There comes a point in everyone’s working life when you find yourself asking the question ‘what next?’. For some the question has been forced upon them through redundancy or termination. For others it may simply be that a particular role or position has run its course.
Coming to this crossroads in your career is certainly not unique. However, your ability to answer the question with confidence and clarity certainly is.
Being faced with the second stage of your working life can be an intimidating and sometimes paralysing experience. I was lucky enough to enjoy a successful career in advertising for over 25 years. I worked on some of the world's most recognised brands. I ran regional accounts across multiple markets. I was often wined and dined by recruitment companies and was regularly promoted. And I quickly rose to senior executive ranks within Australia’s largest multinational agencies.
But all of that success did little to prepare me for the future.
After running my own company for 10 years, and at the age of 50, I found myself at the crossroads of ‘what next?’. I still had a fire in the belly and I was still highly motivated. I still had a lot of relevant experience, but as I started to look at my options the view quickly narrowed. Heavy financial commitments with school fees, a mortgage and car repayments remained. I needed to maintain a certain salary.
I desperately did not want to go back into advertising but I also had to face the harsh reality that advertising no longer wanted me.
The recruitment companies were polite but uninterested. I found myself applying for dozens of roles I knew I was perfect for but getting no response. At the height of my career, I could reach out to almost anyone within the industry and they would take my call immediately. I believed my industry contacts and network were dependable.
But when you don’t have the senior title, the calls just don’t get returned and the phone simply stops ringing.
After weeks and months of silence and rejection, the walls begin to close in. The hit to your ego and confidence is hard. Your self-belief and self-worth are tested. You feel like your identity has been stripped away and there is a very real emotional trauma. You find yourself walking around in a haze often unable to get out of your own way. You feel embarrassed. You feel lonely. You feel lost. And you’re unsure of where to turn or even where to start.
If you are 18 to 35 you are considered a long-term employee and there’s lots of help to get you into the work force. If you come from a disadvantaged background, there’s lots of help to get you into the work force. And just recently the government has even offered grants to help women get back into the work force.
However, if you’re a white-collar executive in your late 40’s or early 50’s, who has been earning a six figure salary, driving a European car and living in an affluent suburb, you’re completely on your own.
And yet within this group there is trauma. There is a high incidence of depression. There is a high incidence of anxiety. And there is an extremely high incidence of self-harm and self-medication with drugs and alcohol. The knock-on effect from unemployment pressures to financial pressures, to relationship pressures to mental and physical health pressures is a steep and slippery slope.
For a long time I didn’t really speak to anyone about what I was thinking, feeling or experiencing. I fell into the common trap of believing that I could and needed to fix the problem myself. I also fell into the trap of thinking that I was the only one going through this career crisis.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
First, I knew something needed to change but I wasn’t able to do it on my own. And second, my story was extremely common.
I know what its like to stare into the mirror each day asking the question ‘what’s next?’. I know the stress and the isolation that brings.
And so, for me, I now know my own ‘what next?’ is making sure the support and guidance is there for others who find themselves alone and lost at that career crossroads.