Chapter 2: Seven Major Career Change Clangers

This chapter looks at seven major clangers (mistakes) my coaching clients and I encountered while changing careers or transitioning within an existing one. There may be others but these seven were significant enough to slow down progress.

1         Confusing career change and career transition.

2         Drinking the corporate kool aid.

3         Ignoring impulses.

4         Deskilling.

5         Blaming others.

6         Undervaluing success.

7         Fortress Me.

1. Confusing Career Change and Career Transition.

Based on my own experiences and also on those of my coaching clients, I think that a planned career change means a dramatic alteration from one path to another, while transition is usually a subset of change. Some changes can be quick but those are often in response to unplanned events such as redundancy or illness. It might seem obvious to say so at this point but I hope the message is clear for those readers still in paid employment and contemplating a planned career change – stay silent about your plans. Changing careers is not something that most managers or HR specialists will ever embrace with an enthusiasm equal to your own. Even coworkers, once they learn of your aspirations and plans, will equate your eventual success with extra work and problems for them. Unconsciously, their knowledge of your vision might delay or even derail it.

Readers will know their own family members and close friends better than any coach or career counselor could. Still, my general advice is to be careful in how you present your ideas about change to loved ones. Your definition of a wonderful new career, free from the baggage of toxic managers, endless overwork, and limited promotion prospects, may not sit well with what they have come to expect from you. This can be a topic of much friction for couples and families because the crux of the issues raised will tend to be about money – or the perceived future lack of it.

Okay, change is a big deal. So, what about career transition. What’s the difference for an employee?

Transition within your existing employer is often regarded as safer ground to tread on because there is almost no need to hide your plans from HR, or from your managers. Coworkers present a different dilemma in that they have some right to know about the effect on them of internal staff movements. It’s best to be guided by company policy in respect of updating the relevant teams and individuals.

Even a transition within a company can present problems for the unwary. For example, the opportunity may mean moving – sometimes to another country. There may be a legal requirement to resign from the current company and start over at the new one. This may be fine if both companies operate within the same tax and pension/benefits environment. In some cases, a transition between countries resets the pension and welfare benefits clock, perhaps to zero. This is because the employee has to resign as a local hire in one country and be rehired as a new local hire in another. To those readers familiar with the differences between permanent local hire status and temporary expatriate assignments, this may seem like a minor issue. However, even in large multinationals with access to relocation benefits specialists, there will be limits to their understanding and the advice they can offer. Do your own research before committing to a move that can have financial repercussions many years later.

A transition within IT, but to another unrelated company, is also a major move and should be handled with politeness and tact. (This is known as a resignation!) There is little to gain, and much to be lost, by adopting a scorched earth policy in respect of not completing handover documentation and project status up to the day of departure. Unless, of course, your resignation triggers an automatic ‘gardening leave’ where you serve out a mandatory notice period away from the workplace, with no access to company data or staff.

2. Drinking The Corporate Kool Aid

Drinking the corporate kool aid can be an intoxicating brew of optimism and pessimism, freedom and fear, empowerment and control. It’s not that corporate entities are inherently malevolent. After all, they consist of individuals. However, in my experience, many have a pathological impulse that compels them to act only in their own best interests.

I do not intend here to discuss the good and the bad of corporations. There are plenty of books and websites about that topic. The reason I draw attention to a brew of attributes more often associated with fallible humans, is that many people regard corporate self-interest as but a minor mutation in the organization’s cultural ‘DNA’.

The problem with this naïve approach is that corporations are ever vigilant of their own goals, and particularly of the costs and resources required to achieve them. If you have ever been through reorganization, rightsizing or other such rejiggings of the business structure, it should be obvious that significant time and energy goes into planning and executing these events. IT professionals are in a precarious position because they are, by definition, a necessary expense. An expense that many businesses would like to eliminate, or at least to reduce by whatever legal means e.g. by outsourcing, offshoring, onshoring and sundry operational excellence initiatives. (I am beginning to sound like one of these kool aid drinkers, sorry.)

