The Peter-Out Principle

Peter-out Principle

As we get older, it is harder and harder to do work we don’t enjoy. Why? Because our energy gets drained by such work…leaving us less and less energy for what we really want to do. This is the Peter Out principle, not to be confused with the infamous Peter Principle.

I have written elsewhere about that one, the notion that people get promoted on the job because of their natural flair for doing certain kinds of work until they reach a level of incompetence because that new job doesn’t require any of their natural talents or motivations. Or, to put it in more simple terms, people advance in their career until they stop having fun.

Many others, of course, never find that fun to begin with. They fall into a job, or take a job because they needed to support their kids, or because they don’t know what else to do. Work, for them, often becomes a grind, a duty, or an obligation to pay bills, cover the mortgage, or take care of family. It’s our bargain with the devil of job security that leads to dissatisfaction or worse:

“I’m stuck. I’m shackled in the golden handcuffs. I have good leave benefits and look forward to a half decent pension, but I do not enjoy the work that I am doing. I crave that creative side that seems to be missing from my life and yet I never seem to get around to. I find that there needs to be a buffer of time to get the ‘creative juices’ flowing- time I don’t seem to have after-work commitments and commuting. I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall….” This is a complaint I hear again and again from men and women in mid-career or middle age. It is experienced by huge numbers of people.

This is the Peter-Out Principle in action. The origin of the phrase peter out is thought to be associated with the name St. Peter, which in medieval France may have morphed into slang for the male sex appendage. So, to peter out means to fall off in power, to dwindle away to…nothing.

As far back as 1962, psychologist Abraham Maslow discovered that one of the best–if not the best–way to achieve personal power is through work. “All human beings prefer meaningful work to meaningless work. If work is meaningless, then life comes close to being meaningless.” In his hierarchy of needs, Maslow was simply pointing out what we all know to be true: that work is not just about making money, it’s also about making meaning.

Doing our work well requires some competency, confidence, or power. When our enthusiasm for work fizzles out, fades away, we might say we are petering out. When we work just for money, our desire for meaning, for vitality, for life ebbs away, tapers off, melts away–it peters out!

When considering this truth, I can’t help but think of Hazel McCallion, the mayor of Mississauga, Canada’s 9th largest city, who first won office at age 57 and just retired at age 93. If she worked only for money, she’d have retired a long time ago. No one could accuse her of petering out! She is one example of many who prove it is never too late to find work that energizes you.

As a job change expert, my goal is to help you do so by identifying, defining and mobilizing your Aptitudes, Attitudes, and Appropriate Actions.

Managers Control Timing of Hiring: Get in Their Pipeline

People Pipeline for Managers

This is one of the key principles that I use when helping my clients find permanent positions. Every hiring manager has a pipeline that they fill with prospective employees because (1) they are always looking for good people, and (2) they know they must hire them at some point. It’s not a question of IF but when.

A year ago, one of my clients got laid off after 25+ years with the same employer, a large defense contractor. My client was devastated but keen to get a similar job ASAP. He did what most people do, and sent out dozens of resumes to online postings with no positive results. He got extremely discouraged, even angry. He’d never needed to look for a job before, and it was a very negative experience for him.

I’m not saying he or anybody else shouldn’t look online but the U.S. Department of Labor reports that only 5% of people in the workforce are hired by submitting resumes to online postings. Therefore, I suggested to my client that he spend only 10-20% of his time & energy looking for a job that way, and to be more pro-active in his job search by networking for referrals to find job opportunities, not job vacancies.

I have written elsewhere on the difference between a job vacancy and a job opportunity, and how to find them. The key here is I coached my client on how to reconnect with former clients and brief them on his new employment priorities and preferences and ask, “Do you know anyone I can talk to?” One such approach resulted in a referral from a contact in Halifax to a hiring manager at a naval engineering firm in Montreal.

My client arranged a coffee meeting during one of the manager’s routine visits to Ottawa last November. That manager indicated there may be some job opportunities opening up in the near future. My client came to count on this vague verbal hint at a job. He followed up by email and phone for several months and heard nothing back…and got very discouraged again.

