Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Seven Lessons About Changing Careers From Writers And Entrepreneurs

career change magic

Career Change - Visualize The Impossible

Recently, I attended the San Francisco Writer’s conference, my first professional meeting in my new career.  I learned a lot from meeting other writers, many of whom had changed careers as I did.  Here are the lessons I learned.

  1. It takes a lot of courage to change careers.  Support from a community of friends and family is critical.  Key quote from author Ransom Stephens: “If your spouse doesn’t support your change, get a divorce.”  While this was delivered off the cuff and is a bit overly blunt, I think it is true.  He went on “Your family loves you, and want you to be happy pursuing your dream.”  I am thankful every day for the love and support I get from my wife.
  2. Writing a book is a one person business.  The author needs to not only write the book, but also do the marketing.  This includes creating the website and building a following well before publication.
  3. A book is a startup company.  Like all startup companies, as its product development passes milestones, the value of the company increases.  Right now, an agent or publisher can buy my book relatively cheaply.  The more progress on the book, the more its value increases.
  4. An author’s title from the previous world doesn’t matter.  A new career means that I need to establish a new network.  It’s exciting to do something completely different, but it can be a drag to have to pay the dues again.  However, I have learned that most people in the new world want to help.  If I act like a beginner, which I am, they are more likely to offer their help.
  5. Skills and experience from the previous career matter a lot.  What I did before helped make me who I am today.  I am writing about corporate culture and the business life.  I know it well.  Those skills that made me successful in the corporate world- communication, networking, planning, problem solving – they all transfer directly.
  6. I need to build two networks. The first is potential readers/customers who get value from my writing.  The second is peers and colleagues in the writing ecosystem who can support the growth of my career.  Peers are particularly important because they also provide moral support.
  7. Resource allocation is critical. How much time do I spend to writing, and how much building my network?  According to Adam Frankl a startup marketing expert,  a very new company should allocate 50% of its resources to R&D, and 50% to customer development.  I will target 25% to 50% of my time to building my network.

Overall, the conference was a fantastic experience for me.  Do these lessons resonate with those of you who have changed careers in other fields?  I’d love to hear what you have learned.  How did your family react, and how did you build your new network?  And if you are thinking of making a change, my advice is to go for it.  To quote my favorite Rabbi, “If not now, when?”

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Adam Frankl on LinkedIn

Ransom Stephens is a writer, physicist and speaker.  His lecture on becoming a writer inspired number 1 and 4 on this list.

Treat a Community Opportunity Like a Career Opportunity

We are taught to be on the lookout for career opportunities, and rightly so because really good opportunities don’t come around that often.

The career opportunity conversation goes something like this:

“This is a chance for you to come in, kick some ass, prove yourself, and then you can write your own ticket.”

Or maybe it goes like this.  “We know what you are capable of, and need you to come in and build the department.  This is a chance to do it your way, to put your stamp on something great, and when the company goes public you cash in big.”

As you evaluate the opportunity, the narrative progresses to: “It will take a lot of work and sacrifice, but opportunities like this don’t come along every day. If you say no, you may not get another chance.  What is unsaid, but likely understood is that someone else will be the hotshot.  You don’t want to be stuck in a crappy job a few years down the road, wishing you had taken this opportunity when you had it.  You will only live once.”  These fears – of failure, of saying no, of being left behind, are all powerful drivers.  At the same time, the prospect of the new and exciting – to make an impact, to learn, to be part of something – those are also powerful drivers.  All normal and healthy.  But the question is, why don’t we apply this same diligence to Community Opportunities?

A Community Opportunity arises when someone invites you to do something outside of work, which brings a chance of connection to other people in a wider network.  According to Wikipedia “Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a household that shares common values and has social cohesion.”  What is most important about a community is that the people support each other, physically, financially, emotionally.  And research shows that one of the biggest determinants of happiness is community and connection to other people.

Community Opportunities also don’t come along very often.  When is the last time someone invited you to do something new?  We are not in college anymore, where we can walk down the hall to find our next adventure.  Some people join spiritual organizations to build community, but this is not for everyone.

A Community Opportunity looks something like this: “I am going to book club next week.  Do you want to go?”  How often do you say yes, and how often do you say “I’d love to, but I have work/family/travel obligations and I can’t make it.”  It seems like a book club, or invite for a drink will always be there, but if you say no too often, the offers stop coming.  You should evaluate a community opportunity the same way you evaluate a career opportunity.- chances like this don’t come along very often, and you may wake up one day and find you are lonely, even if you have a loving family.

For many people, work has come to substitute for community.  Companies actively foster this kind of thinking.  But DANGER DANGER DANGER.  A real community will never kick you out, but a company not only can but should let you go if the market changes.  Let me repeat that.  A company may need to let you go solely due to changing market conditions, no matter how good a job you have done.  If all your community eggs are in the company basket, you are risking a serious crack up.

Community is something that must be built.  And like a good career opportunity, a community opportunity can take a lot of work and sacrifice in order to see its benefits.  But its a different type of sacrifice.  A career opportunity asks you to sacrifice family and personal time for career advancement.  A community opportunity asks you to sacrifice some of your after-hours work time for a chance to be with other people.

Recently, I wrote a post about Corporate Idolatry and time allocation.  If your time allocation looks looks like this, there are not many hours to build a community outside of work.

It is very hard in the abstract to just say “I”m going to work less.”  It’s much easier to say “I’m leaving work by 5:00 every Thursday to go to book club or bible study or dance class or volleyball practice.”  There are people out there who share your interests.  You need them, and they need you.

My suggestion: start looking for community opportunities, and say YES to them no matter what.  And take the time for your community building from work, not sleep or family.  It’s a matter of priorities.  You only live once, and you get to decide what is most important.
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