We need more books about mid-career, midlife transitions. Recently I came across The Age Advantage: Making the Most of Your Midlife Career Transition, a paperback by Jean Erickson Walker, Ed.D.
Walker writes straightforward “advice” with no attempt to create the jazzy style common among self-help books. It’s easy to read, although I winced at the clichés (“It’s not over till it’s over”). You’re definitely out of the “dream-it-and-do-it” mode here. Look for action tips, not inspiration.
The best part of the book comes at the beginning, when Walker describes what it’s like to go through a midlife career crisis. Walker differentiates beginning, middle and endings people, i.e., the stage of a transition where people feel most comfortable. This scheme resembles Martha Beck’s four stages (Finding Your Own North Star) and my own distinction between jumpers and clingers .
Midlife career change is defined as a change “when age is a factor.” Walker claims that attitude determines whether age is an advantage or disadvantage, although I never figured out the advantages that were actually created by attitude. She later acknowledges that discrimination is a reality that “should not be tolerated,” but in fact is hard to fight through the legal system. Here are some quotes that led me to ask, “Where’s the advantage?”
p. 204: “My coaching clients often tell me they’ve been advised to show more enthusiasm. Your calm demeanor may be interpreted as a lack of energy.”
p. 208: “Don’t be competitive. Your age advantage is that everyone expects you to have expertise and knowledge. You can afford to be generous.”
p. 294: “[C]companies do not hire someone over age fifty with the expectation of ‘developing’ them. Promotions may come, but they’re rare…”
I also suspect midlife career changers will benefit from the discussion of networking, one of the few directed to this career segment. She points out the need to come right out and ask for help, instead of putting on a front of, “Everything’s great.”
Her discussion of resumes is excellent, especially the emphasis on “accomplishment statements.” She suggests leaving off the “objective;” I encourage clients to run their resumes past someone who is active in their field. There is no way any career consultant can learn the idiosyncrasies of each industry and career field.
I also like Walker’s reality checks. Finding a new job, especially if you are changing fields, can take a long time. People often need to acknowledge and mourn career losses. There is indeed a downside to setting up your own business or consulting firm. Her advice about learning a firm’s culture seems basic — until you realize that someone who’s been in a job for twenty-plus years is like a fish who stopped seeing the water.
That said, I believe Walker underestimates the effect of identity on midlife career transition. She argues against hiring an “overqualified” employee and urges the midlife applicant to be careful not to intimidate employers during a hiring interview.
Being overqualified does create stress among employees and their coworkers and, if you have to worry about intimidating others during the interview, you’ll be tippy-toeing around for the remainder of your career!
I also question the value of a detailed assessment program. I find that people in their forties and fifties tend to be self-aware and that abstract values and interests rarely help them align with real careers.
Most people have a secret (or not so secret) dream or idea of what they want to do. When they don’t, they’re usually blocking themselves and standard exercises won’t help. The self-knowledge exercises here are commonplace, even banal: I hope the author saves more dynamic tasks for her “live” clients.
Finally, I find that many people would do better to start a business instead of job-hunting, or as a parallel activity to job-hunting. If you’re a high-profile person in your community or you’ve had a very senior position in a narrow area, you may not be able to find a new job — certainly not a good one — unless you’re a superb networker who’s flexible about relocation.
I’ve been told that a former mayor of my town found himself in need of a job after his wife left him, taking the assets (mostly from her side of the family) with her. Nobody would hire an ex-mayor. He ended up selling cars.
The Age Advantage was written about a year before 9/11, when employees were in short supply, so some of her suggestions seem dated. That’s inevitable when you write practical guidebooks instead of inspirational self-help.
A major gap is the lack of discussion of career resources available besides her own book. These days, it’s important for people to realize that they may not need a coach or counselor — it seems like “everybody’s” got one! On the other hand, if you’re feeling isolated or stuck, the right support person can make all the difference.
I recommend The Age Advantage, especially for those who have enjoyed a long career in corporate America Take what you find useful and ignore the rest. But first I recommend you take a look at Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star.
