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Beating the Peter Principle

If you watch the popular TV comedy The Office, you may find it hard to believe that Michael Scott–branch manager of paper company Dunder Mifflin in Scranton, PA–was ever competent at anything!  He appears to have no talent whatsoever for managing others.

He is the embodiment of the Peter Principle, first formulated in a 1969 book of the same name,  by Dr. Laurence Peter, who famously said: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”  Employees will be promoted so long as they work competently; until they reach a position where they are no longer competent; and, there they stay, stuck, unable to earn further promotions.  Hello, Michael Scott!

In the real world of work, individuals are usually promoted because they are competent, and they are competent because they have a particular flair, or talent, or strength for performing certain job duties.  Their work is valued enough by their employers that they are often rewarded with a promotion to supervisory positions.

The Peter Principle then becomes active when a managerial position requires a set of skills that do not come easily or naturally to the person who has been promoted into it.

For example, I have worked with a good number of engineers who excelled at troubleshooting technical problems, especially when they were left alone to work in their own way at their own speed to analyze a particular problem and design a solution, often building the solution with special tools & equipment.

They are masters of the physical world of structures, machinery, and processes.  Then they are promoted into a managerial position where they are required to collaborate with others on committees and make decisions through long discussions at meetings that must be submitted up the hierarchy for approvals, involving frequent delays, postponements, or rejections.

In the meantime, they must resolve disputes between employees who disagree on how to proceed; or,  plan years in advance for potential scenarios; or, compete with their colleagues for scarce organizational resources; or, fight about money and budgets—none of which they have a genuine interest in or a knack for dealing with.

Why do they put up with it?  Perhaps, for the sake of a better compensation package, or the admiration of their peers, or the expectations of power, prestige, and status for someone their age; or, because, they don’t know what else to do.

What is true for engineers promoted to managers, is also true for front-line social service workers promoted to policy positions; or customer service reps promoted to supervisors; or teachers promoted to principals, and so on.  Often, I will hear from such people a desperate confession.  “I feel like an Impostor at work, pretending that I know what I’m doing.  I keep wondering when they’ll find out.  In the meantime, I try to fake it ‘til I make it, but I just dread Monday morning. “

This is a short term coping strategy that may backfire in the long term.  If someone is not motivated by their core job duties, their performance will degrade, so that when the inevitable downturns of an economy occur, they may be laid off when their performance is compared to others who are suited to managerial duties and feel motivated by their work.  Or, their level of job dissatisfaction fosters dis-ease that leads to physical illness, anxiety, depression, or any number of stress-related disorders.

Sure, we can learn managerial skills by taking courses; but, just because we know how to do something doesn’t mean we will do it.  For example, we can learn how to do conflict resolution because our job requires it. But if are natural inclination is to avoid conflicting situations or highly charged emotional encounters in favour of working alone on a task in a concentrated manner, then we will develop coping mechanisms to avoid using our newly acquired conflict resolution skills unless forced to do so.  Motivation is the key to performance on the job, whether we are managers, supervisors, or subordinates.

You don’t have live like an Impostor, pretending you are something you are not.  You can get a clear picture of your natural talents and motivations and learn how to leverage them into your career plans in a way that will recognize and reward you for what you do naturally and effortlessly, rather than for what you have to do in a job misfit.

Here at JobJoy, we are in the business of mapping your motivational pattern and matching it with the work you are best suited to do so that you can excel in your right work.

Do our brains want to work or win lotteries?

Do you work hard for your money?  If, yes, then you get more satisfaction from your cash than Paris Hilton!

I know it’s hard to believe but researchers who study the pleasure center of the brain say that lottery winners, trust-fund babies like Paris, and others who get their money without working for it, do not get as much satisfaction from their cash as those who earn it.

Other studies have shown that people who win the lottery are not happier a year after they win the lottery. And the number of winners who keep their jobs is growing (and so is the number of academics studying lottery winners).

Psychological and behavioral scientists have clearly shown that people get a great deal of satisfaction out of the work they do. The brains of those who work for their money are more stimulated.  Ray Crist is living proof!

