When it comes to career change or reinvention, most people focus on the outer change – the “what to do next” part. However, when people reshape their way of working there’s actually a much more profound psychological transition going on.
Failing to recognise this and embrace it, means you are much more likely to struggle with making the changes you want, or perhaps not even manage to do it at all.
What is Career Reinvention?
Career reinvention doesn’t need to entail radical outer changes like a friend of mine who was a Finance Director and retrained to become a speech therapist. Or a previous client in financial services, who became a doctor.
Choosing to work part-time, to have a portfolio career, to go from an executive to a non-executive role, moving from CEO to Chair of the company you founded, pursuing more meaningful work, wanting to work in a way that feels true to the person you really are, can all involve significant transformation.
Professor Herminia Ibaraa’s book ‘Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing You Career’ is by far the best book I‘ve come across for anyone thinking about or going through a significant change in their work or way of working.
The book maps out what people go through using a number of real-life examples, as well as gives practical guidance for helping people navigate this transition more easily.
Many people underestimate the emotional, psychological and identity-related facets of such transition. Most (and especially my high-achieving clients, who are used to doing things faster and better than everyone else), also significantly underestimate how long this transition takes. Both of which can cause more doubt or angst than necessary on their path as a result.
I certainly wish I had known about this book before I went through my own career transition a number of years back! And it’s why I recommend it to all my clients who are going though this.
The book will help you see that what you’re going through is normal and expected, and gives many tips for navigating the psychological and identity transformation more easily.
Summary of ‘Working Identity’
Here are key points from the book which I hope will help you enhance your awareness and facilitate the navigation of any significant work changes:
1. True career reinvention isn’t easy
“A true change of direction is almost always terrifying, even as it is exhilarating … Most people experience the transition to a new working life as a time of confusion, loss, insecurity, and struggle.”
2. It takes longer than people expect – especially for high achievers
“Change always takes much longer than we expect because to make room for the new, we have to get rid of some of the old selves we are still dragging around and, unconsciously, still invested in becoming.”
3. The internal shifts are as important as the outer changes
“The difference between a job change and a career reinvention lies in a depth of personal transformation … What is important is not changing the work or organizational context, but reworking outdated basic premises and decision rules that are still governing our professional lives ... Reinvention is about such internal shifts… Deep change is not moving into a new career but achieving greater congruence between who you are and what you do.”
4. We act, not think, our way into a new way of working
“By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change careers is to delay taking the first step until they have settled on a destination … Our old identities, even when they are out of whack with our core values and fundamental preferences, remain entrenched because they are anchored in our daily activities, strong relationships, and life stories. We only dislodge the old when we start doing new things, interacting with different people, and reinterpreting our life stories through the lens of the new possibilities we are creating.”
5. A time of reflection & challenging old thinking
“Our desire to leave them [current roles] makes us confront big questions about identity: who we are, who we thought we should be, who we hope to become (or feared becoming), and what we risk losing in the process.”
6. It’s not easy to let go of our old identity
“Becoming our own person, breaking free from our “ought selves” – the identity molded by important people in our lives – is at the heart of the transition process … Endings are tougher and take longer than we think … the present role is necessarily tied to a possible self – an image, outdated though it may be, of whom we once wanted to become”
Friends and family may actually hinder not help
“The people who know us best are also the ones most likely to hinder rather than help. They may wish to be supportive but they tend to reinforce – or even desperately try to preserve – the old identities we are seeking to shed. Without meaning to, friends and family pigeonhole us. Worse, they fear our changing.”
7. Stay the course
“One of the hardest tasks of reinvention is staying the course when it feels like you’re coming undone… Accept the crooked path … forget about moving in a straight line.”
If you find yourself at a crossroads, are thinking about what’s next for you, or you’re in the middle of a work or career transition, this book could provide valuable insights, making the journey less unsettling and guiding you toward the great opportunities that await on the other side.