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.

Fear is a paper tiger

paper-tiger

Most of the people I work with already have a job but they want to change careers. They often say to me, “I’d like to have job joy, but I have these fears.” What are they afraid of, exactly?

Usually, it’s the fear of negative consequences, i.e. if I quit my current job, even though I hate it, I will lose my regular paycheck, my comfortable lifestyle, and end up on the streets homeless and impoverished.

No one should quit a job until they have an accurate or reliable picture of specific jobs in specific work settings that suits them. That’s the first step in any career transition.

So, what exactly is there to be afraid of in putting together that picture?
You still have your job, so you’re not facing immanent poverty. You probably
aren’t afraid of succeeding, (although, the rare person might have some of
that). So, it must be that you are afraid of not succeeding.

Barry’s example

Let me illustrate with a hypothetical but typical example. Barry is a public
servant with a comfortable job, but keen to get out of this job and into
something more stimulating because “it’s way too bureaucratic, too boring, too
slow. One guy described it as a 30-year sentence. When I look at the big
picture, I don’t doubt him.”

Barry loves public speaking, and is a natural showman, using his physical
skills to impress people, e.g. he can hip-hop dance with backflips and other
gymnastic moves, and this from a 40-year-old man!

We craft a vision to get him started in public speaking, but he can’t take the
actions necessary to move forward with his plan. “When I think about the
speaking industry, I’m having trouble believing there’s an industry for it. ”
Clearly, there is a public speaking industry with professionals who make a
full-time living at it. That’s the reality, so it must be that Barry doesn’t
believe that he can make a living at it.

In order to overcome his fear of failure, Barry talks about how he wants to get
on the public speaking circuit, to do this or that with his life. And then he
says,

“But I am afraid of taking risks.”

“What’s the risk?” I ask.

“Losing my financial security.”

Fear and Ego

For folks who like talking about fear and risks, it’s hardly ever life and
death. They are not astronauts or surgeons or bounty hunters or demolition
experts where the word risk means something. They just don’t want to look like
a fool to themselves and others. This is called ego. They are making it about
themselves, not the creation they want to make.

Fear-based concepts are always tied up in ego, which is where we hold all kinds
of concepts about reality, most of which are not true, but are necessary to
maintaining our particular identity.

You can believe all kinds of things, but if they rob you of the motivation
necessary to take action that moves you towards what really matters to you,
then those beliefs are limitations to getting what you want out of life. In
reality, those limitations are usually paper tigers – things that seem as
threatening as a tiger, but are really harmless. As I already pointed out, when
you already have a job, there is no real risk in exploring other options.

If you act as if changing careers is a life or death issue, then you are not in
touch with reality. This is what happened to Barry: by assuming that public
speaking is so “risky” that he must guard against involvement, he limits his
choices, and cuts off his chances of realizing a new, exciting, and lucrative
career. By making it about his beliefs rather than what he wants to create, he
stops himself before he gets started. His future becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy of failure.

What are the possibilities if you pursue what you want? There are two: you
accomplish the result you want; you don’t accomplish the result you want. Hard
to see what there is to be afraid of so far. The worst that can happen is that
you don’t make it.

Blowing over tigers

Everybody fails at something in life, that’s normal. In fact, psychologists
tell us that we fail more often than succeed. Our egos can take a hit and
survive. Conversely, we have all succeeded at things too. We can learn to
replicate success, to take effective actions to create a new career.

Fear is just another feeling, and a natural one that accompanies change of any
kind. So, if you are thinking about changing careers, then you will feel some
fear but your feelings, good, bad, or indifferent, are not the measurement of
how well you are doing at creating what matters to you.

Don’t focus on your feelings or beliefs, they might paralyze you. Recognize
the paper tiger that blocks your way forward. Just blow on it…and it topples.
Then you are free to move on and make choices.

What matters is not your beliefs or your feelings, but only whether or not your
next action moves you closer to your goal. If it does, you’re ready to take
another action; if it doesn’t then think about what you learned from it,
determine what might be a more effective action, then take it. This is how to
change careers successfully. This is how Barry, or anybody else, can move
towards what matters to them.

The LinkedIn Advantage for Job Change

SixDegrees_opt

Some job experts say that more jobs are now filled online through LinkedIn (LI) than all the job boards combined.

LI is, without a doubt, a major player in online job search; it is here to stay; and it’s influence continues to grow. If LI were a country, it would be the 12the most populous country in the world! I recommend that most job searchers learn to use it. Why?

Hiring practices have changed a lot in the past 10 years because we have moved from an expansionary to a recessionary economy; instead of growing rapidly, the
economy is shrinking slowly.

In an expansionary economy, employers have to hire a lot of people quickly in
order to compete and prosper from selling their products and services. This
creates a “sellers market” with an advantage for job searchers because the
demand for skilled labor outstrips supply.

For example, during the hi-tech boom, employers were looking for skilled labor
in order to push their products out the door. Job searchers could throw their
resumes online using job boards, or post directly onto company websites, and
if they had skills, experience or training that matched employer needs, they
would get calls from recruiters or employers in a timely manner.

We are in a very different economy now. Organizations are not expanding, they
are cutting back, and no longer have the same need to hire lots of new
employees. Supply now exceeds demand. To throw your resume online and expect
the same response that you may have enjoyed during the hi-tech bubble is an
unrealistic expectation.

And yet, that is exactly what I am hearing these days from so many clients.
Their last job search experience occurred during the hi-tech bubble when it was
relatively easy to get a job through an online job search.

But now, we live with a recessionary economy, a “buyers market” for employers,
who no longer have an urgent need to go online to find employees. Instead,
they can afford to wait for candidates to come to them…by loading a resume
onto the company website, or through referrals, or through networking.
Employers can take the time to be picky and choosy. They no longer need job
boards or recruiters to the same extent in order to fill the gap between demand
and supply.

This is the reason, at least in part, for the success of LI. Many managers
themselves are going online to recruit candidates. They are bypassing
recruiters, even their own HR departments (which have been seriously downsized
as companies cutback overhead), and using the features of LI to troll for
candidates.

Therefore, it makes sense for job searchers to leverage themselves into the
hiring process through LI, which is designed to help managers find you and vice
versa. How?

Think strategically

You have to join LI in order to use it, but it’s free. Scroll to the bottom of
their page and select their Learning Center link, which will help you Get
Started and learn how to use LI efficiently and effectively.
You can also use a search engine and type in the Q: How to use LinkedIn for job
search? And get lots of free advice from videos, webinars, articles, books, and
more.

As the picture with this article shows, you have hundreds, thousands, of people
in your goodwill network who want to help. Your job is to make it easy for
them to do so. LI can help.

I specialize in helping clients with job change, with transitions from one
career space to another. So, before getting active on LI, I advise them to
think about how they want potential employers to view them.

Do not use LI like a job board. It’s not about posting your resume. It’s a
business networking tool and designed for that purpose.

“Should I quit my job?” is not the first Q to ask yourself when making a career
change. Instead, think strategically about what you want to do and where to do
it. Where and what are the two Qs that I help my clients answer in very
specific terms.

LI then can help translate those answers into real job opportunities in real
work settings by identifying communities of interest. LI will facilitate
connections in that career space. LI is about managing relationships in a way
that facilitates your professional goals to break into that space.

Have a clear picture of your next career space and how you fit into it. Know
your value proposition and stay on message or, in the parlance of social media,
stay on brand. Consistency is the key! It’s about packaging and positioning
yourself online according to your right work, to the kind of work you most want
to do, and that best suits you.

There is no need to rush into a public profile. Before you build it, plan it!
Think strategically.

Find my Dream Job? I don’t even know what it looks like!

blindspot

When it comes to career change, we often focus on the blind spots.

This is especially true if we have been recognized and rewarded for a particular skill, even though the skill might leave us cold
or indifferent when using it to earn our living.

In other words, we confuse the means with the ends, or in JobJoy terms, we confuse a ‘can do’ skill with a motivation. Let me
explain by illustrating a specific case.

Writing is a skill that is highly valued in our education system. In school, we all learn how to present ideas, information, narrative or descriptive images using the written word. Some learn better than others.

These good learners develop strong ‘can do’ skills as a writer and go on to
careers in education (e.g. professor) or the public service (e.g. policy
advisor) or the private sector (e.g. resume writer) that involve a lot of
writing as a core job duty.

Year after year they write reports, papers, letters, and other products. They
start to think of themselves as a writer because others relate to them that
way, and pay them to write in a job.

Sometimes, this identity that we create for ourselves as a writer actually
makes sense. For example, I have had many clients who write business or
academic papers very well. But what really turns them on is creative writing,
involving poetry, plays, or short stories.

