Writing the wrongs of job loss

Job Loss

Have you ever lost a job, been terminated one way or another? Not fun, right? Most people feel considerable anger and hostility about their termination experience–It’s not fair! It’s not right! Why me? Stupid management! Terrible decision!

The conventional wisdom among career professionals is to ignore these highly charged emotions and get their clients looking for another job right away. I beg to differ.

My personal and professional experience has demonstrated to me the necessity of taking time to deal with these feelings of anger, disappointment, and pain of rejection in an effective manner…before it deals with you!

The negative effects of job loss can be devastating for many individuals. I have learned that expressing these highly charged feelings, safely, helps to mitigate their power over individuals.

For example, I have a client who was terminated after 20+ years with the same company; even after six months he still gets angry about the “injustice” of his layoff, then falls into a depressive episode. I encouraged him to sit down, whenever this situation occurs, and write out his thoughts and feelings, just let it flow out in a stream of consciousness, no censoring, no editing. As he says, “the very act of articulating our thoughts and feelings can have a normalizing effect on the emotional state.”

Scientific proof

It is one thing to know this but another to prove it through a scientific approach. Luckily, that’s exactly what was done when researchers Spera, Buhrfeind & Pennebaker (1994) designed a study to address the emotional effects of job loss with 63 recently unemployed professionals (mostly middle-aged engineers). They tested the impact of disclosive writing on their subsequent reemployment activity and success.

Interestingly, results showed no real difference between experimental and control groups on behaviours related to:

a. reducing stress as indicated by self-report measures and physiological markers (blood pressure, weight, and heart rate); or,
b. increasing motivation to look for another job as evidenced by phone calling, letter writing, and interviewing behaviours.

Notably, however, the researchers did find that those who wrote about their thoughts and emotions were reemployed more quickly than those who wrote about non-traumatic topics or those who did not write at all.

They caution both job seekers and their career counsellors about dismissing this psychological processing in favour of immediate job search activity.

do-kids-write-autobiography-themselves-120X120

In addition, the subjects themselves were adamant that the writing process would have been more useful to them at the time of departure from their jobs than it was several months later.

That is why writing exercises are at the core of what I do. Yes, it is important to express feelings about job loss in order to clear some emotional space to move on to another job or change careers. But it is also essential in my view to write about times in your life when you are doing what you enjoy most and well, in order to establish more clarity and confidence about what you offer others through your work.

Discharge negative feelings, then recharge with proof positive of your strengths and value in the world of work!

From Doormat to Driver’s Seat—Career Change in the New Economy

From Doormat to Driver's Seat

Entering the world of work is like walking through a door.  Previously, we could follow a simple formula—go to school, get good grades, go to college or university, get good grades, which gets you a good job, then live a good life.  We all knew which door to walk through.  This was the “grand narrative” or post-WWII social contract that characterized the working lives of people lucky enough to be born and raised in the Western world.

Not anymore.  The new millennium ushered in a new social arrangement of work, a post-industrial order, fuelled by information technologies, global economics, cultural diversity, and postmodern ideas.

Uncertainty.  That’s the new buzzword for the workplace of 2014 and beyond.  How we respond to these profound changes is crucial to our physical, mental, and social well-being.  In the words of William Arthur Ward “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

We can be doormats and let these new social realities walk all over us (or hope, unrealistically, they never show up at our door).

Instead of being passive, we can be pro-active and cross the threshold of despair or denial by putting ourselves into the driver’s seat to navigate successfully through obstacles.

The cradle-to-grave job security of the Industrial Age still exists but, paradoxically, only in the most non-industrialized sector—the public service at all levels of government, and that security will be challenged by demands for harmonization with less stable private sector working conditions.

For an increasing number of individuals, then, this new reality of work in the Information Age involves job prospects that are far less definable, predictable, or stable…especially for young adults who are finding it increasingly difficult to break into good jobs.

