Pursuing Uncomfortable with Melissa Ebken

Pursuing a New Career at 50 with John Tarnoff

November 08, 2023 Melissa Ebken Season 9 Episode 9
Pursuing a New Career at 50 with John Tarnoff
Pursuing Uncomfortable with Melissa Ebken
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Pursuing Uncomfortable with Melissa Ebken
Pursuing a New Career at 50 with John Tarnoff
Nov 08, 2023 Season 9 Episode 9
Melissa Ebken

In this episode of the Pursuing Uncomfortable podcast, host Melissa welcomes guest John Tarnoff, an executive and career transition coach. They discuss the challenges faced by mid to late career professionals going through career transitions. John shares his personal experiences of being fired in the entertainment industry and how he found a new path in coaching. Tune in to gain insights and strategies for navigating career changes and embracing uncomfortable growth.

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Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of the Pursuing Uncomfortable podcast, host Melissa welcomes guest John Tarnoff, an executive and career transition coach. They discuss the challenges faced by mid to late career professionals going through career transitions. John shares his personal experiences of being fired in the entertainment industry and how he found a new path in coaching. Tune in to gain insights and strategies for navigating career changes and embracing uncomfortable growth.

Follow John
Website
X (Twitter)
Facebook
YouTube
LinkedIn
Amazon

Support the Show.

More From Melissa and Pursuing Uncomfortable:
Resources
fiLLLed Life Newsletter
YouTube
Leave a review
Pursuing Uncomfortable Book

🎶 Podcast Intro: Welcome to the Pursuing Uncomfortable podcast, where we give you the encouragement you need to lean into the uncomfortable stuff life puts in front of you, so you can love your life. If you are ready to overcome all the yuck that keeps you up at night, you're in the right place. I am your host, Melissa Ebken let's get going. 🎶

🎶 Episode Intro:  On this episode of Pursuing Uncomfortable, I welcome career transition coach, John Turnoff, to discuss the challenges and opportunities faced by mid to late-career professionals. We delve into the statistics of job loss for individuals over 50, John's personal journey through various industries, and the importance of embracing change and finding the right fit in today's fast-paced and disrupted economy. Tune in as we uncover the power of self-reflection and proactive decision-making in shaping a fulfilling career.  🎶

Episode:
Melissa Ebken  0:01  
John, welcome to the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast. How are you today?

John Tarnoff  0:05  
I am uncomfortable and ready to go. 

Melissa Ebken  0:07  
Excellent. That's just how I like it. I don't want you to relax.

John Tarnoff  0:12  
God forbid.

Melissa Ebken  0:13  
Oh goodness then I love when you have a sense of humor, because I think we're gonna have a fantastic conversation. Actually, I know we're going to, and we're gonna laugh and have some fun along the way.

John Tarnoff  0:23  
Indeed, if it's not fun, it's not worth doing. 

Melissa Ebken  0:27  
Right. So John, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. 

John Tarnoff  0:31  
Oh, my goodness. So I am an executive and career transition coach based in Los Angeles. And I work primarily with mid to late career professionals going through career transitions, which tends to happen mid career, whether we expect it or not.

Melissa Ebken  0:49  
Yeah, I know a lot of people that have been in that boat or are in that boat. So I think this is going to be a relevant conversation, but particularly relevant to a lot of people I know. So that's fantastic. 

John Tarnoff  1:03  
Right? Well, the stat scarily enough is that for people 50 and over, there's a one in two chance that you will lose your job. And that is, that is a pretty shocking statistic, a lot of that has to do with just the vagaries of employment, ageism, corporate, you know, dinosaur-ism, but health and life choices also come up. So if you are approaching 50, take this into account, you really need to be proactive about this and think, what you're going to do and what you want to do in your 50s in your career, because the choice will be made for you. Likely, unless you get on top of it now.

Melissa Ebken  1:56  
And one in two, according to my math, that's about 50%. 

John Tarnoff  2:01  
Somewhere around there. Yep. 

