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. Initially, I buried myself in a whirlwind of action: doing and creating something new. 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.
At some point, many of you will experience a period of huge professional change. While for a few of you it might be intentional, for others it might feel like an unwanted intrusion into what has been a stable career. It is not managing external events so much as addressing emotional wear and tear of your inner self — a place that defines your essence, of who you are, which becomes an important part of career transition.
Emotions are triggered when redefining one’s sense of self. 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. People want to be respected and honored for who they are, and one’s chosen career is a big part of this equation.
Based on my work with multiple CEOs over the past four years — helping them navigate their career transitions and all the emotional baggage that comes with that — 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. This means that some of the feelings you experience today have nothing to do with present endings but are the product of past situations.
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?
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. ”
— Shyamli Rathore, Founder Sidman Learning Solutions share
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 fulfillment 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.’ Keep asking yourself, “What am I truly passionate about?” and use it as your personal compass to find career options where you can tune into elements of your passion. 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 is standing in the wings of your life waiting to make its entrance?
- 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. It might seem like everything has been said about all the latest management topics, but there is one story that hasn’t been told yet: yours. 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. Embrace, own and acknowledge your deep-knowledge skills. It takes courage to again put yourself out there in the market and share your life story.
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 things like this crisis are out of your control, you still have the power to understand and make sense of your new reality. 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 can this opportunity serve as a learning experience for you?
- How might you look back at this opportunity three years from now?
Managing the emotional baggage of career transitions in not easy. However, actively acknowledging, embracing and working through these emotions will help you move to a new beginning of your life with more sanguinity.