Breathing New Life Into Your Life’s Work

June 3, 2015  
Filed under Feature Stories

Despite the obstacles, success can be found along a new career path
By Adam White

When Beth Peters talks to clients about starting a business, it’s from the viewpoint of someone who has made that same “leap of faith” – and landed on her feet.
After years of holding top human resources positions at businesses such as the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, Green Mountain Power and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Peters made the decision in 2010 to launch her own consulting business, VIVID Workplace, in Burlington.
Though she had a wealth of experience to draw upon and a number of potential clients already lined up, the prospect of launching her own business was intimidating to Peters.
“I was terrified,” she said. “You need to have a gut of steel. The old adage is that 95 percent of new businesses fail within the first five years after they are formed.”
Peters’ company will celebrate its fifth anniversary in July, a testament to the fact that new business ventures can succeed, particularly when they are built upon a solid foundation of experience and expertise. And when it comes to picking a location for a career restart, the Green Mountain State is as fertile as its name implies.
“There is a strong entrepreneurial spirit here in Vermont,” said Flip Brown, founder of Business Culture Consultants in Burlington and author of the book “Balanced Effectiveness at Work.”
“There are lots of opportunities and a solid network here for making life transitions.”
The choice to branch out on a new career path can be fueled by any number of professional and personal factors. Unfortunately for some mature employees, the choice is made for them.
“We’re in a changing business climate, with tech just taking off,” Peters said. “A lot of Baby Boomers haven’t grown with the technology in their workplace, in order to continue doing the jobs they’ve always done.
“There is an increasing scenario in which people in that age range find themselves having to exit their company, involuntarily, because they have the institutional knowledge but not the skills.”
But such a separation can be a blessing for someone whose career, however established it is, may not be fulfilling. Brown cited a Gallup poll’s findings that 78 percent of Americans are disinterested or disengaged at work.
“Everyone wants to have meaning and fulfillment in what they do,” Brown said. “I’m on a crusade to eliminate the term ‘work/life balance’ from our vocabulary. You want your work to have life in it.”
Those who have already made a successful career – but desire a new beginning – should keep in mind that hard work done in the past could still pay dividends moving forward.
Though she had amassed an impressive resume of HR positions at highly respected companies, Peters realized that she needed more career flexibility in order to devote the necessary time and energy to her family yet remain “the committed professional that I’d always been.”
The answer took shape before Peters’ eyes as familiar faces re-appeared as potential clients for a new venture.
“I started to get unsolicited requests for my professional support, on an ad-hoc basis,” Peters said. “I was being approached by prior contacts from this incredible network I had built up.”
That led to the logical next step for anyone wishing to start a business: Establishing whether or not the demand is there to support it.
“I saw a clear need in this market for smaller organizations reacting to technical HR situations as they came up,” Peters said. “I started out as what I call a ‘plug-and-play HR director,’ for smaller companies that couldn’t afford, or justify, having one full-time.”
Brown followed what he describes as a “twisty, turny” path to find his current success; now in its 15th year, his company “doesn’t have to go looking for business; it finds me.”
His previous positions – from furniture maker to product manager for an outdoor sports gear company – all reflect some facet of his personal interests, a trend that he says is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to starting your own business.
“Passion is key, otherwise, it’s just a job. You’re trading your life energy for cash,” Brown said. “The dark side of that is that passion can create a blind spot. When you’re too attached to your mission, you can over-identify.”
Peters says the antidote is a sounding board off which ideas can be bounced, comprising people who will be honest and necessarily critical.
“My best advice would be to confide in a few mentors who know you, and what you’re doing, well,” Peters said. “Having contacts you’ve made through networking – business owners and leaders you can run things by – is invaluable.”
That same level of honest assessment must also be extended to finances, according to Brown. He says the one piece of advice he would go back in time and give himself might not be so well-received, but is proven.
“You should have 50 percent of your personal and professional expenditures sitting in a bank account for the first two years,” Brown said. “That’s how long it will take to get a consulting company up to critical mass.”
Once the initial idea, research, support network and finances are in place, Brown said the only ingredient missing for a successful career transition has to come from within.
“Then it comes down to courage,” Brown said. “How do you find the heart to take a risk (and) do something new and different that’s going to improve your enjoyment of life and work?”

 

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