Only 15% of us are happy at work - for 40+ it appears even lower. Why do we stick around when the wheels of satisfaction have come off and are rolling down the street?
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.
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?
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.
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:
Using stories to persuade and communicate
Big picture thinking
Humour, laughter, game playing
Seeking out and connecting purpose and meaning?
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!
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.
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).
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.
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:
Stop complaining about work that didn’t fit.
Cease feeling powerless or trapped.
Take little steps to feel a little more control of their work lives.
Learn something new to fill in the blanks of their knowledge problem.
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?
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”.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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!
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.)
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.
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
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.
The elements of work that I want less of in my future.
What I want instead.
The activities at work that I enjoy doing.
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:
A hint of what your better future could look like; and
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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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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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
I should not be a “lone wolf”
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”
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...
Other articles you might like:
If you know someone who is struggling with the decision whether to continue with a job, a company or a career that they have spent 15+ years in, this article might help them.
This song (below) was running through my brain while writing and I couldn’t resist checking out the video. Interesting fact: It was their only #1 UK single and reached that lofty position over a decade after release when it was featured in an Levi’s advert.
I’ve got a dilemma for you
Your partner’s Big Birthday is approaching. They’ve always wanted to go to Restaurant X. You’ve been on the waiting list for 6 months and a spot has come up on her actual birthday. You pay the outrageous, non-refundable deposit to secure a table for 8 of her closest friends for a surprise dinner. The morning of his/her birthday, you are offered two tickets to an intimate, never-to-be-repeated concert for 50 people with his/her life-long, all-time favourite band, for free, ON THE SAME NIGHT!
What do you do?
· Do you crack on with the restaurant booking because you’ve paid that whacking, great deposit?
· Do you go to the concert and lose the outrageous deposit but give your wife a once-in-a-lifetime treat that she’ll talk about until his/her dying day?
· Do you shrug your shoulders about wasting all those months on the waiting list?
· Do you forgo all those brownie points earned by remembering his/her desire to visit Restaurant X and conjuring up such a fabulous, extremely generous and thoughtful birthday present?
· Do you even tell your partner about the concert ticket?
Sunk costs pose a real problem in life decisions…and in career decisions.
Definition of a sunk cost: Time, effort or money that you spent in the past that cannot be recovered.
The sunk cost effect: Occurs when people over-value investments of time, effort or money and irrationally continue with a past decision that no longer meets their expectations.
Why is the sunk cost effect is a problem?
Neuroscientists have discovered that we are prone to irrational behaviour when making decisions involving sunk costs. If the investment in the decision is low in emotional connection or low in cost, we can often be more rational.
But, if high costs or high investments of time, effort or emotion are involved, things get complicated.
Every week I talk to people who have invested so much in a company, a job or a career that they believe they should keep battling on - even if it no longer fits their work or life goals.
They don’t want to waste their past investments.
Examples of how sunk costs can get in the way of your work/career:
Wishing to progress up the people management ladder even though you don’t enjoy management (because you’ve read 100 leadership books, been on countless training courses and gone through so many tough “learning experiences” that you don’t want to waste all those quite painful investments).
Clinging on to a declining or commoditising industry even though profits, investments and future gains are all diminishing and attractive senior roles are disappearing faster than redundancy bullets can be fired (because of the time and energy already invested in developing relationships and expertise within that industry).
Demonstrating loyalty to an employer that isn’t developing you or investing in your future but remaining hopeful that they will have a future together (because you believe that historical investment means something today).
Sticking with a project beyond the point which you have created the most value rather than moving onto the next big value project (because of the effort expended in getting it off the ground and convincing others that it was a good idea would be wasted if you didn’t see it to the absolute end.) In reality most of us know what often happens to people who tidy up the low-hanging, loose ends on projects…
Failing to develop meaningful relationships beyond company, industry and historical career paths (because of all of the effort, time and money invested in training to become a great Finance Director/Lawyer/Doctor/Architect etc)
Re-thinking sunk costs
I’d like to help you re-think sunk career costs in the way that Seth Godin helped me on this podcast. Seth is the most thought-provoking marketing expert I’ve ever come across. He writes the only blog I read without fail and I could listen to his thoughts on just about anything on his podcast for endless hours (and often do).
Seth describes sunk costs as: “A gift from your past self to your current self.”
I can’t tell you how much I love this idea.
OK – HERE WE GO. HERE’S THE CLINCHER…
Remember the dilemma?
Those expensive deposit for X restaurant for your partner’s birthday AND those free tickets to the once-in-a-lifetime, intimate concert with her favourite band – they both cost the same.
THEY ARE BOTH FREE!
They are both free because they were both gifts from your past self to your current self.
The only decision you need to make is…
Do you still want the gifts?
You can’t have both, so you need to make a decision which gift you want to accept based on all the information you have available at this moment in time?
The same goes for all of these examples:
Your law degree/accounting qualification/medical diploma/architectural qualifications are each a gift from your past self to your current self.
Today’s decision: Do you still want the gift?
Your investment in a company that isn’t treating you well is a gift from your past self to your current self.
Today’s decision: Do you still want the gift?
Your relationships in your declining industry/commoditising industry are a gift from your past self to your new self.
Today’s decision: Do you still want the gift?
Your investment in getting the project over the value hump is a gift from your old self to your new self.
Today’s decision: Do you still want the gift?
Your people management learning experiences, reading 100 leadership books and attendance at numerous leadership training courses are gifts from your past self to your current self.
Today’s decision: Do you still want the gifts?
So, what could you say instead, if you don’t want the gifts from your past self to your current self?
What if you have realised that you don’t want the gifts (law degree, accounting career, current company etc) anymore?