I’ll never forget the radio story I heard a few years ago about Crist, a chemist who finally stopped working at age 104.  (The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t even collect data on workers older than 90!)

Why would you stop doing something you love? For the last two decades of his life, Crist went to work 5 days a week from 8am to 5pm in a research laboratory where he worked on experiments to use plants to remove toxic metals from water, a labor of love that resulted in 20+ published articles.  He didn’t do it for the money (in fact, he donated his salary).

“I’m just a working laboratory person. And I don’t exactly call it work because I’m just living,” said Crist.

His story and the studies both suggest that the brain is wired this way by nature.  Our brains did not evolve in order to sit on the couch and have things fall in our laps.

We are wired for work, that is to expend effort to pursue worthy goals. Crist did not save the world from toxic chemicals; few scientists see the full realization of their goals during their lifetimes.

What keeps them going, what gives them the drive and passion to get up every day and go to the lab is not money but the vision they have in mind.  They can see their destination.  It is a goal worthy of the deepest values and highest aspirations.

It is good to have an end to the journey but, as Crist’s life and work clearly demonstrates, it is the journey that matters most.

While money is necessary for the journey, it is not the purpose of the journey.

Ray Crist retired at age 104.  He died not long after retirement.  He was 105 years, 4 months and 15 days old.

When Job Change is not like a Diet

I recently lost 16 lbs in the space of 6 weeks. We live in a sit down culture
and much of my work is performed in a chair in front of clients and computers.

The middle-age pot belly is an inevitable result for many modern workers.
Because I am not an exercise machine or gym membership or fad diet kind of guy,
I looked for over a year before I finally found a belly fat burning program I
could live with.

I was conscious of the fact that most weight loss programs result in failure,
with a majority of individuals putting the weight back on and then some within
12 months!

I believe this happens because most people approach weight loss as a problem to
be solved : `I want to lose weight but I don’t want to change my lifestyle
habits.’

I meet many individuals who approach their career issues with the same
problem-solving attitude : `I’ve got a job I hate but it pays my bills and
provides a good salary and benefits, so how do I replace my income and benefits
if I quit my job?’

I’ve lost weight and I’ve changed careers, so I can speak personally to both
problems. Like most people, I try to solve a problem in order to avoid negative
consequences. So, when I read recently how excessive belly fat contributes to a
wide range of health issues during middle age and beyond, I decided to lose
weight in order to avoid those problems.

Similarly, many people come to me for career advice on how to avoid the negative
consequences of a bad jobfit. Often, they feel drained by their job, and want
to avoid the inevitable burnout or depression (now the #1 workplace
disability). Or, they have read the economic tea leaves and anticipate a
forthcoming layoff. Or, new technology being introduced into their workplace is
going to change their job duties in a negative way. Or, they don’t like their
boss or the people they work with. Or, their life situation has changed and
they need to move on.

Naturally, negative job conditions foster bad feelings, even intense emotional
conflict . Just by taking the action to visit with me and talk about these
issues can reduce the emotional conflict they feel. In the same way, once
people see they can lose weight by taking some kind of effective action, it
reduces the emotional conflict they feel about their weight issues.

To start the process of losing weight, we can join a gym, or buy a food portion
meal replacement program, or start a diet. Similarly, we can change careers by
going back to school, reconnecting with our LinkedIn network, or writing a
business plan.

However, we are all human beings, and once we experience relief from bad
feelings, our motivation to change weakens and we feel less need to act.

It is very easy to backslide then into old eating habits. Or, it is easier to
go back to the same job or something similar thinking that something fundamental
has changed.

But it hasn’t. If we keep eating the way we have always eaten, we put the
weight back on. If we go back to a job misfit, it’s only a matter of time
before the same issues rear their ugly heads once again.

To keep the weight off, we need to make some real lifestyle changes. To really
change careers, we have to make some hard choices and trade-offs for a new
career.

