Monday, March 16, 2009

If Tiger Woods Can Learn to Play Ping Pong, Why Can't You?

The thought of Tiger Woods not playing golf is enough to cause many fans and amateur golfers to hyperventilate. But what if one day no one wanted to pay to watch golf, and all the sponsors said they would rather start supporting ping pong? Would you advise Tiger to switch to ping pong? It would seem wrong to many who have watched Tiger's talent over the years. But then again, if there's not a living to be made in golf, why stick with it?

But what in the world will Tiger do? He's been playing for so many years and has so many contacts within the golfing world, can he make the transition to ping pong? Well, some ping pong coaches might say that Tiger is too old to learn a new skill. At the same time, there might be doubt that his age is beginning to take a toll, as evidenced by his recent surgery and rehab. But those who know Tiger might just say that he's got plenty of juice left, and he can learn a new skill and be great at it. Even ping pong.

That's the case for many facing career transitions today. Maybe they aren't pro golfers, but they have been good -- great -- at their jobs. Auto workers, mortgage brokers and even journalists are having to take a hard look at what else they can do, but believe they could be great at something else.

But for many of them, this mid-career job switch is daunting, if not outright paralyzing.

Recently I interviewed Alan Brown, a DHL pilot for 20 years. He agreed that many of those more experienced workers facing layoffs are not facing up to the harsh reality of today's economy.

“I’m 52. I’m a realist and a survivor. But it’s not realistic to think I can keep being a pilot, not with all the layoffs and the thousands of pilots that are already out of work,” Brown says. “I have to find another career.”

But Brown doesn’t hear of similar conversations among co-workers.

“I gotta tell you I’ve been flabbergasted that people (at work) are just sitting around waiting for the shoe to drop,” Brown says. “I think they’re in panic mode. They’re not doing anything right now. “

That’s a scenario familiar to Walter Akana, an Atlanta career coach who specializes in mid-career changes.

“I see a lot of people who are like deer caught in the headlights,” Akana says. “There’s a lot of fear about not knowing what to do, especially for the people who are mid-career. They’re a very hard group to motivate, but they probably need it the most.”

Brown, of Goshen, Ohio, says that he decided when things turned bad for his company to pursue a second love: computers. He says that he is “excited” about the possibilities of becoming a web designer, and has been taking classes through, an online training and education site, and his local vocational technical school. He soon hopes to achieve his certified Internet web (CIW) professional certification.

“I’m not a techno-genius, and I’m not a computer engineer,” he says. “But I think with my life experiences and my maturity, I think I’m being realistic when I say I know I can make a new career in this field. I’m determined.”

Still, letting go of a career he loved for decades has not been easy for Brown, who admits that he has tough “moments” when he considers how his life has changed.

“It has been a sour pill to swallow,” he says. “But I believe we each have to discover and decide, realistically, what our purpose, talents and abilities are. Then it is up to each of us on how to act on those discoveries and become what we can.”

Akana says many laid off mid-career workers need to have the heart-to-heart talk with themselves that Brown has had, and to realistically examine how they can go about changing careers.

“I think this age group is more scared than any other,” Akana says. “So many of them are in a state of denial.”

Akana says that there are solid steps any mid-career worker can take to not only help ease them into the idea of changing careers, but to discover what other jobs they are capable of doing. He suggests:

1. Determining what has driven success. “Do a real thorough career evaluation and look at your personal branding,” he says. For example, ask yourself:. What are your values? What has made you successful to this point? What are your achievements? What are you good at? What are you most proud of? What did you do to reach your success?
2. Assess your strength. “Where do your skills and your passion and your values overlap? For example, if you sell insurance, it’s not about selling insurance. It’s about your ability to build relationships,” he says. “That’s what you’re good at and you like doing.”
3. If you could solve one problem, what would it be? While Akana calls this the “Miss America question” he says it’s designed to make people look beyond the obvious answer such as of “bringing world peace” and instead think about what one lesson they would like to teach the world. While admitedly a difficult part of the mid-career exercise, Akana says that finding the vision for your life helps you find the job that is right for you.
4. Avoid dead-ends. If you’re in the mortgage industry, then you know trying to find another job in that field isn’t a viable choice. But you can tranfer those skills – attention to detail, working well with people, negotiation, etc., into other growing fields. For example, Brown says that while he can dig a ditch or drive a tractor or even fix a leaky faucet, he found that his love of technology and the other skills he used as a pilot have helped him make a smooth transition into learning to be a web designer. (Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to see where industry growth and jobs are expected.)
5. Be open. Akana says it’s a smart strategy to use personal passions and hobbies to transition into new careers, and also advises volunteering in a field that interests you as a way to gain insight and experience – and contacts – for a new career.

Brown says he’s excited about the new possibilities in his life. “I keep telling myself and others that losing my job and, or career, could possibly be one of the best things that ever happened to me, or us,” he says.

And, who knows, you might just love ping pong.

What are some other suggestions for mid-career job seekers?

Lijit Search


Walter Akana said...

Hi Anita!

Well, I hope that Tiger Woods never has to learn to play ping pong as a career step. But it’s nice to know he could, if he needed to. Love the slant on this post, and happy to have contributed some thinking here. Thanks for this great opportunity!


Anita said...

Many thanks for your help. I think you gave some solid tips for job seekers (especially those mid-career ones), and hope they take it to heart.

findM said...

I think this is great advice. I am in my mid-20's and still have not officially settled on a solid career path yet. I recently came out of a long stint of unemployment and was trying to use that time as efficiently as possibly by trying to learn new things which I have been meaning to do for a long time. Some can possibly transition into a career, but I really do believe that the only way to remain competitive in today's world is to keep learning.

Anita said...

That's a great attitude -- as long as you're a lifelong learner, you'll never get bored and you'll never stop growing. What can be better than that?

Working Girl said...

Great angle to this post. Really compelling!