I reminded him that getting another job was his top priority but the hiring manager had other pressing concerns, another crisis to deal with, another fire to put out. And, he may be waiting for the conclusion to a very large deal that could take more time to come to fruition than he or anybody expects.

I encouraged my client to maintain the rapport he established with that manager by sending him an update every 2 months. In the meantime, I suggested to my client that he keep looking for other opportunities. He was able to land a few short-term contracts.

Then out of the blue this week, that hiring manager called this week to offer him a permanent job starting next month almost to the day of their coffee meeting a year ago!
You can’t control the timing of a job opportunity. It will materialize according to the needs and priorities of the employer.

Your job as a job seeker is to get in the pipeline, maintain a relationship with the hiring manager, keep your skills current, and persist with your job search.
In this stagnant economy, persistence pays off!

Avoid Burnout & Advance Career – Get in the zone!

Advance Career

Flow−the experience we have when we’re “in the zone”−has been studied for decades by psychologist Csikszentmihalyi. During a flow state, people are fully absorbed and highly focused…they lose themselves in the activity.

When your work utilizes your natural talents and motivations, when your daily grind is helping to create what really matters to you in life, then you are in your right work. There is a flow to it, an innate satisfaction abounds from it, and you derive genuine joy from what you do, a joy that is clearly evident to others.

Every job has a downside. We all have tasks we detest. Doing calculus homework in high school, for example, might be boring and hard if you have no knack for solving logical problems through numbers. You start but feel mentally exhausted, and you know you’re not getting the right answers.

But, you might also be an aspiring architect. Your math teacher clearly explains in detail how calculus can help you design more creative and ambitious structures. Your aspiration is personally important to you and the idea of creating interesting structures fascinates you. Suddenly, you see calculus in a new light. Instead of feeling exhausted by your homework, you now feel energized and motivated to learn to solve these problems. It’s the same work, but it now has a very different psychological effect on you.

Similarly, you might be in a helping profession, such as counselling, and have a strong desire to be self-employed in private practice working one-on-one with individual clients. But you can’t practice unless you have a funnel of clients who want your services. You don’t have a sales bone in your body. You once had a sales job and suffered burnout–it almost killed you.
But, now you gladly research sales and marketing tools techniques and implement them because your aspiration for self-employment is greater than you distaste for sales. You start to get clients and feel energized which, in turn, keeps you motivated to do the sales and marketing necessary to bring in clients.

Research shows that interest helps us perform our best without feeling fatigued. In one recent study, psychologists asked a group of undergraduates to work on word puzzles. Before they began, they were told them how exciting and enjoyable the task would be. Then they read a statement that framed the task as either personally valuable or of neutral value.

Those who read the first statement, and who also thought the task would be enjoyable, solved the most problems. Their engagement was more efficient because they were “in the zone” and not simply working on problems for a long period of time.

Psychology experiments often get participants to squeeze a spring-loaded exercise grip for as long as they can while performing another task to see if this increased performance makes people feel fatigued, or if high interest in a task maintains their mental resources. Much like the self-control needed to stay on task when we would rather do something more fun, resisting the urge to let go of your grip when it becomes uncomfortable also requires self-control. And that exertion of self-control is mentally fatiguing.

So, in a follow up study, psychologists found that people who thought the puzzle was highly enjoyable and highly important not only performed among the best, again, but they also squeezed the hand grip the longest. In other words, they solved the most problems, and it was not mentally exhausting for them. In contrast, those who were uninterested in the task generally performed worse, let go of the grip sooner, and were mentally fatigued by the effort.

Interest matters. It is crucial to keeping us motivated and effective without emptying our mental gas tank, and it can turn the mundane into something exciting.

Knowing the subject matter that most interests you, knowing your natural talents and motivations can help you harness “flow” to your advantage—to find your right work or advance your career.

Imagine working for a great boss every time!

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Today is National Boss Day. 3 out of 4 employees report that their boss is the most stressful part of their job! More employees would prefer a new boss over a pay rise when it comes to improving their satisfaction at work. Ouch!

If you have a great boss, show your appreciation. Good or bad, bosses are a fact of life, and have been since ancient economies established master-slave relationships—the Pyramids were not built with collective agreements!

While workplaces today are (perhaps?) a little more humane, most of us have to navigate the power dynamics that go with any employer-employee relationship.

