As a child, I understood that death was part of life.
Why you may ask? Because my grandfather was an undertaker. It was his father’s business, one started in the late 1800s. I was used to seeing the hearse and hearing hushed voices on the phone, being told to be quiet whenever the phone rang,
While this childhood connection yielded some eerie moments over the years, it also resulted in me believing in something important: reinvention.
I’ve certainly seen the practice of ending one thing and finding new purpose in the next in my career. In IT consulting, the cycle is opportunity, bid, design, deliver, transition — and then we ask, “What’s next?” We often don’t know until the next opportunity shows itself, leading us to work on things we may never dreamed of. This cycle can be broken up by many unexpected bumps on the journey: funding cuts, redundancies, changes in leadership or mergers and acquisitions.
Learning this cycle and getting used to the changes it inspires is similar to the experience of death and grief. For most people today, a career is a collection of beginnings and endings, about reinventing yourself and your work before the ultimate end of retirement. (In Australia, the average worker stays in a job only about 3 years — and the number is similar around the world. Thus, a 40-plus-year career would bring a lot of change with it!)
We may grieve the end of a good team brought together temporarily to complete a project. Or we may mourn the loss of a job that brought us joy and passion. At the same time, we may celebrate the beginnings of multiple careers across different industries, in different places and requiring different skills.
From my own story, I believe that having children has helped me cope and grow with reinvention as I go on the rollercoaster journey of raising them. I change minute-to-minute from being a leader to follower, mentor, coach and many other roles, reinventing myself to meet their needs.
As advances in healthcare and our knowledge of longevity continues to grow, we need to start wondering about what happens if the end does not come. My grandfather did not stop working until he was 84. My working life may be even longer. With new discoveries on the path to a cure for cancer and other terminal diseases, it’s no wonder many scientists believe the baby boomer generation will be the last to die.
If we live forever, will we keep working? How many times will we reinvent our career — and reincarnate ourselves in the process — then?
Those of us who dreamed of being superheroes when we were young may find the possibility of being immortal a dream come true. (Alas my superpower wish was to fly, understand and heal, so I will sit on the fence on this one.) And for those of us who are OK with being mere mortals, we will need to prepare for a lifetime (and longer!) of reinvention to come.
How will we conjure up the energy and empowerment to reinvent ourselves time and time again? That in itself is a blog for the future.
How will you reinvent yourself in your next life chapter?