Time to celebrate, time to plan

It’s the end of another calendar year and a new one is right around the corner. 

For the past 10 years, I’ve developed the habit reviewing my Daytimer (yes, I still prefer the paper version), starting day by day in last January and writing down all my accomplishments and activities that I most enjoyed right up to mid-December.

Why Plan

Human nature is such that we focus on the negative events in our lives.  For example, my mother passed away last June.  But, by reviewing, the good things that I achieved in my work and life for the past year puts her death in a more positive perspective for me.

When you break it down, life is such a gift, and I’m grateful to my mother for giving me a chance at a life brimming with wonderful experiences, both professional and personal.  Sure, we’re all going to die, but my annual review reminds me that there’s a lot of living to do before then. And, by living, I mean doing what I find to be important and satisfying.

That is why I usually spend some time early in the New Year to reflect on my annual list of enjoyable experiences and think about my priorities for the coming year.

What to Plan

For example, I just picked up a piece of paper and created columns with the following headings:  Social, Family/Household, Mental, Physical/Health, Financial, Professional, Spiritual.  I wrote Jan-June 2023 at the bottom of the paper.

During the next month, I will write down the things I plan to do in each of those categories for the first 6 months of the year. I plan to do SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) things.  I will write some actions in the Jan & Feb pages of my new Daytimer to move me closer to achieving those things.

When to Act

Every two months or so, I go back to my piece of paper to review my priorities and plans and ask myself: “Do I still really want to do that?”  If, yes, I take another action.  If not, I leave it for the time being.  Sometimes I add or delete certain activities.

What matters most to you in your professional and personal life?  Do you invest time and energy to achieve those things?

The Payoff

Having done this now for the past decade, I am delighted with how much I accomplish each year.  It is so easy to get caught up in the daily grind of life and forget about what really matters to us.  But the things that matter don’t happen by themselves; instead, they require our attention and action.

Plug them into your schedule and enjoy an annual review of your personal and professional achievements.  End each year in celebration…then plan for the next!

3 Tips for making a career change without a pay cut

The biggest fear most people express is their belief that a career change means a big pay cut and, therefore, a poorer lifestyle.  This belief is based on an assumption that a career change means starting over from scratch. Not so. 

Fear of pay cut is a feeling not a fact. 

The fact is that there are so many job opportunities in our current economy, up to 90,000 job titles and more being added each day with new and expanding industries.  Plus, there is a shortage of workers in most sectors.  Workers with skills and experience are in high demand, which means they are commanding higher salaries.  It’s important to investigate a career change target for facts. Then develop a plan to optimize your chances of achieving a career change that results in no pay cut.

Focus on assets not liabilities. 

Nobody is starting over.  There is no substitute for work or life experience.  In my 30 years as a career professional, I’ve found that most individuals underestimate their true market value, especially when it comes to the soft skills that they’ve acquired, such as problem-solving, creativity, adaptability, communication, and teamwork.  Many of them have also acquired other transferable skills, such as knowledge or experience in administration, management, marketing, accounting, training, or finance.  In most cases, any deficit they have in terms of subject matter expertise or technical skill can usually be overcome in relatively short order with on-the-job experience or a micro-credential because most career changers have learned how to learn, often quickly and easily. 

Get support. 

A career change requires a plan and support to execute that plan.  Career changers need encouragement and emotional support, especially from family and friends.  But they also benefit from professional help to guide them through the different stages of change: 

  • how to reposition and repackage their value proposition;
  • how to navigate the job market;
  • how to communicate their value proposition in an interview with a hiring manager;
  • and, how to negotiate a better compensation package.

Get it straight from the horse’s mouth!

How to determine if a job is a good fit for you.

If you want to know what another career field is all about, how it really works—then get it straight from the horse’s mouth. This old saying refers to the old practice of opening a horse’s mouth to check its teeth to help a buyer determine its health—whether or not it will be a reliable and dependable investment over time–and therefore it’s actual value.

