What to consider when your career spark dims
The idea of staying in a single career for one’s entire working life is no longer suitable for many people, but making the transition to another path takes thought and planning, according to experts in the field.
“There are many people who find that they have lost their enthusiasm for their career,” says Joanna Maxwell, career adviser and author of the new book Re-think Your Career*. “In many cases, these people will be financially secure and they might have reached a senior position. But there will be a sense of dissatisfaction. They need new challenges, a new focus.”
The first step is to understand why there is a need for change. If the problem is the nature of the work itself, then a radical step into a new field might be an answer. If it is the style of work that is the issue, then moving into self-employment or a different sort of organisation that still requires the professional skills might be suitable.
Maxwell cites the case of a woman, Elaine. After leaving the banking sector she was surprised that it was difficult to come up with a strategy for a new career, even though she had worked as a strategist. After a period of reflection she established a consulting business, and makes a point of finding new challenges.
“I’m peeking out from that corporate wall, I’m jumping out from time to time, but when I can walk out and stand in front of it then I’ll know I’m home,” she says.
Maxwell advises sitting down to and draw up a list of strengths. “That doesn’t mean qualifications, but the things you are good at,” she says. “You might have very solid financial qualifications but when you think about it you might realise that interaction with people is really what makes you effective. If that is the case, where do you want to go with it? Take some time to ask yourself some questions, assess your financial position, and consider what is really important to you.”
Suzanne Williams, a career and lifestyle coach who has advised many people looking at new career options, agrees.
“The driver of change is often an internal desire to do ‘more’,” she says. “There is a sense of looking for purposeful work – something that inspires them. They feel the need to contribute to something bigger, with more meaning and often utilising more creativity.
“People that I see in this space have often worked very hard, with long hours in high-pressure corporate careers. They are looking for more balance in their life, so I see a trend towards more part-time/flexible working arrangements.”
A common choice for finance professionals is the not-for-profit sector, where they can use their expertise in a new context. Some even take board positions to use their abilities. Working with NFPs can meet the need to ‘give back’ that many people feel as they get older.
Other people might decide to leave their profession entirely and follow a personal passion. It might be seeking to turn a hobby into a business, or starting up an enterprise. ‘Seniorpreneurs’ are responsible for a significant number of new businesses, and their experience gives them a good chance of success.
“Some people reach their fifties and say that they do not know what their passion is,” says Maxwell. “Consider this: what did you last do when you lost track of the time? That can be a critical guide.”
Another case she cites is John, who found he was increasingly dissatisfied in his job in the real estate sector. Because he still had ‘breadwinner’ responsibilities he decided to stay with it, but decided he would also follow his passion for motorcycles, looking towards establishing a motorcycle-touring-group business.
“I have never experienced getting up and being happy to go to work before,” he says. “Well, it won’t really be work, then, will it?”
A good step can be to work with a professional adviser. Williams suggests that seeking help on a career change is not much different to a business owner seeking the expert advice of an accountant to manage their finances. She also emphasises the importance of discussing options with family and friends.
“There is a significant change of mindset required,” she says. “Many people have a lot of their identity tied up in their work. So when you make a change you should ensure that there is support available. This is especially important if you decide to go out on your own, which entails a very big change of social environment.”
“A new career path is a big step out of the comfort zone, and it should be considered carefully,” Maxwell says. “Especially for people who are used to being the expert, the authority, the person with the answers, it can be a bit scary. Suddenly there new things to be learned and new risks to face. But it can also give you a whole new outlook on life. It can be very liberating.”
7 tips to re-think your career
Understand why you want a change: is it the job, the sector, or the type of work?
Take inventory of your strengths: what is it that brings you professional satisfaction?
Assess your position: what will be the practical impact of a career shift?
Decide what you want to do: what is your passion, and can it be a business?
Discuss your options with a professional adviser
Draw up a timeline for changes: think about how long it will take to re-establish a new career
A career change will have profound effects on your sense of identity: do you have adequate social support?
* Joanna Maxwell, Re-think Your Career In Your 40s, 50s and 60s, ABC Books, 296 pages, $33.
For further information, go to:
http://www.graceandgrind.com.au (site of Suzanne Williams)
http://www.joannamaxwell.com.au (site of Joanna Maxwell)