Here’s how one client described the benefits of writing a play: “I fully
escaped into my writing. Writing made me feel emotions more vividly and
discover feelings long dormant. With play writing, I came alive. I felt like I
was some kind of vehicle through which material completely outside my awareness
traveled onto the page. I discovered that the more I let the characters loose
on the page, the more they led my writing. This kind of writing was a full-body
experience. I loved feeling so alive and physically sparked. I loved the energy
I got from the activity.”

However, after a cathartic release of emotion, she never went on to write more
plays, or other creative writing. It wasn’t the craft of writing—the innate
desire to effectively impress what you have to say onto the minds of
readers—that motivated her; instead, it was breaking through emotional
barriers, breaking through the existing limits of experience at that point in
her life.

Writing was the vehicle not the destination. She went on to an academic career
and had to confront the reality of publish or perish. She was not motivated to
write academic papers for a living, even though she had been doing it for years
in order to obtain a Master’s and PhD.

As she got older, doing what didn’t come naturally or easily became more
difficult. She needed to find a different career path. But how could she find
her dream job, when the only option she could think of involved writing?

Doing so meant she had to stop thinking of herself as a writer. She needed to
create a new identity for herself, one that harmonized with her natural talents
and motivations.

Getting clarity about what we do naturally and effortlessly is the first step
to a successful career change. Then it becomes possible to create a different
picture of yourself at work. Now you can see possibilities that are stimulating and financially viable!

A career assessment should give you an accurate and reliable picture of what that dream job looks like.

The next step is to find people in that new picture of work, and communicate to them with confidence your value proposition.

The key is to have others pay you for what comes naturally and effortlessly. That is job joy!

Job Search: “It’s Not About Me!”

always-hiring_opt

The fall hiring season is upon us, and I’m spending a good deal of time each day coaching clients on a few basic principles to increase their chances of getting hired sooner rather than later.

As a job searcher, it is essential to understand the nature of your relationship with a hiring manager, whether you are meeting him or her in a formal job interview or speaking to them informally in their office, at a conference, at a networking event, or any other venue.

1. The most important person in the hiring process

Unless you start your own business and hire yourself, you will always be dependent on someone else to hire you. That person is the most important person in the hiring process. We call that person a “hiring manager,” not because they spend all their time hiring—far from it!—but because they have the power to hire you. The person you report to in any organization is your hiring manager.

2. Hiring managers are human beings too

When you go looking for a job, you are preoccupied, naturally and rightfully, with your own needs and priorities– you want a solid ROI on all that education and experience you’ve already invested in your career. You want a job that is fun, or lucrative, or easy, or challenging, or close to home, or any combination thereof.

In the same way, a hiring manager is interested, first and foremost, in protecting and promoting their own career. And, s/he is not going to make a decision or take an action that might jeopardize their career. Remember, too, that in many cases, managers are not trained to hire (they are trained to manage plans, priorities, programs, projects, budgets, schedules, and so on), or they don’t enjoy hiring, or they are not very good at it. As human beings, they are looking for an easier way to do things, including hiring.

3. Hiring is a risk assessment exercise

Put yourself in their shoes: they don’t know you. It is human nature to fear what we don’t know. To increase your chances of getting hired, it is important to understand the hiring process from their pov. And, from their pov, the hiring process is a risk assessment exercise.

There is a lot of truth to the old cliche that ‘people hire who they know.’ Managers know that nobody is perfect; everyone has shortcomings, weaknesses, faults, biases, and prejudices–-things that pose a potential threat to the safety of his or her career. Everyone has a downside. It is easier to hire somebody you know because it is easier to assess their downside : “I know Bob, Janet and Ricardo, each has strengths and weaknesses, but when I look at their shortcomings, can I still manage them? Are they a threat to my career?”

Think about formal interviews, and how many questions are designed to uncover weaknesses and shortcomings: What is your greatest weakness? Describe a situation in which you were unsuccessful achieving a goal, and how did you respond? How would you rate your ability to resolve conflict on a scale of 1 to 10, from low to high, then give me an example?

Sure, managers want employees who are competent in terms of knowledge and skills but those employees aren’t much good to them unless they can manage them easily. Above all, a hiring decision for a manager is about feeling “safe” with them, safe in terms of protecting and promoting their own career as a manager.

4. “Why should I hire you?”

