career change story

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!














Top 10 Stress Triggers (which can lead to burnout) and a 10min exercise to figure out what you need to change first

Recently, I spent a nail-biting 55 minutes watching my younger daughter attack ice-skating like Bambi in a ring with Rocky Balboa.

Zipped-up and buttoned-in to her ski-gear, she launched herself onto freshly-smoothed ice, unaware of the severe walloping that lay ahead for her.

She managed 6.5 seconds of upright bambi-skating before the first of...22 face-plants! Undaunted, she laughed and stood up to re-launch after 21 of her 22 falls.

The 22nd fall took her down...and out.  

She slunk to on the ice, head hung low. Another uncontrolled novice then skidded into her back and left a mark that the safety police counted as her knock-out blow. Bambi exited the rink.

I breathed an exhausted sigh of relief. She was a little broken and a lot annoyed (sadly, she hasn’t avoided her feisty Irish genes!) that she’d been benched and missed the last minutes of play.

So what has this got to do with happier careers?

I noticed myself feeling all puffed up and proud of her attitude and tenacity.  But that pride made me stop to ponder...

  • How often do we push ourselves beyond sensible boundaries, whether it’s feels right or not?

  • How often to we applaud the tenacity in the face of adversity when a retreat might make more sense for our own physical safety and mental sanity?

  • And why the heck do so many of us wait for that knock-out blow to force us to stop taking the beatings our work seems to keep handing out.

Over the last few years,  I’ve been inadvertently researching STRESS AND BURNOUT as they come up a great deal in my interviews with happy career changers (and clients) as the triggers for change. (Read this article - the tipping point to help you decide if you are ready for career change yet.)

Tipping point.jpg

True stories of stress-related burnout

  • Karen Walker had to retire to her bed for six weeks and be cared for my her lovely husband after a promotion found her working outside her Superpowers for too long. She has since co-founded her company Now’t Poncy with Julian her husband and makes sure she uses her Superpowers every day.

  • These two anonymous guest posts Re-claiming Middle-aged Me and What if your first career is the wrong on? show the devastating effects of burnout.  Both are in much better places now and I feel honoured that they were happy to share their stories with me.

In an ideal world, we’d exit our work ice-rinks, or our boxing rings WAY before it gets bloody. But there are many obstacles that get in the way of us making change and keep us stuck doing the same things as we’ve always done.  

*Check out this article if you want to know the biggest hindrance to career change

From my on-going research, some of these might be surprising to you as contributing factors to stress-related burnout.

Top 10 reasons for LONG-TERM STRESS & BURNOUT

(given by successful career changers)

1. A role that doesn’t play to our unique SPECIFIC STRENGTHS (I call these your “Superpowers”);

2. Promotion into a role that EXPOSES YOUR SUPER WEAKNESSES (I call these your “Kryponite”) so often that we have to work ridiculously hard to make sure no-one notices;

3. PERFECTIONISM – us, our boss, our culture or our industry;

4. An UNSUPPORTIVE CULTURE or one that CLASHES WITH OUR VALUES – for too long;

5. Relentless UNREALISTIC TIME FRAMES;

6. A RADICAL CHANGE IN CULTURE MATCH following a take-over/buy-out/new owners/new boss;

7. AMBIGUITY around what success looks like;

8. Insufficient personal CONTROL OVER WORK demands, for too long;

9. Doing WORK THAT DOESN’T MATTER TO US, for too long;

10. UNCLEAR LIFE PRIORITIES (allowing others to choose them for us).

Work life is never perfect and stress is normal for short periods.  

But long-term stress brought about by any combination of these factors over long periods can be debilitating. An in certain circumstances can lead to burnout.  

Ideally, we’d make decisions on what needs to be changed before it becomes long-term stress and/or burnout. But lots of us don’t PAUSE long enough for a re-think and instead wait until the time when one little straw can break the camel’s back.

There is another way.

THE PAUSE EXERCISE

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I know you are too busy for this. I know you haven’t got time for this but you will not regret it, I promise you. Set a timer for 10 minutes.

GRAB A PEN.

