I used to be a hedge fund manager. In some circles, this carries kudos, in others, derision. To me, it was a prop to my ego and a place for me to stand in an uncertain world. I had formed an identity, and for the most part it served me well.
Then I sold my business and slipped off into the sunset. I was clear I didn’t want to continue as a fund manager, but deciding what to do next, or more accurately, who to be next, was like staring into the void. My previous identity had provided me with purpose and relevance. Finding these again from a standing start was not without challenge.
This is not an uncommon experience for anyone ending a career. It’s common in sports, it’s common post redundancy and with the rapid pace of technological innovation, it will become increasingly common amongst the broader populace1.
Managing a change of career is a multifaceted exercise. Dealing with finances, skills development and managing familial responsibilities are all part of the mix. What’s also important to consider is how to manage your identity once it slips from its previous pedestal. In my experience, both personally and as a coach, if you can manage your identity transition, then everything else takes care of itself.
So how do I shift my identity?
Firstly, identity is a construct and theoretically can be shifted in an instant. Identity, broadly defined, is a person’s sense of self; established by their unique characteristics, personality traits, skills and abilities, interests and affiliations. One’s sense of self feels solid when scaffolded by one’s history. Remove your past, then who are you? It is this moment that is the source of discomfort for those ending a career. When looking backward doesn’t help you, where do you look?
Let’s try an exercise.
Imagine you are finishing your current career. Then imagine you know what you’d like to do next by way of career, even if you feel like a fraud in thinking about it. Now, imagine that in a year’s time, you have transitioned to your new career and are having some success at it.
See if you can connect with what this feels like.
Do you feel grateful? Do you feel confident? Do you feel proud? Do you feel content? Whatever feelings come up for you, write them down. Note that I’m not asking you to imagine you failing or not being certain, I’m asking you to imagine a successful career transition and then become present to what that feels like.
Now we’re going to frame these feelings as ways of being.
Normally, we tend to engage the world in a “have, do, be” kind of way. For example, “If, in a year, I have transitioned to a new career (have), I’ll start playing golf again (do) and I’ll be confident (be).” Notice that you don’t allow yourself to feel confident (be), until you have transitioned to a new career (have).
In this exercise, we’re going to swap this way of engaging the world around, from a “have -> do -> be” perspective, to a “be -> do -> have” way of framing.
So you’ve identified what it feels like when you have transitioned to a new career. If you’re doing this correctly, these feelings are of the positive kind. It feels good to get what you want. Whatever the strongest of these feelings is, will become our way of being. Let’s say the feeling is “confident”.
Now sit inside that feeling of confidence as if you already “have” what you want. Take on that way of being. Be confident. Wear confidence like a favourite jacket. Then, the “do” part is a matter of acting in a manner that is consistent with that way of being. This doesn’t mean bullshitting. It simply means allowing the feeling of confidence to infuse you during your interactions and in your actions.
It’s another way of not giving voice to your fears and anxieties about the next 12 months, rather, feeling and doing, as if you already have it.
In your mind and in your being, you have already transitioned successfully to your new career, so start acting that way.
By being confident and doing (acting) in a manner consistent with confidence, then the having will take care of itself.
This is a small step toward shifting your identity. Declaring a new way of being, pulls you out of the past and plants you firmly in the future that you are creating.
- According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) recent Future of Job’s Report (May 2023), about a quarter of existing jobs will disappear over the next five years, to be replaced by jobs requiring new skills. This means that career changes due to technology disruption will become common place over the next 5-10 years. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2023.pdf