Refirement Story : Louis Meijer

louisMThroughout my career I have worked for professional services companies serving clients in the infrastructure, manufacturing, commercial and mining sectors. These services have included engineering, project management, peer review and due diligence activities.

I graduated in 1978 with a BSc Civil Engineering (Honours). I obtained PrEng accreditation in 1985. During my mid-thirties I migrated to project management.  Project management accreditation as a Project Management Professional (PMP) followed in 2005.

I have also been involved in office management, business unit leadership, and a managing director role.

  1. At the end of 2015, the medium sized consulting firm, of which I was MD at the time, went through a restructuring and wholesale retrenchment process. This triggered the change in direction that my career would take.

 

  1. I have not yet discovered what I want to do with my “next season of life”. I have embarked on a journey of discovery and I am exploring various possibilities. This includes finding employment, part time or full time, in project management or project controls as a revenue generating anchor.

My preferred employment model is to remain an independent consultant and have a small but sustainable portfolio of projects/clients.

  1. Some challenges that I have faced are summarised:
  • Maintaining a calmness in the face of an uncertain future.
  • Maintaining a good self-image. It is stressful to take an afternoon walk around the estate where we live and to conclude that it is quiet because everybody (except me) is at work. The constant challenge is reminding myself that being able to take an afternoon walk “when everybody else is at work” is a privilege to be savoured. The challenge is maintaining a good level of self-esteem, giving myself permission to savour personal time activities without experiencing guilt.
  • Adjusting to not going into an office but working in a home office environment. Not having externally imposed deadlines. This requires discipline and the challenge is to see the home office space as a business office. Therefore to dress appropriately for work and imagine I am in a formal work environment.
  • Lack of brand. Where previously I could rely on the brand of my employer, I am now entirely dependent on my own personal brand. The challenge is how to rapidly promote my own brand and expand my visibility in the business community.
  • Keeping healthy and fit. The challenge is to exercise and eat properly, so as to counter the stress that comes from being temporarily unemployed.
  • While it is beneficial to allow myself the space to think laterally about my future, the challenge is to stave off feelings of self-doubt that accompany a protracted period of not earning. It is important to find a balance.
  1. The following is a summary of some of the things I am currently engaged in:

An important lesson I learned early on in this new phase of my life is that one must not obsess with immediately finding another job. This brings undue stress, lack of focus, and an anxiety that will come through during interviews, an unwelcome experience for anybody interviewing you.

A number of people and publications I have read have recommended that one first and foremost must focus on one’s own wellbeing and that will be an important foundation from which to pursue work going forward.

Things that I have been involving myself in these last few months include:

  • Consulting widely with my own network – drinking lots of cups of coffee!
  • Distributing my CV to select recruitment agents
  • Engaging with my coach and a number of technical mentors
  • Registering with Henley Business School to do a coaching course
  • Mentoring 3 young professional woman. 2 are involved with the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation programme (which I have joined as a mentor doing pro-bono work). The third mentee owns and runs an NGO focused on exposing rural young school girls to Science, Technology, Engineering and Entrepreneurship and Mathematics (STEM).
  • Exploring options through mind mapping. To illustrate the diversity of what I am exploring I list some of the possibilities I believe are open to me:
    • Coaching and Mentoring young professionals and baby boomers
    • Photography – industrial, events, company brochures and websites
    • Project management writing – articles, a book, blog, LinkedIn group
    • Project management platforms – reseller or improving systems
    • Project Management Training Academy
    • Technical mentoring of young professionals
    • Tourism – manage a camp, tour guide, photography, transfers
    • Entrepreneurial – project set up, water focussed solutions
    • Innovation – Think Tank, Incubator, disruption in the project space
    • Project delivery and project controls as front line practitioner

 

  1. Advice I would give to those contemplating changing direction in the latter stages of their career includes the following:
  • Settle on a new direction as late as possible. This means, that dependent on the financial latitude you have, delay making a decision on your future as long as possible. This will depend on your financial independence, the size of your retrenchment package and the possibility of being offered an irresistible opportunity early!
  • Determine how much time you have before you must have new employment, and avoid any inclination to fret while this period has not expired. You want to apply 100% of your thinking and creativity to planning your future.
  • Allow yourself the freedom to explore. Nothing is out of bounds. Avoid your comfort zone – the world that you have mastered. Rather explore how you might generate revenue from what you are passionate about. We are often good at something without being passionate about it. Avoid dropping into known spaces until you have exhausted all other options. However, success is more likely if you can apply your existing skills and expertise in new fields and ventures.
  • View planning your future as starting up a new business. You already know a lot (hopefully) about the product – you – your passion, skills, and competencies. Against this, can you identify potential clients, can you identify needs out there for which your skill set would be a great solution? View your skills as largely generic. They have potential to be applied to any number of diverse challenges you might identify. There is probably a one-to-many relationship between your competences and the array of challenges out there.
  • Get out of your office and meet like-minded people, expanding your network and joining the dots as you become aware of them.
  • Emerge yourself in voluntary work and work to generate goodwill. Connect people without expecting any immediate reward. Believe that will come.
  • Enrol in further study and formal self-improvement.

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