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Time for Serial Careers

Serial CareersCareer coaching is full of incredible surprises. This is a true story about age, the perception of time, and – inevitably – why career coaching is the bolt of lightning that lights up your darkened path.

One of my earliest career-coaching clients was also my twenty-eight-year-old accountant. He was just starting out, tugging at his rural roots in order to transplant into a more urban area, and very enthusiastic about being coached “just to see what it’s all about” but not really thinking that it would have any personal benefits for him. He had the idea that, given the large number of startups he found himself in charge of in the office, he should learn some coaching skills to help his clients and bring synergy to the accounting profession.

One of the essential career-coaching exercises is something called Timeline. This has many manifestations but basically it aims at informing the coach and the coachee as to how the latter deals with the passage of time, on many different levels. It may include questions like “What do you see yourself doing at age thirty, forty, or fifty?”

I was dumb-founded when my client replied – with no malice or cynicism, given that he knew my mature age – that at age 52 he saw himself retired, in a wheelchair and about to die. It turned out that he had plenty of models like that in his own family and immediate entourage. Ambition was an unknown word, or at best suspicious. This corresponded with the paltry salary progression he had assigned himself, in the exercise, over his short career path.

Timeline is an exercise that also jars my master students, who cannot see beyond their immediate school year or perhaps, if pushed, past age thirty. Virtually none have thought about what they want to do at age sixty. And, yet, at age sixty, many people still have the physical and mental capacity to continue working another decade or more. But preferably work (or play) at something they enjoy and enriches them in ways their previous career did not.

With retirement happening younger and life expectancy increasing, the notion of “serial careers” needs to be taken more seriously. There IS life beyond your first burnout, your first job loss, and, yes, beyond sixty!

Employees are no longer striving to earn that proverbial gold watch for twenty-five years of loyal service at the same job or with the same employer. Our environment, be it economic or ecological, forces us to consider creative employment alternatives and to adapt to the demands of change and flexibility. Doing that alone is painful and costly. A good professional or career coach helps you identify better solutions faster, eases the burden of the unknown, and is both cost- and spirit-effective in a sustainable manner.

My accountant is now 38 and chief accountant for a subsidiary of a large national network of accountants in France. He has already doubled the salary he thought he would have when he retired at 52, and he is happily planning to live long enough to retire well into his sixties. Or make a change of career at forty or fifty.