A great quote from The Age Advantage:
P 156: “Note: the high tech industry has dramatically changed the look of corporate America, where ‘cool’ and ‘laid-back’ are the right look. If you don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb, lose the pinstripes. It’s not necessary to go directly to rumpled blue jeans and tennis shoes, but you should look like you could do so comfortably on a moment’s notice. Nothing says you’re from a different generation quicker than being too formally dressed.”
My own comment: I love it! I’ve always been able to “do so comfortably on a moment’s notice.”
|A reader asked me to settle an argument with her spouse. “I want my kids to have the very best college education,” she writes, “although we’ll have to dip into savings and forget about building retirement funds. My husband disagrees. He says they’ll do just fine at a state university.”
First, a big disclaimer: I am not an expert on family, children or marital conflict.
But I feel very confident saying, “Your children will most likely not be deprived if they attend a state university. In fact, they may be better off, depending on who they are.”
(1) Top universities offer access to demanding academics. If you have a child who absolutely loves intellectual interactions, and who’s confident of his or her abilities, then a top university may well be a good investment.
(2) A surprising number of state universities have first-rate honors programs. And a less prestigious program can actually showcase a bright student, who stands out from the crowd. I once knew a scientist who attended University of Arizona as an undergraduate. Because he was so motivated, he was invited to work with scientists on campus, contributing to publications and research in a meaningful way. A mentor helped him get accepted at a prestigious graduate program, with scholarships, and he went on to a brilliant career at an even more prestigious university.
(3) Students who value interactions and “just hanging out with my friends” may go on to great careers because they’re building relationships. Any university will be fine.
(4) Campus activities — even fraternities and sororities — can lead to lifelong networking access.
(5) Some students thrive on an elite campus with lots of contact with professors. Others actually do better when they feel more anonymous — less “on.” Some enjoy same-sex colleges because they feel free to be themselves. Others feel stifled and confined, as though they’ve embarked on four years of Ladies Who Lunch.
On the other hand, attending a small school often bonds the students into a big fraternity. Women from my own college tend to feel a bond when we encounter one another, even if we’re strangers.
(6) No degree guarantees success.
I attended a very fine women’s college. Some of my classmates went on to become famous writers, artists, lawyers, entertainers, judges and public figures. Martha Stewart graduated from my college (a few years before me and I never met her). Some alums taught grade school, became librarians, or chose to be full-time wives and mothers. Some declared bankruptcy and I read about a homeless alumna in our official magazine.
And I once fell into conversation with a nice young man behind the counter of a New Mexico UPS store, brown shirt and all. Turns out he graduated from Harvard and spent the rest of his life working for low wages in bookstores. The UPS job was a seasonal detour to earn more money.
(7) Few degrees guarantee failure. “Melvin” attended a small religious college in a small Southern town. Most people would never have heard about it. He majored in French. When he applied for graduate school in business, his GMAT scores were abysmal. So he ended up at a lower-tier graduate school.
But he hooked up with a mentor, applied himself, discovered an aptitude for research and went to a career at a university that was highly respected in his field. His record, reputation and financial success greatly surpass many students with more prestigious academic backgrounds.
If your heart is set on sending a child to a top school, you won’t be deterred by these examples. But if your financial status calls for choosing between college for the kids and a retirement plan for the parents, I would suggest you set up some meetings with a financial planner. Your highly educated children may not feel that “four wonderful years” are worth the trade-off of bailing out the parents when they’re fifty.
NOTE: This topic is controversial. Feel free to add a comment, agreeing or disagreeing! I save all comments (except those from spammers).
During a midlife career crisis, many of us experiment with new ideas. Nearly everyone considers applying Law of Attraction principles to our lives.
Attractor Factor was recommended by someone I respect, and of course I’d heard of Joe Vitale,
so I put aside my skepticism and began reading.
If you’ve been walking around feeling negative, this book may help. When you feel positive and in control, you’re more likely to think clearly. That’s psychology of mood.