Unfortunately, this is increasingly true for mid-lifers too!  Midlife is a normal developmental life stage that occurs usually between 35-55 years of age.  I’m seeing a growing number of layoffs in this age group.  Take the newspaper industry as one example.  The chances of finding a similar job in the same sector for a senior journalist, editor, manager is very difficult–almost impossible– as online news sources replace the traditional business model of print ads supporting news.  The same goes for many other sectors of the economy that are facing significant changes due to de-industrialization, organizational mergers, downsizing, economic restructuring, and other factors.

While the wider world of work is changing as we speak, what has not changed is the importance of work in the lives of individuals, as a means for survival, power, self-worth, social connection, or self-determination.  The meaning and purpose of work for many of us as will be severely challenged in the next decade. 

Since we can’t count on that simple formula or grand narrative anymore for guiding our career decisions, we need to focus on our individual narratives or stories to help us navigate through this grave new world of work.  For the past 20 years, I have helped young adults find a career job and helped mid-lifers make effective career changes. I do it by constructing a new story for my clients, one that empowers them to see the road ahead and make decisions that put them in charge of their career.  How I do so is explained in this short video and at this link.

Understanding who and what you are in terms of work—not a narrowly-defined job description but the kind of work you are suited for and needs doing in the world—is needed to survive and thrive in today ’s uncertain labor market. Current labor-market realities are changing.  For example, there is a big shift in North America from a manufacturing to a service economy, whether we like it or not.  Having clarity about your career identity—who and what you are in terms of a work-based value proposition—gives you more ability and flexibility to adapt to the changing labor market.  Your story holds the key to your adaptability, your prospects of making a successful change when the time comes…and it will come!

Career transitions are now and will continue to be more frequent and, perhaps, more difficult here in North America.   Are you ready?

From Doormat to Driver's Seat

Hope Springs Eternal for Career Change

Hope Springs Eternal for Career Change

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

What do you hope for in 2014?

Empirical studies indicate that most episodes of hope involve achievement-related goals, e.g. success in some academic, artistic, athletic, career, relationship, and so on. “Hope is the passion for the possible.”

When it is allied with our highest aspirations and deepest values, it can give us a general orientation to life that motivates us to take actions…and propel us towards our desires.

Hope is grounded in desire

In the quote above, Pope refers to the desire to be blessed. Do you know someone with the first name, Hope? Ask them why their parents gave them that name.

One friend told me she was born prematurely at 1.5 lbs in a place and time where there were no medical facilities to treat her. Her mother and father put her in an incubator—where she stayed for 4 months—and prayed, then hoped for the best. They were elderly parents and Hope turned out to be their only child—a true blessing in their lives! She felt truly loved by her parents, deeply cared for, and relishes the time she had with them. She feels blessed as their child.

Caring about our future

Hope belongs to a constellation of feelings and attitudes related to caring about our future. On the positive side it is related to optimism, confidence, courage, faith, gratitude, and contrasts with fear, pessimism, resignation, despair. Usually, it is felt less intensely than fear, more like a sentiment that has a positive moral value.

One function of hope is to give goals far away from us their due importance. For example, making a career change usually takes time. Hope rouses feelings necessary to influence our conduct, to motivate us to take actions towards future goals. It helps us to overcome everyday difficulties by looking beyond them to a better future.

Hope motivates us to plan

Having made several career transitions myself, and helped hundreds of individuals make significant career changes during the past 20 years, I have learned that hope—as a general orientation towards achieving future goals—increases the effectiveness of career change tools and techniques, such as visioning, goal setting, planning, implementing, adapting actions, prospecting opportunities.

In the quote above, Pope uses the word expatiates, which means to speak or write at length or in detail. I guide my clients through a process of speaking and writing to uncover their hopes and desires.

I strive to help my clients develop clarity about their strengths, particularly their talents and motivations, in order to foster realistic hope. Clarity feeds confidence and increases self-understanding, both necessary for taking effective actions to realize goals. But hope provides the framework for action.

Hope is the well spring of desire and we deserve to be in a state of desire!

