In previous generations, people worked at the same company, in the same field, for a 30 or 40 year span of their career. However, because of the inherent instability of today's economy, there is increased transition in careers and more movement from company to company.

Stepping into a new job, though, can lead to rediscovering new strengths and skills that you didn't know you had or making the decision to acquire new skills, said Career Consultant Erika Steffen, Ed.D.

In a talk called, "Career Transition and the Art of Reinventing Your Life," Steffen told members of the Fairfield Network of Executive Women (FNEW) that hitting a plateau in their career provides a unique opportunity to re-evaluate and reinvent their "life work" and look at new possibilities and opportunities to create new options in their career direction.

With more than 20 years of experience working with individuals, Fortune 500 companies, universities and associations, Steffen is the founder of a career management consulting firm in Fairfield. Also a member of FNEW, Steffen is a staunch supporter of women's networking groups.

Starting out in her own career as an early childhood teacher, Steffen pursed a doctorate degree while teaching at the university level. "I loved what I did and thought that I would be a teacher for the rest of my life," she explained. "However, when I decided to go back to school to pursue graduate studies, which meant giving up a secure, tenured position, it was against the advice of well-meaning family, friends and colleagues."

At Wednesday's talk, Steffen introduced a career process of self assessment which she applied to her own life many years ago.

"I thought I was leaving teaching. However, through the self assessment process, I was able to reach my core, my personal mission, which is to teach, to train, to inspire people, and ultimately to help people reach their full potential in their own lives," Steffen said.

Upon her decision to leave academic posts at prestigious universities, Steffen entered the corporate world where she created and conducted management seminars and career development programs for major corporations, including Bell Labs, the Mellon Bank, General Electric and Nestles Corporation.

Like many women today, while she was building her business, Steffen also juggled a busy family life as a single mother to three children living in Fairfield County.

Faye Di Leo, president of FNEW, said she was inspired by Steffen's autobiographical tale. "I was also a single mother and on my own working for 11 years, so I thought what she shared was inspiring," Di Leo noted.

Several other members also appreciated Steffen's uplifting message.

"People came up to me afterwards and said that of all of the speakers who have come in to speak to us, Erika was the one that they would pay to go to on a personal basis," said Di Leo. "She was a great speaker and had the audience completely engaged in her discussion and experiential exercises."

A former professor at Temple University, Steffen passed out assignments to the participants. In one exercise, she asked them to compile a list of activities that they loved to do. Each individual then explored in depth these positive experiences and analyzed how they affected their lives. "The goal was to find out if there were any interests that they could incorporate into a job that they might enjoy pursuing today," Steffen said.

She also instructed the women to write down any secret dreams that they had in their lives, whether as a child or an adult, and determine if they needed to pursue them at this point in their lives.

"A critical piece of this process is to listen to your inner guidance," said Steffen. "It is a challenge to trust one's own thoughts and feelings, to notice when one feels positive and encouraged. We all need to carve out this quiet time in our busy lives to think, to journal, to research those intuitive feelings."

Hearing Steffen's talk was timely and, like many in attendance, Di Leo was encouraged to seek out work that was "challenging, interesting and enjoyable."

Two of the participants had worked with Steffen before and one woman shared that while she was continuing to work in the corporate world, she was moving within the company to another state to pursue her dream of a counseling degree.

Audience member Susan Snider credits the counseling she received from Steffen six years ago with the recent success she has enjoyed as executive director of the Norwalk Seaport Association.

"It made a difference and I am now doing what I love to do!" Snider said. "It was a journey and continues to be a journey."

In fact, after listening to Steffen's presentation last week, Snider decided that it was time, once again, to re-evaluate her goals and mission within the company.

For Steffen, this is part of the development process. "When you are pursuing your true calling, the work will flow. This is your special gift to humanity," she explained. "The ultimate goal is to develop one's potential to one's greatest ability."

However, Steffen points out that a thorough -- and sometimes lengthy -- information gathering process must be completed before one is ready to set their final goals and take actions.

"It's critical to remember that when you are in transition, you are naturally undergoing a process of growth and development," Steffen noted. "If you take the time to utilize some basic self assessment tools including skills analysis, interests, values, aptitude, and right brain and left brain exercises, you will eventually identify and create your authentic life work in a field that is also financially rewarding."

"It's also important to understand that one's life work will take on various forms at different times," Steffen added. "Changes will occur at different times in one's life, therefore it is important to remain in touch with your purpose and vision as it expands and grows."

For more information about career planning, self-assessment, job search strategies, resume development, coaching on interview techniques, salary negotiation, and mid-career life planning, contact Steffen at (203) 259-9997, 21 Sherman Court, Fairfield, CT or erikasteff@aol.com. For more information about FNEW, go to www.fnew.org