Alan Brown sees the writing on the wall, or in his case, the writing in the sky.
As a pilot for the global delivery company DHL for the last 20 years, Brown knows that during the thousands of layoffs for the company last year he may have been spared, but he doesn’t expect to remain exempt forever.
That’s why he sat down at the kitchen table recently with his wife to have the hard conversation that many Americans seem to be avoiding.
“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 midcareer 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 midcareer. 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 lynda.com, 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 midcareer 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 midcareer 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 “bringing world peace,” and instead think about what one lesson they would like to teach the world. Although admittedly a difficult part of the midcareer 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 transfer 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 at www.bls.gov/OCO/ 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.
Anita Bruzzese is author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy…and How to Avoid Them” (www.45things.com). Write to her c/o: Gannett ContentOne, 7950 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, VA 22107. For a reply, include a SASE.