I credit Herminia Ibarra’s book “Working Identity – Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing your Career” as the critical step in how I have approached “What’s Next”.
As I was reviewing the book for a presentation recently, I decided that I’d interview myself using the Interview Guide that formed a key component of the excellent case studies within the book.
Tell me about your career to date?
From school I went straight to University, actually an Institute of Technology and studied Accountancy. I started my career as an accountant whilst an undergraduate and stayed in the accounting profession for the next 37 years.
More than half of that time was as a partner of a Big 6 and then following merger a Big 4 firm. I have been privileged to have this opportunity
Why did you change careers?
The firm I worked for made it clear that 55 was a key date. In order for their to be renewal in my firm, it was necessary that partners didn’t stay too long. I’d known that for 20 or so years so it wasn’t a surprise.
How long did it take?
On reflection, I think I started the process the day I joined the firm. I was 35 and so I always thought of it as a 20 year project at most. In fact, I stayed 21 years to enable a business restructure to take place.
At about 50 I got serious, focussed in on finances and getting my head around the fact that this would end soon. At about the same time members of the Executive Team of my firm started asking me when I would be leaving! At 50 it was occasional, at 54 it was every time I saw a member of Executive!
So, I guess it was a reflective process over many years with me getting serious about 3 years out.
Tell me about the transition period?
One thing I quickly realised was that while society says it’s focussed on diversity, this seems to mean gender and race, maybe even disability, but not age!
Sure, I understood the logic for exiting my firm and am happy I have been able to leave on my own terms. The fact that the clock was ticking ever louder was something I had to adjust to. As I reflect on it, I realise that things that were said to me about being old could never be said when referring to gender or race.
I had always wanted to leave on my own terms, rather than being pushed. I admire the sports people who say now is the time to leave rather than stay that season too long. As a result I used the resources available to me to start planning a few years out and set an agenda that with agreement from my firm was acceptable.
My firm provided a weekend workshop available to partners over 50 where we along with our spouses could discuss “What’s Next. The workshop plus taking advantage of the resources it made available were important. I’m indebted to my firm for providing this opportunity, one not available to most.
I experimented with ideas while working. In my spare time, I started this blog and enrolled at University. I started to write a monthly article in a local paper. The article filled 2 purposes, it allowed me to experiment with writing and because I wrote on business issues it promoted the firm.
In my final 18 months, I reduced my work hours to enable me to study and start to enjoy what it would be like to o longer work 5 plus days a week. Initially my Mondays were at Uni in dispersed with calls about client matters but over time the amount of time spent on work on my days off diminished. I focussed on transitioning my clients.
I quickly realised that being at our beach house on a Sunday night because I didn’t have to be at work at 7.3oam Monday morning was a luxury. I enjoyed riding on Mondays because I could!
Who made the difference? Why?
That’s easy my mentor Tim and Herminia Ibarra.
Each opened my ideas to the possibilities.
How many different kinds of ideas or possibilities did you consider? How far did you go with each?
I tried playing guitar as a way to relax and quickly worked out I had no idea!!
I started my blog and writing an article in a local paper. I thought I might make money out of my blog! As I have said in other posts, I quickly worked out that wasn’t going to happen but I enjoy writing it.
I spoke to a colleague who had opted into a University career about 25 years earlier. He introduced me to a couple of other academics who suggested I might like to do some research. That prompted an idea about going back to University. I enrolled in a Media degree but decided while I liked study the degree wasn’t the right one for me.
I also thought about a role in academia. I was quickly made aware that I’d need a PhD! That required some thought. It would involve completing Honours and then enrolling and being accepted into a PhD program. I have completed my Honours and am now into my second year of my PhD.
I was sure I didn’t want to be a company director but did think mentoring would be interesting. I now have roles with 3 companies and enjoy each of them immensely.
What was the hardest thing about the whole process?
Having a proper conversation with my favourite person. She had taken the view that I’d sort it out and it would be all OK.
We were lucky that my firm provided a mechanism to facilitate the conversation through the weekend workshop mentioned earlier. It forced us to have a proper conversation and later that it was a matter of us regularly checking in on how we were both going.
So far its worked out!
Apart from the change of job, did you make other changes in your work and life?
Yes, I have changed aspects of my life as well as work, as bluntly, if I did not want to change my life I wouldn’t have “retired”.
I no longer wear the same style of clothes – no I don’t mean suits but causal wear. I decided on a new wardrobe, perhaps symbolic – no longer Rodd and Gun, now Trennery and Uniqlo.
I don’t have to be the professional accountant anymore, I can be me and I love it!