It’s easy to be seduced by the idea that somehow we (employers and employees) are in this all together. Unfortunately, I’ve seen coaching clients elect to remain with an employer, and turn down a wonderful new opportunity elsewhere, because they felt they were among family, and couldn’t let them down. Six months later, a reshuffle happens and they get canned or shifted sideways into a dead-end role.

Don’t drink the kool aid.

Corporations, be they private or public, exist to make optimal use of minimal resource expenditures. There will be differences between countries and between politico-economic systems, but the old adage of “no one owes you a living” has more than a grain of truth to it.

How to resolve this contrast between the demands of the organization and your own? (I assume you have some demands of your own.) I recommend that you do what they do and establish yourself as a person of worth. The first step is to become your own private services company of one. This is an inner state of being. From that decision, impulses to act will begin to flow that are now dammed up deep down inside – unless you choose to ignore them. And here they come, right on cue.

3. Ignoring Impulses

Impulses? What are they? A surprising number of people I talk to feel that impulses are often best left alone. They treat their own impulses as deceptive sirens that well up from unconscious seas of dark and dangerous desires – pushing them off course and even pulling them under.

I think that impulses get a bad wrap and maybe, just maybe, they are the psyche’s equivalent of messages in bottles we ought to pay more attention to. The art of self-coaching is a safe way to start tuning into these constructive suggestions and helpful intents. And the more you trust in this art, the more likely it will be to prompt you and prod you and point out what will work.

This doesn’t mean throwing commonsense out of the window – quite the opposite. Use what you know to be right as a filter for either accepting or rejecting any impulses to act on career change or transition.

4. Deskilling

When is the last time you attended a training course paid for by your employer? When is the last time you invested money in your own vocational skills education?

For me, both questions are linked because when I look back on time spent as an employee, I recall passing up several opportunities to take first class training in a business skills area. Why did I skip them? Because I was ‘too busy.’ But now, as a solopreneur, I understand the real value such knowledge can deliver.

One skill set I’m glad I did get trained in was project management (PM). In 2001, I read an email about going on some PM training for Prince2 – a de facto standard in the UK. Signing up would mean a week away from work, some evening study, plus a written exam at the end of the course. I was tempted to say, “No thanks, too much work to catch up on later.” However, this was one occasion where a supportive management and learning culture made a subtle but real difference – they actively encouraged me to go on it!

Attention all managers, please reread the previous paragraph!

And so off we went, to a swanky Tokyo hotel no less, where the training was great – and the lunches even better. (I can remember struggling to stay awake during afternoon lectures.)

I completed the course, took the test and received my Prince2 Practitioner status some weeks later. The really cool thing was being able to apply the knowledge gained on many IT projects over the next five years. And most important of all – that very same skill set is still applicable today in running my own business projects.

Alas, some form of laziness must have got the better of me because I didn’t renew my certification status after leaving the corporate world. I am no longer a registered Prince2 practitioner but I still continue to use the skills on a regular basis.

Deskilling is something that can creep up on IT professionals. You can be doing your job well for years but realize too late that the skills required for this position are of limited value elsewhere.

Exercise 4: Skill Up!

Find a course that teaches a skill you are interested in and have a use for. Then make a business case for it, get the funding and go do it. You never know when it might come in handy one day.

5. Blaming Others

One of the unfortunate side effects of ‘blaming others’ is that it can delay the start of a career change journey and also hamper progress. So much time and energy is wasted when blaming others. For example, an acquaintance of mine complained of his frustrations at work so often that he locked himself into a belief system in which his predicament became everyone else’s fault but never his own. By invalidating others, he ended up disempowering himself.

He was never my coaching client but, even if he had been, I doubt that much would have changed. Why? Two beliefs in particular played key roles as jailers in his mental prison.

1         Rich people tend to be selfish.

This judgment isn’t rational and may have come from adults in his childhood or from uncritical acceptance of sensationalist ‘entertainment’ in the mass media.

