Avoid Burnout & Advance Career – Get in the zone!

Advance Career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

How Click Moments lead to Successful Career Changes

Click moments for job change

New services and products are being created daily. They seem to come out of nowhere and rocket to almost instant popularity, like Pinterest. Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp met for a beer in 2009 and discovered they both loved collecting. Click.

Talking further they thought, “Why not develop a way to digitally display your collections?” Click. That interest grew into a shared passion to create a service that looked obvious — after it was created. Despite a lack of programming expertise, they managed to pull in others to create one of the web’s fastest growing social networks.

When you honour your passions and interests, things you really enjoy doing and do well, you are more likely to have click moments, enabling you to pivot more than once into new, more successful directions, no matter how unique or unusual your interest.

Looking back, haven’t there been unexpected time in your life where you met someone or heard an idea that positively changed the course of your life? Light bulb goes off…click! That is a click moment.

While we are so willing to accept randomness in falling in love, the unexpected way it happens, we resist believing that unexpected factors can help us define and develop a career. Planning has its place but many successful entrepreneurs have pointed out that the most important goal of a business plan is to show that a team is moving in some coordinated fashion toward a goal but the plan itself will be outdated within the month.

Same thing with careers. We plan but it is often serendipitous moments that send us down a particular path. On the one hand we want control over events that determine our careers, but on the other we are steered in certain directions when unexpected things happen.

In my JobJoy For Life home study program, I help my clients prepare and plan for such click moments. We create a Vision chart that structures creative tension between our current reality and what we really want for our careers and lives. Then we plan certain actions that will move us closer to our goal.

What is always amazing to me is how serendipity shows up between those planned actions. It’s almost like the universe has its own plans for each of us. It’s important is to recognize those click moments and nurture them into real opportunities. This makes life more of an adventure than a grind.

Consequently staying open to serendipitous events increases the chances you’ll meet the right people and learn the apt information, to stay relevant and, better yet, keep opening adventuresome chapters to the life you are truly meant to live with others. My JobJoy For Life program helps my clients turn click moments into successful career changes.

Like Silbermann and Sharp, who continued with their regular jobs, they took actions that moved them towards their vision for Pinterest, a vision now realized, a new career for each!

This is not magic. It is a process of creativity and available to anyone. We can all create what really matters to us and new opportunities to change jobs, earn more, and live a better story!

You May Not Be Crazy for Changing Jobs

Career success for women

When I first spoke to Maria Ford she was the marketing communications manager for a semi-conductor start-up company, and a confused and distressed woman.

She was working at “yet another high-tech start-up,” her third company in four years. “It’s turning out to be another bad experience,” Maria lamented. She’d just walked out of “a very stressful meeting,” returned to her desk, opened up the phone book and looked under career counselor listings. She found me.

Sitting in my office, Maria opined that she had no support system at work. Her job was “getting engineers to relate a good story,” the only person in the company with that responsibility. “It seems like the engineers and a communicator, like myself, are two disparate species,” she said. “I feel like I am the “crazy one” on a daily basis.”

Maria had been doing a comparable job for similar companies for five years and thought the problem must be her. No matter what company she joined, she always had the same experience. In Maria’s words, “It’s not unlike the movie Groundhog Day. I wake up every morning and it’s the same struggle, day after day.”

To make matters worse, many of her friends were envious of her success. For her, the rub lies in the fact that, “I am really good at my job. Everyone loves my work, I’m making great money, I have a nice house and I’m highly employable. I look successful,” she added.

“My friends think I’m the poster child for English majors. I’m being rewarded for the job I’m doing, so it must be the right work. However, if this is success, I’m going to die very young.”

My work with Maria was very simple. Sitting across from me was a very talented, creative young lady, an excellent writer with a Bachelors and Masters degree in English Literature, trapped in a job misfit.

I pointed Maria to her authentic self. She was not being true to herself, the writer. She was listening to her social self – parents, teachers, peers and society – authorities in general. Here was a woman working with engineers who could not recognize or reward her for her natural writing talent.

Engineers represent logic, left-brain thinking and rationality. They typically don’t appreciate creativity and right-brain thinking. A semi-conductor company is comprised of people who spend their days thinking about circuits, ones and zeros. Maria spends her spare time writing poetry.

If you talk to Maria now, she admits she had no vocabulary for what was wrong. “I now realize that they weren’t bad people. The job was merely a bad fit for me. I’m a creative person and a communicator and I was working for and with engineers who communicate with math.”

In order to be true to herself, she had to find a work setting where her talents were recognized, appreciated and valued. At the time, she didn’t have the self-awareness to understand that her creativity was unique, but once she was able to, she created a life that focused on it.