You could say “Thanks but no thanks” to the gift. “I’m making a different decision based on all of the information available to me today. And that gift is not going to help me get to where I want to go.”
You can be grateful for the gift but you can still say “No thanks” to taking it with you into your future.
Then…you just need to figure out where is it that you do want to go?
Other articles you might like:
If you know someone whose job, current company or your entire career doesn’t seem to be going the way they’d like it to go, why not encourage them to book in for one of my half hour “Light at the end of my Tunnel” calls where I promise to give them at least two personalised recommendations to help them figure out their next step.
Thinking about investing in the “Discover your Superpowers” programme?
When it comes to investing in yourself and your future, It’s natural to worry about whether you’re making the right decision (and the consequences of making the wrong choice).
If you’re not familiar with the Discover your Superpowers package, it’s my foundational, step-by-step programme that will leave you with a clear understanding of at least five of your most powerful and unique signature strengths – which I call “Superpowers”. All of my clients start with this programme.
It’s the confidence-enhancing, clarity-inducing, essential building block to designing more fulfilment into your work.
In addition to our bespoke one-to-one morning or afternoon together, you’ll get access to several personality profiling tools and guided “thinking assignments” which you can complete wherever and whenever is convenient. You will also receive a stunning, personalised notebook, in order to keep your career re-design thoughts in one place.
Here are some of the most common concerns prospective customers raise about investing in the Discover your Superpowers package.
Concern 1: ‘I’m not sure I have any Superpowers.’
Lots of new clients tell me they are worried that I won’t be able to find any Superpowers and some even don’t like using the word Superpowers when talking about themselves.
There’s not a person in the world who doesn’t have Superpowers but as you’ve gone through various career moves, various promotions, new positions or possibly new companies, it can feel like you’ve moved away from doing some of the things that you used to be very good at.
Some clients feel that they have lost a little of the confidence that they once had or struggle to sell themselves when they need to. Others have plenty of confidence, they just can’t seem to package it in a way that feels right for the long-term.
Let me reassure you that as a child you developed signature strengths and skills that over-time you have honed and used often. You will have used them throughout your career in various guises.
When you use them, these super-powered skills come easily to you. But, because they come easily to you, you struggle to give them the value that they deserve.
That’s why you need someone skilled in seeing through the stories you tell yourself and to re-frame your signature strengths in a way that that you not only see their value once again but see their potential.
Concern 2: ‘It’s expensive.’
Some of the Midlife Unstuck community members tell me they love the idea of the Discover my Superpowers package and would love to invest if they could – but they think it’s expensive.
If you’re stuck in a career that is not fulfilling – or have made a shift which isn’t working out how you hoped – it’s understandable to be nervous about investing in yourself.
But the Discover my Superpowers package is not an ordinary, off the shelf career coaching process – it’s entirely bespoke, cannot be mass-produced AND offers the crucial, foundational elements to building a future career – one that could be more fulfilling, more satisfying and a heck of a lot more fun.
Not only will it stop you wasting valuable time wondering which way your career could or should go, the results will give you the confidence to start making decisions on how to build more satisfaction into your current work, as well as designing your future work.
The Superpowers Package is an investment into your entire future working life but even if you were to only feel the benefits over the next 12 months, the cost works out at less than £2 per day - far less than the price of a decent cup of coffee, most gym classes or a daily newspaper.
So, even if you’re on a budget, it’s a really cost-effective personal investment.
If you are feeling concerned, these articles might resonate with you. “Am I spending more on my kids’ activities than my future career?” or have a look at the advice that Barney Whiter aka The Escape Artist offers on creating financial freedom to do work that you might love.
Concern 3: ‘I don’t have time.’
Some individuals who work in big corporates tell me that they love the idea of discovering their Superpowers, but they are so busy with commutes, travelling for work, long hours and then home commitments that they can’t see where to find the time.
If you want to do more satisfying and fulfilling work – and to stop worrying what the next chapter of your career will look like - you need to get your brain off the current treadmill to see what your new world could look like.
· narrowing your focus to figure out what very specific assets, skills and strengths you have to offer;
· discovering your uniqueness in an ever more competitive market;
· gaining clarity on the language you could use to begin attracting work that you might find more enjoyable.
It’s great to be busy, but if you’re fire-fighting at the expense of future-proofing your career, it is highly likely that there will come a time when someone else will choose your future career moves. These articles touched a few nerves when I published them: 50-year old corporate toast and Fired at 50
The total commitment of time from you is likely to be one full working day spread out over a number of weeks/weekends. If you are anything like me, you hate wasting time. So, all of the thinking assignments are designed to be done on a commute, in between meetings, in bed or wherever you get a spare 10 minutes.
The morning / afternoon session needs to be done in one 3-hour time slot so that there is enough time to deep dive. But, for most of us, it’s a joy to talk about yourself for that length of time, so I hope you won’t find it a hardship.
If during the week is impossible to schedule the 3 hour session, I recently helped a client out by doing our face-to-face session on a Sunday.
Concern number 4: “Can’t I do this by myself?”
There are lots of individuals from the Midlife Unstuck community working their way through my free how-to articles and discovering their Superpowers alone.
But it takes a great deal longer without a knowledgeable partner to pull out the necessary awareness, to challenge your limiting beliefs and to help you get out of your own way.
Only you will know whether you have the self-awareness, focus and tenacity to go it alone.
Concern 5: ‘I’m not based in the UK.’
Some prospective clients tell me they love the idea of discovering their Superpowers but are concerned that the process might not work as well via video conference or telephone as in person (because I am based in UK)
All of the thinking assignments are done by you, in your home, on your commute or wherever you feel comfortable doing them. So, it doesn’t matter which country you live in.
