Read an Excerpt
Career ComebackRepackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want
By Johnson Mandell, Lisa
Springboard PressCopyright © 2010 Johnson Mandell, Lisa
All right reserved.
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Chances are that if you’re reading this book, you’re probably not at a high point in your life—you’re trying to find a new job or career because what you were doing before isn’t working for you anymore. At least you’re in good, and ever-expanding, company! Unemployment is rising to numbers untold, many businesses are gasping and failing, and the economic outlook is a dreary shade of grim. No matter what sort of circumstances have led you to the place you’ve reached today, it may seem like an overwhelmingly long distance between where you are right now and where you’d like to be. If you’re like me, you look around at all the world’s superachievers and you start to realize that they’ve gone a lot further than you have in a lot less time. The election of forty-seven-year-old Barack Obama marks the first time we’ve had an American president who is younger than I am. That’s sobering! It’s easy to become intimidated, discouraged, or depressed and give in to the notion that at this point it’s hopeless to try to make a career comeback. Not only is the world job market dwindling, but there’s that nagging feeling that you’re past your prime, and that the choices you’ve made up to now have led you about as far as you’ll ever go.
But don’t give up! You have all sorts of talents, skills, and experience working for you—or against you, as the case may be. You’ve developed good and bad habits and accumulated both good and bad experiences that have made you who you are today. If you’re not in the exact career space you’d like to be, it’s important to identify how you got where you are and why you haven’t achieved all you’d hoped, professionally speaking. By the way, never lose sight of the fact that your career is only one aspect of your life. Personal relationships, spirituality, creativity, health, intellectual growth, and more are all important facets of a happy life that have little to do with the economy, and that you can control, to a certain extent. Even in these difficult times, it’s important to focus on and feel gratitude for what you do have, rather than what you don’t have.
EVEN MOVIE STARS LOSE THEIR MOJO
When I was interviewing Nia Vardalos, whom we all know and love from her film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, we chatted about what was, at the time, her most recent film, My Life in Ruins (which you can now catch on DVD). She played an American tour guide in Greece whose life had hit a speed bump—she was failing in her job, failing in her love life, and decided she needed to rediscover her “kefi,” which is the Greek term for “mojo,” magic, or joie de vivre. This is what she told me:
I think this is something a lot of people can relate to, in that right now we’re in a place of career crisis, financial crisis, all sorts of things are happening. We’re coming out of a possible feeling of national depression, a little bit of “What happened?” And all of a sudden you find that you’ve lost your mojo a little bit. And it’s not something that you know when you begin the process—you’re just suddenly in it, or you’re coming out of it, and you realize that it happened.
I’ll be honest with you. For three years I haven’t been on camera—longer, actually, and the reason for that is that I lost my mojo. I came through a ten-year infertility battle that just punched me in the head. So I decided that I would just quietly withdraw from acting, and I would just sit in my office and write. I was going to try and figure out what was bothering me so much. And I know now what it was. I was always taught that if you work hard, you can achieve your goals. But you can’t fight mother nature. You can’t beat something like that.
So I had to say, “I see. I give.” And in doing that, I found out that there was another plan for me. I am a very happy, proud mother of a girl that I was matched with through Fost-Adopt who is so very much my daughter. [Her voice cracked with emotion here.] It’s the most incredible, cosmically perfect thing that ever happened.
So I recommend losing your mojo—letting go of whatever it was you think was supposed to happen, because there’s another plan for you.
You see? Your current position in life could well be one of the best things that’s ever happened to you. Professionally speaking, you’ll want to take a look at your life and try to discern what exactly it is that is keeping you from getting all you want in the working world. There are myriad reasons why you might not have the ideal job at this time, among them:
I was laid off or downsized.
I was fired.
The job market is flooded with other highly qualified candidates.
There are many people ahead of me with more seniority in my company, and I can’t advance until they leave.
I got divorced and need to find a better-paying job.
Raising a family prevented me from pursuing a full-time career.
My spouse has always been the major breadwinner but has hit some hard times, and I haven’t had the need and/or desire to get serious about working until now.
I’ve had health issues that kept me from accomplishing all I’d like to.
My education qualifies me for a field that no longer interests me and I’m afraid to change at this point.
Societal norms prevent me from trying to do what I really love.
I need an advanced degree to pursue the field I want to go into, and I don’t have the time or money to go back to school.
I’ve gone as far as I can go in this field or company.