Within eight months of her first visit to my office, she started her own company in Ottawa called Kaszas Communications Inc.. She utilizes her special abilities to communicate the differences and values a business offers to its’ target audiences.

kaszas_sml

The ironic part of Maria’s story is that eighty percent of her client base is still high-tech start-ups. Now there’s a big difference. What allows her to enjoy working with those clients anew is that she is able to structure her business in such a way that her services focus on offering what she’s good at and what she loves. She is able to say “no” to elements of jobs that aren’t good for her.

Maria’s job situation wasn’t unique. It’s important to be true to yourself, even when you’re being rewarded for not being true to yourself. Otherwise, you will pay a price – an emotional price. Not being true to oneself is a slippery slope to self-destruction.

Choosing a values-rich career

Natalie Zend

When I first met her in 2005, Natalie Zend was on sick leave due to severe back pain and had some big decisions to make. She had a permanent position as a Senior Policy Analyst in the Children’s Rights and Protection Unit at a federal agency. She was weighing the pros and cons of a career change.

She was considering several options: promotion within the agency; or, a field posting; or an exchange with an NGO, university or international organization abroad; or, work as an independent consultant. In her early thirties, she wanted more work-life balance, a better integration between her personal and professional interests. And, she wanted more clarity about what would be the best choice over the long term.

She wrote detailed stories about times in her life when she was doing what she enjoyed most. Also, I provided her with a set of questions to help her reflect on her deepest values and highest aspirations. She was at a significant career crossroads. Ultimately, she would have to choose between being practical, realistic and staying the course of stability; or, determining what she valued most and seek a career that honoured those values.

As she wrestled with the implications of her JobJoy Report and the choices confronting her, she realized with increasing conviction that she wanted more direct contact with others and more meaningful open dialogue. She formulated a vision statement based on her deepest values. “My vision for my work in the world is to foster personal and social transformation for a life-sustaining society, by supporting social justice and environmental change agents in their work.”

Wrestling with transition fears

In the summer of 2006, Natalie took a one year unpaid leave from her job. She wanted to travel, as she had the agency, and to continue to help others through her work, but also have more time to pursue her goals in accordance with her values. “I wanted to centre myself and determine what I wanted with one-on-one support and guidance. I wanted to make my next move based on a sense of direction and priorities.”

Natalie said she “spent many months during her sabbatical looking at her fears of leaving her job: ending up on the streets, penniless, without respect or professional identity.” It takes courage to confront our fears and to take responsibility for what we really want. Natalie realized that returning to her job would have been “out of fear of doing something different.”

This is a fear of negative consequences. As individuals, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid the negative consequences of decisions. But, truthfully, we cannot read the future; we don’t know what will happen. Without that certainty of what will happen, many of us “choose the devil we know, rather than what we don’t know.”

Fear to change is natural and normal. To get out of a reactive mode of living, we need, I suggest, to move into a creative mode of thinking, by focusing on what it is we really want to create for our lives.

Based on her JobJoy Report, Natalie had a clear picture of who and what she is in terms of her right work, and how she operates naturally and effortlessly when she is doing what she enjoys most. But she needed time and space to think about how the what connects to the why. Why do I want to do that, i.e. change my life to align with my motivational pattern?

Organizing principle for successful change

Answers to the WHY questions of life give us the organizing principles for the WHAT we do. Once we have the WHY questions answered (at least in part) then it’s a question of figuring out HOW to manifest our values and priorities–what really matters to us–how do I make a living? How do I decide what to do with my time and energy? How do I increase my chances of being successful at what I want to do? That is the challenge of every adult, and that was exactly the challenge Natalie faced with courage and conviction.

She “longed for freedom, authenticity, and growth in the direction of greater connection to spirit, self and others.” She felt exhilarated and inspired that the needs she had met through her work at the agency could be met through other means and strategies. At the conclusion of her sabbatical, Natalie was at a decision point: return to the safety and security of a full-time government position; or, go out on her own. In one giant leap of faith, Natalie determined to follow her spirit and disavow the “safe and reasonable” judgment born from her upbringing.

“George helped me see the gift in what has been a lifelong source of anxiety and insecurity for me—my tendency to try to live up to what I perceive as others’ expectations of me. He helped me understand that my natural talents—rather than the job market, perceived societal or family expectations—could be a primary basis for choosing or creating my work. “

Taking effective actions to make change real

Natalie gave notice to her employer, and packaged her skills and vision as an independent consultant, specializing in training, facilitation, analysis and children’s rights. She would build on the relationships and experience she had accumulated working 10 years in international development and refugee policy and programming, primarily in children’s rights, human rights approaches to development, conflict resolution, peace building and gender equality.

“George helped me recognize that I am a ‘visionary’ who instills people with enthusiasm and that I thrive in situations where I can act as a coach, trainer, facilitator or coordinator. I eventually saw that playing those roles as an internal or external consultant—a third-party neutral—could be a valid and effective way to exercise leadership for positive social change.”

