How to

The 90s song that caused me to shut my career coaching business just as it was blossoming...almost

A client last week re-minded me of a song that I played incessantly in my youth. As soon as I came off the call I opened Spotify and MY HEART SANK.  I felt that my business would be doomed to fail if every 40-55 year old in my network heard this song.  I considered shutting up shop that day even though my career transformation business was growing beyond my expectations. 

I'd have zero clients if this song were to be re-released.

“No song can be that powerful” I hear you cry. 

Well, this one could have been…if human beings were capable of taking advice, that is.  Luckily (at least from a business perspective) I don’t believe we humans are actually capable of taking advice.

So...the song is called Everybody’s free (to wear sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann. You know the one.  It starts “Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97, wear sunscreen!” and Baz proceeds in a monotone voice to prescribe the most succinct and mind-blowing advice ever aimed specifically at young adults. 

Like most young adults in the 1990s (and probably today as well), my parents doled out advice to me on a daily basis but it totally washed over me.   “In one ear and out the other” was a commonly heard refrain pointed in my direction in my home. 

Yet, when I was bombing about the back roads of Co. Antrim in my parent’s light blue Citroen BX and this song came on the radio, I almost slumped into an open-eared trance.  I couldn’t get enough of this advice.  It made so much sense and was delivered in a cool, Californian, non-preachy way, supported by a funky beat.  I fully believed that this advice was going to change my life.

Check out just a couple of inarguable pieces of advice from the lyrics (full lyrics in the link below)

  • Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old and when you do you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders...but trust me, in 20 years you'll look back at photos of yourself, and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked....

  • You’re not as fat as you imagine…

  • Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly…

  • Don't worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble-gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday…”

Incase you’re interested, here are the full lyrics.

Absolutely brilliant life advice - wouldn't you agree? 

Needless to say, it didn’t change my life.

Even though I really loved ALL of the advice and even though I listened with open-ears, my psychological make-up would not allow me to take in ANY advice wholeheartedly.  

My psychological make-up, as far as advice is concerned, is identical to yours. It’s the same psychological make-up as your children’s and the same as your parent’s. We are all the same in this aspect of life. We all find it nearly impossible to implement someone else’s advice into our own lives.

On the flip-side, it appears that most people really enjoy GIVING ADVICE, even if it is not requested.  Let’s face it, giving advice to others makes us feel helpful, knowledgeable and go on, be honest, often a little better about ourselves.  That’s just the problem.  Advice-giving is all about the advice-giver, not the advice-receiver.  And NOT giving advice is really, really difficult.

Don’t believe me?

dog glasses

TRY THIS and see how difficult it is for you:

1.    When your partner/colleague/child comes to discuss a problem with you this week ZIP YOUR LIP. 

2.     Listen with both ears and brain – this bit sounds easy.  BUT you are NOT going to offer ANY advice AT ALL.

3.    Instead, feel free to ask questions, make understanding noises, move parts of your face (eyebrows work nicely) at appropriate moments to encourage them to keep speaking. When your partner/colleague/child have COMPLETELY FINISHED TALKING, continue to empathise with their tricky situation and wish them well in finding the (be as specific as you can here) strength/confidence/creativity/etc (delete as appropriate) to be able to figure out the next moves to progress that situation along.

4.    STOP.  Assess how hard that was for you.

HINT: You will know if you have been unsuccessful in avoiding advice-giving if you hear the words “Yes, but…” as a response to anything you say.

BEWARE: This has been known to have a very obvious transformational effect on children. Watch their body language change (if you can be very specific) after step 3.

A friend accused me of being too simplistic in recommending this technique.  All I'll say is...try it. 

It is a simple technique and if all it does is highlight how different it feels for you NOT giving advice, it will have made an impact.  Let me know what happens.

In my experience, it's also nearly impossible to take someone else’s career advice and point it at your own career.  

If you'd like to transform your career you will need to find a way to step far enough out of your current situation to view both it and you objectively so that you can CREATE YOUR OWN CAREER ADVICE. 

