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.