked about the possibility of returning to do what I do in another company, but in an environment which aligned with my values and work practices.  Well, I kept an eye on the market and I will shortly go back to work in an exciting industry which is located very close to home.  The culture is friendly and welcoming and I’ve been given a free reign to shape the future in my area of finance. 

My bounce is back (not that middle aged accountants are renowned for their bounciness), but I am genuinely excited by what lies ahead.


A final comment

I made the right decision to leave

A year ago I was in a bad way, both mentally and physically. 

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, I genuinely believe I was close to “going under” or worse.  My mind and body were compromised and at the edge of their tolerance levels.  A serious health scare provided the catalyst for me to leave, but I still needed the willpower and strength to make that final decision. 

My counsel is simple to say, but harder to enact.  Nonetheless, it’s maybe something to contemplate and reflect on. 

It’s only seven words. 

“Jump while you still have the strength.”

 

Daddy playing sillohette daughter.jpg
 

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career change at 40, career change at 50, career change at 60

Reclaiming Middle Aged Me - A story of how a change of business ownership can impact everything

I know someone who recently discovered that one of his untapped SuperPowers is writing insightful, painfully-honest and often-funny articles, opinion pieces and stories.  When I suggested he write a piece about how it felt to "wake up" in his mid-late 40s in the wrong company/culture/career he responded by sending me this article.  I haven't changed a word.  

It's a lonely place to be so please share his story if you know anyone who might be in a similar position.   


Man drowning1.jpg

Author:                Anonymous

So why am I writing this? 

Well, I’m on a journey that many others consider but never actually implement.  It remains an aspiration or dream for them, but for any number of reasons (and there are plenty of good ones), it’s never put into practice.

So who and what am I? 

Well, I’m middle aged (obviously) and an accountant by training.  I’ve had a very successful career working as a senior Finance professional in diverse roles within a variety of different industries.  I’m structured, methodical, thorough, sensible and reliable and I take great pride in the quality of my work.  Like everyone, I’ve had good times and less good times during my career, but on the whole I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ten or so different roles I’ve held.  Most importantly, I’m a husband and a dad with children at secondary school.

So what happened?

Well, I resigned from my last position without a job to go to.  Oops!  That doesn’t quite match up with the “structured, methodical, thorough, sensible and reliable” character proudly depicted above.

So what made this pillar of all things sensible do such an apparently foolhardy thing?   

Well, in summary, I found myself in a culture which conflicted with my personal values and work practices.  In turn, this had a detrimental impact on my health.  Nonetheless, it took me a number of years before I did anything about it.

The cultural change I experienced resulted from my company being bought by new investors with a very different agenda to that I had experienced in any of my previous roles or companies.  Up until this point, I had always worked in environments where management was clearly focussed on the long-term future of the company.  In contrast, the world I now found myself in was very much focussed on the short term.  Specifically, drive profit as quickly as possible to facilitate a quick future sale of the company.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this.  It happens all the time.  The point is, I simply wasn’t suited to the environment which this brought and there were consequential repercussions on my personal wellbeing.  Others will (and did) react in different ways to the world I experienced.  I merely offer an insight into how it impacted me and why I needed to leave.

So, what did reality on the ground look like for me? 

Firstly, there was an explosion in terms of corporate data requirements.  I use the term data deliberately.  It wasn’t information.  Decisions couldn’t be made based on what was being requested.  The immediate impact locally was a reduction in Finance support to the business as focus shifted to the global requirements.  Finance became a data generating function rather than information analysers who partner and challenge the business.  I’d spent my entire career championing the latter, with Finance at the forefront of strategy formulation and decision making.  This was going back to the dark ages where Finance added up rather than added value.  I needed to find my old abacus in order to fit in.       

Key Performance Indicators were introduced at a remarkable rate of knots.  I wasn’t the only one to spot the apparent lack of understanding of what a KPI is when we moved into the hundreds.  Yes, that is plural.  I couldn’t help thinking the word “Key” had somehow become lost in translation.  Unfortunately, this didn’t result in any reduction in numbers.  Nor was there any guidance to ensure global consistency in their calculation and measurement.  What could possibly go wrong?  Some even totally conflicted with each other.  Oh dear.  My structured and logical brain was struggling with this. 

Conflicting priorities became a regular occurrence.  The answer was that everything was a priority.  Relief, there was no conflict after all!  Yet my head wouldn’t accept this.  “This doesn’t feel right” said my brain.  “Where’s the focus?”