I’m afraid to let go of a job that doesn’t satisfy or challenge me, because it’s too hard to find another job right now.
I live in an area where it’s not possible to make a living doing what I love.
It seems impossible to make enough money doing what I love to do.
I don’t have the education, skills, or experience necessary to excel professionally.
Younger people are getting all the good jobs in my field.
I don’t have enough money or resources to start the business I would like to.
I recently found my true passion and I’m just getting started in it, but considering the current economic circumstances, my timing is off.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this. You know as well as I do that this is not the best of times to be looking for a new job. Millions are being laid off and there’s intense competition for the jobs that remain. Since so many retail outlets and restaurants are closing their doors, even what some people considered “fallback” jobs are harder and harder to come by; it’s no longer easy to get a job waiting tables or working retail to cover the bases until you sell your book or screenplay, get your master’s degree, or make your website start paying off. And there’s a new crop of younger, fresher, more energetic job seekers entering the market each spring.
But I want to emphasize that there is hope! Remember that you have something younger workers don’t have—something invaluable that can only be acquired over the years. You can’t buy it, you can’t study and get a degree in it, no one can give it to you. You have to live it: It’s called experience, and you should not underrate it. Give yourself credit for coming as far as you have up to this point, and for having the desire to go further. You’re in a far better position right now than you might believe.
You may have heard recently of the Web moving from 2.0 to 3.0. It’s a way to refer to a major upgrade, the latest and greatest iteration, a whole new technology or system. You know how just when you think you’ve updated your computer with the latest operating system and mastered how to use it, a company like Microsoft or Apple comes out with a new, improved version? They unabashedly market it, sending you the message that if you think Windows XP was great, just wait until you try Vista! It simplifies your life and does things you never imagined possible! Even though they might come up with something better in the next several years, you grit your teeth and buy it, because it’s the best thing going right now, and you know you need to keep up.
Why not think of yourself as the latest, greatest edition—the best thing going right now? Your first iteration, your childhood, was You 1.0—unlike anything anyone had ever seen before, but rather primitive and raw, with lots of potential and plenty of room for improvement. When you reached young adulthood, it was You 2.0—infinitely superior to 1.0, but still with a few bugs and a lot of features left to be desired. Once you hit your prime adulthood, you graduated to You 3.0—the best version yet. You’ve worked through the bugs and flaws that held you back in the past, and now you’ve reached the point of being the finest version of yourself that the world has ever known. Remember that old commercial that said, “You’re not getting older—you’re getting better”? It was right!
Whether you’re interested in a completely new career, upgrading your job status in the career you’ve already chosen, or looking for a new position to replace the one you lost, you’re in a better position than ever to move forward. After all, 3.0 is your best version yet. With the wisdom and experience you’ve gained, the sky is truly the limit. At forty, you could well have more than half of your career ahead of you—you might have worked for twenty years, and you have at least twenty more to go. Why not use all the skills and experience you’ve acquired to make the second half the best half? Just in case you haven’t quite embraced this idea yet, let me introduce you to Carole Santos, a remarkable woman in her mid-forties who could have been any one of us, had we made different choices. Her moving story will surprise and inspire you:
At no point in high school did I have the epiphany about college majors and career paths. By the time I was nineteen years old, I had stumbled through a couple of quarters in community college, but neither my heart nor my head were in it. Without direction and lacking specific career aspirations, the coursework was torture. I dropped out of college and took a full-time position as an office clerk in a restaurant, got married, and had two children.
I worked in accounting positions, sales and management jobs, left my first husband after he succumbed to alcohol, drugs, and gambling addictions, got married again for all the wrong reasons, and in my late thirties found myself single with two children and no formal education. Child support payments arrived irregularly, and my paychecks consistently left us with more month than money. I was angry with myself, but not quite ready to acknowledge the consequences of the bad decisions I was making.
Everything started to change when I volunteered to serve as the coordinator for my high school’s twentieth class reunion, and received a disquieting e-mail asking, “Is this the same Shorecrest High School that federal prisoner Michael Santos attended?” I remembered Michael—in particular, I remembered one balmy night we’d taken a midnight stroll together. I’d heard of his arrest, conviction, and long prison sentence for selling cocaine, but I felt compelled to write, to reconnect with him.
