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It’s the first weekend of the big reopening. Some friends and I got together to celebrate the passage into our 50s and discussed how a new era is opening towards a life that is reinventing itself. I tell the story about Johanne, the beautician who traded in hot wax for molten ovens in an aluminum plant. I also tell them about a man named Robert who traded in his designer suit and Bloomberg screens to become a “life coach”, and Josée, who turned down a promotion as COO in favour of a four-day workweek as an “intermediate” manager. I have examples galore. Career changes, radical shifts. Stories of courage and risk-taking.
One of my friends reminds me of her own 180 degree turn when she piloted a career and life change a few years ago. I dedicated one of my columns in Les Affaires Plus magazine to her in the 2000s. As an SAP consultant for a large international company, she left everything behind (big salary, job security, etc.) to become a photographer. She also reminds me of an advertising executive who became an osteopath along with a financial tycoon who became a “yogi master”. Another friend, an HR director, has just turned to employee wellness and health management, tired of managing projects and “high-performance activities”. The pandemic made her reflect on the meaning of her work. She made a radical change. No more Excel spreadsheets and Power BI. Instead, she leads workshops and programs on happiness and well-being in the workplace.
Meanwhile, Quebec’s Manon Brouillette, who is taking the (well-deserved) helm of a major Verizon division and joining the group of select individuals taking the reins of major American companies. Despite the acknowledgement of this fantastic promotion, we cannot neglect the transition process, career reflection, and difficult choices made along the way.
I’ve witnessed so many transitions that followed divergent intentions from the solution: “I’ll never again take an executive role”; “I want to have more time for myself and my family.” And then suddenly, I find them leading a company.
So, what is the common thread in all these changes? A major crisis, whether it be personal, international, financial, economic, social, or even health. Each crisis is a catalyst that forces and stimulates change. Even for myself, my two friends remind me of how a crisis drastically impacted my career. On July 25, 1995, in Paris, an attack on the Saint-Michel metro station killed eight people. On July 10, 1996, I arrived in Montreal, leaving behind a great job, my family, and friends to start my life over.
Career choices and early retirements have never been more topical. At the beginning of the pandemic, most of us were overwhelmed by the painful reality of what was going on around us, making it difficult to think critically about our career wants and needs. A recent Harvard Business Review publication showed that in times of uncertainty, we tend to protect ourselves and cling to the “status quo”. A form of myopia sets in, and we focus on our most pressing decisions: how to keep our families safe and healthy, how to keep our bosses happy, or if we’ve lost a job, how to find a new one as quickly as possible. However, as the months went on, many found that the long stretches of downtime brought on by the global crisis introduced opportunity for reflection and allowed them to expend their mental energy around longer-term issues. As a result, many individuals have taken a step back to reconsider their work lives. For the past 18 months, I’ve heard, “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking for the past few months, I’ve been doing my calculations and…”.
All these stories of courage and risk-taking finally bring me back to the basics. I ended the discussion with my two friends with this: Human beings are programmed to avoid uncertainty but no matter how hard they try, there is no way to escape it. View uncertainty and crises as opportunities for growth, whether it’s exploring new skills, a new job, or an entirely new career. There are no easy answers but remember that “the best is yet to come.” Life is all about choices; each one of which is surrender. Something to ponder over the summer!