Enjoying the birdsong and flowering plants in my garden, I was struck by how life had changed. From a thrill-seeking teenager, to my 20s establishing my career, into my 30s where I knew that career needed to change. By the time I hit my 40s I was seeking a quieter pace of life and a career which made my heart sing but felt anxious about creating further change. An ever-present voice in my head asking what people would think of another change, didn’t help. My personal life meanwhile had taken many twists and turns and things young me had wanted, didn’t seem so important and vice versa, so why did I think my career should be any different?
However, I’m not alone in this hesitation; my career coaching clients often come to me feeling stuck and frustrated. They’re held back by a career which no longer serves them, if it ever did, but they’re afraid to make a change. The concept of a job for life, however, is gone, with an agile career full of re-designs, twists, and turns, the de rigueur in the modern workplace. This means if you chose the wrong career trajectory, or loved your career in your 20s but it no longer serves you in your 40s, 50s or beyond, then it is ok to keep changing.
The truth is, life is short. And becoming increasingly aware of this, we question our purpose, our future, our happiness. As women we may go through similar stages of life, but like our physical responses to menopause will vary, so too will our emotional journeys or what we want from life, including our career.
But creating a career plot twist is easier said than done, so here are some top tips for managing an agile career. These have been developed from my work with clients, alongside my own personal journey from Careers Professional, to corporate Learning and Development, to establishing a successful business combining the two.
The ‘you’ in your career
Many clients arrive frustrated with a job that isn’t working for them but no idea what next. They focus on the job title and anticipate changing with one large jump.
Instead, I ask clients to move focus from the job to themselves. As I did with my own career moves, reflect on your values, what matters to you. These may be the same, similar, or completely different to those you had when you were younger. For example, as we reach midlife, many seek greater meaning in the work we do, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. Appreciating this value gives a platform to then seek job titles which will meet this need.
It is also useful to evaluate the past. I began my career change journey evaluating my career to date and realised that the times I had been unhappy, or less successful, were when my values had not been met. Even jobs which had once met my values, such as helping others when I worked in Education, were no longer meeting this value because with budget and time constraints I no longer felt I could help. And that meant it was time to move on.
I also encourage clients to think about small steps in their career journey rather than giant leaps. This prevents either getting overwhelmed or putting up barriers, like assuming they’ll have to start at the bottom again before checking if this is true. With transferable skills and the right attitude, it often isn’t.
Think of your agile career as a series of re-designs requiring small steppingstones not necessarily in a straight line. Completing qualifications, work experience, sideways moves, informational interviews, and networking, can all help you get a ‘foot in the door’ and not have to start from the bottom.
Career change doesn’t always have to mean complete change either. The modern workplace is now full of people running portfolio careers (doing several part time roles) and side-hustles, such as setting up a business alongside a paid position. For some these are permanent moves that work for them, for others a steppingstone to where they want to be.
Not all superheroes wear tights
Transferable skills and strengths are superpowers, and steppingstones, for an agile career. You don’t have to be a tights-wearing superhero, but reflecting on your transferable skills, your vast experience and knowing your worth, are all important. Letting others know as well is crucial. Be ‘unashamedly you’ and develop your personal brand so that everyone knows what that is. A conversation I regularly have with clients is about their use of LinkedIn. Few use it for anything other than job hunting when they’re seeking a new role.
They’re missing a trick.
People want to do business with people; building a brand online and in person, becoming liked, known, and trusted for what you stand for and are capable of, will smooth transitions and ensure success. Your brand should include a growth mindset; I always include on clients’ CVs that they have the ability to learn and grow, which means if they don’t know how to do something yet, they certainly can learn.
Career management tools
With career movement there will invariably be ‘what ifs’ and sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith. However, career change can be tough and it’s important to look after your mental health and assess your resilience levels. Linda Stephens, Women’s Wellness Trainer agrees, advising that it is ‘critical to factor in adrenal care (stress release practices) as during midlife, women are not producing the same level of hormones as they were, to be able to naturally cope’.
Which is why it’s also important to get support, such as from a career coach. Throughout my major career pivots, I have always sought help from other coaches. Having a sounding board, such as a coach, can pay dividends and help you lay strong foundations for an agile career and exciting future ahead; whatever twists and turns may come your way.
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