Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Reflections on a midlife career junction

 "You should do this course," a new friend told me as I explained why I was currently signing on and dropping out. I had left my job in a haze of burnout and a deepening sense that I was no longer on the correct life path. But what was the right path? I no longer felt like I knew where I even wanted to go, and if I didn't know that - how could I move forward? I was stuck at a crossroads with no signposts. 

"Yeah, maybe..." I replied uncommitted, and filed it away somewhere in my subconscious. 

The Past

I took the summer off to write, breathe, and reset. I would start worrying about next steps when the kids went back to school. And what a joy that was. As soon as I logged out of my work accounts, I felt immediate relief and a surge of happiness. But what came next was almost more important. Over the summer I lost the cynicism that had recently taken hold of me. I reconnected with friends and family, spent quality time with my mother whose door I had been racing in and out of for months, travelled to London to visit my sister, went on a family holiday, swam, read, walked and reconnected with contentment and a love of life. 

In short - I was given the gift of time to come back to myself. 

And then September crept in and I realised I needed to find work. But where to start? I trawled employment websites and LinkedIn. I paid for a career consultant workshop. I asked anyone and everyone for advice. And I made an appointment with an Adult Career Guidance specialist through the unemployment office. 

I thought I was doing a box-ticking exercise, but the session was more like therapy. She asked difficult questions and made suggestions I hadn't contemplated. I still didn't know what I wanted, but she gave me things to think about. 

"I'm thinking of doing this course.." I said at the end. Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship at the Innovation Academy in UCD. It was the same course my friend had mentioned months ago. 

"Good choice," she said. "I was looking at that one myself".

And so I sent through my application. If I got accepted I would do it. And if I didn't then so what? No big loss. 

Little did I know how untrue that was!

The Present

I started the course the next month. A Level 9 packed into three months of intensive hands-on projects. 

Within the first week, I was lying on the cold grass in my garden in a floral dress with flowers scattered over me, directing an unamused teen to take photos of me as I recreated a famous painting to send in to the class. 

I had not been expecting this. 

My class was made up of just over thirty unique and interesting people - each with one thing in common - we were at a junction in our lives and we were looking for direction. There were young professionals who had fled the war in the Ukraine, there were techy start up founders, there were film directors and medical professionals. Every industry, age and personality represented in a wonderful mix of diversity and humanity. 

Over the next three months we threw ourselves into the challenge, opened ourselves up, and bonded into a formidable tribe. We learned by doing. Design Thinking, Leadership, Teamwork, Business - so much packed into sometimes wonderful, sometimes frustrating, but always inspirational days. 

I grew in confidence, learning that I had valuable skills to offer. I wasn't trapped anymore. If I couldn't find a job I wanted, then I could create one. The power of entrepreneurship. 

From that moment, I applied only for roles that I knew were aligned with my core values and loves. 

When I got an interview for a Writer in Residence position at a prestigious university I thought this was it. This was the one I had been waiting for. I spent all weekend prepping for it. I reached out to other people who worked there to get information about the interview process. I talked to other people with the same role in different universities to get a feel for the position. I wrote out and recited answers to every conceivable question I could think of. I did practice interviews with myself on zoom and then with one of my classmates. I was ready for this. 

The interview went well and I crossed my fingers and toes, checking email updates multiple times daily. And then it came. We're sorry, you were not successful. 

The feelings of not being good enough crept in. It hurt. I licked my wounds for the rest of the day, came to terms with it, and by the next morning had put it behind me. There were lots of positives to take from the experience. Not least how willing people had been to help me. 

The Future

Hot on the heels of this news came two more job applications. The first for an NGO with a fantastic remit and a job description that fit like a glove. The second - a contract with the biggest publisher on the planet. I threw my hat in the ring for both and got two interviews. 

The preparation this time round was easier. I knew the ropes. Again, I gathered help where I needed it - a valuable lesson that I had learned was that I didn't have to do everything alone. And again - everyone I reached out to couldn't have been more supportive. 

A second interview for one and a job offer for the other quickly followed. Suddenly I had options. Not only were two jobs potentially on the table - I had my own business idea formed from my course and ready to progress. 

I thought and talked and walked and wondered, and then accepted the offer that was on the table. It wasn't forever, but this 6-month contract would give me new skills, open doors and fill my soul. 

Over the past months the fear of the future had magically dissipated, and my decision felt right. 

I start as Publicity Manager with Penguin Random House in January, just after my course completes. 

The timing is perfect. The role, a dream. The company unparalleled. 

I'm moving forward again, and whatever this may bring, I am ready for my next chapter. 

Career junctions can be scary, but in midlife especially so. However, our skills and experience are hard-earned and we have so much to offer. We just need to believe in ourselves more. 

As one of our guest lecturers told us - "Always dream one size bigger". 

That's one lesson I will not forget. 

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