Five steps to reinvent yourself

Jan 09 2007 by Patricia Soldati Print This Article

For most of us, making significant career change doesn't just happen, it emerges as a result of thoughtful work executed in a meaningful sequence.

Each of you has a working identity – and it has nothing to do with your title or how much money you make.

Your working identity is the result of many years of work experience - what you do, who you do it with and the story that you tell about how you got where you are. Often, imbedded in that story is a "defining moment" – some turn of events where you settled in, believing that it was the right path for you.

According to Herminia Ibarra, author of "Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Re-inventing Your Career", changing careers requires creating new experiences, new relationships and, ultimately, developing a new story about how you landed in your new role.

Ms. Ibarra is a former Harvard professor now at the French business school, Insead, whose work in this field is extraordinarily well-researched. She interviewed scores of successful career changers and in every case, found that these individuals experimented with new roles, networked beyond established circles of colleagues and friends, and from these activities, a new identity-story emerged.

In fact, Ms. Ibarra's findings have created a new model for career changers: "test and learn" versus the traditional model promoted by most career counselors, "plan and implement".

She reasons - quite rightly I think - that's it's tough to go directly from your head (planning) into a new career (doing). You found your first career by bumping around a bit, so why should your next career be any different?

Yet, as good as Ms. Ibarra's 'test and learn' model is, let's not toss out the baby with the bath water. Some degree of soul-searching is necessary because if you're like most mid-career changers, you probably skipped this phase the first time around - which is precisely why you find yourself in the predicament you are in.

When you were younger, you engaged in external activities and went on a job hunt. Now, it's time to backtrack! Finding work you love starts by understanding how you are wired on the inside - and it can take anywhere from one to three years!

The Biggest Mistake

As a seeker of fulfilling work, you might feel that you should intuitively know what it is you want to do for future work, and even assume that there is only ONE right livelihood for you. Too often, clients say that when that breakthrough livelihood didn't magically appear after some brief mulling, the conclusion was "there is nothing out there for me".

The truth is that those who "just know" what it is they want to do in life are relatively few – and exceptionally lucky. For most of us, significant career change only emerges as a result of thoughtful work executed in a meaningful sequence. Often what results is not one, but multiple, interests that could play a role in shaping one's new livelihood.

5 Steps To Re-Inventing Yourself

Finding meaningful work requires these five steps:

1. Soul Searching –identify not only your skills, but also your deepest values, interests, and motivational preferences. This results in the creation of a "new career profile" – a robust list of "clues" to your future work.

2. Identifying Options. Here you use your profiling "clues" from Step 1 to brain- and heart-storm as many possibilities for future work as possible. This is one of the most creative and energizing parts of the change process

3. Testing. Via informational interviews, research, networking, job shadowing, etc, explore your best one or two options and avoid costly mistakes by jumping to a solution too fast.

4. Crafting Your Transition Plan. Out of your testing comes a clear path – where you can set a specific career goal and outline the steps to get you there. At a minimum, your transition plan addresses the training you will need (if any), how long it will take, and what financial reserves will be required and how you will build them.

5. Implementation. During Implementation, you begin to put pieces of your transition plan into action. You may begin a course of study, reduce your expenses, if warranted, and/or even make physical preparations such as relocation or building a home office. To minimize your personal and financial risk, you want to do as much of this as possible while you are still working.

Career change is an intriguing creature. On one hand, it's a wiggly, non-linear process which can have many uncomfortable moments. On the other, if you love life and want yours to be rich and fulfilling, it is one of the most rewarding accomplishments you'll ever undertake.

As one who has navigated this bumpy terrain, I can honestly say that the upside of having work I love far outweighs the downside of a sticky process. Or, as Ken Jacobsen, my friend and fellow corporate escapee, puts it, "When you have the right calling card - to your soul - your world just lights up."

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About The Author

Patricia Soldati
Patricia Soldati

Patricia Soldati is a former President & COO of a national finance organization who re-invented her working life in 1998. As a career fulfillment specialist, she helps corporate professionals enhance their working lives – both within the organization – and by leaving it behind.