Friday, November 19, 2010

Myth of Knowing What You Want to Be

My client is angry.  "I DID all those exercises you gave me, and I STILL don't know what I want!"  She's a brilliant analyst, able to synthesize complex data and create impressive solutions. . .except when it came to her own career.  One reason was she had neglected to spread out those pages and see what conclusions she would draw from her own information.  There were two larger possibilities, however:  fear of deciding about herself and the possibility there might not be some one grand career for her.

Fear of Deciding

When we begin our work life, we seldom know what we want to be when we grow up.  We don't know our strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and capabilities because we haven't been in the work world to know.  And we certainly don't want to close off any options.  As we learn about ourselves we begin to understand what works for us and what doesn't; what we're willing to do and go for; what our "No's" are.  We also admit - with great reluctance - we may not be as ambitious as we thought we were. . .not that we'll reveal it in a performance evaluation!  The self-knowledge process can be delayed or stymied because we're afraid to admit who we are.  "I'm never going to be good at:  managing up, playing politics, filing, details, technology."  When you declare what you're good at, you can go for what will give you that and avoid situations that require doing what you're NOT good at.  We are fearful because we don't want to lose any opportunity.  Maturity is acknowledging:  "Here's who I am, strengths and weaknesses, dreams and limitations; and I'm going to live who I am."

Myth of the Grand Career

About three-fourths of new clients will tell me they want "to know what I want to be when I grow up," and as I've watched how few of them are willing to go through the self-analysis process or to go for what they want because of obligations or obstacles, I wonder if it isn't really a myth that there's ONE BIG THING we should be.  Some find a word for what they want:  doctor, lawyer, missionary.  So many of the rest of us live in less defined worlds of manager, sales rep, contract administrator.  It's not what we aspired to; it's what we became as we were waiting for the dream to show up.  What I know about doctors is they get MBAs so they can get out of restrictive medical environments.  Lawyers want the heck out of a punishing, boring field.  Missionaries want to be professional speakers.  In other words, few of us remotely know what we want to be when we grow up; and we live vaguely frustrated lives believing we should know, feeling we're not quite living up to our possibilities.

The Solution

What if we took a different look at our career?  Look at your life as lived thus far.  Did you have a clue ten years ago that you'd be doing THIS today?  Twenty years ago?  No way.  Some people are living what they want; I promise you, they're rare.  Maybe we should take a shorter view than the Career Grand Slam.

It's important to do that self-assessment, to know yourself, warts and all; to know what would make you happy.  Why don't you get as much of that into the job you have now?  Why don't you insist on it in career discussions with your manager?  "I'm happiest when I can be a subject matter expert working with higher levels in the company."  It gives management something to chew on rather than slot you anywhere as they've done to date.  Your indecision has been their convenience.  Change that dynamic.

Rather than staying frustratedly unaware of the Big Career Goal, what if you just decide and go for what's your right "Next."  For example, you love horses to your toes.  What if you move to Kentucky and get as close as you can, with your existing background and experience, to those stables and velvet muzzles?  A "Next" like this could be way more interesting than the program for the elderly that has you languishing.  I believe that if you keep living  toward your interesting "Next," you can eventually find yourself living in your Career Dream. 

The Conclusion

Know yourself, commit to giving yourself what makes you happy right where you are now, focus on your right "Next" and keep your antennae up so you'll recognize The Dream when it sneaks up on you.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


You may be asking someone to write a reference for you; someone may be asking you to write a reference for them.  How is it done?  These are the steps:

1.  The letter should state:

            Who the reference is for - you.
            In what capacity they know you.
            How long?

2.  What did they observe about your strengths (have reference-writers focus on your behaviors)?  This covers things like drive, determination, reliability, intelligence, problem-solving abilities.  Can they give specific examples?

3.  What areas of improvement?  This one is a toss-up.  Some organizations ASK you to speak to this.  If not, let it be so the reference is all positive.

4.  Why you would be a good employee, student at their school, receiver of award, etc.

5.  Say they wholeheartedly recommend you.

6.  Send the reference to YOU unless you were asked to have it sent to the organization (give the reference-writer that information).

A few notes about the above:

1.  If the organization gives a specific format, have your references follow that.

2.  If this is a general reference - for employment, for example - have the letter-writers give you several copies on letterhead.  These are typically addressed:  To Whom It May Concern.

3.  Don't ask anyone whose letter won't be gung-ho.  The boss that fired you (a) may not be able to write a letter because company policies forbid it, but (b) who wants a letter from the guy who kicked you out the door?  Find someone else in the company.

4.  If you were fired but the company agreed to write a reference letter, birddog those drafts till you're happy with the content.  You don't want to be damned with faint praise.

5.  You can scan and email a reference, but snail mail is still a better idea.

Who do you ask for references?  Bosses (or clients) are best; former bosses if the current one drop-kicked you; co-workers; community leaders if they're known and know you well.  Students often use professors and the clergy; I was always less impressed by these than the fast food line cook you sweated next to while getting your degree.  The rule of thumb:  People who know well how you work and who are well known. . .an unbeatable combination.

What if one of your references asks YOU to write the reference letter?

The first time this happened to me, I was stunned.  Is that kosher?  I wrote the draft and have done it on numerous occasions, realizing that I was asking busy people to spend considerable time on what was more important to me than to them, a task they don't feel comfortable doing.  I would write the draft, send it to the reference, who always added to it (I don't toot my horn enough), finalized and sent it to me.  You may have have a sterner ethic about this - and some reference-seekers have declined to write their draft - but I believe in getting the job done, AND quality control.  You don't want to live with an ineptly crafted reference.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Young Kids at Home

Will a potential employer hold it against me because I have young children at home?

Yes, but employers have fears about employment candidates whether they're single or married. If you're single, they worry you'll get drunk after work, come in too late and show up the next day hung over and unproductive. If you're married with kids, they're afraid you'll be off work all the time taking them to doctors or hovering over fevered brows or coaching soccer. And if you're married without kids, they'll worry you haven't settled down and will run to another job for the slightest reason.

The point is, you can't win in the potential-employer-worry game. Just focus on presenting your best self.

You can choose not to say anything, but this is what you say in the interview, if you decide to talk about your children.  Employers are not supposed to ask if you have them, but most candidates bring it up. Once they do, the kids are fair game in the conversation, if the questions are work-related.  Talk about your arrangements for child care (which matters if the job requires travel), about sick care (if being on the job at particular times is vital), about car-pool (if the job has flex-hours). 