Most people struggle seeing their own life from a different perspective. Sometimes a coach helps.

In my work, I don’t offer advice (although I am a human with failings and sometimes I catch myself mid-advice-offering.).  

What I do offer are structured, tried and tested techniques combined with psychological insights which take the guess-work out of making a career change.   Check out “The Big Re-think” package on my website (https://www.midlifeunstuck.com/how-i-work) for more information on my style of advice-free coaching. 

While you’re there, why not sign up to my weekly newsletter for tips, resources, articles and real life stories of transformations?  

(ps that last bit was a suggestion, not a piece of advice!)

 

Career rut or just another bad month? Your reaction to these numbers will tell you for sure.

Did you choose your first career or did it choose you?  Let me tell you about the advertisement which locked down the first half of my career. 

It was Manchester, 1997.  I was a debt-ridden final-year student, unsure of what work I wanted to do in my career and even less sure of what I might, God forbid, be good at.  What I was entirely sure of was that I needed a job which paid a decent salary pronto otherwise I was on a direct plane back to my peach-curtained childhood bedroom in small-town Northern Ireland.

The advertisement on the notice board in the student careers office (yes, pre-email) announced in large font “Earn up to £26,000 in your first year”.  I didn’t need to read more.  That line was enough to motivate me through a tedious application form, telephone interview, face-to-face interviews and an assessment day to secure an offer with a FTSE 250 on their graduate training scheme. 

I remember actually “whooping” with happiness after I received the offer.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit that even at that point, I still wasn’t sure what exactly the job entailed.  Of course, I didn't start on anything near that salary either.

I didn’t know it at the time but applying to that advertisement locked down the first twenty years of my career.  

Many of us stay in our first career happily for our entire career.

Others wake up around the mid-point in our careers and don’t like the smell of the roses.  They want to plant different roses for the second half of their career. They want to plant roses that might bloom in a different environment or produce blossoms of a different colour or rake up the flowerbed and plant asparagus.  If this resonates with you, you might be experiencing a career rut.

yellow roses in vase  (3).jpg

 

How do you differentiate between a bad month at work and a career rut?

If you are in a career rut:

  • You might use the term “ground hog day” to describe your working life rather than a funny 1993 Bill Murray movie?  Essentially you feel that you are living your life on a repeating loop.
  • You might have been through the same growth and decline cycle in the same industry (or even same company) a few times but you have stopped getting a kick out of knowing all the answers.
  • You might be starting to stick out like a sore thumb within your business as one of the mysteriously ever-disappearing ‘more mature’ people.   
  • You may have built a successful career but can’t fully understand why you have been experiencing Sunday evening blues, EVERY Sunday evening for a very long time.
  • Your dissatisfaction with work has begun to seep into your life outside work – to a level that is becoming more unacceptable to you and your family.
  • You might have begun to notice that your organisational culture jars with your natural work style and wonder whether it is the company or you who have changed?
  • This one is sad but common…often a career rut presents itself very vividly soon after you have experienced a traumatic event in your life (e.g. personal health scare, elderly parent illness, separation or divorce).  These types of events force us to think very deeply about how we are spending our time.

Try this: Read the below three points and note your reaction:

  • If you work for 40 hours each week for the next 10 years = you will have worked for 17,600 hours
  • If you work for 40 hours each week for the next 20 years = you will have worked for 35,200 hours
  • If you work for 40 hours each week for the next 30 years = you will have worked for 52,800 hours

a)    If you whooped and punched the air, excited about the opportunity to spend more hours getting paid doing something you love – I congratulate you. You are the envy of the nation.

b)   If you sighed and thought “I might need to talk to my contacts in the search firms”, do that…today.   It always takes much longer than you think.  You are definitely ready for a change of scenery but there's no need to overhaul your flowerbed just yet.

c)    If you sighed, stopped, shook your head/held your head in your hands and thought anything along the lines of “I have to do something MORE valuable/enjoyable with my time NOW”, there is a very good chance that you are firmly in the grip of a career rut.