When tougher choices are needed, when actions get harder to take, we think we
can make things happen by exerting self-control. We try to manipulate the
conflict to go away–with self-imposed incentives, rewards, punishments. If I
lose 5 lbs this week, I’ll go shopping for a new outfit. If I send out 3
resumes this week, I’ll buy a flat screen tv to force myself to send out another
3 next week because I’m going to need a new job to make the payments on my
credit card.

Studies clearly show that this strategy of conflict manipulation does not
deliver long term success. When are motivation is driven by solving intense
emotional conflict, the relief is always temporary.

Emotional conflict leads us to act. Because we’ve acted, we feel better–even
if the situation hasn’t changed very much. Feeling better takes the pressure
off, which in turn reduces the emotional pressure we feel. Less emotional
conflict means there is less motivation to continue doing the things that
reduced the conflict in the first place. Since we feel better, there is no
pressing need to follow through with more actions. And the original behavior
returns.

This is why as many as 95% of dieters have put the weight back on within 12
months. And, while 95% of workers think about changing careers at least once a
week, only 5% ever act on that thought.

The only way off this merry-go-round of problem solving and conflict
manipulation is to create a clear picture–a vision if you will–for the outcome
you truly desire.

What I say to my clients is : Instead of trying to fix your bad job situation
(a problem orientation), let’s shift your focus to creating job joy (an outcome
orientation).

Yes, it is important is to find a short term solution to a problem but
understand that nothing really changes…until it actually does. Lasting change
is the result of effective and efficient actions organized around what really
matters to you over the long term.

You can make the best short term choices in the world but if your motivation is
to fix a career problem you have now or might have in the near future, you’ll be
back to your old tricks within a few years.

No wonder so many people give up on losing weight or changing careers! They
don’t know why they can’t pull it off. They’re sincere about it. They know the
stakes are high. But each time they try, their short term success is scuttled
by circumstances beyond their control…or so it seems.

I’ve reached a plateau in my weight loss. To reach my ideal weight, I need to
make more changes in my eating and exercise habits. What motivates me to do so
is the picture I carry in my head of things I will do with my optimal health.
What really matters to me is being very healthy as I move through middle age.
Weight loss is just one part of that bigger vision.

Similarly, I carry around a written Vision statement of my career 20 years or so
down the road. What keeps me going today–taking what are often small, mundane,
routine actions–is focusing on what really, really matters to me further down
the career path.

That is why I wrote my new eBook, JobJoy : Finding Your Right Work Through the
Power of Your Personal Story. You already have everything you need to get out
of yhour career trap and into a better jobfit, one that combines vitality and
security for a better life.

It’s not rocket science. But it does take time, energy and money. However, the
Return on that Investment is priceless! Get started today!

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Blow Your Horn

Job search studies regularly show that it is not the best qualified candidate who gets the job most of the time. Instead, it is the strongest communicator. Why?

We live in a storytelling culture. We learn about each other and the world around us through story. Think of all the time you spend reading newspapers, magazine, blogs, or watching tv, DVDs, movies, or listening to radio, audiobooks, or podcasts. We are immersed in story.

A resume, a job search, an interview, a negotiation are each just another narrative, a chance to tell your story. Strong communicators have a gift for storytelling. Who is the most popular person at a party, wedding, dinner, or special event.? The one who tells the best jokes, the most interesting stories, the fascinating anecdotes. We are storytellers and listeners first and foremost.

A successful career transition or a job search requires some storytelling competence, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the listener, i.e. your next employer or client. A story does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of a social or cultural context. Here is how story fits into your job search.

Every organization has goals and objectives. They hire managers to achieve those goals. Managers, in turn, hire staff to do the work under their direction and guidance. These managers have the power to hire (and fire) individuals. In fact, over 40% of jobs are created for individuals who meet face-to-face with a manager outside of a formal job interview process. When you understand why, you can dramatically increase your chances of getting job offers.

Does the universe line up to facilitate the achievement of those organizational goals quickly and easily? Not likely. We live in a world of adversity. Defensemen seemed to be strategically positioned to knock down our best efforts to score a goal. In the world of work, these defensemen often show up as serious problems, formidable challenges, impact issues, pressure points, and a range of other social and economic variables difficult to control.