Talking to workers who have been in a particular field for 5 years or more will often give you a true picture of that field. Try and find somebody who is doing a job you would love to do. Here are some questions, you can ask anybody who is doing a job you think you might enjoy:

_    How did you get into your field? Is that still a good way?

_    What are the major responsibilities of your position?

_    What is a typical workday or week like for you?

_    What do you like and dislike about your position?

_    What are the critical skills and personal characteristics needed in this kind of work?

_    What are some of the major problems or issues that someone in your position faces?

_    What are the prospects for someone entering your field today?

_    What are the career paths of this profession? With experience in this field where can a person move?

If you get into a discussion about your background, you can ask:-

_    Given my background, what do you think I need to do to become competitive for a job in this field?

_    Can you suggest anyone else I might talk to?

JOBJOY SMILE

HORSE PUNS

You’ll stirrup trouble!

Quit foaling around.

He has a colt following.

It’s pasture bedtime.

You sound a little hoarse.

I’m waiting for the mane event.

He’s my mane man!

To be or not to be…that is the equestrian.

Don’t look, I’m neigh-kid.

Would you quit astrophysicist job to run a fireworks business?

Just this morning, one of my clients called to tell me that his two nephews—one a dentist, the other an astrophysicist—can’t stand going to work each day…so they are quitting their jobs to take over their father’s very successful fireworks business in Baltimore! I kid you not.

Now, if you were to go to their mother’s FaceBook page, you would get a very different impression, one of a proud mother singing the praises of her boys, and rightly so…it’s no small accomplishment to become a dentist or astrophysicist!

But the misery these boys feel is quite common. Psychology Today, the Menninger Clinic, The American Management Association, and other eminent organizations estimate as much as 90% of the working population is not in their right work. And we all know that depression is now the #1 workplace disability in North America.

If you’re in this situation, it is not your fault!

We tend to do things because that is the expected thing to do. We’ve been told to go to school to get good grades, in order to get into a good university and get a good degree in order to get a good job and live a good life. We follow this formula.

Sometimes it works, much of the time it doesn’t. Why? Studies show that most individuals are motivated by extrinsic drivers early in their lives, i.e. to get a secure job, get married, raise a family—do what is expected of us. Nothing wrong with it.

What is true for university is true for trade school, the family business or the military—we conform to the norms of societal expectations, rather than finding out how our personal priorities and our public contributions can be combined through work to create a meaningful life.

But then life smacks us between the eyes—job loss, aging, divorce, death of a loved one, new values, new aspirations—and we start to question our values and priorities.

It’s just normal adult development after the age of thirty to re-order our priorities around intrinsic drivers, such as our deepest values and highest aspirations.

My client has no idea if his nephews—as a dentist and astrophysicist–have any skills or motivation to run a fireworks business! And neither does his brother, the father of these two men. They could run it into the ground for all he knows! But it hurts him, as a father, to see his sons so unhappy in their chosen professions.

That’s why my client told his nephews to sign on to my JOBJOY FOR LIFE™ Course.  He wants them to take the time to find out now what they each have as natural strengths and motivations when it comes to work.  This will increase their chances of finding job satisfaction and success in a fireworks business…while sparing their parents the misery of seeing their sons unhappy once again.

Right Stuff for Starting a Business

To start your own business or not?

I recently worked with an MBA client employed in a Fortune 500 company who commutes 2 hours each way.  He’s tired of it and wants out.  He’s been exploring the option of buying a franchise business.

He thinks he’d be good at it but contacted me as a reality check, i.e. to make sure he’s not simply acting on a confirmation bias.  Instead, he wants to know:  “Do I have the right stuff to run my own business?”

He knows what to do.  After all, he’s got an MBA so he knows how to design and implement business systems that work.  What he really wants to know is whether or not running his own business aligns with his strengths and motivations. 

Definition: an entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.

He asked for a quick and easy assessment to help with his decision-making.  He presented me with a matrix of job duties that he did and did not enjoy in previous jobs.  Clearly, he has many financial, operational, and managerial skills that align with running a business.

But was he motivated to use those skills in the circumstances of starting a new business?

