26 January 2015

Reinventing your professional self: a career change as a conscious, creative, exciting process

Changing careers is a privilege. You get to work out what you want to do and more generally who you want to be, insofar as work is a major portion of most people's lives these days. And you get to build on aspects of your personality and the wider world that you never knew about at university.

The decision to embark on a different career, as a freelance translator in my case, comes coupled with the opportunity to rethink yourself as a professional.

You need to work out your strengths and your weaknesses in an altogether different setting, and to consider your skills and aspirations both in the short term and far into the future. You need to establish whether there is a market for the services you would like to provide, and find that market in the form of potential and actual clients, one at a time. And you need to make sure your dream plan supports both your personal and professional ambitions and the living standards you want for yourself and your family.

All this is a major challenge, but it also breeds a massive surge in enthusiasm. I have been known to say, 'I don't even care about whether or not it works out.' I did of course want my career change to be successful in all possible respects, but what I meant was that the positive feeling, the excitement I drew from each step of the way was in itself a great thing. I stand by that: working out the professional you want to be is a fascinating and extremely energising experience.

Of course, I had chosen my first career too, I prepared myself well to become a journalist. It was in tune with many of my skills, suited my aspirations at the time and was great fun for many years, but the process is quite different the second time around.

When I chose to become a reporter, I was young and did not really need to take into account several factors that are crucial more than a decade later. I am a bit of a control freak and was one back then too, but I just did not know enough about the world around me to really be able to think rationally about a lot of the things the decision involved. I thought hard, but I was in many ways doing the wrong kind of thinking. That was of course inevitable: as we age, we do not necessarily become wiser, but we do tend to have more information.

The good thing about a career change is that you get to imagine yourself as a professional all over again, with a broader focus. You should clearly take pride of place in that wider picture too, but having a clearer idea of what to expect from the world around you and what others 'out there' expect from you is a healthy addition.

The difference between a university leaver who becomes a journalist and a journalist in her mid-thirties who becomes a rookie freelance translator can be spelled out in terms of consciousness as well as age.

As a career changer, I was more aware of my own skills and had more confidence in them. I knew I lacked other tools that would be useful, and I had a clearer idea of how I could start to develop those too. And most importantly, in my opinion, I approached the whole process with a more critical eye, constantly assessing how the whole bundle could help me lead the life I want to lead.

As a young graduate, I looked for a job I would enjoy doing. As a career changer, I knew I was looking for one crucial element in a more generally satisfying life and that keeping a balance with all the things that were already going well was important.

A career change is a way to revisit the abstract exercise of choosing your profession in your early twenties, pull it apart and turn it into a more down-to-earth, better-rounded effort with feasibility as a key element.

I want to be a freelance translator for a lot of reasons besides the fact that I like translating. I am good at it, there is a market out there for my services, it allows me to earn the amount of money I want to earn to lead the life I want to lead, and it is consistent with that life more generally.

Of course, well into my thirties the opportunity comes coupled with greater responsibilities, including my share of the family income and a certain obsession with how to transition from my employer's health plan to its still-to-be-determined freelance equivalent. It takes time, many hours of scratching my head and ploughing along with a mix of caution and determination.

However, being able to reinvent yourself so many years into your adult life is a fun way to grow. I am convinced that the experience, creativity, ambition and careful planning one can muster with university as a distant memory would lead anyone to a life that is closer to the one they want to lead. It has certainly worked wonders for me.