And if you always turn right instead of left, you can change your life. Natalie Goldberg made that point in her excellent book, Thunder and Lightning . And if you’re not feeling desperate, you have more power and more confidence, which in turn brings clearer thinking.
Parts of Vitale’s advice can be difficult for an ordinary person to follow.
For instance, we’re encouraged to be open to new ideas. As an example, Vitale says, he decided not to pursue a mail order advertisement for a self-improvement product. But he soon decided he was resisting a message, so he ordered the product. (pp. 31-32)
So how do we interpret this story? Do we order everything that’s advertised? We need a discussion on how to use our intuition to discern the value of what we’re offered.
And selling an e-book or e-course on the Internet can be a great way to make money … if you’ve got a topic and a great marketing strategy.
It also helps if you have a big mailing list and copywriting skills. So how do we get these advantages? Vitale acknowledges — rightly, I think — that most of us make excuses when we need to roll up our sleeves and go to work (p. 75), investing time, money and energy in our dream. It takes more than attraction to attract these rewards!
I agree with Vitale: “Intention” can be powerful.” Once we set a firm goal, we often figure out ways to get there, if we genuinely want the goal.
For instance, I’ve met many people who found jobs just as their unemployment payments were about to end. The combination of positive mood and clarity of goal can be very powerful. But you don’t have to explain these effects as “law of attraction.”
Parts of Vitale’s book were quite disturbing. Twenty-two pages — nearly ten percent of the book — fall into a chapter labeled “The Proof,” which is nothing but a list of testimonials for Joe Vitale and the first version of this book.
Second, Vitale acknowledges that his guru, Jonathan, molested a woman who was close to him at the time. On page 181, he writes that the “situation with Jonathan…was a gift of freedom.”
But the woman who was molested (p. 182) never recovered. Although “she tried to forgive him,” writes Vitale, she “only found peace in death.” And in the very next sentence, Vitale writes, “Meanwhile my adventures continue…”
Frankly, I don’t get it. Some psychologists believe the human mind may be wired to explain negative events in terms of some greater good.
But I would expect to see some evidence of the author’s compassion for the woman and perhaps some revised thinking — maybe even some activism to prevent other women from being harmed by gurus they trusted. I would encourage readers to look up Natalie Goldberg’s memoir
The Great Failure
, where she describes honest feelings about being betrayed by her spiritual father and her birth father.
Finally, the notion that we’re responsible for everything that happens to us can be traced to early New Age philosophies, including the “est” of the seventies. We’re dealing with values that are nearly religious. For instance:
- Do you believe soldiers in Iraq attracted death and dismemberment?
- Do you believe the starving poor of Third World countries attracted poverty?
- Do you believe that three-year-old children attract disease into their lives?
Some Law of Attraction theorists say yes; others hedge.
Still, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from trying Vitale’s exercises in a spirit of playfulness. And if it’s easier to take a message of “Work hard!” when it’s couched in this language, no harm done.
These authors are down to earth and realistic about what you can expect (at least in these books). Best of all, you can follow their advice even if you don’t buy into their world views.
When I first started on the Internet, my first website was about career change. I still maintain the site and it keeps earning money for me. But back then, I was not sure what I needed.
Here’s some advice I got from people who were considered experts at the time:
1 – “Branding? Don’t bother. Brand? Shmand!”
2 – “Come up with a list of adjectives, like, “The Cathy Goodwin brand stands for enthusiasm, excitement, adventure …”
3 – “Get a logo … and I’ve got one for just $1500.”
By this time I was ready to give up so I didn’t think about branding for a long, long time.
Then I got into copywriting and named my website, “Copy Cat Copywriting.” A lot of “experts” advised me to go with the feline motif, such as, “the purr-fect copy for you.” (Yeah, I know…)
But after awhile I discovered my prospects were confused. Some thought the site was about cats. And when I introduced myself at networking events, I started getting questions like, “Do you use swipe files? Are you really a copy-cat?”
Hell no. I’m as original as they come.
So I began doing research on branding. Here’s some advice I got:
“Your brand is copywriting.”