Clues

A natural entrepreneur has a knack for spotting opportunities and acting on them quickly.  This talent usually shows up early in life, not just in work-related activities but in other circumstances too, such as school projects or volunteer activities.  To uncover such events in a person’s life, I often ask simple questions.

– Tell me about a time when you felt strongly about something and were able to recruit others and lead the charge down a new path or new venture.

– Give me an example of where you motivated others to start up a group in order to bring about some kind of change.

– Tell me about any projects that you’ve started from scratch with others.

– Tell me about a business or hobby enterprise that was failing and you got excited about turning it around.

– What is easier for you—getting a project off the ground or maintaining it once it’s up and running?

– When you find yourself as part of a group or team and things get bogged down, how do you normally react? (Can you give me an example of when you took the ball yourself and ran with it?)

My client’s answers to these questions revealed no knack for taking the initiative or recruiting others to help him start projects.  Instead, they revealed a strong inclination to be recruited by others and work on solving problems related to new business ventures.  The challenge and variety of such problems brought out the best in him.

He often gravitated to roles in new ventures where he could operate as a Key Contributor, getting involved in activities that were crucial to the success of the project or business.   Other team members valued him as a stabilizing influence in what were often very fluid, challenging situations.  He was the kind of team player that may not always be noticed when he’s there but is very much missed when he isn’t.

New Path

When this pattern was pointed out to him, he realized that his entrepreneurial aspirations were really a reaction to his current job as a cog in a very large wheel of a Fortune 500 company’s with firmly established policies, procedures and practices.  He was expected to do the same thing day in and day out, which was a direct conflict with his natural inclination to be involved with a variety of challenging problems related to new ventures.

Of course, he can start his own business, using determination and business skills…but over the long run he would probably be drained by such a venture and be unmotivated to continue, or find that recruiting others (as staff and customers) might be too stressful.

As we explore options together, he may find that a much better job fit for his combination of experience, education, strengths and preferences is to rebrand for a senior Manager role in a high-growth company or franchise where his knack or solving new venture problems would be recognized and rewarded. 

Measure your Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction is cited in many employee surveys as the #1 factor for staying in a job.  But what is job satisfaction and how do you measure it?

First, let’s be honest, there is no such thing as a perfect job where you are 100% happy and satisfied all the time.  The world is just not organized that way!  Second, let’s look at two key aspects of a job: (1) your key responsibilities or core job duties, and (2) the context or work environment in which you perform those duties.

Core Job Duties

Most job descriptions list about 10 key responsibilities that you are expected to perform regularly.  Ask yourself, what percentage of an average work day do you spend performing job duties that energize or stimulate you, as opposed to drain or bore you?  One key to job satisfaction is to spend 60% of your day or more performing job duties that energize you.  Because, let’s face it, many job duties are just grunt work, things you can do but don’t really enjoy doing—in fact, you probably roll up your sleeves, grit your teeth, and wipe the sweat off your brow to get them done.  This is the down side of your job.

Job satisfaction often depends on your ability to limit the downside of your job to 40% of your key responsibilities…which means that the remaining 60% of your job duties should engage your strengths and motivations—things you do naturally and effortlessly.  But, in my experience, most individuals end up performing dull or boring job duties 60-90% of their day, which is a recipe for stress and burnout…and helps explain why depression is the number one workplace disability today.  Why would you want to go to work and spend most of your day performing boring or dull job duties?

This 60/40 split becomes increasingly important as you grow older and have less energy available to you. However, you need to be aware of the likelihood that many times this ratio may slip to 40/60, in which case you may feel drained by brief periods of routine work.  This is nothing to be alarmed about as long as the ratio returns to 60/40 in due course; if it doesn’t, you’ll need to take action.

Work Circumstances

Besides a 60-40 split in terms of core job duties, job satisfaction is often a result of certain factors, such as good relationships with co-workers, especially your immediate supervisor.  You could have the best job duties in the world but if your compensation doesn’t allow you to pay the bills or get ahead, then job satisfaction declines.  Or, perhaps your commute is killing you.  Or, your metabolism can’t adjust to shift work.  Being in work circumstances that align with your values, priorities and preferences also contributes to job satisfaction.

