Today, as I was going through the WordPress Reader, I stumbled on a post from a travel/lifestyle blogger that asked the question: would you rather live abroad all the time and come home (to your home country) each year for a two-week vacation or in your home country with a two week vacation abroad each year?
This sounds alot like the questions I have to ask myself about my future, only it’s not about travel in the vacationing sense, it’s about the direction of my life, generally speaking.
How changing careers is like living abroad
Traveling abroad is better in some sense, not in others. I’ve often said that what I would really like to do is work abroad for a year (say, as a visiting professor) or two years (tops). Then come home for a year or two. Then leave again for the next country. 🙂
What does that say about my work life? Well, first, here’s what I know about living abroad: culture shock is a thing. And a big thing it is. When we have to change how we eat, sleep, dress, and even greet people, it’s a huge stress. In a two-week vacation, we are actually getting a break from our routine. When these things must become our routine for the foreseeable future, people can get really whacked out.
Having to find a new job in my late thirties/early forties was very much a similar culture shock. It felt the same way for many of the same reasons. My whole routine changed from college professor to 9-5 employee-with-preschool-children-and-no-husband. I had to learn entirely new routines, coping skills, and every day hit me with a new challenge. Some days were very demoralizing–and making new friends while demoralized was extremely difficult.
I recall the term “ET” from my days consulting with the Peace Corps in Thailand. “ET” was Peace Corps slang for “Escape Thailand.” Volunteers could experience such profound culture shock that they basically had to go home early. They could not handle the strain of a different language, customs, and the lack of friends and the irregular routines. It was not usual but it was a common enough problem that it had this piece of slang. “Well, you know, he “ET’d” was a phrase I heard every now and again to describe a Peace Corps volunteer who had had to leave the country.
Isolation from friends and routines is profoundly difficult
The isolation not only from friends, but from the usual stress relievers complicated everything and sent me into deep depression. Long walks meant meeting and greeting my curious new neighbors with a thousand questions or strangers who might harass me. Shopping meant endless negotiations with shopkeepers, who would prolong the bargaining because it was kind of fun to listen to the foreigner speak Thai.
Teaching was wonderful, but dealing with the university bureaucracy and politics was difficult. And I had to be learning all the time. I had to learn new games and engage in entirely new pastimes. And it was hard–and there were days I didn’t want to get out of bed to face the struggles.
I have to pause to thank all my Peace Corps friends who shared their experiences and helped me to move through that terrible, terrible part of my life in Thailand when I began to be paralyzed by culture shock. Their visits, conversations, hi-jinks and companionship carried me through — and I can never thank them enough, so I’m paying it forward.
The secret to surviving culture shock, my Peace Corps friends told me, is to get out and meet as many people and do as many new things in the first three or four months as you can. This way, when you hit the “wall” of not being able to take in and handle any new wrinkle in the situation–when you want to stay in your room eating peanut butter and reading novels–you have more choices than that. You know many people, you’ve tried many things, and you know what you like and enjoy about the country you live in. In other words, one develops a new routine and a new way forward that will carry one through the everyday stress of the foreign environment.
Living Abroad is Not Emigration:
Changing Career Paths After Forty
As hard as my years living abroad were, I knew I would go home again, one day. Back to the land of what-I-knew. I look at new refugee emigrants to this country with very different eyes. To not be able to go home again is a special tragedy, unimaginable until one is caught in the throes of it.–much like an unexpected job loss or roadblock in one’s career path.
The current economy is demanding a total change of emotional and spiritual location for many of the people who had no intention of emigrating to the land of diminished expectations. For some of us, it’s the discovery that we are stuck in a position with no hope of moving forward. For others, it’s becoming redundant–and as companies swallow other companies all the time now, great employees are put out on the street, to compete with the teeming populations of younger, cheaper workers. Women leaders are stuck in low level positions–which affects our ability to care for our growing children or prepare for retirement.
Women bear the brunt of it, but men, too, are out there. I meet young women (that is women in their early forties–I am an Old Broad) who are now exactly where I was more than a decade ago all the time. And most of them say the same thing: I could never own or run my own business. No. That’s not me. I just want to work for somebody else.
We want to go “home.” We want to “ET.” We want to escape the stress of this dislocation, the fear and anxiety about our futures, and get back to the way-it-was. (Which, actually, may not have been particularly great, but at least it was known.)
We don’t know about the up-sides. We can only imagine all the down-sides. Ignorant of these these unknown places, we believe there must be horrible dragons there.
Because I go out and meet women who are engaged in creating their own businesses–or who have established successful businesses using online capabilities (including blogs) — I see an entirely different side of things. When I read books like Joanna Penn’s book on making a living through writing, I have been not just inspired, but empowered–empowered to think about earning a living differently. I’m ready to go traveling again, to think the unthinkable, to see myself as a future female founder. Knowledge is power. Reading, Ted Talks, whatever it takes to get you the knowledge you need, well, you go girl. 🙂 But get out there too. I know it is hard. But keep on going as you can, find people, find places, develop a new routine.
A side-gig is like a two-week vacation in another country
I started this blog, originally, as a side-gig with a partner, with the objective of developing a future business together in helping women find new directions for themselves in careers in technology. A year and a half later, it’s a much different thing, a solo-blog, developing into a kind of career and lifestyles magazine for bloggers, with a female founder over forty focus. I expect that this focus will grow — and that one day, perhaps even sooner than I think– it will become that online magazine with lots of opportunity for me to do more than write. And more ways for me to develop an income from these efforts.
