Today’s Building Block: Work (yes, work…) What makes transitions so hard to navigate? Herminia Ibarra, a thought leader on leadership and career development and author of Working Identity, shares her insights on creating new options as you prepare for your transition to retirement.
Herminia Ibarra joins us from London.
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Herminia Ibarra is the Charles Handy Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School. Prior to joining LBS, she served on the INSEAD and Harvard Business School faculties.
An authority on leadership and career development, Thinkers 50 ranks Herminia among the top management thinkers in the world.
She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network, a judge for the Financial Times Business Book of the Year Award, a Fellow of the British Academy, and the 2018 recipient of the Academy of Management’s Scholar-Practitioner Award for her research’s contribution to management practice.
Herminia is a member of the London Business School governing body. She chaired the Harvard Business School Visiting Committee, which reports to the university’s board of overseers, from 2012 to 2016, having been a member since 2009, and served on the INSEAD board of directors.
A native of Cuba, Herminia received her MA and PhD from Yale University, where she was a National Science Fellow.
A second and updated edition of her groundbreaking book Working Identity was recently published by Harvard Business Review Press.
Whether as a daydream or a spoken desire, nearly all of us have entertained the notion of reinventing ourselves. Feeling unfulfilled, burned out, or just plain unhappy with what we’re doing, we long to make that leap into the unknown. In this powerful book, Herminia presents a new model for career reinvention that flies in the face of everything we’ve learned from ‘career experts’. While common wisdom holds that we must first know what we want to do before we can act, Ibarra argues that this advice is backward. Knowing, she says, is the result of doing and experimenting.
Based on her in-depth research on professionals and managers in transition, Ibarra outlines an active process of career reinvention that leverages three ways of ‘working identity’: experimenting with new professional activities, interacting in new networks of people, and making sense of what is happening to us in light of emerging possibilities. Through engrossing stories, Ibarra reveals a set of guidelines that all successful reinventions share. She explores specific ways that hopeful career changers of any background can.
A call to the dreamer in each of us, Working Identity explores the process for crafting a more fulfilling future.
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“Transitions necessarily imply a loss of a sense of identity, a loss of something that has been meaningful and valuable. You’re moving away from someone you’ve been, but the future you isn’t clear yet, or the future destination or the next role isn’t clear yet. So you’re kind of hanging in limbo and that’s very uncomfortable. We live in a world in which certainty is valued, know who you are and the nature of this process and part of what makes it productive is questioning who you are, but that’s necessarily uncomfortable. So that’s number one. Number two is more specific, particularly today and particularly at mid-career and beyond. These transitions tend to be what I call in my academic jargon under-institutionalized. And what that means is they are not structured. It is not like an MBA job market. It is not like when you want to make partner in a law firm, you know what steps to take. The destination’s often unclear. You don’t know how long it’s going to take. Job search processes today are longer. Companies are taking longer to vet people. So it’s kind of open-ended, How long is it going to be? Where am I going? You’re not going through it necessarily with other people. So it’s hard to benchmark how am I doing? There’s lots of different steps you could take. So say you are an insurance executive and you want to be an entrepreneur to create a wine business. What are the steps? Well, it’s not fixed. It’s not like go to law school, join a firm. There’s lots of different pathways to that. So there’s a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity and openendedness in the process. And we as human beings struggle with that.”
On New Options
“The opportunity is that lots of paths open. Nobody is asking people to simply hang up the boots at age 65 and go play golf. Fewer people are doing a conventional retirement. That creates the challenge of choosing, crafting, and creating because you’re going to have to create your own. So often in our careers we get moved along by our occupation, our profession, our company. Now you have to invent your own. There’s lots of options open. Do you take on another role? Do you create a portfolio of roles? Do you work part of the time and save part of the time for leisure or do you stay, remain in working but more under your own control? There’s lots and lots of options open.”
On Her Possible Selves Exercise
“It’s called the Possible Selves exercise. And I think it is by far the most successful exercise I ever do with my students and participants. And it’s a very simple exercise. Anybody can try it at home. You take out a piece of paper or your iPad and you list as many ideas as you possibly can for who you might become in the future, including things you want, including things a lot about, including things that you maybe have a bit of curiosity about, including things you don’t want but are being thrown at you, including what other people want. But it really generates a portfolio. And there’s two ways in which that is helpful and interesting. The one is, it’s freeing. It allows you to be what we are as humans, divergent, not necessarily consistent, and it allows you to make the most out of the questions.”
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Joe Casey is an executive coach who also helps people design their next life after their primary career and create their version of The Multipurpose Retirement.™ He created his own next chapter after a twenty-six-year career at Merrill Lynch, where he was Senior Vice President and Head of HR for Global Markets & Investment Banking. Today, in addition to his work with clients, Joe hosts The Retirement Wisdom Podcast, which thanks to his guests and loyal listeners, ranks in the top 1 % globally in popularity by Listen Notes, with over 1 million downloads. Business Insider has recognized Joe as one of 23 innovative coaches who are making a difference. He’s the author of Win the Retirement Game: How to Outsmart the 9 Forces Trying to Steal Your Joy.