Loss of identity – how I coped with a career change

I was peeling grapes when the phone rang. A former colleague was on the line to tell me about his promotion. I wanted to be happy for him, but I also felt incredibly sad. Until two months before, I’d been a global HR director taking important decisions, influencing strategy and doing the job I loved. And here I was, surrounded by a pile of grapes intended to make the fish dish I was preparing more enticing for my children. I loved being a mum, but at the same time felt so devastated about the life I’d left behind.


Struggling to come to terms with a loss of identity

Most athletes or sports stars go through the same identity crisis when they retire because your identity is so closely linked to what you’d been doing in the past. There is a famous quote about athletes dying twice, the first time at retirement. Sadly too often we hear of ex-athletes facing mounting debt, divorce, depression, unemployment and even alcohol or substance abuse because of their struggle to come to terms with their new situation.


How to move on

Any major career change requires preparation and adjustment to ensure a smooth transition, irrespective of whether you have decided to make the move yourself or it has been forced upon you. It is unlikely that you will be able to turn the page without some guidance. So how do we adjust?

There are many things you can do to help transition. Research shows that building resilience, goal setting, social support and self-confidence are essential ingredients of any transition. Career planning before the change takes place is also beneficial. But for me, the one thing that really helped was finding out what makes me tick.

By understanding my key driver I was able to adapt my environment, my goals and my direction to fit who I was and what I needed to do to feel fulfilled again.


Career anchors: what are they?

Based on extensive research, Edgar H. Schein identified categories of career anchors combining your perceived areas of competence, motives and values including such things as technical competence, autonomy and dedication to a cause. Your career anchor is the one thing that you would not give up if you faced a career decision that might not allow you to fulfil it. It provides a clear concept of what you are good at, what you value and what motivates you. Such information helps you make choices.

Being able to identify what anchor was important in my life was the basis for moving forward. It was my ‘aha’ moment. Try googling Edgar Schein to find out more or even think about completing a Motivational Map, an online tool which uses the career anchor as a base. If you are facing a transition this knowledge may help you.


Next steps: what else can you do?

Understanding your anchor alone will not guarantee a successful career transition. But it is a good place to start. Combine it with the essential ingredients I mentioned earlier and you are on the right track. Finding an expert who can assist you with the transition will further help. So can identifying a role model.

I know from personal experience that such transitions aren’t easy. Moving on will take time. But by investing the time to reflect on yourself and your future, you will get to understand who you are and how to go forward.

As for me, the grapes were the defining moment in my career transition. By understanding that the change in circumstances had significantly impacted my identity, I started on my own journey of self-discovery. I was fortunate enough to change career, remaining true to my values and purpose. I did return to the business world but on my own terms and conditions. And, whilst I have done my best to be a good mother, I have never prepared fish topped with grapes for my children again.


If you feel like you’ve lost your identity or need some guidance during a career transition, give me a call for an informal chat about how I could help you move on.


Are you ready for life after sport?

Download this FREE Career Transition Questionnaire and find out where to begin.