Will it work out and become a successful media company that can sustain me after I retire? I don’t know. But I can say this: I’m enjoying my daily vacation away from my day job career. It’s actually refreshing. I’m developing skills in writing and in blogging. I’m networking with new people who have very different perspectives on work, business and career–and that changes my opportunities–both now and in the future, as those social ties mature. I feel I have more energy for my day job since I’m no longer asking it to provide me with the path to my future all by itself. It’s just part of my way forward. I am more than my current job.
Blogging as a Journey to A New Life in an Undiscovered Country
While I am a tourist now, I do recall being a refugee. And that changes everything.
Some of my readers are completely out of work, and I don’t think anyone could start making enough money to sustain themselves from blogging from ground zero to self-sustaining business in, say, less than a year or two–IF they have skills in writing and IF they know what they want to market and IF they are able to find their audiences in one heckuva hurry.
This blog helps me develop my authority on the topic of women’s leadership in innovation–separate from my day job and portable should I change jobs. I only wish I had started sooner, say, when I had left that teaching job over a decade ago. I might have been forty-five and a highly desired speaker at women’s innovation conferences and seminars–entirely separate from my day-job. This would have enhanced my authority and reputation IN my day job. People, especially bosses and corporations, take women for granted and keep them in helper roles. Women struggle for being seen as leaders within corporations (and indeed, in universities and other work places.) Having another source of validation is increasingly important.
If a woman is out of work, creating a professional blog with all that free time she has could be helpful in getting that new job. She can learn new things, establish her authority in her field, demonstrate her mastery and knowledge. She can branch out, learn new things and document that. I am not saying put your blog on your resume, particularly not an early, new blog.
I am saying that through writing this blog, I’ve learned very valuable skills and acquired critical knowledge that I can now use effectively in interviews, such as:
- I’ve learned how to speak and explain new topics simply effectively
- I’ve learned (and studied, mind you) how to write more clearly and succinctly
- I’ve acquired new technical knowledge and gotten up to date on current thought on my area of expertise (social media and innovation)
I am much better positioned to carry myself as a leader and to act and write effectively–which are critical skills in getting a new position. I have confidence. My blog is tiny but within me roars the heart of a tiny lioness. 🙂
We can never go home again, really.
When I returned from Thailand to the United States, I experienced reverse culture shock. The world had changed while I was away. People were talking about movies, books, “normal” things that I had no way of understanding or appreciating. I was dislocated yet again but stunningly, the sense of ease in my home country did not ever truly return. I knew things others didn’t know.
When I changed career paths at forty, and I did eventually find the next job, I still knew, profoundly, that anything can happen in this new career, too. Career change after forty can be a serious life shock. Once we’ve experienced such a life shock, we can’t go back to that simple frame of mind where we take things for granted.
Finding that new job took time. I spent over a year unemployed, an additional year in a truly hellish job just to make ends meet, and another six months after that before I found my current position. But after that life shock, I knew that I might have to make that change yet again–and that made me more curious about different career pathways and opportunities.
Today, I see many more fortysomethings (and fiftysomethings—and sixtysomethings) in the same place I was a decade ago. Today, people can expect to change careers at least THREE TIMES according to the research. The “third career” is often on the horizon in our sixties—as our retirement incomes, pensions or whatever we have (if anything) is not enough to keep body and soul together.
If you’ve recently had this life shock, I take your hand in mine and assure you, these journeys are hard, but they need not break you. There is an undiscovered country before you–and it has its own delights and rewards.
Becoming an Innovator
I can choose to be nervous and worried and helpless. Or I can choose to learn the ins and outs of this new world. Fortunately, as an innovation lead, I work continually with young folks in start-ups, with a generation of twenty and thirty-somethings who know that they have to be strong, confident, and ever on the move. They create two, three, and four companies—expecting some to collapse and others to prosper. They are constantly trying out which of their passion projects can make a go of it. These tiny businesses are often related concerns, different approaches to similar ideas.
These people have shown me that I’m going to be okay. Even better. Happier. It’s a different rhythm of life, with new patterns, new routines –new customs and new ways of thinking. I have had to wrap my head around an entire culture shift. It’s actually–pretty cool.
I challenge the “older” young people in my life (most of those I “friendtor” –mentor as colleagues– are in their forties) to re-imagine themselves as business owners, even if it’s just a side-gig–to develop those alternative ideas for a truly different career.
I have new ambitions now. When I retire, I could run seminars both online and in person. I could write books. I could create online group coaching opportunities to help women launch their own businesses. What do I want to do? Where shall I go? (Oh, the places we’ll go! as Dr Seuss says!) If you’re in culture shock right now, then read–read about innovation, read about blogging as a business, read, read, read–and get out there. Go to your local chamber of commerce and see if they have free classes on entrepreneurship. Talk to people and network. Go to Toastmaster’s. Take a course.
And don’t be so hard on yourself. YOU DID NOT FAIL. You’re in a position of re-booting your life. This new country ahead of you is remarkable. Treat it like an adventure, as much as you can.
Big Hugs —Lola.