Following is part 2 of an interview Next For Me’s Jeff Tidwell had with John Tarnoff. John came out of the entertainment industry where they ‘eat their young” as he says, and decided to get a degree in psychology and see how he could help people who were looking at reinvention after 50, specifically as it relates to work.
He wrote the book “Boomer Reinvention, How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50” and has a career coaching practice and is a nationally recognized speaker and writer on these topics.
In Part 1 of the interview, Tarnoff discussed the four stages of a career, stopping ageism by being honest in our business interactions, the uncomfortable reality of finances over 65, and intergenerational interactions. Listen to the full interview
Redefining Who You Are in the Workplace
Next For Me (NFM): I’d like to walk through a couple of high level topics and see if we can riff on those a little bit. Part of this begins with some introspection and looking at yourself and who you have been and how you’ve defined yourself up til now. You call that “Capture your vision”.
John Tarnoff (JT): This is a way in which I work in a perhaps counterintuitive way or certainly in a different way from most career-oriented advisors. The traditional way of doing this comes out of HR and when you think about about what HR is about. HR is a company function that is meant to manage employees and put them into the functional boxes that work for the company. So anytime you’re working with someone who comes out of HR, they are by definition used to thinking about how they can help you fit into a company box and how to gear your resume and your value proposition to open assignments to what the trends are in the hiring world, etc. It’s not about you. It’s not about your values, your core aspirations, your dreams, nor is it about your unique talents, if you have an esoteric combination of experiences, interests, skills, etc.
They’re going to try to compartmentalize you and discard those seemingly extraneous aspects so that you can fit into the box. I work completely 180 degrees the other way. I’m looking to synthesize everything about who you are, what you like to do, what keeps you up at night, what makes you excited to wake up in the morning, and where you can be useful to a customer. Whether that is to an employer or a client doesn’t really matter to me.
It’s about what you do and love to do and could continue to do, conceivably for the rest of your life, that would give you a tremendous amount of pleasure, stimulate you intellectually, connect you to other people in the same area and be of commercial value and usefulness to someone else. So that’s the process that I work on with people and it is an introspective one.
It’s about going inside. And first it’s about reframing the thinking that you’ve gotten about what your limitations are or how the world works. We’ve all had disappointments at this point. We’ve got baggage and that baggage tends to press us down a little bit and discourage us about what we could do. So my process, I talk about this a lot in the book, is getting out from under that baggage and reframing a lot of these ideas that you have that aren’t working anymore. Maybe they worked when you were 30 or 40 and they kind of got you through those years. Now things are different and you have much more opportunity in a funny way at this time in your life to do something that is much more aligned with who you are than you’ve ever had in the past – ironically.
So go do it. This is a hard process for people. Yes, it’s very hard and I think there are a lot of obstacles that stand in the way, particularly if you’ve been working in an organization for 10, 20 years, sometimes longer. There is a tremendous loss involved in stepping away from a company. If you’ve been fired, which is the worst – the sense of disloyalty and alienation of being kind of booted out the door at age 55 after 20 years… Or if you’ve been shuttled out through an early retirement.
I actually know people who get to the point where they say, “Well, I’m going to retire” and they think it’s going to be great. They really don’t spend enough time thinking about it. Then they wake up a year later and go, “Oh my god, what have I done? What am I going to do? You know, I’m bored to tears. I’ve lost all this contact with the people at the company. For some reason they don’t want to talk to me anymore. It’s not that they don’t want to talk to me, but it’s like I’m not part of the club anymore.”
And you’re not, you’ve got to start taking matters into your own hands here and you’ve got to start thinking about what you’re going to do to better define the value proposition that you represent that you can execute on and start pitching it. Start spreading that around. Start making connections on that basis.
It may be something that is very close to what you have been doing. I do not say that a career reinvention has to be different or 180 degrees away from what you’ve been doing for the last 20 years. Some people are done with the past and they’re ready and they want to do something different. That’s great, but for other people who said, well, what would I do if I left this job, I don’t know anything else? Well, first of all, you do.
First of all, you have portable skills and part of my process is to dig deep to figure out what is it about the job that you love. It’s not necessarily that you’re in x or y industry, it’s about something that you do, whether you connect people, whether there’s a certain analytical quality that you enjoy doing, whatever it is that’s portable.
