I’ve worked with and talked to a number of people over the years who have made a successful shift into their Victory Lap. There are lots of ways people go about, but in my observation, the process is quite consistent. If you’re mulling over a switch from the fast lane to victory lane, here are some first steps that I’d recommend:

  1. Get Your Financial House in Order – You really can’t do any of the other steps unless you know where you stand financially. It’s critical to understand your current readiness for an interruption, reduction or possibly elimination of your income. Update (or build) your financial plan and run some scenarios so you know what kind of income (if any) you’ll need to recreate for yourself, and for how long. This analysis needs to look out decades, not months or years. Most people embarking on a Victory Lap assume that their income will go down (although that’s not always the case). You’ll want to understand what the impact of reduced/eliminated savings and how long you’ll need to plan to work. Most of the folks I know would happily do their Victory Lap indefinitely because they enjoy it more and have more balance in their lives. Regardless, you’ll want to understand the requirements and longer term ramifications to determine how viable a Victory Lap is for you. More importantly, it should inform the options that you’ll have in selecting what type of work you’ll do, and how aggressively you need to pursue it.
  2. Evaluate Your Options – I think this is where a lot of people get stuck. They have been focused for so long on their career, they’ve given very little thought to potential departures. This entire process is likely to take 3-5 years – most of which should be used to evaluate what you really want to do. Unfortunately, you may have a clearer idea of what you DON’T want to do versus what interests you. I’d start small. Pay attention to friends and colleagues who’ve left your ranks to do something else. Talk with others inside and out of your industry. Consider lots of options – consulting, teaching, contract work, etc. This stage is akin to shopping – “try on” lots of possibilities and see what fits!
  3. Assessing Your Readiness – Once you’re clear on what you want to do, you need to figure out how to get from A to B. What will your business plan be? Do you need to equip yourself with anything – credentialing and/or licenses, insurance, form an LLC, build a website, etc.? You may also need to figure out some basics like; where will you work? Do you need any equipment or outsourcing? How will you manage the business (invoicing, etc.)? Are you equipped with the skills and contacts to be active in this business right now?
  4. Assembling your Team – Part of your preparedness is determining who you’ll lean on for support. This is so important. Don’t do it alone. Ask for all kinds of help and do your homework by surveying the experience of others. Do you have a coach or others who blazed this path before you? Will you partner (formally or informally) with others? Build a good support network to help you think through the transition and beyond.
  5. The Test Drive – Taking your idea/plan to market to see if it has traction is key. If permissible, this is where you might do some side work before leaving your employer to try it out. It’s also where you determine the viability of your plan. Will it really work? Maybe lots of friends/colleagues have said they’ll hire you for consulting or project work. Can you get your first client signed? If teaching is your thing, try leading a night class at the community college. If possible, do the Test Drive prior to leaving your job/firm.
  6. Shifting Lanes, Making the Move – Once you’ve proven the concept and potentially gotten an anchor client, it’s time to map out your transition timeline and make the move. If you’ve been in the same job and/or organization for some time, the unwind can take months (or longer). All the while, you’re continuing to get things ready, get the word out and prepare yourself. Now make the move!

As I said, this process seems to take 3-5 years for most to work through the process completely. I think part of the reason more people don’t take this leap is the time and focus required to pull it off. That said, I have seen the value for those making the shift – years of more rewarding work, more balance in the work/life spectrum, and a better financial outcome for many. More than worth the effort in my opinion.

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