Routines of Success: Business Habits and Your Second Career

Oct 22, 2018

By Seth Cohen

From the time I was little, until the time I was 21, I was a severe stutterer. I was the type of stutterer who struggled to put together even one fluent sentence and feared speaking on the phone. Speech pathologists did not know how my stuttering began, but after being a stutterer for several years it became a difficult habit to break.

It wasn’t until my senior year at Brandeis University that I began to overcome this challenge. I enrolled in a program offered nearby called “Precision Fluency Shaping” run by a noted speech pathologist who specialized in helping people curb the habit of stuttering. This wasn’t easy! I had to practice speaking in slow motion. Using a stopwatch, I was required to space out my syllables, starting at 2 seconds per syllable, then 1.5 seconds, then 1 second, then half a second. By slowing down my speech cadence so dramatically, then normalizing at a slightly slower pace, I formed new speech habits and gained control.

But speaking to people — on the phone or in person — was still a big issue for me. I knew that not only did I have to face my fears, I had to practice my new habit. So, I forced myself to go into malls and ask for directions. In my case, practice did make perfect — or at least perfect enough. My first job out of college was as a sales trader working the overnight desk at Refco. The role required that I be on the phone most of the time. Because of the work I had put into my speech, I was able to take this job and launch my career. But more importantly, by creating a new habit of speaking fluently, I had changed my life and opened the door to a future I wanted.

To say that learning how to create habits has served me well is an understatement. Now, when I want to initiate a new practice, no matter what it is or why I initiate a habit. But the secret to making that habit stick is to ensure that there are tangible negative consequences or positive rewards following the action associated with that habit.

Face the Consequences

Once you determine your goal and the habit that will get you there, you need to internalize the consequences to keep you on track. These consequences are often financial, intellectual or health-related. Fear is a good motivator, such as the fear of irrelevance, which is a consequence I and my colleagues hear about too often from people who come to Eleven Canterbury to discuss their prospective second careers.

Five Habits to Help Your Second Career Thrive

At Eleven Canterbury, we know that good business habits lead to business success, no matter what the industry. And as we work with C-suite talent and help them transition into Eleven Canterbury experts, we’ve found that certain business routines can be incredibly helpful. The five Eleven Canterbury habits listed below are at the top of our list.

Eleven Canterbury Habit # 1: Continue to Learn

As an expert in any field, it’s important to know what other people are saying, thinking and doing. To keep current I read a great deal. Besides the morning newspapers and books I download to my Kindle, I listen to at least 25 books a year. I have a trick that helps me kill two goals — learning and exercise — with one habit, a daily bike ride. I listen to audiobooks when I ride my bike. More specifically, I earmark certain books that I can only listen to when I’m riding. If I don’t get on the bike, I can’t continue the book — and that negative consequence keeps me fit and well-read at the same time. Of course, adjusting the volume so that I can listen and still hear the traffic, and riding on less traveled roads is a necessary safety precondition for this.

Eleven Canterbury Habit # 2: Practice the Art of Inquiry

People want to work with people they can trust. At Eleven Canterbury, every time we speak with someone for the first time, we look for ways to show that we are genuinely interested in them as a person. I ask relevant and appropriate personal questions. I personally like to ask about their family, their hometown or even their birthday. I am only too happy to disclose and share the same about myself. People appreciate this kind of a connection. Your personal brand in your second career is about who you are as a person. And the more you’re known as someone who is interested in other people, the better your brand is going to be.

Eleven Canterbury Habit # 3: Learn Names

This may sound like a no-brainer, but we’ve seen expert candidates lose a role because of something as basic as misspeaking or misspelling someone’s name. As simple as it sounds, learning and remembering someone’s name is an easy way to establish trust. Misspeaking or misspelling a person’s name communicates disinterest or disrespect. We recommend to our experts to never go into even a casual conversation without first reviewing and rechecking personal details including first and last names.

Eleven Canterbury Habit # 4: Don’t Work for Free

Here’s a habit to avoid — working without compensation. People embarking on their second career can be enticed to provide services in the for-profit world as a favor or for the experience. They believe that giving away their services (or wisdom) for exposure could fill the void, build their network or help their brand. But if the company is not allocating monetary resources they are often not valuing that person’s contribution or providing the tools for success. And that is, in my honest opinion, a recipe for failure.

Eleven Canterbury Habit 5: Schedule Time for Networking

Have a coffee. Do lunch. Meet for drinks. Make a call. Your networking strategy should be consistent and include reaching out to people who are not directly related to earning income. Of course, you also want to network with direct business relationships but it’s important to also network with people who can help you broaden your perspective or help you understand what’s happening in other concentric circles. It’s not uncommon to think you’re too busy for networking. Personally, I make it a habit of blocking out networking time in my calendar. For example, you could make it a habit to meet someone for lunch every Tuesday or Friday. Prioritize making the art of connecting with other people a habit. It’s an important one.

What Are Your Goals?

I definitely know what motivates me. I’ve come up with habits that support my goals and negative consequences that help me to follow through. But just as I did when I learned to break the habit of stuttering, it’s a good idea to slow down, evaluate what your second career goals are and find habitual ways to progress toward them. And, of course, personalizing your consequence to something tangible and meaningful will make a difference in your follow through. Transitioning from your first career to your second career is a paradigm shift. But while your work and workday may be a little different, you’re likely to find that the goals in your heart are the same.

Seth Cohen is the Managing Partner of Eleven Canterbury. He was a member of the Group Managing Board and Head of Group Offshoring at UBS AG.

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