The more the employer feels you’ve anticipated and handled such situations, the more attractive you will seem for the job.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Living in Overwhelm with a Broccoli Spear

When big change or travail is upon you - working two jobs because the company won't replace. . .having an impossible project deadline. . .doing an extended, scary job search - most days you just want to slap somebody, or you walk around clutching a broccoli spear.

This was my friend who was giving a dinner party for 30.  "I'll do the seder this year," she bravely offered.  She called me in a panic at 10:00 AM the day of.  "Help!"  I grabbed two others and the three of us spent the next hours chopping, cooking, setting, getting it ready.  Anytime I saw her she was walking around, stunned, carrying the same broccoli spear.  She was in overwhelm.

If you find yourself similarly gripping a green vegetable, try these daily strategies to do your necessary work:

1.  Sing sad country songs, or whatever else helps you relieve stress:  Exercise, meditation, journaling, reading weepy historical fiction.  Take care of yourself so you can take care of everything else.

2.   Chunk it.  Divide your day into chunks, and work a chunk at a time.  You might plan by the hour what you'll do.  You could do my 1-2-3 method.  I pick three things I want to do in succession.  I do them.  I do another 1-2-3.  The day goes by and I've accomplished amid chaos.  Pray to be shown the next right thing.  Make a list.  Create little bites so you can eventually get that elephant eaten.

3.  Keep your eyes on your own work.  Move your focus from the larger world to JUST THIS.  Keep your eyes down so you don't see the dishes or vacuuming you'd rather do than make a networking call.  Turn off the television.  If it's Oprah, it distracts you from necessary work.  If it's news, it distresses you.  If you're at work, keep a whiteboard with your 1-2-3s in front of you.  Avoid what isn't mission-critical (you'll be tempted to do exactly the opposite).

4.  Sleep on it.  Exhaustion and worry can keep you awake, but put your bod in the bed early so you're at least resting.  If you've exercised during the day and meditated in the evening (not to mention your warm milk and honey before bedtime), you might have an easier time of it.

5.  Call somebody.  See your coach.  Find a friend you can call, just for five minutes, to vent, and then get back to work.  Go chase Bambi on November Saturdays with your pals.  That human connection can be magic when you're in overwhelm.

6.  Remember you'll get through this.  It has an end, and every day you're closer to it.  People who sell hear a lot of "No."  Successful sales people see a turndown as bringing them one step closer to "Yes."

You have good reasons to be in your emotional state.  Just remember you have more tricks than just broccoli spears in your kit bag.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How Clients Create Successful Change

When you decide to make a Big Life Change - career, weight, partners - you are quickly daunted by all the little changes the Big Change requires. . .and you don't like it!  It's why dreams fade unrealized and crummy jobs remain what we show up for each day.

My clients who make successful changes do the following:

1.  "Discipline is remembering what you want."  "Keep your eye on the prize."  Pick any folksy saying that appeals.  Clients decide what they want and stay focused on it.  They never lose sight of the destination.

2.  Have a bumper sticker.  In his book of the same name, Bob Meehan recommends having a symbol with you that reminds you of your goal.  It could be a safety pin, a buckeye you carry in your pocket, a 3 x 5 card with words you frequently review, a laminated photo of the family whose future you intend to improve.  One client had a Buddha.  I had a tiny stuffed bee (to remind me I had a BHAG (big hairy goal).  Another carried a small action toy.  Each time they saw it, it brought them again to center, where the dream and determination lived.

3.  Have a trusted other.  Is it spouse, friend, coach, spiritual director, group on the same path?  It's someone who cares to listen, to have your goal as shared desire, to prod, to encourage, to remind you:  You're great. . .and You can.  Keep going.

4.  Respect the time and distance, and look back once in awhile.  Important change always takes time, and it happens a class, a dollar, a step at a time; our culture doesn't wire us for that.  Life change can happen now on us, and we'd prefer that, in some ways.  Then we'd like to write the book about how THIS happened and we changed immediately; (but please, God, no pain or loss of limb, okay?)  Keep your head down, your spirits up; carry just enough courage for today, and move forward.  Keep track.  If it's a big project, list the to-dos on a white board and cross through as you complete pieces.  Re-meet with someone who can marvel at your progress and remind you to look back and see how far you've come.

5.  Be patient for half-time.  Much of your change misery lies in your beginnings, when you have all the journey to go.  You need the most cheerleaders here.  Once you hump over half, it's downhill. . .or at least there's more done than there is to go.

6.  Ditch the nay-sayers.  Some spouses and friends are great in change; others are frightened and want to pull you to the safer harbor they don't realize is no longer there for you.  Go to Tuesday coffee with people pitching in the same boat.  See your coach.  Don't talk to your parents unless they're firmly and helpfully on your team.  Be careful who you tell.

7.  Don't quit.  Especially as you begin, the world seems to conspire against your achieving.  Funding disappears.  No one says "yes" for informational interviews.  You can't find a part-time job.  Your credit card bills look scary.  Early-day roadblocks are absolutely predictable.  This is all a test of your determination.  Go back to Number 1:  Remember what you want; Number 3: Work with a trusted other; and Number 4:  Take it day by day.  Whatever you do, don't quit, if this means as much as your heart says it does.  As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said at Harrow School in 1941: "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never."

Are You Really Ready to Change?

You're thinking of a big life jump.  Are you up for changing?  Your daily life would suggest not.  Most of us want stability, a measure of security, foods we like, people we can depend on.  We work hard to build our world like that.  It gives us an underlying sense that we're okay.

Life, of course, throws blistering curve balls:  job loss, aging parents, teenagers to raise.  Now we don't feel so hot.  We tackle change like this with more resoluteness than joy.  We aren't sure what needs to be done.  It eats up our time.  We're afraid of both process and outcome.  But we deal with it because we have to.

Choosing to change has one additional hazard.  The universe isn't demanding it of us.  Your heart may not be wholly in it.  Our midnight resolution melts in the more demanding dawn.  Go on.  Test it.  Decide that, for one week, you'll brush your teeth with the other hand.  Feel the resistance, the meaninglessness of it, the pull of the more familiar? 

See what you face with change?  It's a kicker.  It's not easy.  Be prepared, as you venture into the new you're choosing, for the mule kick you and the universe will give your spirit.