Pace came at the expense of rigour and quality.  Mistakes were being made regularly but the requirement was always to hit the deadline.  That was apparently more important than ensuring robustness and accuracy in what was being requested.  Time will only tell what impact this approach will have.  The personal impact on me was that I pushed harder and harder to try and ensure as much rigour was applied as physically possible. Personal pride demanded a quality product and I was going to deliver this at whatever personal cost.  Days blurred into nights and week days into weekends.

The saddest thing I witnessed was the change in behaviour of local peers and superiors.  The dynamics of a professional, talented, dedicated and collaborative team was undermined. Tension, aggression and fear evolved in a short period of time and became clearly evident on a daily basis.  Tension can be beneficial.  Aggression is unacceptable.  Fear is a damning indictment. 

What was the personal cost to me?

During the years I worked in this new environment there was a clear impact on my health and I was on more prescription medication than I care to mention. 

In the evenings and at weekends I was often too tired to engage with family or friends.  I was disinterested, distracted, snappy and reclusive.  I’d lie on the bed for hours on Saturdays with nothing left in the tank.  All physical and emotional energy was sappedThe Sunday feeling of gloom would always manage to rear its ugly head early in the day.  “It’s Monday tomorrow.”  In summary, I was unhappy and life was a chore to endure. 

I knew deep down that things had to change.  I knew my health was being compromised.  I knew this was no way to lead a life.  I thought about leaving, but never did.  Why?  With all the evidence suggesting (OK, “telling” me), I should.  Personal pride played a big role.  Fear of “what next” and “will I ever find another job” didn’t help.  Maybe surprisingly, thoughts of “I’ll be letting the company down” appeared on a regular basis.

Leap skydive.jpg

So, what was the final catalyst for my resignation?

Ultimately it was very simple.  A serious health scare.  A wake up call.  But let’s be honest, it shouldn’t have taken this to get me to my decision.

What was the reaction of those closest to me?

My family expressed relief and were hugely supportive.  Apparently they’d been worried for a long time!  My closest friends were equally supportive.  Phrases such as “about time” and “we wondered how much evidence you needed” came to the fore.  I did sort of know this, but pride and duty are powerful traits which can cloud judgment and delay important decisions.

My wider friendship network has been outwardly supportive but in some cases I can see scepticism in their eyes.  Especially those who work in a corporate environment themselves.  Their brains can’t compute what I’ve done.  They’re thinking “he’s mad” but they aren’t vocalising it.

How do I feel now?

A few months have passed and it’s been a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  A huge sense of relief has been combined with feelings of being a bit lost and wondering “what’s next?” when my life has always been so structured.  It can be scary not having all the answers.  I’m out of my comfort zone but excitement about the future is outweighing fear.  I do know one thing for certain though.  It was the right decision.  My health is improving for a start.

two paths.jpg

What next?

Nothing is ruled out.  Maybe I do something similar but in an environment which aligns with my values and work practices (very much like the first 25 years of my career)!  Or maybe I do something completely different.  It feels as though I now have the opportunity to pursue the latter and that is what I am currently doing. 

A final comment

I’m sure some people will read this and think I made the right decision.  Others may think I’ve lost the plot.  Irrespective of your views, I encourage everyone to read what palliative nurses say are the greatest regrets expressed by people on their death beds.  Life is short and those at the end of it offer truly valuable counsel to the rest of us.  Then it’s up to us to decide whether we heed it or not.


If you’d like some help on beginning to re-think your career for the next chapter of your life, why not start by downloading my “Where to Start” career change guide. It’ll give you my opinion of the first 10 steps to give you a little extra light at the end of your tunnel.


 

Click on the image to download

Click on the image to download

 

 

 

 

Changing career in midlife is just a series of experiments...easier said than done!

I'd have paid good money to be doing this rather than conducting my scary experiment - was it worth it?

I'd have paid good money to be doing this rather than conducting my scary experiment - was it worth it?

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.  

 

Incase you were wondering...this is what I look like pretending to be brave...

Incase you were wondering...this is what I look like pretending to be brave...

  • 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 3d cover.png

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.

 

 

50 year old “Corporate Toast”: the silent career trend that we all know about but don’t talk about…and what to do about it.

I’ve written many articles on how to change your career in mid-life but I realised recently that I’ve made a mistake.  

I haven’t made it crystal clear why professionals in their 40s and 50s NEED to start taking action if they’d like to continue working beyond their next few birthdays.  

