Last week, a cab driver in New York City looked at me through his rear-view mirror and asked me if he should leave his wife. Traveling from mid-town Manhattan to downtown during rush hour left us plenty of time to discuss the issues he faced in his relationship and the merits of staying versus leaving. My parting advice to him came down to this: life is short so be happy.
Strangely, the question didn’t faze me. There is something about the New Year so closely within grasp that makes us want to explore life’s endless possibilities, both personally and professionally. I realized this New Year’s phenomenon, where we crave reinventing ourselves into something better, influenced my own personal career decisions. For example, one year ago I made the leap from the corporate world to the life of an entrepreneur. I set that stage for that transition two years ago at this time.
“The New Year gives us permission to have a fresh start,” observed Lesley Parrott, of Lesley Parrott consulting, which focuses on executive consulting and corporate training. She recounted that in Scotland, where she was born, everyone cleans their houses for the New Year, and it’s a symbolic time to clean other parts of your life as well. While some turn to gyms while others focus on their professional lives.
Unfortunately, embarking on a major life career change remains more complicated than cutting out high-caloric muffins. The impact on one’s financial security and relationships can be paralyzing.
Dr. Susan Ziebarth, an Ottawa-based business and career coach observed that many women in her practice place a lot of emphasis on how a career change will impact their loved ones, including their children, their spouse, their aging parents – even their family pets. This leads them to wait until they hit a breaking point in their work -life that feels unbearable.
“When women get stuck in a rut they tend to work as though they are in an endurance event, keeping your head down and your nose to the grindstone so that everything works on a daily basis. When they are in this mechanical lifestyle they tend to lose sight of what makes them happy,” said Dr. Zeibarth.
Her advice to these women draws from the instructions a stewardess imparts before an airplane takes off: put on your own oxygen mask first before helping anyone else.
New Years isn’t the only impetus for change. For some “reinvention” can be sparked by life events. Formerly an on-camera entertainment reporter, Kathy Kastner noticed when she became pregnant that she stopped caring about what “influenced the stars” and preferred to hear what their mothers thought of their career choice.
Her first major “reinvention” was sparked by a prenatal class 26-years ago. Her instructor recognized her from TV and for her help on a video series that gets parents thinking about the baby, not just the labour and delivery. That led to the “Mom’s the Word” parenting series and eventually evolved into HealthTV, which broadcasted in hospitals across North America. The transition from entertainment to the health industry ended up being a major change.
“To sound knowledgeable, I really had to understand the nuances and complexities of health conditions,” recalled Ms. Kastner. She also needed to adopt the appropriate jargon in order to be taken seriously by sponsors and advertisers. “I often felt I was in a crash pre-med course,” she quipped.
In her latest act of re-invention, Ms. Kastner moved from focusing on good health to a “good death” after discovering through social media outlets a group of healthcare professionals who lamented the lack of knowledge most patients have about end of life issues. To support that goal, Ms. Kastener launched the site BestEndings.com, which required another steep learning curve to bring the topic to a digital world.
For others, an evolving economy translates into new opportunities for re-invention. Yvonne Hunter, formerly the vice-president of publicity and marketing at Penguin Canada decided to make the switch to focus on e-book publishing, following the digital shift in the industry. She began her own publishing consulting firm and now works with 3 or 4 start-ups while continuing to explore new options.
“Change, particularly if sudden, can be gut-wrenching,” admitted Ms. Hunter, remarking that celebrities like Madonna make reinvention look easy but in reality the process can be isolating. She advises those embarking on the process to surround themselves with trusted advisors.
“Tom Ellsworth, author of The Rat, The Race and The Cage and CEO of Premier Digital Publishing, gave me this advice: hope is not a method. Career transition requires focus, adaptability and brutal honesty,” recounted Ms. Hunter.
“He also pointed out it would change my life for the good. And it has,“ she added.