Every job search campaign is a response to this simple question. It’s one that may be simple to ask, but it’s difficult to answer, especially when you focus your answer on the “you” part of the question. Your first inclination is to start your sales pitch, to convince a manager that you are a good choice. You want to highlight your features and benefits, such as “I’m reliable, dependable and hard-working.”

But, the truth is, you will do better in any interview when your focus on this question is on the “why” not the “you.”

5. Tapping into pain points

I realize that this approach is counter-intuitive. In fact, I ask my clients to write down the phrase, “It’s not about me!”…to remind them of this fundamental principle, since our inclination is almost always to focus on our needs and priorities first; or, our lack of experience, education, or credentials; or, our accomplishments. These things may be relevant to a successful job search but they should not the primary element of your job search strategy.

Let’s step back for a moment and consider the priorities of a hiring manager again. Managers are not focused on you when they are thinking of hiring. They are thinking about their needs and priorities. Managers are responsible for achieving the goals and objectives of their organizations…that’s why they get paid big bucks, have fancy job titles, and get perks. However, it is not easy to attain those goals. If it was easy, they could do all the work themselves and wouldn’t need employees!

But the nature of reality is adversity : things get in the way of corporate goals and objectives, such as problems, challenges, issues and pressures. To a sales professional, these “things” are known as “pain points.”

In sales, it is important to understand the goals of your prospects and their pain points in order to determine how your product or service can make their pain go away and reach their goals. The only difference between sales and job search is that you are the product or service for pain relief!

This is the agenda behind every hiring decision, i.e. the manager is looking for help around specific pain points. Your job in a formal or informal interview is to uncover that agenda. Once you are in the door, it is important to get a hiring manager talking. Listen for clues to their pain points. Respond not with the features of your value proposition (i.e. your education, experience, personal traits) but with benefits (i.e. how you can help them with their pain points).

Obviously, we cannot cover here every possible scenario. I am outlining a strategic approach. The implementation of this strategy is up to you. That is why I strongly suggest that job searchers get professional help. There is a lot at stake in terms of your career. You want to optimize your time and energy.

Summary

Establish rapport with a manager by focusing on their needs and priorities. What is their agenda? What challenges, issues, problems, pressure points are driving this hiring decision? Flush out concerns. Find out what red flags the employer may have about hiring somebody they don’t know. Listen carefully for “sensitive” questions.

Many times informal interactions with a hiring manager can turn into formal interviews because a manager has a genuine need to hire. They warm up to you as the person asking the questions, and they want to make the most out of their time with you.

The truth is this : there are always jobs and managers are always hiring. Be prepared!

“Get Your Spiritual House in Order!”

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I heard this fervent command not from the lips of a Sunday morning television evangelist but in a commercial on a prime-time radio show.

The ad features the CEO of a training company who uses short radio spots to promote to business owners his sales training programs on how to motivate and manage a sales force.

What does spirituality have to do with selling products and services in the marketplace? A lot, according to this sales trainer.

He suggests that sales people need to clean up on the inside in order to present a positive attitude on the outside. If they are holding onto any anger or resentment, then it is only a matter of time before they dump that negativity onto prospects and clients, thereby hurting the bottom line of the business owner.

We’ve all been knocked down in life because failure and defeat are part of life. Failure is inevitable. That’s why so many parents are keen to have their children participate in competitive activities, such as sports, chess, spelling bees – anything that can provide an experience of victory and defeat. The sooner they ride the roller-coaster of life’s ups and downs, the sooner they have a chance to adjust to reality.

As young children, we need our basic requirements handed to us because we cannot fend for ourselves. As we age, we are supposed to learn skills to help us do so. If we don’t learn those skills, or if we don’t apply what we learn, the world will often teach us in the manner of a harsh taskmaster. You can’t cheat life.

One of the most difficult transitions we make from childhood to life as teens and then as adults is to discover that our selfish needs are not the center of the universe. At some level, we need to learn compassion for and service to others.

The sales trainer mentioned above knows that even the best sales performers will face rejection more often than they will get a sale. One of the key factors of success for any salesperson is to persist in the face of rejection, to know that each ‘No’ brings them closer to a ‘Yes.”

Anybody can make a sale, given a proven product and a proven method for selling that product. What gets in the way of a sale is very often a person’s attitude towards failure and their ability to get up after being knocked down by rejection.

A rejection is often felt personally and can foster feelings of anger or resentment or fear. When that happens, it can show up in your attitude towards others. As the sales trainer knows, a negative attitude produces negative results.