He told me those first years in prison included thousands of hours of introspection. He wrote of his determination to grow through adversity. Michael had been in prison for more than fifteen years and he expected to serve another ten years, and during that time he had earned an undergraduate degree from Mercer University and a graduate degree from Hofstra University, and he had just finished initial drafts of his first two books. Believe it or not, this incredibly intelligent, repentant man took my breath away. From behind prison walls Michael seemed to understand me and my struggles.
My friends and family thought I’d gone crazy. People could not fathom how I could pursue a romance with a prisoner. But he told me that if he could be on a path to success, I could be too. More than twenty-two years after our moonlit walk in high school, we were married in a prison visiting room.
With his complete support, encouragement, and blessing, I returned to college to pursue nursing. With a nursing degree, I knew that I could find employment in an honorable profession near wherever my husband was confined. As a husband-and-wife team, Michael and I brought several of his books, about life within the prison system, to market. Those books generated book reviews in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Seattle Times, and other national news sources. The royalties sustained our family while I progressed through nursing school.
In the spring of 2008, a little more than five years after that day we were married at Fort Dix, I graduated at the top of my class and earned my nursing degree with honors. Today I work full-time as a nurse while presiding over several websites that publish my husband’s work. I am financially independent, and I make monthly deposits to the account that will fund our future when Michael is released. Without a doubt, the poor decisions I made led to the painful struggles I endured in my twenties and thirties. Yet those years contributed to the woman I am in my mid-forties. I exist in peace today, with tremendous compassion and empathy for the human condition. It is precisely that depth and breadth of emotion that makes me a better wife, a better mother, a better nurse, a better person.
Carole may have gone through hell before, but right now she is exactly where she wants to be. Of course, she had to be open to inspiration no matter what the source, and she found it in the most unlikely spot—federal prison.
Our goal is to get you exactly where you want to be, professionally speaking. It will help you tremendously to take a good long look at your life, evaluate where you are and how you got there, reassess your strengths and your values, and figure out how to combine them to move forward. This may take some real soul-searching—it may take some professional counseling. It isn’t easy to let go of the negative beliefs and doubts you’ve had about yourself for so long. Some people blame their parents for their current position in life: “My mother resented me.” “My father never paid attention to me.” Or much, much worse. Or maybe you feel a bad ex kept you from achieving everything you’d hoped. My friends, what better time to let all of that go? You can’t go on blaming others for your current position. It’s time to take the wheel and start driving your own life rather than letting someone from your past drive for you. In three words: “Get over it!”
Chara Gavaldon is a perfect example of getting over the mistakes made in the past, and literally taking the reins of her own life. By the time she reached her late thirties, she had two children, was twice divorced, and had spent about ten years in unsatisfying jobs that never seemed to fit. Combine that with the fact that she was raised in Mexico City by a very conservative, privileged family in which girls were not encouraged to get an education and make something of themselves, but rather to make something of the man they would marry, preferably at a very young age.
Women like Chara did not go to work in Mexico City at the time, nor did they get divorced. There were social as well as personal stigmas to deal with. But instead of wallowing in self-pity and despair or trying to find a man to bail her out, this resourceful woman looked around her, assessed her talents, passions, and community needs, and created a job and business for herself that would not only support her family, but allow them to spend ample time together. She began the “Pony Club,” which gave young people from all walks of life experience riding and caring for horses. Chara had a deep and abiding love for horses and riding, and put her passion to work. Her “club” or “school” was the only one of its kind in the area, and has now served three generations of riders. Not only were her children involved, but her grandson has become a young international champion, with Chara as his coach and greatest supporter.
Her advice to other people in her situation? “Dare! Along the way you find out that many people know way less than you’d given them credit for, and that you know much more than you thought you did. At the end of the day, someone is going to do that job, fill that need, start that business. Why not you? Your imagination, ambition, and dreams are your only limits.”
The Five-Piece Career Puzzle
Although she didn’t realize it at the time, Chara was looking at her ideal career as a gorgeous picture puzzle made up of five interlocking pieces. Each piece was an individual aspect of her life. You’ll find it helpful to assess your own career in the same way. The five pieces consist of:
1. Interests/passions. If you have no dependents or obligations, this piece might take precedence over all others. What really excites you? What are you drawn to again and again? Is there a certain subject you find yourself reading about more than any other? Do any of your friends or acquaintances have what you consider to be the perfect career? When you look through the job ads, do you see certain careers that look really appealing to you? There are actually tests that will help you assess this, like the Self-Directed Search by John Holland and the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, both of which can be found online.