Some individuals are very flexible and can adapt to the operating style any boss. The rest of us actually have a preference for being managed. In fact, certain management styles bring out the best in us.

Operating Style of your boss can lead to conflict

I’m not talking about personalities here—whether your boss is warm, cold, two-faced, compassionate, analytical, judgmental, whatever. I’m referring to their operating style and the way that you, as an employee, best relate to authority.

For example, some employees need a hands-off relationship with a boss who allows them to exercise independent control over their specific area of responsibility. If they end up with a boss with a ‘directorial’ style—one who wants them to operate and perform in the manner the boss identifies as correct, appropriate, or most effective—then conflict is inevitable.

Without a clear understanding of this dynamic, we can get ourselves into a lot of hot water with bosses. As a career expert for the past 20 years, I have seen employer-employee conflicts played out in all kinds of scenarios…many of which could’ve been avoided or minimized if the individual—whether they were a boss or subordinate—had clarity about their preferred management style.

How do you prefer to be managed?

Most of us have never been taught or shown how to interview a potential boss for their preferred operating style, or how to negotiate with a boss in order to help them manage us in a way that brings out the best in us.

For example, if you function most effectively under a manager who provides you with initial support and direction at the outset of a new assignment of responsibility, then leaves you pretty much alone to carry it out…you probably need to learn how to tactfully help them do so.

But, if you get stuck with a micro-manager, you’ll have to grin and bear it, wait them out (the average tenure of a middle level manager is 2.5 years), or find another job–because this is a clash of styles that cannot be resolved through negotiation.

Many clients have described to me “a great boss” who provides intermittent support and direction at key points in a task, assignment, or responsibility. For them, the right manager offers assistance in making critical decisions. These individuals work best when they can count on their boss to have their back when unforeseen difficulties arise.

Others actually work most effectively with a micro-manager, a boss who provides continuous support throughout—touching base frequently and offering direction and advice when needed. But, if they end of up with a boss with a leader style, who prefers to paint the big picture and inspire others to follow him/her (or their program, cause, or mission) and leave the details to others, then they might dismiss this manager as inept or ‘political.’

Collaborate means to co-labor

In some cases, I have met clients who remember a single ‘great boss’ experience, followed by a series of bad bosses. A deeper analysis of their motivating situations reveals that they function most effectively under a manager who treats them as an equal, who works with them as though you were involved in a joint effort. In order to thrive at work, these individuals need an open-minded manager who has a genuine interest in their ideas and suggestions, as well as one who offers suggestions and advice when they ask for it or need it. When they don’t get it, they blame the boss.

Some even quit their jobs and go solo, only to discover they hate working on their own and need the dynamic of a workplace to bring out the best in them but they don’t know what that is until we do a deep analysis of their enjoyable experiences at work and outside of work. Then we discover they thrive in situations where they collaborated with others towards a goal.

Collaborate comes from ‘co-labour,’ or working together, and this kind of dynamic between employer and employee does not occur often, although when it does occur, interestingly enough, it tends to be a female boss who prefers to interact with subordinates in a participatory rather than authoritative fashion, preferring not to rely on administrative policies but on keeping others involved and keeping the momentum going.

There are bad bosses and good bosses in the world of work. But each of us can learn to better manage our relationships with authority by understanding what operating style used by a boss brings out the best in us. Then we can help create that at work or, at the very least, look for a manager who prefers to work with our preferred style.

Job Change is not easy when family & friends put pressure on you to stay in a job misfit

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Krista English came to see George Dutch after seeing his name in the Yellow Pages and then looking at his website. “She was at her wits end with a job she was supposed to like,” said George.

Krista had been a nursing case manager and, since she spent a great deal of her time working with insurance companies and attorneys, she and her family thought it would make sense to get an MBA (Masters of Business Administration).

After finishing her Masters degree, she got a good job at a bank working with small businesses. “Life in the business world is quite different from nursing and in some ways she had not thought about before,” said George.

“As a nurse, I am 100% patient driven. The jobs I got after my MBA were totally sales oriented models. That makes sense in business—and I did well—but it really wasn’t me,” said Krista.

