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How to reinvent yourself

bltcommentarywebLong ago, American workers would start and typically end their careers at one organization. They would be loyal for entire decades, and in return, the companies would provide similar steadfast commitment and stability.

Today, in a 2018 report assessing employee tenure, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average tenure for an employee is 4.6 years.  Obviously, reasons for leaving a job are varied, from relocation and better benefits or compensation to escaping a crappy management and culture.  The separation could also be caused by external factors, like a layoff, severance, or being fired. In hindsight, the reason doesn’t matter; as it often plays out, it was a blessing in disguise.

Now, experienced middle-aged (or older) individuals find themselves at a crossroad: Should you take the first opportunity you get or should you be strategic, taking your time to explore and find the perfect role?

Over the last several months, I have had several conversations with friends about this exact situation. I’ve  found myself describing the steps I took when I left corporate America several years ago — the process I followed to learn what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Self-assessment

Do you know what you love to do? Really LOOOOVE to do? What your interests are? What do you gravitate to when left alone on a Sunday morning? Tinkering with the car? Reviewing K-12 educational briefs? Surfing Pinterest for your next redesign? Brokering deals? Mentoring youth?

Consider doing a career aptitude assessment (I know you are not in high school, but humor me). Let’s reassess your real skills, what you’ve learned in all of those different positions you’ve held. And do include nonprofit and volunteer roles. Organizing a charity golf tournament and maintaining the books for your church are all learned and valuable skills that merit tracking.

You will find you are so much more than your title. For over 20 years, I was a banker. I thought it was my identity. I didn’t have a Plan B, so when I left I  needed to breathe and learn “me” again. Yes, I was nervous, worried that I would not be well-received as anything other than “banker Veronica.”

I rewrote my bio for a speaking engagement and found myself detailing my varied background, my experiences. I learned that I was so much more than a banker. I learned that I love connecting people, that I had a passion for being the voice of others, that I love community and economic development. My options immediately widened.

Interviews

Part of this learning included chatting with over 50 people I admired — friends, icons, legends, novices, parents, retirees, etc. My goal was to learn from their journey: How did they get there? What were their biggest obstacles? What would they have done differently? What did they love?

Unknowingly, I was seeking to form parallels with them, to learn how they made decisions. How did they reinvent themselves?

Next, I asked them what they thought my biggest strength was? What did they envision me doing next?  This was a surprising exercise. I expected to hear platitudes and obvious references to “you are such a good banker!” But I started to hear adjectives that I never associated with myself (nothing negative, at least not to my face!) This was the validation that confirmed that my job did not define me. I had carved out a career, a life actually, that was far larger than the organizations that employed me.

Research

Gathering all of this data — my newly defined skills, my aptitude, and the recommendations surfacing from my informational interviews — I began researching organizations and roles that suited me.

I checked out the largest employers in town, the innovative startups, the motivating foundations and nonprofits. I started to pare down organizations by their culture, vision, and future plans so I could consider whether I would fit within that world.

Social networking

Then you need to network, to talk with folks affiliated with the entities you found interesting and for which you are best-suited. Speak to acquaintances who already perform similar roles in other organizations. If you discover that your skills are not represented in any currently available positions, then consider consulting or doing side projects.

Reach out to your contacts on LinkedIn/Facebook and share that you are exploring your next adventure and you wish to work with them on XYZ (obviously do your homework and offer something they need and that you can deliver.)

Reinventing yourself happens slowly. It’s not like a new haircut that dramatically changes your look in an instant. You can explore, you can pivot, you can sample multiple options. Do remain professional, do deliver, do be grateful and do charge what you are worth. According to various reports, by 2020 over 50% of the U.S. workforce will be freelancing or doing gig work — so you are not alone.

Amigos, we are multi-faceted beings with a wealth of knowledge. Find your home where you best fit, where your knowledge is best-suited to having you thrive.

I would love to hear how you reinvented yourself.

Veronica Cool is founder of Cool & Associates LLC, a business management firm specializing in financial wellness and diverse segment marketing. Her column appears each month in The Daily Record and online. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @verocool.