A quirky new NetFlix comedy show is ‘The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.’ It’s a surreal farce from some of the people behind the show ’30 Rock.’ The premis of the new show is that a woman has been trapped in a bunker with a cult for fifteen years and gets rescued, then chooses to live in New York City, despite only knowing a pre-9/11, pre-ipad world. Classic fish out of water stuff. The closing line of the theme song says, “It’s going to be a fascinating transition.” But it’s not going to be a transition. It’s going to be a shock – a jagged, sudden, unexpected wrench sideways. And it’s the same for the most part with career transitions.
The word ‘transition’ in one of those dictionary things you sometimes read about online implies something planned and gradual. Actually, I just paused my writing and went to dictionary.com and looked it up and there’s no mention of gradual or planned. I started to worry that maybe there’s a whole bunch of words I add my little extra meanings to but then I saw that the word of the day was ‘collywobbles’ and that made me feel better. It’s such an adorable word. OMG, I just looked up the word collywobbles. It means a feeling of fear, apprehension or nervousness, intestinal cramps. This dictionary is a dangerous place.
From an employer’s or HR bod’s perspective, career transitioning sounds like a fine art, a managed process, intended to create and maintain an absence of feelings of fear, apprehension or nervousness, and especially an absence of intestinal cramps. Ideally yes I suppose but I’ve always been more of a ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ kind of guy. I think most real career transitions are more like Kimmy Schmidt’s.
I’ve seen some employers try to be cool and non evil in their restructuring efforts by offering career transition services, often called counselling, outplacement or “going out for a pie.” Redundancies are happening, you…, sorry, your role, is being made redundant – given any thought as to what to do next? While operating your lathe for the past 30 years, have you thought about becoming a digital 3D rendering artist? You’d still be making different shapes so it’s like operating a lathe but with pixels.
It is always potentially interesting in a job interview when the interviewer notices some dates in the timeline and decides to chase the white rabbit down that rabbit hole.
“Couldn’t help but notice the two year gap between jobs on your CV?”
“Yeah, would’ve been four years without the good behaviour.”
An article in the Harvard Business Review suggested developing a “compelling narrative” to not just explain away such moves, but to make it look like a positive. As long as we’re weaving compelling narratives into our CVs why not make them even more dramatic? Let’s Tarantino them. Watch most Tarantino movies and you’ll see they start at the dramatic cliffhanger bit. A group of men in suits in a Mexican stand-off pointing guns at each other’s heads. How did they get into this dramatic situation. I bet there’s a compelling narrative. I want to know the story!!! Don’t format your CV in a boring standard, linear chronological timeline. Start with the action, fill in the backstory, building the tension, introduing a series of forceful characters. ‘Transition’ is, in fact, an actual technical term used in movie-making, so career transitions will fit right in.
Rather than the jagged and risky situations when folks are forced into changing jobs or learning entirely new skills in new environments, some other people make conscious and proactive choices to plan towards leaving one career and move into another. I’m of an age where I have a bunch of friends and associates who are chucking in their ‘real job’ and taking up the childhood thing they never did or even tried to do. Away goes the banker’s suit and in comes the potter’s smock. There was a former NFL player on the news who’d retired from profesional American football and taken up farming with zero experience or support. All he had for his career transition was his forty million US dollars of football earnings and youtube farming videos. He seems happy and donates his first crop to the poor of South Carolina.
I myself transitioned from a senior safe management role to whatever it is I currently do. The running gag in my industry when some muggle starts out is, “Don’t give up your day job.” In career transitioning, that is the best and the worst advice there is. I prefer the actions of Cortex the conquistidor who lead the invasion of South America. His troops were a bit iffy at attacking forward with the scary enemy natives ahead. He burned the boats so the only way out was forward. No boats. No plan B. No way back. That’s how you transition your career if you’re serious!
Career transitioning is now more the rule than the exception. Maybe the job you’re destined for hasn’t been invented yet?
Valentine’s Day has been and gone and the word “love” was tossed around frivolously, commercially, curiously and genuinely. Many business writers cite the benefits of having workers who “love” to work at your workplace. They do stretch the meaning of the term ‘love’ to a broad definition. By the time they’ve qualified it, we’ve reached the levels of emotion I express when I declare that, “I love pizza!”
Pizza is awesome, I do spend a lot of time with it and I genuinely intend to commit to it for the rest of my life. (Albeit a life possibly shortened by pizza consumption.) Would that level of commitment and emotional connection make me a more productive worker?
There’s certainly lots of research and common sense indicating that people with high levels of emotional connection to their work do make more effort and get more out of what they do. This creates a virtuous circle as that feedback stimulates more effort and so forth. This is where I would make a distinction between people loving their work versus those who love their workplaces. There’s a difference. People who love their work for its own sake, get into that virtuous circle and score that productivity boost for themselves and their employers. People who love their workplaces may or may not. Their connection is with showing up to a place or a group of people. It’s better than hating your workplace but I haven’t seen any substance backing up that loving your workplace makes for significantly greater productivity.
I do love pizza but I’ve been seeing felafels. It’s not pizza, it’s me.
So, in much the same way that I was committed to pizza and am now transitioning to felafels, it is more the norm now than the exception for people once committed to a career to transition to another, sometimes multiple times in a working life. I remember seeing a documentary once about prostitution and one of the workers knowledgeably declaring, “It’s better than working in a bank.”
If Beethoven’s mum hadn’t bought a piano at some stage then maybe Beethoven would’ve ended up as a plumber? Alebit a deaf plumber, which would at least provide a plausible excuse for never returning customers’ calls. That and phones not being invented yet.
A transition is scary but has its upsides, including a fresh perspective. For example, it must be tough for someone who has only ever been a police officer to organise a party. The only parties they ever get to see are crazy, out of control and end up with bottle throwing, baton charges and near rioting. Imagine when they try and organise a surprise birthday party for the Sarge. It’s hard enough to keep it a surprise but it’s quite a hassle to steal, overturn and set fire to a Mazda 3. That’s probably why so many police transition out of their careers.
A Harvard Business School article boasted it could teach you how to ‘explain’ your career transitioning, as if a prospective employer would see on your CV that you’d been a pianist, plumber and cop and that meant you were an unstable gadfly that wouldn’t have the stick-to-it-iveness to be successful as an investment banker. Maybe before the mid-80s, I’d give that prejudice some credence but not today. If anything the reverse is true. Can you really trust someone who’s been in the same job for decades? What’s wrong with them? That said, it was pretty good advice to come up with a “compelling narrative” not so much to justify the transitions but to leverage them as a selling point, celebrating your versatility, ability to learn and need for challenge.
I’ve known people who transitioned from the rat race to the non-profit sector. I don’t know if it worked out for them or not. I’ve tried to ask but they’re too busy being happy and fulfilled. The pre-retirement transition is a classic move. I had a manager at one outfit I worked at in Nelson who clearly had a transition into orcharding planned for when he retired from his management role. He insisted on an office car big enough for “3 bushels of apples.” A forward-thinker if not a subtle man.
I have a sideline as a stand-up comedian and the universal first bit of advice they get when starting out is, “Don’t quit your day job.” This is equally applicable to mid-career, non-comedy transitions. It’s a lot easier to find a new career when you have a job. Or maybe it’ll hold you back if you have a safety net? Cortes the conquistador who conquered the Aztecs famously burned the boats after landing as a motivator to move his soldiers forwards. If I’d been one of his soldiers, I’d have seriously considered transitioning into a career as a boat-builder.