Melissa Ebken  2:03  
Yeah. So John, I'm guessing you know a lot about this, perhaps, because you've been there.

John Tarnoff  2:09  
I have been there and done this. So yes, so the, the aura, so I've been coaching for about 10 years, I come out of corporate entertainment corporate, which I guess is a little bit different from from vanilla corporate. I was always kind of drawn to movies and photography as a kid and, you know, made films in college, but I was no Spielberg. So I wound up coming out to Los Angeles, I'm from New York, to go to film school and figure out what this was all about. And for about 30-35 years, I had a career as a film studio executive, and film producer, with a kind of a strange sabbatical into technology in the 90s. During the bubble, I had a startup with a partner, and we did the requisite raising of the money and launching of the product and got caught in the bubble when everything fell apart in 2001. And that actually was my kind of reckoning come to reckoning moment. I was just a little bit before 50. And my startup had blown up. And I did not know what to do. And I did not want to go back to the jobs that I had had working in entertainment before. Something had shifted inside. But I didn't know what I wanted to do. So I decided to go back to school. And I wound up earning a master's degree in spiritual psychology, which is a form of counseling psychology that emphasizes co-creation and self responsibility and self forgiveness as a means to growth, healing and professional and personal advancement. So it was a really propitious time in my life. And strangely out of that process, I wound up back in entertainment working for DreamWorks Animation for most of the 2000s. But in a very different role. And this is something which happens to people very often when they're going through this mid career, midlife transition, which is you have a different attitude about what you want to do. And I had gone from focusing on content and why one project gets made and one doesn't to people and realize that most of my focus as a producer and an executive was on talent, and on choosing talent and backing talent. And so it kind of became a natural I rolled into this position at DreamWorks, which was all about talent, all about developing talent, nurturing talent, and that kind of got me into education and I blew outta DreamWorks when they changed directions and I wanted to double down on the whole education stuff that I had been doing there. So I decided okay, it's time for me to be that consultant and figure it out. And so, the answer to your real question though, about why I do this is that I got fired a lot in entertainment. And we don't tend to own up to our job losses. It's a very, in your terminology uncomfortable thing, right to be able to say I've been fired a lot, because it's something that is supposedly shameful. And in an earlier time, when you were expected to work in the same company for 10, 20, 30 years, 40 years, and kind of get your gold watch and go off into retirement at age 65. Well, getting fired is a big deal. But in an economy that's changing so fast, and so disrupted, it's about fit, right, so fit is not forever. Fit is for right now. And hopefully, you'll be able to grow, the company will adjust the fit will continue, but maybe it won't. So that's the reframe that we all have to do around getting fired. And it's also kind of a call to wake up a little bit and figure out well, am I still fitting in? And that was an interesting aspect of what my, the end of my job was, was at DreamWorks as I went to them. And I said, do I still fit? Am I still relevant around here? And they said, well, no, actually not. We love you. And it's been great, it has been a great fit. But we're going off in a different direction. And there really is no longer anything for you to do around here. Because what you do is that kind of new exploration stuff around staff and talent that we wanted you to do. But that's done now. So I'm moved off.

Melissa Ebken  6:53  
You know, there's so many things that I could just pounce on it what you said, first of all, I am so tempted to jump into your back to school topic about spiritual growth and development, emotional development and all with that, and

John Tarnoff  7:09  
We can cover that 

Melissa Ebken  7:09  
Well I'm really gonna stay committed to the topic today. So help me stay on topic, because I will okay. But you know, as I was listening to what you had to say, someone very close to me was in that situation. And they were in a toxic work environment and had been for decades. But that person doesn't do change for that. So ultimately, he decided to retire, knowing that he was in a place in life where he could. And immediately he was getting requests, hey, we need you to come work here and do this, which was completely apples and oranges to what he was doing before. He said I kind of wanted to retire for a bit because I hear it's kind of a cool thing. And ultimately, he did take that other job and loves it. Sometimes change is good. Don't tell anyone.