For example, numerous studies point to the following factors that influence satisfaction on the job: a lot of job security; relatively high incomes or university degrees; how much say you have over what you do and the way you do it; small workplaces; the amount of time you spend commuting or working at home; dealing with people; who controls the pace of work is critical…tight deadlines and high-speed is a source of job dis-satisfaction for many people; while small freedoms—such as being able to move your desk or change the lighting—adds to job satisfaction for others.

As you can see, jobfit and career satisfaction are influenced by many factors related to what energizes you in terms of core job duties and what brings out the best in your in terms of a work environment.

Interviews–listen, laugh, & land the job!

I often use this blog to talk about the importance of narrative in career development.  Telling good stories in an interview can be essential to getting a job offer.  Here’s why:

“I must sell myself.”  This is the mindset of most individuals when they go into a job interview.  They presume that the interview is primarily about them.  After all, the opening question is usually some variation of “Tell us about you.”

I know it’s counter-intuitive but the interview is not really about you; it’s really about the needs and priorities of the organization conducting the interview and, more specifically, about the needs and preferences of the manager that you might report to.

When I coach my clients through interviews, I ask them to take some time after the interview to write down the questions they were asked.  For example, here are some questions a client was asked at a recent interview for a Business Systems Analyst (BSA) role:

– What are some of the challenges I have had with communicating to stakeholders?

– What are some of the challenges I have had communicating with employees? 

– How do I deal with not sticking to a deadline and how do I communicate this with stakeholders? 

– How have I contributed to the productivity of my previous team? 

It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand what a BSA does.  What matters here is that these Qs reveal the concerns of the employer, they reveal the internal challenges or pain points this company is experiencing in their current client service operations.  They want to make sure that this candidate knows how to deal with such challenges and can solve these problems, not make them worse.

Most people think of an interview as a test, a one-way street on which interviewers ask questions and the interviewee must give the ‘right’ answers in order to pass the test and get a job offer.  Again, I know this is counter-intuitive, but an interview is actually a conversation or dialogue conducted by an employer who is trying to get to know you well enough to decide if you are ‘safe’ to hire.  Your goal in the interview is to make it easier for the employer to hire you because you are, in fact, a ‘safe’ candidate, someone who will make the manager’s job easier not harder.

Because I had prepared my client for such Qs, he told stories of himself in action solving these types of issues and getting quantifiable results for his previous employers.  He even managed to insert some humour into his stories. 

Think about this:  who is the most popular person at a party (besides the host providing the food and beverages)?  It’s usually the best joke teller or storyteller.  We live in a narrative culture, immersed in stories all around us—it’s what binds us together socially.  The strongest communicators among us are often the most popular, sometimes the most likeable.

Everybody enjoys a good laugh—just like the strong communicator at the party, you will become instantly likeable in an interview when you share a funny anecdote that gives people a chuckle.  A human hires humans not resumes. 

In summary: the best way to increase your chances of landing a job offer is to tell compelling stories of you in action solving problems for previous managers that are relevant to the manager you are interviewing with while getting quantifiable results…and generating a few chuckles along the way!

How To Get Away With Murder of your inner critic

It’s the start of another year…but are you still haunted by an inner critic from your past? We learn as children to please others who are important to us, such as parents, teachers, peers and coaches. And when we earn their criticism instead of their praise, we often internalize that critical voice for the rest of our lives.

It doesn’t take much—a verbal criticism of something you said or did, a big red fail on a written exam, or a cold shoulder, a sharp rebuke, a stinging reprimand—and you never wrote another poem, or played another game of soccer, or sang another song, or designed another dress, or did whatever gave you joy, made you feel free, or deepened your sense of accomplishment. Because, after that…every time you tried, the inner critic reared its ugly head and crushed you with that ‘voice’ in your brain.

