Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra

Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career

Career change is something that is drastic and requires courage. You will be surprised by how many who are unhappy with their current jobs. ‘Am I doing what is right for me, and should I change direction?’ We do not know where to go. Change is often terrifying. Understand the patterns of how successful people do it. Our true working identity can be determined from the story we tell. Most people will tell you that you have to know what you want first, this is like through self-reflection etc. Planning is essential. This book will show you that actually we need to try activities outside before we will know whether we like them. Get out of your head and act. Put yourself through concrete work experiments. This book features 39 people who have switched careers. Most people will work in at least 3 different organizations in their lives. This book has been supported by many of my colleagues and friends.

A successful outcome hinges less on knowing one’s inner, true self at the start than on starting a multi-step process of envisioning and testing possible futures. No amount of self-reflection can substitute for the direct experience we need to evaluate alternatives according to criteria that change as we do. – Herminia Ibarra

Reinventing Yourself. Do first, know second. Redefine your work identity. We rethink yourselves in that way too, by doing. We are actually made up of many selves. Pierre went from being a psychiatrist to being a monk. Buddhism was my life philosophy, but not my life’s calling. He had also already published books on his works. I decided that I didn’t need a lot of money to lead a spiritual life. His life involved little changes in the right direction before finally taking the huge plunge. Lucy switched from being a tech manager to being an independent coach. After dropping out of college, she took programming courses by chance and realized she liked it. Later, she got promoted to VP after overseeing an OS change and was content climbing the corporate ladder. Until recently, a coach told her that she should learn to connect with people instead. She moved to a start-up because there was less bureaucracy. Later, she realized that the fear of making the wrong decision was holding her back. One day, she mustered enough courage to just quit her job. Finally, she became a life coach. Being in the music industry entails risk and lower pay packages. We are often conflicted by such thoughts. Many career switches share the same process. Exploring possible selves à Lingering between identities à Outcomes à Grounding a Deep Change. To make room for the new, you need to escape the old first. They lingered between identities for a long period of them. Reflection is more useful later on, when you have done some interesting things. Learn about yourself experientially. Find support in peer groups and via networking. Ask smaller and simpler questions first.

Event in their lives and work led them to envision a new range of possible selves, the various images – both good and bad – of whom we might become that we all carry. – Herminia Ibarra

Possible Selves. Our ideas always change along the way. The best way to discover is to flirt with many possibilities. Gary left his consulting firm to take a sabbatical and didn’t know what he wanted to do next. He made a list of people he admired and things he liked doing. I wanted to open a scuba diving business since that was my hobby. Later, Virgin called me. I was a freelancer there managing capital portfolios. We decide which businesses to enter or exit. I was proud to be working for Richard Branson. Gary adopted the test and approach method and it worked for him. The scuba diving business had poor financials etc. The traditional method encourages to think then do. The problem with this is that humans learn in iterated ways. You have to learn how to envision different possibilities and alternatives. When things are unfamiliar, it is better to learn from direct involvement. Career change should be able iterative rounds of action and reflection lead to updating goals and possibilities. Work is an important source of personal meaning and social definition. Career coaches will tell you to take tests and interest inventories to uncover your personality traits. This does have some merit. Learn from direct experience and recombine old and new skills. Once you have the list of possible selves, it’s time to start exploring them and evaluate them more closely. You need to bring at least one of the items into the real world. Taking the first step is the hardest.

As we search, the new information we stumble across influences how we seek and absorb additional information. In this way, our working identity is continually shaped by the discovery of new alternatives. – Herminia Ibarra

Instead of asking ‘Who am I?’, ask yourself this instead ‘Among the many possible selves that I might become, which is the most intriguing to me now? Which is the easiest to test?’ – Herminia Ibarra

Based on the work of Stanford cognitive psychologist Hazel Markus, the possible-selves model reveals that we all carry around, in our hearts and minds, a whole cast of characters, the selves we hope to become, think we should become, or even fear becoming in the future. – Herminia Ibarra

Between Identities. It’s hard to let go of something you have invested so much in. It also doesn’t happen overnight and requires a lot of time. The in-between period is the most difficult and trying. June wanted to move out of literature professorship. June started trading and researching on companies and realized that she loved it. She wanted to turn trading into her new career. She tried to revive her academic career by writing a book and taking up a quiet job at the University. It failed too. She attended all the networking events by the banks. Later on, I realized I just needed a job which allows me to learn new things. Along the way, she met many interesting people and candidates. It’s always ugly in the middle. People feel lost in this phase. It could feel like ‘living in a hurricane’. This back and forth is necessary in successful transitioning. Giving up your career is difficult because you are losing what you had initially set out to be when you were younger. You will also being to disconnect socially and psychologically. This time, however, is necessary and should be short-cut. It is easier to end something without having created another. You should not let go too rapidly or hold on to something too rigidly. Do new things, make new connections and retell stories. Trial activities, trial relationships, trial narratives. You should try to find someone that you can emulate. Now, we must explore some means of selection. Use your gut and the people around you to help you with your decision making. Can I see myself in this? Does this feel right? Discarding possibilities is a form of making progress. The process might take months or years.