John Tarnoff  8:03  
Yes. The first thing I would say is that it for people who say I don't do change, or I don't do change well, I would look at that and look at reframing that because there's you're on this planet, you do change. Absolutely. Right. You change you and then you also affect change and are also involved with change change is happening every day,

Melissa Ebken  8:33  
Change is life. And so anyway, he's so much happier now. And I've heard him say, even the worst day here is better than the best day there. And, you know, what I noticed was, you know, he told me this later that he was at a place in life being in his 50s that he can say yes or no to an opportunity that it was different than when he was in his 20s when he had small kids at home. Life was different, pressures are different. But when we're 50, we still have pressures, absolutely. But we also have more agency and choice available to us, perhaps than we did before.

John Tarnoff  9:16  
I think that's the case. But I would I would push that a little bit more into the uncomfortable zone and say that it's not because at 50 we are more established or more settled. That may be the case there may be more financial security. There may be other external factors that support our willingness to perhaps stand up for ourselves and for what we want to do. But I also think that in a strange way, the more you know, the more you have to stand up for that, and for yourself, because otherwise, you're going to go into a downward spiral. And a lot of what I see and be interested to hear your take on your, on your friend's experience, that toxic environment that he stayed in for far too long, and basically just I wouldn't say gave up, but just kind of allowed himself to be got rejected from that environment. That's not uncommon. And I wonder whether he feels now, knowing what he knows now, whether he would have made the change sooner knowing that who he is, is valuable, more valuable than he recognized. And I say that to people. Yes, sorry. He has said as much. And I, I run into this all the time with people who feel like they are somehow discouraged by that external experience. And they feel that that external experience is more valid than what they know, inside themselves. 

Melissa Ebken  11:18  
Oh, and so I think one of the cultural context as well, here in the Midwest, there's a high value placed on loyalty and commitment and all of those things, right and he manifests all of those. So for him to have left there, that would have caused some inner turmoil for himself as well.

John Tarnoff  11:38  
Right? Well, loyalty goes both ways. Indeed, it does, right. And I and I applaud loyalty on behalf of the valiant employee. But I also believe increasingly, and we see this in every headline, seemingly today about career that loyalty needs to be earned. And de-prioritizing, value, experience, talent, and tenure, to serve a temporary or reactive bottom line, quarterly bottom line, is not a great way to build a company, no, on any level. So again, this is part of the big kind of smorgasbord of paradigm shifts that are going on in the workplace today. So, you know, again, I think that getting into this middle life period, mid career period, it's a great opportunity to look inside yourself and double down on the value that you have built and created and can deliver. And to spend more time focusing on that, then on all of these external questions about, you know, I mean, can I leave and what would happen if I left and am am I am I being disloyal to the people that I'm working with, and my team and all of these attachments on the outside, where, unfortunately, you're kind of putting yourself at the bottom of that funnel, when actually you should be at the top of the funnel, and be a leader. And to be able to walk into work and say to your team, you know, team, I'm leaving to go off and do something that's really so much more resonant with who I've become what I've learned, what I'm capable of. I'm not feeling as stimulated, as valued as a as, as sought after, in this role. For whatever reason, it doesn't even have to be a toxic workplace, it can just be a question of direction of configuration, leadership style, whatever. So I'm gonna go off and do this and live a more fulfilled life. And I guarantee you that everyone on that team is gonna go yay, bravo. Good for you. And maybe one person is gonna go, how could you leave us? That person will get over it. Because what's more important is you going off and being an example. Because they're younger, they're going to get older, they're going to follow your lead. And that is going to be the wake up call for management to go, hmm maybe we should have done more to retain this person. 

Melissa Ebken  14:55  
Exactly. Let's get into the meat of things, shall we? On your website, oh this has not being the meat? Well, it's been a really solid appetizer. Let's get to the main course. But on your website, you have some incredibly valuable information about resumes, and even the inner work asking yourself some important questions and, and all of those things, and you can describe it a whole lot better than I can. So why don't you tell us a little bit about how this all works, program.