Split a blank page into 4 sections with the below titles in each section. Quickly, write the first things that come into your head.

  1. The elements of work that I want less of in my future.

  2. What I want instead.

  3. The activities at work that I enjoy doing.  

  4. The activities that I want to do more of in my future work.

Be specific.  Be very specific.

At the end of 10 minutes you have the bare bones of a career overhaul starter pack which will give you:

  1. A hint of what your better future could look like; and

  2. A short-list of the priority areas you need to begin to get a grip on before any of them come close to being your knock-out blow.

Sometimes this PAUSE exercise can be enough of a jolt to prompt action.  I hope it is for you.

If you’d like help and a scientifically tested methodology on figuring out your next steps, it might be time to have another look at The Big Re-think or The Discover my Superpowers programmes.  Both offer you an experienced guide to make sense of why you are where you are and a partner-in-crime to help you get out of your own way on your journey to doing happier work.

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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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.



Sign up to my “You’re not too old and it’s not too late” newsletter for other articles, insights and strategies to help you design more fulfilling work for the next chapter of your work life, twice a month.



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!


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Common triggers for mid-lifers to change careers



 

 

Second most common trigger for career change in 40s, 50s or 60s.

Wanting career change is much like wanting to lose weight. Just having a desire to weigh less rarely motivates anyone into a radical transformation. Whereas being very clear about the very specific elements of body shape or areas of fitness that you are unhappy with focuses the mind on change.

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Many people consider career change (and weight loss!) for a very long time without much change occurring.  Being crystal clear on the specifics that you don’t want in your future career clears the mind to focus on the next step in any career change.

In my ongoing change interviews with professionals in their 40s, 50s and 60s, I’ve noticed two broad triggers for career change.   

In this article, I will focus on the second most common trigger for career change in your 40s, 50s or 60s… 

…A DESIRE FOR LESS of the nonsense that makes their work less fulfilling, less satisfying and definitely less fun than it could be.    

Acknowledging what you don’t want in your future work appears to be a crucial starting point for change.  Equivalent to clearing the fridge and pantry of the sugary treats that could rail road a future weight loss programme.

From my successful career change interview series, I’ve discovered that there are 3 broad categories of LESS that form trigger for change.

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Here are some quotes from professionals in their 40s or 50s who decided what it was that they had had enough of before then moving onto the next stages in designing their new work.

Do any resonate with you?

  1. Exhaustion

“I realised I’d been spending two hours each day commuting, the equivalent of 2 full working days, to do a five-day week, working 40-50 hours a week.” (Client, Media, 40s.)

I’m physically and mentally burned out. I’m worried that I’m not performing at my best and that it might start to show.”  (Client, Law, 50s)

“I had had enough of the dread, of having to look forward every year to the business struggle, the redundancies and the disruption.   Enough of 10-12-hour days travelling across London. Being exhausted at the weekends.  I thought there’s got to be more to life than this.”  (Denyse Whillier - Chief Executive - to Executive Coach and Business Scale expert)

“I hit my mid-40s and began to wonder how I wanted to spend my remaining working career.   I was fed up working 60-hour weeks for someone else, always being on call.  I felt like a commodity in the end. (Kelly-Ann Grimes – Hospitality IT C00 to PA Franchise owner)

I’d burned out doing work that didn’t suit me but my drive and hard-working personality had kept me going.  I’d never considered any other career other than this, 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.”  (Client, Legal. 40s)

2. Stress

“I was on blood pressure tablets and heart strengthening drugs and was still dealing with the death of my father the previous year.  Work stress was the least of my worries but there came a point when I recognised that it was at the core of my worries.” (Client, Retail, 40s)

My Sunday night blues started at 6am on Sunday morning.  I hated going on relaxing holidays because I couldn’t relax and my work stress was putting a strain on my lovely relationship.”   (Client, FMCG, 40s)

“A whole swathe of managers was offered the opportunity to stick around for heart attacks and early deaths.  Most of us had signed the papers before they hit the desks!” (Ges Ray, former banker now Public Speaking entrepreneur)

