For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen my live tweets from last week’s Exceptional Women in Publishing Conference (#ewip2014). I was asked by a friend on one of the panels to cover their session as a way of practicing my tweeting skills. The bug bit me and I ended up tweeting all day long. One of the other sessions I attended was How to Manage Transitions and Grow Your Own Career. This was of interest to me not only because of my work, but also because I have gone through my own personal journey with several transitions throughout my life. With all this first hand experience with transitions, I was interested to hear what others had to say.
This distinguished panel included successful women in media: Amanada Enayati (Columnist , CNN Health), Cynthia Samuels (Partner, The Cobblestone Team), Peggy Northrup (Editor-in-Chief, Sunset), and Sarah Granger, (Founder, Center for Technology, Media & Society). There were some real gems to take away, like asking yourself “What am I learning?” and defining “What does a sustainable life look like?” Entrepreneurship in-between jobs was encouraged. The overall storyline was about unplanned transitions that (im)posed new challenges and how they were able to rise above it. It’s a great, inspiring theme—in fact, I’ve blogged about it before (When Stepping Down is a Step Up). What I wanted to contribute to the dialogue was a different storyline: how one can purposefully plan for a happy transition to a new career. As I was not a panelist in this case, I chose to bite my tongue, hear more from others, and then blog about it. And here we are.
My website bio talks about my previous life as a corporate executive before transitioning to a portfolio career. This panel at ewip inspired me to be introspective about my own experience. I believe enough time has passed since my transition and now I can share some pearls of wisdom gathered thus far:
1. Not all transitions are bad. Human nature (our fight/flight instinct) has trained us to fear change. Organizations employ change management to address this for the many transitions that come with running a business. Having managed lots of change initiatives I can tell you that though the initial reaction is typically shock and fear, there is often an equal amount of opportunity that can come from it. One’s response should be to leverage it. Get used to change, and you will master it. It is a matter of taking this perspective and allowing it to guide your actions. The undesirable alternative is to base your actions on fear, and where does that leave you? Opportunity rules!
2. Not all transitions are unexpected. This is something I wanted to share during the session at the conference. It took me a few years to realize this and bring it to life, but my transition was planned. Transitions don’t have to be sprung upon or imposed on you. In fact, you could decide to make a transition if you wanted to on your own. This means you can plan ahead for a transition whether you are planning to make one or not, and you’ll be prepared. I oftentimes ask people what their dream job would be. There are the lucky few that are living their dream jobs today, but many people would rather be doing something else. If you are not where you want to be, you can actually do something about it. Plan a transition with purpose, and purposefully. It will feel much better to choose things on your own timing rather than have it happen to you.
3. Build and maintain your network all the time, and especially before you need it. Everyone knows how important networking is, but few live by it. I know people that are typically very social, but when you put in the “networking” terminology, they are turned off or they act differently. There are others who call upon their network only when they need it, but otherwise disappear. Networking is about relationships. Cultivating your network is building relationships. You will need your network to help you. Conclusion? Make the time. We are all busy, but social media has made it much easier to keep in touch. It takes all of 10 seconds these days to send a simple “how are you doing?” to someone. If you don’t leave too much time between meetings you can actually catch up over a short coffee break or phone call. Personally, I have found networking to be extremely fun these days. I’m meeting people I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t make the effort, and I love hearing about their experiences.
4. Give more than you take. When it comes to networking, no one likes a serial taker. If you want your network to work for you, then you have to put some skin in the game and build good karma. Introduce people to each other and help solve people’s challenges by getting them the right resources, even if you don’t stand to directly benefit from it. Offer help cheerfully and readily. The good stuff will come back to you in different ways. I promise. People will be willing to help you more when you need it if they know you would do the same for others.
5. Expect good and bad days. When you are in the in-between, it’s easy to feel unmoored. Again it is a matter of perspective on which direction you want to go—do you want the good days to keep you going, or let the bad days get you down? With every journey you will experience both good and bad days. Anticipating this means that there will be no surprises and you can prepare how you will cope with the good and the bad. Every day is a new day. That means your longest bad day will be 24 hours max. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it—that’s what your friends, family, and network are there for. This is coming from me, who is reluctant to “owe” others and to ask for help. I’ve learned that it isn’t always about that, especially if you aren’t a serial taker.
6. Find energizers, build self-motivation. Without the structure of whatever “business as usual” was for you, it is up to you now to drive things from within. With transitions comes some form of flexibility. You get to structure your own life. How do you want to spend your days? What activities energize you when you need it? What’s it going to take to get things done? Most importantly, you must hold yourself accountable. Other things to expect in the self-motivation department: If you are in between company jobs (or going independent), expect your e-mail box to go silent at first. Don’t be disheartened. The life you left behind will move on without you. A friend warned me of this ahead of time, a gem from his personal experience. (Thanks, friend!) It will be through your self-motivation to fill your inbox up again. Along the same vein, I was used to having work come at me in the corporate setting (usually through a metaphorical fire hose). Now I have to find work for myself. Scary, but also liberating because I know it is all up to me, and I get to choose what work I do (#empowerment).
7. Keep your eyes on the prize, but remain intuitive and reflective. This lesson was one of the best (and hardest earned) things I’ve learned over the last few years. For a long time, I was the type of driven individual that wanted to will the world to go my way. That’s ultimately a losing war, because life simply does not work that way. Save yourself disappointment. Become really clear on what you want out of your life, look for signs around you that will get you there and be flexible (i.e. intuitive), focus your actions to support where you want to go, and then take the opportunities that come to you (including the unexpected). Reflect every day on what you are doing and why you are doing it. Get things done without losing sight of the big picture. There are lots of books out there in the self-help genre that speak to this in great detail. I’ve just summarized it for you here. ;) Suffice it to say that no matter how esoteric some of this might seem, the results have been there for me so far.