Rejection is just a part of life. Successful people know how to process the negative experiences of life. I think it is important to recognize that most successful people have a spiritual dimension to their lives to help them process those experiences. They connect to it; they realize that their work is part of something bigger than them and their needs.

Too often we focus only on the financial aspects of work. When we do so, we let work undermine our hunger for spirituality. The world of work tends to make us dry and weak spiritually. By contrast, successful people often exhibit an air of enthusiasm about their work. They are their own best spokespersons for what they do. They inspire confidence in themselves and their work.

The roots of both words, enthusiasm and inspiration, are related to spirituality. The source of the word ‘enthusiasm’ is Greek , for “having the god within.” The word “inspiration” comes from Latin, which meant originally “to blow into”, to describe God giving Adam the breath of life.

Successful people have learned that their achievements are predicated to some extent on the good energy they bring into the world. They have poured their energy, love, talent, and creativityinto others through business, public service, teaching, coaching, volunteering, art, or some kind of investment in others.

And, by doing so, they have achieved success in the more important dimensions of life, such as their health, self-respect, happiness, courage, self-worth and relationships.

When your spiritual house is in order, it shows up in your work. It’s part of living a better story for your life.

George Dutch
www.jobjoy.com

How high do you bounce?

bruins-adversity

Everybody gets knocked down in life, everybody. When you have a goal or objective in life, does the universe allow you to achieve it quickly or easily? Not likely. We live in a universe of adversity.

Our best laid plans, our deepest desires, our clearest objectives will run into opposition. Whatever path we are on, we will run into roadblocks and obstacles. The nature of reality is adversity.

This is a new year. And you can expect to get knocked down this year at some point. For example, I just got off the phone with a client who recently made a career change, one that has changed her life dramatically. “I feel like I can breathe again,” she says. “I’ve got my life back.” She loves her new job and is very happy she switched careers.

However, there is adversity in her situation. She has been parachuted into a key position with this company, and she is facing resentment from co-workers who undermine her enthusiasm with gossip and petty actions. The director of her division regularly criticizes her performance, sometimes with verbal abuse. On the worst days, she wants to quit.

Eric Hoffer, an American philosopher, wrote: “Our achievements speak for themselves. What we have to keep track of are our failures, discouragements, and doubts. We tend to forget the past difficulties, the many false starts, and the painful groping. We see our past achievements as the end result of a clean forward thrust, and our present difficulties as signs of failure and decay.”

Everybody fails, everybody. It is normal. You can expect to fail this year at some point. You will have a strong desire to do or get something and you will not attain it. You will set a goal and not achieve it. In fact, the year starts with resolutions, most of which are never fulfilled. But the odd setback here and there does not a year make.

Life goes on. The setback does not last. Don’t confuse failure with defeat. I love that quote from General George Patton, the WWII hero: “I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.” Failure is a temporary condition; defeat is an attitude.

Most of us play or watch sports because sports reflect the nature of reality—adversity. In each game or contest, every player is trying to score or win. In order to do so, the players and teams must overcome their adversaries. Every player gets knocked down. The key is to get up and focus on what really matters to you.

Life is not a game but it is a structured event, full of circumstances around which we have no control as individuals. Adversity is woven into the very fabric of life. Life owes us nothing. We are entitled to nothing. We are simply given the opportunity to face adversity head on.

We consciously or unconsciously do the things that make us successful or unsuccessful. For example, we are in control of our attitude, of how we respond to circumstances. You will encounter both good and bad circumstances throughout your life; how you respond to them is your choice.

You can choose to be passive, and simply accept whatever life sends your way. Or, you can choose to take actions that will move you closer to what really matters to you. Yes, there will be roadblocks, obstacles, and adversaries that get in the way. By we can choose to meet them head on. That takes courage and strength of mind. To quote General Patton again: “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.”

Let me close by going back to my client who got a new job but inherited a bad boss and jealous co-workers. As bad as this might appear to be, it is nothing in comparison to the toxic work environment she left last year. I have seen this scenario hundreds of times over the past 20 years. A new year rolls around with a new set of challenges. We live in a universe of adversity; what does not break us makes us stronger.

