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Moving on to a second career

During the past two months, I have had interactions with different audiences in Bacolod, Iloilo, Palawan, Bulacan and Manila from different generations – traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X, generation Y, and the “millennials.”

Believe it or not, I met with traditionalists almost in their mid-80’s who look forward to doing several significant things in the future. Just like the Energizer Bunny, they just keep going and going. I’ve also met Boomers looking forward to retirement, Gen Xers experiencing mid-life crisis, Gen Yers somewhat confused about their careers, and millennials clueless about what the future holds. I wish that these people are not the norm in today’s workplace, but rather the exceptions. Nevertheless, our conversations set me to serious thinking.

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Some career people in their mid-40s are at or on their way to the C-suites, while majority are bored, burned out, and frustrated. Some feel stuck in their first careers.

There’s the Boomer who drags himself to the office and plods aimlessly, not knowing why he does what he does. He can’t bear the sight and shout of his Boss, much less the daily routine that requires no brain and that turns him into an automaton. But he has more debts than what he’ll get if he opts for early retirement. How can he ever think of a second career?

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Who are you?

When people get lost in their career, some counselors help them by asking the question, “Who are you?” Career people tend to believe that they are what they do. This doesn’t help them move on to a second career.

Instead, I often ask, “Of the many possible selves that you can be, which is the most interesting – or easiest to try, or most challenging or intriguing, or where you will most likely succeed if you put your heart to it?”

Moving into a second career does not happen abruptly. You just don’t stop what you’ve been doing for years or decades and become an entirely different person. Usually, you use the present to connect you to a better future. Reinventing yourself does not mean creating an entirely new you out of nothing. A new you are often a product extension of your present self. If you’re a coordinator of employee programs in your company, you could use your coordination skills and contacts to become an events planner on your own. If you’re a company trainer, you could start a small training outfit.

If you’re tired of working for companies for profit, you might find fulfillment in the non-profit world. Your options are many – be your own boss, engage in community service, teach or write, or use the Internet as playground for your innovative ideas. Today, the new sources of wealth are no longer physical in nature – they are ideas, information and relationship.

Second career

If you’re mad as hell with your current career, stop and think. You need to earn a living, but your job sucks. Let me help by asking a few questions:

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  • Is there something else you want to do other than your job now?
  • What other types of work can leverage your skills in more interesting ways?
  • Where else can your skills be put to better use where you can make a difference?
  • Is there a cause you deeply care about?
  • Does your need to find meaning lead you to a different direction in the next stage of your life?
  • How can you combine work for your benefit with contributing to social good?

Moving forward

Most people who moved forward to second careers found that some new activities seemed to strike the deepest chord for them. You’ll often realize that it takes time to explore multiple options and reconfigure the same into a discernible pattern that uniquely suits you. To some people, advocacy is more important, but usually work is still the core activity.

Blessed are those who have prepared themselves financially while working and found their calling after retirement. The Inquirer featured in its June 28 issue Carol Esguerra Colborn, a former IT top executive who “met her soul mate, travelled around the world, wrote a book, learned to cook and conducted lectures.”

Orly Peña, Chairman Emeritus of PMAP and Chair of the PMAP Foundation, was a banker who launched the first credit card in the Philippines. A Kepner-Tregoe accredited trainer, he taught in local and foreign schools. The late Labor Secretary Blas Ople asked Orly to lead the team that compiled the 1974 Labor Code, together with then Labor Undersecretary Jun Leogardo, another octogenarian. He was a co-founder of both PMAP and ECOP (Employers Confederation of the Philippines). If you see his office, you’d be amazed at the many international awards and recognitions he received. He’s not yet done. Orly wants to see the PMAP Foundation go into advocacies and projects that will help advance the human resources (HR) profession in the Philippines.

Met Ganuelas was an academician at the University of the Philippines before he joined the corporate world. From Shell, he moved to San Miguel, where he professionalized the practice of HR. Met is the first and probably the only Civil Service certified HR practitioner. His current advocacy is to professionalize the HR practice in the SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and make them more competitive, especially in light of the impending ASEAN integration.

Orly and Met and are in their 80’s, but they never stop thinking of significant things to do in the future. It seems that they have found their second careers.

Trapped in a wheelchair

Edith, in her 70’s or 80’s, now sits in a wheel chair at the San Lorenzo Ruiz Sisters of Charity home for the aged in Pasay City. On June 28, my daughter Mika celebrated her birthday there. My four grandchildren with Mika and Iris (Miko, Junee, Rhys and Frankie) served lunch for 60 wards at the place managed by a group of nuns from the Philippines, India, Hong Kong, Scotland, India, and Sri Lanka. Edith reads my column every Sunday and likes the one about CSR. She asked me, “Why isn’t there a law that institutionalizes and rewards CSR from profitable enterprises? Why are homes for the aged not in the radar of those who run CSR projects? Do corporations realize that institutions like ours are also their customers? Why do companies not share their competencies with us so that we in the home for the aged can continue to be useful to society?” Obviously, Edith may not have strong legs now, but her heart and mind are as sharp as can be.

Reinvent

So here you are 55 and still you don’t know what to do when you grow up. You’re five short years from retirement. Or you have 30 long years to live your life and career all over again, differently, better and with significance. Obviously, 30 years is a long time to waste and do nothing, or to keep doing what you already know you hate doing. If an elderly in a wheel chair wants to learn new skills to be useful, why can’t you? Give me a break!

Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost … now put foundations under them.” Now is the best time to build foundations for the next stage of your life. Or just simply roll yourself up and die!

(Ernie is the 2013 Executive Director and 1999 President of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP); Chair of the AMCHAM Human Capital Committee; and Co-Chair of ECOP’s TWG on Labor and Social Policy Issues. He also chairs the Accreditation Council for the PMAP Society of Fellows in People Management. He is President and CEO of EC Business Solutions and Career Center. Contact him at [email protected])

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