2. Skills/abilities. This piece will set you apart from your competition. What was your major in school? Your minor? Do you have an advanced degree? If you didn’t go to college, in which subjects did you excel in high school? Is there something that you’re really good at? Where does your experience lie? In which areas do you have special training or extraordinary experience? Which abilities always draw compliments from others? Which abilities bring you great personal satisfaction? Even if you were a stay-at-home mom, you might be particularly skilled in organizing transportation or juggling schedules, volunteerism, fund-raising, communications, etc. Any special skills you may have trained in or developed, such as computers, design, sales, management, accounting, art, sports, coaching, mentoring, etc., comprise this piece.
3. Lifestyle. This piece is all about personal preference; how many hours you’re comfortable working, how late/early you want to get up and come home from work, how far you are willing to commute, etc. Would you consider moving to another city for the right job? Are you willing to travel, and if so, how much? Sometimes a job that requires you to be on the road all the time and gives you a generous expense account sounds glamorous, but when you have three months’ worth of laundry piled up and your cat forgets who you are, being away so much seems less appealing. Also, you need to consider how flexible you need to be to meet the demands of others in your life. And what kind of neighborhood is the job located in? One exciting job I considered required me to file stories in an office in downtown L.A. very late at night, and that frightened me. It could be dangerous walking to my car, let alone driving home. Are you willing to work nights and weekends? Which are desires, and which are necessities?
4. Finances. This is probably the most practical piece. What’s the minimum salary you can live with? Will that enable you to save for retirement as well as make ends meet? What is an attainable dream? I mean, we’d all like to be paid millions for our chocolate-tasting abilities, but what is a realistic high salary in your field? Would you be willing or able to accept a job with less pay if it truly inspired you and had the potential to lead you to greater things down the road? Are you able to accept a part-time position or an internship? How much are you willing to put up with just to have a job—any job? What about benefits such as health insurance and savings plans—are they essential to you and your family, or does your spouse have a job that covers all that? If so, how secure is that job?
5. Values. This is a piece some people think of as too much of a luxury to consider right now, but they shouldn’t. It’s what gives you ultimate job satisfaction. You need to ask yourself, from a professional standpoint, what is important to you? What do you believe in? Some people want a job that constantly challenges them and becomes the focal point of their lives. Others want a simple, less intense job that will allow them to save their energy and focus for their families and/or recreational interests. Do you prefer to interact with people, or are you happiest in solitude, solving problems by yourself? Are you an indoor or outdoor person? Do you smoke, and can a potential employer accommodate that? Is it important to you that your job is meaningful and contributes to the greater good, or do you get enough of that in your personal life? Is a social aspect to your job important? In other words, do you want to be friends with your coworkers, or would you rather completely separate business from pleasure?
Take notes as you consider these five pieces and how they’d ideally fit together in a job. Use the Internet to do some research. Talk to the people you know who seem to be really happy with their work, and find out why they feel the way they do. Look around your community, figure out who the major employers are, and see if they have any positions that might be a good fit for you.
A Ray of Hope
After looking at your profession in five distinct pieces, you might be surprised to find that the current profession you’re pursuing is not a good fit for you—that you might be better suited to a different field altogether. Even though this may require a major life change, don’t despair! There is plenty of hope, no matter what your age or how bad the economy may be. There is probably no one better qualified to address this issue than John Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray & Christmas, a sort of “hospital for the unemployed.”
When a company stages major layoffs, they hire Challenger Gray & Christmas to help employees transition into other jobs. “Lots of companies are hiring right now,” he affirms. It’s just that the ones that are laying off are getting all the press. “I’m seeing more jobs in education and health care, and there are increasing subsidies for government positions in social services,” he says. He adds that during tough financial times, companies that focus on basic consumer products flourish. “Everyone still brushes their teeth,” he notes. The discount retail and hospitality industries are also still doing well. “People are going out, but they’re trading down.” For example, while high-end, gourmet restaurants are suffering, McDonald’s is doing quite well, and while luxury retail establishments like Saks and Neiman Marcus are suffering, Costco and Wal-Mart are doing a brisk business.
Okay, so the knowledge that you can always get a job flipping burgers or wearing a smock with your name on it might not be too comforting, but there are many other jobs in still prosperous industries that might be more appealing to you and fit your lifestyle perfectly. For example, some industries that are currently flourishing and have some unique job opportunities include:
Insurance, particularly accident, auto, and health. Think about it; health and auto insurance are always important to people, no matter what the economy is like, and health insurance has been an important plank in every politician’s platform for years now. If you drive a car, in most states you are legally required to have some sort of auto insurance. So whether you are involved in sales, claims, or administration, there will always be plenty of jobs in the insurance industry.