After all, if we have no hope for a better future, why take any actions?

I will leave you with some words of hope from the wise…may they nurture and sustain and help you persevere through the difficult times of the year ahead.

Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all. (Dale Carnegie)

Hope is the companion of power, and mother of success; for who so hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles. (Samuel Smiles)

Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” (Pope John XXIII)

Job Change and the Hourglass of Eternal Recurrence

Hourglass of Eternal Recurrence

This is the time of year when we are regaled with year end reviews—news, movies, musical hits, championships, scandals, and so on. Let’s step away from the usual sort of reviews for a thought experiment.

Imagine some demon sitting on your shoulder and whispering in your ear: “This life—as you lived it this past year—you will have to live once more, and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and everything unutterably small or great in your life will return to you, all in the same succession and sequence.”

Is this past year, one that you would want repeated again, forever, like an eternal hourglass of existence turned upside down again and again and again? Imagine going through life with chronic stress from work, or dis-ease, anxiety, dissatisfaction, hopelessness, depression. Let’s face it, that’s what most of us put up with in order to make a living to get to a pension and out of this life with some level of comfort.

This idea is sometimes called Nietzsche’s wager, so named for Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19 C. philosopher, who first popularized it. Think of the psychological consequences of eternal recurrence: Each time you choose an action or avoid one, you are making a bet or wager on its consequence for eternity.

How can you not hate this thought experiment?

Imagine being stuck in a job you hate, or don’t like, or feel indifferent to…imagine having to perform the same job duties over and over again…forever…it almost takes your breath away. Imagine that all the choices you make to satisfy others for the sake of duty, obligation, responsibility, or social convention–is your eternal life!

But that was Nietzsche’s objective, to make you hate it. You always have a choice, he said, to live based on hating this idea of eternal recurrence (hoping his theory is wrong), or live in such a way that you love the idea of living forever with the consequences of your choices!

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies, and put her observations into a book. The number one regret as recorded by Ware was expressed as:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

How to find a better career? It’s never too late to start living the life you want to live, doing the work you want to do, creating the results you really want in life. As a job change expert, my job is to help you find that positive eternal groove. You can have a better jobfit, one that matches your natural strengths and motivations to work that will energize you, not drain you. You can have more joy in what you do day in and day out, everyday, always.

Best wishes for a Holiday season and New Year full of eternal recurrences that make your heart sing!

3 Tips For Overcoming Job Loss

Job_Loss_Toolkit

In recent weeks, I’ve spoken with several people who lost their jobs after 20+ years with the same employer. One person is angry and bitter and takes every opportunity to vent about the unfairness of it all; another turned to drinking through the day; another is fighting the desire to hunker down in their “cave” and nurse their wound.

Some of these coping mechanisms might even be necessary in the short term as temporary relief. After all, this kind of job loss is often experienced like the death of a loved one. It’s serious stuff. In a previous post, I gave some examples of job losses and what your thoughts might be about it.

But life moves on. Learning to adapt to changing circumstances in life is a necessary skill. Lots of advice has been written about how to cope with job loss, and how to move on. Based on my 20 years experience, here’s what I’ve learned that works for most people most of the time:

1. Take care of yourself. Grieve your loss. Too many people don’t take enough time to let go of this major experience in their life. Think of all the time and energy invested in a job for 20+ years. It takes much longer than most people realize…to dis-engage from their work.

You have every right to be upset, so accept your feelings—anger, hurt, rejection, panic, relief, whatever you feel, go easy on yourself. When you get up in the morning, take a pad of paper and write down everything you feel—for 10-20 minutes, all the things you wished you’d said (or hadn’t said) to your former manager. Do this for as many mornings as it takes to dump your feelings. This is especially cathartic if your termination was handled in an insensitive way.

Then, if possible, take a vacation, get out of town, put some distance between you and the experience. It’s easier to process the emotions, the memories, when sitting on a beach, or in some other safe haven. Eat well, make time for regular exercise, practice stress relief exercises, stay positive.