I’ve conducted the 3-hour one-to-one discovery sessions via Zoom video-conference or via telephone with clients in Australia, Canada, US and Germany and UK over the last 2 years. Even when clients live close to me, they sometimes prefer the flexibility and convenience of video conferencing.
To get results, you need to commit to the process. The medium for having the conversations isn’t as important as the time, brain power and openness you commit to the process.
Concern 6: ‘I don’t like talking about myself.’
Some prospective customers tell me they love the idea of Discovering their Superpowers, but they don’t enjoy talking about themselves.
Sadly, you can’t avoid this. You will have to talk and think about yourself a great deal - possibly more than you have done in a very long time. But another thought…
Are you crazy? When in this world do you ever get to talk about yourself for hours on end?
I’ll be asking thought-provoking questions, doing lots of listening and taking notes so that I can come back to my padded cell of an office and decipher the underlying meaning.
I’ll then scribe my first draft of your top 5/6 superpowers, which we will refine after one further short conversation and eh voila! That’s it.
You talk. I do the pattern-finding. That’s the uniqueness of this process.
I’m not aware of anyone else who offers this service, packaged in this clear and simple way.
If you like the sound of this approach to future-planning more enjoyable work and want a bespoke programme that speedily gets to the core of which activities you find deeply satisfying and why, without having to work your way through endless exercises alone, you should consider investing in the Discover your Superpowers package.
Over the last 4 years since I left my old career, (here’s my story on video) I’ve endlessly researched career happiness and work satisfaction and know that getting clarity on your unique offering to the world and being able to design your career to include more of that unique offering is the foundation of doing work that is more satisfying.
Click here to book in for one of my Light at the end of my tunnel calls to see if we are right for each other. If none of the available times work for you, email me at email@example.com and we‘ll work it out.
Feedback from the Discover your Superpowers programme
“Working with Lucia helped me process my thoughts, so that now, I can move forward without doubt.
The biggest thing that came out of the process with Lucia was the realisation that I hadn’t been using some of my real strengths (or “Superpowers” as Lucia calls them) for so long that I thought they were my weaknesses.”
Josie, HR, 40s, London
After my time with Lucia, I decided to stop doing what society had been telling me I should be doing and start doing what I really wanted to do. Her “superpowers” session had a huge impact on me. Somehow, she could not only accurately see my strengths but helped me value them from a completely different angle."
Danny, Finance Director, 50s, Surrey
“Your style of coaching helped to lift my fog of self-doubt leaving the way ahead much clearer.
I found that my plans were not as wide of the mark as I’d feared and that attributes that I always believed were strengths are, in fact, super strengths! I particularly benefited from the face-to-face sessions that really got me to examine what I wanted to do and what I could do.”
Warren, CEO, 50s, London
“Working with Lucia was like a breath of fresh air because I'd been going round and round in circles, ruminating over the same ideas and the same stuck patterns of thought on what I might like to do.
The positivity, passion and clarity Lucia offers can really open the gates of possibility for you to change career.”
Colette, Project Management, 30s, Glasgow
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 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.
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.
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?
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”.
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.
- 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.
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 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:
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,
· Social media marketing,
· Running a business,
· Accounting in a one-woman business,
· Website designing
· Book publishing,
· Agile business,
· Audience definition,
· 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
If you lose your job post 50, expect slim pickings and slimmer pay packets
I’m a strong advocate for professionals in their 40s and 50s designing their work in a particular way to increase their personal satisfaction and fulfilment.
But whether you are currently doing deeply fulfilling work or not, I bet you have seen colleagues of a similar age be “disappeared” from your business over the last year. By “disappeared” I mean it wasn’t their choice to leave.
In corporates, it’s usually done quickly and quietly so that the troops are not too scared. But it’s also usually done loudly enough so that everyone feels just a smidge of fear.
Every time this happened to someone in my company, it was hard not to wonder if, or rather when, it might be my turn to get (whisper) fired? Or (another whisper) sacked? Or made redundant (no shame here as redundancy is almost a sure bet for those in the 50+ age range, if they are not fired or sacked).
So, what’s the financial prognosis for your career if you lose your job post 50?
According to some new US research, I’m afraid it’s not rosy.
(Whilst the research is purely US-centric, it has relevance for most western countries.)
If you are over the age of 50, this new piece of analysis suggests that after you leave a company, you may never earn the same salary again. The analysis was based on *US raw social security data and the National Institute Health and Retirement study which involved over 20,000 people who had been in full-time employment for at least 5 years within one company when the study commenced and followed them over a many years.
The analysis concluded that when post-50 year olds exit a company, whether under circumstances of their choosing or not, their next roles very often involved lower levels of expertise alongside a significant drop in salary and benefits packages.
What to do?
We could take a big picture view and rise up against age discrimination in the courts, in our companies and in our lives. We could cling on for dear life, with our fingers crossed, hoping that we can buck the international trend.
Alternatively, and in my opinion more impactfully, we could take a smaller picture, personalised view and make sure that we have an alternative plan - a Plan B - before we need it.
In our 40s and 50s, while we are enjoying the corporate salary and package, we need to take some time to personalise our career plan. To design one that will last for much longer than our company decides to employ us. One that will offer us some light at the end of our tunnel of narrowing career options within corporates.
If we focus as early as we can on designing this very personal plan, twisting and turning it, trialling it and then analysing the results from our experiments, we can refine it to the point where it evolves into our PLAN A – when the time is right for us.
If you like the sound of that but aren’t sure how to go about it, why not download my Where to Start guide for the first 10 steps to designing work that might fit you – for a very long time. It’s not a magic bullet but it covers the initial practical steps that you need to have covered, before you can embark on creating your exciting Plan B.
