The mid-life career-change is on the rise . This is good news. So many people I know struggle in a profession or a job they no longer fully enjoy but are too afraid to change. It can be scary to even think about retraining or changing careers, and the current hype over personal branding is making matters even worse.
Personal branding has become so fashionable that anybody with a sliver of ambition can’t live without a highly polished LinkedIn profile. You must have your personal brand message and your USP (unique sales proposition) figured out and at a cocktail party you feel like a loser if you can’t perform your ’30 second elevator pitch’ in an instant. The popular advice is to choose your niche and stick to it. You should be an expert in one thing, and one thing only. Right?
I struggled with my professional identity after having kids. I no longer wanted to fit into my old corporate job as a branding consultant. I wanted to work for myself and have more flexibility. However, I had spent all my life building a career in branding and a fabulous CV.
I tried to force-fit new ideas into my old profile and was in agony over what new direction I could take without losing my identity. I thought about all the people who knew me for who I was, all the press I had worked so hard to get and the set of skills I had acquired over time.
Would I be credible doing something completely different?
Then an opportunity arose to write a book. I had recently invested in a small start-up bakery café in Soho, London – a career move that felt compatible with my expertise in branding and design. We were approached by a large publisher who wanted a cookbook from us.
I decided to do it, but the project turned into a real ‘identity crisis’. Can a brand consultant be a credible cookbook author? The answer, as I discovered, was ‘yes’. I’ve always had a passion for cooking and baking. I grew up in a very foodie family. When it turned out that people loved what I was doing, it was very liberating.
I discovered that as I gave up my ‘identity’ ie my old personal brand, I got rid of the ‘crisis’. I’m now free to do what excites me most. I still do some freelance work on branding, but my main focus has completely shifted to other projects I’m passionate about: a women’s network www.drivenwoman.co.uk and an online jewellery design platform www.minkandstone.com. I’m not starting projects for an external CV but for my own interest and experience..
Dreams change as we grow older. Being too fixated on your personal branding can stop you from fulfilling your dreams and taking action on new ideas.
Here’s what I’ve learned from creating my ‘portfolio’.
- Keep an open mind and accept that you can be passionate about many things. Don’t worry if new ideas clash with your personal brand or current career. Write all ideas down - you don’t have to execute them but you will learn about yourself and become more confident about your choices.
- Accept that your desires and preferences change over time. It is unrealistic to think the choices you made at 18 are still completely valid unless you are one of those lucky people who have known from the age of 5 that they want to play a violin for the rest of their lives.
- Provide logic within each career or project. Explain to new contacts and clients where your passion for a particular field originates from and show evidence of your craft or skill to provide credibility. Different careers within your portfolio don’t have to be linked, but it’s good to provide an explanation why you have picked the ones you have chosen.
- Accept that you will have multiple identities at the same time if you are to change careers. Even if you were to fully shift to a new industry or expertise, there would be a transition period when you would have to communicate two or more ‘personal brands’ at the same time.
- Create separate websites and business cards for your projects. One effective way to manage your different profiles is to build separate brands for them. You may also vary the degree to which you put your personality into use. Define if you are the designer, owner, promoter or a freelancer for the project. When meeting new people highlight the project that will provide the best opportunity for you.
- Doing all the things you want is liberating. Don’t evaluate your success through the eyes of others. There will always be people who think you have lost your mind. Make choices that matter to you and build a realistic income stream over time.
- Let your personality and values tie everything you do together. Everything you end up doing will naturally have an underlying logic - YOU. Let your interests build your brand rather than your brand limit your interests.
*** Guest blog by Miisa Mink, a founder of Mink&Stone, an online fashion jewelry start-up that allows users to create their own jewelry; co-founder of DrivenWoman, a proactive women's network, and investor and chairman of Nordic Bakery, a design cafe chain in London.