8. Practice patience. For those that know me, they know that patience is not my strong suit. Because patience is not my natural inclination, my professional journey has turned out to be many exercises in practicing patience. What I’ve learned is that it is your responsibility to do everything in your power, but it is not always up to you on the timing. Patience is a competency one has to manage along a continuum—if you are too patient, you might not be action-oriented enough. If you are impatient, you might get less-than-baked results or miss other opportunities. This is a constant challenge for all of us, but “knowing is half the battle” (as they say).
9. About that money thing….Being fiscally conservative and the breadwinner for my family, I always made sure that I had enough savings to live for 6 months without an income. This was our safety cushion. When it came time to think about my transition, I increased my savings to a year. When my transition happened, we lived off the savings but put money we earned here and there back in the pot. You need not be a penny pincher to save money. When I was getting regular paychecks, we set up money to go into another account automatically. I never saw or felt it. Financial comfort is also a mindset. I never thought we could live on a smaller budget, but we are doing just that. We are living within our means.
I considered adding a pearl of wisdom about taking risk. 10 would have been a nice round number. Let’s face it: life is full of risks. Not transitioning when you should is a risk. Transitioning is a risk. Life after transition includes risks. IMHO, risk is balanced with empowerment. If you take the position of being empowered, you can manage risk and all that comes with it. It’s the losing control thing that people don’t like about risk, but if you are empowered, you don’t have to lose it. When it comes to career you can be your own advocate or your own worst enemy. Most of us in the professional world are not in life-or-death situations. Now that’s real risk. How much risk could there be in your career? What do you stand to gain or lose? Chances are there is more to be had than to lose.
My parting words are my disclaimer: I’m not the expert on transitions, nor is any of this scientifically proven. However, I am a lifelong learner. I am a product of my experiences, and I like to learn from others. Consider this a summary of all that I’ve encountered in my professional career, managing transitions for others and myself, attending conferences, reading, and hearing lots and lots of stories from personal experiences. If anyone can take anything from what I’ve written here, then it is a gift. Thanks for reading!
Last weekend, we went with some friends to the Hot Air Music Festival in San Francisco. It had been a while since we last enjoyed live music, and it stirred me in more ways than one. I was impressed that the students at the SF Conservatory of Music figured out a way to market their recital in order to draw a larger audience (donations welcome, but the event was free). There was even a logo, fancy website, and t-shirt. College performances are often attended by really supportive friends (in my experience anyway). While small by music festival standards, there was definitely more than just friends enjoying the showcase. Good move, students! As a dormant musician, it gave me a desire to pick up my flute or piano again at the earliest opportunity (both are sadly in storage at the moment). I was awe-struck with the latest developments in the instrumental world. Clearly I had not been keeping up with things. There were some esoteric pieces for sure, but also some interesting setups including some “non-traditional” ensembles (flute, marimba/xylophone, cello, electric guitar) and a piece that incorporated a PowerPoint presentation timed with the music (I wonder if that makes the projector an instrument too?). I especially looked forward to the percussion duet and was not disappointed (pictured above). Such interesting stuff performed by top talent.
Inevitably my thoughts wandered toward seeing all these musical collaborations as an analogy for organizational life. Others have done this as well. Max DePree’s Leadership Jazz: The Essential Elements of a Great Leader and Rosamund & Ben Zander’s The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life quickly come to mind. It’s easy to see how a great conductor can bring together all the parts of an orchestra or band to create beautiful music. Everyone is extremely talented, capable, and fully utilized. The conductor is a leader that guides a group of willing followers. Musicians are recognized with a post-concert bow. An audience is there is give immediate feedback. Digging deeper, a musical ensemble of any kind is a fascinating phenomenon where both individual and the group status are aligned and maintained simultaneously (lots of articles out there on individual vs. group interests). When musicians are playing music, membership within that group is unquestioned in that moment. Where it really counts during a performance, everyone steps up their game and the output is literally music to our ears. We know that such heightened awareness and engagement is impossible to sustain 100% of the time. After all, concerts typically last no more than 3 hours. Imagine what the musical quality and performance would be like on a 24/7 cycle. So how do we recreate the performance of a lifetime in organizations when a great opportunity arises? These are and have to be temporary situations or you can help yourself to a big serving of organizational fatigue. In addition, not everyone in your organization will be directly involved because you have to keep the lights on without business disruption. Perhaps there is a group or a team assembled to meet the challenge, a SWAT team, if you will. Your organization may have your own terminology for it. SWAT is an acronym for Special Weapons and Tactics, which seems so apropos in the competitive business world. How do we pick the right SWAT team? Let’s take a lesson from these student musicians and mix it up. Organizations are apt to choose based on availability, job title, politics and/or the usual suspects. Sometimes that means you get a crappy conductor and sub-par or tired musicians that don’t maximize that opportunity. Mix it up, call in that electric guitar, and focus on getting the best of the best talent for that particular business challenge, regardless of job title. Ensure each team member has an important part to play. Empower them to challenge the status quo and re-invent things like the duet for percussionists. Give them the audience that establishes purpose and feedback they need. Don’t be afraid to change the members in and out of the team. And finally, market the work like a music festival so people pay attention. You’ll be assured an extra special SWAT team experience.
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