that during these last few months, you’d been coping by subconsciously believing things would return to normal… You’ve realised that’s not going to happen, it might never happen… You feel shaken, afraid, lost.
Handling Unprecedented Career Uncertainty
I hear how you’re grappling with this new uncertainty. The prospects for your industry are dire. Your bosses kept you and your team busy during lockdown with current projects. But with no future pipeline to speak of, your higher-ups have warned that posts will soon have to go.
You’re barely sleeping with the anxiety about the mortgage and the bills, it’s unbelievable how much it costs to take care of a family. Thank God your wife is a teacher – at least her work looks secure at the moment…
But it’s not just that. Despite this grim outlook for your work situation, part of you is recalcitrant. Lockdown and in particular working from home has changed you.
I tell you that despite your suspicions you’re not going mad. Let’s get some perspective, we’re living through a period of unprecedented change. Even during the Second World War, schools generally stayed open.
Welcome to the VUCA world; volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. We’ve had glimpses of it in the last twenty years due to the impact of new technologies and globalisation, but Covid-19 has taken VUCA to a whole new level. There’s volatility – infection rates are swinging up and down across the world. We have uncertainty – will there be a second lockdown? This is complex – it’s not just about your industry, it’s whether the eco-system of industries that feeds your industry survives. It’s ambiguous - different people interpret the data about the key measures deemed important differently. I wouldn’t be surprised if you feel in turmoil.
Nostalgia for Career Stability
“I feel in turmoil,” you say. “And there’s something else. I’m wondering if maybe I never had it so good as in the pre-Covid world! No it wasn’t perfect, but my work seemed stable, my life was on track, we went on holiday and away for the weekend. I worked out in the gym, had a pint with my mates… and I took it all pretty much for granted.”
“So perhaps you’re feeling nostalgia for the good times?” I say, and you nod. And we agree that those times feel safe because we’ve lived through them and enjoyed them. And I hear the hopelessness in your voice when you say you feel defeated, but you’d like some answers if there are any.
And I suggest that the old normal has gone and we have no clue about how the new normal of work and the economy will turn unfold. What’s more, spending time on predicting the future environment will likely be a fool’s errand.
Career Hope Alongside Covid-19
And I ask you five questions and wait for your responses.
And I say that’s what I’m doing… and that’s all any of us can do right now.
* This is a fictionalised coaching case based on recent experience. No content in this exchange is directly drawn from work with any particular individual or individuals.
© 2020 Trudy Lloyd & Associates. All Rights Reserved.
collaborate, the soaring absence-rate and how you struggle to retain talent.
You know what you’re doing isn’t working.
I ask you what you’d like to do differently, and you fall silent. It’s a treadmill you say and you can’t change it. Your teams are exhausted, but you push them on because the CEO screams that the share price has tanked and the sales pipeline is weak.
I ask again what you’d like to do differently, and frustrated, you say flippantly "give my teams a break! A rest".
And I see the sadness in your eyes, and your exhaustion. “Maybe that’s what you need too...”
We Need New Ways to Lead
You shake your head, even the HR director simply urged you to tighten up on performance management and employ disciplinary processes if need be. You sigh. “No one sees… no one sees…”
“What don’t they see?”
“That we’re destroying it all; our reputation, our customer relationships; with poor service and after-care, and our people… We drive them like machines!”
You exhale, and you’re feeling the folly of it all.
And then you smile ruefully, and together we’re contemplating those two opposing forces in life and business. The ‘force for change’, some call will; to set goals and targets, take action, persist, achieve and shape the competitive environment. And opposing it the ‘force for acceptance’, some call love; to empathise with people and care for them, bring them together and to accept current reality in all its complexity.
We sit silently, feeling the tension between those forces and the awesome task to harmonise them and make business sustainable.
You shake your head, and say you don’t know where to start.
Leadership Requires Your Take Risks
And yet we make a plan, just baby steps, to begin to shift the balance in your division between achieving business targets and nurturing people and relationships.
And when you return you say it hasn’t been easy, but you’re now acknowledging what people have done instead of simply focusing on what’s next. You’re listening actively and engaging with your colleagues concerns rather than downplaying them. You’ve even championed people getting away from their desks at lunchtime!
But there’s pushback. Your higher–ups claim you’re losing your grip. They’re bringing forward the deadline for your division’s business plan so as to have it completed by the time the top team visit. You sigh, everyone will have to work late nights to achieve that!
You shrug and I feel how it hurts you to consider reneging on the ‘better way’ you’ve promised your teams.
And then I see your nascent leader emerging, and your passion, to make your division a place where you deliver results AND care for your people.
Leaders Need to Speak Up and Speak Out
We imagine how you might inspire them to consider change,and develop your negotiation strategy to get the deadline pushed back, including your red lines. We also work with what holds you back.
And as you leave, you smile and say you’ll give it your best shot, but the important thing was deciding.
“To listen to the voice inside, and to speak up and; change or no change, choosing to speak out.
And my heart sings at the leader you’re becoming.
© 2019 Trudy Lloyd & Associates. All Rights Reserved.
So you’re thinking of changing your career at midlife? Reinventing it even. Simultaneously you feel exhilarated and petrified. Maybe those feelings surge in equal measures, or perhaps one far outweighs the other.