Other related articles:
*Data mentioned here was sourced from the US Social Security Administration and National Institute on Aging’s joint longitudinal Health & Retirement Study via an analysis by joint Urban Institute-ProPublica project.
Career in global corporates to start-ups…early lessons.
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.
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
· “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.
In a recent article, you saw the second most popular trigger for successful career change at our age. Now, let’s explore the most popular trigger for career change.
But before we do, did you do the task at the end of the last article? I suggested you write down the 3 things that you want less of in your future work.
Go on, do it now on a piece of paper…we’ll wait for you…
I would be surprised if you found the exercise difficult. Figuring out what the problems are takes no time. If you are reading this, you may have been thinking about what you don’t want in your work for some time?
But somehow, very little has changed?
One major cause for that is that by continuing to focus on “the problem of work” you are allowing your brain to remain problem-focused.
How the brain keeps you stuck
Your brain only does what it thinks you want it to do. It is not aware that you are open to seeking out a range of possible solutions to your problem when you spend lots of time thinking and talking about the problem of work. So, it thinks it is helping you by keeping the problem of work front and centre. Resulting in you staying exactly where you are.
In your brain, focussing on the problem is like telling yourself that you want to lose weight. That you want to get rid of those flabby bingo wings or the belly that has more jelly than it used to. Frankly, that sort of thinking keeps you stuck in the very place that you want to leave!
How to get your brain on-side
You need your brain in solution-focussed mode instead.
What I noticed during my interviews with over 70 successful career changers (so far) is that only when they got really clear on what they wanted instead of their current situation did they get their brains into the right place to be open enough to seek out some alternative solutions.
They got their brains solutions-focussed rather than problem-focussed. That seemingly minor shift had a major impact.
What all successful career changers in their 40s, 50, 60s seem to crave
In short, every single one of these successful mid-life career changers wanted the same thing. Actually, they didn’t just want it – they craved it.
THEY ALL CRAVED “MORE”.
They each had their own very personal type of “more” but broadly, according to my research, their “MORE” fell into the following 4 categories:
Is it time to get really clear on what your very personal ideas about your “More” look like?
Here are some direct quotes from career changers that give an indication of what they wanted in their future work.
Perhaps some resonate with you?
“I realised I hadn’t learned anything new for such a long time and somehow that somehow became very important.” (Lindsay Cornelissen, Banking industry to wine entrepreneur)
“I woke up to realise that I wanted to learn more. Not more to make me better at my job – more of something totally and utterly different that would allow me to have a bigger impact on the world.” (Me! Corporate head-hunter to mid-life career change coach)
“I’m happy where I am – for now. But I worry that I am not challenging myself, just coasting. I worry that I am de-skilling. I feel valued for the job I do but I’ve done it well and they won’t need me at some point. I want a great plan to be read to roll out when the time is right. (Client, Legal, 50s)
“I heard this voice telling me to find something different but I had invested so much time and life energy in this industry I wasn’t sure. But in the end, I knew needed to do something different.” (Elizabeth Draper, Film industry executive to gluten-free baker)
MORE…Time with loved ones
“I got frustrated having to ask permission to have a half-day off to watch kids school plays or attend parent meetings. I just couldn’t hack the five weeks of freedom, time off for good behaviour. I wanted more freedom.” (David James, Senior finance executive to flexible contractor)
I’d fallen out of love with sales a few years ago around the time when I filed for divorce. I know that any day I spend with my children is infinitely more enjoyable than any day I spent working in my sales job. So I decided to re-train to make sure I can spend more time with them. (Gareth Jenkins, Sales now re-training as a self-employed electrician)
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. A major difference is that I see my kids more. I’m just not grumpy at the weekend anymore. (Andy Eaton, International FD to owning his own accounting firm)
I just couldn’t accept the long-haul travel and didn’t want to miss out on weekends with the family. (Sally Smy, International buyer to personal stylist)
“I spent much of the school summer holidays this year with my 13-year old daughter diving, paddle boarding, surfing.” (Stephen Wright, Architect's Technician to flexible working with an incredible coastal lifestyle.)
After 20 years of fee earning, I still loved helping people but realised I wanted to help more on the emotional side. (Client, Law, 50s)
“I felt under-valued, as if the wind had been taken out of my sails. I felt that my decision to work part-time since the arrival of my first child had been taken advantage of.” (Louise Brogan, NHS IT Manager to Social Media Entrepreneur)
“I feel that no one is looking out for me anymore. As I’ve become more senior, my sponsors have moved on. I don’t feel as valuable to the company.” (Client, FMCG, 40s)
“After 20 years of working my socks off for the benefit of others, I reflected and realised that I was being neither valued nor appreciated. (Duncan Haddrell, Senior finance career to distribution business owner)
“I felt like a commodity in the end.” (Kelly-Ann Grimes Hospitality IT COO to owner of franchise PA business.)
“I had had enough. I didn’t feel at all respected. I asked myself the question - If I die tomorrow would I die happy? No, not while I was in my old role. If you asked me that question today, I would say yes because I would die feeling truer to myself, feeling valued and definitely feeling respected.” (Jennifer Corcoran, Executive PA to Social Media Trainer)
I wanted to do wonderful creative things like I used to. I wanted to be my own person again.” (Client, Media, 50s)
“I felt creatively stifled as I no longer had a real say in campaign development.” (Charlotte Moore, Social Media Editor to Foodie PR Specialist)
“As a woman in senior leadership 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. I realised later in life, after running lots of change projects, that I am not all that good with people. I needed to become a specialist. (Client, 50s, Technology)
Take a piece of paper and write down a long list of all things that you’d like more of in your future work and all the things that you would have more of if you did more fulfilling, satisfying work every day.
