As a coach working with individuals in career transition or thinking about making one, clients often say to me “I want to reinvent myself and do something totally new.” When I ask why, the answer I hear the most is that they feel that their work isn’t valued.
On the surface, reinvention seems great – leave all past frustrations behind in order pursue a new, inspiring, fulfilling work. The difficulty with this expectation is that it’s often unrealistic and frequently, unachievable. Yet, open any magazine or tune in to a popular talk show, and one of the popular topics is reinvention.
It’s about running towards, not away from
Changing careers when done right can be very satisfying, but it’s not about running away from what bothers you. It’s about moving toward something you find meaningful and capitalizing on the skills and accomplishments you already have. Our society glorifies people that have thrown caution to the wind to try something new. Unfortunately, this sets an unrealistic expectation. Most people don’t have the financial luxury to leave a well paying job to open a country inn or a surf shop.
In his recent Harvard Business Review blog, Marc Freedman goes as far as to say, “Reinvention is not practical – or even desirable. On a very basic level, it’s too daunting. How many people have, Houdini-like, escaped the past and forged a whole new identity? The whole romance with radical transformation unmoored from the past – is both unrealistic and misleading. I think it is pernicious, the actual enemy of renewal.”
I am not suggesting that you stay in a toxic, unsupportive environment. If, after careful consideration, you realize that you can’t change the behavior of a negative manager, or are unable to transfer internally, it’s time to make a change. That, however, doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. One of my former clients whom I’ll call Thomas, a medical director of a pharmaceutical company, told me that he was leaving the field of medicine forever, after suffering in a position for two years that was not a good fit. After some time to reflect he realized that he still had contributions to make and decided to stay in the field – but only after leaving his employer and networking to find one that would value his unique skills and strengths.
Reintegration not reinvention
After studying mid-career changers who pursued social innovation after age 50, Freedman concluded that the people who did their best work did not reinvent themselves. Rather, they “reintegrated” their strengths and knowledge by honoring their experience and applying their skills in new and creative ways. My work with clients bears this out, as well. Those individuals, who recognize their skills, and interests and invest in researching how to transfer them in a new and refreshing way, are the ones who are the most satisfied. These changes need not be monumental. In the case of my client Thomas, he consulted to a pharmaceutical company to test the fit. As it turned out, the fit was excellent, and he joined the company as a full-time employee.
So, value your experience instead of casting it aside. You are likely to find that the investments you’ve made in you career are not wasted; they are waiting to be rediscovered.
Look before your leap
If you are unhappy in your current work situation, ask yourself the following:
- Do I get to do what I do best every day (or almost every day)?
- How can I reshape my role to better use my strengths?
- How will I feel about this situation 20 years from now?
- How have I handled difficult situations in the past?
- What is under my control at work?
- Do I have the financial resources to be out of work for a period of time? How long?
- What would I like to be doing that I’m not doing now?