Updated on 08.23.11

Preparing for Your Next Act

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, I was standing by the bus stop waiting for my oldest child to arrive home from one of his first days in kindergarten. There were a few other parents of kindergarteners there and I struck up a conversation with one of them. We shared what we do for a living, what our spouses do for a living, and where we live in the area.

The person I was talking to sighed and said, “You know, if you had told me I’d be here in ten years, being a stay-at-home mom waiting for my kid at the bus stop with these two little ones, I would have laughed at you.”

I agreed with that. Ten years ago, I was still in college, single, and without a career path. Five years ago, I was fully embedded with a career path that was totally different than the one I’m on.

I then asked her a question that had been floating in my mind a lot lately. “Where do you think you’ll be in five years?”

She stood there for a second. “You know, I’ve really enjoyed making a lot of my children’s clothes. I would love to figure out a way to make that into a business.”

Ten years ago, she was a single college student. Seven years ago, she was a married career woman. Today, she’s a stay-at-home mom. In five years, might she be starting a clothes business?

The truth of it all is simple. Our lives don’t always follow an orderly path. For an awful lot of people, you’ll be doing something with your life in five years that you completely don’t anticipate today.

Another interesting element of this is that I can see, both in my own path and in the path of the person I was talking to, that we were constantly training ourselves, either directly or indirectly, for what came next.

As a student, I trained myself for what would become my first career path. While working in that career path (and before), I spent a lot of my spare time writing.

As a student, she trained for her career path. As a professional, she started planning for a family. As a stay-at-home mom, she’s spending some of her spare time prepping for a potential clothing business.

Right now, what am I preparing myself for?

It’s an interesting question. If I had to guess, I would think I’m preparing myself to be a fantasy writer, but honestly, my fingers and actions seem to be in a lot of different pies. I’m working on presentation skills and making presentations. I’m involved with creating e-books. I’m always working on The Simple Dollar.

Just as importantly, I’m building and maintaining savings. When a change in my life direction comes along, I have the cash on hand to do with the flow of whatever it is that comes along. Why? Because, quite frankly, I know something is going to eventually happen and change my direction in life.

What are you doing in your life right now that might prepare you for the next stage?

Do you have a healthy emergency fund? Do you have cash in hand for an unexpected move because of a career shift, seed money for a business, or living money because of a job loss?

Do you have little or no debt? If your debt isn’t under control, you’re tied to your current job pretty tightly. It’s hard to take a risk if your bills are eating up the vast majority of your income.

Are you building new skills? Time management? Information management? Communication skills? Photography? I can name thousands of potential skills you might be building in your spare time. The key thing is that you’re building something that’s exciting to you.

Are you building new relationships? Do you hide from your professional peers, your neighbors, and the people in your community? Or do you head out and meet these people and embrace them?

All of these things (and much more) are key parts of building whatever it is that comes next for you. It could be anything and it’s worth your while to be ready for it.

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  1. Alice says:

    This is a great post! Five years ago I was a married career minded woman with two kids, and had just finished an undergraduate degree and was on track to accomplish an MBA within the next two years. At the time, we had little to no money and were living paycheck to paycheck with additional funds coming from student loans.

    Then came major back surgery, divorce and no MBA. Those darned classes are expensive as a single mother!

    Now, I’m starting a class next week which will lead to a second bachelor’s degree. I’m working on a promotion – which is really just a re-written job description with a pay increase. It is really important to remember that you should always do more than is asked, because when it becomes expected, you can cash in on that!

    I’ve struggled the last week or so with whether or not to go ahead with this class. Your post has helped me decide! Thanks.

  2. krantcents says:

    This part of the process of establishing goals. A few years ago, I wanted ti improve my writing so I decided I would read more. In a year I read 100 books. Here it is a couple years later and I am blogging. Improving my writing is helping me in my blogging. This is what successful people do, they find ways to improve themselves. It is like preparing you for the next step.

  3. lurker carl says:

    “Ten years ago, she was a single college student. Seven years ago, she was a married career woman. Today, she’s a stay-at-home mom. In five years, might she be starting a clothes business?”

    This seems to be an extremely orderly path to me. Everyone I’ve ever met was single before married. Many attend college before pursuing a career or marriage or having children. A stay-at-home-mom with a knack for sewing children’s clothes is a logical business venture. And she initiated or agreed to all these changes in her life.

    Reverse the order of events with the same timeline and thrust her into each situation as an unprepared or unwilling participant, now that would be disorderly and a very compelling story.

  4. K Ann says:

    #3 Lurker Carl – Wow, you have a very interesting perspective. I thought this was a great post, made even more thought provoking by your what if…

  5. Kim says:

    I did the college, career, stay home mom thing, now I’m back in school training to be a nurse. The nursing career will pay for my children’s educations. I also have an e-business that is location independent. Once the kids are all in college, my husband and I plan to be nomads. We will live off of the business and traveling nurse assignments. We plan to also travel extensively overseas in between the travel nurse gigs as well as serve as medical missionaries. Needless to say we are saving as much as possible for our “retirement” years to fund the travel.

  6. Stephan F- says:

    HA ha, It never was that orderly for me and never will be.
    I’ve leveraged small skills into something significant.
    I’ve experimented and found skills I didn’t even realize I had.
    And I hope to turn them into something, but that isn’t important.

  7. deRuiter says:

    “Ten years ago, she was a single college student. Seven years ago, she was a married career woman. Today, she’s a stay-at-home mom. In five years, might she be starting a clothes business?” Agree with Lurker Carl, this is an orderly path to success. Disorderly path to failure is: unwed pregnant teen, no husband on the horizon, drops out of school, welfare queen for life, with 15 year old daughters following the same path and the sons performing the role of sperm doner to other similar women. Now that’s disorderly!

  8. deRuiter says:

    “donor”, I forgot to spell check!

  9. moom says:

    Or just have things that fail – business, education, marriage etc. and see what happens next…

  10. Cheryl says:

    Grandparents can have a next act, too. At age 53 we adopted our infant grandson. Instead of world travel after retirement, we bought an RV and traveled the USA and became homeschooling parents.

    This is one of the things that may happen when the actions deRuiter mentioned occur.

  11. For me the next act is taking WAY TO LONG. I’ve know for the last 9 years I NEED to be self employed, and for the last 4 years have been trying to make headway as a professional artist. Every time I have to suck it up and take all the crap my ‘real’ job dishes out my head screams, you are so much more than this! I need to have control of my life so I can become who I was meant to be, and I hate that lack of money is stalling that!

  12. Wow, what a cool post, wish I’d thought of this one!

    So, 10 years ago, I was just getting out of college and starting in my first “real job”. Fast forward to today and I’m making really decent money on the side blogging, running a virtual CAD Outsourcing firm and I’m about to buy my first real estate investment. In 5 years, who knows, maybe someday I’ll be an entrepreneur full-time!

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