You can do this gradually. You can turn your current job Into a consulting practice. You can drill down and look at the most leveraged aspect of your job, where you get the most traction, where you get the most enjoyment, where you get the most energy. Figure that out, figure out whether or not it’s possible to turn that into its own niche practice. And if you come up with something like that, then how would you go about doing it? How would you go about quantifying it? How would you go about productizing it so that you’re actually offering a very specific solution to potential customers – and then start experimenting [to make it happen].
Start a side gig around this. Start talking to people who are in your space, who are potential customers, people who are friends of yours, people who are in your LinkedIn network, which you need to be focused on, by the way, very heavily, and start doing the research about whether this is the right thing for you. Talk to people who were really close to you and say, “Look, you know, it’s a very vulnerable period for me. Can I bring you into my confidence and would you give me some advice on this, about whether this is something I should pursue?”
They may say, “absolutely go for it”. Or they may say, “Look, I have to be honest with you, I don’t think this is right for you for x, y, and z reason. What I suggest you do is actually something along these lines.” And then, maybe if you’ve talked to three, four, five people and everyone is telling you the same thing, it’s something to consider.
There are all sorts of aspects of this that conspire to give you an evolving picture of what it is that you could be doing or should be doing to empower your own career proposition. And at the end of the day, you may turn around and say to your current company, “I’ve got an idea. Why don’t I phase out of my current job and let me consult to you doing x, y, z solution, for a certain period of time and you’ll be my first client because I see the handwriting on the wall. You don’t want me here forever, but there’s a certain thing that I can do for you that nobody else can do and let me do it. Let me train other people to do it.” Succession planning is a very, very big important thing.
I’ve seen this happen. I was working recently with a woman who comes out of a big pharma company who has been developing her own healthcare practice and she took a lot of what she was doing at this company and niched it down to a very, very specific area and is now going out and doing it.
NFM: That sounds scary — venturing into a world that is uncertain and could result in you not having the stability you’ve been accustomed to. How do you help people get to get that courage to make those steps?
JT: Two things. One: Unfortunately you have to look at the alternative. The alternative to taking a bold move in this economy in this context, is not good, right? You can’t expect that things are just going to work out or that somehow magically you’re going to be taken care of because you’re not. There are rare circumstances where you are going to be OK, where you have an ironclad retirement account where you’ve saved a lot of money and then you’re not listening to me in any event, you’re not even on this call, right?
If you are listening to this and you are scared, and I understand that it is scary for a lot of people, I would gently say to you that you really don’t have an alternative, but to take a more entrepreneurial path.
Having said that, here’s the second thing: my experience in working with people is that when they begin to drill down to the very personal, very authentic value proposition that they are looking to do they really discover a sense of purpose and passion and a certainty inside them around this value proposition that supersedes the fear. It overcomes this hesitation around selling oneself. I get this a lot. “Oh, I’m not a good salesman.” Well, if you love what you do and you know what that is and you can talk about it forever because you’re so excited about it, you don’t have to sell. Personally I consider myself a lousy salesman. I am not the kind of guy who can just, you know, take up an apple and walk into a store and say, “Hey, you know why this is the greatest apple that’s ever been grown?”
I’m not that kind of guy, but as you can tell, I am really enthusiastic about what I do and what I’ve learned and what I have to share about this topic and the work that I’ve been doing with people around this. So I’m just sharing from my passion and that’s what people want to find and listen to anyway.
I think that that once you realize that again, the career you want, the career that you are destined for is already inside you, and as soon as you start focusing on that career and that value and that usefulness, you can get really excited about it and it’s going to take your life over and people are going to go, “Wow. I want a piece of that.” Because not only is there something smart and applicable and relevant and commercial about what this person is proposing, they are passionate about it and if they’re passionate about it, it means that there’s something to it, and if they believe in it, then I’m going to believe in it.
That only comes through the exercise of really finding out what it is that moves you and you can’t fake that and have a script for that. That comes out of true belief. And here’s the cherry on the sundae for me. When you hit 50, and I’m sure you and everyone listening to this who’s over 50 knows what I’m talking about, all of a sudden people start looking at you in a different way. They start looking at you like you know something and whether it’s at the checkout line or wherever you are, being older confers some sense of awe and respect. And your job is not to be self deprecating about it. Nor is it to be arrogant about it. It’s to be engaged with it. It’s to share from that place of joy and wisdom and enthusiasm.
Visit John’s Website: JohnTarnoff.com