Val Baldwin, CPC
Live Your Ultimate Life

by Jan Torissi-Mokwa, Reprinted from

For some people, losing a job means a chance to start over and reinvent themselves. Sometimes this can be a good thing - the silver lining behind the cloud. More than one person who took a new career path has said these words: "Losing that job was the best thing that ever happened to me."

But it is important not to let emotions carry you away. Before you sell your home and open a fishing camp in Minnesota, it's very important to take stock of yourself, your abilities and your aspirations. It is the rare salesperson who can become a builder of sailboats.

Jan Torissi-Mokwa, founder of Congruence, Inc., a human resources consulting firm in St. Louis, says there are five basic steps people should take in assessing career change. A former human resources director for a major manufacturing company, she assessed her options herself when the company was absorbed by another.

Instead of getting out of human resources, she opened her own consulting firm specializing in professional services fields. "For me, the shift from manufacturing to services was invigorating, and I stayed in human resources."

She advises people in a similar situation to follow these five steps:

Step One: Define your aspirations. This involves intense self-reflection. People should ask questions such as, "What are my talents, skills, passions and interests?" Most people are not skilled at this process and find it difficult. In fact, most people spend more time planning their wedding or vacation than their career goals or aspirations. Some may need professional help to sort it all out. There are some great recommended books to help tap into your personal capabilities or unique talents such as: "What Color Is Your Parachute," by Richard Bolle, or "Discovering Your Career in Business," by Tim Butler and James Waldroop.

Step Two: Assessing aspirations - the litmus test of career decision-making. Your grandmother may have told you that "you can be anything you want to be." Grandma surely loves you, but maybe you should assess what she says. Basketball superstar Michael Jordan wanted to play major league baseball. He had intense desire, he had financial resources and he had fame that drew interest. But in the final analysis, he couldn't hit a curve ball. Maybe you love fishing and think operating a wilderness fishing camp would be a slice of heaven. Before you use your severance package to buy Camp Walleye, you'd better take inventory of the skills you will need. Could you fix a leaky cabin roof? Do you know how to keep the septic tank operable? Can you repair the outboard motors? How about managing the books? How are you going to market your place? Can you assess how to price your camp versus the competition?

Assessing aspirations is the process of performing career due diligence. It's the same as test-driving a car before you buy it. You will need strong research, facts and opinions from those with relevant work experiences.

Step Three: Sharing aspirations. Career aspirations are not realized in a vacuum. There is great power in letting the word out and making your career dreams public. Back to the Michael Jordan example. If Jordan had not publicized his desire to play baseball, maybe he would not have gone as far as he did. Having made a declaration of his aspirations, he continued until he saw he could not continue further. The same can be true for others. When we tell others about our aspirations, we bring them into consciousness and make them real. For people who have been laid off, friends and family are the best sounding board. They can provide either encouragement or a reality check.

If you are still working in your field but are feeling like you'd like to make a change, you need to communicate with your employer. It's part of a new paradigm that is good for employee and employer. We are in a new era where the threat of downsizing and mergers leave employees feeling vulnerable. As a result, companies no longer enjoy the unwavering loyalty of employees who know they must take responsibility for their own futures. Establish a common ground and dialogue about aspirations. If you and your employer both know your aspirations, dreams and goals, you may find your future right where you are.

Step Four: Acting on aspirations - the art of "Just Do It." If your due-diligence and self-evaluation in steps one and two have convinced you that you can make this career switch, the best advice is to "just do it." Risk is required to move yourself closer to work that is aligned with your unique talents and your life's mission. You can't steal second base and leave your foot on first. On the other hand, you can't steal second base if you have a sprained ankle. Put another way; don't start toward second base unless you are assured you can at least make it a close play. Maybe you will have to return to school for a course or two. Maybe you will need to "apprentice" in a field before you immerse yourself. Instead of building sailboats, maybe you can sell sailboats, or write about sailboats, or do HR for a sailboat manufacturer. Put the skills you have to work in a field that interests you.

Step Five: Renew aspirations. This step encourages an objective review of the original assumptions and aspirations to determine if they are delivering the predicted results. An engineer for a manufacturing company loved engineering, but he also had a desire to earn more money for his family. He felt a management role would fulfill his goals. He had excellent people skills and was readily promoted when he expressed a desire for more responsibility. In fact, he became a vice president. However, he soon learned that he had to travel to China, spending weeks at a time away from his family. He had to deal with employee issues. He had to attend high-level meetings and had to represent the company at charity events and civic boards. Worst of all, he did not have a chance to do any engineering work. He realized he had made a mistake and took the very unusual move of asking for his old job back. He now knows that he let emotions control his actions. If he had done a better job of due diligence initially, he would not have made the change that seemed like a dream come true at the time.

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