Take a photo of this list, save it as your screen saver or print it out and put it in in your coat pocket, your purse or wallet or laptop case. Talk about it with friends and family over the next few weeks. If you read it a couple of times every day for the next week or so I promise you a tiny little bit of magic will happen in your brain…Dots will begin to connect.
I’d love to know if you hit upon any ideas.
Join my private community of successful professionals who are interested in designing more joy into their career and tell me what you came up with. I return every email personally and can’t wait to hear how this mini-experiment goes for you.
I know I’m not alone in sometimes feeling surrounded by illness, bereavement or grief. In the last six weeks two close friends have each lost one of their parents. Another friend is undergoing treatment to blast away cancerous cells and yet another awaits news if her treatment has been successful.
It seems, we, of a certain age, have entered an emotionally turbulent stage of our lives accompanied by illness, bereavement and grief.
Sometimes I doubt whether any positive could come from such negative experiences…
I met one of these friends for breakfast this week who divulged that while physical and mental trauma has been a very unwelcome visitor in her home for the last year, it hasn’t been all negative.
She was referring to a certain clarity she now feels about life that was fogged by worrying about “the small stuff” in the past.
She can see her bigger picture more clearly. And has begun to make sense of what that might mean for her and her family in the future. If they are lucky enough to have a future together.
That got me thinking...
How a health scare, illness or grief can impact career change
I’ve noticed that I’m working, more and more often, with mid-lifers wishing to change careers who cite one of their reasons for change coming from a new thought process after experiencing:
a) the trauma of losing an elderly parent
b) a personal health scare
c) a serious illness of a close friend/sibling
While the loss is never the primary reason for their desire for change, it often appears in response to my “Why now?” initial question.
Some sort of life clarity appears to present itself at some point after exposure to a serious health scare (personal or otherwise) or over the course of a grieving process. I guess it’s no surprise for those of you who have experienced it, but to me it looks and feels like a complete over-haul of priorities and life values.
The sense that “life is short” seems to grow to more than “a feeling” with some people. It can grow so much that it requires and demands attention and inspires change. Change in lots of ways, such as:
· moving home to be closer to family,
· moving parents closer to us,
· creating new family traditions,
· changing how we eat and drink,
· changing friends,
· spending more time with x group of people,
· spending less time with x group of people,
· creating a bucket list,
· scratching off items on an old bucket list,
· picking up new projects/hobbies to make us feel more alive, or
· changes in our spending patterns to allow for the new priorities.
For some, they feel a very strong need to re-think their careers.
The new sense that “Life is too short” in some, magnifies the impact of spending 8-10 hours a day doing something that they don’t love - at best - or something that is stressful, exhausting or draining - at worst.
But the loss of our healthy self, our healthy friend or a parent takes time to work through. That sense-making process is often called grief and it can be debilitating…for a while.
How bereavement and grief impact our brain:
In summary, grief and loss can:
1. Increase cortisone release (the stress hormones) which impacts our immune system;
2. Intensify and lengthen our reaction to fear making emotional control is less effective;
3. Change our sleep patterns;
4. Cause memory loss or brain fog.
How long should you wait to instigate a career change if you are grieving a loss?
The answer is, of course, it depends.
It depends on what sort of loss you have experienced, how much time you need to re-build personally, how open you are about talking to others, how complicated your loss was, what sort of support you have around you and how much time you can devote to healing.
Broadly, career change takes time - months and years, not days and weeks. The type of career change that takes weeks or months is generally a leap of faith or a dramatic escape…I disagree with both, simply because they are rarely successful.
If you know someone who is considering career change who has also lost someone close to them or has experienced a health scare – here are a few tools and recommendations that might help them through the sense-making stage of their grief process.
Then, when they are ready, they can crack on with a full, well-thought out career overhaul. One that more perfectly aligns with their values and new priorities.
While I was training and volunteering as a bereavement supporter, I probably read about 20/25 books on grief. These two books made a giant impact on my life, but I completely understand that they may not connect with everyone.
- Grief Works by Julia Salmon – Experienced grief counsellor tells stories and patterns that I found fascinating and healing. Not at all for early stage loss but useful in the sense-making phases.
- Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom – small book, very easy to read and inspired me to focus on what I value in my life, rather than what the world appears to value.
- Personal recommendations are best, but our society doesn’t enjoy discussing death, so this can be harder than you might imagine.
- www.whatsyourgrief.com is a good introduction to finding some professional help – there’ll will be a similar website in your country.
- www.CRUSE.org.uk is a wonderful UK charity that offers wait-listed, free, grief support. They are not qualified grief counsellors but very highly trained volunteers who support grief.
An unusual but brilliant podcast:
Award-winning podcast led by a comedian whose father died when she was a teenager. Essentially, it’s funny people talking about their grief stories – past and present. I laugh and cry in almost every episode and since I mostly listen to podcasts in the car – I look like a lunatic at traffic lights!
It’s a window into how common grief is in our society and its success shows how little our society talks about it but how much we need to. Julia Salmon (see book recommendation) was interviewed on it and was enlightening. Start there if you want to dip your toe in.
What could you do to ready yourself for a future career re-think (without making any rash decisions)?
1. Don’t resign or consider major career change until at least 6 months after a loss, ideally 12 months. That doesn’t mean you can’t get your thoughts together.
2. Be gentle with yourself. This was my most common comment to anyone in a state of loss when I was volunteering with Cruse Bereavement Care.
If you feel like getting straight back to work to get some semblance of normality back into life – Do it!
If you feel like jumping into bed straight after coming home from work – Do it!
If you feel like wearing your Dad’s favourite sweater every day for months – Do it!
