Success at the Olympics is a pinnacle of sporting achievement. It requires decades of dedication, single-minded focus and sacrifice (from a very early age) to meet the standard required to represent your country. Even participating requires intense commitment, not to mention the extreme levels you need to reach to win a medal! The path is incredibly tough, fraught with risk of injury and burnout, which can derail your ambitions temporarily or permanently.
An additional challenge faced by elite athletes, including those performing at Olympic and similar levels, is what’s next… All reach a point, perhaps in their twenties or thirties, depending on the sport, where they can’t participate at the levels they’d like to – it is no longer physically possible for them, whether injury- or age-driven. A natural quarter-life crisis of sorts...
While not comparable, we can think of qualifying as a professional from this perspective too. Years spent dedicated to studying and passing the technical requirements, step by step. Painful failures along the way that we cautiously pick ourselves up from, taking time to recover. Then one day, we finish all the exams and conditions, and are ‘qualified’. YAY! Well deserved celebrations. Once the initial euphoria passes, we start to wonder, ‘Now what?’… ‘I’ve got decades of work left. Should I study further? What other skills do I need, especially non-technical ones? What should my next goals be? How do I keep learning and remain relevant?’...
Another example of a significant transition, requiring a major mindset shift is when people leave the military, and move across into civilian life and careers. They move from a highly structured environment, perhaps with international deployments, to a foreign-to-them workforce culture. Some specific examples for athletes and servicepeople respectively are joining a physical performance troop (such as Cirque du Soleil) or becoming a financial advisor.
I’ve written before about bouncing back, and keeping going, even after we’ve achieved success and we worry whether we can reach those heights again. These emotions are indeed relevant to big career transitions, but incomplete here: it’s also about re-imagining and remaking ourselves as we grow wiser i.e. we’re not trying to bounce back to where and who we were, but rather, pole jump to somewhere new.
In support of this, I came across advice on reinvention from Alexandra “Sasha” Cohen, an American figure skater who won an Olympic silver medal, and was a World Championship medallist multiple times. In her early twenties at the time, Sasha achieved her Olympic medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Read more for Sasha’s reflections.
Lee Faulkner is a non-traditional actuary, born in Britain, who has lived and worked in a wide range of other countries including Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and now Hong Kong. He describes himself as ‘Latin, Asian and British’ and knows all about being an expat! As you’ll see below, Lee has a delightful sense of humour, is strongly mission-driven, and isn’t afraid of pushing beyond his comfort zone (and encouraging all of us to do the same). He’s been an English language teacher during his career too, and has started a business ‘taking on the big boys’. Here are Lee’s reflections:
“Age - the Stuff of Excuses
I’m approaching 60 so, according to the world I’ve grown up in, I should now be thinking about winding down my career and focusing on best-buy slippers and pipes. But that feels wrong - if a life well-lived means anything it has to be sharing what you’ve learned and using your experience to help out those around you. I can’t wind down - every year I find still more ways of ratcheting up; yes, I need the cash (and yes - all those warnings about not contributing enough to a pension scheme have come home to roost!) but more importantly I have an overwhelming feeling of “not having finished”. There’s more to do. I don’t have kids, so I won’t have a biological legacy, but I have a brain and a mouth that I’m not afraid to use so they’ll be the tools of my legacy instead.
I don’t think I could ever rest until I see professionals doing what I’ve always thought we should do - using our skills to help those that really need us, not the companies that pay us. We’ve been hiding ourselves away for too long, and now’s the time for a professional coming out!
Prakash Chandramohan is an experienced executive who has implemented several transitions in his career, across industries and countries. An authentic leader, he’s also recognised for his strong sense of purpose and principles while working in the corporate world. As a Protagion mentor, he guides individuals on how to manage their own transitions successfully. And, he’s implementing another transition himself at the moment too! This is his personal journey:
“Early in my career I had a mentor who gave me advice on how to go about building my career. His advice was to look for “wide-open spaces” to carve out a niche, where there was the complete absence of competition. This is harder said than done of course. It involves a lot of exploration along with a fair degree of risk and uncertainty. But the prize at the end is becoming one of a few with the ideas, skills & experience for solving a certain type of problem.
I’m now two decades into my career, and the advice still resonates with me. Having most recently spent eight years at a UK wealth management firm, I left my executive role at the beginning of 2020 because I wanted to get more closely involved in how to empower people to understand their financial world better. I was struck by how much value there is in financial advice yet how few people seek it or even consider it. I had several hunches as to how this problem could be solved but there was no way to investigate them properly without leaving my full-time job. This “middle Britain” challenge has become my passion.
The bigger and bolder you are in the transitions you seek, the greater the surprises will be for you and the more unique you will become.”
What I have found, by making transitions in my career, is that opportunities have been given to me that weren’t afforded to others and I’ve been able to crack a number of problems along the way, as a result of knowledge & skills I acquired in a completely different field. This has really kept me going and given me the confidence to stay nimble in my career...