The Career Coach Stripped Bare

A few months ago, the usual stream of work had dissipated, and I started to explore my options. After doling out career advice to thousands of people over the years, I was getting a taste of my own medicine.

It all began in 2005, when I took a leap of faith and plunged into self-employment. After more than two decades of a coddled corporate life, I was a sole-trader with no promise of work in the pipeline. Slowly but surely, projects came my way. I enjoyed working without the shackles of an employment contract, and the newly found freedom allowed me to commute between a city apartment and a house in the country.

Eventually, I developed relationships with several consulting firms which provided me with a variety of assignments, added value to my expertise, and offered the collegiality that sole-traders often sorely miss. As I settled into my new routine, I created a website and started blogging. Seduced by the new age of social media, I devoured the articles, posts and ideas written by ‘experts’ and consumed e-courses that offered the promise of a thriving online business. My income supported a modest lifestyle, in exchange for a schedule on my terms. But the gut wrenching moments of this rollercoaster ride were always around the corner.

Then during 2014, the tides began to change. My elderly mother’s health was deteriorating. As I was living interstate without a family of my own, I decided it was time to sell my apartment, get the country house ready for the market, and go home. I’d been away for 30 years. Although I’d maintained a few old friendships and sown the seeds of new network, once again there was no promise of work. Still optimistic about the potential of the online world, I created my first e-course. But as my arrival coincided with a contraction in the local economy, career transition coaching helped me to settle and get reacquainted with my hometown again.

I cherished my time with Mum during the last year of her life. I wound-back my professional commitments as I dealt with the emotional and pragmatic consequences of her death, including the sale of the family home after 60 years. After that property sold and settled, I collapsed into a self-imposed extended compassionate leave.

In mid 2017, I tippy-toed my way back to work. Before long, it was that time of year again – when the sole-trader’s cashflow takes a battering. As Australians enjoyed the festive season and summer holidays, I engaged a savvy young digital marketing consultant to review my business. Her recommendations reinforced what I’d known for a while, and it didn’t involve delivering online services. Despite my best efforts to challenge the status quo, I couldn’t find my career coaching niche in the online world. Still fascinated with corporate life, I wanted to re-direct my energy to working with organisations in real-time, and help their people to navigate their careers – in person.

The new year came and went, and as children returned to school, parents got back to work. With an election looming, the state seemed to grind to a halt, as did the usual projects that keep my revenue stream ticking over. Although used to the ebb and flow of self-employment, this time it was different. I was in a smaller city without a well established network, and fewer opportunities. It was back to the drawing board as I did the research, make the calls, had cafe conversations, learned more about the local market, and tried not to take the silences too personally.

Although here’s nothing more humbling than walking in my client’s shoes, there were a few other valuable lessons along the way.

  • Networks are cultivated, developed and sustained over long periods of time. Trust is earned through a series of mutually-shared experiences and often as a result of a series of different jobs. I didn’t have these in my hometown – my expertise and value was unknown and unproven.
  • Although I left my extensive network behind a few years ago, these deep relationships have held me in good stead. That network has provided ALL of my work since I returned home. Clearly nurturing these relationships pays dividends and I am forever grateful.
  • As I plan to remain in my hometown, I need to be open to how I work, and develop my local network. As a 50++ woman, this will look and feel very different from when I left home all those years ago.

Thankfully, resilience is part of a sole-trader’s toolkit. While I’m still on that rollercoaster, work is trickling my way again.

To learn more about my expertise, and how I work with organisations, please visit my website and LinkedIn profile.

Photo credit: Nadim Merrikh via unsplash.com

Over 50 + Not Done Yet!

When I turned 50, I didn’t think about “slowing down”. Retirement was some far-flung destination. I didn’t give populist chatter a second thought + chose to make career moves on my terms.

After all, 50 is the new career midpoint.

Unless you have a fabulous inheritance or superannuation fund, the reality is that your working life is likely to exceed that of previous generations. And as government + company policies can’t influence community perceptions + behaviours fast enough, I want women to feel empowered to generate their own career pathways – well into their sixties.

This starts with an understanding of our signature strengths, articulating how we add value in an organisation + knowing why employers love having us around. It involves upbeat attitudes, defying the deluge of negativity, being prepared to make compromises + work differently. And finding ongoing career opportunities also means focusing on the sectors, industries, organisations or individuals that make us welcome + allow us to shine.

As a career consultant, mentor + coach, I’m on a mission to help women galvanise their wealth of experience + expertise, communicate their worth with confidence + continue to make meaningful contributions in a job market in a constant state of flux.

We may be over 50, but we’re not done yet!

You can read my earlier post Career Savvy After 50 here.

Sistas are doing it for themselves

There’s nothing like the adrenelin rush you get, when you’re in the company of bright women with entrepreneurship on their mind. Women who are passionate about creating their own destiny and economic independence. AWCCI‘s recent research suggested that women are increasingly leaving corporate jobs to start their own services business.

The number of females running their own business has increased by 8.9% in the past five years. And with many professionals cashed-up after a redundancy, entrepreneurship is attractive to women who want a more flexible career option. When women talk about starting a business, Marie Forleo is often mentioned in the same breath.

