A humbling experience: Being an executive in transition (Guest Commentary)

Support networks can make all the difference

Job transitioning can be a humbling experience, across all job levels and industries. I would imagine, however, that for executives in transition, it is far more humbling. The very executives who often make the tough — and at times not so tough — decisions about who gets hired, fired and promoted are now on the other side of the desk. And let me tell you, the other side of the desk is much more difficult to navigate than it once was.

As an executive in transition, I speak from personal experience. When we first find ourselves jobless, we are not deterred — it is just another challenge to overcome. 

The fire in our belly is still burning, we are still on the rollercoaster — not realizing our ride has come to a full stop. We approach our reduced situation with confidence, conviction and at times we may also come across as arrogant and standoffish.

“How could that recruiter have passed me up? I am going to challenge them. And what about my network? Surely they will answer my call — after all, we were once part of the same club.”

Whether by design or by circumstances beyond our control, we never admit defeat and rarely run out of good explanations about our current predicament.

I call this a defence mechanism projected in the initial stages. But after being subjected to countless interviews and rejections that further diminish our self-worth; multiple opinions about our resumés, past experience and approach; more advice than we can actually process; and our list of contacts compresses at the speed of light — it finally hits us: Our identity is lost, we are in a big pond with many species of fish, some referred to as millennials — more technically savvy, with a lot more stamina and much more desirable to those who now sit in the same chairs we once occupied. 

We realize we have been left behind and we need to find a new school of fish to lead, and our journey back into the workforce can be long, disappointing and frustrating.

This phase fuels a wave of emotions never experienced before, and let’s not talk about our loved ones caught in the crossfire. Once the disappointment and rage passes and our ego is back in check, then it’s our confidence that suffers next. 

The very foundation that shaped who we are, what we accomplished for ourselves, our families and the many organizations and lives we touched, our dreams and hopes — all come into question.

The final stage is acceptance: Accepting that this is our new reality and we need to draw on all we have learned in our past experience and really apply that knowledge to the process.

And so the real journey begins. We begin to speak a different language laced with a whole new attitude. 

We start by slowly surrounding ourselves with people who truly understand what this process is all about— but not without some resistance because old habits are hard to break.

A career coach, personal colours, assessments, keeping busy to demonstrate we aren’t brain dead during the transition, dressing a certain way, networking, getting on to social media — and here we go again.

Now I am dealing with creatures from outer space — who knew? And why am I not prepared for these creatures?

Personally speaking, I resisted accepting this reality at every turn. And after months of sanding and staining my deck, attempting to paint the ceiling in my home (really difficult to do), pulling the microwave out of the wall, attempting perfect baking, planting every species of flower known to man in my backyard, breaking nearly every pot light in my home in an attempt to demonstrate I can do anything, cutting my grass and almost demolishing my home (my son would probably add a bit more colour to all this)  — all the while continuing on the path of destruction related to my job search — I finally accepted the fact I needed help, support, guidance and a whole lot of compassion. 

But, lucky for me, I was introduced to a support network for transitioning executives. 

Joining this organization has had a significant impact on me, from the moment I made my case as to why I should be allowed to become a member to every interaction I have had since. 

Interrelating with like-minded people who share similar experiences and face similar circumstances can be a game changer. 
I can lean on this supportive group for support, contacts, constructive criticism and, above all, I can lean on them if I am about to fall off my game. 

My reach in this organization extends far beyond this group — there are more than 300 alumni happily and productively back in the workforce contributing in all areas of our economy.

Since joining in June, I have hired a career coach. She backs her claims with assessments, training, getting in my head and giving me a huge dose of reality about what I can and can’t do and what I can and can’t say — and areas that could use improvement.

I have learned there is just as much need for experienced, seasoned executives as there is for younger, more agile ones. 
And striking a balance would serve well our corporate world, our economy and the next generation. 

For the first time in months, I am confident I am exactly where I am supposed to be and this journey, with all of its challenges and hardship, is one I want to treasure, continue to learn from and enjoy. After all, the lessons learned during this process can only be taught through firsthand experience.

Lori Abittan is a leader with business expertise in marketing, sales, communications and more. She is a member of the Phoenix Executive Network (PEN), an invitation-only transition support network for C-level executives in Toronto. For more information, visit www.phoenixexecutivenetwork.com. She can be reached at lori.abittan@yahoo.com.

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