“You describe yourself as a maverick. Why not brand yourself as a maverick?”
“Find your brand archetype … such as a combination of hero, warrior and magician.” (I know I’m going to take a lot of flak for this one.)
I was ready to give up again, but this time I knew branding was important for credibility and building relationships. I realized my own fuzzy brand was confusing prospects and driving people off my list.
So I analyzed successful business owners and compare them to those who were struggling. And I noticed that people who were successful had a branding strategy … even if they didn’t realize they did.
“It’s your brand …”
Many of my clients share this confusion, even if they’ve been around the Internet for a long time. We know something is wrong but we don’t know what’s missing. So we try to fix the problem and often it gets worse.
Here are 5 symptoms of brand failure:
Symptom #1 – You don’t have a tribe. Your list comes and goes. You go on a list-building expedition and come back with names – and they all escape within a day or two.
Symptom #2 – You’re not getting a lot of referrals. You’re not seen as the “go to” person for a problem that many people have.
Symptom #3 – You keep getting requests and queries from people who are not in your target market.
Symptom #4 – You have trouble creating content for your website that is consistent with your branding.
Symptom #5 – You continue to struggle with the challenge of sounding authentic and not at all sales-y … but also promoting yourself and marketing yourself online.
If you experience one or more of these symptoms, chances are you need a brand makeover. Without fixing the branding problem, you’ll keep working and nothing will happen. For instance, you might keep chasing after names to put on your list; they’ll hop on and then hop off again at the next stop.
Your brand is not a lifetime commitment or a magic potion.
Expect your brand to change as your business grows, as you evolve professionally or as you just decide to move in new directions.
Don’t be surprised when well-known marketers and competitors seem to have no brand or have a bizarre brand name. Remember that a brand is much more than a name.
Some people succeed in spite of their brand names. I know at least two very successful consultants who named their business after foods. They are successful because they send consistent messages and they’re authentic.
3 Common Branding Mistakes
Mistake #1: Branding from the outside in. In other words, it’s thinking a brand is about a logo, colors and graphics.
The truth is:
Branding can be invisible. Some business owners don’t think they have a brand – just a name – but they have a very consistent, recognizable writing style as well as a unique philosophy, approach and set of values.
For instance, I know someone who shoots off 20 to 30 tweets a day on Twitter. She gets great response. What works isn’t the number, topic or even wording of tweets: it’s the fact that she’s built a likeable brand and a special relationship with her followers.
Branding may go beyond your catchy slogan. You may have a brand about “helping conscious entrepreneurs” when your real brand is “outrageous ideas that promise to deliver outrageous profits.”
Mistake #2: Branding on something that’s about you … and not relevant to your client.
Every so often we see people who brand themselves as, “The Curly Haired Coach,” “The Red-Headed Accountant” or some other personal quality.
Some coaches advised me to brand as “Amazing Copywriter” or “Expert Copywriting.” I’m tempted to brand as “Copywriter With A Cute Dog.”
These brands focus on you – not your clients or prospects. Hopefully nobody cares if you have curly or straight hair.
Mistake #3: Creating a brand concept that can’t be translated into persuasive marketing materials.
It’s happened to all to us. We get an idea for a “branding strategy” that sounds brilliant … until we try to write some content.
You’ll recognize the disconnect as soon as you start writing copy for marketing materials, such as websites and sales letters.
In fact, sometimes the process of writing copy is so powerful, I call it “Copy Branding:” copywriting to create and support your brand, and branding as the foundation and inspiration for your copy. Branding and copywriting go together.
Creating Your Own Compelling Online Brand
We’ve just scratched the surface. I’d like to work with you further to create a compelling brand or develop your marketing materials so they work with your brand, not against them.
My consultations are tailored to fit the schedules of busy professionals. They don’t want to sign up for long-term coaching. They want to get a lot done in one call, with opportunities for follow-up. If
The Ultimate Strategy Consultation:
The Copywriting Walk-Through:
Build Your Brand One Story At A Time: