Last summer during my college reunion, my friends and I perused the schedule of seminars offered each morning and decided to attend one called, “Supercharge Your Career.” I thought this was terribly amusing. After all, as 60-somethings, our careers were pretty much over–at least according to traditional norms.
Because the reunion weekend hosted all graduation classes in five-year increments, from 5 to 50+ years, I was pretty sure we’d be sitting with a bunch of 26-year-olds, who’d be asking about strategies for “climbing the ladder” in their careers. Meanwhile, my friends and I had already climbed that ladder, but our problem was that we were teetering at the top, unsure about whether to get off or try another step. Once we got seated in the lecture hall, however, I looked around. The joke was on me: Most of those in the audience were up there with us: on the ladder and in age.
Turns out, searching for meaningful work and career progress is not age-specific.
A month later I left a job I’d been at four years. What now? I decided to launch a company (Startup Decoder) aimed at people like me who had had traditional careers and switched gears to working in a startup environment. I began with tons of enthusiasm but soon learned that working alone is challenging. Even though I’ve worked “alone” from a home office for almost 20 years, I have always been part of a team. Now, I was a company of one. All my meetings were just me and a notebook.
I thought back to that seminar and decided to hire the guy who led it, an executive coach who specialized in helping people transition into that second or third career act. We have by now completed our six-month term, and I found it extremely helpful. As good coaches do, he asked all the right questions that pushed me forward and helped me get clarity on what I wanted for the business, but also for this time of my life. Which is distinctly different from what I wanted in my 20s, 30s and 40s.
We need to be creators, world-changers, and masters of whatever we do. That’s a lot. No wonder we need help.
Have you noticed the recent proliferation of coaches? They’re everywhere, and come in all flavors. Besides executive and life coach generalists, many specialize–career pivots, weight loss, philanthropy guidance, legacy, dating, money mindset, you name it. My personal theory is that this is happening because our world is changing faster than ever before. It’s overwhelming. Plus, we have increasingly high standards for ourselves. No longer is the goal to get by at one company long enough to be handed a gold watch. Our culture tells us to excel: We need to be creators, world-changers, and masters of whatever we do. That’s a lot.
No wonder we need help.
But asking for help is humbling. And it can be expensive. I know for me, I wouldn’t (and didn’t) spend the money without knowing the investment would pay off. And it has. My coach helped me to take myself seriously, to figure out how the business should evolve, and to have the accountability to push forward when it was slow going.
Stacey Staaterman, a friend of mine and a coach, recently posted this short video on LinkedIn which reminded me about how coaching can be a valuable investment. This article from The Muse suggests five situations when a career coach makes sense.
Who knew that reunion seminar would bear such great returns! While I’m not sure I’d say my career is “supercharged” (that’s a little too hard-driving to fit me), I definitely have the fuel I need to keep creating and exploring in a business that perfectly suits what I want at this stage in life. That’s a career accomplishment right there.
Nancy Branka is founder of Startup Decoder, which offers resources on startup employment for those over 45. She headed up content for an early-stage startup for four years, and prior served as managing editor of Executive Travel magazine, an American Express Publishing title. She lives in the SF Bay Area.
Door photo by Alan Levine on Flickr