In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming clear that many Americans are rethinking their futures and rethinking their career paths. Many are seriously considering a potentially life-changing overhaul of their career goals.
The pandemic just seems to have accelerated people's natural propensity to consider a career that is more rewarding to them.
This is not dissimilar to 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 an additional career. Although I was 59 years old and could stay with the company until the typical retirement age of 65, I had re-envisioned my own future after some life-changing experiences. These experiences made me think seriously about retiring and attending a divinity school to improve my spiritual education and development and prepare for the career that followed.
The thought process and planning that I went through could be useful for many who are thoughtfully considering changing careers after the pandemic.
Read: If You're Fed Up With Your Job And Want To Quit, Don't So Do It
Consider the financial and other consequences of a career change
Who of us hasn't thought about a big change in our professional orientation? Such thoughts can be frightening, and therefore not everyone acts on these impulses. But it can also be stimulating to think about such a change. Perhaps the pandemic has given you the time and inspiration to reconsider your current career and what could be a beneficial change for your future.
When considering a career change, it is important to carefully weigh the possible financial consequences of such a change, especially in the short term. Make sure you have the resources to cope with a temporary shortfall in your initial earning capacity and adjust your budgeted expenses accordingly if necessary.
My own early retirement and pursuit of a writing career have proven to be a great liberating experience. I feel happier, healthier, and younger than I have felt in decades. While it was certainly important to be financially prepared, I found it even more important to deal with all of the other non-financial aspects of a post-pandemic career life.
Read: When You Should And When You Shouldn't Invest In A Roth 401 (k)
Important questions you need to answer
At the beginning of the non-financial planning process, ask yourself these three questions and answer them honestly:
1. The passion question: In your pre-pandemic years, what kind of work has made you happiest and most satisfying, either in your previous career or in your off-work activities? In short, what are your greatest passions?
2. The question about gifts and abilities: What are your unique gifts and skills that you can use to achieve the greatest satisfaction in your next career?
3. The preparatory question: What can you do now to position yourself for the greatest impact as you decide to transition to a new career?
The answers to such questions are unique to everyone. Searching for answers will force you to grapple with elusive terms such as "success", "satisfaction" and "happiness". Nonetheless, I think that you will find it thought provoking and enjoyable to practice contemplation and judgment.
Answering the passion question
Most of us are happiest when we pursue our passions. So the first step for me was to clearly identify those activities and pursuits that left me with the greatest sense of achievement, greatest self-esteem, and therefore greatest happiness.
I've asked myself, “What makes me tick?” I've considered many options, but clearly what makes me happiest is how to positively touch and influence other people's lives. As I pondered how writing could help me achieve this in my future, I began to envision a new beginning – a time of meaning and impact.
Think of the activities that give you the greatest pleasure and greatest sense of accomplishment. Then formulate your passions in a sentence or two.
Answering the question about gifts and abilities
It is almost certain that there is a high correlation between what you do well and what makes you happy. Start there, and then expand your thought process by thinking about all possible moments in your life – beyond your work activities – when you felt truly happy and fulfilled.
What was the time standing still? What did you do just before you experienced that tremendous sense of accomplishment and wellbeing? When you remember those moments, ask yourself what added value you added.
I believe that my greatest contribution and added value has been influencing people's lives through the use of my own personal gifts and abilities – my strong beliefs, my financial acumen, my storytelling and writing skills, and my teaching and mentoring -Skills.
Answering the preparatory 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 included several steps that I had taken before the final transition. I decided to go to deity school to improve my spiritual education and development. I developed a business school strategy and leadership course that I taught as an adjunct professor at Fairfield University. I researched both the nonprofits and for-profit organizations that I felt could add value with my business and financial acumen. As a result, I began serving on five non-profit and two for-profit boards.
The peace of mind I get from following my passions and influencing other people's lives has made me much happier than in many years.
Tips for a quick start into professional life
When I was considering a career change, my daughter Dena had recently graduated and felt like she was languishing in an entry-level position with a large global company. She came to me with an urgent request: She wanted advice on how to be perceived as high potential and develop a meaningful new career path.
The tips I gave Dena started and charged her new career. Here is a quick recap of the five tips I gave her. These can apply whether you're joining a large company, starting a small business, or even an entrepreneurial business 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, go late, and be fully involved in everything you do. In other words, use the time. Even 30 to 60 extra minutes per day are used by your superiors, your colleagues and by the members of your team.
2. Memorize the mission statement of your company
Keep the company's mission statement in mind. If you're an employee of a larger company, you don't want to go around reciting the mission statement; that would seem arrogant. Instead, as you are contemplating difficult decisions (or observing decisions made by others), you can easily test them against the organization's stated mission.
It is important that a company's decisions and actions align well with its stated mission.
3. Develop organizational awareness
Develop a cross-departmental network of contacts. Show an eagerness to learn the culture and understand how the company works, who does what, who has what authority, and how things are accomplished.
4. Demonstrate strategic skills
Familiarize yourself with your company's products, services, customer base, and target markets. Identify your company's market strengths and competitive advantages. How is your company ahead of the competition? Can the company keep that up?
Strategy is about beating the competition, so identify and learn as much as you can about the competition and the strategies they are pursuing. Is your company losing its "competitive advantage" or is it building on it? What can it do better?
5. Understand the financial fundamentals of the company
This tip seems like the hardest one, but it really is very simple. My daughter had no background or training in accounting or finance, but found the following piece of advice effective and easy to implement.
Ask someone in finance or accounting to give you a basic understanding of how the company's income statement results are reflected on the balance sheet. Once you have that understanding, start quarterly tracking (in a table) the following six numbers:
· From the profit and loss account: income, expenses and net profit
· From the balance sheet: assets, liabilities and equity
It's safe to say that none of your co-workers (and few of your supervisors) will track these six key metrics over time.
For my daughter, following these five tips resulted in a rapidly growing range of tasks that offered countless future career opportunities and financial rewards. If your career changes, 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 entitled Fast-Starting a Career of Consequence.