“I did so well as an Account Manager & Financial Advisor, they wanted to promote me into management where I wouldn’t work with clients. I not only got pressure at work, but from my family and society. We’re expected to want to be promoted.”

“Krista was not in an unusual situation,” said George. “She was being torn apart by worry and anxiety. She was in the wrong work environment.

“Often a bad situation is made worse by a number of stressful factors, such as unreasonable workloads; or the prospect of an impending layoff due to a change in the economy; or the expectation that they be available 24/7; or a change of job conditions from flex-time at home to face-time in the office; or the fear of being squeezed out of being competitive due to lack of educational credentials; or the unspoken pressure from family to maintain a high income at any price.”

Whatever the circumstances, Krista felt an overwhelming need to get out of her current job field. George said that her short term goal was to avoid the pain. The long term goal was to find a better job fit…if she only knew what it was! In the meantime, her priority was to maintain or improve her compensation package.

“There are two contradictory goals at work here,” according to George. “She wants a new job that will give her more vitality and joy, but she also wants to avoid financial insecurity.

“Krista was an example of the essence of being stuck,” said George.

“I had no energy on weekends,” said Krista. “I was drained. It took everything I had to go in to work 8-5 Monday to Friday. I had nothing left for the weekends.”

“In order to avoid a future that might be financially insecure, she couldn’t take action to move out of her current job field because she didn’t know what else to do; therefore, to move immediately meant she might end up financially insecure. Damned if she does take action, damned if she doesn’t.

She was likely to remain stuck for as long as she seek a long term solution to a short term problem.

“A career transition is not the solution to a short term problem-an unpleasant work situation. A transition takes time. It is best to do during a period of stability without overwhelming financial or psychological pressures. A transition is oriented around creating the kind of life you want; it is not oriented around problem solving,” according to George.

George said that, in order to solve her problem, she needed to learn to separate her contradictory goals. Her mismatched work environment is a short term problem requiring a short term solution.

As distasteful as it was for her, she realized that her best chance of getting out of her unpleasant environment, while maintaining her current pay check, was to do the same thing as a job change for another organization; or, cross the street, and purchase the services (that she was selling) for large organizations. Or, repackage her skills and market them for a related but different job target.”

George said, “She realized that the first thing she needed to do was take care of herself by getting out of her mismatched work environment. She needed to get into another job for the SHORT term in order to build up the capacity to make a transition over the LONG term. So first she had to get out of the crisis and take the time to transition.”

She did that by working as a program coordinator and teaching some clinical skills for a medical group.

“Making progress towards a long term goal is about building the life you want,” said George. “She understood that her long term goal was to have a career that fits her deepest values and top priorities and that it is possible but takes time and energy, two things that are in short supply when in crisis.

“Her JobJoy assessment helped her become more conscious of who she really was, and provided her with an impetus to change her situation,” said George.

“George was amazing,” said Krista. “He had me write a narrative of my life. What he does is the most amazing thing. He helps people understand their core purpose. Who they are and what that looks like in their careers. He helped me see that I was out of alignment with that.

“That’s huge. He was able to give me permission to be me. I kept hearing ‘You have a great job,’ but it wasn’t me. He sort of gave me my music back.”

Krista is now a rehabilitation case manager again, but now she enjoys all the things she liked about it in the past and a lot more because she knows now how to leverage her motivational pattern into her work. She works with a multi-disciplinary team to treat individuals with catastrophic injuries, such as brain injuries due to car accidents. She uses her influencing talents that better align with her deepest values to be of service and leave her mark on people by nurturing their potential or encouraging growth.

“Now my current job is awesome. I still use all my business skills. And I work directly helping patients. My salary has gone up by about $35,000 in a year and a half.

“Jobjoy is absolutely a possibility and George can help it happen.”

~with Nick Isenberg

Five Critical Ingredients For Successful Job Change

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Current social and economic trends are forcing an increasing number of workers into job changes.

Many professional jobs, for example, that involve tasks that can be routinized or automated–including IT as well as accounting, even law–are being outsourced to firms in Asia, especially India and China, but also Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. In North America, the number one workplace disability is depression and related mental/mood disorders, which forces many workers to voluntary seek a job change to protect their well-being.