More next time on beginning your escape from your career rut.

Follow me on linkedin or visit my website www.midlifeunstuck.com to sign up to my weekly newsletter for free tips, resources and case studies of others who have performed career transformations and come out the other side.

Is your job sucking the life out of your life? Note to self...

Last year, a friend’s husband joined a very young technology company who ambitiously sold a contract to their largest potential client in the very early stages of their development.  He is the only employee with enough technical experience to trouble-shoot the plethora of problems being thrown at them on a daily basis.  Coincidentally, he is the only employee over the age of 40.

The twenty-somethings have amazing skills but not enough experience to see the bigger picture to be able to anticipate potential problems.  So what? He therefore carries an over-night bag with him to the office every day to jump on a plane any time a problem is too big for the talented youth to deal with.  This month, he took several emergency (unplanned) plane rides across Europe each week.  So what? 

As his company lurches from one emergency to the next, his wife and children are getting lonely and perhaps just a little used to operating without him, even at the weekend.  Worse still, when he does get home, he is so exhausted that he struggles to have the energy to have much fun with his family.   This is the reality of life for us all, some of the time.   But if this kind of work relationship extends more than a few months, it can suck the life out of our real lives.

The example above is extreme due to the young entrepreneurial nature of that business but there are definitely more mature businesses that continually suck the life out of our lives outside work.  This is fine if work is your raison d’etre.  If you’d rather be spending your free time climbing a mountain, riding your bike, volunteering for your favourite charity, cuddling your young kids, taking your older kids to the Ed Sheeran concert or... dancing naked in the sun, it’s about time you asked yourself one question...

1.    Fast forward your life by ten years…what is the ONE thing that you will be doing a great deal more of in ten years that you just don’t have enough time to do now?

Write it down on a piece of paper and put it in your inside pocket, loose in your laptop bag, on your bathroom mirror or beside your phone charger.  Somewhere where you will see it many times over the next few days.  Then just let your subconscious absorb it and play with it while you sleep, while you work, while you shower, whenever.

Here's what some of my clients wrote. Forgive the hand-writing.

Photo

 

Over the next week or so, if you have chosen a place where you will see and touch this piece of paper regularly (which should be getting pretty scrappy by then) some things will happen:

a)    You might find yourself thinking about your future more often.

b)   You might find yourself thinking about your present situation more often.

c)    You might even find that you have discussed/planned or actually done a little more of the activity that you wrote down on that scrap of paper.  If you haven’t don’t worry but keep going.  You are just very stuck in your busy work pattern.  Make sure you place the piece of paper somewhere where you touch it multiple times a day.

On a daily basis, very few individuals think about whether our regular activities are contributing to the design of our future.

In fact what often happens is that you ‘wake up’ having wasted a few years during which your company has been at the helm of your entire life instead of just your working life.  You've booked your holidays around quieter times at work.  You've missed nights out with your partner due to prioritising something at work.  You've missed all your planned exercise slots for more than a week.  You've also not been much fun at the weekend because you are totally knackered from your work week.

This very basic handwritten “note-to-self” exercise over a week or two will give you some insight into how your ‘life auto-pilot’ often doesn’t take into consideration your longer term goals.

By choosing to define one very specific long-term goal to spend more time on X, we focus on making time for X (both consciously and subconsciously) in the present which transforms our future. 

What will you choose to focus your mind on this week?

 

To get more ideas on re-designing your work to make sure you spend more time doing exactly what you want to do both today and in the future visit www.midlifeunstuck.com, sign up to my newsletter and contact me directly at lucia@midlifeunstuck.com.  

How to begin to escape from your career rut

For many of us the first half of our career flies by at great speed with plenty of hard work and often little planning.  But what happens when your career trajectory flattens, the work becomes easy and dull or “ground hog day” is a term that describes your working day rather than a funny 1993 Bill Murray movie? 

You are in a career rut that will take some manoeuvring to escape from.  If you are looking for some starter points to get you on the road to a career transformation, here are three activities that you can begin on the way home today.