I think we, as individuals, underestimate the influence of others in our young lives. We are, after all, social beings who want to be liked and loved by others. As children, we usually aim at becoming something that will please others long before we take the time to find out who we are.

Many individuals are channeled down a certain career path using ‘can do’ skills based on the advice of these well-meaning influencers. This can create problems later in life, not the least being stuck in a dull or meaningless job that fosters deep dissatisfaction.

Kill the critic

The best way to kill this inner critic is to replace it with your ‘authentic’ voice. Since 1986, research from more than 200 studies shows that creative, expressive and reflective writing about thoughts and feelings in a structured safe space helps individuals gain control over a negative life event. There are many exercises for killing that inner critical voice in order to make room for your own voice. Years ago, I had a lot of fun doing this one:

I found a list of the 1001 ways to kill somebody. I picked one that I felt would suitably avenge my inner pain. Then I wrote a letter to my persecutor describing in detail how I was going execute them. I was shocked at the depth of my anger and pain! These transgressions against our souls, our very beings, create deep wounds…the pen I held was my sword of vengeance!

How to get away with murder

Remember, this is an exercise, a form of creative play in a safe place, so a few words of caution are necessary: put your bloodthirsty letter in an envelope…but don’t mail it…you could end up in jail! Instead, burn it, bury it, cut it to pieces, do whatever feels right…but don’t actually send or give it to the transgressor. Kill that inner critic figuratively not literally–that’s how you get away with murder!

This simple writing exercise liberated me from an inner critic. It helped me trade in that ‘other’ for my own. Since then, I have expressed my voice through this newsletter and blogs, through several books, articles in newspapers and career magazines, through academic journals, as well as through creative writing, my own radio show, and at career conferences. It’s all fun; it gives me to have my voice engaged in meaningful conversations that influence others.

Reclaim your voice

If you feel that your voice has been swallowed up by the values and priorities of someone else in your life, then draw on this scientific method of killing that inner critic. Simple writing exercises combined with an experienced coach will help you think, feel and write your way though rigid beliefs or behaviours that keep you stuck in life or work.

Liberate yourself! JobJoy is collaborating with Phrase Strategy and its Essential Voice programs to help individuals to see reality in a new way and find their voice. Claim your freedom by uncovering YOUR voice! It will enrich and enlarge your life and work…

Storytelling is key to career change

As a career counsellor in private practice for the past 25 years, thousands of individuals have confided in me about their motivations for working. For most of us, it boils down to this: we work because we have to, simple as that, in order to pay our bills and provide for our loved ones.

Until now, most of us have had no real reason to question a way of life that is organized in its most simplistic form around our potential to get a good education, secure a stable job, purchase a house, grow a family, and follow a life script of working and buying as a reward for what we do. This is The American/Canadian Dream—‘work hard, play by the rules, get ahead.’

Except that getting ahead is getting much more difficult (even impossible) for many of us due to various social, economic and technological forces. For some, the link between work and wages amounts to ‘wage slavery’ if the work is dull, dirty or dangerous…while others feel stuck in jobs with ‘golden handcuffs,’ because the wages and benefits are too good to give up no matter how much they dislike the actual work.

Even for those who like their work, we must acknowledge that depression—often caused by work-related stress and burnout—is now the #1 disability in North America, costing billions in productivity losses, billions more in social welfare, while eroding family security.

Adding fuel to that fire, we find wages stagnate while housing costs soar and inequality between the very rich and the rest of us increases dramatically. We lose our job security when companies move their operations to cheaper labour markets. Robots are replacing unionized factory jobs. Automation is replacing white-collar jobs. If you doubt it, subscribe to Undone free weekly online mag to track these trends & issues.

All this is now business as usual. And we accept this entirely, well…because we have to.

Really? Do we, as individuals, have to accept this state of affairs as rational and inevitable? Does winning at life mean we must accept this story of work with all its built in assumptions? One of the most effective ways that I know for stepping outside this employment trap is to write out your story and get it analysed for a pattern of meaning.

