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A Long Life

I met a woman last week who successfully returned to a high-power job after 10 years out of the workplace.  “The second I saw my twins, I knew I couldn’t go back to work,” she said.  “Without a doubt, I wanted to devote my energy to those teeny tiny humans.  I made the decision so quickly that I even surprised myself.”  Ten years later, her kids are comfortably in elementary school, and she’s back in the office, charging ahead in her second (and likely not last) career push.

Hallelujah.  As someone who has had a more jagged path than many (writing and PR and marketing and tour guiding and foundation management and consulting and HR, punctuated by volunteering abroad and grad school and two children), I’m comforted by examples that don’t fit the traditional career mold.  I long for role models who have zigged and zagged based on what they want in their lives, both in the moment and in the long-term. But despite a ton of dialogue about the changing world of work and a re-definition of what a career is, there seems to be a dearth of these non-traditional success stories.

The stories I have come across — like this one — are meaningful, and have led me to a few simple career insights that apply to the linear and the jungle gym trajectories alike:

  • Focus on Experiences, Not a “Career”: The notion of the traditional “career” is dead, giving way to unique combinations of experiences.  Whether you’re in a company, on your own, or in the home, think carefully about what experiences you want to put into your toolkit, and go out and find them wherever they are
  • Build Your Network: People learn new things and find new jobs through people, not through the Web.  Ten years off spent cultivating a strong network is vastly different than ten years off spent surfing the Internet and making pureed pea popsicles
  • Build Skills: Build broad and deep skills.  Similar to experiences, skills are tied to you…not to your employer.  Build them, practice them, and maybe even commit the 10,000 hours some people say it will take to claim expertise in them
  • Shift Identity from Doing to Being: Companies often orient us to focus on doing — at the expense of a critical focus on being.  Whether you’re in a company or on your own, develop your identity in terms of who you are first and what you can do second
  • Go Toward Things, Don’t Run From Them: The woman I met last week was absolutely clear — when she decided to take time off, she was moving toward her children, versus running away from something else.  This is a key question to ask in times of change — are you going toward something or running from something?

Ten years later, the woman I met last week decided to go back toward her work, not away from her children.  Her story is a living, breathing example that…if we’re lucky…it’s a long life, and we can take the long view.  At work and at home.  And everywhere in between.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Brynn, I love love this post for so many reasons. I, too, have had a jagged path — one that I’m proud of. I’ve written for a soap opera and written for Google. I stepped towards my kid this last year, and towards writing my novel. Who knows where I’ll step in ten years but I totally love the idea that it’s still unknown. Thanks for sharing this. xox

    October 30, 2013
  2. You have so much to be proud of. I admire all the balls you have in the air right now…can’t wait to read that novel someday. XO

    November 1, 2013
  3. Helene #

    Brynn, after following a Facebook link to your “10 things I want my daughter to know about working out” entry (which I loved!), I found the above. What joy it brought me! I recently decided to take a “lifestyle break”, concluding one chapter of a (successful) career in the corporate world, to focus on more personally satisfying pursuits that involve several sports, much writing, a fair bit of traveling, and starting the next career chapter. I keep coming across examples of people – mainly women – who have decided to do similar things, and have done so with great success. I love the idea that women are redefining what “successful careers” are, and that this new definition involves, first and foremost, being well-rounded, accomplished, happy human beings who can set great examples for the next generation. Thanks for giving me yet more inspiration to follow my path!

    December 2, 2013

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