1.   Design a very specific answer to this question: What magic do you have to offer the world?

Torch in sky (2).jpg

Eh?  By ‘magic’ I mean, what specific, unique skills do you have to offer the world?  I assure you I have not under-estimated how difficult this question is to answer. 

If you have spent 20 years in a career that you “fell into”, this will be much more difficult for you than for others who might have tried a couple of different lines of work in the first half of their career.  

If you have been in finance, law, engineering, sales or IT for a couple of decades, you may struggle with the specifics of what key, specific skills you have to offer the world.   

One way to start to answer this very hard question is to answer two easier sub-questions which will point you in the right direction: i)What activities are you doing when you lose track of time? ii)What do you love doing so much that you would do it for free?   

If you really, really think about these two questions for the length of your commute today, I guarantee you will have triggered a thought process which is the first starting point of your career transformation.

2.   Write another very specific list:  What do you want from your future work life?

On that long commute home, don’t listen to your favourite podcast, don’t read the news and don’t play that game on your phone to distract you from how annoyed you were by something at work today.  

Instead, design your future perfect work

You might not yet know the exact style of that work but you can define your preferences for some of the key elements.  Have a think about your ideals around weekly work-life balance, time spent face-to-face with humans versus on tele/video conferences, thinking time, amount and type of travel, size of team, sole versus team work balance, commute, quality and style of feedback, requirement for corporate presentations/board meetings, team management style, company culture, salary, feel of work environment, amount of holiday, freedom to make decisions, support to make decisions etc. 

HINT: Most of my clients have amazing difficulty with designing their perfect work and find it easier to define what they don’t want. Give that a try if it sounds easier.  

3.   Evaluate your current role

Consider your current role – is it using the skills that you really, really enjoy using?   Is your current role fulfilling many of your ideal preferences for future work? If the answer to either of these questions is no, you might want to consider making some changes.  

If the answer to both questions is no, you might want to start considering a career transformation.

To learn more about escaping your own career rut go to www.midlifeunstuck.com, sign up to my newsletter and contact me directly at lucia@midlifeunstuck.com.  

4 common (and awful) pieces of mid-career-rut advice and what to do instead.

What happens when you grumble about your job at home or to colleagues? 

Historically, I got so sick of hearing unprompted career advice that was irrelevant or so annoying that it made me want to punch someone in the face (oh dear, there's that fiery Celtic temperament again!) that I just shut up. 

Mid-life career lows are not uncommon.  We’ve all had days where we’d prefer to be somewhere else, anywhere else!  But a mid-career rut is a whole different thing that invades areas of life outside work including relationships with partners and children.  

Here are a few of the most common pieces of advice on offer out there and (for what it's worth) my opinion on their value:

 

whisper secret.jpg

 1. “Stick it out, don’t risk losing it all, it’s bound to get better”:  I don’t know where to start with this one.  We are not just talking about having a bad day at work. We are not just taking about occasional Sunday night blues.

When I use the term career rut, I am referring to persistent, long-lasting, recurring “don’t know how long I can keep going through the motions” feelings that have also started to impact your life outside work. 

Family members are noticing you just not being your usual self. You’ve stopped talking about work at home as you consider it too dull.  Or alternatively you can’t appear to find anything positive to say about work or the people at work.  

You are likely to be spending a great deal of time doing on-line research on new jobs but somehow they don’t look at all different to your current job.  Same job, different faces is definitely not your aim. 

2.   “Better the devil you know”: This security-centred advice is offered by fearful people who are unlikely to have understood your situation fully nor have taken the time to attempt to.  They might perceive you as somehow fortunate or lucky and are surprised that you are not happy with your lot.  

Perhaps they come from a background where a stable job was a goal in life.  Perhaps they are your partner and are worried about your joint/family future.  Perhaps they are simply the type of individual who views change as risky and would rather not let that devil into their house.  

And perhaps they simply have lower expectations on life fulfilment than you.

3.   “Forget about it, come and have a drink”:  Otherwise called “Purple Elephant syndrome”. Temporarily forgetting something that is playing on your mind is extremely valuable…in the short-term. 