This mistake became very clear when one of my clients asked my opinion on career options post-50 within big corporates.  I drew breath before responding “If you are in your 50s in a big corporate, get ready to be toast!”  Not my most eloquent moment but a typically truthful one nonetheless.

After nearly 20 years of watching silently as big corporates did everything in their power to recruit “high potentials” whilst at the same time doing everything in their power to negotiate quietly with the 50+ contingent to leave, it felt exhilarating to say out loud what I knew to be the truth. 

That whole truth is that 50+ year olds are an endangered species in big corporates. Ageism has simply not been tackled by big corporations.  These endangered 50+ year olds are usually positioned in general leadership and/or very specialist roles where they have been shrunk-to-fit.  Both positions are extremely time-limited.   No matter how “high potential” you were considered in your 20s and 30s if you are facing or have already faced the “BIG 5-0” birthday within a big corporation…your days are numbered.

4 varieties of 50 year old corporate toast

4 varieties of 50 year old corporate toast

Continuing the corporate toast analogy, in my experience, there are four dominant varieties of 50year old “Corporate Toast”:  

  1. The “Golden-toasted” variety: The luckiest of these rare creatures have amassed a pension fortune for when they decide that they’ve been perfectly toasted. They can press their own eject button at any time if the company starts to turn up the toaster’s heat setting. They have almost full control of the toaster. This allows for a speedy and relatively burn-free exit as long as they are self-aware enough to pop themselves out before the company does.

  2. The “Almost-toasted” variety:

    These self-aware leaders have their fingers crossed that they’ll be able to keep working until a pre-set point when they can afford to release themselves. There are two different pairs of hands on the toaster setting so anyone could press it at any time.

    These “almost-toasted” varieties hope to have enough time to leave the toaster with a lovely glow and a bag of either pension/redundancy/exit treasure. While all fingers are crossed for a hopeful lucrative exit, their impact on the business is very slowly declining.

  3. The “I’m-in-the-wrong toaster” variety:

    These leaders have a long-term focus and often enjoy work for its own sake. They are clear that their future lies in smaller businesses (or their own business) and have already begun to think through options and perhaps even test those options out.

    They have always been great at serious networking and taking actions so that it won’t be a shock when their toaster’s heat setting is turned up. They fully understand the toasting game. Often they very proactively position themselves for their future, long-term career and many have job offers before the toaster pops them out.

    Many forgo possible redundancy packages as the long-term benefit of 10+ extra years of an enjoyable career (almost) on their terms is so attractive. Time on the golf course is not their goal.

  4. The “Almost-burned” variety: The trickiest situation is that held by the 50+ leaders who are keeping their heads down so that they can continue to be amazing at what they do for as long as they can. The short-term looks fabulous, doesn’t it?

    They feel valuable and valued. They enjoy work but have no time to have a serious look beyond the toaster to see what’s happening. But someone else is controlling their career toaster setting and has been turning up the heat without their knowledge.

    When this variety of toast burns, it will scar deeply and will take a great deal of time, effort and support to recover from.





I write this article not to instil fear but to highlight the CHOICE element in our midlife careers. 

I feel so strongly that we, as individuals, cannot change the realities of the corporate world today. But we can start to change the realities of our personal career situation today. 

We can choose to either accept our special variety of toast, to change to a different variety of toast, to swap our toaster or to design our own toaster.

If you are planning to retire in your early 50s to your yacht to sail the Caribbean, I have nothing to offer you…I make a great Negroni though!  

However, if you are in any of the other toaster situations please consider taking a long, hard look at your career longevity and work enjoyment from a different angle.  

In my humble opinion (based on insights gained from over 1500 leadership interviews over the last 10 years plus intensive psychological research into the ingredients of a fulfilling career), taking time to evaluate how you could purposefully re-design your career to fulfil more of your life goals is time well spent.  

Choose not to be toast. 

Choose to let your midlife be the jam years in your career.

Here’s my personal story of how I chose not to let myself be toasted by a corporate career.

If you’re not sure where to start, download this free guide that will give you my recommended first steps to taking control of your career.  



If you need help getting started, sign up to the You’re not too old and it’s not too late career change newsletter and download my free Beginner’s Guide to Successful Career Change in your 40s and 50s - Where to Start eBook.

I’ll send you twice monthly articles, how tos and real-life successful career change stories to inspire you.  If you’re impatient and would like to fast-track your success, book in for a 30min (Free) Light and the end of my tunnel conversation to kick-start your happier career.