Just when a manager thinks they have everything stabilized and under control, life throws another spanner into the works. For example, employees die, retire, go on stress leave, go back to school, go on the mommy track, go to court, or go to another part of the country. There is a regular churn rate among staff in every organization. That is why there are always jobs; any good manager is always looking for good people because they always need new employees to cover the regular turnover of about 25% per year.

The key is to listen first to a manager, listen for the problems, challenges, and other obstacles getting in the way of their organization’s goals and objectives. Understanding their story is the first step to telling your own story with power and purpose. As every good storyteller knows, first know your audience.

If you take the time to listen, then orient your story for the needs of your audience, you will build rapport and establish top of the mind awareness in the manager. He or she will not soon forget you. And, when they need you, they will hire you.

Let me illustrate with a story about Tony. I helped him transition from a hi-tech career as a product manager to a new career working with NGOs. As part of his transition, he visited different organizations and spoke with managers, including the CEO at the Digital Opportunity Trust. They had a good discussion but she did not respond to a follow up. Tony moved on with further education and landed a job with another NGO.

As a result of some volunteer work, one of Tony’s colleagues crossed paths with that CEO, and mentioned Tony’s achievements. The CEO remembered their previous meeting, and requested another. They met again and had an engaging discussion about international development. There was no job opportunities at the time with DOT but Tony asked her to keep him in mind if things should change.

Well, a few years later, things did change, as the Trust grew and expanded its core executive team. They called Tony, he applied, was interviewed, and hired into his “dream job“ as Senior Director, Global Operations.

One of the reasons I put so much emphasis on having my clients write out their stories about enjoyable events and achievements is to help them build a vocabulary of success, a portfolio of stories. Communicating your stories with clarity and confidence is one of the best things you can do in a job search situation.

Tony changed his career by revisiting his personal story, mining it for his authentic talents and motivations, so that he had a new story to tell, one that communicated a new message.

He did not blow his horn in a loud or obnoxious fashion to gain attention; he listened to the music playing around him and added his own voice to the melody. Now, he will travel the world with job joy, doing what he loves and matters most to him.

Danger of Success

Some of the most “successful” people in the world hate their jobs.

In the first pages of his new autobiography, former tennis star, Andre Agassiz, writes:  “I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion.”  Turns out that Agassiz won eight Grand Slam titles with a ‘can do’ skill.

Agassiz’s father forced him to hit 2500 balls, fired from a machine at 180 km an hour, starting at age 7.  Ten years of such daily rigor helped turn him into a champion. But, as a champion, he felt “nothing.”  There was no innate pleasure, no passion, for hitting tennis balls.

How many people end up in careers due to early decisions in life, decisions often taken for them by the significant people in their lives—parents, family members, teachers, coaches, or others?  Some people 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.

A can do skill is something we learn or acquire through training and experience.  It might be built on a natural talent.  Surely, Agassiz must have been born with a talent for physical coordination, a knack for moving his arms, legs, and torso in a coordinated fashion.  But, according to him, that body was not designed for hitting tennis balls.

What we lack in passion, we make up for with sheer will and determination.  Agassiz was often a picture of determination on the tennis court. Similarly, nobody can deny that Tiger Woods may be the best golfer ever!  But, like Agassiz, he lives a lopsided, unnatural life of daily practice.  This kind of freakish and slavish devotion to skill development produces certifiable stars but it does not normally produce individuals who are passionate about their work, or innately happy with their lot in life.

It reminds of that quote on a Starbuck’s coffee cup (The Way I See It #26): “Failure’s hard, but success is far more dangerous.  If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.”
Agassiz hated his work but stuck with it—one assumes, for the rewards.  He was trapped by the golden handcuffs as much as any builder, banker, or bureaucrat who hates their work.   Through a painful routine that numbed him to the joys of life, he did his job for money until retirement.