She is learning to stand up for herself, setting boundaries, and focusing on priorities. Vitality is nurtured by overcoming adversity. We grow personally and professionally by confronting and overcoming challenges. May you bounce back all year long!
BounceBack

Put Horse before Cart

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In matters of career, I suggest we start by listening to our heart–an ancient discipline that has fallen into disuse due to the primary place of logic and reason in our culture. Of course, there is nothing wrong with using our heads, but it’s a little like trying to put the cart in front of the horse.

When explaining this principle to clients, I often draw a picture of a cart in front of a horse. It looks ridiculous, doesn’t it? This person is not going to get far. And yet, this is exactly where many of us end up in our careers when we learn early in life to adapt to the expectations of others.

Our social conditioning starts very early in life, as we learn to please significant others in our lives, such as parents, teachers, peers, coaches, and so on. There’s tremendous pressure on each of us to make career decisions based on certain social values and priorities—such as measuring our success according to the power, prestige and material wealth we accumulate.

Many individuals are channeled down a certain professional path using ‘can do’ skills long before they’ve had a chance to discover and nurture their natural talents and motivations.

So, many of us go to college because that is the expected thing to do. We select a major because we have to select something. In the process, we fill up our cart with what we told are the essential tools of success: education, qualifications, credentials, skills, knowledge, contacts, relevant experiences, awards, recognition, and so on. Then we look for and land a particular job for all sorts of reasons, most of them related to pre-conditioned notions of money, prestige, power and status.

What is true for college is true for trade school, the family business or the army. From grade school through high school and college and on into our careers, we strive to become somebody, some ideal. Inevitably, that somebody is different from who we are already. This is the result of developing only our social self at the expense of our authentic self.

I’ll never forget Ken, a second generation Canadian I met at university in Vancouver. He had just graduated with a BSc, and was enrolled in a Master’s program for Pestology. British Columbia is full of bugs threatening various kinds of natural resources, and Ken was going to specialize in destroying those bugs. However, he was first going to treat himself.

As a dutiful son of Asian parents, Ken was brought up to respect and obey his elders. Family honor is a primary value among Asian communities, so Ken had dutifully taken math and sciences through high school and university. But he harbored a secret passion for art. Growing up near Commercial Drive in Vancouver’s Chinatown, his home had been situated next to a sign shop where Ken spent many happy hours of his youth helping the proprietor draw and paint signs with vivid and wonderful colors. Although he found some opportunities to draw, this artistic side of Ken was neglected as he nurtured the social side of his self and worked hard to meet the expectations of his parents and community.

But, after entering grad school, Ken decided he was entitled to finally indulge his strong desire to learn more about art, and so he took an evening art class. That was it! He was hooked. He dropped his Pestology program, and focused on art. Finally, he was working with passion using his natural talents and motivations. He completed a BGS in Arts & Culture and went on to become an internationally-renowned artist, and teach art full-time at university.

His story is particularly poignant to me not only because I knew him way back when but because I’ll never forget the double-take I did when I saw four large billboard banners hanging on the outside wall of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography in 2002. His exhibition paired life-size studio portraits of individuals and families of various ethnic backgrounds with bold-coloured, corporate style logos of their names on enamel and Plexiglass. They appeared as huge signs!

And, the text with the photos raised questions of identity, gender, race and class. They took me right back to the long and heated discussions I often heard at university on those issues. A review in The Ottawa Citizen at the time slammed the exhibit for its “politically correct tone.”

But Ken succeeded in doing what artists are suppose to do—get the public talking and debating about what is often taken for granted in everyday discourse and behavior. Art is suppose to foster strong opinions on both sides of a question! I can just imagine how pleased and happy he would’ve been to see his ideas bandied about in a nationally recognized newspaper.

The point is that Ken had traded in his ‘can do’ skills for his passion. And he was making his mark. For me, to see his art hanging on huge signs on the outside walls of a national gallery was like a loud shout of joy declaring Ken’s love of life! It was a validation of his passion and purpose. What I saw was a triumph of natural talents and significance over the safety Ken could’ve had by sticking to a career as a pestologist using his ‘can do’ skills.

That is not to say he may not have destroyed bugs in B.C. that deserved it, and gone on to make a contribution of significant economic impact, using his ‘can do’ skills. But I can’t help but think that the world would now be a poorer place if Ken had not honored his authentic self and nurtured his talents and motivations through his passion for art.

I encourage individuals to discover and develop their passion into work that will sustain them for a lifetime of employment and enjoyment. The key to self-fulfillment is to enjoy what you do day-in and day-out. Why would you stop doing something you love?