“I’d been carrying around my resignation letter for months but couldn’t make myself hand it in.  I couldn’t figure out why not. (Client, Technology, 40s)

3. Work that doesn’t fit anymore

“As a senior female, I felt shrunk to fit, forced to specialise in something that I didn’t love and being edged out of a successful, cut-throat world of advertising.  (Client, Media, 50s)

“I’d grown tired of trying to motivate people to change when they didn’t want to.”  (Client, Financial Services, 50s)

“For so many years I left before the kids went to school and I’d return when they were in bed.  Or I would travel the world for 2 weeks at a time.” (Andy Eaton, International Finance Director to owner of accounting firm)

One new leader proved to have a cataclysmic effect on my enjoyment of work.” (Ben Fielding - Technology career to joint-owner in a technology firm)

“I’d been carrying around my resignation letter for months but couldn’t make myself hand it in.  I can’t figure out why not. (Client, Technology, 40s)

I felt like I was moving further and further away from work that I really enjoyed. (Lindsay Cornelissen – Banking industry leader to wine entrepreneur)

“Even though I had a great career and a six-figure salary, I was expected to keep moving up in a career I had fallen into.  I just didn’t want to go any higher.  The roles weren’t attractive to me. (Julia Duncan, Technology career to Photographer)

Then I started to realise that the day job was just not me anymore.  I’d always been fairly good at getting job offers but I had just stopped connecting with MDs in my late 40s.  I was maybe too expensive, too grumpy, too old or simply too opinionated.  They just wanted me to do the job the way that they wanted it done.” (Andy Eaton - International Finance Director to own accounting firm)

“I’d fallen out of love with sales a few years ago around the time when I filed for divorce.” (Client, Recruitment, 40s)

“I realised then that I had had enough of this culture of profit over people.” (Jennifer Corcoran - Executive Assistant to Social Media Trainer for Entrepreneurs)

Clarifying what you will not accept in your future work is a very good place to begin a career overhaul.

career change try this

ACTION: Grab a pen and a post-it note. Write down the top three things that you want less of in your future work.  It should feel cathartic and you may even feel lighter having written it down.

Pop it in your bag and chat through it when you get home tonight. Then watch out for the next article on the Number 1 trigger for career change at our age.

In the meantime, if you’d like to hear more about my own personal triggers for change, have a look at this video. You’ll get access to my free downloadable “Where to Start” guide to career change at the end.

(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. 

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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. 

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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

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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.”

 

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If this story resonated with you, please sign up to the “You’re not too old and it’s not too late” newsletter to receive twice monthly articles, real stories and strategies on how to begin your own career overhaul - while you still have the energy. Click the image below.

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

How to stay in a job you don't like...FOREVER! And the exact steps to do the opposite.

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I’d bet money that you know someone who appears “successful” to the external world but internally they dread Monday mornings, feel unfulfilled while at work and head home most days feeling dissatisfied with their contribution to the world.  

But what should they do? Leap into something else or just point their head down and bum up until they have amassed enough of a retirement fund to go and do something more fun instead - as the 80s kids TV programme suggested. 

What it feels like to be in a job that you hate

Someone I know well wrote an article for me explaining in perfect detail how a job that he used to love turned into a job that had begun to erode his motivation, his energy, his family life and ultimately his health.  Read his anonymous story here.  It certainly packs an anonymous punch.

Not all situations are as drastic as the one above but without action low level unenjoyable work can develop into something more serious.  Check out the stories below of mid-life career changers who took action - but not a moment too late:  

·         Charlotte Moore couldn’t imagine continuing in her corporate Social Media Editing role at Tesco after the creative elements were outsourced to an agency.   She wasn’t offered redundancy even though she had all fingers and toes crossed for that outcome following a restructure.  Read what Charlotte did after hearing the news. 

·         Ben Fielding got stuck with a new boss who had “a cataclysmic impact” on his love of his work.  He took charge of his future in an interesting way which gave him focus, a very specific goal and breathing space whilst still paying the mortgage.  Read Ben’s story here. 

