For a Career Switch, Try the Boomerang Approach
Figure out what once gave you joy and how to get paid for it
Once you hit your 40s, 50s or 60s and have been working for decades, it’s not uncommon to get the Is That All There Is? feeling.
Maybe you’re in a rut or bored or think you’ve gone as far as you can go in your field. Then the question is: What next?
German-born career coach Reiner Lomb, now based in Atlanta, Ga., recommends using what he calls “the boomerang approach” to come up with the answer. That’s his term for figuring out what you used to be passionate about and then making a career turn — a boomerang — so you can start doing work related to it. He specializes in assisting boomers, so boomerang has a double meaning.
(MORE: What to Do Before You Switch Jobs)
Lomb, founder of the BoomerangCoach career consultancy and author of the new book, The Boomerang Approach: Return to Purpose, Ignite Your Passion, began his own boomerang about 10 years ago.
At the time, he was a Hewlett Packard manager with a deep-seated passionate for social purpose. “I was thinking, ‘What do I want to do next?’ And I discovered that helping people in their careers and finding out what they are passionate about always got me excited.” That led Lomb to become The Boomerang Coach, allowing him to mobilize boomers who wanted to shift careers and make a social impact.
I asked Lomb to share his advice on boomeranging. Highlights from our conversation:
Next Avenue: Why do you think boomers should take the boomerang approach to switch careers?
Reiner Lomb: Many boomers were very passionate about something in their youth and had a cause, but they gave it up. Or maybe they got buried in their career when went off to make a living. When I talk with them, I often find there’s something they’d like to do with their life to return to their passion and purpose.
The boomerang process I’ve developed is about listening inside yourself to find your passion.
How do you do that?
I ask people to go back in their life history and think of moments when they felt the most happy and most successful.
I’ve done that myself. I realized the times I was happiest were when I was in the moment of learning development for myself or for others.
Why should someone use the boomerang approach to switch careers?
I discovered that when I interview people and I say: ‘If money was not an issue, what would you do with your life?’ many have a good idea of something they care about. However, when I ask ‘Why don’t you?,’ nine of ten say they are afraid.
The boomerang approach has a methodology and process to combine an inner search of what you care about and then test that out before making the big jump.
(MORE: Keys to a Successful Midlife Career Transition)
What’s the advantage of doing a test rather than switching fields altogether?
It minimizes your risk of making a change. I know someone who decided they wanted to scuba dive in Belize, sold their house, found they hated it and said to me ‘If I’d only known.’
Can you give me an example of how someone used the boomerang approach?
Yes, in the book I write about Gabriele, who was an airline captain at United and one of the first women captains. When I was coaching her, she rediscovered her passion for horses — specifically wild mustangs — and protecting the environment. Now, she has made the transition to be a nature conservationist, focusing on the American mustang.
People are often told to follow their passion. But some people don’t know what their passion is. How can they find it?
Everybody has had, at some point in their lives, experiences where they felt joy and success. But often that knowledge is in their buried subconscious; they can’t remember those joyful moments. But if you give them specific exercises, they can. When I met with Gabriele, every story she told me had to do with horses, but she didn’t remember them until she did the boomerang exercise.
You also tell people to focus on their strengths. How do they know what they are?
Ask people you know: ‘What are my strengths?’ They’ll tell you.
When people relate stories of their happiness and passion, often the strengths show up. They were successful when they were doing something enjoyable. Often, the things we do with ease and joy are related to our strengths.
You also say people should look for a "world need" and figure out how they can help address it. Tell me about this.
Most people care about something that’s bigger than themselves and beyond their own needs. So how do you make the step from emotional distress to making a contribution?
Don’t use as an excuse that ‘I’m too small to make a difference.’ If you join a group of other concerned citizens, you can change the world. Align yourself with the right people. You could team up with others who have complementary skills or join an organization that already exists.
Keep your eyes and ears open for people who are working on issues you care about.
You recommend people try “career experiments.” What are they and how do you design one?
This is for when you have an idea but no experience at it and want to see if it's something you'd want to be doing. What I did, years ago, was I took a sabbatical to a remote area in Spain and dedicated some time to writing and nature. I learned that writing was very hard and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. The career experiment allowed me to find that out.
How does someone do a career experiment when they’re working full-time and can’t take a sabbatical?
Talk to somebody who does the type of work you’re considering, for an informational interview; maybe a few people. Ask them: ‘What do you like and don’t like about what you do?’
Shadow somebody. I had a client who was passionate about photography and he spent a weekend following around a photographer and lending a hand.
One thing I’ve done several times has been to ask a manager if I could get exposure to a new role where I was working. Before I went into coaching formally, when I was at H-P, I asked if I could go to coaching training and become part of the coaching network. And then I did.
Some people are afraid to switch careers because of financial concerns. What’s your advice to them?
If you’re in a job and have an income, one of the beauties of the career experiment process is that you can get started it while you’re on the job. Make a side project for a few hours a week to help give you clarity about what you want to do.
Ideally, you’ll want to do the testing of a new career before you give up your old job; that reduces your risk significantly.
Once you take your strengths and passions and put them together, you’ll have a high chance of being successful.