Because I suffered the indignities of job loss in the last downturn, I am deeply sympathetic to those who find themselves in this predicament. I found myself on the net looking for information on the plans of John McChesney and Ketzel Levine — recently of NPR — to see how they were handling what I assume to be their own grim news.
Judging by Nancy Irwin’s You Turn: Changing Direction in Mid-Life (Touch The Sun Publishing, 2008), a collection of career change narratives by 40 folks over 40, all may not be lost. Irwin collects stories ranging from a cocaine dealer turned real estate investor to timid housewife turned landscape architect. Some of the stories are inspirational, told by You Turners eager to share not only the plot twists their careers ensured, but the ideas that got them through the difficult years of transition.
Irwin begins the book with several brief but reasonably sensible essays. Her essays, intended to introduce the narratives that follow, are not wanting for platitudes (“We are all born with a mind, and most people don’t have a clue how it works. I’m going to give you the Manual [sic] for the Mind [sic] so you can start driving your life in the direction you choose, rather than staying on a dead-end street”). Overlook these. Go instead for the lists she offers up, such as these selections to be savored — albeit paraphrased thus:
- Don’t wait until you are not scared
- What is the worst possible outcome you can imagine? Could you survive . . . “
- If you could be present at your own funeral, what would you want to hear the eulogizers saying about you?
- What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
- If money were no object, what would you be doing?
- Celebrate milestones along the way
The earnestness of the stories in this collection make me reluctant to criticize, especially since many You Turners found themselves, or better put, created for themselves, careers in comparatively rewarding nonprofit or charity sector work. Alas, there is much advice that is less than helpful. For example, one You Turner complained convincingly about how an abusive husband held back her career transformation. Perhaps this sidebar enhanced the vignette’s story, but it also felt off-topic. Some of the stories sermonize or rhapsodize more than they persuade. Others are self-promotional. Try to see past those to the personal triumphs.
Also, there is precious little about the practical dimensions of You Turns, to which I offer my own short list of somewhat neglected topics in You Turn:
- Finances: funding new education, funding new businesses, bankruptcy, refinancing
- Family finance issues
- What kind of education is valuable for career change
- Mentoring. It’s on Irwin’s list (“Driving Your Business on A Shoestring” # 11), but figures in only a few of the collected stories.
Irwin closes the book with more self-help lists. List quality varies. I was unimpressed by the suggestion of SCORE, whose well-intentioned organization of retired workers I have personally found to be uniformly unhelpful. Irwin also pays too little attention to social networks such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and professional society forums and blogs.
On the other hand, Irwin goes out of her way to point out that each You Turner path is unique, or as she puts it, “Life is built on exceptions. Be an exception!” That each story is unique is proven by the collection.
If you find the diversity of stories underwhelming, go to the book’s companion web site, where Irwin invites you to submit your career change story.
Irwin’s outline for this book is quite strong, and despite regular lapses into Pollyanna-isms, many of her suggestions will have a ring of authenticity for those of us who have been through the You Turn process. In some respects, the outline is stronger than some of the narratives she has included. While her emphasis on daring is certainly part of career change, there is only indirect discussion of how one’s existing career and skills can be reapplied elsewhere in ways that may lead you back to somewhere not so far from where you started.
One’s personality unifies the careers you find yourself inhabiting, like houses you made home for a time.
There cannot be too many self-help books on this subject. You Turn is worth a closer look, even if you find only a few pages of inspiration in it. It will be inspiration delivered at a time when it’s genuinely needed.
The following comments concern aesthetics, not content.
Production and Design It’s the publisher’s doing, presumably, but I have a few nits about the design and layout of the book.
- Each narrative is accompanied by a photo, perhaps provided by the storyteller. The photos vary wildly in size, quality and tastefulness. This creates a dissheveled appearance, as text sometimes flows around these photos, sometimes not. Some of the photos look as though they were taken from promotional brochures, while others appear to be casual family snapshots. Most of the photos are so poorly executed that I wished they hadn’t been provided at all. To be clear, my complaint here is about the photographers and publisher’s art direction, not the career-shifters themselves.
- When I see “Dr. Nancy Irwin” splashed liberally throughout the book’s cover, spine, table of contents and chapter titles, I am reminded of the radio program “Ask Dr. Science.” Dr. Science’s introductions began “He knows more than you do,” and “He has a Master’s Degree — in Science!” This is a nontechnical self-help book. No doubt Ms. Irwin’s training in psychology has given her additional insights, but her credentials are given embarrassing prominence. This is unfortunate, as some of her best suggestions and observations are common sense and stand on their own. Obviously both a design and a content decision, I found this practice a distraction.
- The lists should be offset with a different design. The CSS used in this blog creates more interesting lists than are typeset in You Turn.
(c) 2009 by Mark Underwood
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