Exploring what makes each of us unique creates new ways to share ourselves with the world
If you are looking for a midlife career change, it’s helpful to remember that each of us is unique – no one else shares the exact passions, skills and life experiences as you or I. And that creates an opportunity, says Brenda Rigney, a Vancouver-based business and executive coach. “There are 7.5 billion people on the planet. Somebody needs what you’ve got.”
One of the magical things about midlife is it presents a chance to embrace new things. We can return to a passion that we set aside, or explore new interests. If you feel a desire to make a change at midlife, but are unsure where to start, Brenda suggests we start by exploring what makes us unique. Finding those things that make us who we are can point us in the direction of a new career or midlife passion project.
How Our Passions Can Inspire a Midlife Career Change
Brenda came up what she calls 3 UNIQUES during the pandemic, as she saw people all around her losing their jobs and trying to determine what was next.
“Having been in operations and human resources for the majority of my career, I thought, how can I help?” Initially she was supporting friends and colleagues with referrals and recommendations on LinkedIn. And then inspiration struck one day when she was being interviewed about job search strategies.
“I was on a podcast and there were people calling in asking how do I get my resume up to the top when thousands of people are applying for the same job? One of the things I started talking about was what are your unique skills and capabilities?” When one gentleman couldn’t see beyond his role as a salesperson, she nudged him to think more broadly than his skill set by asking: “What are your 3 UNIQUES? What makes you good at your job?”
The Inspiration for 3 UNIQUES
She realized this concept had the power to help people differentiate themselves and launched 3 UNIQUES in an interview format on YouTube in June of 2020. By interviewing a wide range of people about their 3 UNIQUES, listeners can gain insight into new ways to think about themselves, and what they have to offer. The interviews are also coming soon as a podcast.
I shared with Brenda my own story – as my kids have gotten older I’ve felt the desire to find a new focus for my work and the things I feel passionate about. Yet I was very pessimistic about my ability to create that. I am a former newspaper journalist and had put my writing career aside when my boys where young. I questioned what I had to offer and started telling myself things like: “It’s too late to start a new career,” and “there is too much new technology to learn. I can’t catch up”. A midlife career change felt out of reach.
Asking Compassionate Questions
I asked Brenda how to address the negative self-talk which gets in the way of focusing on what we have to offer. She says we need to change what we say to ourselves. So often in life we are asked why we failed to do something, by primary caregivers, teachers and bosses.
She suggests that we ask compassionate questions, instead. “Ask yourself, what is it time for me to do now? What drives me, what gives me energy? What do I love doing? What brings out my best self? Those are compassionate questions that lift us up.”
She also recommends that we support ourselves with health-focused practices such as meditation and exercise. These are important because the brain and body are so connected.
I‘ve had to radically change the things I say to myself at midlife, and have had to adopt a growth mindset as I learn new and challenging things – like building a website – and explore how my work and life can feel more aligned with my passions and who I am.
Finding Your 3 UNIQUES at Midlife
It’s helpful to use a Venn Diagram to think about 3 UNIQUES (above photo). Each of the three circles contains a different pillar. The first is our skills, abilities and talents. The second is our beliefs, values and passions. And the third is our experiences: past, present, and soon-to-be future.
The important thing here is to dig really deep, Brenda says. “I think people sometimes get limited in the skills category. I talk to women about this especially. You have to empty the piggy bank. You really have to shake it out.”
So get a notebook and start writing it all down, everything you can think of. Once you have your lists put them in each of the circles. Make them as big as you need to. What you will find is there are some things that appear in more than one circle. “In the middle where they overlap, those are your 3 uniques. Words should pop off the page,” Brenda says.
A New Way to Look at Hobbies
And what if our strengths relate to a career that we are ready to let go of? What if we aren’t sure how a hobby we are passionate about could translate into a new career?
For example, I asked about my enjoyment of creating photo books. She explained that we need to break any hobby into all of the tasks involved. Do I love editing photos and organizing them to prepare them for the books? That is a skill. Coming up with colour palettes and other design elements to create something attractive is another – it could fall into the skills or talent category. Even deciding what company to use requires research. By breaking things down as much as possible, we fill those Venn circles. Then we can begin to see patterns and themes – the things about ourselves that may not have been obvious.
Use Social Media to Place Yourself in the Context of Your Desired Career
Once we have our 3 UNIQUES, the next step is to start sharing yourself through social media. This is where we need to step out of our comfort zone. “Get on social media and talk about it,” Brenda says. “Don’t wait for your resume to be seen by a recruiter or a hiring manager. Talk about your passions, your skills, your abilities, your experiences. People will find you.”
She suggests picking one or two places to start so it feels manageable. LinkedIn is a great place to get the word out about yourself, she says. It’s easier to get noticed there than Instagram and Facebook which often require advertising to get seen. Brenda used LinkedIn to spread the word about 3 UNIQUES. It’s so much more than a place to post your resume, she says. That was really interesting to me as I rarely use LinkedIn.
Midlife Career Change and Our 3 Uniques
Brenda's 3 UNIQUES
When I asked Brenda what her 3uniques were, she didn’t hesitate: “A pioneer, an influencer and creative.” By influencer she is referring to the sharing of new ideas rather than selling things.
It was interesting to me that she made no mention of the specifics of her work as a business coach. I think that’s what appeals to me about the 3 UNIQUES philosophy – it is broader than work and careers. It’s about who we are, and what lights us up.
Before she started thinking about 3 UNIQUES, Brenda underwent her own midlife shift in priorities. In 2018 she quit her job and took “a gap year”, traveling to seven countries. (Coincidentally, she and I both visited India in 2018, only a few weeks apart.) Although COVID has put her wanderlust on hold, she hopes to resume a focus on travel in the coming years.
Susan's 3 UNIQUES
And what are my 3 UNIQUES? I think I am clear on two and struggling with a third. One – I am a writer. That was loud and clear and it was in two of the Venn circles. It’s a skill I’ve developed over many years and something I still enjoy doing, although it’s not necessarily easy. Number two is something I share with Brenda – I am a creator. That shows up in many areas of my life, from my passion for photography, to enjoying graphic design.
And the third, I am struggling with. I am passionate about travel. But is it bigger than that? Is it a desire for adventure? Is it because I love feeling a connection with people around the world – one that transcends geography and culture? I’m also passionate about gender equality and educating girls in developing countries. This is hard. I wonder what Brenda would think of 5 UNIQUES?
(Note: I was tempted to go with “Traveller” – it feels like who I am – but I decided on “Advocate.” It’s an area I care deeply about and want to continue to develop in myself – to use my voice to advocate for all women – for midlife women to be given the opportunities we deserve, and for the women and girls around the world who deserve an education, to decide when they will marry and have children, and a career of their choosing.)
But let’s talk about you! I hope you know how truly unique you are. No one has your exact combination of talents, passions and experiences. So let’s ask ourselves some compassionate questions. What is it the right time for me to explore? What would you like to share with the world? Please share a little about yourself in the comments below. What are your 3 (or 5) UNIQUES?