Job change is the new workplace reality. Whether its voluntary or involuntary, most of us will have to learn to make effective job changes quickly in order to protect and promote our careers.

I’ve noticed in my own field of career management, I am increasingly learning new online technologies to increase my ability to provide high concept, high touch services to my clients. Providing personalized, customized reports on job matches for my clients is not something that can be easily routinized or automated.

Recent careers research, based on results employing 7725 participants and 62 career intervention studies (Brown, Ryan & Krane 2000), concluded that FIVE CRITICAL TREATMENT INGREDIENTS improve the effectiveness of career choice outcomes and decision-making.

1. Workbooks and written exercises. A JobJoy client usually writes out 8 stories about times in their life when they are doing what they enjoy most and do well, preferably stories about events/activities outside of work! This short 3 min video explains how, as does this short blog entry.

2. Individualized interpretations and feedback. Individualized feedback on test results, goals, future plans, etc. regardless of intervention format. I provide my clients with a personalized, customized JobJoy Report, a complete, accurate and reliable picture of their motivational pattern.

3. World of work information. My JobJoy Report matches a client’s motivational pattern to specific jobs in specific work settings. They are also given a strategy to move from where they are now into a better jobfit. I also use written materials that require clients to do their due diligence on job change, to write their goals, future plans, occupational analyses, etc.

4. Modeling. I insist that anyone can make a successful job change and earn more with better work-life balance. Yes, a job change is challenging…that is why I put a lot of emphasis on helping my clients conenct to other clients who have made successful job changes.

5. Attention to building support. This e-jobjoy newsletter is just one way that I provide ongoing support to clients but I try to help each client develop activities that will build support for their career choices or plans.

I use these five critical ingredients because they are proven tools and techniques for successful job change. Clients deserve not just any ol’ tool but proven effective tools. I take my responsibility, seriously, to facilitate proven methods that will match their strengths and motivations to specific jobs, in order to help them earn more and live a better story.

Too Creative For Tech?

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During the past 20 years as a job change expert, I have met dozens of men and women in hi-tech careers with a passion for a creative activity.

The computer programmer who builds customized electric guitars. The senior network specialist who travels the country to compete in paintball. The ITIL specialist who hosts folk music concerts in his home. The software designer who provides black belt martial arts instruction to hundreds of students. The systems development manager who studies astronomy. I can go on and on.

But in every case, none of these individuals developed a new career, or even
a second career, around that particular passion. Everyone is creative, everyone
has passions. But not everyone can create a job out of their passions. Why?

Because it’s not about taking one particular activity/passion and building a
new career around it, like someone having a passion for sewing, and saying, “I
love sewing so I’m going to work as a tailor or a seamstress.”

The software programmer does not usually give up a lucrative job to eke out a
living customizing electric guitars, unless they had FaceBook shares they cashed
in during the IPO, or their parents die and leave them a fortune, or they win
the lottery….it happens, sure, but rarely.

The simple fact is that the earnings of hi-tech professionals are much
greater than what they could make with their hobby passion. That’s what holds
them back, the trade-off between having fun and having financial security. They
believe the two are mutually exclusive.

For years, they’ve been molded by what they do, and paid extremely well for
doing it. Even if they come to hate their work, they believe there only option
is to stick to their hi-tech job box. They want to bust out of the box but fear
negative consequences. It’s called a rut, which is sometimes described as a
coffin with the ends knocked out.

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In the same way that the rut is linear, stretched out in one direction, they
think of their options in terms of the same left-brain, cause-and-effect
relationship. They see a line between what they do now and what they are
passionate about, and the connection does not compute.

They are focusing on the component parts of their lives, instead of looking
at the relationships between the parts. When they are doing what they enjoy
most—whether it’s building guitars, devising winning paintball strategies,
hosting folk music concerts, teaching martial arts, or studying astronomy—they
are engaged in a motivational pattern, one that is organized around their key
success factors.

It’s all about the pattern, the relationships between those factors that
energize them. Those factors can be defined, the pattern can be mapped. When
they see how their passion simply reveals certain aspects of their pattern, they
see how their talents and motivations match many kinds of jobs or careers in
specific work settings.

Instead of having one rather risky option organized around their passion,
they now have a dozen or more financially viable options organized around their
motivational pattern.