You’ve reached the final straw. You missed out on a much hoped for promotion. …Or a wave of redundancies has been announced. Your relationship with your boss has hit rock bottom. …Or the death of a loved one brings home to you your own mortality. Worse, it’s your health and relationships that are suffering through your crazy hours and bonkers commute… Perhaps you long for ‘something else’, and now that ache you’ve been suppressing for some years, is pushing up again, refusing to be ignored any longer.
Suddenly you realise you’re being called to make changes – but where to begin? How to ‘set off’ if you cannot see a path? Can you call this ‘a journey’ if you’re not clear about the destination?
The emotions of the people I meet who are beginning to change career fall along a continuum from petrified to exhilarated. What’s more the emotions of career changers often lurch about; one day they feel excited and optimistic, the next they may feel scared and hopeless. Reinventing your career brings a rollercoaster of emotions.
The good news is there are steps you can take to prepare for your career change which will give you the best chance of success. Here’s three to get you started.
1.Frame your Career Change Journey Magnificently.
We’re often taught to see ‘opportunities’ in life as related to acquiring things - possessions, wealth and status. We’re led to believe that if we go after these visible signs of ‘success’, we’ll increase our feelings of security.
However, if we bring such an attitude to our career change or career reinvention process, we risk increasing our anxiety. We may start to feel overwhelmed mulling over ‘what’s at stake’, and specifically about what we might lose if we change career. This will likely make us feel insecure. Wanting to feel secure again, we may retreat from making changes.
There’s another way of looking at opportunities and success. Instead of thinking in terms of ‘having things’ we can think about how an opportunity can help us develop our capacity to ‘handle things’.
Arming ourselves with such a mindset as we pursue life changes - like career reinvention - will set us up to learn from the new challenge. We’ll see how we can use the change process to build our capacity to handle things. This in turn will build self–esteem.
Ultimately, it is our ability to ‘handle things’ in life that enables us to feel secure.
2.Accept that Fear Will Accompany You on Your Career Change Journey.
Even though you’ve made a decision to change your career, the voice in your head may still kick in from time to time. …To stir fresh doubts about your ability to follow through. …To have you hankering for all you’ll be leaving behind - perhaps the familiarity of your role and your colleagues and your attractive benefit package. And even when you’ve dealt with the fear once, it may be back - a second, third or fourth time…
Fear signals to us that something important is at stake.
Many people, standing at the top of a cliff preparing to abseil down, are filled with terror. They’re scared that they’ll be injured through falling/the rope breaking/ falling out of the harness. Fear is telling them their body is at stake. Fear warns us to take care of ourselves.
Similarly when we feel fear around career change, the fear is also telling us something important is at stake – our reputation, our earning power, our happiness. No wonder it feels scary.
But fear can be a poorly tuned ‘warning system’ and prone to overreacting. For some people lights flash and sirens wails even as they begin to contemplate career change.
In order to make a career change, we need to acknowledge the fear, but not let it stop us from connecting with our desires, or researching new opportunities, making plans and taking the actions we need to take.
We need to push on through despite the fear; one small step at a time.
3.Leverage your Emotions to Help You Change your Career.
We all want to move away from painful things in our lives and move towards pleasure. Understand this and you’ll be tapping into the secret to motivating yourself to do anything. You’ll also be able to use this technique to help you change or reinvent your career.
It may be frustrating when your boss dumps more projects on you yet again, or tiring when you’re four hours late home again due to train delays, but if you’re serious about changing your career you can leverage these experiences to drive your change forward.
If you want to make changes, whenever you’ve had a rotten day, instead of drowning your frustration in a large glass of Merlot – take time to reflect. Get in touch with the ‘pain’ of your current situation. Dial it up. Think about all the days in the last six months when you felt unhappy about your work. Recall just how bad things have become. Connect with that pain, connect deeply and get really clear that things must change.
Similarly, you can leverage pleasure to help motivate you in your career change. When you’ve made some progress with your career plans – visualise your new future, imagine how great it will feel when you’re doing a role that is more authentically you. Connect with that pleasure deeply and connect with it every day.
Using pleasure as a motivational tool keeps you on track and helps you bounce back from any setbacks in your career change process.
Bonus Tip : Stay Connected Through Career Change.
Finally, when you make significant changes to your life there’s a risk that you may become isolated. If progress feels slow, some people withdraw from friends and sit alone, anxious and brooding about their future, and possibly regretful about the past.
Preparing to change your career means thinking about who to tell and how much to tell them. If your plans will affect the lives and financial security of other people then you need to discuss your plans with them and resolve any areas of conflict.
After that, it’s time to surround yourself with a wider network of support. These are the people that will listen to your doubts but never doubt you, and believe in you throughout your career reinvention journey.
Next time you hear a 'call' to make changes to your career or your life, what are you going to do? Give in to your fears and ignore it… Or push through your fears to a new career adventure? …Do let me know in the comments below!
If this post has resonated with you and you’d like to learn more about getting started with your career change or career reinvention you can download my free ebook "The Top 5 Challenges Facing Midlife Career Reinventors and How to Overcome Them".
©2017 Trudy Lloyd. All Rights Reserved.
I believe that everyone should enjoy meaningful, satisfying and rewarding work - work that fires you up! I am fascinated by human potential and the life journeys people make to find work and careers where they can channel and develop their skills and talents in meaningful and satisfying ways.