Next blog:  How to change like my clients change.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Think Before You Go to a Recruiter

I dream I’m giving a speech to a convention of recruiters.   They rise and applaud as I approach the dais, wiping away tears of gratitude.  Why?  I had persuaded job seekers to STOP CALLING THEM.  Then I awake, go to work, and the first client of the day asks, “Should I go see a headhunter?”  The dream fades.

That question really means:  “Please direct me to someone who will do the work FOR me so I don’t have to.”  It doesn't work that way. Search firms work for the client, not you. You can't go to a recruiter and say, "Gee, I thought if I could look at the jobs you have, I could figure out which ones I’m qualified for.” They’ll take the resume and smile sweetly; but if you don't look like a job order they already have, it hits the round file when you leave.

If you’re a garden-variety worker, most recruiters aren’t interested in you.  They get paid between 10 and 35% of the hired recruit’s first year’s salary.  Companies don't spend money like that unless they can’t find candidates, or they’re rushed to make a huge hire or they don’t have the staff to do it.  Plus, most recruiters specialize in one or two areas:  computer programs, creative people, human resource managers, CEOs.  Their attitude is, as executive searcher Annie Gray told me, “Don’t call me.  I’ll find you.” They troll their sources:  directories, former placements, friends, colleagues, source-filled Rolodexes, and the Internet.  Sourcing is an art, and hard, hard work.  Their fees are called “contingency” (they get paid only if they find someone) or “retained” (they get paid for presenting qualified candidates.)  A few work on an hourly basis. 
Some employment firms ask the job seeker to pay a fee, usually several thousand dollars.  These are bottom feeders who go after the unskilled, unsophisticated, desperate or lazy job seeker.  They don't produce the desired result, though their hand is out for your ready cash.  The dog work remains yours to do.

If you want to use a recruiter, do your work first.  What kind of job are you seeking?  Which recruiters specialize in what you do?  Tell the recruiter about yourself in 20 seconds. You might get lucky and become a candidate, but only if you're a hard-to-find candidate who called the right firm.  Statistics say only10% of seekers get a job through recruiters. The grind is yours:   figuring out what you want, making networking calls, scouring the want ads, trolling the internet and scrambling to get an interview. 

It ain’t glamorous, but the process works.  I'm actually encouraged when clients ask me about headhunters.  I've learned it's their last hopeful swipe at the easier way before they get down to the serious business of job hunting.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

We Are All Derivative

(This is not about my next book.  It's about how to succeed by imitating successful people.)

I am writing my next book.  The process is always the same:

1.  Clear the mental deck of the demons shouting:  "You can't do this! You have nothing new to say!  You have no talent!"

2.  Read books on the topic to learn how other authors deal with it.  Decide my unique contribution.

3.  Surround my work area with books that make my heart sing, as Author Xandra Bingley does, hoping their spirits will jump into her writing.  I have Jack Canfield, Annie Lamott, Stephen King (his book on writing) and the memoir of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. 

4.  Put a one-inch picture frame on my desk, as Annie Lamott says.  Sit down and write, same time every day, to get into the discipline.  Only care about filling the equivalent of that frame each day.

5.  Find the best writing time of day.  Attorney and mystery writer Michael Kahn writes at night after his kids have gone to bed.  My time is early, early morning before the day's noises beckon.

6.  As author Dan Poynter recommends, get a three-ring binder, with chapter dividers to hold the writing, write the back cover copy, and begin writing wherever I can.

7.  Write till it's done.

Did you notice how many authors I'm imitating? Few of us are ORIGINALS who actually create something new.  Most of us are DERIVATIVES who found inspirational somebodies to imitate.

Whether they want to be a professional speaker or a coach or a successful CEO or educational administrator, my consistent advice to clients is:  Look around in your business.  Find the successful ones.  Get to know them.  Do what they do.  (That means joining their same organizations, going to conferences, getting involved.)

If you don't know the career you want, start building a list of people you admire:  Jack Welch, Wayne Dyer, Winston Churchill, Oprah.  Read what they write.  What are they doing that you admire?  What habit or attitude of thought would you like to adopt as your own?  Once you begin creating the INNER successful you, you'll see a more eager and confident OUTER successful you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Are There Any Advantages to Studying Abroad?

(From the forthcoming book, Starting Over, by Rose Jonas and David Finkelstein)

Anyone looking at the American economy is asking when the recovery will happen.  Some projections say not till 2018, despite peppier news releases saying it's over now. Anyone believing the U.S. will have the same lofty perch on the world market swing is delusional.  Whether the recession ends sooner and the economy roars back to its old heady self, outside your front door is a world marketplace.  If you have any ambition, but can't bear to leave Paducah, you are living in yesterday.  Does my bias show about the benefits of international studies?  Good!

It makes complete sense to study abroad.  You will give yourself a broader world view.  You will see better how the world comes together.  You can make decisions for yourself, outside the whacked American media, about the state of the world. 

You will think of yourself as being more cosmopolitan, and understand you're part of a planet, not just a county.  You will make friends in other cultures who may help you one day.  You will feel proud about the challenge you mastered of living in strange-to-you places.  You will have an appreciation for all you have, and an altered view of what life means.

How to study abroad?  The easiest way is through your school.  They ALL have summer or semester programs.  In them, you typically live on some city university's campus with other Americans.  You often have chances to tour this country or travel to others.  Do it! This is the most expensive way.  You pay your regular tuition, PLUS travel and accommodation and other fees in the country.  It also offers you the least chance to BE in that culture; the faces you study with all look like yours.  Find ways (safely, of course) to be out of that environment.  I asked a woman just returned from a trip to Eastern Europe if this had been a cruise.  "No," she said.  "I don't like them.  You only eat with Americans."  Well said.

You can also get your degree at Oxford, the Sorbonne or the University of Dubai.  That's a more complex decision/enrollment/acceptance possibility.

A cheaper, more exotic, possibly scarier way is to find the university and classes in the foreign city you want, find out if your school accepts those credits, apply, go there, find a place to stay, and immerse yourself in your environment.  Do this if you're an adventurer and know the language of the country-to-be.  (A repetitive but informative book on this method of study abroad is The New Global Student by Maya Frost.  Her website is:

Americans often choose England, Australia, Canada because of the language ease.  These are still quite different cultures.  Even if you choose the easy way, get out in the culture as much as you can.