Busting out of the box is then possible. The dead end rut gives way to
shining path of real opportunity for a new kind of life, one that offers
financial security and job joy!

How you learn naturally can lead to working effortlessly

learning

The way we learn most naturally can help us find and fit into a new job, sometimes a better job! For example, I can think of several clients who worked for many years in construction, then sustained physical injuries that prevented them from doing physical labor or operating equipment. But, they wanted to stay in the construction field because they enjoyed working with and around structures, tools, machinery and everything that goes with building, maintaining or repairing our physical world.

They needed to retrain in order to work again. However, they lacked confidence
about educational upgrading due to poor performances in high school or
college. In assessing their learning styles, I discovered that they learned
well—but not through conventional book learning. Sure, they could force
themselves to go back to a classroom setting and suffer through it. We
‘can do’ many things through sheer will and determination but there is
always the risk that we will fail or not learn what we need to know in order to
be competent on the job, thereby jeopardizing our chances for getting and
keeping a new career.

Learning new skills is always easier when we are motivated to learn, not driven
to learn by the need for a new job, but motivated by tapping into our
natural learning styles. For example, many of these clients learned more
naturally through trying & doing, or by observing & examining, or by tinkering
& experimenting. Sitting in a classroom studying & reading books, then
memorizing and repeating what they read did not motivate them.

Retraining or upgrading skills then meant finding programs that matched their
natural way of learning (such as construction-estimating) that emphasized a
“hands-on” orientation versus a theoretical or academic one. In several cases,
an assessment of their stories also revealed a natural aptitude for working
with numbers and a knack for customer service, which matched up with jobs
related to Construction Estimator, Quote Coordinator, Proposal Writer,
Purchasing Manager, Builder Services Manager, Field Coordinator, and so on.

What is your innate pattern for learning?

When listening to your stories, I listen for clues to your natural talent for
learning: what are you doing when you’re motivated to learn? To what depth and
detail are you motivated to learn? What are the mechanisms through which you
learn? What circumstances or conditions motivate you to learn?

Natural talents for learning correlate with different kinds of career
situations. For example, someone who learns best by observing and
examining—that is, someone who is motivated to learn by taking a careful
first-hand look at the actual detail of an action—is probably better suited to
an apprenticeship-type environment than someone who is motivated to learn by
studying and reading (going over printed material, note-taking and underlining
key phrases).

Perhaps you did better in college programs organized around listening and
discussing activities than you did in high school, if the emphasis there was on
memorizing and repeating of information. You are motivated to learn only when
you are in a situation where you can hear the thoughts and ideas of others and
express their own. Perhaps you never realized before that your favorite job
was organized around frequent opportunities to brainstorm with others by
hearing their ideas and bouncing your own off them.

Did your parents complain that you always asked too many questions? If they
found it annoying, perhaps others noticed your knack for finding out things by
asking people questions. You are more than just curious, you have a knack for
probing and questioning others. You might thrive in jobs where that skill is a
recognized and rewarded as a core duty, such as investigations, or assessing
needs, or diagnosing problems.

Some talented and successful individuals get lousy grades in a classroom
setting but turn out to be specialists or experts when they are left to their
own devices to compile and collect information in their own way, at their own
speed, in order to get a comprehensive picture of a situation to understand,
explain, and predict certain principles, logic, philosophies, skills or
techniques.

I’ve had some hi-tech clients that thrived in lab environments where they could
experiment and tinker. They never read a book, and even failed certain college
courses. Luckily, many of these individuals were able to find jobs in school
helping a professor with certain research in order to pass. They could spend
hours conducting trials or tests to find out about a subject phenomenon and see
what happens. They easily fit into R&D work settings.

The real payoff is understanding why you learn and what is the outcome of your
learning. Once we understand your innate pattern for learning, I can link it
to specific jobs and careers that will reward you for what comes naturally and
effortlessly to you.

“When are people going to see me for what I am — an impostor?”

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I’ve heard this question many times from clients. It might be a guy who became a teacher because he didn’t know what else to do but, truthfully, he doesn’t like working with kids every day. Instead, he sees all the flaws in the system and is inclined to be a catalyst for change, making suggestions, getting others involved in projects to improve things.