Storytelling opens up a space for challenging our current identity, for re-interpreting our life experiences in a way that opens up space for new career options. You can change your career, your job, and your life without losing money or status or health or whatever is near and dear to you. There is evidence to prove it. There is the example of thousands who have done it.

In short, your story is not fixed but fluid. You are not trapped but, instead, you have access to many opportunities that may be more rewarding and enriching than the one you have now. We make our story because we make our life. We have choices.

You can create and live a better story!

If jobs disappear, you can be paid for what you love to do!

If you could be paid for work that you love to do but is now unpaid…would you take it?

Home childcare, or writing a movie script, or inventing gadgets in your backyard, or building a single engine airplane in your garage, or making music, or volunteering overseas for a preferred humanitarian cause, or getting active in a local environmental one, or designing beautiful gardens, or beekeeping, or taking better care of aging family members, or taking all the time you need to develop one of your brilliant ideas into a business–these are just a few ‘passions’ that some of my clients have identified over the years but could not pursue because of economic insecurity.

Universal Basic Income

However, the day may be coming very soon when work previously un-paid will be covered by a UBI, or a universal basic income. Why? Because the industrial economy of mass production based on human labour is coming to an end. And it will change many of the assumptions and practices that we now take for granted.

For example, we have to work to live—this is the simple truth known as the work ethic and is deeply rooted in our culture for the last 2000 years, maybe longer. For most of us, it is reality. And the idea that we have to work becomes synonymous with a job. It’s the main reason many of us stay in jobs or organizations that we hate…because we have to make a living and pay our mortgages and provide for our loved ones. Work is often a trade-off between what we’d like to do and what we have to do to pay the bills. It’s a fact of life that few question. As a result, the work ethic has been at the center of who we are as individuals and as a society. In short, we are defined by our jobs.

But business billionaires Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Sam Altman and others predict that automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will eliminate the need for most jobs within 20 years. Most people will no longer need to work in order to live. Our basic needs for housing, food, clothing, transportation will be covered by technology and, perhaps, a universal basic income (UBI).

What a radical idea! If jobs disappear and are not replaced by new kinds of jobs…well, what will people do? Or, who will they be? It really depends on how you define ‘work’. Some of the most important work in the world is unpaid labour, such as child rearing. Some of the least important work in the world is the highest paid.

What if bankers disappeared?

For example, a study was done on a bankers’ strike in Ireland that lasted 6 months in 1970. Predictions were that the Irish economy would collapse with dire consequences for the man in the street. Instead, the economy actually grew during those six months because ordinary people forged a decentralized monetary system with the country’s pubs as the key nodes for clearing checks and finding cash.

The ‘crisis’ demonstrated how much our economy runs on trust not treasure. And there have been few strikes by financiers since. However, garbage collectors in New York City went on strike about the same time and a state of emergency was declared after six days and the strike settled three days later.

Bankers and garbage collectors both perform valuable roles in society but who really is more essential to society’s long-term health and well-being? When our economic system puts profits before people, then the highest paid individuals are often those doing the least important ‘work’…because they have the gold, they make the rules.

Technology is now changing the rules of the game in some fundamental ways. For example, working for a living has always involved producing something in return for wages. But what happens when ‘things’ can be produced by robots and other forms of artificial intelligence?

The answer to this question is behind UBI, a proposal for changing the very structure of society as we now know it. The idea is that the wealth created by robots and computers will be shared more equitably with all citizens…rather than accrue in the bank accounts of fewer and fewer people at the top of the income scale.

I believe this is a significant idea with serious implications not only for those of us working today but especially for our children. As difficult as it might be to think that our current economic model could change so drastically, any responsible parent will want to stay on top of these developments in order to secure a promising future for their children.

UBI is not a done deal. There are pros & cons, as well as other options, such as 15 hour work weeks, open borders, and more. If you want to learn more about these issues and trends, subscribe to my free UnDone online mag.

Or, at the very least, start thinking about what you might do with your time. My JobJoy Reports have helped hundreds of individuals clearly identify their motivational pattern and where they might apply it in terms of meaningful work so that they live to do work that energizes rather than drains them.

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