At age 47, Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, the woman we know as Mother Teresa, decided it was time to do something different. She’d been teaching in a private school for years and thought she might have more impact elsewhere. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that listening for her next calling was a good idea.
Successful people often make dramatic career changes. At age 25, Marc Roth decided trading stocks wasn’t his cup of tea so he moved to construction consulting and then switched careers again at 31, founding Home Warranty of America, a company he recently sold to a public utility. At age 26, an injury knocked James Lawrence “Bo” Eason out of the NFL, and on a whim, the defensive back for the Houston Oilers decided to write and perform in a one-man play called “Runt of the Litter” about his challenging relationship with his older brother, NFL quarterback Tony Eason. The play was a smash hit on Broadway and created a new career and passion for Bo. Could it be time to reinvent you? And if so, how do you do it?
My friend Dorie Clark has written a wonderful new book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press), about the topic. Dorie has done a fair amount of her own reinventing during her career. A philosophy major at Smith, she has worked as Executive Director of MassBike, a spokesman for presidential hopeful Howard Dean, and a staff writer reporter for the Boston Phoenix. She now has her own firm, Clark Strategic Communications. According to Dorie, reinvention is the new normal. She points out that people like Steven Rice, the Executive VP of Human Resources for Juniper Networks, now asks job applicants, “How are you adapting and approaching your next reinvention curve? How are you staying relevant and competitive?”
Many of us have never even thought of doing a “me-makeover,” but with change happening so fast in corporate America, Dorie argues that the most important skill is now the ability to adapt quickly and reinvent yourself. What I like most about this book is the coaching and practical strategies that Dorie introduces. Here are three quick examples:
- Every professional has to take control of his or her reputation. The bad news is that most people just aren’t paying that close attention to you and your professional progress, which means their assessment of you is probably a few years out of date. The good news is that you can take action. Social media allows you—through blogging or even curating a particularly informative Twitter feed—to showcase your knowledge and skills, and ensure others know what you’re capable of.
- Your narrative matters. Too often, professionals assume that others will “get” their career trajectory and understand what they’re aiming for. But most often, that’s not true. You need to formulate your own “narrative statement” to make it clear how your past fits into your present—and how it’s positioned you to add unique value in the workplace.
- Get help from your friends. Reaching the next level in your career, or transitioning into a new field, can be daunting, unless you have a team helping you along the way. Tap trusted friends and colleagues to be a sounding board, giving early advice about your strengths and where you could improve. Check in with them periodically to get their counsel. Too many people look fruitlessly for a “mentor”—an older, wiser professional who will magnanimously look out for you and your interests. They are rare. Instead, open your eyes to the possibilities in front of you, especially building a cadre of colleagues—made up of senior players, peers and even junior staffers with promise—who can be part of your own dream team.