If you feel like watching endless re-runs of Homes under the Hammer – Do it!
If you feel like eating 5 crème eggs in a row – Do it!
3. Talk about the person you have lost with friends, family, colleagues and strangers. Share memories. Good times and bad. Funny stories. What you miss most. What you miss least.
4. If you don’t release your feelings, they find a way to present themselves physically. If you think your family and friends can’t handle it, book into a professional grief counsellor and talk for as long as you can.
5. Spoil yourself. Book a massage. Buy those new shoes. Have long baths. Be outside. Walk. Eat colourful food.
6. Ask someone at work to tell your colleagues why you have been off work before you return. It’ll save on those awkward moments when they ask about how lovely your holiday was.
7. Exercise – it improves mood, memory, sleep and thought processing. You’ll need all of these if you are to think through and plan out a career change.
8. Talk to people at work, if you can. Keeping your grief in can increase stress. Without looking very hard, you might find someone who feels the same as you but has no outlet at work. You might be able to ask that colleague how their grief/illness/health scare impacted their view of their career.
9. If you are dead set on re-thinking your career now: Grab a piece of paper. Write down a list of the elements of your work that you definitely want to change in the future
10. On a different piece of paper write a list of the elements of your work that you’d like to do more of in the future. Put the piece of paper away somewhere safe, that you can find easily, for when you feel stronger to make some bigger changes.
You might also like to sign up to the “You’re not too old and it’s not too late” newsletter here for monthly articles to help you think through a possible career change – save them up in your email list to read when you are ready.
I am not an expert on grief but I am an expert on mid-lifer career change. Having said that, I spent two years of my spare-time training and working with CRUSE Bereavement Care but don’t anymore because life got too busy. I am interested in all things important to human happiness and losing a loved one or experiencing a health scare can have a huge impact on human happiness.
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.
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.
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?
“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)
“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.
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.
I resigned almost 4 years ago without a PLAN B. It took nearly 3 years to form an amazing new career but if I’d understood the importance of a decent Plan B before I’d resigned, I’d have done my thinking while I was still being paid.
I’d also have saved myself valuable life time, money, the stress of feeling stuck for so long and the wasted energy of travelling down long blind (and sometimes fun) alleys.
If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, you’ll know of my firm belief that life is simply too short and too precious to waste it doing work you don’t love. A good Plan B affords us the opportunity to enjoy a career that fits, second time around.
Who needs a Career Plan B?
If you're over 40 years old, you'll NEED a Career Plan B. Enough said. Read this article if you need further convincing.
Who doesn't need a Career Plan B?
Individuals who find their current work deeply fulfilling, satisfying and fun DON'T need a Career Plan B. I doubt you'd be reading this article if that were your situation.
Purpose of a Career Plan B:
To provide light at the end of a tunnel - sometimes a dark boring tunnel, sometimes a stressful, painful tunnel and sometimes just a very average long tunnel that we can’t even remember entering.
Not all Career Plan Bs are the same.
The two major styles of Career Plan B:
· Pipe-dream Career Plan B
· Real Career Plan B
Definition of a Pipe-dream Career Plan B: A career escape route that may not be required but is considered the best alternative route in lieu of other options.
“I’ll save enough to retire a few years early and travel the world.”
“When the inevitable happens, I’ll sell the house, buy something on the coast and find a little business to run.”
“When the time is right, I’ll retrain to become an X.”
None are quantifiable. None are testable. None are time-framed. None are within our control. None require very specific planning to ensure they happen. In other words…pipe-dreams.
My definition of a REAL Career Plan B: A different route that creates the best possible alternative to the work you’re currently doing that has the potential to feel fulfilling and satisfying, to bring more fun into your life and to earn enough to sustain a chosen lifestyle.
It’s the best possible alternative because you have spent time making sure you would be doing the work that you LOVE doing through experimentation, analysis and tweaking of your ideas. You’ve ensured that you understand what it takes to make your Real Career plan successful before you launch into it and are prepared to do what it takes.
Quite a difference, eh?
The best time to design your Real Career Plan B:
When you don’t NEED it.
In an ideal world, you’d begin investigating your REAL career Plan B when you are at the height of your career yet totally understand that you may not be doing what you’re doing forever.
You’d probably still enjoy parts of your current work but the sheen may have worn off a while ago. You have financial commitments that you’re not prepared to compromise on. This is the perfect time because your brain is in relaxed mode. You’ve got time on your side but you’d really love to have at least one ready-packaged idea that you could investigate and research in the background to make ready to go when the time is right.
WARNING! If you’ve been made redundant, fired or are on sick leave due to work stress you really NEED a plan B but annoyingly your brain is in the worst state to create a one. It’s perfectly possible but it will take a little more work on your part to calm the brain stress enough to allow you to re-think your career whilst quashing the “I-NEED-a-new-job-now!” very natural human reaction to your circumstances.
Read this article on how the brain sees career change if you’d like to know more. In this situation, you might prefer a staged Plan B. Often individuals who’ve been made redundant, fired or are on sick leave due to work stress choose to find “a job” to get the brain into relaxed mood again in order to permit the right psychological mind-frame to then begin to create a REAL career plan B.
How NOT to find a real career Plan B:
Start at the end – become inspired by one idea for a business or new career then throw yourself into that idea 100%, watch it fail (or if you’re extremely lucky it might succeed) and become dejected, negative and sad when the Plan B doesn’t work as well as you'd hoped.
Don’t buy a domain name, sign up to a year-long course, employ a website designer or personal branding guru. It’s way too early for these activities but they are signs that you’ve started at the end.
How to START designing your Real Career Plan B:
Start at the beginning - with the only thing that will remain the same no matter what type of work you end up doing in the future i.e. YOU!
