In Search of the Rest of Your Career

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01Jun2012

In Search of the Rest of Your Career

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By Chere Estrin, KNOW Magazine

We all start out headed in one direction, and, darn it, if we don’t end up in another.

There are estimates that people have three to five completely different careers in one lifetime. That’s a lot of time invested when including the decision-making process, transition time, learning curve, and years to gain a little experience.

Let’s introduce the concept of career-changing rather than changing careers. This means taking charge of your present career and changing it to best suit your needs. Change is hard. I should know. Starting out in paralegal management years ago, becoming an entrepreneur, moving as an executive to a $5 billion corporation, exec in an $80 million company, then back to entrepreneur, all the while staying in the legal field, I created a pattern of pushing change on myself rather than opting for a secure road. There were no “accidental” jobs.

Leveraging your background is always a good strategy. I am relieved I didn’t take my mother’s advice to be an elementary school teacher to have “something to fall back on, just in case.” Geez, for additional insurance, she wanted me to marry a dentist – in the Valley – with a pool, and, yeah, a guesthouse in the back. <sigh> Things were different back then.

Twenty years in the legal field taught me to listen closely to those desiring “something new, something different.” “Something different” is about creating an emotion people can get excited about instead of routine and repetitious duties. Now that I think about it, I’ve never seen a legal professional get energized about a job in order to put more profit in a partner’s pocket. However, when I suggest a change to an organization where a legal professional makes a real difference, faces light up.

A career move may be complex. You may say you want to make a difference but, in truth, only want something beyond the tedium. As stops come up and fear of the unknown sets in, commitment to radical change becomes hampered in reality. You may only be trying on the idea for size. Be honest. Are you committing to exploration or are you committing to change? Or are you just fooling around? What you commit to will have a profound effect on the outcome.

It’s okay if you don’t know in what direction to head. Here is an opportunity to use your fact-finding skills to make an intelligent decision about your next career move.

Strategy #1:
Leverage your prior work experience so that it is strategically aligned with anticipated changes. What you do now affects your future position. This may mean a new practice specialty; transfering from law firm to in-house legal department or government; an “up and out” leap to a related area such as litigation support, recruiting, or marketing; a climb up the ladder to management, vendor, or teaching position.

Strategy #2: Take baby steps. Plans for big successes often result in big failures. Chop up the path to your goal into small, palatable steps. Simplify your process, and your self-esteem will zoom with each accomplished step.

Strategy #3: Research your goals. Understand where you’re headed along with the impact it will have on your career and personal life. Change can be frightening, so keep the road positive. Experiencing anxiety does not mean you made the wrong decision. Keep the transition simple and don’t compound problems. For example, if you are considering switching jobs, don’t quit your current position until you’ve found another. Maybe you can tough it out. With proper research and a flexible plan, you’re in the home stretch.

Strategy #4: Put structure into your plan. Identify what works. Get a flexible plan with a checklist. Find someone to talk to with good input and another viewpoint. Choose wisely, though. Negative Nancys can kill the best formulated plans.

Strategy #5: Impulsivity lacks deliberateness and can cause setbacks.  Go slowly. Create a bridge to your career change. You might hold onto your current situation; take a hiatus or back-to-school break. Consider a transition job while implementing your strategy.

Strategy #6: As you reach your goal, your new world begins, but it can’t happen by itself. You have to work at it. In my situation, I started two adventures: a legal professional training company and the Organization of Legal Professionals, creating a fresh career path. (Hmmmm…..In the back of my mind, was I somehow listening to my mother?)

Changes for me included: how, where and with whom I work; hours I put in; less stress; much more creativity and increased intellectual stimulation. Oh, and there is one major factor: I’m having a great time.

Career changing, while risky, can be exhilarating, stimulating and overwhelming at the same time. The legal world around us has changed significantly in just a few years. To keep up or even just to stay in it, we all need change. The most profound thing you can do for your career is to discover and lead a truly authentic life by bringing the best of who you are to whatever you choose to do.

Originally appeared on The Estrin Report blog.

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