Preparing For Act II

Mike Jeans helps execs reroute their careers. Find out why you should embrace your career crises and stop being shy about asking for directions.

Who he is: Mike Jeans, vice president, New Directions

Who he's worked with: Gerry Beauchamp, former VP of human resources, John Hancock Signature Services; Cynthia Feldmann, former partner, KPMG

How do you dodge a career crisis?

I don't know that you need to dodge it. Rough it. What I mean is that there's a time in your life when you're rethinking the direction you're heading. You absolutely need to do it. People drift into a career usually by accident; we get a job and it's inertia that keeps us there. Maybe you need a pause to step back and ask yourself the reasons you got into this profession in the first place. Do they still hold? Are there things now that are more important to you than they were 15 to 20 years ago? I think periodically asking yourself, "Why am I doing this?" is important. September 11 prompted people to ask a lot of these questions, but you don't need a tragedy to ask yourself what you want your job to look like and what you want your life to look like.

You get both thirtysomethings and fiftysomethings who want to plan for the next chapter of their careers. Is what they're looking for really all that different?

They might use different words, but the themes are the same: What's the legacy they're going to leave behind? What do they want to be known for when they pass on? How does somebody define their value in life? If it's about being the big cheese on the 37th floor of an office building with a wonderful view of the city and having a lot of people you can direct, that's one thing. But if you get below that — and this is what we try to get people to think through — there may be something very different. One of the lines I use is, if I market spaghetti sauce, do I want to be known as the most brilliant guy who marketed spaghetti sauce when it's all over?

What about those folks who know their legacy isn't in their current job but don't know what they want it to be? That can be very paralyzing.

Sometimes it's difficult to tease that out. Use history: Think about your history and when it was that you were particularly happy. It could be a job, volunteer stuff, something you did in school.

Remember, this does not have to be a solo activity. We'll call a half-dozen people who know the individual very well — everyone from their spouse to their old boss or college roommate — and we'll get their perspective on the executive. We'll ask them: Where have they been at the top of their game? What are some situations you think they should avoid in the future? Where have you seen them happiest, and where have they been able to bring their performance up to another level? We're also talking to these folks about situations they might envision the executives in. Could they see them starting a small company or being a consultant? Is this person an entrepreneur? It's kind of like how guys don't want to ask for directions. Don't be afraid to ask people for advice. They will appreciate it, and chances are they'll ask you to reciprocate.

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