A Career Do-Over
By Peter Weddle
One of John Lennon's most famous songs is entitled Just Like Starting Over. It’s a love poem, but I think it holds a powerful lesson for many of us in the world of work, as well. The song begins with the soft ringing of a bell and then Lennon makes this simple declaration: “We have grown. We have grown.”
It’s a wonderful way to look at what is often viewed as a setback in our careers. Having to start over seems to imply that we have wasted everything that has gone before. The lessons we have learned, the character we have developed, the wisdom we have gained are somehow diminished because our careers have taken a new track. That’s especially true if the departure is sudden and unexpected as has been the case for so many Americans recently.
Now, I’m very respectful of how upsetting such situations can be. Most of us don’t like change, and nobody likes change that is forced on them. That said, I don’t think that starting over is all that bad IF we remember that “We have grown. We have grown.” That fact of life doesn’t diminish the negative side of starting over, but it does add a strong positive side to the experience. In fact, I think anyone with any time at all in the workplace would be well served to see such a transition as a “career do-over”—a chance to tap into four genuine advantages that come from having grown even just a bit.
What are those four advantages? Here’s my list:
Advantage #1: You’re smarter than you were.
Being forced to start over means that you get to pick a career field using all of the insight and knowledge you’ve gained in the past. Unlike your first career decisions—which was probably made when you were all of 20 or 21—you actually know something about how the world works. You’re a little older and, hopefully, a lot wiser. Your choice, therefore, is apt to be more rationally determined and better suited to what you can do and do best.
Advantage #2: You get to put your mistakes behind you.
You’ve undoubtedly made mistakes along the way in your career—as we see on the evening news every night, even the most successful among us make errors in judgment—and those mistakes can degrade your career opportunities and momentum. Being forced to start over wipes the slate clean and gives you a chance to embark on a new occupation without all of that baggage. Basically, you get to learn from your miscalculations without having to deal with the consequences.
Advantage #3: You are able to reach for what was once unreachable.
Lots of us get into ruts—occupations or roles that no longer interest or challenge us as they once may have—but more often than not, we just put our heads down and press on. Our responsibilities and needs trump our innate inclination to correct a situation or improve our lot. Being forced to start over, however, removes those (self-imposed) constraints. You now have the freedom to re-image yourself in a new and more interesting career and the opportunity to feel the excitement of discovering what that occupation might be.
Advantage #4: You get to prove yourself to yourself.
Being forced to start over is often confused with failure. That’s a backwards way of looking at the situation, for if you look at it from any other perspective, what you’ll see is a new beginning. A precious opportunity to prove to yourself that you still have what it takes to succeed. Picking yourself up and pushing on makes a powerful statement about your character. It demonstrates, beyond any doubt, that you have the right stuff—the courage and determination to survive and, better than that, prosper in even the toughest of times.
Almost nobody likes to start over, but doing so need not be a horrible and demeaning experience. In fact, it can be a profoundly positive turn of events, especially if we remember the wise words of John Lennon. “We have grown. We have grown.” And that growth gives us an enormous edge; it gives us resilience and hope.
Thanks for reading,