But, he doesn’t dare presume to do so because he doesn’t have the qualifications or credentials to speak or act according to his natural inclinations. “Why would anyone listen to me?”

Or, it might be a woman who rose from Receptionist to VP. She has a gift for
managing others, for harnessing their strengths, talents, preferences, and
motivations of others. She is adept at determining what sort of work people
are suited for, what will encourage them, and how their talents may be used to
further corporate goals and objectives.

But everyday she goes to work thinking, “I’m not a REAL manager because I lack
an MBA or other degree, formal training, piece of paper, recognition that tells
me and others what I am, and when people find out that I have no credentials
other than what I’ve done, I will be cast out!”

In both cases, our social self is talking. Think about this for a minute. We
are swallowed up by the world and its systems and values. Society hands us
templates for acceptance. This is the development of the social self—that part
of us that wants desperately to “fit in” to society.

We are, after all, social beings who want to be liked and loved by others. We
spend our lives trying to become someone that people will like or look up to.
In doing so, we sometimes harbor feelings of inadequacy–we’re not competent
enough, sooner or later we’ll be exposed for what we are—a fraud!

This impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals are
unable to own up to their strengths, or their accomplishments. It causes them
to feel like a fake, with a public face of competence that everyone sees, but
another private face of anxiety, worry, or fear. Instead of feeling like an
integrated whole, they feel fragmented, compartmentalized, or conflicted about
who they are and what they do.

Why?

Because we want to be recognized and rewarded for our authentic self. This is
our natural desire as human beings.

The word authentic is related to the notion of truthfulness—it’s about being
genuine, honest, faithful, reliable, the real thing. In philosophical terms,
it’s about living a life that is purposeful, meaningful, significant, in which
your being is aligned with your doing.

We want to experience congruence between who we are and what we do. We feel
like impostors when are feelings are grounded in what we ‘can do’ or ‘have to,’
instead of our natural strengths.

Being authentic for some, like the teacher mentioned above, is to acknowledge
that teaching is not what he really wanted in the first place. He might not
know what he wants specifically, but he knows generally that he wants more of a
fit between who he is and what he does for a living.

By focusing on those times in his life when he’s doing what he enjoys most and
doing it well, and having those stories analyzed by a story expert like myself,
he can get an accurate and reliable picture of his right work and have it
matched to the kinds of work that will recognize, reward and motivate him for
what he does naturally and effortlessly.

Each day his ideas, assumptions, beliefs about reality are being shaped by a
job experience that forces him to do something he does not want to do. He
needs to see how his strengths match up to better jobfits, ones that are
financially viable and attainable without further education. When he does, he
will have a vocabulary to communicate to others with clarity and confidence how
he can add value to an organization as a catalyst.

For the receptionist turned VP, an analysis of her stories will create a
picture of her full motivational pattern. She will see how she cannot do what
she was born to do in terms of taking overall responsibility for accomplishing
a goal or getting something done through actively directing or managing the
efforts of others.

In the past, she may have been criticized by a parent or another significant
person in life; perhaps, her natural strength was not appreciated or approved
by them; or, perhaps the expression of her natural talents was not appropriate
in certain social situations and caused problems.

Our strengths have a flip side; in some situations they are actually a weakness
or detriment to our goals, e.g. treating your siblings, friends, spouse or
children as employees who must operate or perform in the manner that you have
identified as most effective, might produce results at work but creates
friction on the home front.

By getting an accurate picture of her motivational pattern, she can leverage
her strengths in a more conscious and direct manner into her job and delegate
her non-strengths to others that complement her strengths, thereby increasing
her managerial effectiveness, instead of letting her feelings of inadequacy
drive her performance.

Do you feel like an impostor? Relax. You can integrate your being with your
doing.

The understanding you need to do so is closer than you might think, right under
your nose, in the facts, people and events of your personal story.

There is no need to suffer stress, worry, anxiety or fear about your work
identity. You are not a fraud!

The truth of who and what you are in terms of work will launch you to a new
level of success, one that will support and energize you to work with more
clarity and power.

You can be who you are and do what comes naturally for a living!

