Where I write about Shakespeare, medicine, journalism, coding classes, speaking Russian…..

April 1, 2024

For Wisdom Circle

Say you are a doctor who has practiced in the same hospital for over 40 years.  One week, you are called into the administrator’s office where a committee breaks the news to you.  They are converting the hospital into a super-specialty one and have no need for generalists: internists, paediatricians and the like.  They will give you a month, but would like you to close your practice and move to some other hospital.  What do you do?

Say you are a senior executive in a large company.  You are fed up with your job and want to do something more exciting like say, starting your own company.  The dream is big but the fear is crippling.  What do you do?

There is this old Shakespearean quote: “Some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

The same could apply to career transitions.  Some transitions are great, some end up becoming great, and some transitions are thrust upon us.

In my field—journalism—the talk in newsrooms is all about AI and how it could deprive us writers of our jobs.  So we have to evolve, adapt and pivot.

My friend, the paediatrician who was let go, feels unmoored and helpless.  She has never looked for a job and doesn’t know where to start.

Forget my friend. What do you do if you are the President of the United States and people start raising questions about your ability to govern, given your age: 81 years?

For President Joe Biden who is running for re-election, this question becomes monumental.  Nobody wants to give up the most powerful job in the free world. The prospect facing Biden is no different than the succession planning that large family enterprises have to do.  How to retain your job, have enough lieutenants in place so that someone can step into your shoes should the need arise? How to preserve your legacy when your faculties are failing? Should you stay? Should you leave? When should you leave? How should you leave? Who should take your place?

Career transitions happen by choice or compulsion: some that we seek and some that are forced upon us.  The trick when you find yourself stumbling is to be prepared to pivot, to change.

Most people know how to change in theory.  But doing it is terrifyingly difficult.  Take me, for instance.  As a writer, I know that my career today depends on two things: staving off the threat of AI by choosing to write things that a robot cannot replicate.  The second skill that I need to develop is a facility with social media.  As someone who types out words, I need to embrace, and stand in front of a camera, because Instagram reels and Youtube shorts are what gets eyeballs today.  The problem is that I am cripplingly afraid of being on camera.  Some part of it is self-criticism.  I feel that I won’t look good, speak clearly, perform well.  Some part of it is also misguided disdain.  I grew up at a time when social media was dismissed as light and frivolous.  Now here I am, trying to do the same thing that I laughed at.  My big fear: I will try all these new ‘stunts’ and everyone will laugh at me.

“Everyone is going to laugh at me.”

This final statement is what stands between each of us and change.  The worry that we will be mocked prevents us from taking even the first step.

There are two types of transitions: push and pull.  The former is when you are pushed out, quite literally.  You have no choice but to change your path.  The pull transitions are more interesting and they are the kind that I am advocating in this article.  Pull transitions involve listening to your inner voice and following its advice.

Take the same doctor who has practiced for thirty years.  She can tell that her faculties are failing.  She has turned sixty and is not spry on her feet any more.  Her memory isn’t what it used to be.  She has a secret dream.  She wants to learn music, maybe sing even, and heck, why not, maybe even perform on stage.  The trick is to take this ‘pull’ of music and apply it towards a career transition.  It could start with music classes, that graduate to a music group, then singing antakshari at parties to a full fledged karaoke and then a performance.

The company executive who is laid off could be bitter about it or pursue his old hobby and current passion—golf.

The way to prevent a push is to act on your pull (or if you are lucky, your many pulls).  Have you been dreaming about learning French? Why not do it? Remember that bonsai class that you took and loved? Why not take it to the next level so that when you exit your career you have a hobby that sustains you? Best of all are hobbies that can become second careers.  Maybe you took a coding class.  Maybe you know Russian and have always wanted to work as a translator.  Maybe you are a fitness fiend and now want to coach others on fitness.  All these are career pivots that can pull you in new and exciting directions.

The time to engage with them is now, when you are at the tail end of your current job.  Who knows? You new passion could become your livelihood too.

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