 

Comfortable networking for Introverts (2) - How was the lion's den? And a Cinderella moment...

In last week's article (find it here if you missed it), MidlifeUnstuck ran an experiment where one confirmed introvert (me) was made to do everything that the psychology research suggested she should to see if networking could be made comfortable for her.  Then that introvert was thrown into a lion’s den filled with national journalists, PR gurus and 50 or so other business owners.    Why? 

Because I am old enough to know that even if you’ve been lucky enough to design your career to match your superpowers perfectly, there will always be elements that are key to your success which lie firmly outside of your comfort zone.

For example, I know photographers who detest doing accounts but like getting paid.   I know fabulous finance people who hate doing stand-up presentations but do it weekly.  I know brilliant but modest artists who can’t bear showing off their designs.  And, I know of at least one career transformation coach who adores what she does but comes out in spots when any type of “networking event” is mentioned.  

Typically introverts prioritise ANYTHING other than networking – it's our nemesis.   After some intensive research on introverts, I discovered that there are a few key activities necessary for comfortable networking.  These include: detailed preparation on the attendees; choosing a structured event design; alone time before and during the event and; setting expectations around fewer but deeper conversations than extroverts might expect.  

My event (SOULFUL PR LIVE) involved meeting face-to-face with 8 national journalists, with opportunities to ask questions and even pitch the odd idea to them.  It also involved a roomful of business owners, some of whom were confirmed introverts and others who appeared to be in their extroverted comfort zone.  

So, how was the lion’s den?  Did the research work? How comfortable was this introvert?

The detailed preparation meant that I had very low anxiety levels the night before and unexpectedly slept well.   I strolled to my dawn train with time to spare avoiding the coffee shop in case I threw coffee over myself - sadly not as rare an occurrence as you might imagine.  I’d planned to arrive at the smaller, pre-event breakfast meeting with plenty of time to freshen up before others arrived.  A vision of Zen.  Crucially, I’d have a chance to get to know people individually as they arrived as opposed to walking into a formed group.  I had lived and breathed the advice from the research and was raring to go.

On the day

In actuality, my google maps had such a melt-down that I couldn’t work out where I was - perhaps something to do with an accidental paddle in my handbag with a bottle of Evian the previous day?  

I had allocated one hour to do a 25 minute stroll from the tube station so hadn’t bothered to pick up any cash for emergency taxis etc.  An hour and a half later, I arrived late having been guided by 5 separate, kind individuals pointing me towards Shoreditch.  Who says London's not a friendly place? I’d grown a big frizzy hair bomb, developed a fashionable “dewy sheen” on my face and was wearing converse trainers rather than my beautiful, coral, confidence-giving shoes (see photo).  All this without even a hint of caffeine and zero breakfast.   Comfort levels – close to zero.

coral shoes

The 8/9 breakfasting ladies in a trendy café near the venue were presented with this big-haired, perspiring vision of panic.  They responded with smiles and sympathy.   After a few solitary moments in a darkened, cool loo and a gentle yet persuasive chat with myself in the mirror, I felt ready to start again.   This time it was a whole different ballgame. 

I had lots of fascinating one-to-one human interactions - the essence of totally comfortable networking for introverts.  These were not banal interactions.  They included:

  • fawning over wonderful hand-made pendants;

  • discussions about pigs who had passed away but had been central to marketing and life;

  • comparing the parenting styles of in-laws and;

  • viewing stunning photos of ethically-sourced children’s clothes.

Essentially, I felt like I was accessing behind-the-scenes stories that allowed this small group to connect in a way that would have been impossible on-line. On to the main event. 

Walking into a room full of strangers, I forced myself to appreciate that I was also a stranger and made an effort to say “hello” and smile – just as my 6 year old had reminded me the previous night.  I grabbed another shot of caffeine and choose a table with only one person on it thinking she might be receptive to a new friend.  She was and we hit it off.  She turned out to be one of the speakers and was open, funny and wise.  More behind-the-scenes story telling.  Comfort levels – sky high.    

The pre-lunch personal meetings with the journalists was without a doubt a little “itchy” for the outed introvert in the room.  Whilst I made eye contact and attempted to make them feel comfortable, this session was much less structured and therefore trickier to navigate.  By the time I understood the lay of the land, I’d probably only asked one question and certainly didn’t feel comfortable enough to openly pitch an idea.  

However, I watched in awe as more experienced business-owners batted pitches back and forth with these journalists with such ease.  I’m not sure I made the most of that particular session but– at least I hadn’t imploded in front of them.   Comfort levels – middle of the road.

Lunchtime brought another difficulty…who to talk to over lunch?   Aaagh.  Thankfully I met one of my top-5-people-I-must-meet-today list (Thank you to the research).   She had previously also publicly outed herself as an introvert and secretly admitted to me that she had just allowed herself 6 minutes solitude in the loo.  I was crippled with envy.  Note to self...build that into my next event.

Thankfully, the afternoon involved watching a couple presentations which gave me time to just listen without pressure.  The event came to a close.  I exited like Cinderella at the end of her ball.  I speed-walked to the loo, swapped my coral shoes for my converse trainers, then almost sprinted towards the exit leaving my lanyard and name badge strewn somewhere behind me.   I breathed a sigh of relief but also joy.  I had spent a whole day in conditions that extreme introverts might consider a nightmare.  But, it had been exceedingly more comfortable than any other networking event I had ever attended. 

I’d learned so much, made real human connections (which is the highest quality of networking… isn’t it?), shared some inspiring stories, discovered belly laughs amongst deep and meaningful conversations and built early foundations for new friendships. 

Do I want to do this every day of the week?  Hell no! Could I build this into a regular part of by business growth plan? Undoubtedly.

My conclusions are that comfortable networking requires more intensive planning for introverts than extraverts and that an event with the right degree of structure to satisfy the one-to-one interaction-loving introverts whilst still considering the social butterflying extroverts is the perfect mix. Thankfully at Soulful PR Live 2017, this was the case.    

Would I do anything different next time?  I might wear comfy shoes the whole day and stash some cash in my pocket…just in case Cinderella needed an escape carriage.

If you’d like to hear more about designing your career around your personality profile and unique strengths, please email me on lucia@midlifeunstuck.com to arrange a time to speak.   If you are not quite ready or feel up to re-designing your own career by yourself, please sign up to my newsletter here for weekly articles for hints, tips, transformation stories to inspire you.

Comfortable networking for introverts (1) - How not to waste an amazing network opportunity

introvert alone

I recently pushed myself WAY outside my comfort zone and bought a ticket to a networking event.   I was sitting in a café in central Guildford where I often write my articles when something weird happened.   After pressing the BUY NOW button, my stomach folded in on itself and I began to experience symptoms of an unusual illness known as “extreme post-purchase remorse”.   Suddenly I felt like a blushing, sweaty teenager who had been ordered to perform a Britney Spears song alone, on a stage, in front of the whole school...NAKED!   

How could one little networking event reduce me to a teenage wreck when I have been on this earth for four and a half decades?

You see I really, really want to be at this event but...I am an introvert

If I can actually muster the courage to attend, I will have the opportunity spend a whole day with 8 national journalists and editors from the likes of The Guardian, Huffington Post, Marie Claire, BBC Radio 4s Women’s Hour and Good Morning Britain to name but a few.  Along with 50+ other business owners, I’ll be learning how to position and pitch my business to the national media (www.soulfulprlive.com).  It could be brilliant for my business.  But I still feel sick to the stomach at the thought of it.       

soulful pr live banner

Networking events have always felt painful to me but I know some people just love them.  About 10 years ago, in my corporate job, a personality profiling tool branded me (and just one other manager at the time) as...God forbid…an introvert among a sea of extroverts!   It was at that point that I began to hide my discomfort at networking events and buckled down to some serious "working the room" doing my best impression of an extrovert.    At the end of those events, I felt so drained that I could barely speak.  It was just part of the job – a necessary evil.

Through trial and error, I slowly learned ways to make such networking events manageable. But I wish I’d known what I know now.  That I could have made them more comfortable...without the assistance of multiple glasses of wine to make me more…what’s the word…extroverted. 

Two years ago, I began some research to understand introversion.  Initially, my aim was to overcome my introversion but very quickly I uncovered a new respect for my occasionally debilitating/occasionally liberating personality trait.   

