On a cold winter afternoon in February 2011, I found myself sitting on the steps in New York’s Times Square. In one of the most densely crowded places in the world, I had never felt more alone. My professional confidence was annihilated, and I was undergoing a tsunami of deep identity crisis and shame. The day before, I had finished a review meeting with my boss where she informed me that I was possibly going to be let go. Sitting on those steps I kept on thinking: If I’m not my role and my work, then who am I?
In the nine years since, I have built a successful consulting practice. And while I exulted in the excitement of building my consulting work, underneath all that action were festering emotions that I refused to acknowledge and address in a timely manner.
According to Gallup research, 55% of people in the U.S. define themselves by their job, instead of considering it something that they do to earn a living. If your job or career changes, then you’ll likely need to adjust your self-image, too.
Here are some ways in which you can address the emotional side of your career transition.
Create rituals for closure
Each transition carries an ending. It means you have reached the point where you’re moving from one chapter of your story to the next. Externally, what might emerge is a new job or new career, but internally, it brings a renewed sense of self with an exciting new reality. You need to understand your own way of dealing with endings. Look back at your book of life and examine the patterns on how you have dealt with this. As you begin to reflect on your old reaction to endings, you are likely to realize that your old mindset is being reactivated in the present when something ends in your life.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What should you let go in your life?
- If you had to give a title to the chapter of your work life that is drawing to a close, what would that title be?
- What did you do in this chapter that created maximum value for you and for others?
Listen deeply to your internal voice
The Cherokee people have a saying, “Pay attention to the whispers so you won’t have to hear the screams.” Culturally, monetary success and professional prestige is highly valued, and people find a sense of fulfilment when they have ‘achieved ….’ The ever-moving “when” gets renegotiated the moment it is about to be reached, creating a mirage to ensure your everlasting unhappiness. Career transitions in midlife often happen from being motivated by the chance of finding deeper personal meaning in the work moving from ‘what’ to ‘why.’ . Create your balanced scorecard for your career satisfaction. This could encompass financials, quality of work/life, family time and whatever else matters to you.
Explore the answer to some of these questions:
- What are some of the values that you want to live your life by?
- What would you do if you were not afraid?
- Imagine yourself as a 90-year-old. Have that 90-year-old write a letter to you about a life well lived. What professional achievements would that 90-year-old be proud of?
Celebrate and share your unique story
Reinventing yourself can be daunting. As a successful leader, your expertise is taken for granted. Now you must learn to talk about yourself and your expertise again, which can be uncomfortable. What are your unique life experiences, and what obstacles did you overcome to reach your current position? When you’re standing at a crossroads in your life, tap into the deep vein of skills and expertise that is unique to you.
Answer some of these questions:
- What is your unique superpower that sets you apart in your work?
- What are some of the success factors that made you handle some of the complex situations in your professional journey so far?
Times of crisis, like this pandemic, might push you to make some career choices from your higher-level needs of self-actualization. Look at career opportunities that meet your survival needs. This might make you feel you are moving backward; it can feel frustrating, and oftentimes, you might even feel like a failure. While in the short term you might have to choose practical goals over aspirational ones, looking at the situation from a long-term lens will help you build strength.
Ask yourself some of these questions to build on your resilience:
- How have you dealt with setbacks in your life so far?
- What are the lessons learned that you could use for the current opportunity?
- How might you look back at this opportunity three years from now?
Actively acknowledging, embracing and working through these emotions will help you move to a new beginning of your life with more sanguinity.