In order to attain her highest aspirations, Natalie decided to build on her BA in History and her Master’s in International Affairs with further education. In 2010, she was designated a CTDP (Certified Training and Development Professional) and received a Certificate in Adult Training and Development. The certifications, Natalie says, “increased my credibility and competence and have enabled me to increase my skillfulness, presence, confidence and personal impact.”

Much of her consulting work has focused on helping organizations in Canada and around the world to design, implement and report on rights-and-results-based programs that more effectively implement positive change for children. She has also supported diverse stakeholders in an organization or project to reach shared understanding and commitment through events that offer an unprecedented space for mutual learning and dialogue.

Finally, she helps leaders who are overwhelmed with the state of our world to connect to a greater sense of hope and contribution through workshops drawing on deep ecology, systems theory, and other transformational tools.
Natalie has also continued her personal growth through education, travel and daily practice. She has studied and practiced facilitation, monitoring and evaluation, leadership and communication. She is fulfilling her goal for a more balanced life with greater connection to self, spirit and others.

She also has studied and applied a variety of group methodologies: The Work that Reconnects, Awakening the Dreamer, Open Space Technology, NonViolent Communication, Appreciative Inquiry, Participatory Learning and Action, and Process Work, as well as practiced and facilitated improvisational voice and movement and mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness and spiritual practice have led Natalie to retreats in France with Thich Nhat Hanh and to India where she studied with the Dalai Lama.

“George helped me realize I could contribute to life and make a living through a career path that is a unique expression of my calling and talents. He helped me to recognize, accept and build on my natural gifts and inclinations rather than trying to be someone else.Becoming a consultant has given me the time and flexibility to integrate spiritual practice into my daily routine, and to do spiritual community support and leadership work that does not always pay. In my paid work, I have been able to share my values and practices openly and authentically with colleagues and partners. Embodying my values in my work is very important to me. My primarily goal in work is to contribute to life and well-being of people and the planet.”

Contact Natalie at andizend@yahoo.ca or 647-300-6102 for more information about her work and workshops.

How to Holiday Party Your Way into a Career Job!

Mark - headshot

Mark Buzan came to me at age 22 and about to receive his political science
degree and wanted to work on Parliament Hill.

He wasn’t really clear about what he wanted to do. “It was pretty scary,” he
told me. The only thing he knew for sure was that he wanted to do something in
politics or journalism.

During our first conversation it became apparent that he wanted to work for a
Member of Parliament (MP), but he had no idea on how to get a job, on Parliament
Hill.

As far as he was concerned, thousands of people graduate with a degree in
political science every year and they all want a job on Parliament Hill and the
ones who get them are people who are very active in politics, or who’s families
have political connections. So what chance did he have?

But he had a problem that was bigger than no political connections. He sort of
knew what he wanted, but he didn’t have a target. If you want to hit the bull’s
eye you have to have a target. You can shoot an arrow, but it isn’t going to hit
the bull’s eye unless you have a target.

So we had a very important target to find. I did an assessment of his talents
and determined that the best job fit for him was as an executive assistant.
Then, we set about taking action to hit the target. And, it worked.

He came to me in November and by the end of January he had a job offer as a aide
to an MP.

Our plan to hit the bull’s eye began with some big parties. All the political
parties in Canada have Christmas parties on Parliament Hill. And they’re open to
the public. So I told him to go to the Christmas parties of the political
parties in which he was interested and mix with them. At a party, people are
more relaxed, more likely to interact on a social level, and more likely to be
open to hearing your story.

At one of the parties he met the senior member of the staff of Jason Kenney and
eventually got a job as an executive assistant in that office.

But obviously there’s more to getting the right job than just going to parties.
So our plan was very specific.

Mark had some special training in tax policy and tax law and had some ideas on
changing tax laws. First I told him to find out which MPs had the tax reform
portfolios for their parties. Then we put together a letter summarizing Mark’s
research and ideas about tax reform and sent it to those MPs requesting a
meeting. Then I provided him with a script of what to say to get into those
offices for a meeting.

Mark spent about 20 minutes with each MP and talked to about 6. He then
debriefed me on all his meetings.

One of those MPs set up a meeting with his legislative assistant–his right-hand
person–which turned out to be one of the people Mark had schmoozed with at the
Christmas party, so they already had a rapport. Mark had several more meetings
with that legislative assistant, eventually leading to a job offer.

Mark loved what he was doing, but after a while decided that he needed more
challenges. He wanted to become a lobbyist.

We put together a portfolio and then he created his own company called Action
Strategies. He received a couple of small assignments and built up a track
record. Then at 29, he got hired as lobbyist. His official title was Public
Affairs Coordinator for the Canadian Hydropower Association. Several other
positions followed and, today, Mark is an Executive Director of a national
organization for health care professionals.

