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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job Search: “It’s Not About Me!”

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

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

1. The most important person in the hiring process

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

2. Hiring managers are human beings too

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

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

3. Hiring is a risk assessment exercise

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

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

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

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

4. “Why should I hire you?”

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

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

5. Tapping into pain points

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

Loving Your Work More Fun Than Driving a Jaguar

I met with a young man last week because he was worried about being left behind in the job stakes. He was thinking of switching programs from a BSc in Biology
to something “more practical” like nursing because his two young siblings were in a nursing program that guaranteed a job after graduation. He didn’t see much prospect of getting a job related to biology without further education, despite the fact that he is currently employed in an internship with one
of the country’s largest health sciences companies!

Is this quest for job security a simple capitulation to market forces that are
increasing their influence over us in terms of how we think and behave?
Choices have consequences, and each choice constructs a thread that we will
follow daily as we create a story for our life.

This young man views education as an economic goal. Like most of us, he is
simply following a formula that is considered practical and realistic: good
education = good job, good money, good things. This is the story he is
living: we exist in order to buy happiness.

And one of our deepest fears is that we won’t get our share of the pie. I
remember that feeling well from my early 20s! Is that a real fear, or one that
is manufactured by others to serve their interests?

This young man won’t attend convocation ceremonies for another year but perhaps
he should listen to advice given this year to engineering graduates at a local
university by Leonard Lee, the founder and former CEO of a highly successful
international company, Lee Valley Tools.

“If you go where your passion leads you, you will probably do very well,” he
said, “although it is entirely possible that by doing that, you’ll never be
able to afford that Jaguar. But believe me, loving your work is more fun than
than driving a Jaguar.”

And he ought to know. Lee followed the same formula of grades=money; and, like
most people of the middle class, he had a pleasant job that provided a modest
sense of accomplishment, while still giving him time and energy for personal
interests. Most people would consider this a successful life, and simply
settle in for the long haul as a comfortable consumer and citizen of an
affluent society.

But if we scratch the surface of comfort, we may find the frustration and
dissatisfaction that drives people like Leonard Lee to change their lives.
That formula of grades=money teaches young people that we can buy happiness in
the face of convincing evidence that we cannot, e.g. drug addiction,
alcoholism, teenage suicide, divorce, loneliness, and other despairs are modern
plagues of the prosperous more than the poor. We don’t believe it, at least
not until we’re older and the accumulation of this evidence weighs heavily in
the scales of our personal experiences.

The stakes are bigger than just the quality of our individual lives. That
formula grades=money enhances runaway consumption and depletion of earth, air,
and water of our planet. We all pay a price for conspicuous consumption as the
benchmark of success! Driving a Jaguar is a sign of success.

Leonard Lee was a senior public servant when he quit his job at age 40 to
pursue his love of woodworking. He placed an ad in Harrowsmith magazine
offering the first 1000-item catalog for $1. Today, the same core business
earns $100M a year!

Lee is now in his 70s, and has learned what many individuals learn later in
life: having work that energizes you is better than having things. Joy is the
source of vitality and a life rich with purpose and meaning. Making money is a
by-product not the purpose of work. He’s had the Jaguar and he’s had the Joy;
he says he’ll take the joy any day of the week.

Of course, the old formula grades=money is still true for certain careers, such
as law, medicine, and engineering, where good grades are necessary for
acceptance into professional schools. And, all sorts of professional
credentials are increasingly used to establish criteria for certain job
postings in government and other large institutions.

But the world of work is changing rapidly due to social and economic pressures,
especially in knowledge sectors, where independent study, community service,
adventures and experience, large doses of privacy and solitude, are shaping the
formation of new kinds of workers and workplaces. (see The Future of Work). Common sense and the human nature of business people prevails in this space, where most hiring and promoting is done the old-fashioned way, using performance and private judgment as the preferred measures.

Finding our place in the world is a function of the story we live. One script
is being written by our market-driven culture, telling us how to live according
to what we buy. It takes courage at any age to view this story critically.

Leonard Lee has handed over leadership of Lee Valley Tools to his son. But he
didn’t retire like his former public servant colleagues. Why retire from
something you love doing? Today he is developing a line of surgical tools for the health care sector.

Years ago, he realized there was a dissonance between his public and personal
stories, his social self and his authentic self. He took a risk to bring
together what had been pulled apart for the sake of career. What he got was a
better story, a better life! That is the message he wants to pass on to all
young people.

It’s the pattern, stupid!

I’m an idiographer. You might think I’m an idiot for saying so but idiography is actually the study of individual cases or events. And that’s what I do as a career professional. It is a proven, scientifically valid method for career assessment.

I demonstrated this method in some detail recently to colleagues in Las Vegas at the Career Management Alliance conference. Heres’ what one of them wrote to me after attending my session:

“I so enjoyed your presentation. I have long been perplexed by the emphasis career professionals place on assessments. Although I have a masters in career development, and took a semester course on assessments, I have found them to be of very limited value in the work I do with clients. Like you, I prefer the story approach as a more effective vehicle to discover the critical subtleties and nuances of their true essence. Your presentation was a very refreshing change and was much appreciated!”