·         Andy Eaton realised two things which prompted his departure from a 20+year career.  He realised that over the previous decade he'd spent 50% of his time away from his family on work trips and that the role of Finance Director had morphed into something he didn’t want to be anymore.  Read how logical and creative thinking combined to lead him to his new career. 

From my coaching experience,  mid-professional career changes are always prompted by a specific trigger experience that prompts deep reflection.  In some people, this deep reflection converts to a need for action. 

Note: this need for action is what differentiates actual career changers from people who would "like to do something about their career"  These people haven’t quite reached a tipping point from which action is required.  They are likely to stay where they are until things get bad enough or until they see a perfect idea that excites them.  (Read this article to see if you've reached your career tipping point yet)

Top 10 triggers for “taking action” towards a mid-profession career change.   

  • A big birthday – either on approach or a year or two afterwards
  • Personal illness
  • Medically-diagnosed (as opposed to self-diagnosed) work-related stress
  • Elderly parental illness or the death of a parent
  • Divorce
  • Redundancy
  • Unplanned exit from a long-term company/role
  • Major changes at home e.g. kids moving to big school or university
  • First ever lower than expected performance appraisal
  • A crappy bonus
  • A missed promotion

For the people I coach, all these experiences have prompted a re-adjustment of their expectations from work.   They express a desire to have "more" of something at work (often satisfaction, fulfilment or fun) and less of something else (the crap bits of working life).

The trigger can initiate a different thought process – if this thought process doesn’t cause some action, the circular thought process can sometimes lead to the ever-decreasing circles of a mid-life career crisis.   But, if this thought process is actioned, attached to a structured method and allowed enough time it will result in a clarity of vision for the remainder of a career. 

Why it appears so hard to change career

If you look around you, you will get the impression that career change at any age is bloody difficult! 

Some suggest that natural human behaviour just gets in the way e.g. the fear of change (Read my article on how career change is experienced in our brains) or unwillingness to make the necessary sacrifices or simply being unprepared for the degree of change that is required to pivot into a career.  

But it is more than that.  Here’s how conventional wisdom about career change suggests you go about it.

 “Career Leaping” - the Conventional Wisdom on how to change career (Plan & Implement) :

  1. Be clear and sure about what it is that you really want to do.
  2. Identify roles or fields in which your passions can be linked with your skills and experience.
  3. Seek out advice from those you know well and those who know your new chosen market well.
  4. Implement resulting action steps.

 Never one for sitting on the fence, when asked my opinion on this mode of career change I usually whisper-shout… “WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!”  Here’s why…

According to the conventional wisdom, successful change is a one-chance saloon.  Apparently, you should only make a career change when you know exactly where you are heading.  WRONG AGAIN. If you follow this advice, you are in danger of staying exactly where you are for a very long time…possibly forever!

 Problems with the “Career Leaping” Conventional (Plan and Implement) Career Change model:

1. Clarity:   

  • Most people I meet are not clear about what they want to do with the rest of their career even though they’ve often spent a long time thinking about it.  They can easily tell me what they want to escape from (mind-numbing corporate politics; feeling shrunk-to-fit; under-challenging work; over-requirement to be away from home; futureless internal career vistas; lack of learning opportunities; over-cautious decision-making or organisational short-termism.)  
  • When I ask what it is they do want from their work – they never have a clear answer

2. Link passion with skills:

  • I don’t trust psychological profiles for career change.  All psychological profiles which are commonly used in career coaching are flawed but can give general insights to those who have lost a connection with themselves or have been stuck in an identity for so long they can’t imagine getting beyond it.  Starting point? Yes, but very broad brush.
  • Re-designing your working identity is a must before any change takes place. It frees up creative energy to change career.  Our working identity can be tied up in status, our income, our life-style, our ego, our parenting and the way we were parented. This takes time, reflection, pulling apart and putting back together over time.  This isn’t included in the Plan & Implement model.
  • “Passion” is my least favourite word to use in career change discussions as it more often than not leads us down a fantasy passion path.  To risk everything on something called "passion" is at best...risky.
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3. Seeing advice from people you know and those who know your new chosen industry/field: 

  • People already known to you are invested in you staying in the same spot.   Your partner wants you to be happy but needs to feel secure; your favourite head-hunters are tied to your past in a way that is unhelpful for a career change.  Your colleagues and mentors lack the investment in you as a human to do anything radical with their opinion of you.
  •  The individuals who know you best, are less likely to be able to imagine you with a    completely different working identity and can become more of a hindrance than a help.
  •  You need a new tribe to change career.