She Left a Toxic Workplace with her Dignity Intact

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There is a turning point in every career transition, and that is the time when an individual stops identifying with their fears—both rational and irrational—and chooses to identify more with their hopes.

I love this story because it is real and true and typical in so many ways. For the past year, I assisted a professional woman through a career transition. Bright and talented with two university degrees, she was stuck in a toxic work environment, but couldn’t let go.

This client had already made one career change in life, moving from the health sector to the financial sector. She was a rising star, often winning performance awards, and was being groomed for senior management. But she hated going to work each day.
In our initial session, she outlined the overwhelming pace and stress of the job in general. In workplaces organized around targets and quotas, there is a lot of pressure to make sacrifices for the team and do whatever it takes to succeed.

She also complained about abusive behavior from bosses and co-workers. For example, if she asked for an explanation, she was publicly yelled at and told to just do it without any explanation. In team meetings, she was afraid to raise some issues for fear of being censored by the rest of the team. This from a woman who was not timid, nor did she lack confidence or communications skills.

In addition, my client alluded to pressure from her family—some of whom also worked in the financial sector–to continue earning the same high income and enjoying the status that came with being an up-and-comer. These were direct messages from people she loved and respected about what she needed to do to be smart in this situation.

On the one hand, she would tearfully admit that she had lost her self in this job, that she had sold her soul in order to meet the corporation’s goals. She felt empty inside, more dead than alive. On the other hand, walking away from this career, even one she knew deep inside was all wrong for her, meant risking the esteem of those who loved her most.

There were other practical considerations too, of course, such as meeting her financial obligations, and exploring a tough job market. She had the same fear we all have, the fear of negative consequences, i.e. if I change my life, it will get worse not better. Better to stick with this pain than risk even more!

We don’t like reality because it often includes unpleasant things. She described a toxic workplace but for months she questioned her perceptions, and wondered if the problem was her, not the abusive behavior.

Why, she asked, am I falling to pieces, while everyone else seems okay? Everyone pays a price for tolerating pain. What was yours, I asked? She outlined sleeplessness, anxiety, smoking, drinking, and other ‘coping’ behaviours. Common behaviors shared by most of her colleagues, I’m sure.

Insisting that things are not what they are doesn’t make them change. So, we either use drugs and other strategies to deal with pain, or we remove ourselves—-physically or mentally–from the circumstances causing the pain.

Then she reached a point where she was truly tired of coping—It’s killing me!–and was ready to re-claim her life. She did my JobJoy exercise and wrote out her life story, which helped her to see her natural talents and motivations, and the different points in her life where her choices honored those strengths, and points where she disregarded them in favor of pleasing others or reacting to fear.

More importantly, this accurate and reliable picture of her in action, gave her hope. We reframed her career experience, so that she could see that there were many good options for her to move forward as a professional.

She set out to explore other career options, even as she continued to struggle with her toxic job. She stopped smoking. She took small steps to let go of “some things” in her life to create enough space to explore something new. She applied to another graduate program but decided not to proceed after visiting the campus. She looked at buying an existing business, as well as a franchise, but after crunching the numbers of both opportunities, she decided against it. She investigated an offer to cross the street and provide as an indepedent the same service she did for her institutional employer.

In the meantime, the abusive behavior in her workplace continued. It takes time and discipline to learn to see reality as it is. It takes skill, because we have been trained to think accordng to concepts, theories, speculations, beliefs, ideas, and so on. Much of our thinking has been reinforced by past experiences that we presume to be the same as what is going on in the present. In order to really see reality, we have to unlearn then relearn.

As my client explored other career options and met with other professionals, she was looking and observing reality in a new way, one that was not influenced by her experiences in her toxic workplace. However, observing reality is not the same thing as changing our reality.

Taking action requires some tolerance of uncertainty. There are no guarantees in life. But our minds hate not knowing the future, not knowing outcomes…and so, when we don’t actually know something, instead of looking to find out, our minds wants to fill the space with answers that pretend to know what we don’t know!

This is where are preconceived notions of reality sweep in—notions based on previous or current life expericnes : it’s hopeless; it’s never work; I can’t do it; there are no jobs; you’re throwing your life away; and so on.

If you are serious about change, about moving out of your pain into a better jobfit, then you must appreciate NOT knowing something until you find out. In other words, you need to acquire a taste for reality, and prefer it to the pain you know so well.