John Tarnoff  15:29  
Sure. So, after coaching now for 10 years and thinking about this a lot, I think there are three elements that make up a career strategy, a sustainable career strategy. I think it works at every level of your career and, and career experience. But I think it works particularly well, if you've got a little bit of experience under your belt. And typically, I work with people in their 40s and 50s, some of their 60s. Occasionally, I've got a gentleman I'm working with right now who is in his late 30s. So it really goes across the board. But those three elements start with this idea of number one, you've got to define your superpower. And your superpower is a little bit of a riff on those four geeky guy questions. Yeah, the Japanese the Western interpretation of the Japanese idea of life's purpose. What do you do well? What do you love to do? What does your world need? That's kind of my twist. They said, what is the world? The not the world the way the world is too big. But what does your world need the world of your business? You know, your environment? What's your community? And then of course, what can you get paid for? So you start to think about these these questions and start to understand what are the 2-3-4 roles that I am most experienced at focused on, capable of where I'm moving the needle across these these various areas that I'm responsible for it? That's a kind of a sense of what that value is that your your superpower is. And what you want to do is use your LinkedIn profile to represent that value, and to articulate that value. So that you can have a very, very clear sense of this deliverable or set of deliverables that define you professionally. And once you've created that element, your second element is building a community around it. A network is great, having those 500 + connections on LinkedIn is great. But how many of those people are really aligned with who you are what you deliver? And does it match up with what they deliver and what they're interested in. So I like to say that a network will stand by and watch you fail, while a community will step in and help you succeed. So you want to create a community to refer you to all of the opportunities out there. And because you've defined your superpower, and you've articulated this through your LinkedIn profile, you've now created a marketing piece that they can then use to bring more traffic to you. And the idea is that if you dial this in, ultimately, you're never gonna have to search for a job again, because it's all going to be happening through your community. And you have to do the work to identify the people to kind of make those connections. But over time, this begins to run itself. Now, the third element of this answers the question of, okay, so I've got all these people in my community, my network, whatever you want to call it. Now, what how do I keep this thing going? Right? You don't want to call everybody every two weeks? And go, so hey, what have you heard what's going on? Any jobs out there for me that I might be right for? You never want to do that, right? I just say don't lead with your need. You want to be giving in your networking, and community building process. And part of the way you do that is through the third element, which is professional branding. We talked about personal branding. I don't know exactly what that is. I think it's more about being a professional and building your reputation. And what Google calls the E A T fact, expertise, authority and trustworthiness. That's how the Google algorithm works. It looks at everything about you online. You or your company initially but you individually as well, and determines, are you someone who is trusted who is expressing their expertise and authority based on their experience, and all of these touch points that that they're looking for in terms of what's about you online. So professional branding, is using fall leadership, standing up for what you stand for. And using online and offline opportunities to further that idea. And the key to this is to really narrow it down to three, four or five topics that you are an expert on. And that you talk about, that you post about, that you consult about, mentor about. You're involved in professional organizations, you're doing meetings and conferences and lunch and learns, and whatever it is that you can do to extend your service minded leadership out into the community, to promote the overall vision that you have for where the business and the industry should go. And lending your support and your expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Which further builds your reputation brings more traffic and ideas to you, and serves as a way for you to engage with other people. Because there's always a there's always a higher purpose to this. It's not just about you and your job, whatever it's about, we're gonna save the world here, guys. And here's an idea. Have you thought about this? Could you use this in your company? Could you, you want to meet this person, they're doing a great job over here, you might learn something, right? It's not about me, right? I'm doing this for you. Those three elements are a flywheel. You're all kind of creating this virtuous cycle around the wonders of you and what you stand for, and the people that you work with, and the inspiration that you provide. Sounds great.