I discovered that introversion is like (bear with me here) hair curliness.  You might have only one little section of your hair that’s curly (slight introversion).  Or you might have a head of tight curls everywhere (extreme introversion).  But you are more likely to have something in between.  Neither end of the spectrum is better or worse – they’re just different and require different hair products and atmospheres to reach their full potential.   If curly hair is in the wrong environment, it’ll frizz.  If introverts don't have conditions that allow them to thrive, they will not thrive.  But even in the stressful conditions of a networking event, introverts can thrive if they know how.

differences between Extroverts and Introverts: An overview

introvert extrovert general styles

If I really wanted to attend this event, I had to make sure that my introversion did not control me.  So, I very specifically researched ways for introverts to stay real to their personality make-up yet feel comfortable at networking events.   

The advice was surprisingly simple.  I've condensed some of the most widely accepted advice for successful and comfortable networking for introverts into the list below.  I've also compared my event preparation was shaping up.

Comfortable networking hints for introverts: Before the event

·        Pre-register or buy a ticket – that way you are less likely to find something more important to do on that day. Tick.

·        Know the event format. Sadly many networking events are unstructured and force you mill around for ages before having to interrupt group conversations.  Zero comfort here for introverts.  Choose a structured event with table moves, pre-agreed discussion topics or ice-breaker activities. Tick.

·        Figure out the dress code, if there is one.  If not, choose your favourite confidence-boosting outfit.  “Nothing new on race day” is a mantra I see written often in my husband’s running magazine.  If it's new, scratchy, hangs weirdly when you sit down or doesn’t fit beautifully - don’t wear it.  Favourite blue top ready to rock. Tick.

·        Be alone before the event. Try not to spend time before the event in draining social activities – you need to power-up for the event.  I’ll be sitting alone with my notes on the dawn train to Waterloo. Tick.

·        Research the attendees.  Thankfully here the organiser and PR guru Janet Murray (@Jan_Murray) has done a fabulous job of setting-up facebook groups, a pre-event zoom meeting and requesting specific attendee preparation before the event.  During these on-line conversations, shared articles and questions I have gotten to know at least 5 attendees whom I will be seeking out on the day.  Some share my discomfort and even sent warm messages when I announced that my introversion was troubling me.  Others are in a similar industry and I'd love to hear their opinions on almost everything.   

·        Set realistic and measurable goals.  I’ve nearly finished my research on the attending members of the press. This is just a little aide-memoir with a couple of their article titles in case I go blank in the moment (common introverted behaviour when faced with constant social interaction).  I have two small goals for the day.  The first is to ask one question of every journalist at some point during the day.  The second is to say hello to the 5 people mentioned above.  That’s all.   I want to be walking through Shoreditch at the end of the event with a smile on my face.    

·        Prepare your personal story.   Sadly, I am not going to be able to ask questions and listen all day which is in my comfort zone.  Someone is bound to ask about me and my story.  I thought I had my story done and dusted until I started to write it down.  I realised it makes great sense to me but not to someone who has never met me before.  I’ve refined my personal and business "elevator pitch" and feel more comfortable.  Still, I’m not looking forward to talking about myself but it is a means to an end.

How comfortable networking styles differ for introverts and extroverts

It’s one thing being prepared for a networking event and another feeling comfortable during the event.  The research suggests that there are opposing but equally successful methods of networking at an event for extroverts and introverts. Check them out below:

 

networking general introverts

It's worth noting again that these are just differences in equally successful networking styles -  not good/bad labels. 

Comfortable Networking Hints for Introverts: On the day         

  • Arrive early (ish). No need to arrive so early that the organisers are still setting out the name tags but arrive a few minutes early to freshen up rather than arriving incognito when the event is in full-flow.

  • Schedule to meet one or more of the group before so that you can arrive together. Someone suggested meeting for breakfast and I jumped at the chance, thinking that this might ease my nerves and probably make the whole day more comfortable.

  • Seek out your top 5. Remember your small list of people that you really wanted to connect with…seek them out.

  • Ask open questions.

  • Real compliments or comments. Offer a truthful compliment on another attendee's outfit/bag/pen etc. Who doesn't love an authentic compliment? Alternatively comment on one of the speakers' points and ask what the person beside you thinks. Who doesn't love to have their opinion requested?

  • Good posture. Make eye-contact and stand tall giving the impression of confidence, even though you are not feeling it.

  • Names. Make an effort to learn a couple of names. It's such a big compliment to have your name remembered and will make you memorable.

  • Jot down some notes from conversations with anyone you have spoken to (back of business cards are really good for this).

  • Follow up after the event with a message containing a fragment of your conversation. This is a giant differentiator rather than the generic “great to meet you email”.

  • Be real. In order to make any concrete connections, you have to connect as humans. This is difficult if you are disguising yourself as something you are not…even if that's an extrovert.

