When I was an 18-year-old college freshman back in the fall of 1996 I remember the admissions counselors telling our incoming class something that seemed extraordinary. You’ll likely change careers at least five times in your life, regardless of your major, they said.
Not jobs. Which I think any reasonable person anticipates changing at least a few times. But careers. Like one day you’re a teacher in the humanities, say, and then suddenly you work as a corporate executive at a Fortune 500 company. Not exactly an obvious career pathway.
And here I had thought the whole point of me going to college was so I could get the requisite education to find a good job, launch my career, and live happily ever after. It turns out life’s a bit more complicated than that.
Twenty-three years later my admissions counselor’s sage forewarning has proved true. At least for me. And also some other folks I know.
I started my professional career as a journalist at age 21. I’ve subsequently also had a brief stint in construction. Then worked in parts and shipping for five years at an OEM (original equipment manufacturer).
After that I settled into what I thought would be my forever career where I lived out a profound sense of calling and vocation as a pastor-theologian. But that only lasted for a decade when I worked fulltime as an ordained minister and lead pastor.
My career changed again about a year ago to my current role in customer service development for a global manufacturer.
And those are just the jobs/careers I’ve had. That doesn’t take into consideration the various ways I’ve developed personally, professionally, intellectually, and spiritually. It doesn’t take into account all the situations and circumstances — some quite painful — that led to those changes. Not to mention the setbacks and reversals experienced along the way.
I think I’ve been reinventing myself for the better part of 20 years. I suspect I’ll keep reinventing myself. Perhaps you can relate.
Dorie Clark’s 2017 book Reinventing You, published by Harvard Business Review Press, pulls no punches regarding the inevitability of reinventing yourself.
Clark, who is a marketing and strategy consultant, adjunct professor, and keynote speaker, states, “To succeed in today’s competitive job market and build a career that leverages your unique passions and talent, it’s almost certain that at some point you’ll need to reinvent yourself professionally — and ensure that others recognize the powerful contribution you can make” (1).
Through 11 succinct yet substantive chapters, Clark guides the reader through a process of self-reflection to consider who they want to be and how they can get there. It’s a book about transitions and transformation, and how to navigate both strategically.
“This is a book,” Clark says, “about defining your goals, working hard and ethically to get there, and then making sure that people notice once you do” (5).
If you’re in the midst of a career transition, mid-life crisis, or maybe both, pick up Clark’s book. I highly recommend it. It’s helped and inspired me.
But what I find especially intriguing about Clark is her own unconventional journey to business and marketing guru. She has an undergraduate degree in philosophy from Smith College and a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. Not exactly the traditional pedigree for marketing, strategy, and business consulting.
But Clark’s subsequent experiences obviously and quite profoundly formed and shaped her. Rather than going into academia in the disciplines she studied, Clark became a political reporter, presidential campaign spokesperson, nonprofit executive director, and documentary filmmaker.
Let’s just say that I’d love to read her memoir.
About a year ago I transitioned to industry and the business world after investing 15 years in ministry and earning multiple graduate degrees in theology.
The short version of that story is that I worked in a denominational and local church context that was a bad fit. Honestly, it was never a good fit. But as my spiritual and intellectual journey evolved, it became increasingly difficult to live in the tensions between my convictions and theirs.
It wasn’t that they were bad people. They weren’t and aren’t. It was just that our worldviews were incompatible.
The way we read Scripture, thought about God and people, and understood and practiced our faith were more often than not fundamentally at odds. And when you’re the lead pastor, that’s probably not going to turn out so well.
I did it the best I could for 10 years. But then I had to get out. I realized I could never be the pastor I wanted to be and felt that I was gifted and called to be in that context. It was at once an excruciating and also liberating decision.
But what to do next?
Having invested a decade as a lead pastor and lots of time and money on formal theological education, I didn’t want to leave ministry. That was my vocation, calling, and career after all. My entire sense of identity and self-worth was wrapped up in it. I also still had hopes of eventually becoming a theology professor, or at least an adjunct professor, while I remained a full-time pastor.
Who would I be without any of that? And since I didn’t (still don’t) have a PhD, becoming a fulltime academic was not an option.
So I applied for many different ministry positions. Even ones that would have required moves across the country. I dreamed about what it might be like to start all over again in Seattle or Austin or Denver or some other place. But Crickets. No doors opened.
I also applied at a couple of prep schools — one to teach theology and one to be the campus Protestant minister. Nothing.
I had a potential opportunity with a nonprofit. But it didn’t feel quite right at the time. So I didn’t pursue it. I looked into other nonprofits, but nothing was viable.
Finally, it seemed I had no other options. I decided to take the plunge and apply for jobs in business and industry. I wondered who would hire me. I had zero business experience and (I thought) no relevant qualifications.
I tried to sell myself on transferable skills like my decade of experience leading people and organizations, and my knack for writing and communicating, critical thinking, working with people, and navigating conflict.
But honestly, I wasn’t confident.
My intuitions were partly correct. I received only one call back and interview.
But it turns out it this was precisely the call back I needed. Because a year later I’m happily working in customer service development for a global manufacturer and am starting to cultivate a new sense of calling and vocation in personal and professional development and leadership coaching.
What I’ve discovered is that much of what I’ve learned over the years in ministry is ultimately about human development and flourishing. Today I’m applying that knowledge and experience in ways that make sense in business to help people thrive personally and professionally.
My ability to teach and communicate helps me develop and lead training modules. For example, I’ve taught classes like Essentials of Excellent Customer Service, How to Have a Good Conversation, and Cultivating Empathy and Compassion, among others.
Businesses also need people who can write well. And my writing skills have been used in various and creative ways to help our team. For example, I wrote our submissions for the 2019 ICMI Global Contact Center Awards, for which we were chosen as a finalist for Best Medium Contact Center.
Finally, there’s also a pastoral element to my work in the way that I interact with and care for people that’s quite satisfying. Every day I get to impact people’s lives. And that’s what has always motivated and driven me.
Through it all, I’ve been fortunate to receive tremendous support and encouragement from my teammates and bosses. And frankly, I’m happier and more content now than I’ve been in years.
So What About You?
All of that sounds like a nice, tidy conclusion. But make no mistake. A year ago it felt as if my entire world was unraveling. Leaving a career in which you’ve acquired significant experience, formal education, and expertise for something that’s very different is terrifying.
I’m also only a year into this new adventure. Who knows what the future holds?
But that’s also the fun part. Reinventing yourself can be scary. But it can also be exhilarating. I never imagined I’d be doing what I’m doing now. A whole new world has opened up to me and the possibilities seem endless. New opportunities have led to new learning, new experiences, and new growth. That’s the power of reinventing yourself.
Although our journeys have been different, Dorie Clark’s personal story and her book Reinventing You gives me hope. It turns out there might be a place for people like me who arrive in the business world through unconventional means.
So what about you? How have you had to reinvent yourself? Please leave your comments below. I’d love to hear your story and learn from you.