With the Summer Olympics in full swing, there is a lot of excited anticipation over our nation’s athletes and their expected performance, a lot of hope that they will medal, and by extension, make us all winners. You watch them compete and are awed by the gracefulness of the gymnast, the robust stride of the runner, the gazelle-like leap of the hurdler. We enjoy cheering for them, claim their successes as our own, and congratulate them emphatically when they return in glory. What we don’t necessarily consider is what happens after the fanfare ends. What does the Olympic athlete do once the closing ceremony is over?
The truth is that these people view themselves solely as athletes, their entire identity and body of training is that of a sports competitor, and once the competition ends many have no idea what their next steps will be. Only a select few will gain endorsement deals, but for the greater majority retirement comes before the age of 40. Consider how this relates to the experience of those in the military whose training and work history is seemingly disconnected from that of the so-called “civilian workforce”. Or, perhaps the worker who has been employed in the same position for many years, even decades, and has had no training in an alternate field. When their chosen career path ends, does this mean that there is nothing left for them to do?
Career transition is tough for everyone, but it is especially challenging for those who have been specifically trained only for a particular role and have adapted that role as a lifestyle. There are so many dimensions to an individual’s identity that it is very common to see one as the most dominant and as a lens through which we view them. Without realizing it, when we do this we are effectively trapping them, limiting them in terms of what other pursuits they may be able to make without recognizing that the skills they have developed may be transferrable. This sort of “tunnel vision syndrome” leads to a disjointed perspective of “real world” opportunities and can lead to a period of heightened emotional difficulties for them.
If this sounds familiar to you, an effective way to counter this is to think about what other interests or passions you might have. If a soldier has always had an interest in animals, or has always wondered about a career in security, they need to identify which career options appeal to them in those particular fields and settle on the career that feels the most inspiring. If someone who has always worked in a construction role sustains an injury which precludes them from working in that field again, they may wish to consider which other related roles exist that they will be suitable to their existing capabilities.
Once an area of interest for a specific industry is recognized, it is important to develop a game plan as to how to approach that career transition. First, research needs to be done to find out which fundamental skills are required to meet the needs of the chosen role. While someone who has been a part of the military may have been trained in many different roles, it is important to figure out how that training has prepared them to meet the needs of a civilian position. Some examples would be strong conflict management, solid communication skills, ability to research and plan effectively, leading and delegating, and so on. The construction worker would have had to develop skills in time management, prioritization, numeracy and problem solving. All of these skills are valuable in some way throughout life, but are essential when it comes to employment and are not limited to certain jobs. Often, some sort of training will be necessary to update existing skills or to develop new ones. For instance, someone interested in moving into a medical administrative role would need to know medical terminology and have a reasonable keyboarding proficiency, both of which require training. Investing in expanding your education is not only the wise thing to do, but will increase confidence when it comes to applying for jobs.
Other tips for smoother career transition:
- View the transition as a positive challenge rather than as losing a comfortable career.
- Network with someone in the desired field. Develop a relationship with a mentor from this field who will coach and motivate you.
- Understand that this will be a process; you’re essentially in training, and results won’t happen instantly.
- Know that you may feel apprehensive and fearful; allow it, and move past it.
- Be flexible! You may need to make concessions, but this is to be expected when you’re starting something new.
- Create an impactful cover letter and résumé. Your cover letter should compel employers to want to know more. Highlight your interest in the position, as well as your commitment to meeting their needs. The résumé should list all of your qualifications, worded to showcase how what you’ve learned in one role can apply to another.
- Keep yourself focused on the goal. This kind of mental engagement may assist you in overcoming any physical and mental challenges you have encountered following the end of your previous career.
Remember, this is the process of reinventing yourself, and it will be exciting and challenging at the same time. Who you were, what you’ve accomplished, is in no way diminished by the inevitable changes that life will bring. It’s all part of your story, and just because the fanfare of your past success has died down, this doesn’t mean that you cannot enjoy victory again, that the narrative cannot take on a pleasant twist which leads to a more fulfilling outcome.
Your personal happiness is the highest prize in any event. When it comes to training and preparing for life’s next hurdle, you’re always going for the gold.