There is always a trade-off.  Agassiz has admitted to substance abuse and addiction.  Depression in the Public Service is now at public health crisis levels.   The private world of Tiger Woods is torn asunder.  You can’t cheat life!

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

Retirement, I reason, is for people, like Agassiz, who don’t like their jobs, or for people forced out of their jobs for reasons beyond their control.  A lot of very rich people keep working; they don’t need the money; they love what they do.  Conversely, many wealthy individuals who got rich doing what they don’t enjoy, move onto something else first chance they get.

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.

A Job Change Lesson from the Grinch

This is the time of year when various versions of ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ appear on television. He’s a mean one, Mr. Grinch—that ol’ sourpuss who had his heart broken as a young man (he lost his girl to his rival, the mayor of Who-ville.)

Misery loves company, and the Grinch tries to ruin Christmas for all the citizens of Who-ville by stealing all their presents and sabotaging their holiday celebrations.

I love that scene where he stares down at Who-ville listening to the men, women and children singing Christmas carols. He realizes he didn’t stop Christmas because the spirit of Christmas is not contained in presents or feasts.

“And what happened then…?
Well…in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!”

He restores the presents and food to Who-ville, and is welcomed back into the heart of village life.

One suspects that the author, Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel), had experienced his fair share of disappointment in life, in order to write such a compelling and convincing tale. In fact, we know that he tried to publish his first book, and was rejected by 27 publishers. Rejection is hard to take. Look what it did to the Grinch!

However, the initial rejection experienced by Dr. Seuss (and so many first time authors, I might add), is not the final word; unless, we let that rejection define our behavior, as was the case for the Grinch.

I have met many individuals of exceptional talent, each of whom had tremendous prospects for employment. They clearly identified a job target, and put together a plan of action that filled them with enthusiasm. But their initial efforts didn’t hit the mark. Instead, they experience rejection, and rejection is hard to take. If they let that rejection define their behavior, then their desire for a better jobfit, a better life, grows cold.

Obstacles to success should not be interpreted as stop signs. They are inevitable. Instead of pressing through them, I have seen many individuals give up and return to the same work that was driving them crazy in the first place! Better the devil you know….

However, the devil is a cold-hearted taskmaster, and submitting to a job misfit with all the stress and tension that accompanies it is enough to turn most people into a Grinch!

Like Dr. Seuss, there are some amazing stories of tenacity and perseverance that should inspire all of us with realistic hope. Here are some popular stories of failures suffered by some very successful people before they broke through into a better jobfit.

o Albert Einstein was four-years-old before he could speak.
o Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school.
o Ludwig Beethoven’s music teacher once said of him “as a composer he is hopeless.”
o Thomas Edison’ s teacher said of the boy, “He is too stupid to learn anything.”
o F.W.Woolworth got a job in a dry good store when he was 21, but his employer would not let him wait on customers because he “didn’t have enough sense.”
o Michael Jordan was dropped from his high school basketball team.
o A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he had “no good ideas.”
o Winston Churchill failed the 6th grade.
o Steven Spielberg dropped out of high school in his first year. He was persuaded to come back and placed in a learning disabled class. He lasted a month and dropped out of school, never to return, but went on to create some of the most memorable Hollywood movies ever made, and become one of its richest directors.

If you hate your job, you should be happy! As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those things that hurt, instruct.” The people listed above succeeded in life because they were wise enough to NOT organize their lives around their failures. Instead, like Dr. Seuss, they focused on what really mattered to them. They established goals and took effective actions to create positive results in their lives.

Eric Hoffer, an American philosopher and contemporary of Dr. Seuss, 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.” Which is another way of saying, the road to success is a bumpy one. Or, every overnight success takes twenty years. Pick the cliché, adage, or proverb on the tip of your tongue.

Remember it took Dr. Seuss thousands of tears to produce the joy of Christmas in Who-ville! Never give up on what really, really matters to you.

May the spirit of Christmas reign in your heart this holiday season and throughout the coming year!

How to Inoculate against job flus and blues

The current economic recession has resulted in millions of layoffs for workers across North America. On top of that, there is an H1N1 pandemic forcing millions to lay down from work for a week or more, jeopardizing good health, or even job security.

