Career Reinvention in a Pandemic: Six Practices Before Deciding to Take the Next Step

Quiet always follows the storm. As the pandemic shows signs of abating in some parts of the world, there’s an opportunity if not a deep call to take a breath, take stock and integrate the lessons learned collectively and individually.

the-success-trap-book-cover

Busts harmful workplace myths and touches on topics that contribute to toxic work cultures – including imposter syndrome, burnout and golden handcuffs.

Navigating a career is challenging at the best of times, let alone in times of massive disruption like a pandemic. With employee engagement remaining below 40% globally, most people will experience some dissatisfaction at some stage in the 80,000 hours they devote to their careers.

In fact, it’s estimated that one in two people experience a career crisis between 30 and 50. But it’s not the career crisis that’s the problem – periodic re-evaluation of your life is a good thing – it’s the way we relate to the crisis that causes suffering.

Luckily, careers for life are all but a thing of the past and the options for career reinvention are expanding.

But where do you start? It’s one thing to realize a career change may be needed. It’s another to take the first step. And with social distancing still in place, it might be challenging to find a range of sounding boards and inspiring spaces to support you in your decision-making process.

Making a career transformation, especially in midlife, can be daunting. It often reflects some of the deeper shifts in values and priorities that occur over life.

Based on thousands of hours working with high achievers and leaders of all ages and from a range of industries, here are a few lessons on how to reinvent a career:

1)    Schedule An Executive Meeting With Yourself

You probably wouldn’t dream of running a company without consulting your board of directors and team at a designated meeting. Yet, you’re probably making some important decisions about your life regularly on the hoof! But as one highly decorated military general put it: leadership is about decisions and decisions require time to think. So, schedule regular executive meetings with yourself to deliberate calmly on your decisions; make these meetings an inviolable standard for yourself.

2)    Name Your Fears

Conventional coaching often focuses on goal setting. But evidence shows that we’re more likely to succeed in our goals by naming the potential obstacles we think we might encounter – real or imagined. For example, fears during a career change:

  • I won’t to be able to afford my lifestyle, the kids school fees and the mortgage
  • I’ll lose my status and everything I’ve built
  • I’ll get lonely and lazy if I don’t have the structure or team around me
  • I can’t make money from the things I’m truly passionate about
  • I’m too old/too young
  • Etc.

There’s power in naming fears out loud for two reasons: 1) it reduces their emotional hold; 2) it gives you the opportunity to work on what peer-reviewed science calls “a rebuttal” i.e. what you can do about the fear (see number 3).

3)    Write a Rebuttal Letter

Once your fears, frustrations and concerns are out, take time to address each of them with a thoughtful but clear response. For example: I test a new role as a secondment. An operations director I worked with was terrified of the impact that leaving a job she was burnt out from would have on a company she’d helped build. After writing her rebuttal letter, she saw past the misplaced guilt she was bringing into the situation and was able to give her notice the following day.

4)    Keep Things Simple

The mind tends to overcomplicate things by adding rather than subtracting elements to solve problems. You might put too many contingency plans in place just in case things go wrong, e.g. you might put extra pressure on yourself to do extra consulting work to pay the bills while looking for a new role, when you might simply be able to cut back on a few expenses.

5)    Ask Powerful Questions 

A career change entails a shift in perspective. A good coach does not give you answers but asks you questions that help you put your finger on what you’re trying to achieve. The answers you’re looking for emerge from a state of calm flow as an insight. As you reflect during your executive meeting time, you might like to consider some of these powerful questions: 

  • What do I really want?
  • If I had everything I wanted, how would I feel?
  • If I never got what I wanted, how would I feel?
  • What am I willing to give up for what I really want?
  • How long am I willing to wait before I go for what I really want?
  • Who would I be without my doubts, worries and concerns about the future?
  • What are the things it’s time to let go of? 

6)    Befriend the Unknown With Beginner’s Mind

As you embrace the process of transition into a new phase of your career or life, you may find there are moments of despair or confusion. This doesn’t mean something’s wrong. On the contrary, it’s an opportunity to see more clearly. It’s time to embrace the new possibilities and become curious again about life. This may start in one area of life and have a ripple effect.

For example, I coached a VP of product management who started by reinventing her relationship with her son who was ready to leave home. She opened up to new possibilities and experienced a surge of creative energy. She also became very clear about what was important to her. She turned down an extremely high-paying job with equity to take on a role that aligned with her values and gave her time for her passion projects.

What keeps people in jobs – or indeed any situation – they don’t like? The belief that they have no choice. Overcoming this illusion and allowing yourself to be guided by your deeper wisdom through deep reflection during protected time and space in your schedule will yield the keys to your happiest future.

So if you’re feeling a pull towards something new, even if you’re not quite able to delineate what that looks like yet, trust that nudge. Don’t wait until circumstances shift or you’ve burned all your energy and good will in a job that no longer feels satisfying.

There are only four options in any situation:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Change the situation
  3. Change your attitude to the situation
  4. Leave the situation

Which will you go with these next six months?



Amina Aitsi-Selmi M.D. Ph.D.

Amina Aitsi-Selmi M.D. Ph.D.

Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi M.D. Ph.D. is the Founder and Managing Director of Next Generation Coaching & Consulting Ltd. She works with individuals and companies who want to understand how best to work and lead in the 21st century, including clients from organisations such as the NHS, the BBC, the World Health Organisation, The Boston Consulting Group, and the Royal Air Force. With over 20 years' experience, she's dedicated her career to helping people create healthy lives and environments; first as a physician, then as a health policy expert and now as a specialist consultant and coach.

In 2021 her book, The Success Trap was published. It explains why good people stay in jobs they don't like and how to break free.

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