My clients come to me because they want to make a significant career transition. In order to help them make on, I ask them to write stories about times in their life when they are doing what they enjoy most and doing it well.

I then analyze those stories for their key success factors in order to construct an accurate and reliable picture of their right work. I match this picture to specific jobs in work settings that will recognize, reward and motivate them for what they do naturally and effortlessly.

We then work together on the practical and realistic stuff to move them for where they are now into a better jobfit, one that harmonizes with their motivational pattern.

What is assessment?

Assessment is all about answering two simple questions: WHERE and WHAT? Which organization or work setting will motivate me by recognizing and rewarding me for what I enjoy most and do best. And, what are the job titles in that organization which best match up with my talents, skills, experience, education, and values.

To borrow a sports analogy : it’s choosing a ballpark to play in, and the position you are best suited to playing.

Two kinds of assessment

Most people who have taken an assessment through school or work have used a nomotheic assessment tool. That is a technical term for a tool that helps an individual search for general traits or characteristics, such as skills, values, aptitudes, interests, or personality traits. Some of these tools are self-assessment, and others need to be administered by a professional. But they all use prescribed categories of characteristics and match them to careers.

The idiographic approach is not about particular strengths or traits. It’s about the pattern! At the risk of stating the obvious–like any meaningful story, our personal stories are greater than the sum of its parts.

But our left-brain, cause-and-effect, linear, engineering-driven world (the mechanistic worldview) tends to emphasize component parts, instead of spending more time looking for the relationships between the parts (the systemic or holistic worldview).

The pattern of relationship between parts

A personal story has many elements that influence individual behavior, including family of origin dynamics, a sense of place (geography) and time (history), key relationships, major illnesses, attitude to authority, and much more that can influence choices and outcomes.

For me, each component part of a story might be important but they are only important in how they interact when my client is in action doing what they enjoy most. It’s the pattern! And, yes, the component parts that make up the pattern are important. In my case, I focus on certain key success factors. That doesn’t mean the others are wasted, not at all.

horse-cart_optThis picture of a man in a cart trying to pull a horse looks ridiculous, doesn’t it? This person is not going to get far. And yet, this is exactly where many of us end up in our careers because we put the cart in front of the horse.

Worse, yet, we neglect the horse as we develop our careers. We focus on our social assets, filling our cart with acquired skills, education, credentials, contacts, and so on. We invest so much time, energy, and money on these elements of career, that we neglect to nurture and develop what the horse represents: natural strength, vitality, drive, energy, passion!

The story-telling approach to assessment focuses on the horse; that is, it helps our clients to remember and recount times in their lives when they were energized, full of life and vitality. My job as an idiographer is to show them how those key success factors connect to real jobs in the real world of work, personally rewarding and financially sustainable jobs.

The cart is still their with all its goodies. What is important is the correct relationship putting the horse in front of the cart. Now the horse is pulling the cart with passion, drive, strength, and energy.

Passion and profit are not mutually exclusive! My job as a career professional is to make this connection real for my clients.

Lesson from Las Vegas

I just got back from Sin City, the one that never sleeps, where all vices are on display and easily procured!

Las Vegas is an oasis in the desert built years ago by the Mob. That’s quite a story in itself (with its own museum and a whole show at one of the casinos on The Strip).

If you’ve been to Vegas, then you know that every major casino/hotel/resort is constructed around some kind of myth or story. The Mirage takes you into the jungle; the Excalibur into medieval England; the Luxor into ancient Egypt; Caesar’s Place into ancient Rome; the Venetian into romantic Italy; Planet Hollywood…well, that’s obvious.

Walking the Strip reminded me how much we are immersed in story 24/7 wherever we are whether we know it or not. Story is the universal glue that holds civilizations together.

I managed to see a show and pull a few slots, but I was there primarily to make several presentations to other career professionals at the annual conference of the Career Management Alliance.

I was delighted to participate in the Storytelling track at the conference. During the opening panel of this track, we were asked : Why does storytelling deserve this much attention for the careers of our clients?

I thought I’d share with you some of the more compelling answers because just one piece of information can sometimes help to solve the puzzle we call life!

Our personal story is a bit like traveling our road to work each day—we stop noticing the details. We are so enmeshed in our life pattern, that we don’t realize that we construct a thread to our life story with each passing day. We are narrative in action. Our story is our identity and our destiny. I focused on the importance of story in assessment : determining where to work and what to do.

All the panelists focused on the importance of living and telling our stories with more clarity and consciousness. Story can lead us out of dark places and into living with greater freedom and fullness of life in our careers.

Are you living the story you want to tell? What are the stories you are telling yourself about yourself? Are you separating facts from feelings? Are you naming your weaknesses and fears? Are you focusing on your strengths?

Telling your story in a compelling manner is not optional in this age of communications crowded with so many stories competing for attention in the job marketplace!

We discussed the importance of crafting and communicating your story in resumes and interviews. A great career story will be a resume differentiator. Storytelling in resumes doesn’t mean you are writing a novel. As a storyteller, we need to think strategically about what to include and what to exclude; we must select stories relevant to the position.

