A Guide for Professional Women Seeking Self-Employment

We live in a knowledge economy, meaning that knowledge and intellectual capital, not traditional resources, are the primary sources of economic growth and value creation.
 
The key to success in this environment is learning agility—the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn rapidly. This agility lets you quickly understand new concepts, adapt to new situations, and continuously update your skills.
 
Knowledge workers apply their knowledge to solve complex problems. Hence the need for perpetual learning, staying abreast of industry-specific trends and technologies, and taking care of your physical health are all essential for optimal performance in the knowledge economy.

If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you are embedded in the knowledge economy and have developed expertise through your career capital. The question is, is something calling you to do something different with your life?

The courage to live a life true to yourself

Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, observed that most of her patients regret not having the courage to live a life true to themselves.  You do not have to do the same.

Are you happy with the way your life is unfolding right now?

In the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, they write:

"A well-designed life is a life that makes sense. It's a life in which who you are, what you believe, and what you do all line up together."

From my podcast interview with Meredith Fuller, see Careers, Work and Self Employment

"Everyone is on a journey of self-discovery, and finding your purpose is key. It is important to ask yourself questions such as "What is my why?" and "What makes me fulfilled?". 

Answering these questions can help you to identify what you are passionate about and what you are here to do.

When faced with a difficult decision, such as whether to stay in a job that is not fulfilling, consider the pros and cons of each option. Weighing up the cost of staying in a position that is not serving you, such as the potential impact on your mental health and well-being, against the cost of leaving and potentially having to wait for something more suitable to come along can help you to make an informed decision.

Sometimes, it may be necessary to wait and put up with a situation that is not ideal to fulfil other responsibilities, such as providing for a family.

If you can wait and prepare yourself for a shift when you are in your 30s or 40s, it can be beneficial to do so. However, if you are in your 60s, changing may be more urgent as you may need more time to get started. It is also essential to consider the idea of delayed gratification. It takes time to make a shift like the one I am describing.

Wanting to do something different: Aspiration

In her book Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming, Agnes Callard, an American philosopher and associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, wrote:

"aspiration is rational value acquisition of something specific you want to be or become, something new, an agency directed at acquiring new values, a change in direction, a whole new way of being, seeking the values you do not as yet have or cannot fully see. Ordinary reasons are not sufficient; it is a desire, often not understood - as yet, hard to grasp what it is, as the reason is not always clear to us."

"...aspiration means aiming at a goal you don't fully grasp."

Our values and aspirations can change as we age, often leading us to seek new experiences or pursue different goals. This transformation can be particularly significant for older women considering self-employment.

Embrace personal growth

Acknowledge that values evolve, and it's normal for older women to experience a shift in their priorities. Explore new interests and passions that may interest you; these may be the aspirational values you seek. You will find out more through continuous personal growth and self-discovery.

Redefine success

If you follow the path of transitioning to self-employment, you will want to redefine what success means. Instead of focusing solely on financial outcomes or external validation, consider the impact of your work on your well-being, relationships, and personal fulfilment.

From my podcast interview with Career Counsellor, Meredith Fuller

"To make a successful transition to something more meaningful, it is important to equip yourself with the necessary skills and knowledge. You can return to study, consider an apprenticeship or seek learning from wise souls. Be prepared to let go of certain things and downsize to live more cheaply."

Your identity is fluid, and it's possible to reinvent yourself at any age. You will develop new skills, explore new hobbies, or follow different career paths.

Based on your career capital and expertise, as Meredith Fuller mentions above, you must equip yourself with the necessary skills and knowledge to do this. Consider working as a freelancer on some new platforms or setting up a professional services firm to sell your services.

In my interview with Laetitia Vitaud, writer and speaker about the future of work with a feminist perspective she suggested that

'...we must recognise the importance of lifelong learning. We must create a learning culture where people are encouraged to take on new challenges and develop new skills. This ensures that women can take control of their careers and make the most of their opportunities. The book The Hundred Year Life by Linda Gratton and Andrew Scott discusses the importance of transitioning from the old work paradigm to the new one.

Start with yourself

I flew to Queensland several years ago for my mother's 85th birthday. Unfortunately, she passed away soon after. She was in the hospital, and it became apparent that her aging body had let down her once-vibrant spirit. The experience reminded me of the importance of maintaining good health, especially as I am older and prefer to live a healthy life.

Ensuring your ability to work

As we navigate our 50s and beyond, we face health-related issues impacting our overall well-being. It will also affect our ability to work, especially if we wish to work for ourselves.