If basic habits, such as eating or sleeping, are disturbed by the job loss, get professional help from a doctor, a psychologist, a counselor. Ask for the support you need. Don’t try to shoulder the stress of job loss and unemployment alone. Your natural reaction may be to withdraw, to resist asking for help out of pride, shame or embarrassment. Don’t isolate yourself and brood. You will only feel worse. Whatever it takes to accept the situation, get there. The sooner you do, the sooner you can get on with the next phase in your life.

2. Reaching out to others. Over the years, you’ve built up a goodwill network of family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances in your personal and professional life—now is the time to draw on that goodwill! Share what you’re going through with the people you trust, not necessarily the people closest to you, such as your immediate family, who also may be hurting from your termination.

Join a job club or form one with former colleagues who may have been laid off at the same time. Commiserating, talking through your feelings, focusing on shared issues can be energizing and motivating. Personal and professional support will help keep you on track during your job search.

Networking is not rocket science but it is a skill and, like any skill, it can be learned and applied in the real world. It is a simple fact that most job openings are not posted as job vacancies but exist as job opportunities off the radar screen, and filled by word of mouth. That’s why networking is the best way to find a job. Basically, networking isn’t about using other people or aggressively promoting yourself—it’s about building relationships, and getting yourself in the right place so that when opportunities arise…you are in the pipeline ready, willing and able to take on a task! Learn to network—if you persist, it will pay off!

3. Rethink your career goals, or rediscover what truly makes you happy. Not everybody needs to create a job search plan, or keep a regular routine, or list their positives. We all have talents and motivations that will kick in…but now is the time to leverage your natural strengths into understanding how they correlate with specific jobs in specific work settings. This is the central message of JobJoy, so visit our site to find resources that can launch you into a new career or help you build on your existing one.

If you know anyone who has suffered a recent job loss, please pass this post along to them…and remind them that you have an encouraging work, a listening ear, a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on whenever they need it!

Six tips for slipping off the Golden Handcuffs without ruining your career

Golden Handcuffs

In the past two years, I have assisted many men & women in their 40s & 50s who got laid-off; some from a job they enjoyed; others who didn’t—but all of them had resisted making a career change until it was forced on them because of the Golden Handcuffs syndrome.

In effect, they felt compelled to stay with their employers because they had an income and lifestyle that offset any job stress or dissatisfaction.

Being let go, for any reason, is a blow to the confidence of anyone. But once they are laid off, almost 60% of them think they don’t need any help with their job search and can figure it out for themselves.

In almost all cases, they are surprised, even shocked, to discover how difficult it is to get another job with a similar compensation package…or find an opportunity that stimulates them.

Before they know it, they are out of work for more than a year, their savings are vanishing, and they soon realize that they need a job ASAP.

But because they had no clear plan or motivation for a job change or career move, the competition for interim jobs-to-get-by-and-pay-bills is not only intense but often goes to individuals with less education and experience because the risk that they will get something better in the short term and move onto another employer is much lower.

We all know people in this situation. When we have good jobs, we often feel powerless to change our situation, so we accept our Golden Handcuffs as necessary…until we too get a pink slip. What is to be done?

If you are in such a situation or know someone who is, here are a few tips to reduce your stress and increase your chances of making a positive change more quickly and easily:

1. Pay Attention. Review your employer’s situation, keep your ear to the ground for any information, even gossip, that might reveal any threat to your job security, e.g. rumors to convert permanent jobs into independent contractors, temps, consultants, or freelancers. If you see any writing on the wall, ready yourself for job change, career change, self-employment, or early retirement

2. Prevent Career Obsolescence. Do whatever you can to keep your skills marketable and your qualifications in mint condition. Whenever possible, invest in transportable skills that you can carry across economic sectors or job situations.

3. Take a Long View. Get a proper career assessment done. Be sure you know the several dozen jobs that you are suited for, based not only on your education & experience (which may have landed you into a Golden Handcuffs role that cannot be replicated elsewhere), but of your talents & motivations, your real value proposition!