Figure out your SuperPowers: the activities that you do very naturally; the activities that others value highly; those that don’t drain the life out of you and those that give you deep satisfaction.
Then begin to imagine ways that you could get paid to do much more of those activities in the future.
Then start with very small, sometimes scary experiments (Read about one of my scary early-stage experiments HERE) and analyse the results.
Refine the ideas
Easy peasy - eh?
Well, of course it’s not that easy for many of us. Not if we’ve spent the last 15-20 years working within one industry or within one discipline. Most people I meet in those situations have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT THEIR SUPERPOWERS ARE because they have stopped using them as they moved up the ranks, or they have forgotten them or they have simply become disconnected from them.
If that’s the situation with you, don’t lose heart. Some of the most successful career transformations I’ve witnessed have been created by individuals who had no idea where to begin to find their SuperPowers – or indeed if they had any at all to begin with! They just needed to expend a little extra effort early doors dusting down their memory to re-discover them.
I’ve never met anyone who is without SuperPowers.
It’s impossible to get to our age and not have some very fine and unique SuperPowers – you just can't see them because you're not valuing them the way others do.
If you’d like to begin your search for your SuperPowers alone – download my SuperPowers Starter questions here.
But if you think the answers are too deeply buried, let me help you...
Check out my Discover My SuperPowers programme here but essentially, with a few short thinking assignments at home + a half-day session with me, we’ll uncover a totally unique list of 4/5 of SuperPowers.
Then you’ll know exactly where to start in creating your own personal REAL Plan B.
HOW TO BOOK: CLICK HERE TO BOOK A (FREE) "LIGHT AT THE END OF MY TUNNEL" CONVERSATION. I'll send you a few pre-call questions to allow me to learn more about your situation upfront and you can make sure we're a good fit before we go and book our half-day session.
Other related articles you might like:
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
- 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) :
- Be clear and sure about what it is that you really want to do.
- Identify roles or fields in which your passions can be linked with your skills and experience.
- Seek out advice from those you know well and those who know your new chosen market well.
- 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:
- 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.
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.
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?
Did I drive my career into a rut overnight? Hell no! It happened slowly over a couple of years of low-level dissatisfaction. Like a dripping tap. I don’t really remember when it started but I certainly remember the point at which I decided that enough was enough…the point at which I’d reached my mid-life career tipping point.
Did I drive my career into a rut overnight? Hell no! It happened slowly over a couple of years of low-level dissatisfaction. Like a dripping tap. I don’t really remember when it started but I certainly remember the point at which I decided that enough was enough…the point at which I’d reached my mid-life career tipping point
A personal story that fills me with shame
It was on a cold Tuesday evening a few years ago after my 42nd birthday (a lady never reveals her true age). I’d done the commute to London on the early train leaving home the moment our lovely nanny arrived. 11 hours later on returning home, I ushered my young daughters upstairs to bed immediately, speed-read a story, speed-sung a lullaby and ended up ordering them to go to sleep because “Mummy has an important call to do now!” They didn’t complain but did everything in their power to make me happy. My shoulders have slumped just remembering it. What was that important phone call? I was interviewing a Finance Director for a UK -wide search which I was leading in my head-hunting role.
We all have crap days. But I wish I could say that it was a rare occurrence but it happened on a regular basis. I experienced working mother guilt leaving the office earlier than others and needed to prove to myself (more than to anyone else) that I was working hard enough by working in the evenings. As it turned out, that particular FD was perfect for the role. I, on the other hand, didn’t feel anywhere near perfect. I had priorities questions in life. I had inspiration questions at work. I had work fulfilment questions. And I had begun to have life fulfilment questions. That Tuesday was the day I reached my own personal tipping point.
A "Tipping point" and why it's relevant to mid-life careers
Malcolm Gladwell in his book called “The Tipping Point” describes the phenomenon as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”. He uses it to describe the point at which an idea, trend or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire. I see the career change tipping point in a similar way. A career change tipping point occurs when the wealth of evidence to make a change outweighs the mass of evidence to stay in the same role, career or profession full-time.
After interviewing over 50 successful career changers in their 40s and 50s, one of the first patterns I noted was that they all reached a tipping point in their previous careers where making a decision on priorities was required. There was almost always a tipping point at which their work became so unsatisfying and made them so unhappy that they felt compelled to do something about it. Some of the quick thinkers who had begun their thinking process a little earlier described their tipping point as the point at which their new idea became so compelling that they simply felt compelled to change direction. Either way, they all hit a mid-life career tipping point.
How doing unfulfilling work impacts us all differently.
Being in a career rut can feel like...
a slowly-dripping tap.
When you feel stuck in a career that isn’t fulfilling, it ever-so-gently ebbs the joy out of your working existence like a slowly-dripping tap. Drip. Drip. Drip.
- Some people can zone out from the low level annoyance of a career rut’s dripping tap and continue to do good work without thinking too far ahead and live for holidays and weekends. Drip. Drip. Drip.
- Some people find a way to quickly turn off the annoying tap and either change jobs within a company, move to a new company or re-train – this occurs more often during the first ten years of their careers. Once your career has been established, your life has often been established at a similar rate. This makes mid-life a harder time to turn off the annoying tap without material consequences.
- For others, the annoying drip becomes ever so slowly louder and ever so slowly more powerful over years - while we put our career happiness on the back burner to prioritise paying mortgages, nursery/school fees and the family holidays (needed to recover and give us the energy to go back to face the nagging drip, drip, drip).
But drips taps and career ruts don’t fix themselves magically.
