Thursday, 30 May 2013

Too few choices: advice on identifying post-break options

I’ve already talked about how we can get stuck when we see too many options. You may be experiencing the opposite problem – not being able to think of any exciting and realistic options at all. Are you still searching for your (elusive) passion? Or are you not quite ready to let go of your old work identity and create a new one? 

Maybe with time away from the workplace, you have realised that you drifted into your career but never really enjoyed it that much, and now you want to find a role you love. One client said to me recently “After working for many years without much fulfilment I’d like to follow my passion now … but I just don’t know what my passion is!” Career change advice to find your passion or your 'dream job' can be more harmful than helpful.  The reality is that we all have a number of possible paths we can take that could lead to satisfying and fulfilling work. Herminia Ibarra*, a professor at INSEAD who has studied many professionals and managers in career transition, suggests that the biggest mistake we can make is to delay taking a first step until we have settled on a destination.  She advises that the best way to move towards a satisfying new career is to learn by doing: try out a variety of things that appeal to you to any extent and say yes to opportunities that come your way to find out about new areas and create new networks (a project for an ex-colleague or a friend, volunteer work, a short course, ...). See it as a journey of exploration, be open-minded, and you may well find a role that inspires you along the way.

Or maybe you did enjoy your pre-break career but it was in an area where you can't see any interesting possibilities that could fit with your life today. You might have been an investment banker or a brand marketing director and loved the excitement of the job but can’t contemplate the 60+ hour weeks you’d need to sign up for if you went back. However your work identity is so entwined with your old role that it’s hard to think of any interesting alternatives.

In this situation, a useful exercise is to create your ‘Ideal Work Day’. Think of all the activities you did in your previous roles, regular and occasional. These might include meeting with clients, developing new ideas, analysing data, recruiting, coaching, writing, researching, presenting, etc. Now choose the activities you most enjoyed and would include in your ideal day. This gives you a starting point to think creatively about where you could find these aspects in another more flexible role, either employed or self-employed. For example Marian recognised that she’d most enjoyed the relationship building and presenting aspects of her consumer goods marketing roles which eventually led her into corporate fundraising. Acknowledge the sadness you may feel in letting go of your old professional identity and then focus on what aspects you can take forward into your new working life.

* Ibarra has written an excellent book for career changers "Working Identity"

Posted by Julianne

Friday, 10 May 2013

Who am I anyway?



Many clients arrive at our first meeting with the same concern: they have lost touch with their professional identity and are only able to view themselves as partners or mothers.  Thoughts such as ‘I can’t do those things anymore’, ‘I don’t recognise my old self’, and ‘I’m not the person I used to be’ are regularly voiced.  For some women, the loss of identity is compounded by not having felt fully themselves in their professional life.  If your previous working identity has felt ‘fake’, then it is even harder to work out how you might wish to express yourself professionally in the future.  Other women recognise that their former working identity doesn’t fit with the life they now want to lead and are unclear how to create the new self.

According to findings from Dr Lynne Millward Purvis, women – particularly working women – undergo three ‘identity shifts’ when they become mothers. Before giving birth, we begin to feel increasingly invisible and undervalued as we prepare to go on maternity leave. After giving birth, we are forced to acquire a ‘mother identity’, which causes our goalposts to move. And if we return to work, we find we need to redouble our efforts as we seek to revalidate ourselves, both as employees and as mothers.  (Dr Lynne Millward Purvis, The Transition to Motherhood in an Organizational Context). Those of us who take an extended career break miss this opportunity to revalidate ourselves as professionals and as mothers within the familiar context of our former role.
Often the loss of the professional identity is expressed as a loss of confidence.  Indeed, recent research of 2000 women by the Association of Accounting Technicians (The Times, April 17, 2013) has indicated that women on maternity leave lose confidence after eleven months absence from the workplace.  So is it really surprising that women who take an extended break will lose their confidence?  (See post Where’s my confidence gone? for ideas on how to regain confidence). 
My own experience of identity and confidence loss occurred when I arrived in my office after my honeymoon, to learn that my position had been made redundant.  Suddenly, I found myself with no professional identity, an unfamiliar surname and living in a new home that didn't feel like mine.  It took me some months to find myself again and re-create my new, married, professional identity.

The process for regaining or re-crafting your professional identity involves reconnecting with your real interests and your values and articulating your skills and experience (even from long ago).  It is ultimately a rewarding experience as the emergence of a new professional identity is inextricably accompanied by a growing self-confidence.  Remember that you have already successfully changed identity at other points in your life (eg when you first started work or when took your break) even though that might have felt daunting at the time.  You will be able to do it again if you allow yourself time to adjust.

Posted by Katerina