All of that was very deliberate and intentional. It wasn’t luck. It was
intentional, having a clearly defined target, a vision of what he wanted, then
taking specific actions to move him closer to his vision until—bingo! He hit the
target.

Sometimes you have to take some risks to get what you want. Some people wouldn’t go to a Christmas party uninvited. You have to do unconventional things to get noticed. Not all of the time. But it increases your chances of getting hired.

How you learn naturally can lead to working effortlessly

learning

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

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

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

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

What is your innate pattern for learning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Stop horsing around and focus on strengths!

horsing_around

I recently worked with a young woman who has an unusual gift for understanding horse behavior. I’ll call her Lisa (not her real name.) She only discovered this talent in the last few years when she took up the hobby of horseback riding.

But her natural talent for reading the character of a horse quickly and accurately was so obvious to the owner of the stables where she rides that she was given a job to work with the “problem” horses there.

This teenage girl struggles to finish high school and has no aptitude for the hard sciences that are pre-requisites for acceptance into veterinary school which her family considers to be the only career option open to her.

She came to me feeling depressed and discouraged about her career prospects.

However, when she talked about her part-time work at the stables, her passion for horse behavior was obvious. Clearly, such work energizes her. Her aptitude for empathizing with horses, for communicating with them in a way that helps change behavior is a very valuable talent in the world of horses.

It got me thinking about the work done by The Gallup Organization over the past decade (http://www.gallup.com). Gallup delivers in-depth insights on public opinion polling, societal issues, education, management, and human
talent. They found that focusing on strengths brings about real business results.

“There’s always a greater return on investment when people focus on strengths – when they focus on what’s right instead of what’s wrong.” Gallup also found that when professionals can do what they do best, their organizations have lower turnover and higher customer satisfaction. These results lead to bottom-line success.

Lisa is at her first career crossroads in life. Should she nurture and develop her unusual gift into a career? If you believe in a God of some sort, you might think God created horses and loves them, and God created Lisa and loves her, and might have put her here to take care of horses. But how on earth do you make a career out of that?

Yes, it might be easier for Lisa to finish school and get a regular job as a teacher, or nurse, or computer programmer, even though she shows no aptitude in these areas. According to conventional reasoning, this lack of aptitude should pose no real hindrance to her career choices because she’s young, she can apply herself, and probably grit her teeth and get through some kind of training program that qualifies her for a good job.

By doing so, she’d be doing what most people do when choosing a career, according to Gallup. It seems that our culture is focused on pinpointing weaknesses and overcoming them. But imagine what life would be like if we
focused more on our strengths and less on what we think we need to do in order to achieve job security.

Gallup suggests that it is much better to use your natural strengths and motivations to excel in a field that will recognize and reward you for what you do naturally and effortlessly is the shortest route to excellence…and our economy rewards excellence of any kind.

Horses are big business in certain parts of North America. And there are many people who make a very good living in that field, people who are not veterinarians. I provided Lisa with a list of resources to research the many different opportunities in the field.

As I mentioned above, she showed a flair for communicating and informing others through explaining. She likes to meet with others to discuss horse behavior. She may want to look at a role requiring these talents.

For example, there may be horse-related professional associations, or industry groups, and administrative organizations that employ Education Officers, Information Officers, Licensing Agents, and other people who have to explain complex issues and matters to members, insurance reps, inspectors, as well as the general public.

Career choices have consequences, and often involve trade-offs. In order to attain career mastery and job security, The Gallup Organization says you will need to understand your unique patterns. You will need to become an expert at finding, describing, applying, practicing and refining your
strengths.

Lisa has a bright future with horses ahead of her (or not), depending on the choices she makes now. It may not be easy for her to find her niche in the world of horses but it certainly is possible.

Gallup explains that individuals have the greatest opportunity for success doing what they do best, rather than focusing on areas where they start from scratch.

“We found that when people report that they have the opportunity to do what they do best, they are more likely to stay with their company.” This doesn’t mean, of course, that professionals should ignore their weaknesses completely. But it does mean that they can bring more value to organizations by learning how to identify and use their strengths.

In order to determine our best jobfit, each of us would benefit from a rigorous and in-depth analysis of stories about times in our lives when we are doing what we enjoy most and doing it well.

In a sense, you need to know if you are suited to “sell the boat” or “build the boat” or “sail the boat” or ³maintain the boat.² Even if you are a “boat builder,” then what kind of a boat builder are you? what is unique about you? what separates you from other boat builders?

I am happy to report that Lisa, who only a few years ago was failing high school, has started on scholarship a Bachelor of Science at a university that has a strong reputation for animal sciences.

“An unexamined life is not worth living,” goes the old saying from Socrates. The passage of time may have dulled the sharp edges of this profound and provocative statement but not it’s significance. Self-knowledge is the key to success. A rigorous and disciplined examination of your life, your goals
and your personal values will reap a huge bounty of riches.