Preparing for Your Next Act

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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