Don’t wrinkle up your nose at the prospect—I have a friend who fashioned for himself his idea of the perfect lifestyle as a claims adjuster. He could easily do his paperwork early in the morning and finish investigating his claims, which involved being out in the community, working with people, and even doing some challenging detective work. He’d be done by 4:00 p.m. so he’d have plenty of time in the afternoon to hike, bike, ski, whatever. Moms out there, are you envisioning the freedom you would have to attend your children’s after-school sporting events? And just think of the superior benefits you get at an insurance company!
Health care. Unfortunately, people are always going to get sick, even more so with the stress of tough economic times. As the largest segment of the population (Baby Boomers) ages, the need for health care increases. There is a surprising range of jobs within the health care industry—it’s not just for those who love biology or working with patients. The artistic among you who are having a tough time making a living in your chosen fields can find a niche for yourselves in therapy. Art therapy and music therapy are increasing in popularity. Carl, a friend of mine in his sixties who was a performing musician for years, finally decided the late nights were no longer his cup of tea and began looking into taking daytime classes that would train him in musical therapy, which he finds infinitely more satisfying at this point in his life. He can use his talents to comfort others.
Green industries. This is the major growth field of the twenty-first century, and one of the few areas in which there still seems to be plenty of government and private funding. Anything involving biofuel, solar power, green products, recycling, etc., can’t grow fast enough. There are creative and community outreach positions opening up in this field, as well as communications, sales, management, marketing, and scientific and manufacturing positions. Oh, and don’t forget the bonuses that come from the tremendous job satisfaction: You would be making a real, positive difference to the entire planet! If there are no jobs like this in your own community and you are in a position where you can relocate, you might research the cities with up-and-coming green industries. Not only could you earn a decent salary, but you could be helping to save the world.
Go with Your Strengths
When I decided to stage my own career comeback, I took a good long look at myself in the figurative mirror, and I had to admit that not everything I saw was pretty. Sure, I was experienced, resourceful, intelligent, creative, and energetic. But I was not under twenty-five, and that, the most honest employers and agents told me, was the most desirable asset an on-camera entertainment reporter could have. Experience, poise, relationships, and discernment took a backseat to youth and beauty. That was the cold, hard truth. And youth was the one quality I couldn’t develop, even if I felt like spending a fortune with a plastic surgeon. For a while I attempted to create my own outlets in which there would be no one to hold my age against me. I thought of an independent film show for PBS called Inside Indiewood. Or how about an all-female movie-critic roundtable featuring women of all ages? We womenfolk make the majority of the moviegoing decisions, and often decide what our children will see, yet most prominent film critics are male. Who wouldn’t benefit from more of a female perspective? I still think those are good ideas, and maybe someone else could have gotten these projects off the ground, but I simply didn’t have the juice.
I wasn’t getting any closer to my goal of having a full-time job as an entertainment reporter until I stopped focusing on the fact that the industry was ageist. Rather than trying to change the industry, which of course was impossible, I decided to change my own expectations and started identifying areas in which my age wouldn’t be an issue. It didn’t take me long to figure out that online and on the radio, no one knows your age. I was extremely computer and Web savvy, and I had the know-how and equipment to create streaming video and audio content in my own home—that was something not every Shawn, Kim, and Mary had. Once I identified the strengths that differentiated me from all the rest, I started to make progress.
While my own experience is a little esoteric, it can apply across the board. If you’re a talented jewelry maker who crafts exquisite chokers when pendants are all the rage, rather than complain about the public’s inexplicable taste, use your equipment, creativity, and artistic eye to create what’s hot, for heaven’s sake. Accept what you can’t change and adapt to what you can. Flexibility is a wonderful thing, and a very youthful characteristic, by the way.
Use Your Time Wisely
This requires being honest with yourself—absolutely, excruciatingly honest. And it just might require putting a dream on the back burner if it isn’t practical. I ran into a woman recently who had been laid off from a company where she’d been employed for fourteen years, and believe it or not, she was ecstatic. “I’m not even going to think about finding a full-time job for a while,” she told me. “My severance package allows me to pursue my true passion. I now have three months to write, polish, and pitch the screenplays I’ve always fantasized about.”
