“Oh, what a feeling…what a career change rush!”

What a feeling, what a career change

Everyone’s heard a story about some successful businessperson who dumped a 20-year career to pursue something completely different and is happier for it.

The famous Impressionist painter, Paul Gauguin, for example, ditched a lucrative banking career and bourgeois life in Paris to paint full-time in the Polynesian islands.

Most people who want to make a midlife career change never take such drastic action because they fear change and don’t want to make sacrifices—at least that’s the common job change advice. I suggest this is incorrect.

I’m sure Gauguin feared change and didn’t want to make sacrifices but did so anyway. What motivated him to do so, and why do so many people who feel stuck in a career, unable to take action to get unstuck?

Like most people, Gauguin got an education that led to a particular career path. His vocation was fixed but some years later he decided he wasn’t a banker anymore. Like others, he probably said to himself, “If I don’t make a move now, I never will, and I’ll live to regret it.” But the truth is Gauguin didn’t know how to make a career change.

A successful transition requires effective actions

Gauguin’s first action was not to jump on a boat and sail to the South Pacific. He didn’t start with an “aha!” experience then go out and try to find it. No, he spent years painting.

He learned to paint, hung out with other artists, and explored the art world, learning not only his craft but the business of art. Transition is a process based on actions. As a job change expert, I know that the motivation underlaying those actions is the key to a successful transition.

Gauguin knew what he wanted to do—paint. But that’s not enough for change. Many people figure out what they want to do but nothing comes of it. Why?

Gauguin remolded his deepest values and highest aspirations. Instead of producing wealth, he decided it was more important for him to produce beauty, his deepest value. In order to produce beauty, he decided to paint full-time, his deepest aspiration.

Changing careers means redefining our working identity—who and what we are in terms of our right work, what we communicate about ourselves to others and, ultimately, how we live our working lives.

Who we are and what we do—our BEING and our DOING–are closely connected, the result of years of certain actions. And to change that connection, we must first resort to other actions that align with our deepest values and highest aspirations. This is the source of motivation for a midlife change.

As a painter, Gauguin didn’t make much money but loved his new life. The feeling—the intrinsic reward, the emotional value–that he gained from painting aligned with his deepest values and highest aspirations, a feeling he couldn’t get from banking.

A picture of a future that feels better

In other words, change occurs when we have a picture of a better alternative to our current identity, one that feels better. My clients who have made successful changes know this feeling well.

That is the purpose of my JobJoy Report — to give you a picture of a new working identity, one that aligns with your BEING. It will help you visualize a specific outcome, something different than the one you are now stuck in.

My JobJoy Report will start you moving in a new direction because you will be motivated to make a change, by DOING new things that feel better.

Once you experience those positive feelings, by taking different actions, you will make a successful career change and live a better story. Oh, what a feeling…what a rush!

Career Change Advice for Talented Women with predictable, boring, mundane jobs

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Taba Cookey is an extremely talented woman who had immigrated to Canada from Nigeria to go to work in high level finance. She had earned her first degree in England and had got  a Masters degree in Canada some years later before returning to Nigeria to continue her banking career.

She said that while she was in Ottawa looking to move from her job in financial sector research, she thought she should “take advantage of the kind of career consulting (that I offer) that doesn’t exist in Nigeria,” and explore her options for career change.
I had Taba write “her story”–eight examples of experiences that had been very satisfying for her throughout her life. They didn’t have to be job related.

What came up again and again is that she thrives with new competitive challenges that force her to stretch herself beyond anything she had ever done before. She also needs those challenges defined with deadlines and guidelines for measuring success. For example, she was usually one of the best student in her schools and was the only student in her graduate school class to complete her master’s thesis in time to graduate on schedule.

When she moved from Nigeria to London at age 9, she quickly established herself as one of the star sprinters in her elementary school. Before long, having run out of female competition, talk in the playground was that she should take on the fastest boy runner in the school.

“Finally, a date and hour was set. It was close…but there was no doubt about the result: I won, and that was the end of John’s bragging about how fast he was,” Taba said.

At some point during this career audit, she accepted an offer as Standards and Insurance Manager for a Canadian government agency that was charged with protecting consumers’ deposits in event of the failure of federally regulated banks and trust companies. She didn’t understand why at the time, but found herself so bored and frustrated with her job.

We figured out that even though her position at the government regulatory agency might be the perfect job for someone else, it was “just pushing papers” for her. Many jobs, including the one she was in at the agency, organized to be predictable and mundane and often become simple and boring for talented people like Taba.

Using “her story,” we determined:

* The work environment she would thrive in.

* The type of work she would thrive in.

* The way she likes to be managed.

* The way she likes to be rewarded.

* What motivates her.

* And how she likes to approach tasks.

“My work with George made me realize this sort of work was thoroughly unsuited to me” says Taba.

She began to seriously consider returning to Nigeria and we talked about the need for African ex-patriates to return home and use their knowledge and expertise in developing Africa.  She decided to go back to Nigeria without any prospects for a job. I told her that she had lots of talents and people would recognize and reward her for that.

I think that one of the reasons ex-patriates don’t go back to their home countries after being educated abroad is because they’re worried they won’t get challenging jobs. I knew it wouldn’t be a problem for Taba because she has talents that transfer across borders. It was just a question of packaging her talents to be recognized and rewarded in different cultural contexts.