4. Reflect on Unsavory Options. Although self-employment is not for everyone, especially for individuals who do not manage financial uncertainty well, thinking about how you could start a business on your own or with partner(s)…it may prove more secure and rewarding than being at someone else’s beck and call.

5. Network Forever. Any business is about relationships. Join professional organizations, community groups, or just lunch more frequently with friends to discuss the changing dynamics of our economy and workplaces. Pay it forward, help out when you can because the contacts that you nurture now can open doors when you unexpectedly need them.

6. Get Professional Help. The digital era is ushering in new job search tools and techniques, and having an effect on how to interview, negotiate, and strategize for better job opportunities. Engage a career professional to update and upgrade your toolbox to optimize your chances of making a successful move if or when the time comes.

Finally, don’t get complacent. Do a few things now to avoid finding out the hard way how Golden Handcuffs can add stress and pain to your life!

Is it money or meaningful work?

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Work-life balance is one of those buzz words that characterizes the zeitgeist of our times. We live busy, hectic lives and, in order to control all this activity, we often separate our different spheres of activity into compartments of work, family, socializing, romancing, education, politics, religion, and so on.

This compartmentalizing also extends to our mental and emotional lives, to what we do and believe, to what we value. Work-life balance is about aligning our being with our doing.

Easier said than done, right? In fact, there is strong evidence to support the conclusion that there is very little work-life balance in our lives. We might want it…but we can’t get it!

Highest levels of job stress

One major study commissioned by Health Canada[1] found that the highest levels of job stress and depression in Canadian public servants were found in Ontario public employees at municipal, provincial and federal levels:

“While they may earn the nation’s highest average salaries, Ontario workers reported the lowest levels of job satisfaction and the highest intention to leave.”

Reducing work-life conflicts is not a high priority for most employers even though doing so is proven to be a major factor in better job performance, according to Paul Fairlie[2], a researcher that I spoke with recently. He designs and conducts surveys related to meaningful work. He says that the same 9-10 dimensions keep coming up in research.

Is it money or is it meaningful work?

It’s both. It’s a two-stage motivational process. People need a certain amount of money to be comfortable and to feel appreciated at a level similar to others doing the same job. Beyond these few extrinsic drivers, the vast majority of people pursue intrinsic rewards, e.g. meaning-based goals and values.

Some people can be cynical about these kinds of results, and prefer to pursue extrinsic goals, such as money, prestige, status, power; rather than intrinsic goals, such as meaning or socially useful work. But the research clearly shows that money rarely shows up as a major influence on motivation and behaviour once basic needs are met.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic Rewards

Instead, studies are consistent in showing that most people are, in fact, more intrinsically-motivated. If they become more extrinsically-motivated, it’s because of negative work experiences. Let’s face it, work can be a pretty harsh environment, involving layoffs, unfair dismissals, nepotism, corruption, and so on. It’s no wonder that many individuals acquire a cynical attitude: “Fool me once, shame on me…try to fool me twice, forget it, just pay me!”

As Paul learned from surveys, it is understandable that many people are more likely to choose a raise over more meaningful work, but that doesn’t stop them from wanting more interesting work. His research demonstrates that most employees still want self-actualizing work; they want to make a social impact; they want personal goals/values alignment with jobs/work/employers; they truly want a sense of personal accomplishment.

When they get it, they are more likely to stay with their employer and report higher levels of satisfaction, commitment, engagement, and discretionary effort.

Meaningful Work Index

Furthermore, the higher they score on his Meaningful Work Index (MWI), the more likely they are to experience fewer physical and mental health symptoms. He reviewed 2 national studies in 50 states and found that employees with a high MWI score measured low burnout, low depression, low stress, and low anxiety.

However, when employees don’t find meaningful work with their employers, they disengage–the rate of days lost to sickness and loss of productivity rises dramatically. Indeed, the stats suggest that a growing fringe of Americans and Europeans are withdrawing from work as a meaningful life pursuit.

