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Your Second-Act Career Change

How to avoid a return to “normal” after Corona-Pause. By Joanne Socha

I’ve spoken to numerous people and the mantra across the board seems the same: they don’t want to go back to their jobs and lives pre-coronavirus pause. They have discovered something wonderful: an opportunity for growth and healing, and a desire to change course. One client cried, “I love the sea change I’ve experienced and I want more of the same. How can I change my life, change my job, but not throw out the baby with the bathwater?” 

Are you longing for a new direction in work/career but are lacking a financier or benefactor like Kip in Great Expectations?

Not to worry. I pulled off my dramatic mid-life career change slowly at first, and on a shoestring budget. The challenging part was the inner work I had to do to leave the old behind and perform a complete table flip. Travel back in time with me for a spell as I snake through my transition from lawyer to luxury travel designer. At the end, I will share five transitional tips!

I had 10 years of unfortunate events, albeit with a happy ending. These included protracted illness of a spouse, death of both parents, and divorce, to name a few. While I loved my occupation in law, I felt a calling to give more. Resolving boundary line disputes and bankruptcy filings wasn’t cutting it: while I did love supporting women through will contests and divorces I knew I had to leave, even though it’s “once a lawyer, always a lawyer.” Eminem’s quote “Success is my only option, failure’s not” became my mantra, so I had to make a new gig work. Otherwise, I only knew how to do two things: waitress or practice law. 

So I jumped! Way before lawyering, though (yes, age three), I donned my first tutu and decided that I wanted to be a prima ballerina. I studied classical ballet for all of my young years, and boy did I put in the time! However, I realized around the age of 18 after having been accepted to several prominent colleges for dance that I was too tall at the time, and I wasn’t good at it early enough. Thus, I quit, giving up on the dance, and myself as well.

It took me a decade to realize that my decision had been a wise one for me, and that I needn’t regret it. I had a true turning point moment in my early thirties from… of all things, the film The Turning Point.

If you haven’t seen the movie and are interested in dance, beautiful people and fine acting it’s excellent. It stars Leslie Browne and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the former as a young dancer in the film (as she was in real life). Years after the movie came out I had several occasions to get to know Leslie, as she was friends with my former husband. At the time she was the prima ballerina with the American Ballet Theater, a very beautiful dancer and a lovely person as well. 

Unbeknownst to us, we would re-enact a similar scene from the film after one of her performances. I can’t remember the specific ballet, but I’ll never forget Leslie and her dancing- and being so moved by her performance. At the end she was showered with roses and numerous curtain calls, the applause itself was resounding. We went backstage and chatted. 

I had just had my first son three months earlier, and had also done the whole lawyer thing. I had to take time off for reasons I won’t recount here, so I was home with him and it was wonderful; I was very happy. Backstage with Leslie, I was in awe! It was then that we had our Shirley McLaine/Anne Bancroft interaction (minus the animosity), the only difference being that they were older in the film and near the completion of their respective career choices. One had the brilliant career as a dancer, the other didn’t, and there was a mutual longing for each others’ lives. 

I wistfully said to Leslie “You’re so incredible and it was such a beautiful performance. You are so lucky and…”, Leslie nonetheless rebuffing whilst looking at me “You have a husband and you have a beautiful son, and….” at that moment I felt like we were performing an outtake from the film. Our manner wasn’t competitive at all, though; it was rather sweet with mutual respect, where we were both being kind of introspective about our lives and what we had put aside in order to pursue something else. Right then and there I realized I didn’t have to regret giving up on the dancing or myself, perhaps in that dancing wasn’t meant for me but for something more beautiful was allowed to arise in its place.

That was my internal turning point, and there have been several others since. I’m thankful for the hills and valleys in life, and now we all have the opportunity to embrace corona-pause as our own personal repositioning. Right now, and not next week or next year. Perhaps, then, you are at a turning point in your life. Perhaps you have shelved your career, are working on Wall Street miserable, running a third world country, or are CEO of your household. Perhaps you are questioning what you left behind, and want to come to terms with regret and make new choices. 

I’d like to share with you the five steps I implemented to flee my life as a lawyer to become a luxury travel designer, coach and author.

No. 1: Don’t listen to the naysayers of your dreams, so don’t share them (yet). 

When I decided to become a luxury travel designer, two of my sisters were very negative. One said I would never make a dime, the other asked me why I would stop being a lawyer. “Just go be a lawyer”, she screamed! Of course I could have stayed on that path. I had a nice stable of clients, but I just didn’t feel like I was really helping anyone and making a big enough difference. Therefore, I decided not to take counsel from other people until I had solid footing (or a design, at least) in my new endeavor. 

No. 2: Earn your bread and butter.

This was told to me by a friend! It doesn’t mean you just stay stuck ram-in-a-rut style in a job where you are miserable because of the money, complacent or even fearful at the prospect of a new gig. What it means is that you take a step in the direction that you want to go but you keep earning, nonetheless… Unless you have a financier. Even then, it isn’t great for your self-esteem to rely on another person for funding. Perhaps for a short-term measure, but try quickly to create revenue from it. “Always make sure your talent and autonomy are growing.”

No. 3: Listen to your lure.

Even if you are clueless, as I was after my law practice, listen to your lure. 

Oh, I thought I’d transition into a leadership role in a non-profit, but found out rather quickly it wasn’t for me! … But it was part of the thread that led me into the travel business and I followed it, taking steps in that direction; my self-esteem grew so much that I was hired to reposition someone else’s company. It was all part of my journey to today. My lure was travel, but in the end it was just the backdrop: I became my own catalyst for change.

No. 4: Be willing to be demoted.

Be willing to take a step back or even two steps back, and be uncomfortable in a lesser position. I was a lawyer and I’m proud of that, because I worked hard to accomplish it and I had my own practice; it was certainly gratifying, but I had to be willing to throw it away. The lady lawyer persona and all that came with, including the three-piece suit. I threw it into the wind without so much as a backwards glance, much like my great grandmother had done with her scarf when she lost sight of Sweden’s shores en route to America. Then I was able to see what I wanted to do and what I was capable of doing post-law. I knew deep down that I would accomplish whatever I set out to do. Now you do the same. 

No. 5: Superimpose the old on the new. 

Perhaps you have done this before- I hope it is in a new light under today’s different circumstances.

I didn’t bring my tutu, but I brought all of my lawyering skills- my counseling and listening skills, troubleshooting problems and finding solutions. What can you bring? CEO at home after having shelved your career? Believe me, your day-to-day organization is priceless.

Pour your life’s expertise up to this point into the next phase… And I’ll be the first to throw flowers at your feet.

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