So we had to put her talents into a resume to show what this person could do for an employer anywhere–a dramatic example of how her talents transfer across cultures and borders.

She sent me an email saying, “An amazing opportunity opened up in Ghana. I am a Program Manager with the African Finance Corporation (http://www.africafc.org), based in Accra, responsible for overseeing all IFC leasing development programs in Africa. IFC is the private sector arm of the World Bank, promoting development through loans, equity and technical assistance to the private sector.”

A lot of businesses in Africa have difficulty in accessing traditional bank financing, and leasing provides an attractive alternative to such companies. The program aims to promote the role of leasing through training, public awareness, attracting new investment into the industry and working with the authorities in specific African countries to improve the legislative and regulatory environment for leasing.

This job is challenging for her because it is so varied and really stretches her capabilities. Also, she travels all over Africa and has to deal with different personalities in differing cultures. She needs to be in circumstances that stretch her, like beating the fastest boy in school.

“The other day I went through the life stories I had written and the analysis you had done four years ago now, and was amazed at the way it has all come together in my present job,” said Taba. “It is really quite uncanny. But then again perhaps not, since you had so accurately identified the kind of work and environment that would give me ‘jobjoy’ and I have finally found it. It is not surprising that I can now say without hesitation that I have never enjoyed work so much, and…yes, feel fortunate that I am actually getting paid for it. I come to work every day with a sense of anticipation, and hardly know where the time has gone at the end of the day. I actually have to tear myself away! This is such a change from so much of my previous life spent clock watching and day dreaming at work.”

When we get into a jobfit, other parts of our lives often fall into place.  After a few years in this job, Taba returned to Nigeria in 2008 .  “It is great to be back home, I think age is finally taming my itchy feet!”  She was recently married, and took a new position with the Nigerian Stock Exchange.  Congratulations, Taba, in  putting down roots!

–with Nick Isenberg

Using the flip side of life to find your right work

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Why does autobiographical writing help you discover and develop your right work? Writing stories from your life helps you understand your own life in terms of the forces that have defined and changed you over the years. The facts, people, and events of your life have formed a seamless web of meaning that help you answer the questions : Who am I? What am I trying to accomplish with my life?

I know it sounds strange but even negative life experiences help us uncover the truth of our right work. For example, I am particularly ashamed of a shoplifting episode during my teens. I got caught. However, I really enjoyed playing a different character in order to avoid incarceration.

I have a gift for story-telling. Sitting in a police station, I walked out without charges by weaving an elaborate lie a la Frank Abagnale Jr., played by Leonardo Dicaprio, in the movie Catch Me If You Can. Unlike him, the person I impersonated found me out and turned me in. I was charged and put on probation.

This was morally reprehensible, I agree, but when we are looking for clues to our right work, we should not neglect those negative experiences. Every event has a flip side. We need to strip away the moral fabric of these events because we often “sin out of our strengths.”

The examined life lets you see patterns of behavior. It lets you see lessons learned the hard way. You learn the value of failure, and the value of accomplishments. Your life is your stock in trade. Even if you think your life has been unimportant to the world, it’s important to you, and that’s what counts!

One of the Success Stories on my website features a natural promoter who has a knack for getting things started. As a college student, he jerry-rigged a payphone in his dorm to permit free long distance phone calls. It wasn’t legal, but it was enterprising.

He was always starting money-saving, or money-making ventures. But he lost interest once the crank was turning and required daily attention to details to keep things running smoothly. He was criticized his whole life for his very strength. The people around him who had a knack for managing had no talent for getting things started; but once a venture was started, they criticized him for not having their talent for managing. Those criticisms cut deeply into his self esteem until he understood the value of his talent.

The key here is to identify our natural skills and abilities. How we use those talents is another issue. We choose virtue or vice; we use our gifts in the service of good or bad. It is, of course, difficult to write about emotional events in our lives, especially painful ones. But when you are writing your autobiography, try to portray the events of your life with accurate and honest descriptions. Leave out the moral judgments.

Try it. Pick one negative event from your life, and write about it according to the following format :

1. A clear statement of the activity (in one sentence)

2. What caused you to get started in the activity?

3. Write a detailed story of what you did, how you did it, where, when, and with whom. Stick to the facts. Focus on the how not the why.

4. What parts gave you the most sense of satisfaction and fulfillment?

5. Was there some significant reason you stopped the activity?

In my book JobJoy : Finding Your Right Work through the Power of Your Personal Story, I provide a format for charting and writing your stories quickly and easily.

From your stories, I generate a JobJoy Report. This report gets to the essence of who and what you are in terms of work. Career decision-making becomes easy. It taps into the motivations of each individual.

I analyze your stories and prepare a comprehensive detailed report that will identify and define your Key Success Factors. This report answers the questions: What are the natural talents you use and consistently bring satisfaction to you when you are doing what you enjoy most and doing it well? What is the subject matter that you gravitate to without even trying? What circumstances or conditions have to exist in the job environment to bring out the best in you? How do you naturally build relationships with others?

From this analysis we can generate an Ideal Job Description and match it with specific opportunities in the real world of work.