When my client got to this point, two strange but predictable phenomena occured. I had even warned her that it would happen because I’ve seen it happen almost every time a client makes a transition from one kind of work to another.

One,following my advice, she approached a previous business contact—a CEO of a mid-sized company–to outline the kind of work that she was looking for, and this person offered her a job on the spot, a job in which she had no direct experience. But the CEO knew a good and talented person when he saw one, a person who could add a lot of value to his company.

Two, she handed in her notice with her toxic employer, who immediately offered her a promotion and a significant raise. She thought about it, and realized that the offer was really an acknowledgement of how much pain she was willing to put up with for her previous salary, and now they were offering her more money to put up with more pain!

She admits, it wasn’t easy, but she declined that offer. In doing so, she took back the power over her life. She felt free! She still harbored doubts about her new job—what if it didn’t work out? What if the people there turned on her? What if she can’t do the job? Reality being what it is, not perfect, crap does happen. And she can’t know everything before she starts.

But she did start her new job, and sent me a hopeful message : Wow, what a different experience I am having – amazing – just in terms of a whole new focus on learning and development versus how to cope with stress and negativity.

She is free to choose what she wants. She has the power to decide what is best for her. She is choosing hope over fear!

Using the flip side of life to find your right work

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Why does autobiographical writing help you discover and develop your right work? Writing stories from your life helps you understand your own life in terms of the forces that have defined and changed you over the years. The facts, people, and events of your life have formed a seamless web of meaning that help you answer the questions : Who am I? What am I trying to accomplish with my life?

I know it sounds strange but even negative life experiences help us uncover the truth of our right work. For example, I am particularly ashamed of a shoplifting episode during my teens. I got caught. However, I really enjoyed playing a different character in order to avoid incarceration.

I have a gift for story-telling. Sitting in a police station, I walked out without charges by weaving an elaborate lie a la Frank Abagnale Jr., played by Leonardo Dicaprio, in the movie Catch Me If You Can. Unlike him, the person I impersonated found me out and turned me in. I was charged and put on probation.

This was morally reprehensible, I agree, but when we are looking for clues to our right work, we should not neglect those negative experiences. Every event has a flip side. We need to strip away the moral fabric of these events because we often “sin out of our strengths.”

The examined life lets you see patterns of behavior. It lets you see lessons learned the hard way. You learn the value of failure, and the value of accomplishments. Your life is your stock in trade. Even if you think your life has been unimportant to the world, it’s important to you, and that’s what counts!

One of the Success Stories on my website features a natural promoter who has a knack for getting things started. As a college student, he jerry-rigged a payphone in his dorm to permit free long distance phone calls. It wasn’t legal, but it was enterprising.

He was always starting money-saving, or money-making ventures. But he lost interest once the crank was turning and required daily attention to details to keep things running smoothly. He was criticized his whole life for his very strength. The people around him who had a knack for managing had no talent for getting things started; but once a venture was started, they criticized him for not having their talent for managing. Those criticisms cut deeply into his self esteem until he understood the value of his talent.

The key here is to identify our natural skills and abilities. How we use those talents is another issue. We choose virtue or vice; we use our gifts in the service of good or bad. It is, of course, difficult to write about emotional events in our lives, especially painful ones. But when you are writing your autobiography, try to portray the events of your life with accurate and honest descriptions. Leave out the moral judgments.

Try it. Pick one negative event from your life, and write about it according to the following format :

1. A clear statement of the activity (in one sentence)

2. What caused you to get started in the activity?

3. Write a detailed story of what you did, how you did it, where, when, and with whom. Stick to the facts. Focus on the how not the why.

4. What parts gave you the most sense of satisfaction and fulfillment?

5. Was there some significant reason you stopped the activity?

In my book JobJoy : Finding Your Right Work through the Power of Your Personal Story, I provide a format for charting and writing your stories quickly and easily.

From your stories, I generate a JobJoy Report. This report gets to the essence of who and what you are in terms of work. Career decision-making becomes easy. It taps into the motivations of each individual.

I analyze your stories and prepare a comprehensive detailed report that will identify and define your Key Success Factors. This report answers the questions: What are the natural talents you use and consistently bring satisfaction to you when you are doing what you enjoy most and doing it well? What is the subject matter that you gravitate to without even trying? What circumstances or conditions have to exist in the job environment to bring out the best in you? How do you naturally build relationships with others?

From this analysis we can generate an Ideal Job Description and match it with specific opportunities in the real world of work.