I swapped my career for the beach. Here’s what happened next
Chris Roberts Former chief executive of Tourism Industry Aotearoa
The New Year period is often a time for selfreflection. Who am I, what have I achieved, what do I want from life, what’s it all about? That sort of thing.
This soul-searching can lead to some life-changing decisions. For 2023, we also have a warning from the Reserve Bank of recession ahead and 70,000 fewer jobs. A change of career will be forced on some of us and chosen by others.
The experience for anyone who elects to, or has to, leave their job is going to be unique, but I’m happy to share my story. After 15 years in senior management, including seven as a
CEO, I started 2022 by finishing up at
Tourism Industry Aotearoa.
I had no plans other than spending time at the beach. So how did the year pan out?
Without really looking for it, the consulting work started coming in and kept turning up all year. New Zealand really is a village and a conversation over dinner can turn into a phone call the next day and a contract offer the next week. It turns out that contacts and networks built up over years are invaluable.
I applied for a few board positions, picking up two. I joined Celebrity Speakers. I applied for half a dozen full-time jobs where I thought I could make a real difference. The closest I got was a couple of runner-up positions (no prize for second place). So as I contemplate resuming work in 2023, it will still be as a business consultant/advisor/speaker.
In 2022 I worked less – a lot less. After a decade putting in 50-hour weeks, across the year I billed for 720 hours. I worked when and where I wanted. Usually in the lounge at home.
My wife, who has worked from a home office for 15 years, now has a companion. It turned out the most useful thing I could add to her daily routine was bringing her a coffee at 10am.
Throughout the year I was able to spend time with my dying father and be there for Mum. I joined a gym for the first time, played squash and rugby, cycled the Alps to Ocean trail and completed a 35km trail run at Waitomo. I weigh the same as 17-year-old me and am fitter and stronger than my younger self. My regular work attire is a T-shirt and shorts.
I’m definitely more relaxed. My wife talks about getting ‘‘the old Chris’’ back. And I did get lots of time at the beach.
It’s not all sunshine and roses. The loss of a regular pay cheque takes a bit of getting used to and some contracts pay well after the work is done.
There’s an ongoing balance of wanting enough but not too much work coming in. Revising the CV yet again. Missing the camaraderie of a team. Having no IT support. Producing quality work for a client but having no ability to ensure it is put into action. And, if I’m honest, I miss having the industry leadership profile and responsibilities.
What else have I discovered? Internationally, you get instant respect because you are from NZ. We are seen as non-corrupt, practical and adaptable. Our political and legal structures are highly regarded. Often it is considered that if we have tried something here and it has worked, then it must be a good idea. And international clients pay well.
Conversely, board roles can be a lot of work for little reward, so make sure you believe in the kaupapa of the organisation. The most satisfying board and advisor roles might be voluntary but balance your nonpaying commitments with those that provide an income.
When you are back in the market later in your career, it’s easy to be typecast based on your last job. People think they know you and your capabilities based on their existing perceptions. Make sure you are clear about what other experience or skills you have picked up in the past.
Not that long ago, being an over-50 white male was a business advantage – that’s certainly not the case now. I fully support the rebalancing, even though I’ve missed out on roles because I’m the wrong gender or ethnicity (openly stated) or considered too old (left unsaid). I lack the diversity everyone is looking for now but I am grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded.
So my advice to anyone facing or contemplating a career change – take the plunge. Put yourself and your family first, only say yes to the stuff that really interests you and shrug it off when you miss out on something you know you would have been great at. There’s always the next phone call or email that might open a door to new adventures.
Not that long ago, being an over-50 white male was a business advantage – that’s certainly not the case now.