You will have a blast.  You'll never forget it.  You'll use the experience in ways you can't even imagine now, and you'll be more attractive in the job marketplace.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Starting Over

So many people in this job market have come to career crossroads. Is your job gone forever? Do you grit your teeth when you walk into the office each morning; you just can't take it? Do you now believe that education holds the key to your advancement? You have to start over.

I'll have more to say about deciding what you want to do, about the education or training or internships or volunteer work that land you the new job; but this is about getting that first new job; about starting over in the new career, when you bring all your knowledge and skills to a place that dismisses you as "the new guy."

The worst part about starting over is starting over. You are at the beginning in terms of experience HERE, but you're not necessarily young. People don't treat you with the respect you deserve. Your ideas don't get heard. You went through all that hassle for THIS? If you've had internships or done part-time work in the field while you were being trained, this "apprentice" time can be shortened.

The best suggestion: Get over it and get going. There's nothing to be done except get through it. Put your ego aside and look around. This new-guy treatment of you isn't mean-spirited. You simply have no credibility here. You may have had decades in science or theatre or financial advising, but that's not what we do here, honey. These folks have no reference point for your previous expertise and they don't value it. There are two good lessons here: (1) You will go through this anytime you change a job. You will always have to figure out a way to become a member of the new pack. The group always muscles you around before saying "C'mon in!" (2) The only thing that matters to an organization is that you provide value to the people, the task, the goals. What you are, intrinsically, is of little interest to the organization. Its essential question is: "What can YOU do for ME?"

Be patient and cheerful. Give the organization what it values.

I'm Ba-a-ack!

Took the summer off to work on the next book and travel.

I'm back!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What if your job IS your passion?

You would want that, wouldn't you, especially since surveys consistently show that 70% of us are dissatisfied with our work? But does your job hold the "passion" promise for us. . . or our life outside of it? It's more complicated than you might think.

A very unhappy client was a graduate student in music. Music was all he'd ever wanted to do, and he was educating himself accordingly. Why was he so miserable, since he was living his dream? What we discovered, in teasing apart his unhappiness, was that music-as-job was drudgery for him. He hated the hours of boring scholastic accountability, preferring to fly where his soul might take him. THAT was his passion, the soul aspect of music. He changed majors so music could stay pure and lovely to him. A business degree would help him get a job to sustain that flight.

A man in construction was bored and wanted a new career, something he could be passionate about. What we learned in working together was that he didn't have a passion around careers, period. Work was a means to an end for him. He was reasonably happy with his pay, job requirements, working conditions and seasonality. What he LIVED for was his life outside of work - caving - and his job made that financially possible. He stayed in construction and followed his passion on weekends and in winter jaunts to Central America. He became a world-class caver.

A third example. Television is a brutal industry and not pretty seen up close. A friend is an executive producer at a network station. For decades she's lost weekends and sleep because of floods, church murders and political conventions. She rises to the late-night phone call like a dalmation to the fire house alarm. While a dedicated mom, TV is all she's wanted to do.

Can you see the difference? The musician found his passion in spontaneous riffs, the caver in bat-inhabited holes; their jobs facilitated their passion. Who knows what heights (or depths) they can reach, entering their joy in this way? The producer's passion for TV was in her bones. She tolerates any challenge or missed party because her work IS her passion.

The notion of passion is a complex one. Do you have passion around your career, or does it lie with raising a family, participating in your church or community, being an amateur athlete, playing in a garage band, or writing a history of your people's struggles? You can hope for passion around career AND the rest of your life, but you may be okay with a different model of how your passion gets nourished. You may have the will to pursue your heart's desire no matter the cost; you might have to delay it because other things come first for right now. The only right answer lives within you.

Here's the point: (1) Be as honest as the musician and the caver about where your passion lies for you. (2) Be diligent in discovering your passion, which is listening carefully to your heart's song, a task that gets easier with practice. (3) Be realistic about what you pursue NOW. If the drive within consumes you and you have no barriers and possess the resources, GO. If you're like most of us who discover the passion at mid-career, there will be trade-offs and baby steps to reach the dream. You might have to go for something else today. (4) Nourish the dream, whether or not you can pursue it now. Life gives you more than one chance at this. I promise.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Resilience, Part II

Winter is turning to spring. In the Midwest, we have early warming trends which lure us all outside to fling the winter from our bones. The first brave flowers peak from the leaves we left over our gardens.

Then winter returns, blustery, gray, same-old winter. We stand at our kitchen windows and worry about our tulips, daffodils and Siberian iris. How can they survive? Will we have no crocus or grape hyacinth this year?

Then the spring that had so briefly flirted with us bounces back to town--to stay this time--and the garden becomes a riot of happy color. The question is (and it is asked more easily of flowers than people), how much did the late-winter blast have to do with their current blooming? Are they hardier, as people say trauma made them stronger? If true, should we have a more positive attitude toward vicissitude?

We often say traumatic life is a reason to expect less of people (which is terrible thing to do, I believe). We should, instead, continue to have high expectations, given that they have come through and know they can. A better view of trauma might be--if not necessarily an opportunity to be welcomed--a jumping-off place from which to launch a better life; possible because worse has already happened.

The challenges you face today can be creating a better YOU. Choose challenge. Take action.

Shaping Your Resilience

My doctoral dissertation examined the question: How do people come through trauma as resilient rather than destroyed? My findings may hold answers for you in this time of tumultuous, often brutal, change. The bottom line is: Embrace what this is and get moving. You'll be better for it.

The people I studied had experienced the Holocaust, disability, head trauma, violence, loss. They told me that what got them through was:

1. Supportive others. If your world is quaking, find people who understand; connection helps. If the trauma is business-related, start or join a mastermind group, get a coach, go to therapy, be with friends who care.

2. Taking care of the self. Realize that getting through this is up to you. Don't be a misguided martyr. Look out for your interests. Guard your physical and mental health.

3. Faith. They ALL said that reliance on God made their trauma more survivable. You may find your higher power in a church or a support group. Get someone stronger on your side.

4. Taking on challenges. They did what was difficult. It gave them a better sense of self to struggle than to be a pitiable victim.

5. Moving on with their lives. Their trauma did not define them. They didn't reside in trauma's cave nor sing its plaintive theme song. They used what it was to build better existences.

Your experiences now are changing you. You can choose despair, bitterness, giving up; or you can choose to cope well with courage and determination. If you do, here's the reward, if you're like my study subjects. You will:

1. Be more empathic. You have suffered. Your heart will reach out to struggling others.

2. Get better at coping, and appreciate your abilities when the next inevitable trauma occurs.

3. Develop new capabilities, such as patience, self-reliance, determination, persistence. You will realize this will pass.