Sooner or later, it comes back to haunt you.  A few months or even a year of career rut avoidance offers you the time to mull over options close to home, in your current company and to consider options advertised in the open market.    

Perhaps you have even moved companies during that time but after the initial optimism you realise that the old feelings have returned? The dissatisfaction, the lack of challenge, the boredom and the sameness of it all. 

Changing company changed neither your career nor your future.  

4.   “Just resign and take some time to figure it out”:  If you have an endless pot of gold, no responsibilities and are optimistic that you can work it out by yourself, proceed at speed to your personal yacht.   

If not, don’t consider this piece of advice for more than a dreamy few hours. 

Don’t resign without a plan.  Resign with a GREAT plan. 

Understand in great detail what you have to offer the world.  Analyse how you could offer those skills to the world and what it might give you in return. 

Investigate avenues to transform your career without rocking the rest of your world (unless that is also your aim, of course!) and plan the perfect time to make it happen...and then resign!

I specialise in helping midlifers design more satisfaction into their careers and stop wasting their valuable time. To learn more about beginning your own career overhaul go to www.midlifeunstuck.com, sign up to my newsletter and contact me directly at lucia@midlifeunstuck.com.  

3 things mid-lifers need to know about happy retirement

Retirement isn’t what is used to be...it’s a great deal better.  I keep hearing inspirational life transformation stories from retirees.  Take my in-laws for example - after retiring 4 or 5 years ago they are so busy that we have to book to visit them months in advance.  What are they up to?  This very normal ex-teaching and ex-IT couple are in fact working their way around the world teaching bridge on luxury cruises!  They combined a hobby and teaching skills to offer them joint retirement heaven.

They are not alone. Other inspiring stories I’ve heard recently include cycling around Majorca, helping to build a school in Kenya and signing up to an Italian cooking course in…Florence.  

In a word, I am jealous!

cyclist in mountain

                           

I totally understand that many retirees have worked and saved all their lives to enjoy their new-found freedom and I can’t help wanting a slice of the action.  BUT, I’m not ready to wait about 25 years to get it.

Last year, I wrote an article based on the latest research into how personality might impact retirement enjoyment and in the process I uncovered some global trends:

1.    Apparently, the more conscientious and agreeable you are as a personality, the more you are likely to enjoy your retirement (do we get more or less agreeable with age?);

2.    Taking part in new activities is very strongly linked to higher mental and physical health in retirement;

3.    The one specific activity which has the greatest impact on enhanced well-being, lower instances of illness and lower death rates in retirement is…volunteering.

The last point blew my mind, especially when we consider employment trends in the UK – how will we all have enough time to be volunteering if we are all still working through the supposedly healthy, vibrant, early retirement phase?

Let’s look at the numbers today.  According to the DWP, 10% of UK 70-74 year olds are in work (the highest figure since records began).  Almost 15% of men over the age of 65 are currently in employment.  These figures are forecast to rise substantially given advancing pension ages.  

Some might think that talking about retirement to mid-lifers is time wasted.  But, if we are all going to be working into late life, then mid-life is the perfect time to deliberately design the second-half of your career which might last another 20, 30 or even 40 years.  If we are still working, ideally it will because we are still enjoying our work or have designed it in a way that it fits around the really fun parts of our lives.  

Maybe there is a way to re-frame work as a more enjoyable part of your life by consciously designing work that really connects with your life? Work that doesn't feel like the part of life that just pays the bills and allows us the two week holiday to re-fresh and gain enough energy to head back to “the grindstone”.

Designing a new second half of life is possible to do by yourself but it will take time, research, deep thinking and an honesty about your own resources and limiting beliefs that is difficult to access by yourself.

Often, when I work with individuals, they say that they do not have a vision of their preferred future career but through questioning and exercises it soon becomes very clear.  To start your own career transformation go to www.midlifeunstuck.com, sign up to my newsletter and contact me directly at lucia@midlifeunstuck.com