As we navigate the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that many Americans are reimagining their future and rethinking their career paths. Many are seriously considering a revision of their career goals that could change their lives.
The pandemic simply appears to have accelerated people’s natural inclination to consider switching to a career that is more rewarding for them.
This is no different than the process I went through when I decided to retire early from my position as president of New York Life Insurance Company, a Fortune 100 company, to pursue a new career. Even though I was 59 years old and could stay with the company until the typical retirement age of 65, I had been reimagining my own future after a couple of life-changing experiences. Those experiences led me to seriously consider retiring and attending theology school to improve my spiritual education and development in preparation for my career.
The thought process and planning that I went through could be helpful to many who are seriously considering a career change after the pandemic.
Contemplating the financial and other consequences of a career change.
Who among us has not considered an important change in our vocational search at times? Such thoughts can be scary, and that is why not everyone acts on these impulses. But considering that change can also be exhilarating. Perhaps the pandemic has given you time and inspiration to rethink your current career and reimagine what could be a beneficial change for your future.
When considering a career change, it is important to carefully assess the potential financial consequences of such a change, particularly in the short term. Make sure you have the resources to support a temporary shortfall in your initial earning capacity and, if necessary, adjust your budgeted expenses accordingly.
My own early retirement and the pursuit of a career as an author has proven to be a wonderful liberating experience. I feel happier, healthier, and younger than I have in decades. While being financially prepared was certainly important, I have found it even more important to address all the other non-financial aspects of a professional post-pandemic lifestyle.
Important questions for you to answer
As you begin the nonfinancial planning process, ask and honestly answer these three questions:
1. The passion question: What type of job has made you the happiest and provided the most gratification in your pre-pandemic years, whether in your current career or in your activities outside of the workplace? In short, what are your greatest passions?
2. The question about gifts and abilities: What are your unique gifts and abilities that you can use to generate the most satisfaction in your next career?
3. The preparation question: What can you do now to position yourself for greater impact when you decide to transition to a renewed career?
The answers to questions like these are unique to each individual. Searching for the answers will force you to struggle with elusive concepts like “success”, “satisfaction” and “happiness.” However, I think you will find it challenging and enjoyable to go through the exercise of contemplation and discernment.
Answering the question of passion
Most of us are happiest when we pursue our passions. So the first step for me was to clearly identify those activities and goals that left me with the greatest sense of accomplishment, self-worth, and therefore happiness.
I asked myself: “What motivates me?” I considered many possibilities, but what clearly makes me happiest is touching and positively impacting the lives of other human beings. So, as I carefully contemplated how writing might help me achieve that in my future, I began to envision a new beginning: a period of importance and impact.
Think of those activities that bring you the most joy and a sense of fulfillment. Then articulate your passions in a sentence or two.
Answer the question about gifts and abilities
There will almost certainly be a high correlation between what you do well and what makes you happy. Start there and then expand your thought process by reflecting on all kinds of moments in your life, beyond your work activities, in which you have felt truly happy and fulfilled.
What made time stop? What were you doing right before you felt that tremendous sense of accomplishment and well-being? As you remember those moments, ask yourself what value you added in the process.
I believe that my greatest contribution and added value was my ability to impact people’s lives through the use of my own personal gifts and abilities: my strong faith, my financial acumen, my storytelling and writing skills, and my skills in writing. teaching and tutoring.
Answer the setup question
Once you have identified your passions and your unique gifts and abilities, consider how you will prepare for the next phase of your life.
My preparation involved several steps that I started before making the final transition. I decided to attend theology school to improve my education and spiritual development. I developed a business school course on strategy and leadership that I taught as an adjunct professor at Fairfield University. I researched for-profit and non-profit organizations where I felt I could add value using my business and financial acumen. As a result, I became a member of five not-for-profit and two for-profit boards of directors.
The peace of mind that comes from following my passions and impacting other people’s lives has left me much happier than I have been in many years.
Tips to quickly start your new career
When I was considering a career change, my daughter, Dena, had recently graduated from college and felt like she was languishing in an entry-level position at a large global company. She came to me with an urgent request – she wanted advice on how to get noticed as someone with high potential and start developing a meaningful new career.
The advice I gave Dena launched and supercharged her new career. Here is a brief summary of the five tips I gave you. These can apply if you are joining a large company, a small business, or even starting a business venture with a small support team.
1. Show commitment
Show your commitment to your company. An easy way to do this is to get to work early, leave late, and stay fully involved in everything you do. In other words, take the time. Even your superiors, your peers, and your team members will even notice an extra 30 to 60 minutes per day.
2. Memorize your company’s mission statement
Memorize the corporate mission statement. If you are an employee of a larger company, you don’t want to go around reciting the mission statement; that would seem arrogant. Instead, by considering difficult decisions (or observing decisions made by others), you can easily test them against the stated mission of the organization.
It is important that a company’s decisions and actions align well with its stated mission.
3. Develop organizational awareness
Develop a network of contacts between departments. Show enthusiasm for learning and understanding the culture, how the company operates, who does what, who has what authority, and how things are accomplished.
4. Demonstrate strategic ability
Familiarize yourself with your company’s products, services, customer base, and target markets. Identify your company’s competitive advantages and market strengths. What is your company’s advantage over the competition? Can the company sustain it?
Strategy is about beating the competition, so identify and learn as much as you can about the competition and the strategies they follow. Is your business losing its “competitive edge” or building on it? What can you do even better?
5. Understand the financial fundamentals of the company.
This tip may seem like the most difficult, but it is actually quite simple. My daughter had no experience or training in accounting or finance, but she found the following tips powerful and easy to implement.
Ask someone in the finance or accounting department to give you a basic understanding of how the results of the company’s income statement flow into the balance sheet. Once you have that knowledge, begin a quarterly tracking (on a spreadsheet) of the following six numbers:
From the income statement: income, expenses and net profit
From the balance sheet: assets, liabilities and equity
It’s safe to say that none of your peers (and few among your superiors) will track these six key metrics over time.
For my daughter, implementing these five tips created a rapidly expanding set of responsibilities that provided countless opportunities for future career growth and financial rewards. As you make a career change, they can do the same for you.
Fred Sievert is the retired president of New York Life Insurance Company and the author of three books, the most recent of which is titled, Quick start to a race of consequences.