Sometimes the “fixing” of career ruts and drips gets outsourced (re-structuring/re-structures/closure of divisions). This can have profound impacts on the individual who has been hearing the mid-life career drips for a while. Sometimes, someone else is brought in to solve the dripping tap problem (company take-overs/acquisitions/mergers). It appears that feeling stuck and doing work that is unfulfilling to us is very obvious to those around us, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves. That said, I’ve known many successful professionals who were exited from their company under a range of circumstances who (after the luxury of time and an adjustment of mind frame!) were quoted as saying “it was actually the biggest opportunity of my career.”
But many of us keep ignoring the dripping tap until the message becomes deafening or until there is some sort of crisis in our personal lives which forces us to take action. These crises, in my experience, often come in the form of redundancy, divorce, parental illness or personal health scares. My granny was right – a stitch in time saves 9 - meaning that if we could catch our careers before the tipping point and grab them by their throats before we hit rock bottom/break/get so stuck that it makes us feel sad, things might be a great deal less stressful. If we could lift our heads up and understand that we can design and test a back-up plan for when the inevitable happens, before it happens, we’d be in a really strong position to crack on happily earning and doing more fulfilling work that suits us for as long as we want.
So, what can you do when you feel that your mid-life career change is approaching tipping point?
I see no other way than to think deeply first, then take one action which breeds many more. Here’s what I recommend:
Figure out what it is you want your work to do for you and why it isn’t doing it now
Figure out what it is specifically that you do better than anyone else
Using the information from Step 1 and Step 2, design possible ideas that would allow you to get paid for using your unique assets.
Understand what’s stopping you & do one small experiment.
Analyse that experiment in detail.
Do another small experiment with tweaks from Step 5.
There is simplicity in re-designing your career to suit you and there appear to be lots of ways to do it. But this is the way that I have found to be most successful. I ask a great deal of the right types of questions and then ask clients to commit time and energy to do my “thinking exercises”. If they do these, they will be 95% more successful at designing work that might be fulfilling, satisfying and (God forbid!) more fun than the career of the average individual in a career rut trying to ignore the dripping tap.
To get you started, I’ve published one of the early chapters of my up and coming book on patterns of successful mid-life career change. I’ve called this chapter Dare to Hope – How it feels to be free from the trap of the wrong career. You can download it from my website www.midlifeunstuck.com
I worked in the same industry for just shy of 20 years. Like many professionals who have invested a couple of decades in their career, I figured I was destined to stay in the same industry for the rest of my career. But what happens when you start to feel stuck and that feeling won’t disappear even after a few years?
Back then, I didn’t know I’d be working in a completely different industry, using some completely different skills and interacting with totally different people. I didn’t know any of this until I made the decision to “not be in the same industry next year”. I wish I had come across the attached report years ago and I might have understood how to begin to alleviate my “stuck” feelings more quickly and at very least I would not have felt like the only lonely lemon in the world of oranges.
The report is called “Shift – the Commission on Work, Workers and Technology” where leaders from the worlds of Technology, Business and Culture were asked to forecast what the world of work would look like in 10-20 years. Whilst it is US-centric, it has real implications globally.
Here is the over-riding message that you need to know from the report: The “Educate – Work – Retire” model is not yet dead but it’s certainly dying. The linear career path that has been prevalent until now simply isn’t useful or relevant for the over 40s/50s any longer. A more dynamic work/life path is forecast for over 40s/50s. Not only are there other ways to work in your 40s and 50s, those other ways are definitely more flexible, can be more fun if designed well and are more likely to keep our demographic earning for as long as we want to.
Here are some of the specific forecasts from the “Shift” report for the next 10-20 years:
1. Education-work-then-retire model is very outdated.
2. Retirement to a yacht isn’t that fulfilling or possible for most individuals
3. Many 50+ will delay retirement and/or work part-time as funding retirements (in the old sense of 20-30years with a fixed income) become risky and uncertain.
4. Many over 50s will begin a second career for both financial and social reasons
5. Older workers will represent a larger part of the part-time work-force – independent contracting, freelancing and consulting etc.
6. Volunteering or working part-time for not-for-profit businesses (high level team leadership included) will be viewed more highly in status than net worth.
7. As adults, we will be in and out of school, in and out of work, in and out of volunteering jobs, multiple sabbaticals and gap periods more often than ever before.
By God this excites me…but it would have frightened me 3 years ago staring down the barrel of one career in one industry for the rest of my working days. The thought of retirement also doesn't excite me as I get so much satisfaction, self-esteem and self-worth from working – like many people.
Whilst I do know a couple of individuals of my generation who are holding out for retirement, the majority have tapped into society’s feeling that “life is too short to keep your head down and bum up until we are 65 to start enjoying life”. The sad truth is that many of us will have a serious illness before we are 65 so we need to somehow mix work with fun in a way that hasn’t been necessary/available before.
I’ve made it my mission to try to mix work with fun by doing work that I mostly find fun but that isn’t the only way. This report suggests that the money-making element of work will find us working until we are older than ever before BUT that those long work years may be inter-mingled with back-to-school gaps, career breaks and/or sabbaticals.
Just on the street where I live I know one person who is on sabbatical for 6 months to invest time and energy into her husband’s fitness business, another who is ramping up artistic endeavours as she wants to reduce the physicality of her earlier career and yet another who has just launched his first photography business. These individuals are in the experimental phases of their mid-life career changes but they definitely attempting to design work in a way that allows them to create their own financially secure, physically and emotionally free and fulfilling work. In my opinion and the opinion of this report…the future workplace for 40 and 50 year olds on my street is exceedingly fluid…and exciting!
So if the "Educate - Work - Retire" model is dead or dying...what does the future workplace for individuals in their 40s and 50s on your street look like?