Reinvent Now, Not When You Retire!

posted by Dilip on October 23, 2019

Although my coaching practice entails helping professionals improve their career and work life, many come to me to change their career path to go in a new direction. There are many examples of such successes throughout my practice during the past 19 years. Those that stand out include helping a software engineer get a job as a zookeeper, a systems engineer become a winemaker, a physician become a hospital administrator, and a 73-year old scientist head an R&D lab. There are many other such re-inventions, but they are not as dramatic as these: from software engineer to a product manager; from a dentist to a healthcare analyst, among others.

So, when is the right time for you to re-invent yourself?

This blog was prompted by a recent conversation I had with a prospect who reached out to me to check on how this process of re-invention works and if it would work for him. He is an executive at a high-tech company heading towards his retirement in a few years but felt that he should continue to work in a new career to keep himself busy and productive. He also expressed his regrets that for most of his career he felt like a mercenary doing a job for someone to earn a paycheck, rather than applying himself to something he truly believed in. He was mortified to admit that he did not know who he really was.

 In that brief encounter—typical of such calls, I outlined to him the basic process of reinvention and told him that it entails uncovering your innate genius through the process of storytelling and then leveraging that discovery in a new direction that excites and interests you. I told him that not all re-inventions are successful as they depend on a variety of factors. I also mentioned that it is a process that could be pivoted depending on how the market responds to your attempts to go in a new direction and that there were no guarantees of any specific outcomes.

The client patiently listened to my explanation and then said, I think that I’ll wait until I retire to re-invent myself. Right now, I do not have the time to go through this. With that we ended our call.

As the call ended, I began to reflect on what the prospect decided to do about his career after he retired and realizing that he may not have made the best choice about his timing.

Why is that?

Reinvention is a process of ferment, action, self-discovery, and controlled trial & error. Midstream pivoting is part of the process. All of this requires stimulation, fertile environment, a support network, and focused effort. Although everyday work can be a distraction in this journey, it is often more a help than a hindrance.

The reason having a job while you are contemplating your reinvention is a catalyst in the process is because it can provide you the stimulation in which to experiment and uncover things in a controlled environment. As you go through the process of self-discovery your work environment can provide the laboratory to try out new things that allow you to test your ideas, to bounce your insights with those around you at work who are in your circle and who are your colleagues engaged in their own pursuits, some of which may be of your interest as you reinvent yourself. Once you retire it is difficult to replicate this laboratory environment because it is easy for the person to slip into a retired mindset and fraternize with those who have also retired. Now you are talking about vacation trips, grandkids, and finances with them and not new ideas about how to re-engage in another endeavor.

So, what is my recommendation for those who cannot stand the thought of leading a retired life but are forced to take it on because of inevitability that require them to embrace it? Here is my list:

  1. Decide early if you can enjoy being retired and are able to while away your time engaged in activities that keep you happy and engaged. Some find it difficult to lead a retired life; they must engage in something not just rewarding—meaningful volunteer work—but also make money to support their financial needs. Even if the financial part is secondary, engaging in a meaningful pursuit and calling are important to many, especially in the twilight years of their life.
  2. The risk in waiting to reinvent after retirement is due to what typically happens after one enters retirement. People want to decompress after doing years of hard work, often without much engagement or joy. Once decompression takes hold it is easy to slip into the “retiree” mindset. After you succumb to this way of life it is difficult to get back into action again. So, get into action when you are in action; not when you are in retirement!  
  3. Ask yourself if you have been engaged in a job or a career that was just a way for you to support yourself and your family, instead of that job or career being a means for your purposeful existence and meaningful engagement. If not, then you must consider reinvention to repurpose your remaining life and redeem yourself.
  4. Look around at your own place of work and see if any particular job interests you and talk to those who are engaged in that role at the right level. Getting that first-hand insight and watching them how they do their job can be a good way to imagine yourself doing it or doing it vicariously by watching them closely.
  5. Find what is required to reposition yourself in such a role and find resources that allow you to pursue those resources. A combination of on-line courses, “apprenticeships,” and doing projects in that area of work can be a good start to steer your next career in that direction. This is why engaging in reinvention while you are still working is so valuable.
  6. Storytelling is one avenue to find out what in your career brought you joy and the Aha! moments. If you write down such stories and see a pattern to them then you know what your innate genius is and how to translate that gift into your next career. A genius-based reinvention is a worthwhile approach to seeking your new path; this is how I approach client reinvention.

As I have implored in many of my previous blogs on career management, change employers every 3-5 years, change jobs every 5-7 years, and change careers every 10 or so years. This way of managing your career will always keep you on track until you decide to hang it up!

Good luck!