Updated: Mar 31
What happens when one job ends, when that job was The Job. What do we do then? Who are we if we aren’t associated with that Job, that Company anymore? And will anything else even come close?
When I was growing up it was pretty much decided for me that I was going to do well at school, get into a good university, and then get a Very Good Job. The job was meant to be my parents’ final push, their final job at raising me (well, that and me finding a good mate for marriage). So imagine a 16 year old me, struggling at school because I was expected to be a doctor—yes, the stereotype that is the Asian parents’ expectation.
I was an average student, I managed to do well in the subjects I was interested in, but pre-med wasn’t one of them. I knew that. My teachers in high school knew that. My Dad, I’m sure he knew that but was in denial. I had spent many a night stressed to my stomach worrying that I was going to be a huge disappointment to everyone. Worried that I was going to be a failure in life because I didn’t measure up to some old definition of success. That feeling in the pit of my stomach was not only the stress of and the fear of disappointing my parents, it was also the struggle of trying to uncover who I was in the midst of who I was expected to be.
Fast forward from 16 year old me to 49 year old me. In that time I became a super achiever. Maybe it was a way to justify to my folks my decision to go my own way professionally. I had an immensely successful career as a broadcast journalist. There were so many things I loved about that career, there were so many moments where I felt I was in my flow (that's when you feel like everything is exactly as it should be). It also made my parents proud to have a daughter that was on television and known around the world.
However, there came a time when the job didn't feel right anymore. I had this niggling voice telling me this wasn't it for me anymore. I felt stuck, unsure what to do, feeling I would disappoint my family. Plus I felt guilty for feeling stuck, after all who was I to complain? I had a good job and good salary. What more could I possibly want?. It would take some much needed work internally to get unstuck and find my flow again. And that flow meant realising what I truly valued was time, space, and freedom to design my day. It meant realising I was one of those people who didn't work well in a restrictive environment. Once I allowed myself to consider the possibilities of another way of working and living that was right for me, everything started to change.
A dear friend is currently trying to figure out what his next step, his next job should be after being a very successful journalist for much of his career. There is a fear that he won’t be as successful or fulfilled again saying, “It is hard to adjust after having a job you loved and paid you well.” This is what I told him: “It is hard. But you’re assuming that that was your one chance at having the golden grail of loving your job and being paid well for it. It doesn’t just happen once in a lifetime. It might take a different route to get there. It might look completely different from what you used to do and who you used to be. Have faith in who you are and all that have accomplished. You didn’t come this far in life for it to all just stop here.”
It is so normal to feel a sense of loss or uncertainty when a job or career that defined us for many years comes to an end. Give yourself a break and allow yourself to feel sad or angry or whatever emotion comes up. When you've given yourself the respect to feel all of it, you have then created mental space for you to start exploring what this change could mean for you. It could mean an opportunity to reassess your values and priorities, and to explore new possibilities. It's important to recognise that our goals and aspirations may have been shaped by external expectations and pressures, such as those from our parents or society, rather than our own desires and passions. Taking the time to reflect on what truly matters to you and what you want to achieve in life can help you find a new sense of purpose and direction.
There’s a lot of chatter about The Great Resignation, Quiet Quitting, and The Great Reshuffle. Many of us are looking at second careers and fear the unknown. Many of us are looking at possibilities with the expectations that one would have when looking at them through the same lens we used when we were starting out in out in our professional lives more than 30 years ago. Here’s the thing, we are different people today.
As we continue to grow and evolve, the needs we have change. If we allow ourselves, we begin to ask some fundamental questions: Are our ambitions, is our definition of success ours or do they still belong to others like our relatives, friends, associates, colleagues, even neighbours? If you figure out who the voices are in your head, you can pretty much figure out where your goals, and your fears, and insecurities originally came from. It could be a response to an event or even a throw away comment. You might be surprised to learn that that goal or that motivation isn’t what you want. Not anymore anyway.
The other thing to contend with is that the job market is different today too. The job we loved or the company we loved may not love us anymore. They may not respect our changing needs or we don't believe in their values. That’s the reality we have to accept. However, there could be a job out there today that didn’t even exist until we decided there was something we had to do and could earn a living doing it. There could be a business out there that reflects our values and respects them. If we can fill a need in society, if we can solve a problem that exists, if we can be of service all while recognising that by doing so it fulfils our own ambitions and purpose, well, there’s no better feeling than that.
It's important to have faith in ourselves and our abilities, and to recognise that success and fulfilment can come in many different forms. Sometimes, it may take a different route or a leap of faith to discover new opportunities and possibilities. Embracing change and being open to new experiences can help us grow and evolve as individuals.
It's also worth remembering that we are not alone in this journey. Remember, there are more of us on second, or even third and fourth careers out there. There are more conversations being had about it. And there are more resources out there that can provide us with valuable insights, advice, and encouragement.
Finally, we don’t know what we don’t know. We know only what we know. It’s like when we fall in love and then when we have our heart broken we assume we will never love again. We assume we will never find that one person again. But love isn’t about the other person specifically. It is about who we are and how we feel when we are around them. We recognise in them parts of us and that’s what makes us feel connected and whole.
A career is the same thing. When one comes to an end, we fear we will never feel that way again, or be respected that way again, or be seen that way again. But like love, we have to know ourselves first, we need to recognise what we bring to the table. We have to do the work of finding out what makes us who we are and what we actually want in our life, not what we assume success is or what someone else wants for us or what is expected of us. Then, be open to the possibilities that will show up for us. A job or a different career, like a partner, may not be what we expected, it may not even look like what we thought it should, but it will feel right. Then, all the other reasons, other people’s opinions and expectations and definitions won’t matter.
As for me, I can't complain. I respect and value my path. It brought me to where I am now. I am grateful to my parents for pushing me to be the best I could be. They did the best with what they knew. Their expectations made me step outside my comfort zone on numerous occasions. It made me bolder, more confident, more independent because I had to be. I felt the fear constantly but I had no choice but to jump anyway as the alternative always felt worse. It doesn't mean it was easy or stress free. Far from it. But I learned a lot about myself and the world because of it. That said, I'm doing it differently with my son. I am encouraging him to get to know and respect his own voice and to listen to what it is telling him. I still expect him to push himself, to try hard things, and to do his best. But he knows there is a world of opportunities for him to discover.
After I left that Great Career, I took some much needed time to do some internal rewiring so that I could tune out the other voices and tune up my own. In doing so, I heard what that niggling voice was trying to tell me that I so desperately needed: time, space, and freedom to create my day in my own way. In doing so, I made some much cherished dreams come true--
I became a wife
I became a mother
I moved to the countryside
I took valuable lessons and experience from my first career as a journalist and applied it to my second as a personal development coach. Here I feel I am exactly where I am meant to be. My definitions of ambition and success are mine, not anyone else's. And I am in my flow.
They often say life is short. But I also say it’s incredibly long if you’re miserable. The author Oliver Burkeman writes, “Assuming you live to be eighty, you’ll have had about four thousand weeks.” By the time we get to our forties we are down to two thousand weeks, if we’re lucky. Don’t you owe it to yourself to make sure each one counts by living it your way?