4. Take better care of yourself. You will also reach other to help others.

5. Develop a more positive outlook. You will triumphantly know, "I can handle this. Did it already."

So, how will you get through the day? How DO you cope? Take a page from Twelve-Step Programs.

1. Focus on getting through today. You can't manage this Big Awful Thing. But "a day at a time" proves to be a useful long term strategy.

2. Ask your higher power to show you "the next right thing" to do. Out of confusion often comes a helpful suggestion.

You will not be the same after this. Trauma leaves a footprint on your soul. It can make you better, however, help you discover a stronger place in you. Resilience is the outcome of your determined, hope-focused coping.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Stick a Fork in Me. . .

. . .I'm done. An exhausted hostess can say this at the end of a huge dinner party; or an actor at the end of a multi-city tour. The company dishes are put away; we've cashed the last road check. This is now a PAST experience.

It's far more complex to know whether we're done with a job or career. Are we going through a patch of bad days or creepy supervision or funky balance sheets that halt advancement? Do our down feelings merely reflect our circumstance, or do they point to a deeper DONE meaning for us? Do I weather this? Do I go?

Here are a few signs you may be ready to go:

1. You've moved out. Figuratively, that is. Your body is at work, but your spirit is not; and your behaviors show it. You don't have lunch with your colleagues. You spend too much time in the bathroom or on the phone or the Internet. You don't go out for drinks with work friends anymore, or you show up at holiday parties for the barest minute. In other words, you're physically removing yourself from the social aspects of this place. Big sign that you're done.

2. You've quit. Another biggie. You're practically R.I.P. (retired in place). Your performance has slipped. You do your job, but you're phoning it in; you barely make your goals. You volunteer for nothing. You're mute at meetings. You watch the clock. (Retireee wannabes count the days till they're OUTTA HERE!) Be mindful. Bosses look sharply these days for performance slippage.

Notice this is about your heart and mind. Both are gone. If you see this in yourself, get moving on something else. But change like this is scary, irrespective of the economy's health. Our non-fulfilling job is the devil we know. Who knows, at our age. . .? Nobody's hiring new college grads. I have a family. It's easier to stay.

How to test whether you're ready to go:

1. Tell somebody. Your coach, spouse, friend (not your boss!) How was it to put it out there? Did you pull back into NOT CHANGING or did NEXT appeal to you? Tell some more bodies. See how your thinking changes as you talk about leaving.

2. Reach for NEXT. William Bridges writes about how to manage change, and how we cling to the familiar, even when change is thrust upon us. We have to let go of where we are and what we've been and reach for NEXT, to choose something new. We hate this place of transition. We're uncertain, afraid, and NEXT isn't obvious to us. Just choose something that seems possible for you.

3. Do one thing. Get a college catalog. Review your resume. Make a list of "Musts" and "Wants" for your next iteration. Go see a career coach. Your action will do more to rocket you into NEXT than extended rumination.

At any point, you can leap back into what you already have. You're not ready. It's too dangerous. This will take time. Just be sure to re-choose your NOW. Be in it. Embrace it. Do it like you mean it. If you don't, you'll continue to slip away - heart and mind - and someone may notice and help you go.

Recommended reading: Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, William Bridges

Monday, April 5, 2010

Serve, but Use Your Oxygen Mask

You know what you have learned about selflessness: It's better to give than to receive; do for others. We all know of someone's sainted mother who scrubbed floors and took in sewing so her baby could go to college, and she without a nice dress to wear.

After a lifetime of observing people's behavior and becoming more convinced of the value of service to others, I believe we mostly get it wrong in our efforts to live up to that ideal. Who makes it past the first day in Lent when the promise is to give up candy for 40 days? What New Year's resolution gets the high-five of accomplishment at year's end? What evening reverie about helping the poor makes it past our morning coffee?

We take the road to selflessness and service in the wrong way. How do I know? The airlines teach me so. On any flight, the attendant makes the same announcement: If we lose cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down. Place it over your nose and mouth and breathe deeply. If you're traveling with small children, place the mask over your face first, then the child's. In other words, help yourself first because if you don't, you could quickly lose consciousness, thereby hurting both you and the child.

To put it another way: Be of service to others, but help yourself first. By that I mean you must decide what's in it for you before you'll be willing to be selfless. If you ask do-gooders why they do it, they will almost always tell you they get a powerful personal return. The man who gives up beer for Lent, or the family who fasts during the month of Ramadan — they want a sense of mastery over their bodies. Mother Teresa doing her thankless tasks for the dying poor in Calcutta — she felt Jesus had commanded her. The Holocaust doctor puzzled by the honors she's receiving for saving lives in a World War II concentration camp — her motivation was to save her own life.

This isn't the prettiest side of selflessness because it has such a selfish twist. But I promise you, you'll be able to serve more, and with a gladder heart if you grab your oxygen mask first and know what's in it for you to be good.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Y R U Afraid?

Are you fearful as you approach big projects or major presentations, a dinner with company bigwigs, networking? A colleague the other day expressed surprise when I told him how fearful I used to be at leading groups because I am certainly confident NOW. I wasn't when I was in the same beginning place as he. Today I may be nervous or tensely focused; but generally not afraid.

My TV appearances as The Job Doctor, speaking and facilitating groups helped me learn the following about managing fear:

1. Know your material. To your bones. And have every word of the first two minutes down COLD. If you walk in with only HEAD knowing, with lack of solid rehearsal, without understanding exactly where everything is going, you will be fearful, scattered. If you know it in your gut, you can handle surprises that inevitably happen. With television, people roam the studio, crises crash around you, and you have to stay focused, smiling, PERFORMING. TV tip for learning those two minutes: Look at an unmoving object while you recite your first words. If your eyes stray, you're searching your brain for what to say. Recite it and stare till you don't need to look away.

2. Get as much "performing" experience as you can. Speeches, presentations, facilitations, teaching, leading meetings. All fear-producing experiences. The more you do, the less afraid you'll be. I was on television every week for 12 years. For the first five, I was so frightened when I sat on the news set I thought I'd have a heart attack. Then it went away. I used to throw up before I went on stage; after awhile, I didn't. But you have to step into fearful experiences again and again, whether it's making cold calls or conducting training or talking to your company president, to finally know you're competent - maybe an expert - at this.