Learning to adapt to changing circumstances in life is a necessary skill. Being forced into such circumstances means letting go of situations that feel comfortable and predictable. Here are some examples of losses you may experience and what your thoughts might be about it.

Loss of the Familiar – “I felt secure in knowing what I was supposed to do each day.”

Loss of Structure & Clarity – “I liked my routine and felt comfortable with what was expected of me each day.”

Loss of a Hoped-for Future – “I thought I’d work here until I retired.”

Loss of Career Direction – “I knew where I fit into the big picture and what my options were.”

Loss of Influence – “My colleagues respected me, and they listened to my ideas.”

Loss of Friends – “My workplace was my second family.”

Loss of a Network – “I could count on them for personal and professional help.”

Loss of Knowledge & Expertise – “Staff and co-workers counted on me.”

Loss of Security – “I had a great compensation package.”

You can better adapt to changes like these by taking large doses of three Vitamin ‘A’s: Attitude, Aptitudes, and Action. They can help inoculate you from the negative consequences of job-related flus and blues.

Attitude

You have every reason to stay positive. You were able to learn your job and do well in it. So, it’s only a question of bringing your ability to learn and work hard to your new or next job.

You’re not starting from scratch. You have skills, knowledge, contacts–a vlaue proposition!  What other organizations would value your expertise? There are so many potential employers out there and you will likely find one to work with for many years.

And, once you have a new routine, do you think you’ll feel comfortable in your job? You’ve shown the ability to do good work and be rewarded for it, so you can apply that same ability in your next job. You were able to gain respect with people at your previous job, so why would your ability to establish and maintain friendships at your next workplace be any different?

Aptitude

There are over 60,000 jobs operating in the world of work, and you are suited to a dozen or more. You have experience, and dozens of managers are waiting for you to walk through the door and make their life easier by putting your unique set of talents, experience, and skills to work in helping them meet their organizations goals and objectives by solving problems, overcoming challenges, coping with impact issues, and dealing with pressure points that are acting as roadblocks to the attainment of those goals.

It is very likely that you will find a new career path at your next employer that’s even better than your last!

Action

You have a lot more experience now, so what kind of professional help do you need to position/package you for new and better opportunities?

Once you identify and define that next opportunity, you can communicate to your family and friends with clarity and confidence which organizations you are targeting.

When you are ready, you say goodbye to colleagues at your previous workplace, and invest some energy in friendships you want to maintain. Then draw on their goodwill because they WANT to help you, and they each know a lot of people.

Tell them specifically the kinds of jobs you are best suited for. They can refer you to people who can refer you to people until you get face-to-face with someone who will recognize and reward your talents and skill

Learn what simple and effective actions can help you break into the hierarchy of hiring and get job offers.

Transitions aren’t always easy but building up your immune system with these three Vitammin ‘A’s will help you adopt certain attitudes, aptitudes, and actions that can put you in a better place than the one you leave behind!

Break out of Zombieland!

Zombie movies point out how our human inclination to go through the motions of life at work and in relationships are eating us alive. Take courage and smite that zombie on the nose!

Thirty years ago, I got hooked on George Romero’s Dead movies, starting with Night of the Living Dead. And I enjoyed the 2004 spoof Shaun of the Dead. Now, the sub-genre lives on through the new movie, Zombieland.

Some critics consider these Dead movies to be a fitting metaphor for our times—the idea that zombies return from the dead to eat the living! It is entertaining to see how this idea is channeled through the creative talents of regular folks, such as one of my clients, Morris R., who helps organize a local Zombie walk each year in October. See if you can spot him in the video—he’s the one in the black suit with the red tie and dangling eyeball!

Zombie walks recreate key scenes and ideas from zombie movies. For example, as the credits roll at the beginning of Shaun of the Dead, your eyes follow the camera panning right through scenes of regular people moving supermarket trolleys, working behind tills, waiting at the bus stop, or mindlessly listening to street music, all staring and acting zombie-like. At the end of the movie, when the zombies have taken over, the camera does the same thing again, underscoring the point that nothing has REALLY changed—zombies now and forever!

