The right way to reboot your career (review of Joanne Lipman’s Next: The Power of Reinvention in Life & Work)

Here are five things to know before rebooting your career.

It’ll take longer than you think. It’ll be harder than you can imagine. Never go it alone. Don’t jump into the complete unknown. And while it won’t be easy, it’ll be way better than sticking with a career that’s burning you out, boring you out of your mind or bumming you out because it’s all paycheque and no purpose.

“Many of us are looking for meaningful change, seeking what’s next, and yet we aren’t always sure how to get there,” says Joanne Lipman, journalist and author of Next: The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work. “There are ways to navigate these transitions with less stress and more agency.”

Drawing on hundreds of interviews and academic research, Lipman’s found a way. Her four-step reinvention roadmap starts with searching for what’s next, followed by struggle and a stop and then finally a solution.

“The process isn’t carved in stone,” says Lipman. “A particular stage may last hours or it may linger for years. You may go through the steps in a different order, or more than once. In some cases, the struggle is the catalyst rather than the search. You may breeze through one stage only to be thrown back to repeat another one.”

Too many of us focus on the first and last steps and ignore the messy middle, hoping that career reinventions can happen overnight. “That middle step is actually the most important: the struggle. It’s a slog. The struggle can be agonizing and almost unbearably frustrating. Nobody wants to go through it. Who wouldn’t rather glide smoothly from one path to the next?

“Too bad. The struggle isn’t just necessary; in virtually every arena of transformation, it’s the key to finding a solution.”

Lipman recommends recruiting expert companions. Connect with someone who’s an expert at what you hope to do next. And stay connected with someone who’s an expert at knowing you, your strengths, blind spots and passions.

“Sometimes to get beyond the struggle and power through to the solution, we need help. We can’t quite make the leap on our own. Sometimes we’re just stuck in our own heads, endlessly thinking and cogitating and daydreaming but unable to figure out if we are making the correct decision. That’s where an expert companion can make the difference.”

Here’s another key piece of advice from Lipman. Move before you move. Take small steps rather than a giant leap of faith. Ease into your reboot. “Most people begin edging toward a major transformation, often unknowingly, before they embrace it wholeheartedly. Giant leaps made without preparation are rare and likely to fail. Instead, those who are successful at making big changes take early steps during the search phase, often before they are aware of what they’re doing.”

Early in her career with the Wall Street Journal, Lipman interviewed the advertising executive who had dreamed up “I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid” and Kodak’s “Picture a Brand New World”.  The executive wrote novels on the side. “Like so many of us, he harbored fantasies about another kind of life. Sure, he was a successful professional, admired in his field. He had already invested decades of his life in his advertising career. He was well into middle age.

“Yet he had an itch that wasn’t scratched by his job. He wanted to create novels, not ad copy.”

Despite brutal reviews for his early novels, James Patterson kept at it. He’s now written or co-authored more than 250 books that have sold over 400 million copies, making him the wealthiest author in America.

Patterson kept working in advertising even after he’d written 10 books. He decided to quit advertising one Sunday afternoon stuck in traffic on his drive back to the office. “He was always a novelist, just one who earned a living for a few decades doing something else,” says Lipman.

If you’ve spent a few years or decades doing something else, Lipman can help you figure out how to become what you were always meant to be.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager at McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

How to hit the reset button on your career (review of Mike Lewis’ When to Jump)

This review first ran in the March 17th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

When to Jump: If the Job You Have Isn’t the Life You Want

By Mike Lewis

Henry Holt and Company


What would you be doing for a living if fear wasn’t a factor?

Would you continue doing what you’re doing right now?

Or would you hit the reset button on your career?

Personally, I’d make the jump from PR pro to cab driver in Aruba. I’d shuttle tourists around the One Happy Island and review business books between fares.

Mike Lewis was 23 years old when he went from being a well-paid venture capitalist to a professional squash player. He traveled more than 200,000 miles to 50 countries on six continents on his way to becoming the world’s 112th best squash player.

Based on his own experience and in talking with others who’ve also changed careers, Lewis has mapped out a jump curve with four key milestones. While not an instruction manual, the jump curve can help you figure out when and how to make your move.

You start by listening to the little voice inside your head and telling people what it’s saying. “To keep a jump alive, it helps to tell someone,” says Lewis. On hearing his plans to play squash, one of Lewis’ friends told him that is plan was absolutely crazy. “But there’s a difference between crazy and stupid,” added his friend.

You reduce the risk of doing something stupid by making a plan. Lewis spent 18 months planning his jump. Planning is where you get serious about building a nest egg, getting in pre-jump practice and sewing a safety net. As one career-switcher told Lewis, a successful jump is less an impulsive leap off a diving board and more of a slow wade in from the shallow end.

“Following a dream is lofty and sounds admirable but real consequences follow,” says Lewis. Switching careers is hard work and sacrifices will need to be made.

Letting yourself be lucky is the third milestone on the jump curve. “Once you’ve started to plan, favourable coincidences begin to appear. You have to jump and believe that some good luck will come back to you.”

Finally, don’t waste time looking back. “The people you meet, the story you’ll have, the lessons you will have learned make it an experience worth pursuing, regardless of what happens.”

After achieving his dream of playing professional squash, Lewis went on to found a global community of people who’ve left one path to pursue something completely different. It doesn’t have to be you alone against the world, says Lewis. Many people have already done what you’re considering and they’re willing to lend a hand.

Among the career-changers profiled by Lewis in his book are a mechanical engineer who became a fitness entrepreneur, an advertising executive turned advocate for sexual assault survivors, a lawyer who’s now a firefighter and a former garbage collector who’s designing and making furniture.

Lewis cautions against making the jump if you have a family to support and debts to pay. This isn’t the ideal time to quit a money-making job for a dream that doesn’t come with a paycheque. “But that doesn’t mean you can never chase your dream; it means not just yet.”

You also don’t need a ton of money socked away to make a change.

“The ability to jump is not limited to those who have a college degree or a certain-sized bank account,” says Lewis. “Applying for an internal promotion at work, going back to school at night, teaching cooking classes on the weekends – big jump or small jump, very many of us have something we’ve longed to try doing. A jump is a jump. If you can’t do it now, write it down for later. And if you can do it now? Go.”

aruba love

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for The Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and would be happy to drive you and your family around Aruba.