3. Respect the extended learning process. You can't bring spring a day sooner. You can't evade this numbers game. The more you do it, the better you'll get. Do it a lot and the fear will fade.

4. Embrace the fear. You need its edge. Stage fright is a great performance booster. I'm worried when I DON'T have it. It's an energy your audience needs to see in you. It's your invitation to them to join you in an exciting, pumped place.

5. It's about you first, but it's really about them. If you are shivering-fearful, then you are totally self absorbed and you'd better get out of it. This is necessary YOU: Material. Beginning. Where we're going. Lookin' your best. Once you take care of that, then pay attention to what they're paying you for: the participants, the audience, the executives, the results.

This is your focus on THEM: How can I be of service? What's my job here? What are they here to achieve? How can I add value? What got my head out of my behind was The Tao of Leadership. Standing in fear before performing, I would open it to a random page, and this book of little wisdoms always made the perfect point to laser my attention on the other, not me. You need ego. You also must put it away. Both are required for doing this work.

6. Have something that anchors you. You can tell how afraid I am by how much jewelry I'm wearing. Pearls make me feel better. If you see bracelets, earrings, rings, a rope of 10 mm. oyster spit around my neck and a hot line to the Macy's pearls counter scribbled on my hand, you know I'm shakin' in my boots. In a difficult class I taught, I put a little toy bee on the podium, to remind me I had a B-HAG, a big, hairy goal with these students. Take with you something that makes you laugh or reminds you you're solid, prepared, eager to contribute.

7. This time tomorrow, it'll all be over. This mantra helps you realize the transience of even this challenging task. You may be fabulous. They may be fractious. You may take them to a higher plain. But it will be O-V-E-R. Comfort yourself with that final fear-busting thought.

Friday, March 12, 2010

How Is This for My Good?

Jack Canfield (who got it from bezillionaire W. Clement Stone) has a tip for when bad things happen to you: Become a “reverse paranoid.” Instead of being lost in the badness aspect of it, ask, “How is this happening for my good?” How might the universe be setting you up for something better?

Clients hate being in the liminal state they sometimes find themselves (liminal: strung between two worlds) in their careers. They live in anxiety and despair. Because I see it every day, I KNOW that good frequently arises from where they are now. A laid-off executive’s mother becomes suddenly and terminally ill, and he’s able to help her through her last days (and sees it as a gift). A young graduate doesn’t get a job in another city with a financial services firm, which folds several months later. A student leaves his graduate program and gets a fabulous marketing job. A professor can’t get a job teaching but through a side-rail job at an agency is pushed closer to her dream of working in a corporation. An exhausted, bitter attorney gets plugged into independent selling of cosmetics and becomes a happy, wildly successful director.

I get excited when I see clients struggling to make a better world from the one that just collapsed around them. If they can tolerate the discomfort of the transition from what they knew to what’s POSSIBLE, and they don’t give up, they WILL find a better way. The only time I despair is when clients start moving heavy furniture into their dark cave of misery with a clear intention to stay there. They’re gonna be there a long, long time. . .and angry, to boot.

I’m sorry if you’re having challenging experiences right now. But see what occurs to you if you look at it in a different way, and ask: “How is this happening for my good?” You’ll be amazed at what’s possible for you.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When Movie Stars Work for Less

On Oscar night, red carpets and gold backdrops and a shouting, clicking press adoringly cocoon the arriving stars. The day after on Hollywood Boulevard, it’s just another show that’s left town. Billboards come down at the Kodak Theatre, litter skitters along the bedraggled street which is generally a stage for truck-stop-quality souvenir shops, has-been museums and stars-homes barkers. The chain link fence that kept the sidewalk honky-tonk at bay will soon roll up and drag away, leaving the seediness to reshape itself.

It’s an apt metaphor for the bad economy that has struck Movieland. The real we see today does not resemble the real we believed in yesterday. The game is changing. Few actors command high salaries these days. Angelina Jolie may still get $20 million for a film. Many more are getting contracts that pay a paltry million or two up front, but require the movie to break even or make a profit before additional money kicks in. The actors in “Precious” got about the Screen Actor’s Guild minimum of $65,000. Ed Asner got a small fee (think $50,000) for his voice-over of the old man in Best Film nominee, “Up. “I was paid for sessions,” he told New York Times reporter Michael Cieply, but negotiated more for the film’s success. “If it does well, you do well.”

Sam Worthington, who starred in “Avatar,” had the best message for you who are job seekers: “Every actor fears unemployment,” he told the Herald Sun (Australia). Working “beats sitting there waiting for the phone to ring thinking, ‘Give me some work, I’ve got bills to pay.’”

His drive to work as much as he can “raises my game because it means I will always be trying to improve on myself.

“I live an ordinary life. I go home, drink beer, do my washing. . .Doing normal things, that’s how I recharge. . .I love working. It beats being unemployed.”

I want you to dream big and reach for the stars and to get what you’re worth in the marketplace. I also want you to be a hard-eyed realist and understand that marketplace. It won’t do if you’re an aging star wafting the mean streets in her blue chiffon scarf believing a producer will give her an ingénue role. You may have to take the job you’ve thought was beneath you, to make less, to work more than one job. While we’ve never walked this harsh a reality before, WE HAVE ALL BEEN WHERE YOU ARE, AND WE ALL FOUGHT LIKE HELL TO GET OUT OF THERE.

You may be tempted to wait for your agent to call or to meet some director at a glamorous party, but – hey – you’re not in Hollywood, and even Hollywood’s not looking great these days. Go get some work.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Live in Your Car

Ryan Bingham, whose song “The Weary Kind,” (from the film “Crazy Heart”) won Song of the Year at the Oscars, said in a post-award interview that, four years ago, “Me and my band was living out of our Suburban.” It doesn’t get much lower than that.

You could, in your work life, be in an equivalent dilemma. You got down-sized, laid off, fired. You’re burning through your resources and the horizon’s looking grim and smoky. What WILL you do?

This is a familiar land to me. I work with down-sized, laid off, fired folks. I know exactly what this terrain looks like, and how people in this situation want to throw their hands over their heads and sink into the pool of depression pulling on them. I also know that miracles live here; that when you look around for one, you’ll find it. Talk to somebody, many somebodies. Join a job seeker’s group. Make sure you stay OUT instead of job-searching on your computer. Say “What the hell!” and try out your idea. The way out is never easy, but this disaster is a gold-plated invitation from the universe to you to create a better way.