Every time I see such scenes, I am reminded of clients who come to me in a state of calamity, including a local teacher who was desperate to find a better job fit. He said, “I come alive in summer. The rest of the year I am dead, a walking zombie, going through the motions of life.”

The living in these zombie movies are often characterized as people living in various states of limitation—making them easy targets for the Undead. Some are physically handicapped, others suffer from poverty, while others are stuck in institutions, or trapped in specific social settings, such as a mall or a amusement park. Others manage to escape a gruesome fate, but only for a short time, before their fears, beliefs, doubts or assumptions put them in the path of the flesh-eaters. In the end, they all fall victim to the insatiable appetites of zombies.

Limitations are part of the reality we don’t like. How much easier life would be if we could remove the barriers to career advancement and shoot forward into success! In Zombieland, the main characters literally shoot their way through the barriers posed by the Undead.

Many of us simply surrender to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If zombies surround us, why fight them, it’s easier to join them. Today, the number one workplace disability is depression. Millions of workers in North America cope with job stress and dissatisfaction by popping pills that have zombie-like side effects.

We can also react to negative situations with flight or fight. We might run from the zombies or beat them off…but then what? Being creatures of habit, it is too easy to backslide into our previous zombie-like existence—the exact point made in Shaun of the Dead.

Paul Tillich, a 20th C. philosopher, said “Courage is the affirmation of one’s essential nature.” When we have the courage to really live, we find joy, for as Tillich says, “Joy is the emotional expression of the courageous ‘YES to one’s own true being.” This takes courage in a world where choices have trade-offs.

Making hard choices is the essence of the hero’s story in any movie, including the Dead ones. How do you start being less fearful? How do you keep from falling back in the same old decision patterns? In my experience, the only way out of the career trap is through it.

It takes courage to honor the ambiguity that accompanies any transition process. We oscillate between hope and fear when we go from childhood to adolescence; from a student to a worker; from a single to a married person; from a childless adult to a parent–they all require some faith in the process of life.

This is the choice : life or zombieland.

If you’re stuck in zombieland, you need to break out. Now is the time to explore options with an emboldened heart and an open mind.

The zombie movies remind us that our fears sometimes force us to retreat to what is familiar. We keep doing what we’ve always done. Habitual behavior creates a comfort zone. You may not enjoy your job duties but at least they are familiar. Better the zombie you know than the zombie you don’t know.

Now is the time to rise up and smite that zombie on the nose. Choose life! Break out of Zombieland today!

Stop horsing around and focus on strengths!

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.

Three Myths of Job Change

Three Myths of Career Change

Myth #1: Passion and Work Are Not Compatible

In fact, research shows the opposite to be true. Most successful
people are those who have learned to follow their passion. The
problem is that many of us were taught to be rational when we make
career decisions. So we buried our passion.

In order to get this point across at my seminars, I often draw a picture of a cart in front of a horse (and not a very good picture because drawing is not one of my natural talents). I show how most of us load up our cart with a toolbox of hard skills (e.g. architectural drawing, computer programming, public speaking, whatever). Our careers to date are often characterized by the cart dragging the horse–it being the symbol of the very things that fill us with energy, drive, strength, vitality—-passion. Career transition is about putting the horse in front of the cart where it belongs!

Think about your own career path. Maybe you were passionate about writing when you were younger, but made the rational choice to go into nursing. Maybe you were passionate about designing buildings, cars, planes…but decided accounting would be a “smarter” choice. (By the way, if nursing or accounting is your passion, and you followed it, congratulations.)

When we are passionate about our work, we are able to excel because we are tapping into our natural strengths and abilities. When we enjoy and are fully engaged in our work, our self-esteem is higher, and we are able to perform at a higher level.

On the other hand, when we are unable or unwilling to connect emotionally to our daily tasks, we are less likely to be successful. In fact, our performance will more often than not be characterized by mediocrity, just good enough to get by–nobody’s going to fire us but neither will we light any fires and win major promotions or awards.

