Planning for a life beyond the corporate hot seat

It might be that many high performers don’t want to consider what awaits them beyond that perfect job they’ve long strived and worked towards. But I’d argue that it’s never too early to start thinking about what they’ll do once they step beyond their high-octane corporate life so that they can approach the certainty of the change – because it will happen – not with uncertainty and fear, but with energy, enthusiasm, and excitement.

Three phases of a working life

I think there are three broad phases to an executive’s working life which begin with that steep upward curve of ambition, a move into their ‘peak powers’, and then a third, perhaps more considered phase where maturity and perspective come to the fore (it’s why executives at that stage of their career make such good mentors).

The challenge is, while those first two phases often develop their own momentum, the third phase takes a bit more thought if it’s going to be as rewarding – or even more rewarding – as the journey that’s gone before.

What energises you?

For me, when I first started to think about what sort of professional life I could have outside of the corporate environment, I thought about what energises me most from work. My conclusion was, it came down to advising, guiding, and counselling colleagues behind the scenes. When I left my last corporate job, I first considered going straight back in to another corporate role but those thoughts about the activities that gave me energy made me think differently about what I could do next.

That said, it’s not always easy for people to distil what it is in their work that they really love and how that could translate into a second career. That’s why one piece of advice I regularly give to the executives I work with is to do something completely different outside work to help them get a sense of perspective about what it is that really inspires them.

For my own part I did a poetry course, not because I thought I had a good shot at being the next poet laureate – and believe me I don’t – but because it gave me a different energy, a different perspective, and is something I enjoy. Similarly, an executive I work with has been doing something similar by taking painting lessons to help them see where their passions truly lie.

If it gives you joy…

Remember what gave you joy early in your life, before you were attracted into a career, and see if you can find some way of recapturing that feeling. By doing so, you can start to find out what it is you could do once the distractions of corporate life have been left behind that could be more satisfying than your corporate career – whether that change is going to happen in one year or ten years.

That philosophy has certainly held true of my own career given 2022 marks a hugely enjoyable decade in executive coaching (and I’ve got the added benefit that my grasp of rhyme and meter has also improved!).