STARTING YOUR CAREER OVER: YES, YOU CAN
by Cathy Alfandre
It happens to so many women: our careers get off track. Looking back, we can see that we were traveling a career path for a while, and at some point, we made a temporary stop, or took an interesting detour, or embarked on what seemed like a great journey.
But then time passed, and now we are NOT where we want to be. Take, for example:
- Elisa, who left a career in retail management to focus on raising her kids. She always dabbled with part-time work, mostly doing Mary Kay sales, and also loved her involvement in the PTA, church, and college alumni board. But she needs to get back to full-time work to contribute to the family finances. What can she do?
- Monica, who had a great career in local TV journalism, but can’t do it anymore. The hours and demands are too exhausting, with little time for family and no time for creative pursuits. She needs to do something different, but in what direction can she go?
- Chanel, who has been successful in a variety of jobs but has never quite found her purpose or passion. She feels confused and frustrated. She needs to work but doesn’t want to “settle” again for the wrong thing. What’s the best path forward?
As we contemplate a career do-over, often the first thoughts are questions, and they aren’t always very helpful questions… What am I qualified to do at this point? What if my skills are too rusty? What if I can’t find a position with work-life flexibility? What if I’m too old? How do I explain the gap on my resume? What should I even put on the resume? How do I find opportunities? Who would hire me?
These questions – and others like them – can become paralyzing, creating a spiral of worry, fear, and self-defeating thoughts. How to break out of the spiral and move forward?
Based on my work with Elisa, Monica, Chanel, and many others, here are a few recommendations to get things going:
Clarify your why. Why do you want to find new work? What will be different about your life? What, specifically, will you gain? How might others benefit from it? Write down your answers and add to them as your thoughts become clearer. Later, if your momentum wavers, you can come back to your own vision to motivate you.
Make “space.” Busy lives often leave little room for new undertakings. It’s important to set aside solid blocks of time, and if possible, quiet physical space to work on your career. You may also need to limit your involvement in other activities for a while; saying “yes” to something new usually means that you need to say “no”—explicitly—to something else.
Line up support. Forget about trying to do this yourself! Career change is rarely easy, and the path will seem endless if you try to walk it alone. The people in our support network encourage us to pursue our interests and dreams, give us honest feedback, help us find time and other resources, and pick us up when we stumble, get scared, or lose faith.
Write stuff down (and draw some pictures too if you want!). The mind is a confusing place when it gets filled up with a jumble of ideas, plans, inspirations, doubts, fears, and to-do lists. Use the writing (and drawing) process to capture, rework, and refine your emerging vision and goals... to clarify your interests… to confirm your skills and values… to make (and remember!) your plans…. Writing frees the mind for new ideas and possibilities.
Refresh and/or expand your skills and knowledge. Attend a workshop or take an online course. Try relevant work as a volunteer. Ask a contact if you can “shadow” them for a day. Take steps to learn and meet new people so that you can connect with information and resources that could bring you closer to work you want.
Expect to be scared. At various points in virtually every career shift, fear comes up. It comes in many forms: fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, fear of what others will think, fear of failure, fear of losing things you had before…. It’s tempting to run away, but remember: when you’re scared, that means you are stepping outside your comfort zone. And this is where good and new things start to happen!
Work is so important—as a source of money, identity outside the home, purpose, collaboration, self-expression, and more. For Elisa (who networked her way into university fundraising), Monica (who does communications consulting and is writing a novel), Chanel (who has a part-time job and is starting her own business), and for all of us, there is a path forward.
We CAN find work that fits our lives and satisfies our souls.
Cathy Alfandre is a Career Fulfillment Coach and Master Resume Writer based in Fairfield County, CT. She specializes in providing practical support for professionals and executives seeking greater fulfillment in their work. Cathy is a member of the Career Thought Leaders Consortium, the National Resume Writers Association, and the International Coach Federation.