Cheerleaders and Mentors


Going through a career transition can be one of the most stressful endeavors that we face in life. Having people to support you through this challenging transition makes a huge difference in how you come through the process.

On the Holmes and Rahe stress scale, losing a job and retiring from a job rank eighth and tenth, respectively. The only events that rank higher on the scale are losing a spouse or close family member, going to prison, or divorce/separation. No wonder so many country western songs have been written about these topics. My personal favorites would have to be those by Johnny Paycheck.

Losing a job, by choice or not, can lead to the same stages of grief that people go through after losing a loved one:

  • Denial: This can’t be happening.
  • Anger: Why me? This isn’t fair!
  • Bargaining: What can I do to stay?
  • Depression: It’s not worth trying. Why bother?
  • Acceptance: It’s going to be OK.

While these stages can not be completely avoided, having a voice of reason and support can make them easier, and in most cases can make the transition feel more manageable.

For many of us, support in our early years comes from our parents and our siblings. My parents have never understood science much less chemistry, yet they have always been supportive of my chosen path. They were and are the greatest cheerleaders that I have ever had. However, as life progresses, the influence of one’s parents generally decreases.

My mother has passed, and my father’s life and way of living is increasingly different from mine. Currently my friends and colleagues provide me with the mainstay of my support—listening to woes and cheering me on. For most, our cheerleaders in mid to late life will be our friends, spouses and life partners. Whatever the case, it is important to stay open to their support and avoid the temptation to withdraw from outside counsel.

Mentors, both formal and informal, can also help to ease our transitions. Formally, they can offer advice, serve as a voice of reason and stability, offer advice based on their experiences and knowledge. My formal mentor network includes my current and former supervisors, as well as my graduate and postdoctoral research advisors. In each career transition, I have gone to them for guidance. However, it is my informal mentors that have facilitated my transitions the most. Observing their choices and observing their career paths has made my journey more enjoyable.

I would wager that in most cases my informal mentors never knew that they were offering assistance and helping to shape my career path. Some of the best career advice I have gained has come from people that I haven’t really liked, but they have nonetheless had a major impact in my decisions to seek or keep a job.

As you go through a career transition, take a moment to inventory your cheerleaders and mentors, past and present. Make a note of their contributions, and look for the advice that resonates with your current situation. If you need a further voice of clarity, consider talking to a career consultant or adviser. ACS members can take advantage of free career consulting through the Society’s online programs. Others may find advice through university/college career services, state offices, community groups and/or churches.

On average, finding a new job takes six months to a year. Be prepared for the challenge by reaching out to the people that can help. I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a little cheering sometime.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D, assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.

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