In the case of Bingham, “Crazy Heart” director Scott Cooper gave him a copy of the script and said, “If you’re inspired to write anything, let me know.” And, Bingham said after the awards ceremony, “Here we are.”

You don’t go immediately from car-living to red carpet. You take nothing jobs, maybe TWO nothing jobs. You make missteps, like taking something that proves wrong for you. You max out credit cards or borrow money from family members. You forego vacations, maybe even hit the food pantry. You have to fight from desperation to hope every day in learning how to survive, then thrive.

But you can do it. I swear you can. Get out of your Suburban and pick up your guitar, or whatever your Bingham-like get-on-it strategy is. I’m beggin’ you.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

When Others Create Your Life

I was beginning to write a mystery called Murder in the Orphanage. The murder victim was to be the priest who ran it. I asked my brothers and sisters what they remembered about "Father Joe" during the years we spent in an orphanage. Turns out they didn't remember much, but they loved the project and it became the topic of enthusiastic conversation among us. Where would the murder weapon be hidden? Who would solve the mystery? How could people we knew be woven into it. They were INVOLVED and called regularly with fun new ideas.

The book may never get written, and here's why. I asked too soon for input. The process of beginning to write is tentative and lonely. I'm both timid and highly "influencible" before I get myself straight in my own mind. I'm as tender as a newly emerging butterfly, able to be trounced by enthusiasts before my meaning has hardened. I don't belong to a writers' group because THEIR thoughts begin to write MY piece. I don't show my stuff till a first draft is done because everyone's an editor. They would use MY writing as a dress form for what THEY would want to write. I've learned it's better to huddle in my writer's garret till I'm ready for the twin beams of comment and criticism to hit my creation.

You are like me as you decide to take steps toward a new you, whether it's a business or a job or an education. You probably talk about your idea before it's fully formed, and let family and friends pull it apart, leaving it a twisted little heap you quickly abandon. Everyone has a different opinion about what's best for you, and too often they're really giving YOU the advice they would give THEMSELVES if they were in your situation. It's not truly about you. Actually, we sometimes deliberately tell others too soon so they can talk us out of that scary thing.

Why would you hand your life to others to shape? You might think it helps you to get input from others, but it mostly confuses you because the counsel conflicts. Why not spend time with yourself instead? Find out what YOU want and why and how it would work. Go for a walk and talk to yourself. Write out what you're thinking of doing so you get to the core of your meaning. This is different than simply mulling over the idea when you go around in circles. Get INTO where you want to head. THEN invite others in.

You could also talk to someone like me, whose only agenda is to help you get what you want. I'm not your aunt or your father's secretary who just KNOWS what would be best for you. Even with me, you'd have to do difficult heart work to find that fire in your center of what you want to be next.

Don't be the twisted little heap lying next to the wreckage of my unwritten mystery. Scurry to your garret and begin to explore your heart's desire.

When Fear Stops You

Everyone else around you seems so brave; the truth is we ALL get stopped by our fears. You are not alone. Some of us are just better at faking it, OR we've adopted tricks that get us to begin acting. That first small action is the threshold to courage. Try these and see if they help.

1. Write your name on a paper. (borrowed from Alan Lakein)
You have a project that feels too big. What CAN you do? Write your name at the top of the paper. What else? The title of the project. What else? The names of the sections. Before you know it, you'll be IN it, the fear abated.

2. Begin where you can.
I was beginning to write my doctoral dissertation. Scary. I had on a white board a listing of its five chapters and the sections in each. Each day I looked for my courage there. Where DID I feel competent to write? And I started there. By the time I got to the scariest parts, my courage muscle was flexing nicely, and I could do them.

3. Do what you're willing to do.
A client was paralyzed in making a step toward finding a new job. . .a first phone call she'd been putting off. We discovered she was more willing to send an e-mail than make the call because less fear lived there, but that e-mail set the contact in motion and she was on her way.

4. Make a commitment to an accountability buddy.
It's possible at the deadline you set with your buddy to complete a thing you might say, "Didn't do it." But the odds are pretty high that, because you've agreed to report to someone, your sense of responsibility will nudge you to action. We want to look good in another's eyes, and that sense drives our behavior.

5. Set up a meeting.
If you're involved in a project with others, schedule a meeting to review progress. This is your burn-the-boats strategy. If you have to report your progress (or hear about others'), you may be putting in late nights just ahead of the deadline, but you won't walk into the meeting room empty-handed.

6. Model it for someone else.
Do you have a child who's afraid of doing something? You need to model courage, to demonstrate how we behave when gripped with fear, how we DO rather than freezing in place. A child's eyes on you can be a powerful motivator for YOU to act despite being afraid.

Action conquers fear, and most achievement comes from taking baby steps. Courage happens as a result of taking action; it doesn't precede it. Find where your willingness lives. Find any technique that gets you to move. . .and move.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

5 Questions for Thinking about Your Next Job

Are you pondering a next job? Have you lost yours and thinking that what you left just might not be what you want for the new job? Getting answers about yourself might be useful.

You must begin with you. You are unique, and while we share similarities, you are a unique combination of qualities, dreams, desires, capabilities. That makes it difficult for others to help you sometimes because they don't have your answers, though they love dictating them. Don't you love your game of rejecting those suggestions because they didn't fit? You, in your quiet moments, with your quivery and unsure self, are the doorway to answers for yourself.

"But I think about this constantly!" an out-of-work client will tell me, who confesses "I don't know!" to questions I'd posed earlier. Ruminating is almost the same thing as asking others for your life direction. You avoid the hard work of digging for a solution.

You'd be surprised how close you are to insight if you'll WORK with basic questions about what's next. Sit with a trusted other (friend, coach, spiritual advisor) who will hold your feet to fire and not let you wiggle away from the discomfort of discovery. Let them ask you these questions. Or, sit with a pencil (computer only as a last resort and only if you can access your heart from a keyboard) and begin writing. AND, to keep you from scooting away from the assignment, make yourself accountable to someone to report your answers.

The questions:

1. How long can I live without making money?
It may be weeks or months. What resources do you have? Savings? Unemployment? Severance? Loans from family members? This gives you a picture of how much time you can give to explore possibilities.

