When American swimmer Michael Phelps swam the final lap at the London Games, he already had lucrative endorsements that ensured his financial future.
Most athletes, however, don’t have Michael–or Gabby–sized endorsements waiting for them after the flame’s been doused. According to the Australian online journal The Conversation, “Those who fare best are the ones who preoccupy themselves with a new challenge, such as a job or higher education. Athletes who wait until after the Games to think about their future struggle the most.”
You must plan for a reinvention–and no one, not even elite athletes, can snap their fingers and expect a career transformation to occur overnight. As I say in Law 9 of my book, The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention, reinvention takes the time that it takes–and it often takes much longer than you imagine it will.
The key is to realize that career reinvention is like training for the Games. You have to be willing to put in years of effort, if necessary, to reach your goal. But you have a choice about how you perceive putting in that time, and how you view it can have a dramatic impact on your emotional well-being. Here are four tactics that will help manage your expectations and keep the flame of excitement burning brightly:
- Acknowledge the facts and adjust your strategy accordingly. I recently had a client who wanted to land a consumer marketing job at a “glamour” company. Though she had strong marketing experience, it wasn’t with the target market of those types of firms. At first my client was frustrated that her search wasn’t moving as quickly as she’d expected, but once she acknowledged the facts–glamour jobs are competitive, so she needed to fill that gap–she could adjust her plan. She dropped her expectation of a six-month reinvention, and took a promotion at her current firm that gives her the experience she needs.
- Make a list of things you can and cannot control. In the 1912 Games, Jim Thorpe won multiple events despite competing in a mismatched pair of shoes from the trash–one too big–because someone had stolen his immediately prior to the competition. A champion focuses on what he or she controls–his or her preparation for the Games–and learns to roll with the rest. Likewise, things will run more smoothly for you if you sort your reinvention into what you can control (e.g., taking a seminar in your target field) and what you can’t (e.g., when that seminar is scheduled). This minimizes the pressure you’ll feel when something throws a wrench into your original plans.
- Keep Plan B simmering on the back burner. As I mention in my book, much of the pain of dashed expectations comes from putting your eggs in one basket. Even athletes aren’t immune to this; a 2011 study showed that those who fail to plan for a “regular” life beyond the Games may experience depression, disorientation and self-doubt. Having an alternative strategy–a psychological (and literal) fallback plan–gives you a cushion just in case things don’t go according to your original timetable.
- Let go. Your reinvention is as much about the journey as it is the destination. Slow down and take pleasure in the learning, tap into the excitement of doing something new and breaking fresh ground in your life. If you can let go of the job as the final “end,” you’ll realize that life is a series of continual new beginnings. Take inspiration from medalists Debi Thomas, who in her post figure-skating career became an orthopedic surgeon, or Sebastian Coe, the British runner who became a Member of Parliament and headed the organizing committee for the 2012 Games. Your goal can pave the way to a whole series of new lives!
It’s up to you to determine whether the time you spend reinventing your career is a hard, painful slog or an exciting, ever-evolving journey. Give yourself permission to relish your progress! Even if a deadline passes and you’re not where you think you should be, know that you’re exactly where you ought to be. Success hinges not on reaching the moment of gold, but on the personal freedom and growth realized throughout the journey.