After a quick intake of breath, I was on the verge of telling her not to quit her day job, but then I remembered it was too late. Here in the Land of Self-Deception, otherwise known as L.A., it seems that all inhabitants fancy themselves screenwriters. The valet who parks my car notices the studio screening parking pass on the dash and hands me a script to read on the way out. My dentist knows I’m somehow involved in entertainment and pitches me a TV series idea while he’s working on my teeth. The chances of a novice screenwriter selling a script she’s been working on for three months are almost nil. To be honest, the chances of a veteran screenwriter selling a script she’s been working on for three years are bad enough. Spending spare time pursuing her passion would be fine for my new friend, but she should be spending an equal amount of time polishing her résumé, networking, acquiring any practical skills she lacks, and searching for legitimate job leads.
According to John Challenger, one of the biggest mistakes people make when they get laid off is not starting their new job search fast enough. “Many people spend too much time trying to figure out what they want to do, and give up the time when they’re most valuable to employers,” he says. Challenger adds that there are employers out there who are looking to snap up top employees just as soon as they become available, but after a certain amount of time they start wondering, “Why hasn’t anyone else hired this person yet?”
Temping for an employment agency that specializes in your industry of interest is a great, productive way to spend downtime between jobs. Not only does it expose you to various aspects of your field, but it’s a fabulous way to make contacts and hear about opportunities that might not be advertised on job boards. Don’t pooh-pooh this idea for being “beneath you.” When I first moved back to Los Angeles, I spent some time temping for an entertainment employment agency. I gained invaluable experience at studios and talent agencies, even when I was just photocopying scripts. I kept my eyes wide open and saw how things got done in this industry, and it has served me well in so many different ways.
Those of you in the field of education might consider “temping” by substitute teaching. I also did this in one of my many full-time job “hiatuses,” thinking that since my grandparents, my mother, and my sister were all educators, I would be a natural. By subbing, I found out that this was not the case, and I gained a renewed respect—no, make that a sense of awe—for the educators in my family. I obviously did not inherit the good teaching gene—I was an absolute disaster with the little ones. I found that I could delete getting my teaching credentials from my dream list. In a word, I sucked!
Even the most talented actresses in Hollywood are sooner or later (mostly sooner) forced to change their game plans, find new dreams, and do brutally honest self-assessments as they “progress.” Anjelica Huston recently told me that she has resigned herself to smaller character roles, and is more than happy to still be working and getting juicy parts like the quirky mothers in The Darjeeling Limited and Choke. Emma Thompson acknowledged she has an advantage living in Europe, where the films they make are more about real life, warts and all, and not so much about youth and glamour, as they are in Hollywood. Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas agrees. She has lived and performed in France since she was eighteen, and when we were chatting about her amazing performance in the French-language feature I’ve Loved You So Long, she told me, “It’s true that in French films, we are interested in ‘women of a certain age.’ [The French] find wrinkles and signs of experience actually interesting and exciting and intriguing…. There is space for women of my age, which is wonderful. There are a lot of grown-up films being made in France.”
These über-successful and talented actresses are not raging against the Hollywood machine and trying to change the system. They have reassessed their talents, skills, and assets, and found places for themselves in which they are extremely comfortable. There is great peace and satisfaction in that. You don’t see these older, wiser actresses getting married and divorced in a couple of weeks, racking up the DUIs, or participating in ugly verbal spats with paparazzi.
COOKING UP CHANGE
Paula Deen is another inspiring woman who took a good long look at herself when she was in her early forties and decided it was time to take control of her life, reassess her skills, and really make something of herself. I interviewed her several years ago when she played the part of Aunt Dora in the Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown, and she talked about how she went from being a penniless, agoraphobic divorcee with two children to the super-successful restaurant owner and Emmy-winning television personality she is today. She decided to take baby steps—she wasn’t comfortable leaving her home, but she was a great cook, so she started whipping up bag lunches in her kitchen and having her two sons deliver them. Eventually that business grew into The Lady and Sons, one of Savannah, Georgia’s most successful restaurants. When the Food Network came calling, Paula was ready, and she now presides benevolently over her own southern cooking kingdom. Who says you can’t be the next queen of your own empire?