People who can tolerate the painful discrepancies of the between-identities period, which reflect underlying ambivalence about letting go of the old or embracing the new, end up in a better position to make informed choices. With the benefit of time between selves, we are more likely to make the deep change necessary to discover satisfying lives and work and to eventually restore a sense of community to our lives. – Herminia Ibarra

To be in transit is to be in the process of leaving one thing, without having fully left it, and at the same time entering something else, without being fully a part of it. – Herminia Ibarra

It takes, on average, three years from the time a person decides to leave the company until the day he or she walks out the door. Those are not good or productive years. For me those years were in limbo. – Harriet Rubin

Deep Change. Small steps are necessary. Big swoops can cause big problems in the long run. Susan did freelancing so that she could have more time to take care of the kids. Later on, she ventured into charities and has not looked back since. Do not simply jump before you give yourself time to explore what you want to do. Take small steps and see where it might end you up at. Use the strategy of small wins to tackle the bigger issues in life. It is a great way to learn. We all hold on to rocks which we are reluctant to let go. Dan explored organizational change. As an ex-alcoholic, Dan was an overachiever and wanted to make the most of his education to improve himself and others. Learn to revisit basic assumptions. There are 3 levels of career decision criteria. 1) Job, industry, sector. 2) Competencies, motives and values. 3) Basic but implicit assumptions about what is desirable and possible in our lives and in the world. Go to level 3. You must break free from what the important people in your life think about you. You are not your organization. You must distance yourself from it. This is the big issue that most people will have to face. Everything happens in cycles.

Crafting Experiments. It is crucial to take the first small step. It is a method of inquiry. Ben moved from being an academic professor to being a consultant for non-profits. He enjoyed his side projects more than his job. Learn to ask ‘what if’ questions for yourself. Take action to see what happens and do not try to make a prediction. Do not ask yourself ‘What if I were to do this for a living yet’. We talk with our feets. Actions speak louder than words. Impact is a big factor. Your job needs to be able to impact others. Experiments allow you to compare and contrast. Do not be stuck in the day dreaming phase all your life. Try new activities but make sure you have ways of evaluating them. Work on your outside pet projects. However, not everyone will have the time and energy for side projects. In this case, you will have to network and talk to others. Small wins need not be well planned most of the time. Taking a sabbatical can allow you to experience new areas as well. A sabbatical allows you to toy with possibilities. Learn to trust emotional information. Use feeling and emotion to aid decision making. It turns out that emotional biases do us before rational thinking does. However, you will also have to find reasons behind those emptions. Committed flirtation.

Leaping without a net is foolish. It is better to start by trying out a possible new role on a small scale – in our spare time, on a time –limited sabbatical or as a weekend project. – Herminia Ibarra

Shifting Connections. The ones we know best are most likely going to hinder us. You must learn to shift connections. It is new relationships who will push us off in a new direction. Craft yourself a network of mentors to help you. Shifting connections is a big part of change. We must alter our social and professional circles. Most people actually find jobs through personal connections. Weak ties are crucial for this. These are people who can provide insight into different industries because of their knowledge. The problem with our loved ones is that they want to see us as consistent. You need to face disapproval from the people you know and it can be painful sometimes. It is necessary to find social support from those around us. Look for new peer groups and guiding figures. Attend alumni reunions. Identify with the values of these people. It is important to have guiding figures in your life. This is important for tiding through the in-between period. Guidance is needed because the person doesn’t know what lies over the horizon. A guiding figure serves as a reality check. Create that safe zone. Join in a new community and find out more about it. Build an escape route by way of small experiments. Keep pushing the boundaries. You must create your own community. Transition requires psychological safety. Test experiments in a secure environment. A good mother gives a child room for discovery.

Making Sense. Interpret what is happening today and reinterpret past events. Events are like alert intermissions and cause us to change our minds. Previously insignificant events may now seem significant. Unexpected events do have the ability to provide insights. Some major event can make you question your life. These moments of insight tend to come when we are relaxed. We need to spin the story into something compelling. Reworking one’s story is difficult. Defining moments signal that there is no turning back anymore. Experimenting works better than just reflecting on past experience. There must be a moment where things click into place. Fortune favors the prepared mind. Step back to leap better forwards. Time out periods provide the space for reflective observation. Major transitions often take at least 2 to 3 years. Leaders also have a fixed period to make changes, especially after an introduction of new technology. This is known as the window of opportunity effect. You must make the most of windows of opportunity and do not let it slip by. People like stories and you need to sing a coherent tune.

Becoming Yourself. There is no alternative to constant exploration. We learn by doing. Understanding yourself is a journey. Many people are lazy to take the first step to change. It is better to slow down in the testing phase. A sabbatical allows us to explore possibilities. Women tend to use timeouts better than men. Those who did nothing were the ones who regretted the most. You cannot discover who you are just by self-reflection. Take action and change paths. There is no one self but many possible selves. Live the period of contradiction. Use the strategy of small wins. Identify projects that you feel would suit you. Do not simply quit your job but experiment as much as you can without making a commitment. Branch out to different social circles. Use everyday occurrences to find meaning in the changes that will happen. Take breaks to reflect.

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