How to Reinvent Yourself Post-Recession

Hard times have driven many to pause, take stock, and chart a new course for the second half of life

A successful wealth-management executive contacted our Halftime office last week looking for help in reinventing himself for his "second half," seeking to redesign not only his career but his life. It's a common theme in Corporate America these days.

The first words out of his mouth were: "I got run over by the stagecoach." That's code in banking circles for being forced to rethink his career because his company, Wachovia, was acquired by Wells Fargo. While he still has a job, his dreams and career path have been drastically altered. He's afraid that he soon won't have a job, his 401(k) is sunk, and in the midst of all this he has discovered he's looking for more meaning in his life.

He is just one of the many people who the recession has driven into a new season of life I call "Halftime," which is an opportunity to pause in midlife, look back, take stock, look forward and dream, and then chart a new course for the second half. But he, like millions of others, was caught unawares and didn't feel prepared.

A decade ago the late Peter Drucker, father of modern management theory, warned us that we needed to learn to manage not just our company, not just our team, but to "manage one's self." Having been fortunate enough to have been personally mentored by Peter over decades, I had come to expect this kind of insight from him. After all, he defined and labeled the Knowledge Worker in the 1950s long before they even existed.

Hidden Blessings

But what I am observing in these months as our economy works to reemerge out of deep recession is that this idea of managing one's self, which was previously reserved for 60-year-old rich people who had sold their company and had nothing else to do, has now been forced on millions of boomers in their mid 40s to 60s who have talent, influence, and newfound flexibility but not necessarily financial independence.

I went through this midlife reinvention myself and have written five books on the subject. I've spent a considerable portion of my last 15 years helping others find their way on this journey. It comes down to the difference between making a living and making a life. And for many, it will be the recession that will launch them on this journey, as they realize what they worked so hard to accumulate in their first half can disappear fast.

The second-half destination will look different for each of us, but the journey is remarkable similar. With Peter Drucker's encouragement, in 1997 I launched a team of smart people into the complex task of figuring out this journey, and since then we have trundled all over the globe and helped thousands of people in that process.

We've come to realize there are three important steps in this journey: You have to get clear, get free, and get going. Getting clear is an analytical process, getting free is a discipline, and getting going is a creative process of testing your way into your best fit role(s). Here's a look at all three:

1. Get Clear

This Halftime pause provides you with an opportunity to get clear about your greatest strengths, what you care most about, and the difference you would most like to make in the world. At this state in your life, you can think of numerous situations in which you excelled as well as those in which you've struggled. You've probably had multiple aptitude and personality assessments. This self-awareness is an important ingredient in designing your new life. Take a minute to answer these three questions:

• My top-two strengths are:

• I am most passionate about (what cause or group of people):

• The role I play best in an organization is:

Now combine these into a simple mission statement, and identify a couple of ways you will measure the results of living out that mission.

My personal mission is to use my XXXX strengths, to have an impact on and serve XXXX (the cause or people I am most passionate about) so that XXXX (the impact I most want to make).

2. Get Free

You undoubtedly have activities and commitments that have accumulated along the way that don't fit this new mission statement and are draining. Many times we are afraid to let go of them because they have come to define us or we have a sense of obligation. With your newly discovered (or rediscovered) sense of mission, assess every activity you regularly allocate time to and eliminate the low-value ones. Good things are often the enemy of the best. Does your career need to be adjusted as well to align better with your life mission?

3. Get Going

The first steps toward your new life are the most difficult, because they are fraught with fear of failure and the risk of letting go of what you already have and know. My Wells Fargo executive who "got run over by the stage coach" might do best not to leave the company and launch into something untested but to begin using the freedom he discovered by eliminating low-value activities to tackle a project or short assignment in his new area of interest. Many times your first-half career provides a valuable platform for your second-half impact.

By broadening your world you not only reignite the passion in your heart that often gets squeezed out during midlife, but you build a parallel track that can be useful if your life gets derailed.

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