How to be a whiz at career reinvention

by | Feb 22, 2017 | Blog | 0 comments

“You have to embrace new ideas and new technologies even when it’s painful.  The whiff of obsolescence can kill you,” observed Marilyn Moats Kennedy in an interview with Chicago Score for a case study several years ago.

This past January ovarian cancer killed Marilyn way too early.

Nevertheless, she fully practiced her own advice — reinventing herself and pursuing as many professions as cats have lives.

Marilyn was a whiz at reinvention. By my count, she had at least nine successful careers: teacher and administrator at DePaul University in Chicago, journalist, editor, book author, speaker, career advisor and strategist, trainer, and consultant on workforce demographics.

The common theme was her love of communication, including writing, speaking, and connecting with individuals of all ages and backgrounds.

When I was still a student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Marilyn’s alma mater, I had the good fortune to hear her speak on career planning.

She was an admirable role model and mentor, including one of the first writers I ever met who was just as skillful as a motivational speaker.

In both her speaking and writing, Marilyn was refreshingly direct. She didn’t sugarcoat yet she was always respectful.

Some of the sage reinvention career advice I learned from Marilyn over the years:

  • Adapt how you work. For example, even before “Google” became an acceptable verb, Marilyn proclaimed that the search engine was a game changer for writers and advisors. She explained that if you can “Google” something, you shouldn’t spend time regurgitating what you and others can look up. Instead, interpret the information and help others figure out how to apply it.
  • Content matters. You need technical knowledge and skills to thrive in the work world. The soft skills are important, but they don’t replace hard skills. You’re kidding yourself if you expect to rely mostly on your relationships – or your looks and manners.
  • Be obsessed about finding your focus. Lack of focus, especially about your career plans, can derail you. You need to be able to answer this one question: “What do I want to do next?” You’ve got to take the time to think deeply about this, including figuring out the things you may be good at, but don’t ever want to do again.

Marilyn’s career advice also reflects her early journalism training, especially the emphasis of meeting frequent deadlines. Her most famous quote is “It is better to be boldly decisive and risk being wrong than to agonize at length and be right too late.”

Marilyn, thank you for who you were and all you did.

If you have any remembrances or stories of Marilyn that you’d like to share, please post them in the comments section.


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