After reporting to eleven bosses in eleven years at the last organization I worked for as a communications director, I knew it was time for me to take control of my work life. The way I put it to myself was, “If anyone’s going to pilot my life, it’s going to be me.”
If you’re a boomer who’s facing your professional future with a frown, the tactics I used to resolve my situation, as well as the tips at the end of this post, can help you plan your own Great Escape.
The specific conditions that provoked my personal wake-up call and the exact career I embarked on might not be the same as yours. But if you know that what you’re doing with your life isn’t what you were meant to do, I hope that parts of the strategy I applied can offer you a path to your next career.
Long before I abandoned my job, I put myself into the hands of a coach. I can still picture myself hunched over a yellow lined pad, feverishly writing down my coach’s tenets of success. A lot of them had to do with modifying my mental attitude. She convinced me that it was critical that I focus on success rather than stir up every thought of failure I could summon.
I finally realized that if I didn’t take the first few baby steps she outlined, I would never arrive at any grand goal I might have had in mind.
In my case, that meant that if I didn’t submit my writing for publication, 100% of it would be unpublished. So, while still at my old job, I submitted an essay to a national publication. From hundreds of applicants, I was among the 12 chosen to write a whole series of articles. That experience demonstrated for me that I had something valuable to offer.
Then my coach and I moved on to writing down simple steps I could take to begin a new career.
For example, I was to set up my home office to be effective for my new career (and the new me), rather than for the old ones. That helped me start seeing myself in a new light, and begin to take myself seriously.
I want to share some more of the strategies my coach taught me.
Keep your hand in. Even before you can leave or change your job and do what you like full time, take advantage of opportunities to do the work you want to do. It may be as a volunteer. Some people get new jobs based on work they did do or contacts they made through volunteer work.
Associate with others who are doing what you want to do. Seek out those who are in the field you want to be in. It’s easy to do that these days. If there’s no one in your community who shares your interests, join an online community through the groups on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.com. Some of the people you “meet” online will live in your area, and after chatting online for a while, you can get together in person, if you chose to.
Carve out a physical space, no matter how small, where you will do your new work. It might be a corner of your kitchen or bedroom, a section of your attic, or even—weather permitting—your porch.
Take classes in the field you want to enter. That has the double benefit of making it possible to meet others with your interests.
Pay down your bills, in preparation for your new work—which might not pay as much as you’re used to earning.
Put a little money aside—even if it’s only a few dollars a week—and earmark it for your new career. (I left my job right at the beginning of this last recession, so it was pretty scary. But scarier still was the toll my job was taking on my health and well being.)
Don’t wait for permission from anyone—not your husband, your family, your parents, or your employer. Of course, it’s better to have everyone’s cooperation. But remind yourself that you deserve to be fulfilled in your work. Your mind and body will thank you. And those close to you will see that you’re a lot more fun to be around when you’re doing work that’s meaningful to you.
Prepare yourself to take a risk. There’ll be some sleepless nights during your transition. But if you’re like most of us who have put off our passions in favor of a job we don’t feel suited for, you’re probably already doing some tossing and turning in the wee hours.
As we get older, we begin to wonder how much longer we can afford to put off our dreams. What are we waiting for? A lottery win would be nice, but come on, what are the odds of that happening?
After my first meeting with my coach, I hung a quotation above my desk. It’s by the novelist Louis Auchincloss, a cousin of Jackie Onassis.
“One can spend one’s whole existence never learning the simple lesson that one has only one life and that if one fails to do what one wants with it, nobody really cares.”
She is also the author of Polish and Publish: The Indispensable Toolkit for Creative Writers to Get Started and Get Published. Her website is http://lynettebentonwriting.com.
Note: For more excellent strategies on making a career transition, check out the book Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra.