18 Sep Mid Career Change Coaching – How is it Different From Other Kinds of Coaching?
Mid-life is that perplexing time of life, when we hear two voices calling us, one saying, “Why not?” and the other saying “Why bother?”
– Sydney J. Harris, American journalist
Mid-career is the time when many professionals start seeking a career change or at least toying with the idea of a career change. How is coaching people for mid-career change different from career coaching at other stages? To understand this, first let us examine what mostly happens during mid-career.
Career lows are all too common during mid-life and a mid-career crisis is something that many of us have experienced. The picture of a tired, harried mid-career professional, juggling several things at work and at home, often going unnoticed and unrewarded is a familiar one.
But there is something beyond just the burnout or boredom which people experience at different times in their career, which makes a mid-career crisis unique. A feeling of missing something or a sense of loss is perhaps the most palpable experience of mid-career crisis, and yet this is often not spoken about openly by those who experience it. This perceived loss can be of different kinds:
- The loss of opportunities: Mid-career individuals often feel that their best career experiences are already behind them. There is a regret that they cannot turn back the clock on opportunities that they have missed for instance, accepting that offer to work in a startup which looked risky when weighed against a stable, secure job, but which could have turned out to be a winning career move in the long term.
- The loss of drive and energy : Even fairly successful people at mid-career are not immune to the question, “Is this what I really want to be doing for most of my foreseeable future?” The stirring of this question is usually accompanied by a loss of drive and energy around the next steps. For many, it just means business as usual and plodding on with what is already existing. Fatigue, frustration and a lack of interest in work seem to surround mid-career professionals.
- The loss of what is familiar: When some mid-career individuals begin contemplating a career change to overcome the lack of interest in their current jobs, it brings up a sense of loss of another kind – the loss of what is familiar and reassuring. The familiar work setting, that commute you took to work, the sometimes annoying but familiar colleagues, your usual spot at the office cafe- the prospect of not having these seemingly small but reassuring things, bring up a sense of loss and sometimes anxiety at how to adjust to new environs. A career change at mid-career is like learning to work all over again and this can be tough. The emotional burden of transition is all too real and many times keeps mid-career professionals stuck.
Coaching can help deal with the sense of loss that mid career brings up
- The loss of an identity : This is perhaps the toughest kind of loss associated with mid-career, especially when there is a sudden event such as a job loss due to organizational restructuring or when an old skill is no longer relevant. For many of us, what we do for a living and the work identity we have, say as a legal head, project coordinator, sales manager etc, form a crucial part of how we see ourselves. According to Gallup, 55% of American workers get their sense of identity from their job. If this is under threat of change, it can make people very uncomfortable and restless till a new stable identity emerges. In the words of Herminia Ibarra, Professor at INSEAD, “One of the reasons people experience career change as a time of confusion, insecurity, or uncertainty is that they feel they have lost the narrative thread of their life.” Enabling mid-career individuals to navigate this process of career change and transition in their lives is therefore much more than simply helping them find a new job or learn new skills. Mid career change coaching is a complex, nuanced form of coaching where you work with individuals to help them process their emotions of loss and longing and gently but firmly support them in creating a new identity, both professional and outside of work.
What does the process of coaching for mid career change involve?
Coaching for mid career individuals has to focus on 3 key elements to help prepare them for mid career change.
- Creating meaning and energy: Getting out of the sense of loss requires finding energy and sources of meaning in places other than your core role. Coaching can help you identify small changes which can energize and bring new meaning e.g. mentoring a set of colleagues, volunteering for an internal committee or team where you meet individuals from other parts of the organization, starting a regular exercise practice or rekindling a hobby. While these possibilities exist for mid career individuals to act on themselves, they usually require some amount of nudging and showing the way, where coaching can help. Otherwise all too often, mid career individuals fall into the malaise of ‘do nothing and wait for the feeling to pass’. Many a time, we have found that energizing mid-career individuals in these ways, paves the way to future opportunities for career change.
To illustrate, one of our clients was an entrepreneur who had sold his moderately successful company which he had built from scratch but was lost about future steps. Through coaching conversations, some of his interests around hosting events and podcasts came up. We urged him to start pursuing these to find energy and he did, in the process meeting many new people and gaining confidence to engage with technology startup companies which he wanted to join. About 6 months later, he was successful in making his desired career change, joining a growing ed-tech company as their Director of Sales.
- Taking the best out of prior experiences: To help mid career individuals manage the emotional upheaval of this phase, it is important to make them see their prior experiences and derive their standout skills and strengths from these. Coaching mid career professionals enables them to learn how they can transfer these attributes and skills to new contexts in new ways.
For instance, one of our clients was a very successful consultant who had done stellar work in the social impact consulting space. But the demands of work had become too intense and she was exhausted and burnt out. She still carried her identity of a consultant with her strong acumen in problem solving and working with diverse stakeholders. She was clear that consulting was no longer her chosen career but was quite confused about her future direction. In our coaching, we helped her see that the bridge between her problem- solving skills and her ability to work with such diverse stakeholders, was her empathy and deep listening ability. This became the starting point for her to explore careers where she could use these strengths and eventually she made a shift into becoming a leadership and executive coach. The best of her prior experiences and strengths such as her empathy and her ease in working with senior leaders had been stitched together to give her a new, meaningful work identity.
Showing the way forward
- Showing the way forward: A mid career change is not necessarily a ‘leap’. Thinking of it as a leap can make people freeze with fear. Instead, it has to be crafted as a series of steps and here coaching can be of immense value. In our work with mid career individuals who are looking for career change, we help them visualize the future and then break into steps to be taken over the next 6 months and 1 year. This makes it easy for them to get into action, and galvanizing action is one of the key goals and outcomes of our coaching process.
If you are a mid-career professional, don’t wait for the mid career crisis to tighten its grip over you. Instead, take action right away and see how coaching can help you move forward.
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Kavita, an alumna of IIM Ahmedabad, brings 18 years of experience in Experiential Learning, Coaching, Personal Growth & Change. Her forte is Career Transition Coaching and Leadership Development for mid-senior individuals, helping them find success and fulfilment at work . She also teaches Career & Self Development courses at leading management institutes including IIM Kozhikode, IIM Udaipur, IIM Indore and at the IITs.