30 years done….what next?

This is a post about career change, and the impact it had on me.

In September 2018 I left a career that had lasted just over 30 years. I knew it was coming. In fact, I had over a year to get ready for the change. Yet I still underestimated the impact.

Key take outs from this post:

  • It’s easy to underestimate the impact of personal change, however well prepared you think you are.
  • Structuring your day/week/month is important.
  • Use your network, keep talking and check in regularly.
  • Don’t try and boil the ocean – stay focused.
  • Accept that what you plan, will not turn out the way you thought it would, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
  • If you can accept and embrace uncertainty, you’ve cracked it!

On the 15th February 1988, I started work at The Norwich and Peterborough Building Society St. Andrew’s Branch, in the centre of Norwich. After 11,186 days (7,803 of them working days), two recessions (or was it three?), the Global Financial Crisis, a merger with The Yorkshire Building Society and 14 job roles, I took redundancy. A restructure at YBS gave me that opportunity and I had 12 months notice to finish off the work I was doing and prepare for the next step so I could hit the ground running.

I did a lot of preparation. I embarked on a 50 Cups of Coffee (or drink of your choice!) project as described here: https://www.inc.com/peter-thomson/50-cups-of-coffee.html.

I bought some new books:

I set about shifting my mind set into what happens after YBS. I spoke to lots of great people. I floated ideas about “being a consultant”, “seeing if people will actually pay me if I work for myself”, “working more flexibly”. I set up a Ltd Company, hired an accountant and bought a domain name. It was all exciting stuff, and I got lots of great feedback. I was awash with ideas, positivity and good vibes from my network – “you’ll be great Mike”, “don’t worry, you’ll be fine Mike”, “you should talk to these guys, Mike”, “have you thought about……” What could go wrong? 30 years of career behind me and all that experience. It was bound to work.

Nicely prepared, I embarked on a long planned cycling trip to the Pyrenees with some of my oldest and closest friends (and I realise, if you know me, that you’re probably fed up with hearing about it). So that was it, 30 years done, and off we go. Into the great wide open.

So when the beginning of October came along, I was ready. And yet all of a sudden, I felt completely out of sorts. My days lacked structure. I could do pretty much whatever I liked, but what to do first? That certainty of knowing where I was going, what I was doing and who I was meeting disappeared overnight. The comfort of the corporate blanket had been whisked away. No emails! But more telling, was the lack of contact. I used to spend lots of my day talking to people about what we were up to, and of course all of that stopped.

I began to doubt myself. Was this going to work? Perhaps I should look for a permanent role? What if I don’t get any work? For those of you who have read Prof Steve Peters “The Chimp Paradox”, my Chimp was way too loud and intrusive!

This doubt was fuelled by the fact that it was October…..then November. Christmas was looming. Everyone I wanted to speak to, was winding down for the year end, or they were massively up against it, or they simply just didn’t have anything for me right now. And of course that was fine…..but where was it going to come from?

At this point, I went back to basics. I like to be organised and know what I’m doing. So I started structuring every day, in a way I was more used to, and I started making sure I got out of the house. It sounds simple, but it was easy to sit behind the laptop at home. It used to be part of a balanced approach to work/life/travel at YBS which I appreciated. But now it was important to get out. Stamford’s coffee shops with free wi-fi got new trade and I found that the change of scene did me some good. I felt productive. A greater number of irons got put in the fire!

I started each week with a hit list of connections in my network to get in touch with. I’ve built many relationships over the years. Now it was time to properly check back in, say hello, and tell people what I’m up to. Also important at this point, was to not take a lack of response personally! Throughout this time I also leaned on my network stalwarts (as I call them) – people I know well and who know me. I was asking for feedback, “am I on the right track?”, “should I be doing things differently?” This was invaluable, and I am grateful to those who were very honest with me and called me out when I was voicing my doubts and politely suggesting I may want to hurry up and publish that blog I’ve been talking about for ages………I should add that my Wife, Anna, is also one of those stalwarts. Always positive about the future and the patience of a saint.

Staying focused was important. I’d been hedging my bets too much and talking to some people about permanent roles, because they were there. These conversations dried up and from that point on I nailed down my focus. The penny dropped when I revisited a blog from John Sills about career planning which amongst other things, described this model:


So, armed with that, these four things became my focus:

  • Do what I’m good at, all things customer experience – consultancy work.
  • Develop my skills and capabilities to gain more customers – coaching and mentoring qualifications
  • Try new things – speaking at Business Schools/networking events
  • Above all – do what I enjoy – and leave to one side what I don’t

Before I finished at YBS I had a game plan which involved getting some consultancy work and seeing where that would take me. But actually, whilst that remains a goal, it became pretty clear that there were other opportunities I should investigate. Now that wasn’t what I’d planned, but I had to go through the experience of actually leaving 30 years behind me and seeing what happened next, to work it out.

And of course all that could change, and that’s fine, because none of us know what the future really holds, it’s just important that we keep moving in the right direction. In my last role at YBS, we dealt with the personal impacts of change with around 500 people. The number one fear we tried to help with was uncertainty. It’s not nice. No one likes it. But if the last four months have taught me anything, it’s that if you can accept uncertainty about the future, and stay focused on moving in the direction that’s right for you, that’s a pretty good strategy.

Four months after leaving 30 years behind, the first piece of consultancy landed, which felt great, and I’m out of the blocks and heading in the right direction.

As always, thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to like/comment and let me know what you think.

February 6, 2019 7:30 am


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