4.   Implement resulting actions

  • Banish the idea of linear career. We need to let go of that linear idea of career steps leading to somewhere very specific that we had planned earlier and making pre-judgements on how it will feel when we get there. 
  • Single leaps can be lucky.  But they are more likely to fail or go nowhere.
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A different method of career change – Experiment, Analyse and Refine

  • Experimentation = Action before knowing the answer. 

Rather than leaping into a new career, I believe the only way to know whether your potential career change is the right one is to conduct a whole range of mini-experiments.   This is the only way to evaluate whether a certain change could be right.   Not quite trial and error…rather experiment, analyse and refine. 

By doing a whole range of experiments you open doors that were never open to you before to see if the draught bowls you over.  You edge open doors that were ajar in your mind and then see how it feels with the wind in your face.  You push against some ugly doors to sometimes discover the most beautiful possibilities behind. The limits placed on your experiments provide the only limitations for your future career.   (LINK TO DOORS)

BUT THAT TAKES BRAVERY AND TIME.  

I feel so strongly about this experimentation stage that I have built an extra 3 months into my "The Big Re-think" programme to support individuals through the sheer volume of experiments that need to happen to ensure a successful transition.  Done slowly this experimentation phase could take 3 years but very few of my clients have 3 years to spend – we narrow down the initial experimentation phase to a 3-month period following a 3-month discovery process.  That way the experiments are not random. They are focussed.   They play on the SuperPowers of the individual and they feel exciting.

Single leaps can be lucky.  But they are more likely to bring us back to the same starting point and crucially, they make us feel like a failure.  That’s why you hear stories of people who made a leap and within a short time frame are back in their safe old job.  They were following the Plan and Implement model.

 It’s not perfect - Downsides of the Experiment, Analyse and Refine model of career change

·         A longer, less linear transition process can sometimes leave you feeling that you are not moving fast enough.  But smaller steps combined with quicker analysis after each experiment allows for a richer, more developed and realistic idea of the future work identity to emerge. 

·         The Experiment and Learn technique of career change is challenging and requires resisting the pull of the familiar.

·         It requires tenacity to lift and shift experiments and point them in a different direction, at a different audience or to tweek the experiments.

·         Did I mention that it requires bravery?  But really, how brave is it doing a few little experiments on the side of your real job (that doesn’t fit anymore)?

·         The experiment stage is front loaded – you can’t sit behind a screen and do some lovely, easy research.  You must do stuff.  Make stuff.  Write stuff. Try stuff.

·         You need your brain to be turned on to analyse.

·         You need energy to do the experiments but if you are using your SuperPowers you’ll be surprised by how energising it can be.

·         You very often need someone to have your back, pick up the pieces, re-point to after each experiment, challenge your thought processes until they broaden for themselves, re-frame your imposter syndrome, tone down your perfectionism.

If you don’t test your dreams they remain just that – or even worse, they could end up as pipe dreams.  

Experiments are the only way to test your dreams. Their advantage lies in their small scale, their ability to be squeeze in around your current work and their lack of large-scale risk.

Whilst trigger events are usually pretty horrific when you are going through them, they can become the beginning of a completely new career story - or life story if you want to think bigger.  If you are interested in this idea, it might be worth reading Pamela Slim’s Body of Work. 

Discovering work that fits and understanding why takes time and effort, but it also requires a methodology to discover if you have the skill to make it a reality.  My methodology is called “The Big Re-think” programme.

Planning for the perfect leap is more likely to leave you staying where you are today.   Experimenting and learning, taking action in the form of mini-experiments, analysing the results and refining new experiments very likely to find you in a much better place. 

 How ready are you for action?  

 

 

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.   


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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.

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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.

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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.


 

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