October 15 , 2017 /


We often engage in a variety of work over a lifetime because of who we are and what appeals to us. I seldom took a job just to be employed. My jobs were choices from a myriad of opportunities, thus I could say yes to work that was more about who I am than my work defining who I am, if that makes sense to you.

Do you remember your first paid jobs? It might have been in a family context or working for a neighbor. I remember picking strawberries and getting paid 10 cents a quart for picking, and not eating any (impossible). I remember getting my social security card at age ten when I was setting pins in a mechanical bowling alley. I worked every summer whether on my grandparents’ farm or in another grandparents’ general store. By the time I was 15, I had sufficient work experience to be confident enough to skip the age requirement and work for the railroad, aligning rails and setting new ties. Then it was construction jobs until I had finished university and after my first graduate school, I began a professional career. And that was just the first stage of work transitions – varied, challenging and rewarding. Some of this is documented in my brief memoir, Seven Decades: A Learning Memoir. (River House Press, 2013)

The second stage includes the early years of learning a new job or a profession, after more preparation and training whatever those might need to be. We are well-advised to look for mentors, role models and examples of those we consider successful if we want to increase our effectiveness in our work. If you think about education, engineering, medicine, architecture, or law; or carpentry, plumbing, electronics, sales, technology, or whatever, one’s first-time job in any of those fields are most often supervised by someone with more training and experience although the apprentice model has lagged in more than a few places. Training by doing is still one of the best learning experiences one can have. You don’t become a mountain climber by reading books and listening to lectures about mountain climbing. You don’t become a great teacher by sitting in lectures about educational methodology.

Meetings and conferences that stress best practices and shared experiences are helpful adjuncts to growing and expanding work in this second stage and beyond.

The third stage may be leaving a job or even leaving one profession for another. I received an inquiry recently from someone who said “I’m at a critical juncture in my career. I just left a senior director position two months ago on principle (unhealthy environment), and have the luxury of taking my time to find my next opportunity.”

For that individual, and many others, this was a kind of “mid-life” crisis, crisis meaning a crossroads, an intersection where you have to make a choice about which road to take ahead. For those who “retire” early, say in their mid fifties, it seems to be a similar experience. Creating new opportunities sounds exciting and it can also be challenging.

There are many reasons to change jobs (or careers) including moving to a new location, increasing a compensation package, the result of increased training and experience, preferring a different type of work, a change of scenery and environment, and for some people, branching out, and expanding on one’s own. That’s the classic entrepreneur profile that has a dimension of creativity and innovation writ large. Others feel satisfied and secure to stay with the same organization over a much longer period of time and that’s OK too for those who see the benefits and security of long-term commitments.

We might call the fourth stage reaching the top or the peak of one’s career. Through advancements, promotions, increased responsibilities and compensation, stock options in some cases and even deferred compensation for tax benefits later on, these conditions accrue to those who have been successful. Some of these people may, by this time, own their own business or be a major partner in a profession, practice or organization.   There is no particular timeline here for I have known both younger and older people to be in this stage regardless of their respective ages.

One of the advantages of this fourth stage is that you are able to make many of the decisions that affect yourself and often many others as well.   Whether it has to do with profit sharing or increased benefits of a workplace environment, or the expansion of the work, the opportunities that you can create are on the plus side of the ledger.

Fifth stage – stopping active, full-time employment and considering how to retire and what’s involved in that, perhaps working part time, volunteering, or no work and all leisure? That is not recommended as it’s better to to keep mind, body, and spirit active and healthy or those may atrophy accordingly. Retirement is not a particularly attractive and appealing term. This fifth and often final stage of “work” or activity is a challenging transition for many people who are trying to figure out the best ways to invest new found time and energies, where to invest one’s self and how to create those kinds opportunities.   Because I have done this over the past five years, I have had numerous occasions to have conversations with others at an important stage on this journey. Suffice to say here, these conversations are interesting and worthwhile learning experiences. There are many choices available depending on circumstances and it behooves us to take some time to consider where we are and what we want to be about in this next and perhaps final chapter of adult growth and development. It’s a time for review, reflection, renewal and regeneration.

Consider these three questions: 1. What are your needs and how will you fulfill them?   2. What are your desires and how do you define and move toward those? 3. What are your revised goals and how do you plan to achieve them? Understand that this is a process, like so many other experiences. This transition, one of many in this stage of life, will be ongoing and hopefully as enjoyable and rewarding as you can make it.

Comments (6)

  1. Thanks for getting me thinking. I think I’m in the midlife crisis – although I prefer how you put it… crossroads. It’s uncomfortable and exciting to not have all of the answers but to sit with possibility.

    My first jobs were babysitting and camp counselor and program leader. Taking care of groups of people and creating a place where they could choose to be happy. That wasn’t my job, to make them happy but it was theirs for the choosing. Maybe there’s something about that I need to revisit…

    Thanks, Gary. Always appreciate your insights.


    1. Yes! This “Taking care of groups of people and creating a place where they could choose to be happy.” sounds like something that you also did later and definitely worth revisiting, IMHO. And a crisis is just that, the crux or crossing of the matter. So now you get to choose that which makes you happy. Happy creating some amazing choices, perhaps some which you might have yet not considered. Maybe ask the question, “What is my dream job?” Then move toward that? Good luck, best wishes.

  2. Solid model, Gary. I think that being patient through our transition and in our transitions is challenging. Even more challenging is knowing when to be patient and when to tap into our impatience and go for it. We may never find the right thing the first time, but we can do what we believe is close and the right thing may emerge as we work forward. Thank you! Jon

    1. Jon,
      Like so many other life experiences, a transition seems to be much more of a process than an event. There are events in our lives which are life changing, some planned, some unplanned. Patience has seldom been one of my virtues although I have learned to be quiet and wait, even work for more clarity when the way did not seem immediately obvious about which way to go. My conclusion is that a transition is a series of events, when strung together with a goal in view, helps us move forward on a more sound footing than might have otherwise been the case. Thanks for your comments, so on target as usual.

  3. Thanks Gary – I really like this.

    I wonder, though, whether it will reflect how millennials (and younger generations) will approach it? Certainly the first few phases might loop round several times… and with the impacts of AI impacting on work, some may be able to choose ‘leisure’ a little earlier – which sounds fantastic, but isn’t something we’re necessarily prepared for as a society.

    This is a really thought-provoking model. Thanks for sharing it!


    1. Thanks, Rebecca. I think each person has to make her/his own decisions in the context of where they find themselves at a given point in time, often at the inflection of transition, if that makes sense. And it’s a process more than just a moment. It’s a little like coming to that proverbial fork in the road and deciding which way to go. I often felt like Yogi Berra, “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” When presented with either/or I tried to see if we could find a way to both/and. Not always, of course. And you’re right about the looping around and learning while looping. I’m watching my millennial grandchildren with great interest.

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