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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Career Transitions

Those of us in Raleigh are watching the slow, painful process of our hockey team, the Carolina Hurricanes, and one of their prominent players, Rod Brind’Amour, to decide his future with the team. For those of you outside Raleigh, here are the basic facts.

Brind’Amour will turn age 40 this summer. He has had a highly productive career and is mentioned as a candidate for the NHL Hall of Fame. By all accounts, he has behaved in an exemplary manner. On the other hand, the level of his play has declined and he’s no longer able to hold a major role on the team. One more year remains on his $3 million contract. The team is redesigning its line-up around young players and is under financial pressure to cut payroll. A decision on the future of Brind’Amour in Raleigh is expected by 5 pm today.

At some point between age 50 and 65, many of us face the “Brind’Amour issues”. For various reasons, perhaps unrelated to our abilities or desires, the career paths that we chose after college are reaching a natural conclusion. Having become accustomed to an income level, we wonder how to sustain it until Social Security, a pension (assuming we’re so fortunate), and savings (assuming we have some) can replace earned income – and to what extent they will. We wonder about healthcare coverage prior to qualifying for Medicare. And perhaps most importantly, we wonder how to fulfill a desire or need for self-actualization when the career that has partially defined us for so long is finished.

I’ve been wrestling with these questions since my 24 years at Nortel ended in August 2009. The answers are not simple, and the process has its ups and downs. Some of my peers wrestling with similar issues say that it reminds them of their teenage years, when they were trying to decide what college to attend and what course of study to pursue. Others say it reminds them of the 20s when they were discerning a career – or perhaps taking a career one step at a time, allowing it to become clear.

I remember wrestling with whether I wanted to be a professor. Ultimately I decided not to finish the Ph.D. and to take a job in industry instead. It was the right call for me, and reaching that decision at age 26 was a defining moment.

What will I do next? It’s becoming more clear. Meanwhile, my tolerance for ambiguity has been tested... a process that's both uncomfortable and healthy.