Your Career Mission Statement
Of course it helps to really define your intentions. Dr. Nancy Irwin, a doctor of clinical psychology and author of You Turn: Changing Direction in Midlife, suggests creating a life mission statement to help you decide what you want to do and where you want to go professionally. She made a big professional change herself after hitting the big four-oh. She was a stand-up comedienne working a grand total of thirty minutes per night, so she decided to volunteer during the day. She worked to help sexually abused children, and from there decided she wanted to dedicate her life to educating, counseling, and advocating for children. She earned a doctorate in psychology and has a thriving practice now, specializing in the prevention and healing of child sexual abuse.
She advises coming up with your own professional mission statement by doing the following:
1. Make a list of all the things you love to do, from baking brownies to horseback riding to knitting to reading—all the things that are not only extremely satisfying but fun.
2. Make a list of all the things you’d love to do if money or time were no object, from travel to surfing to skydiving to starting a shelter for homeless animals to painting to mastering a musical instrument—all those things that you’d do if only you were younger or had more money or more spare time and didn’t have to support yourself and others.
3. Make a list of the things that really make you angry—the things you’d like to change in the world or fix, from bigotry to sexism to abuse to illiteracy to pollution to poverty.
She then suggests taking those lists and connecting the dots.
You’ll be surprised at the number of jobs available that can incorporate several of those items. You could take culinary classes and become an organic baker. You could work for a recreation program, teaching your skills to the underprivileged. You could get a staff job in a special department at a university that will allow you to take free classes at night. Before you even make a career change, you could volunteer in another field to see how you like it. This will also enable you to make invaluable connections and contacts when you’re ready to go to work.
Irwin suggests that once you decide what is really important to you, craft a mission statement about who you are and what you want to accomplish, and make it a factor in all your professional efforts. Tape it to your mirror, put it in your purse, always keep it in mind. She gives the example of, “I’m committed to teaching, inspiring, and making a positive difference to all those who brave my door.” That could work for a doctor, lawyer, teacher, therapist—just about anyone. A more specific statement would be, “I create jewelry that enhances the wearer and makes a statement.” Or, “I create beautiful, original letterpress materials that allow people to express themselves and communicate in an elegant, unique way.”
You Don’t Have to Be a Psychic (but It Helps!)
My friends Terry and Linda Jamison didn’t find their true career path until a few years after they turned forty. They’re now known worldwide as “the Psychic Twins,” but they tried out many different vocations before they decided to embrace the innate talents they’d had since childhood. Now, I admit to being a bit skeptical of psychics, mediums, etc. As a journalist I’ve interviewed many people who claim to have psychic powers—as a matter of fact, that’s how I met Terry and Linda, writing an article about them. When you’re featuring psychics, the best way to find out if their powers are real is to have them do a reading on you. I have to say that the reading they gave me caused me to concede that there has to be some validity to their powers, although I don’t fully understand what it is. It’s a well-documented fact that they predicted the World Trade Center attacks, in substantial detail, on a national radio program back in the year 2000. The best psychics seem to have a talent for tapping into a dimension the rest of us can’t seem to access. But regardless of how you feel about psychics, their story of reassessing their strengths and weaknesses to finally embrace what they feel is their true calling is fascinating:
We took our psychic abilities completely for granted, even though as young children around the age of three we started having “psychic” experiences that included extreme sensitivity to other people, predictive dreams, and strong ESP (or telepathy). At age six, Terry named the exact number of jelly-beans in a large glass jar and won first prize at the school fair. It never crossed our minds that this ability would one day translate into a career for us.
We started at age twenty as professional performers—comics, singers—uprooting from Philadelphia to New York City with no training and even less experience. By the time we were twenty-five, we owned a production company, “Pop Theatrics,” that produced high-end entertainment for the biggest events and nightclubs on the East Coast. By age thirty, we were appearing on Saturday Night Live as the two-headed housewife. Our dream was to expand our career as comic actresses in TV sitcoms and films.
That dream drastically changed once we moved from New York to Los Angeles a few years later. Adult “twin” jobs of any kind were not just scarce, they were nonexistent. Whatever happened to the Doublemint Twins? Remember the slogan “Which twin has the Toni?” We just missed that phase. The Olsen twins were about four years old; we, on the other hand, while still “cute,” were pushing forty. While honing our stand-up act at the Improv, we realized we’d better have something to fall back on, and we began quietly and deliberately developing those innate psychic talents that had manifested themselves so long ago.
