Some people have been doing their bit in a role for 15, 20 or even 30 years. They may have loved it or have stuck at it for other reasons — supporting their families, for instance — but whatever the case, they’ve been sufficiently comfortable with it to be able to stay all that time.
But now they’re having a rethink. They feel it’s time for a change. Sure, they might consider stopping work altogether, but no. They still have some fuel in the tank and they want to see where it might take them. Sometimes that desire for a change is accelerated by circumstances. New technology is introduced to the workplace, there are new regulations or a new competitor enters the market and the whole sector is radically altered.
Take Ellie, for instance. She’s been teaching French in secondary schools for 30 years. She’s had enough of the classroom, and all the backroom admin, budgeting and politics are getting her down. She wants a change. Does she want to retire? Heck, no. She wants to do something else. She wants a second career. She just doesn’t know what it is yet.
In his book, 'The Second Curve', management writer Charles Handy points out the increasing extent to which we must be responsible for our own careers in what is becoming a less permanent and more fluid working environment. This may mean setting ourselves up as one-person businesses, with customers rather than colleagues and superiors, adapting our offer to changing needs and circumstances. In 'The Empty Raincoat' he terms this a ‘portfolio career’ — and Ellie is standing on its threshold.
Ellie’s next step is probably going to be daunting. She needs to embark on a new course, and she needs to get moving while she has the time, energy and enthusiasm.
It’s like the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Harrison Ford is on a quest. The ancient text tells him he must take a leap of faith — but when he gets to the right place he finds a gaping chasm. This doesn’t look like a leap of faith at all. It looks like lunacy. In employment terms, I call this the 'Second Career Curve Crisis'. Sure, it’s scary. It’s a radical step out into the unknown, a major change from our current career path.
What’s Ellie going to do? She’ll think about it. She’ll take stock of who she is, what she knows and what she likes. She’ll probably discuss it with family and friends —perhaps even with other people her age who’ve reached the same point.
Now she takes that step out into the big unknown. For her, it’s taking early retirement from the classroom and moving to France to start up a small garden centre. Why? Because when she looked at herself, when she talked about it with friends, she realised her great passions were the French way of life and gardening, and that something she’d always wanted to do was work for herself, rather than her salary.
Who knew a teacher could run a business start-up? Ellie did. What’s more, she thought of a business she’d love in a place she also loved. So what if her garden centre doesn’t go global? If it gives her a living she’ll be happy — and if it grows and prospers, well, better still.
We may not all be as lucky as Ellie. If we don’t have a generous early retirement pension, the real challenge will be to prepare to step into the unknown while we’re still on our first career curve. This involves thinking very differently about our futures while we still have the baggage of the here and now — and that’s not always easy.
However, we’ll probably be like Ellie in other respects. First, it needn’t be a step we take alone: we all have networks of friends and colleagues, and we can all tap into the online world to seek advice and swap knowledge and opinions. Next, it needn’t be a step entirely into the unknown — not if we, like her, do some prep work. We need to take stock of who we are and what we want and see what the implications might be. “If I want to run my own garden centre in France I’m going to need to research X, Y and Z”. And next, it needn’t be alarming. What seems to be so can sometimes morph into something exhilarating — something we, like Ellie, grow to see as an exciting opportunity. As Charles Handy says, “For the first time in the human experience, we have a chance to shape our work to suit the way we live instead of our lives to fit our work. We would be mad to miss the chance.”
"Only in the leap from the lion's head will he prove his worth." he tells himself — and that's exactly what he does.
If you feel the need to make a radical career change and you’d like a sounding board please get in touch. We’d be happy to chat. And it might just help you find the best job you ever had.