Melissa Ebken  22:03  
And you said something really key in there that a lot of people resist, and that is picking, you know, narrowing your your focus. Don't be everything to everybody. So many people want to do that. And you can't first of all, and second, nothing will turn me off faster than someone who can fix every single problem I have. Right. I came to you for this problem. So don't talk to me about the other stuff. Because it makes me think perhaps you're less of an expert on this one thing that I came to you for.

John Tarnoff  22:35  
Yep. Yep. This is a great topic. And I get this all the time actually, kind of started thinking about this when I was at DreamWorks because I was we were doing we were doing a lot of recruiting at DreamWorks at schools. And people would at these at these schools would say to me, so are you looking for generalists or specialists? And it was a really good question. And I came to by the answer, developed as follows. I said, I'm looking for either generalized specialists, or specialized generalists. And that really goes to the question that you're talking about, which is that we have to be mindful of both. There's a great book called Range by a guy named David Epstein. I really just listening to a podcast on this again, today came out in 2019. And it really is about how generalists rule the world, how generalists have the perspective, from the different angles, that are much more strategic than people who just have this one specialization. However, you need an anchor, right? You need a way in you need a way to define kind of hang your hat on something that's really important that you do well, that solves a specific and real problem. So you want to have that specialized focus, but you also want to have the generalized context. And that really goes to this question of defining your superpower, because there are multiple layers to this. And as you said, you never want to be saying, oh, I've got 20 years experience. What do you got? Let me let me let me let you only let me fix I can fix anything, right? What do you got? It's like, pass. Right? Right. It's not specific enough. It's not focused enough. Eventually, if you do this one thing, well, that you tout about yourself. They're going to come back and say, this is great. We love this. What else you got?

And to what I was saying, if you tell me, You know what, that's not my field of expertise, but I know that person X who does that so well. Okay, there's a small chance I would go to person X depending on how specialized the need was, but I also will say okay, this guy knows when he can and when he can't. So I'm also going to trust him with this. Yes, absolutely. I think you extend your own credibility when you define what you're not an expert in.

Yep. Very good point.

Melissa Ebken  25:19  
So I could continue to talk about this for a long time. But I do promise the listeners 20 to 30 minutes and we're at 25 minutes here. So what is one thing that you would love everyone to walk away from this podcast remembering today? I mean, I'm hoping everybody can recite the entire episode, because it's just phenomenal. But what piece would you like them to recite first?

John Tarnoff  25:44  
I think and this really keys off of what we've just been talking about. And that is that you should stop chasing job openings, and start building relationships. Too many people, when they need to get a job, focus exclusively on job boards, open positions. The fact is that 80 or 90% of jobs are filled through referrals through the hidden job market. And many of those are internal, but not all of them are internal. You want to have a referral network. And you want to focus on building the relationships in your referral network, your community, where you can get an early bead, on those open positions, before they're even posted. Because you're in relationship with people who understand where you could actually be valuable, in filling that position. When I went to DreamWorks, they created that job for me, there was no open job. I, I wound up I knew someone there I was networking. I was meeting with people there over six months. And they woke up and thought, you know, we should bring him in, we're not exactly sure what he's gonna do. But we need to have someone like that here. He can do this and this and that. So that's a perfect example of why relationships, which is a longer process. But when it pays off, it pays off back to your friend who retired and then went back, doing what he loves. That's a shortcut. You don't have to let yourself get pushed out of a job that you don't like. And then kind of come back in and rediscover what it is that you're valuable at. Your relationships will also tell you what you're valuable at. So that's another good reason to build relationships. It'll help you understand what your value is.

Melissa Ebken  27:50  
Excellent, excellent. Thank you, John, for all of the wisdom here and that just scratches the surface, folks, go check out his website. The link is in the show notes. And immediately you'll see the value in what John can offer and and working with John and it's really simple to click a button and get started. Thank you, John, for joining us today.

John Tarnoff  28:11  
It's been a pleasure, Melissa. Thanks for having me on all the best

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