It took extreme commitment, but our careers evolved. Along our journey, we encountered rampant sexism, ageism, and enormous prejudice from people who had little grasp of the paranormal. We quickly realized that our job was to create a bridge of understanding to help people learn about this mysterious and mystical realm, to shine a beacon of hope and inspiration in a dark world.
In our forties we used the skills we’d honed as entertainers, along with our natural psychic abilities, to give birth to “the Psychic Twins.” To our great surprise, Hollywood producers started showing an interest in our psychic abilities! They asked us to do medical intuitive work, celebrity predictions, and readings live on TV. We are not, after all, your grandmother’s psychics with their tarot cards and smokers’ voices. We eventually landed guest spots on more than sixty major network TV shows. We starred in a dozen documentary films. Now we’re in our early fifties, and it seems that every day some new and exciting opportunity comes our way, many in the form of helping comfort those in need. There are a lot of people out there now who need comforting.
We found we had a special gift to motivate, inspire, and counsel others, especially women, through our psychic abilities. It came down to what we call the three R’s: Reinvent, Refocus, and Restore faith in ourselves. If you have talent, you must believe in yourself or no one else will; and you must take extraordinary action toward your goals. It is about finding your authentic self.
Extra Help in Finding Your Perfect Career
Those of us who are a little less spiritually inclined and have no psychic powers whatsoever might find that the services of a career coach or counselor would come in handy. These professionals will charge a fee to help facilitate your job search. Finding a good career coach or counselor is a bit like finding a good therapist: Get referrals from your friends and colleagues, search the Internet, and chat with a number of them until you find a good fit. Don’t automatically lean toward the “nicest.” You do want someone who will be supportive, but you want them to tell you the truth, even if it hurts a little. We all can use a firm but gentle kick in the butt on occasion, and a good career coach will do that.
GETTING FIRED UP
ABC News career expert Tory Johnson offers amazing professional advice and career counseling services through her books and the company she founded, Women for Hire (WomenForHire.com). Formerly an executive in the entertainment industry, she had her own epiphany when she was fired from a major corporation, and she went on to become the only producer of high-caliber recruiting events for women. At WomenForHire.com, she posts invaluable and thorough job search information for women at all stages of life and gives people the opportunity to sign up for her Career Boot Camps, which are held in various cities. If you have the funds to get involved in a Boot Camp, you’ll find it well worth your while.
Laura McGreevy, president of Personnel Profiles of Kentucky, is another career counselor who knows about career comebacks from personal experience—she’s staged several career comebacks of her own, building on her experience and education in psychology, human resource management, sales and sales management, recruiting, and staffing. It wasn’t until she reached her early fifties, however, that she found her current and abiding passion—helping people find jobs they love, and helping businesses hire, engage, and retain top employees. She uses a combination of mental aptitude and personality assessments, as well as technology, interviewing, coaching, and other tools. She says the cost to an individual who comes to her for career assessment and counseling is usually in the $250–$350 range, and includes interpretation of the Myers-Briggs personality test, as well as counseling.
Laura says the most common issue her clients bring to her is fear, pure and simple. They worry, no matter what their age, that it may be too late to start over or to accomplish very much. One way to get past this, she advises, is to stay current and to learn new technologies. Practicing what she preaches, she’s now in her early sixties, keeps her iPod up to date with the latest music, and is in the process of switching from PC to Mac.
Another way Laura suggests to get over your general fear, sharpen your current professional (and social) skills, and make exceptional contacts is to volunteer. Volunteer organizations usually offer a nurturing, less intense environment that can build confidence. She notes that it has not always been easy for her to get up and speak, to make contacts, and to mentor, but gradually she reached the point where she has become a leader in professional organizations like the Society for Human Resource Management and the Northern Kentucky Area Workforce Investment Board, as well as in charitable foundations such as Welcome House, a nonprofit organization that aids the homeless, and the “I Have Wings” Foundation, a nonprofit breast cancer organization founded by her sister. She notes that there was a time when she could barely help herself, but she has managed to put aside her own personal fears and reach a position where she can help many, many others. A career coach who has persevered through her own professional challenges is a very good choice.
Whether you hire someone else to coach you or decide to go it alone, you can’t help but be up against some very stiff competition of all ages now, in the current depressed job market, more than ever. It’s important to be aware of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses as well as your own. The next chapter will give you some very strategic advice and information on that.
Excerpted from Career Comeback by Johnson Mandell, Lisa Copyright © 2010 by Johnson Mandell, Lisa. Excerpted by permission.
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