To continue engaging in knowledge work, you must ensure that your body and mind perform at their best. Our cognitive abilities, including memory, attention, reasoning, and problem-solving, are the essential tools we rely on to acquire and apply knowledge. 

Cultivating a curious and open mindset, embracing lifelong learning, and seeking intellectual challenges contribute to maintaining and enhancing our cognitive abilities. 

Actively nurturing your cognition will help you lead an intellectually fulfilling life, no matter whether you wish to continue working or not.

Some factors may be beyond our control, but many are a result of our own choices, such as:

  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Overeating
  • Eating unhealthy foods
  • Lack of exercise
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep

Navigating Stress, Work, and Relationships: Challenges for Professional Women

Stress is an unwelcome companion in our busy world. For professional women in senior or managerial roles, anxiety can stem from a demanding job, disengagement, discouragement, sexism, and even ageism. Outside of work, issues such as strained relationships, financial woes, caring for elder parents, and health concerns can add to the burden.

Physical and mental health considerations

Maintaining physical and mental health throughout the aspiration or transition to self-employment includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, sufficient sleep, and stress management techniques such as mindfulness or meditation. Prioritising your mental health can help you cope with the challenges and uncertainty.

Work-life balance

Establishing a healthy work-life balance requires setting boundaries between your professional and personal life, scheduling regular breaks, and allocating time for leisure and social activities.

Financial planning

Developing a sound financial plan and checking your retirement savings and emergency funds is crucial for transitioning to self-employment. Seeking professional financial advice can prepare you for any potential economic challenges.

Network building

The importance of networking and building a support system of like-minded individuals is necessary as networking can lead to potential clients, collaborations, and mentorship opportunities, which are invaluable when starting a new venture.

In my interview with Silicon Valley veteran Karen Wickre, former Editorial Director at Twitter, following a decade-long career at Google, we talked about her book 'Taking the Work Out of Networking'.

Karen stressed the importance of networking even in our 70s. She believes networking is essential to staying connected and can be done even in our later years. By networking, we can keep up with the latest trends and find new opportunities to help us professionally and personally.

Suggestions for Change: Embracing Growth and Seeking Support

If you embark on this journey, keep these suggestions in mind:

  • Believe it's always possible to start anew, regardless of your age.
  • Read more, turn off distractions, and make time for new experiences.
  • Seek out supportive people who will cheer you on and avoid negativity.
  • Engage in continuous learning to stay relevant and adaptable.
  • Reflect on your life and direction, and be open to change.
  • Explore your passions

Motivations

For those of us in our sixties, finding the motivation to explore our passions can be difficult. We may have already achieved a certain level of success, but there is still time to change. However, as Meredith Fuller points out in the podcast, starting something new is always possible. With the right attitude and preparation, it is possible to juggle multiple tasks effectively.

It's natural to experience anxiety when considering a significant change in your life. The upside is the potential for personal growth, fulfilment, and developing a more authentic self.

Be careful to let the need to be an 'optimised version' of yourself hold you back. Embrace your imperfections and strive for progress, not perfection. After all, life is an ongoing journey, and your chosen path determines your destination.

Seek out help,  advice and support

There is help available. Finding a financial advisor who can help guide you in the right direction. You may find a coach to help you improve your health and well-being. Consider a career counsellor to explore some options. You can also find business mentors and coaches to explore self-employment. Most of these coaches are self-employed, too, having experienced many of the things you are seeing and are happy to help you on the journey.

Priorities change

Our priorities, values, and aspirations can change as we age, leading us to seek new experiences and pursue different goals. For many women, transitioning to self-employment can be a bold leap towards a more fulfilling and authentic life. However, this journey has challenges like navigating stress, maintaining physical and mental health, and developing a sound financial plan. By embracing personal growth, redefining success, and seeking support from a network of like-minded individuals, it's possible to successfully transition to self-employment and live a life that aligns with who you are and what you believe. There is always time to start anew and explore your passions.

Books

  • Attia, Peter. Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity
  • Babcock, Linda, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, Laurie R. Weingart. The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work
  • Burkeman, Oliver. Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
  • Callard, Agnes. Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming
  • Cavendish, Camilla. Extra Time: 10 Lessons for an Ageing World
  • Duke, Annie. Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away
  • Fishbach, Ayelet. Get It Done: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation
  • Luks, Howard. Longevity...Simplified: Living A Longer, Healthier Life Shouldn’t Be Complicated
  • Pink, Daniel H. The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward
  • Steel, Piers. The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done
  • Whillans, Ashley. Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life
  • Wickre, Karen. Taking the Work Out of Networking: An Introvert's Guide to Making Connections That Count
  •  Zweig, Connie. The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul
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