With retirement ages rising and longer life spans you are likely to move in and out of the workforce more frequently and to find yourself at some stage in your career needing to get back into the game.

It could be because of time taken out of the workforce for child rearing, illness, lifestyle reasons, further study, unplanned redundancy or perhaps you’ve deliberately dialled down the pace of your career and are now seeking to ramp it back up.

When you are looking to shift career gears there are three key steps to take: context, conflict and contribution.

Know the context
Consider your current circumstances and the external operating environment and what may have changed since you were working or working in a different environment.

Your expectations in terms of employment will have changed, while at the same time the industry and profession in which you want to work will have changed.

Ask yourself:

  • What are my expectations with respect to work?
  • What factors will my drive my role choice?
  • How has the industry / profession changed?
  • What do these changes mean for my work?
  • Will I need to upskill or reskill in some way?

Find the conflict
We all have an image of ourselves – an identity – that is connected with the work we do. This identity shifts over time, and there can be a clash of identities when you are coming back into a work environment or changing working environments.

It’s critical to know how to manage this.

While speaking in the context of technological change, historian and author (Sapiens and most recently, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century), Yuval Noah Harari said: “… the most important thing is to invest in emotional intelligence and mental balance, because the hardest challenges will be psychological. Even if there is a new job, and even if you get support from the government to kind of retrain yourself, you need a lot of mental flexibility to manage these transitions”.

Research bears out the importance of this. Psychologist and researcher, Susan David, found that emotionally agile people are not immune to stresses and setbacks. What’s different is they know how to gain insight about those situations and interactions by noticing their feelings and using this knowledge to adapt or align their values and actions, and then make changes.

Ask yourself:

  • How important is my career to my sense of self?
  • How has this changed over the course of my career?
  • Does it need to shift now?
  • What is my career identity?
  • How emotionally ready am I for change?
  • What does emotional agility look like for me, and how can I put it into practice?

Make your contribution
Getting back into the game is mostly about what you do – your contribution to making the change work for you. To make it work you need to invest the right amount of time, energy and resources so you are able to respond and adapt.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I need to do more of or less of to be ready?
  • How am I keeping emotionally and physically fit?
  • What new things am I learning or should I be learning?
  • What’s my daily routine and am I spending appropriate time, energy and resources to make this shift happen?
  • What voluntary work could I do to uplift my skill set and to contribute to the world around me?
  • What am I known for and what do I want to be known for?

As you make choices and decide what to do (and what not to do) keep in mind the quote from the productivity expert, Stephen Covey, who said: “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®.

Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate Your Career’. For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact [email protected].


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