Work-life balance enables individuals to become self-reliant, make informed choices and find satisfying and fulfilling work and lifestyles in today’s rapidly changing labor markets.

Leaving large orgs for lifestyles business

Many of them are leaving the world of institutionalized work and creating a lifestyles business, which is a small enterprise that shares the following characteristics:

- Set up and run by its founders
- Aim of sustaining a particular income level from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle
- Does not require extensive capital to launch or sustain (limited scalability or potential for growth)
- Suitable for sole practitioners, husband-and-wife-teams, or small groups in “creative industries”
- Dependent on founder skills, personality, energy, and contacts
- Founders create them to exercise personal talent or skills, achieve a flexible schedule, work with other family members, remain in a desired geographic area, or simply to express themselves

Creating such a business isn’t for everybody but more people than ever are leaving their corporate jobs to try it for themselves.
———————
[1] “Where to Work in Canada: An examination of regional differences in Work-Life Practices,” Health Canada survey, Linda Duxbury & Chris Higgins, Ottawa’s Sprott School of Business, 2001
[2] Paul Fairlie, Ph.D., President & CEO, Paul Fairlie Consulting, Advancing the Science & Meaning of Work

Imagine working for a great boss every time!

national-boss-day

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.

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

Women-w-white-mask-half-face

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!

Dry Your Eyes

LongFace_opt

A client walked into my office recently saying that she needed a new career because her current one was making her sick; so sick, in fact, that she could not hold back the tears.

In this case, as in so many others, she got stuck in a toxic work environment with an abusive boss and/or co-workers.

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 competitive due to lack of educational credentials; or the unspoken pressure from family to maintain a high income at any price.

Whatever the circumstances, my client feels an overwhelming need to get out of her current job. Her short term goal is to avoid the pain. The long term goal is to find a better jobfit…if she only knew what it was! In the meantime, her priority is to maintain or improve her compensation package.

So, in fact, there are two contradictory goals at work here: my client wants a new job that will giver her more vitality and joy, but she also wants to avoid financial insecurity.

In order to avoid a future that might be financially insecure, she can’t take action to move out of her current job field because she doesn’t know what else to do; therefore, to move now means she might end up financially insecure. Damned if she does take action, damned if she doesn’t–this is the essence of being stuck.

She is likely to remain stuck for as long as she seeks a long term solution to a short term problem. What do I mean by that?

A career transition is not the solution to a short term problem. A transition takes time. It is best undertook 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.

In order to solve her current problem, my client is learning to separate her contradictory goals. Her toxic work environment is a short term problem requiring a short term solution.

As distasteful as it is for her, she realizes that her best chance of getting out of her toxic environment, while maintaining her current pay check, is to do the same thing for another org; or, cross the street, and purchase the services (that she is now selling) for large orgs. Or, she can repackage her skills and market them for a related but different job target.

Sure, her current job is something she no longer wants to do. But she is not stuck there forever (it just feels like that right now). Feelings come and go: sometimes we are in love, sometimes not.

Most of us get angry, fearful, joyful, anxious, happy, sad, and so on, at different times in different circumstances. Why should feelings govern our commitment to taking actions to achieve our goals?

Some days I don’t feel like writing, or seeing my clients, or cooking dinner but I do them anyways, not because I have to but because these actions help me create what really matters to me. Feelings are temporary.

My client has dried her tears and realizes that the first thing she needs to do is take care of herself by getting out of her toxic environment. She needs to get into another job for the SHORT term in order to build up the capacity to make a transition over the LONG term.

Making progress towards a long term goal is about building the life you want. My client now understands that her long term goal to have a career that fits her deepest values and top priorities is possible but takes time and energy, two things that are in short supply when she is in crisis.

First, get out of the crisis, then take the time to transition.

Like the song says, ‘Dry your eyes and take your song out, it’s a newborn afternoon.’

Dry Your Eyes, Neil Diamond & The Band
(From my all time favorite concert movie The Last Waltz)