Light the Fuse: How to Reignite Your Career
By Stephen Dupont, vice president, Pocket Hercules
If you’re in the early stages of your career, it’s not difficult to find articles, books, workshops, seminars and much more offering advice and tips on how to get your career off on the right foot.But, what if you’ve worked for 15, 25 or 30 years and you find yourself kind of…drifting…not sure exactly what you want to do next in your career?
Maybe you’ve built an expertise in a specific field or industry, but you’re not sure if you want keep doing what you’re doing. Or, maybe you find yourself thinking that you could do so much more if someone would just recognize the potential hidden inside you. Or, maybe you’ve been gutting out the recession years in a job that’s been paying the bills, just waiting for a better opportunity to come along.
I’ve served as the ear to many professionals at various stages in their careers who have sought my advice on what they should do next. Through those conversations, I’d like to share a few insights on how you may want to approach the “What’s next in my career?” question. Whether you find yourself comfortably on autopilot or whether you’ve been forced to make changes due to circumstances outside of your control, here are some thoughts to consider:
Time is short. When you launch your career, it feels like you have a lifetime to accomplish the things that matter the most to you. But when you have 20 years or less of active work ahead of you, time suddenly matters. Sometimes you have to take a job to make ends meet. But, if you have room to maneuver, now is the time to focus on what will give you the satisfaction that your career soul craves. I’ve boiled it down to this: Cool people, Cool projects, Cool good (CCC). In other words: With the time you have left on this planet, work with cool people on cool projects that inspire you and do good for your community and the world.
Consider these questions: With the time left you have in your active working career, what cool people do you want to work with? What projects do you really, really want to tackle? What good is your work accomplishing for the communities with which you’re engaged?
Why do you do what you do? Many professionals often talk about their careers in tactical terms. “I did this or, I accomplished that.” The question that stops many people dead in their tracks is: “Why do you do what you do?” If you can’t hammer out a resounding response in 30 seconds, then you need to give this some thought. Now. Grab a notebook, take some quiet time alone to reflect on this question, write out your response, and then reflect on it some more. Time spent reflecting on this question is critical to setting goals for your future self, and igniting the changes to get you there. For some, wrestling with this question is like climbing a mountain.
Don’t isolate yourself. Pull together a small group of people to help you think through your career options and to generate ideas. That’s the advice of life coach Richard Leider, who co-authored “Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities” with Fast Companyfounder Alan Webber. “What’s your reason for getting up in the morning?” says Leider, who suggests that senior professionals check out www.lifereimagined.com to think about how to write the story for the second half of their career. “It’s critical that you don’t do it alone. You need to surround yourself with people you trust, who will listen to your story without judgment, who will inspire you, and who will challenge you to act as you reimagine your future.” When you pull together this group of people, look for a variety of perspectives to give you a richer, fuller picture of the road ahead — someone who’s really good at listening. Another person who’s great at developing new ideas. A third person who won’t mince words.
Start digging your well. Business guru Harvey Mackay has said, “Dig your well before you’re thirsty.” Building a solid network is critical to absorbing career and life shocks. Don’t wait until you’re facing a layoff to suddenly start contacting friends and peers that you haven’t talked to in years. Fill out your LinkedIn profile completely. Make time to meet with people face-to-face. And look for opportunities to help others who are facing fork-in-the-road career decisions by giving them the best of your wisdom (I call this the Law of Good Karma). Make the time to do informational interviews. Use your experience and wisdom to serve as a mentor. Send a friend an inspirational book or an article. Encourage a friend to try something new, such as writing a blog. The bottom line is this: you need to put yourself out there to gain the trust of others. There are no short cuts to this process, so start now and keep doing it for the rest of your life.
Find your voice. Many professionals work in the shadows of the brands, organizations or leaders whom they represent or support. Many of us have been trained trained to allow others to take the glory for our strategic thinking or creativity. With all of the experience and wisdom you’ve collected over the course of your career, now is the time to find your voice and give expression to your wisdom. A great example of this is the blog Subject Matter Expert (SME), written by Patrick Hirigoyen, a senior-level public relations professional located in St. Paul, Minn. After working for many years for a large and well respected insurance company, Hirigoyen found himself confronting one of those “What’s next?” moments…and not by choice. After a long search, he rebounded and started his own consulting practice. More importantly, he gave rise to his valuable experience by starting his blog, SME. Other senior professionals are giving voice to their experience in other ways – through teaching, writing articles and books, and hosting webinars.
Stay current. According to Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You, it’s critical for all professionals, regardless of age, to stay current with technology. I watch my middle-school daughters put together presentations in Powerpoint, create cool videos on their smartphones, and share documents with their classmates and teachers on Google Docs and I’m absolutely amazed by their ability to inhale new technology to express their stories and knowledge. But for some people, keeping up with the latest and greatest in new technology can be very frustrating. Hard-earned skills seem somehow less relevant when everyone is enamored with the latest social media fad. Instead, view it as a call to action! Stop citing your age as an excuse. Use social media and other technology as a laboratory to test different types of communications, based on your knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.
Get fit for the marathon. The first part of your career may have felt like a sprint, but the second half is going to feel like a marathon. Part of staying current is adopting a change mindset. As you look ahead, it’s time to open up the box. Dump the possessions that you don’t need anymore. Stop eating crap and start walking or running everyday. Dump the toxic people in your life. Start healthy new habits to replace bad old habits. Buy some new threads. Challenge long-held ideas by talking to others, face-to-face, whose ideas may contradict your views. And start surrounding yourself with people, books, travel and anything else that inspires you and helps you appreciate new perspectives. Exercise that change muscle!
Test your dreams. Thinking about exploring a different path within the public relations field, or trying something completely new? Before you do, Clark advises giving your idea a test drive before jumping in with two feet. After taking an early retirement from his job as a marketing director for a small manufacturing firm, one of my friends decided that for the second half of his life, he wanted to become a college professor of the Italian language and literature. He tiptoed into his new life by going back to college, taking some Italian language classes, and moving to Florence for a year to test out his new life. And he loved it. You could do begin a similar journey by taking a day or week of vacation and job shadowing another professional.
As the band Rush sang in their song Freewill: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Not doing anything is a choice. But please, don’t wait for a crisis to force yourself to make a change — a change that may make you more unhappy or unsatisfied with your career than you already are. Through goal setting and by taking an active role in connecting with others and re-connecting with your passions, you’ll reduce your risks to change, you’ll feel more alive than ever, and you’ll invite new opportunities to come into your life. CCC.
Stephen Dupont, APR, is VP of Public Relations and Branded Content for Pocket Hercules (www.pockethercules.com), a hybrid brand marketing firm based in Minneapolis. Contact Stephen Dupont at www.linkedin.com/in/stephendupont.