I don’t know about you but when I joined the workforce you only really talked about having one career. It wasn’t unusual to have that one career with one company or organisation, either. My first ‘proper’ job was with BT and I remember my Dad saying “That’s a good company, you’ll have a good career with them.”
The world of business was just starting to change and it became more common for people to move around but they mostly stayed in one career. I considered leaving BT but only to move to other companies in the same field where I would do the same sort of thing. I didn’t leave because I believed in what I was creating at BT and, with a young family, it made sense to stay put.
I ended up stayed with BT for 15 years, considered a short spell back then when people had 35 and 40 years service. Today, it would be thought an eternity to be with one company and it’s definitely the exception. The idea of a single career appears similarly outlandish and my children can expect to change career a dozen times or more in their working lives.
Of course, I understand that I need to change my career but emotionally, I am still wedded to the idea of a single thread, a single arc, because that’s what I was conditioned to expect. So even whilst I was intellectually open to changing, I was still clinging on to the hope that I could somehow continue my career, to reconnect with it and revive it in some way.
In the language of William Bridges’ 3-stage model of transition, you must fully process the ‘ending’ of what went before before you transition into the ‘new beginning’, otherwise you drag a load of baggage with you and simply repeat what happened before. Letting go of the past is a critical precursor to moving forward into a new future.
It’s not just about realising that your career is finished, I got that years ago. It’s about accepting it, grieving for it, celebrating what was good and laying it to rest. That’s taken me much longer to do, largely because I didn’t realise I needed to go through that process, that I had to acknowledge my loss, accept my feelings about it and experience my emotions.
Now, I have spoken the eulogy, had the wake, put it in the grave and erected the headstone. It reads “Here lies my glorious career. Snatched away in its prime, its potential still a promise. Bitter sweet memories are all that remain. R.I.P.”
Reaching acceptance has been extremely hard. I have had ‘unlearn’ a lot of things, unpick the social conditioning and create a new mindset. I still have lapses back to my old thought patterns but I can recognise them and get myself back on track quite quickly. However, once I realised I needed to go through this grieving process, it was quite easy to let go and I quickly felt ready to move on.
Remember to put your career to rest first. Mourn your loss, work through your grief and learn to accept that it is in the past. Then you ready to start re-imagining yourself and your future.