You Can’t Cheat Life!

roll-the-dice_opt

“I really HATE my job!” This is a phrase I hear almost every day as a career consultant who works with individuals in career transition. For example, when Elizabeth came to see me, she was 52 years old and had been working since her teens, and almost 30 years as a public servant sitting in front of a computer all day as an information analyst.

Her job required her to process about 90 email messages a day, plus 120 pages of info from the Internet, plus another 20 “alert” messages from subscriber-based services. She estimated only 10 of these 200+ messages were truly relevant to her job. She felt “stuck’ in her cubicle reading all day. She wasn’t the only one suffering from information overload. Of the 10 analysts employed in her section, 5 were on long-term stress leave.

Elizabeth herself appeared very fit and healthy. But she felt trapped in her job. She wanted help but felt severely constrained by her life circumstances. When she told me in no uncertain terms: “I hate my job!” I asked her what she did with all that negative energy? Was there an effigy of her boss that she could punch and kick during her lunch hours in order to discharge her frustration? No.

There are only two ways to process that kind of negative energy. One is to explode, such as the worst cases of “going postal” when a worker shoots his co-workers or boss. The other way is more common: we implode and the negative energy manifests in stress and dis-ease.

Although Elizabeth had a strong desire to do something, she felt unable to do anything because (1) she was only 3 years away from taking early retirement, and (2) she had two teenage children who aspired to a university education and needed her financial assistance. She felt compelled to continue down the same path. I have a lot of compassion for individuals who feel trapped in this kind of employment situation: damned if they do leave their job (and risk financial insecurity) and damned if they don’t leave (and risk their health). It is sometimes called the dilemma of ‘golden handcuffs.’

Every 6 or 12 months, I’d contact Elizabeth for an update, asking her how she was coping. After two years, I got an email from her sister saying Elizabeth could not reply because doctors had found a tumor in her brain the size of a lemon. Three months later (and 2 years after we met) I cut her obituary from the newspaper and closed her file. She made it to age 54. Like many people in her situation, she never collected that precious pension.

Her story inspires me to keep doing what I do. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the number one cause of disability in North America. It costs employers more money in lost productivity than any other illness. And the costs to society, in general, are huge. We all know someone who is defeated by their job, perhaps a family member who is crushed by their job; or, a friend who is underemployed and humiliated by the mundane, boring, and repetitive tasks of their work; or, a colleague who has been rendered impotent by the hierarchical structures of the institution he or she works in.

I work with scores of people every year struggling with burnout, depression, confusion, and cynicism. In almost all cases involving lengthy career pain, there is a serious degradation in the energy levels, health condition, peace of mind, self-confidence, courage, self-respect, happiness, freedom, and other aspects of their personal well-being. That negative energy has to go somewhere, and the sad truth is, it often turns against our bodies in the form of serious lifestyle illnesses. I am not suggesting that Elizabeth’s career pain caused her cancer but I know darn well that it contributed! You can’t cheat life!

However, some individuals have heard Elizabeth’s story and told me they would trade places with her in a heartbeat. They would relish the opportunity to sit in front of a computer every day reading emails in order to collect a public service salary and pension. For some reason, they believe they are impervious to the very pressures and stresses that undermined the well-being of Elizabeth and her colleagues.

Common sense defies their assumption. They too would experience stress, possibly burnout. However, the stress of struggling to pay bills, looking for jobs, coping with unemployment also takes a toll on health and well-being. The sad reality is that many individuals are managing career pain of one kind or another. If your work experience is full of pain, why not suffer in a cash-for-life public service job? This reasoning is rooted in a belief that work is suppose to hurt, that’s just the way it is. The temptation to cheat life is strong. Roll the dice, and hope you beat the odds and actually get a chance to collect your pension and enjoy a long, healthy retirement.

There is another way to approach your career. You don’t need to roll the dice and gamble away your life force. We can approach career choice systematically, with deliberate intentions to make the most of our talents and motivations. We can identify and define work settings that will recognize, reward and motivate us for what we do naturally and easily. We can identify specific job titles that best match our unique combination of talents, motivations, acquired skills, experiences, values and priorities. It’s a wonderful day when we can say in all honesty, “I know who I am and I’m glad I am me.” This takes courage in a world that is constantly trying to make us into something else.