Thanks to B-School, Marie Forleo’s 8-week course for “business owners who want more sales and more impact from their online presence”, this savvy Italian-American is leading a quiet revolution for (mainly) women entrepreneurs. Last year I attended B-School. At the time, I figured out that more than 300 fellow Australians joined me in the 2013 intake. And if the 13,000 members of B-School’s Facebook group is any indication, entrepreneurship is contagious.

Earlier this week, I attended the League of Extraordinary Women’s breakfast in Melbourne. I was there to listen to the Fashionista Sistas, twins Lissa Marshall and Leane Flynn, who shared their start-up experience as ‘First Impression Consultants & Style Advisors’.

Fashionista Sistas was created out of a concern for the extraordinary low self-esteem of women, and Lissa and Leane’s desire to change how women felt about themselves. And it’s not just about fashion. The twins also help clients manage those first three seconds we have to impress someone, especially in an interview situation.

When I worked in an executive recruitment firm in the 1990s, our receptionist was referred to as the Director of First Impressions. In a world where we all now have a ‘personal brand’, this stuff matters, especially in competitive job market.

Now working together as Melbourne’s answer to Trinny & Susannah, the Fashionista Sistas offer one-on-one and group styling sessions, first impression management and positive image consulting, to schools and organisations throughout Victoria.

If owning a business is on your mind, here are my 10 key takeaways from breakfast with them this week:

  1. Resilience and confidence in your abilities are important
  2. Don’t fear failure – you can always get another job
  3. Invest in yourself to establish credibility with your business offering
  4. You may need to juggle other jobs while you’re building the business
  5. Business development takes grit and determination, it doesn’t just happen
  6. Everything can be done on a budget, eg building a website and promotion
  7. It’s important to be across your finances eg cashflow projections
  8. There will be blips along the way, but you need to learn and move on
  9. You need to believe in your business and create room for it to grow
  10. A strong support network and a partner with complementary skills is invaluable

Lissa and Leane subscribe to Marie Forleo’s mantra “create a business and life your love”, and want to leave a legacy. Going by the vibe and range of women in the room, there’s clearly a big appetite for entrepreneurship. And it’s no surprise that the League’s membership is gathering momentum throughout Australia. London and New York are next on the list.

As business ownership can be a lonely experience, the support offered by like-minded women can make the entrepreurial journey a lot sweeter. For information on joining the League of Extradordinary Women, click here for details.

 

Pesky Perfection

Last week friends and I had lunch with Jane, who had just returned from London, enroute to her next posting in Singapore. Given her international moves over the last five years or so, it was clear that Jane was going places. When I asked about her new job, Jane showered us with anxiety about her ability to perform in the new position, which was essentially the same role and organisation, but in a different location.

It seemed like the weight of Asia was on her shoulders. Jane admitted that she had become comfortable in London, where she knew her job inside out and was worried that she wouldn’t be able to contribute 100% (if not more), immediately. I thought to myself,  blokes don’t talk like this, and hoped an HR mole wasn’t lurking in the corner of the cafe.

Although Jane was about bound to be stressed about the relocation, there was something else bothering her. After all, Jane was bright, highly competent in her area of expertise and multi-lingual to boot. With a little prodding, Jane confessed she was a bit of a perfectionist and had high expectations of herself. In her book It’s Not a Glass Ceiling It’s a Sticky Floor, Rebecca Shamburgh writes:

Perfectionists function in a mode where nothing is good enough but their self-imposed standards are far higher than others expect

Jane exhibited the tell tale signs, especially self doubt; risk aversion; low tolerance for mistakes in yourself and others and fear of failure.

Shamburgh says it is important to know when to say “this is good enough” and move on. Over perfectionism can also send the message that you aren’t confident and overtrying to get it right and that we should ask ourselves “Is this really what the job requires or are you requiring it of yourself?” Why can being a Perfectionist be a problem? The big risk is that while obsessing over the perfect output, you might actually miss the big picture, distort perceptions about your capability, sabotaging your career in the process. Nevermind the stress you may be placing on yourself and your relationships. What can you do to overcome being a Perfectionist?

  1. Think about why you are a Perfectionist. What do you get from it and what does it cost you?
  2. Check your standards of performance against your goals. Ask yourself, “Is this good enough to get the job done?”. If so, let go and move on (or go home!).
  3. Seek feedback from stakeholders. Use it to calibrate your standards &  guide the work, rather than your exacting but arbitrary standards.
  4. Identify peers who are recognised as great leaders. Observe them as they deal with similar work situations.
  5. Focus on the things that matter & bring the most value to your organisation. Decide what you really need or want to do, and delegate the rest.

Shamburgh says that letting go of your standards doesn’t mean slacking off. It’s about putting your energy and attention to better use. So, to all of the talented Janes out there, is being a Perfectionist getting in the way of your career?

 

Are You on a Career Ladder or Jungle Gym?

What does your career path look like? Are you climbing a ladder, or has your career taken you through a zig-zag of moves, with the end goal in mind?

Globalisation and technology have transformed organisations over the past two decades. Professionals now navigate flatter structures, which may offer limited and less visible pathways to career progression. With a few exceptions, well sign-posted careers are so very last century.

In her recently published book Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg refers to her own career path as being more like scrambling a jungle gym, than climbing a ladder. Where a career ladder offers just one way to get to the top, she writes there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym.

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