Career Mojo, Lost and Found: Rightsizing at Work

“Rightsizing”—it used to be a sinister term, a euphemism rolled out by tycoons laying plans to throw hundreds of employees out of work. To us at Women’s Voices, though, “rightsizing” signifies making appropriate change—looking positively at the transitions we need to make as we head into the second half of life. Phyllis L. Cohen’s article is the third in a series by writers who have made those transitions—both the easy ones, fueled by longing to be in a different place, mentally or physically, and the hard ones, made necessary because of fragile health or financial need. —Ed


I suppose I’m lucky. In my late 50s I’m still employed. My career as a benefits consultant recruiter, shepherding candidates from job application to onboarding in their new role, allows me the freedom to work from home, and when I go above and beyond expectations I’m usually rewarded for my performance.

Why, then, would I even consider a job change?

To most employment pundits, rightsizing a job at this age is asking for trouble. As I catapulted into 2017, it was perfectly acceptable to shout out loud that I want to shed 15 pounds, and I unabashedly declared that I will be more charitable this year. But how dare I push the career envelope?

The simple answer, I tell myself, is that I want to be more authentic. The contract I’d drawn up for myself at the onset of my career states that I won’t settle or become complacent in any job.

In my first recruiting job or two, I found myself drinking the company Kool-Aid, feigning an alignment to the organization’s mission. After a while I realized I was working in the wrong job. I felt dishonest, distant. I was certain I’d be found out.

A seismic mental shift has taken place in the way we view our careers. Working for one company and retiring with the gold watch has been exposed as a fairy tale. Most career paths, including my own, are not linear. Expecting a company (or ourselves) to remain the same for 30 years is as unrealistic as expecting a Facebook invitation from your college-age son.

It behooves all of us to design our own careers or they will be designed for us. In December I knew that rightsizing my job would require a great deal of observation and introspection. And let’s face it, it’s easier to research than to self-reflect, so that’s where I began.

From the time I started headhunting in the 1980s, I’ve studied career success stories (call it an occupational hazard). Whenever I read the profile of a woman rising to the top of her career, I pored over the story for the details, searching for a roadmap that could be emulated. Was it a pedigree that got her there? Did she find a mentor who took her to the top? Was she an “overnight success” who actually took 10 years? What mostly peaked my curiosity: who drove the kids to debate practice and made dinner while she climbed the proverbial ladder?

Those details were invariably omitted. And let’s be honest; the devil’s in the details.

Ultimately, I settled on a different approach. It turns out self-reflection offers better results. I boldly asked myself the hard questions that only a seasoned member of the working wounded can answer:

–In what areas of my job do I get the most satisfaction?

–What burns me out?

–What job would enable me to be around people I appreciate?

–What kind of work/life balance works?

Then I dug deeper still:

–Can I multiply the tasks that energize me to earn a sustainable income for the next 20 years?

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