  • This last one wasn’t in any of the research but since I say it regularly to my daughters when teaching them how to make friends I think it is worthy of a place on the list. It is simply – Smile and say “Hello”. It’s the world’s greatest conversation-starter.

The event starts in less than 48 hours.  I'm still not looking forward to it (Sorry @janet_murray).  I definitely won't work the room like a social butterfly.  I won't pretend to be more extroverted than I am.   I'll just be me.  I certainly feel more comfortable than I ever have after doing the research and preparing.   That said, realistically I'm also expecting the stomach flipping to return on the day!     

If you'd like to read more - have a look at the following books:

  • Networking for people who hate networking – Devora Zack

  • Quiet – the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain

  • Never eat alone – Keith Ferazzi

7 most dignified ways for midlifers to handle a big company "baby boss" (a new boss who's your child's age)

A friend of mine, let's call him Johnny, recently joined a high-profile, super successful, early-stage technology company.  He is the oldest employee by far at the ripe old age of 49. 

Johnny has been tasked with growing their global sales enormously to turn this mega-successful company (on paper) into the sustainably profitable giant it intends to be.   To do this he must develop deep relationships with MDs and CEOs of giant, mature tech businesses across the globe.    How old are these MDs and CEOs?  You guessed it – 45yrs+.  

This experienced group of midlife CEOs/MDs appear to be almost incomprehensible to the leaders of this early-stage, but huge tech business.   These midlife board members possess lives, personality attributes and interests which have exposed a huge generational crevasse in the relationship building skills of the owners and senior leadership within this early-stage tech business.     

Not only are these midlife CEOs/MDs older than many young tech executives can ever imagine being, they also possess memories that are older than these future board members.  These midlifers have faces that sag into fascinating folds.  They have hair that is greying – either proudly or hairdresser-enhanced.  Their slowing metabolism manifests itself sometimes in a thin layer of belly fat.  They remember a time when smart coffee-machines were not considered an essential in the average home.  They grew up reading books…printed on paper.  They learned to communicate with humans using their voices, their eyes and their gestures before communicating with their on-line personality.  These midlifers can remember a time when bottled water didn’t exist!  They are completely different animals.

Selling global technology contracts involves connecting deeply with human beings behind your potential or existing customers.

Enter Johnny.

In order to create or cement long-term relationships, Johnny entertains his midlife counterparts in other companies a great deal.   He goes to baseball games in US, West End shows in London, comedy clubs in New York, stunning spa days in Middle East and Michelin starred restaurants all over Europe.   On the face of it, this sounds fantastic, but can you imagine spending up to 8hrs with a potential customer with whom you have little in common?  No?  Neither can they.  They simply wouldn't.

Johnny forms real relationships with his customers – genuinely.  These relationships are edging towards friendship but they are not friendship.  At all of these events, he spends evenings or whole days with them, and sometimes even invites their children along for the day.  He spends this time easily and appears to enjoy it.  Why? For him, it’s easy.  They have lived in similar eras, through similar economic cycles and are in similar life phases.  There is plenty to discuss.  

But this will not always be the case. 

These older board members are being slowly replaced by younger board members who are, as I've said, a different animals.   It is not inconceivable that in the near future many successful big company senior leaders will be reporting into much younger people – at a stretch - potentially to a boss as young as our children.   

Don't believe me?  If you are 50 today and started your family at 20, your high-flying child could have had a decade-long career so far.  While their career is on its way up, yours is flattening.   The reality of reporting into someone who is as old as your child is racing towards us at full pelt.

Uncomfortable as that sounds, you might need some strategies to help you cope should it happen to you:

1.    Pause and zip your lips

When you hear the news about your new boss – pause and breathe.  If you are known for forthright communication, this might be a good time to...pop out for lunch.  A disparaging comment like “How old is she – twelve?!” could be very career damaging. 

Any sort of derogatory, ageist comment is exactly what you are trying to avoid.  By the way, yes the policemen are getting younger every day.

2.    Don’t stereotype (out loud in the office, at least)

Stereotyping is a natural human failing - the privacy of our own private worlds.  I know, I know.  You are completely different to all the other mature, big company leaders out there.  Being clumped into a stereotype is incredibly insulting, isn’t it? 

Does it annoy you when you feel stereotyped with all those mature people who don’t want to learn (the research says the opposite, by the way) and who are not open to change?  Yes? So, try not to stereotype that all earlier generations are self-absorbed and only out for themselves.  

