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Help for Women Contemplating Career Change
From childcare to life-balance to aging parents, career women today face an ever increasing number of issues that they need to factor into decisions about career change. To gain some advice on how to effectively navigate career transitions, we spoke with Sandy Anderson, Ph.D., author of a new book, Women in Career and Life Transitions (JIST).
1. Why did you decide to focus on women in career and life transitions? Are there transition issues that you feel are unique to women?
Yes. Many typical circumstances dramatically impact the work/life choices women make. For instance, what does a woman do when she’s invested twenty years in her career, and at age forty her first baby is on the way? What is her purpose when her children leave home and she’s invested twenty full-time years into raising them to become responsible, well-rounded adults? We all know that women physically have babies. Career-committed women are more likely to forgo or postpone childbirth, which triggers a continual reexamination of values and priorities. At the other end of the spectrum are women who forgo or postpone their careers (and income-earning potential) to stay home and care for their children, spouse, and/or aging parents.
Another typical scenario-how does a woman decide what to do with herself if her husband dies? Women over sixty-five are five-times more likely to lose their spouse to death than men. Such a loss can result in feelings of emptiness, as many of these women have devoted their lives to caring for their families.
Women also invest four hours into household responsibilities to every one hour that their partners invest. Single and divorced women with children must somehow care for their children and home, and earn a living in a world where women earn 75 percent of what men earn and hold less than 5 percent of the top executive positions. These realities influence the choices women make.
2. Do you feel women benefit from taking an integrated approach to life and work?
Yes. In order to make suitable career choices it is imperative that our life circumstances be taken into account. In the world of work it has long been established that men tend to mentally and physically separate their work and personal lives. For the most part women have had to conform to this approach, or put their careers at risk in an effort to handle personal commitments (e.g., mommy track), with little or no support.
Research reveals that most women have an automatic tendency to integrate their work and personal lives, and that those who do, have less stress and are more content with all areas of their lives. It is because of this that I have realized a dire need for a career book that integrates our work and personal lives as women so naturally do.
3. You encourage women to journal while working through a transition. What tips do you have for those women who haven’t written in a journal before to get them started?
Start gradually with a paragraph or two each morning or before you go to bed at night. Don’t put pressure on yourself to perform, just journal whatever comes to mind. This is a great opportunity to think about your accomplishments for the day, your challenges, your highs and lows. Then you can work your way into venting emotional ups and downs, discussing what you’re feeling on paper. If you engage in a lot of negative self-talk, use your journal as a way to convert those recurring negative thoughts into positive affirmations. For example, instead of thinking I can’t do this or that think I’m a winner and I can do anything I set my mind to. Go one step further and write these positive thoughts down in your journal. Continually fill your mind with positives and you’ll experience positive results. It’s also fun and amazing when you look back on these written thoughts after you’ve completed a transition and see how far you’ve come.
4. You define a portfolio career as a career that consists of two or more income-earning pursuits. Do you see portfolio careers as a growing trend?
Definitely. Portfolio careers offer a great way to diversify your talents, add variety to your work, and keep a steady stream of income coming in. Much like a financial portfolio, a portfolio career consists of two or more income-earning pursuits. In my career portfolio, I can earn a living from writing, consulting, public speaking, and conducting workshops.
The beauty of this arrangement is the ability to diversify. When you put all your energies into one career pursuit, you’re in trouble when that pursuit hits a financial low point or disappears altogether. With multiple income sources, you’re better able to combat the high and low cycles characteristic of working on your own.
This is emphasized when your multiple careers complement each other. If I conduct a workshop or give a talk, I can also sell books or pick up new clients. My marketing efforts produce synergy when I’m able to sell more than one product or service at a time. This is an exciting phenomenon, especially when you see the results in your bank account.
5. What are the biggest obstacles women face in expanding their comfort zones to take steps toward transitions?
I devote an entire chapter to this topic. It’s a biggie. There are several external obstacles such as a lack of time, money, education, experience, the expectations of others. These obstacles stir up our emotions, generating obstacles within, such as the fear of change, negative self-beliefs, and procrastination. The chapter on expanding your comfort zone offers several strategies for overcoming these internal and external obstacles to change.
6. How can women better master change?
By embracing the possibilities that change offers. By being flexible and able to roll with the punches. By building solid support systems that are there to pick us up on our down days and cheer us on through our good days. Our personal lives are constantly changing and so is the world around us. Change will accelerate at a more rapid pace as we’ve entered the new millennium. By simply realizing that change is a constant and inevitable part of life, we can grow and flourish in a world of opportunities rather than retreat to our comfort zones.
7. In your book, you provide a brief profile of your personal transitions. In your case, the death of your mother proved to be a catalyst for you to make major life changes. Is suffering a personal tragedy or setback often a catalyst for life transition?
Yes. It often sparks self-growth and creativity that were never realized before. My mom was my best friend and her sudden passing caused me to pull back from my daily routine and question my values and where I was headed with my life. As a result, I journaled what I was feeling and experiencing on a daily basis. In the end, I went back to school to obtain my doctorate in psychology and at the age of 40, my husband and I had our first baby. These were two life events that I had put on the back burner and more or less ignored until my mom died. Through my journaling, I learned how much they truly mattered to me, which in turn caused me to take steps toward a complete life and career transition.
8. No matter how unsatisfying a woman’s current situation is the prospect of change can be frightening. What coping techniques would you recommend to women contemplating career or life transitions?
Foster solid networks of support. Consider going back to school, taking a class for fun, or joining a support group. Communicate with the people you care about-ask for their support and let them know how they can help. Eliminate stress by taking care of yourself. Get adequate rest, exercise, and try to eat healthy. Seek help from a counselor if needed. Carve out some time-even fifteen minutes a day-when you can be alone to introspect and journal about what is happening inside of you, what is happening in the moment. Learn to live in the moment and take things one step at a time. Don’t look too far ahead because that will trigger anxiety over the unknown. Have faith in your heart and what you are feeling. Don’t be afraid to act on your gut feelings. Trust.
9. The women you profile in your book all had positive outcomes as the result of the transitions they undertook. Do most women realize positive results due to the transitions they undertook?
Depending on how you view things, something positive can be derived from all types of change. If we keep an optimistic outlook on life, if we are able to laugh at ourselves and find the humor or good in bad or sad situations, then we can realize positive results. Ending one chapter of life and starting another is never easy but that is how we get out of the doldrums and grow to the next level. We are creatures of habit that can be creatures of change.
10. What final piece of advice would you like to give to women considering life transitions?
Take some alone time and sit down with your journal and create a plan. I teach you how to do this in my book by taking you through the steps that are necessary to making a major change-everything from doing a self-evaluation (personal, emotional, financial), defining your obstacles to change and how you can overcome them, building self-belief and confidence, developing support systems, exploring your options, and finally, offering strategies to help you successfully manage and master change.
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