Myth #2: The Way to Be Successful is to Pick a Career in Order
to Make Enough Money to Someday Quit and Do What You
Really Want to Do

Over the years, I have met many individuals who committed their time and energy to finding the holy grail, be it the next great network marketing scheme, or a hot stock, or “guaranteed” investment plan. And, occassionally, one of them gets lucky (or crooked enough) to win a lottery to keep the (unreal) hope alive for others.

Again, studies confirm that this isn’t what successful people do.
They, instead, are so absorbed in their career they work long hours,
think about their work constantly, talk about it to their partners and
friends. Please don’t confuse this passion with workaholism. Passionate people have that “fire in the belly.” In other words, their commitment to their work is unwavering. Workaholics often have energy but they don’t appear authentic in their work. They seem to be driven, going through the motions, trying hard to please with their performance.

But if you are working to just make money and you are postponing enjoying your work for some later date, you will be unable to maintain that type of commitment over a long period of time. Workaholics burn out. Passionate people make it look easy. They have made an important discovery – that the journey itself is even more important than the goal.

Myth #3: You Need to Be Sure What You Want to Do Before You
Start Doing Something

This belief holds people back from making any moves at all. People
who have successfully changed their career began by experimenting;
trying out new opportunities part-time, on a small scale, beginning
weekend projects, volunteering, taking night classes or going back to
school. They found a way to “stick their toe in the water.”

I did this myself. While I had a full-time job in the government, I did some assessments to determine my right work. After reviewing several recommendations to become a career counselor, I checked out the industry and identified a niche that harmonized with my talents and preferences. Then I started seeing clients during lunch hours and after work to validate my plan. Then I created a financial cushion for myself in anticipation of a worse case scenario when I made the final jump to a new career.

When you begin exploring, you actually begin to experience your possible future and what it might feel and look like. You can then make adjustments
in your course as you gain more experience and your direction
becomes clearer.

The reason is simple. For years, you have been molded by what you do. Therefore, you need to actually start doing something else. If you are the kind of person (like me) that likes to do extensive research, make lists, take assessment tests, and research potential companies before making a move, do it.

Gathering information can be useful. Don’t forget, however, that you need to
begin taking steps to try out what you are learning.

This is the hardest part of any career transition. You need to be exploring options with an open mind. It is by doing this research and exploring that the “right job” will appear. People tend to want to skip this part of the process but in my view it is the most important. Forget about what family, friends, books say in terms of educational qualifications and salary levels. It’s way too early in the process to be thinking about those things.

The whole point is to do the research, which includes talking to people,
in order to find the thing that will get you excited. You don’t start
with an “aha!” experience then go out and try to find it. You go out looking for the “aha!” experience. Yes, career transition is a systematic and proven process. But be open to surprise, to coincidence, to chance encounter.

Career transition is not rocket science but it is something you’ve never really done before, so you need to learn new skills and apply those skills. You must put your assumptions aside and proceed with an open mind. One phone call, one click on the web, one chance encounter can propel you into a new opportunity. It might sometimes feel dispiriting but if you start today, you will be much closer now than you were 2 weeks ago and, if you persist, in 2 weeks you’ll be further ahead than you are now!

Just this week a client said to me, “Ten years ago, my friends told me to go into Psychology, I was a natural. I said to myself, ‘No, that’s another 7 years of school.’ But if I’d done it, I wouldn’t be here regretting that decision 10 years ago.” The ten years go by, whether you follow your heart or not.

Career transition does not follow a straight line and no two transitions are the same. It can happen in a matter of months, or it can take 2-4 years. Sometimes, it is smooth sailing, and sometimes it is a case of three steps forward and two steps back.

By waiting until your plan is perfect, you increase the chance that no moves will be taken. So, begin the search for where your passions lie. Get a proper assessment done, such as the JobJoy Assessment Report.

Don’t let career change myths keep you stuck. By changing some of your beliefs about your transition, you will actually change the direction of your journey. Happy trails!