2         Managers think only of the bottom line.

Well, experience has taught me that most managers do indeed think of the bottom line some of the time. But few of them think about it all of the time! And besides, bottom line thinking is no bad thing for a budget holder.

6. Undervaluing Success

There are many opportunities to use self-coaching tools when working with a major goal like career change. Making a ‘powerful request’ of yourself is one technique that can be very motivating. If you are fortunate enough to also have a professional coach who understands how you have been undervaluing your own success, it can be life changing.

In 2005, I used a powerful request as a self-coaching technique when in the preparatory stages of making a career change out of the corporate world I had inhabited for almost twenty years.

My powerful request to myself at that time was:

Begin working with my own coach from November 2005 on living more of my ‘ideal life’, which is based on the ‘If I had 12 months to live’ question.

Here are four key drivers that contributed to the effectiveness of this ‘powerful request’ technique:

1         Minimum Acceptance:

The minimum I would accept of myself is that living my ideal life begins now with even the smallest step towards it – and so I will make a powerful request of my coach today to work with me on this topic.

2         Bold Request:

The bold request I am making is to work with a coach to enjoy the process of bringing 100% of my ideal life into existence day by day.

3         Feelings:

It makes me feel like a genie is being let out of its bottle. My genie!

4         Potential Benefits:

Multiple benefits were present and waiting to show up. These included:

– Action itself will become a positive and enjoyable habit.

– Enjoyment of the journey more than any specific destination or goal.

The momentum generated by this and other powerful requests, ultimately led me to having sufficient courage to swap the lucrative Tokyo Investment banking IT world for a very different career universe – that of internet-based entrepreneurship.

Exercise 5: What’s your Powerful Request?

Try it and surprise yourself! At least make one up, even if you are not yet ready to implement it.

7. Fortress Me

Here’s why goal setting can annoy friends, family and the fainthearted. It’s not unusual for people to come back from inspiring personal development seminars, or after reading a life-changing book, ready to take action, only to be faced with indifference and even hostility from loved ones. Why is this the case and what can you do if it happens to you?

The relevance of what I have to say here will depend to some extent on the nature of your current relationships with friends and family. Not knowing your personal situation, I cannot be specific as to the outcome. What I do know is that there will be a reaction once you begin to implement your goals and make changes. Loved ones have grown accustomed to the old familiar you, warts and all. How dare you upset the psychological applecart by seeking change with all this goal setting nonsense!

One way of handling their reaction is to already anticipate it. Be prepared! In many human relationships an inbuilt survival element often expresses itself as, “What’s in it for me?” Remember, this is not necessarily a negative or selfish trait to be despised – it’s simply a reality of why some people are drawn to each other in the first place. Become aware of the impact your goal setting and changing life direction may have on those close to you. Resolve to see their side of it with as much compassion as you can muster. Now, this compassion doesn’t mean weakness, or imply a significant deviation from your chosen path. But it does suggest an openness to understand and perhaps, within reason, to compromise.

An example from a friend of mine may help to make the point. When John (not his real name) first announced he was leaving the corporate world to pursue his goal of starting a small business, his friends and family were at first surprised, even a little jealous. But then it dawned on his wife that not only would their income drop drastically during the unknown and possibly prolonged startup phase of the business, but that John would be working from home each and every day. For a woman well used to being a homemaker, this became a source of some friction between them. It didn’t help that their apartment was considered small even by Japanese standards.

How would you handle a situation like that? Stick to your guns and tell her that come what may, you’re going to be at that desk, in that apartment, every single day – even if it will take you ten years to achieve your goal? There are no easy answers here but it might be better for John to holster his pistols, and commence the delicate art of negotiation. From a compassionate viewpoint, you understand – and not with a, “I win, you lose” attitude.

I know of a few sad cases where this fear of upsetting others, especially loved ones, caused life-changing goals and dreams to be aborted by their creators. What a potential loss to the world! Even if you haven’t launched your dream goal or project, you can begin right now with the practice of loving compassion for those around you. One day you may be glad you did.

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