Ecologist, teacher – what should I try next?

Posted in Careers, Mentor Minute

Ecologist, teacher – what should I try next?

The Globe and Mail, Thursday, July. 25, 2014

The Question

I am a 47-year-old teacher and have been working in the field for 17 years. But I am becoming tired as I get older and I need a change. My first profession was as a field research ecologist working in remote places.

I am seeking an exciting and challenging third profession, in which I can use the combination of skills and knowledge I have gained from my past and current careers. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do to accomplish this career change?

The Answer

I am constantly inspired by people who have the energy and courage to recraft their careers at various stages.

There are three questions you should ask yourself: What did I do last time? What do I want to do next? What skills have I acquired over the past 20-plus years of work that are transferable?

You’ll also want to get your financial house in order, and use your network. Let’s tackle the questions first.

What did you do last time?

When you were 30, you changed from field research to teaching. So the great news is, you already know how to make a career change. Past experience is a powerful reference point. How did you make the move from field research ecologist to teacher? Who helped you get there? What was the catalyst? Did you go back to school? The answer to these questions will be a great starting point.

What do you want to do next?

You say you want something that excites and challenges you. So, what do you find exciting? What kinds of challenges are you looking for? What inspires you? What have you always wanted to do? Are you hoping to work for someone else? For yourself? Start something new? Do you want to work full-time or part-time? Do you want to stay where you are, or move? Such questions will help identify what you want to do next.

What skills are transferable?

The great thing about being 47 and having 20-plus years of experience is that you have a wealth of knowledge. What skills have you acquired along the way? Write them down. As a field researcher, you are probably great at conducting research, working independently, understanding ecosystems, problem solving, adapting to different environments and making insights through observation. As a teacher, you are probably skilled at multitasking, dealing with various stakeholders (children, parents, administrators, peers), leadership, nurturing and so on.

If you find identifying your skills a difficult exercise, read some job descriptions or course descriptions for the fields you have worked in – it will likely remind you of all the skills you have acquired along the way.

Once you have looked deep within yourself, it’s time to tackle two other big tasks.

Review your finances

Sit down with a financial planner to ensure that your financial house is in order. There is nothing like financial uncertainty to kill a transition and keep you trapped in your current line of work. So give yourself peace of mind and tackle this critical step early.

Use your network

Don’t try to make this change alone. Business colleagues, family, friends – they are all powerful allies to help you answer the above questions, and open doors once you know the direction you want to head.

Katie Bennett, president of Vancouver-based Double Black Diamond Coaching, is an executive coach and team facilitator.