When telling compelling stories at interviews, you will transition from candidate to individual in the eyes of the interviewer. Do you know that old saying, “the devil’s in the details?” The reverse is true in interviews—sharing “the right details” can tip the scales of a hiring decision in your favor.

In both resumes and interviews, it is important to isolate strengths and accomplishments that fit with requirements.

In an interview with one or more interviewers, engage the audience! Don’t forget that storytelling involves an audience. Listen to them. Get them talking about their needs and preferences.

But don’t try to influence the judges. Tell what can be seen with the five senses, or better yet, a camera. Give them a picture of you in action doing things that demonstrate your capacity to perform in the job.

The tools for telling stories for career development and job search might change—e.g. building an online presence through Linked In, or YouTube, and so on—but the basic principles of effective storytelling remain the same. Know your audience. Frame your story for impact. Give examples with details. Leave them hungry for more.

You are a storyteller. You can learn to tell a better story. Keep the end goal in site. Your storytelling will improve with practice, rehearsal, and focus.

Telling a better story is the beginning of living a better story!

“Get Your Spiritual House in Order!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Dutch
www.jobjoy.com

Dry Your Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A career transition is not the solution to a short term problem. A transition takes time. It is best undertook during a period of stability without overwhelming financial or psychological pressures. A transition is oriented around creating the kind of life you want; it is not oriented around problem solving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How high do you bounce?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope & Joy in the Rubble!

If work is about creating what matters to us, why create anything if not for the hope of a better moment, or hour, or day , or year, or future?

Did you catch the flash mob video of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus that was performed in a Food Court at the Welland Seaway Mall in late Nov’10.? It garnered a few thousand views before it went viral and watched around the world 20 million times in the past few weeks.

Hallelujah Chorus in Food Court

The creativity of human beings never ceases to amaze me. I love the tremendous display of creativity everywhere this time of year, such as the wonderful Xmas tunes that play nonstop on radio stations; the reruns of beloved movies that crowd the TV schedule; the new movie releases for the holidays; the abundance of goods that can be bought for presents; the vivid colors of home and office decorations : each one the product of creative minds, hearts, and hands.

Embedded in this creative explosion of sight and sound is a message of hope. Yes, the holiday season is commercialized. Thousands of jobs are involved in producing, marketing, selling, distributing, and servicing what we enjoy during this season. But, the mere fact of their existence doesn’t account for their success. All these holiday goods and services tap into our human nature.

Why bother to create anything if not for the hope of a better moment, or hour, or day, or year, or future?

henri-cartier-bresson

The holiday products of our creativity are an expression of the Hope that beats eternal in our human breasts, captured poignantly in the photograph featured here, shot in Seville (Spain) in 1933, by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who became known for his photographs of apparent contradictions: pictures that left mysteries unexplained.

This famous photo depicts a run-down alley surrounded by decaying walls, strewn with rubble randomly stacked in thick piles lying on the street, and riddled with bullet holes dotting gray walls. The setting alone evokes feelings of sadness and despair.

The photo reminds me always of my travels in the Mediterranean, where I often saw school children kicking soccer balls against the walls of ancient churches. Coming from Canada, from the new world, with its recent history of European settlement, I often thought to myself : “Hey, you kids, stop that, don’t you have any respect for the sacred!”

The sacred, of course, is clearly visible–not in the bricks and mortar of church walls—but in the children. Within the grim alley scene of this photo, children are playing. They wear dirty and tattered clothes, as one might expect in such a setting, but like playing children everywhere, they laugh with carefree joy. In the foreground, a tiny boy on crutches hobbles away from two other boys, his face lit up with a broad grin. One boy is laughing so hard he has to hold his side. Others lean on the cracked walls, beaming with delight.

It is easy to spot the contrast — and the point. Joy amidst the rubble of life. Laughter amongst its ruins.

Life is full of contradictions. Even as we spread good cheer throughout our homes, offices and neighborhoods, others suffer unspeakable tragedies.

Happy Xmas (War is Over)

Life is hard, excruciatingly so for many people on earth. Hope keeps us going through trials and tribulations. Hope for more joy in life!

The creativity of the Christmas season is like a brilliant flash of light shining in winter darkness. Joy breaks through to touch our common humanity. It reminds us, perhaps, of why we labor.

We cannot avoid pain, however hard we try, as old Scrooge learned only too well in the wonderful classic A Christmas Carol. But we can avoid joy.

We cannot escape hardship and trouble, but we can miss out on much of life’s peace and laughter.

If you feel as if you could use more joy this holiday season, try the following:

Spend time daily creating something you truly enjoy—a special moment, an event, a gift.

Laugh heartily and frequently with family and friends, even strangers.

Cultivate within yourself an attitude of hope, and give free reign to where it takes your thoughts and ideas.

Enter a sacred space—a church, temple, mosque, synagogue, or chapel—and wrap yourself in the knowledge that you are not alone.

You’ll still have problems, but through it all, you’ll find hope and joy, even in the rubble.

Put Horse before Cart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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