You worked hard to get where you are, so did they.  If they are in senior management at a young age, it isn’t because they “slept their way to the top” or “brown-nosed” all the right people.   It’s likely to be because they are smarter than their competition, have amazing technical skills or are great early leaders with promise.  Their skills have been rewarded. 

3.    Get out of your own head and into theirs

If you think it is hard having a boss who is young enough to be your child, imagine how tricky it could be having someone reporting into you who is old enough to be your mum or dad? 

A little empathy will go a long way.  Your new boss will be delighted to have been promoted but they will have their own inner doubts about whether they are up to the job. 

Your new boss may be young enough to be your child but they will also possess all the normal early-career insecurities – just as you did.    But, they will be busy hiding their insecurities – just as you did.

The whole world is crippled by "imposter syndrome" - when we worry unnecessarily that we will be found out to be not good enough even though we are in the perfect position to make use of our talents.

What your new boss will need is a group of right-handers who can contribute their unique combination of talents to improve the business.   You can choose to be one of those.  Or not.

Figure out what their goals are and support them with your talents.  Or do something different.

4.    Don’t assume she/he will be a bad boss

If you had a magically supportive, cohesive team in your first senior leadership role, boy were you lucky.   If you had dolly mixture of personalities, skills an experience profiles all playing out their own individual game-plans, welcome to your Boss Baby's world.  

Managing someone who is the same age as their Mum/Dad will be awkward for them butif you are as valuable as you think you are, their success will be dependent on the success of your relationship.  Meet them half way by assuming that they will be a good boss for you.

It wouldn't go amiss if you could communicate your congratulations and your optimism about how you can work together to great success.  Perhaps a step too far? Nevertheless, a quick "congratulations" wouldn't go amiss?  

5.    Keep high emotion at bay (or within the 4 walls of your home)

High emotion at work often has its basis in fear.  It is almost always regretful and is best left for your loved ones at home.

Mellow the emotion by talking to friends who might also be experiencing reporting to some younger high-flyers in their businesses.  Ask questions of them around the best way to tackle it or just ask about their experiences.  

Articulate your frustrations at home but at work, figure out what exactly it is that you need so that you can feel that your career still has legs

In my experience, this can often take the form of leading individual, specific parts of projects/processes or being seen as an expert on one area.  

You need to create opportunities to use your experience, to apply it to new situations in new ways thereby expecting even better outcomes. 

6.    Offer them the same respect you expect in return

Just because you have a boss who’s the same age as your child, it doesn’t mean that you have the right to be disrespectful.   Bitterness is not becoming of a midlifer in business.   

We are all in a state of flux as we attempt to re-design the second half of our career.   

This new boss might feel like a mighty blow that has hit you at a weak point but there is no excuse for throwing your toys out of the pram.  Figure out what amazing toys you have in your pram and use them to climb gracefully towards continued career success.

midlife career crisis after boss baby arrives

 

7.    Point your experience at their problems

You have all this experience under your belt, so point it at problems.  Not in a “Move out of the way, I know how to solve this problem” kind of attitude but in a “We had a similar situation like this before, at the time I considered this idea and this was the result.”  Then explore options with your boss.  It is much more likely that you will become the trusted advisor rather than the grumpy pain in the elbow (not that we are stereotyping here).

If all else fails…

If, despite all your efforts, the relationship still isn't working out after a period of time, work out a way to unstick your career.   Check out my article on starting to re-design your career around your superpowers (https://www.midlifeunstuck.com/new-blog-1/2017/5/27/love-fridays-hate-sunday-night-blues-the-key-to-mid-life-career-happiness). 

You may be as lucky as Johnny whose midlife status and experience were real attraction points for his new company.  You might also like to know that he absolutely appreciates the short-term nature of his fortuitous situation.  He fully expects to be reporting into a “baby boss” in the not-too-distant future.  That said, he has already got his back-up plan ready…just in case.  

No matter what your circumstances, don’t resign without a plan, resign with a great plan.

If you can foresee this situation becoming a reality in your career, it can be helpful to take control by identifying your superpowers and planning of the second half of your career. 

If you'd like a personal guide through that process, please email me at lucia@midlifeunstuck.com to organise a free 30 minute call to discuss your situation and see whether I am the right person to help you.  

If you would prefer to re-design your own midlife career sign-up to my newsletter which includes free tips, book recommendations and transformation stories at www.midlifeunstuck.com.