Close to a decade ago, I read Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra which talks about how transitions through a career change are unconventional in that you often don’t know exactly what your new identity will be at the outset of your journey but instead you must experiment and explore to find the right fit. Making this transition of change though can be extremely difficult upon us and those around us, as noted below, because changing our identity, as a complex system or entity, is about changing our relationships.
We cannot regenerate ourselves in isolation. We develop in and through our relationships with others—the master teaches the apprentice a new craft; the mentor guides a protégé through the passage to an inner circle; the council of peers monitors the standards of a professional group, confirming status within the community. Yet, when it comes to reinventing ourselves, the people who know us best are also the ones most likely to hinder rather than help. They may wish to be supportive but they tend to reinforce—or even desperately try to preserve—the old identities we are seeking to shed.
Changing careers is not merely a matter of changing the work we do. It is much about changing the relationships that matter in our professional lives. Shifting connections refers to the practice of finding people who can help us see and grow into our new selves, people we admire, would like to emulate, and with whom we want to spend time. All reinventions require social support. But as this chapter reveals, it is hard to get the support we really need from career counsellors, outplacement, or headhunters, or even from old friends, family members, or trusted colleagues. New or distant acquaintances—people and groups on the periphery of our existing networks—help us push off in new directions while providing the secure base in which change can take hold.HERMINIA IBARRA, WORKING IDENTITY
What I recognized afterwards though—upon reflecting upon the book, my life, and the patterns of change around me—was that I wasn’t going through a midlife crisis to change my career but rather I was experiencing this Big Shift that everyone will eventually go through which is a change of paradigms, mental models, and world views (aka social innovation). You see it’s much easier to shift a career because you’re often moving from one known context to another known context (i.e. job to job, albeit in different disciplines) within the conventional world that everyone knows. Making the Big Shift is radically more complex and difficult, as you are effectively moving from a known context to a completely unknown context that 99% of the population cannot relate to or understand. So not only will your friends and family think you’re crazy but most of the world will think your crazy as well.
You’re Not Crazy
Another important role a guiding figure plays is to reassure us that we are not out of our minds, to convey that what we are contemplating is not only reasonable but totally consistent with a wise assessment of our potential.HERMINIA IBARRA, WORKING IDENTITY
This is why mentors or guides are so essential to your journey because they help you to realize that what you’re experiencing is completely normal and you’re not going crazy. In my case though, while I’ve found tons of diverse articles and books on the subject, I’ve yet been unable to find anyone I can interact with who can relate to what I’m going through and who can see and understand this big picture of societal change on the scope that I do. Thus right now, my only mentors are those within the articles and books I’m reading which makes it difficult for me to make this transition because I’m continually being pulled back into the Old World—it’s outdated beliefs and behaviours—by those close to me, rather than stepping freely into this New World.
But People Will Think You’re Crazy
Our close contacts don’t just blind us, they also bind us to our outdated identities.HERMINIA IBARRA, WORKING IDENTITY
This is also why I feel like I’m continually being ripped apart between two worlds, as I’m struggling to step forward but continually feeling pulled back. Because of this, I’ve lost a couple of really close friends over the past few years because they no longer can relate to me. I even find the same thing happening with my family, as I begin to distance myself from them. Basically any friends and family I interact with now about my journey and these bigger changes affecting society, I know they are either thinking I’m crazy or I’m possibly on to something but their lack of understanding of this “unknown” makes them feel uncomfortable because they can’t relate to it at this moment.
A perfect example of this is the typical convention of asking someone what their job is or how their job is going. Neither of these apply to me because this New World is about going beyond a “job” and discovering your life’s work (i.e. your passion & purpose in life). Thus any “job” that I’m doing is just to pay the bills and my real work is that which I do in my days off and evenings. In effect, I’m having to work in two worlds to bridge myself from one to the other. But to fully make the transition though, I eventually need to let go of the Old World’s conventions and beliefs so that I can fully become the potential of that which I wish to be in this New World, my true self.
Without meaning to, friends and family pigeonhole us. Worse, they fear our changing.Herminia Ibarra, Working Identity