2. What does work mean to me right now?
What have you been focused on? How ambitious have you been? How have you changed? Are you still seeking what you once did (position, money, influence), or are you now seeking a lifestyle, fun, hard work that's more in line with who you are?

3. How much money do I need to make?
An exhausted client, eager for a better vista, realized she could live on half of what she'd been making, AND was okay with that. If you have kids headed for college, your viewpoint may be quite different.

4. If I adopt a WTF attitude, what are five things I might consider doing, or places I'd like to work?
If there were no obstacles, what might you pursue? One client may realize he wants to build fine furniture, another to sell antiques. You might simply realize that you can have a job like the one you're vacating, but need to have a creative outlet in your free time.

5. Who are 10 people I can talk to about what I want next?
We all live in ruts because, frankly, they're comfortable and predictable. The trouble is you become not-the-me-I-want-to-be. Still, it's hard to stretch out, to change. Talking to others forces our thought process deeper, maybe causes us to abandon that emigration to Aruba, but definitely expands us, lets in fresh air, gives us additional ideas, gets us moving.

Even if you return to what you had before, changing jobs is an opportunity for you to explore being more of who you really are. Have active conversation with your deepest self, then act to test and move toward what you want. These questions provide a good beginning.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You Can't Overcome the Visual

I was helping a client company evaluate service firms. Two among the contending vendors stand out. The first was a distinguished man in a three-piece suit and a crisp white shirt. Another firm sent two men, each the head of his respective department. One wore a rumpled camel jacket; the second badly needed a haircut. Guess which firm got the business? Distinguished Guy.

The decision was based on his skill, success history and the interest Distinguished Guy displayed in the client's company. But the rumpled guys, despite a high recommendation from a respected professional, never had a chance. Here's why:

1. You can't overcome the visual. Always present yourself in your best light. The garb of one contender who came in shirtsleeves and leather pants telegraphed to the client, "I don't want this contract;" he didn't merit a second thought.

2. Don't assume. Rumpled Guys knew the client's company was plain as toast and had several others like it on their client list, but they assumed a more casual look would be okay. It wasn't. They're in a business that requires exquisite care, and their "Sunday brunch at the Holiday Inn" outfits didn't convey that.

3. Dress one level up when you're making a sales call, giving a speech or trying to impress a potential client or employer. You can dress AT the same level as those you'll call on, but make sure you look as clean and crisp as iceberg lettuce. You STILL have to look a bit sharper than those you'll meet.

4. Don't guess. If you're in doubt, call ahead. If business casual is the order of the day, your Armani suit may be as off-putting as the rumpled apparel was. You never lose points by doing research.

These two firms were among a half dozen who made presentations. Most representatives wore the appropriate haberdashery, though they lacked the Total Package the client was seeking. Distinguished Guy made the sale because the client believed in his competence and his brain; and felt "I will matter" to this firm. . .all of which was underscored in how DG presented himself to the selection committee.

You could argue about the superficiality of making a decision based on how someone dresses, that the client might have overlooked genius because of a three-piece suit. But this is business. You put on the costume of whatever game you signed up for. NOT to do so is to thumb your nose at the team you claim you want to join. Remember Leather Guy.

We are a society DRIVEN by the visual. Remember that if you think your leather pants may be just the ticket for your next business call.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Forward and Gotta

How do you know what to tackle in a day? Methods abound (see below). "Forward and Gotta" is one.

"Gotta" is where most of us live. . . the things we gotta get done today: meetings, administrivia and calls; driving carpool and shopping for dinner. They're tasks worth listing and working at; but they control us. If the "Gotta" list is our sole focus, we wind up living a "default" life; we haven't moved our dreams or projects forward one iota, just shoveled the stuff of our life around.

"Forward" is where achievement lies. . .Making the marketing call that could turn into a sale; completing the college application; setting up a networking meeting. It's the task that moves you towards getting what's important to you. . .the job, money or fame. It's also an uncomfortable place; the more challenging to-do, with a less predictable outcome. Risk lives here, with its possibility for "no."

Try making a daily list, with two columns: "Gotta" and "Forward" head each one. The questions to ask are: (a) What do I have to get done today? and (b) What will move me forward? You're the best judge of forward. "Going to the art museum" sounds banal, but if you're writing a mystery about a murder in an art museum; it's important research and item for the "Forward" list. Your gut knows; follow it.

Make time to do "Forward" every day, probably morning, before the day gets snatched away. "Gotta" has a huge appetite and chomps up the hours. But "Forward." Ah. . .the realization of dreams lives there. You'll also feel you've had a better day if something that mattered to you got done in it.

Other "get it done" methods:

Stephen Covey: Has a quadrant with these headings:
Not urgent but important
Urgent and important;
Urgent but not important
Not urgent and not important
His point is that we should work on "Not urgent but important."

Alan Lakein: Organize all your tasks under A (important), B (not so important) or C (ho-hum). Focus your best energy on completing the "A" area's tasks; use your lowest-energy times on the "C" jobs.

Another: Each day write down the 5 most important things you have to do and complete the first, then the second, and so on. You'll always be completing critical tasks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

For Want of a Thank You Note

Remember the nursery rhyme "For want of a nail"? The shoe was lost, all was lost because a nail was lacking (see below).

A friend lost his job in an industry where the shelf life of employees is shorter than milk; and he lasted about twice as long before being downsized. I was beginning to ask another friend if she would network with him when she essentially told me to talk to the hand. She'd helped him get his just-lost job; and he had never sent a thank-you note. Years later, she was still frosted about it. You just don't DO that in the executive world.

His not writing one surprised me because he whips out a note if you dump the burger wrappers for him at the mall eatery. But it was clear that today he has NO access to the best-connected person in his field. All for want of a thank-you note.

In challenging times, things matter more; like being precisely qualified, telling the truth on resumes, and crafting thank-you notes. This is not the time to be lax in minding your manners.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a nail.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Don't Let Go

You've settled for a less-than job. You feel you'll be trapped here forever because you need this little bit of money and those few benefit dollars. You watch more of your family members get unemployment handed to them, and you wonder what's the purpose of holding on to your dream. Today is dreary, tomorrow's likely the same. Where are the polished shoes and crisp shirts you love. . .and the work that didn't make you feel ashamed to say you're doing?

Don't let go of your dream. As bad as it is, this awful is truly temporary. BELIEVE it, so you have a reason to leap into your rut today and your next today. If you focus on the awful NOW, that's the same future you'll create, minute by dreary minute. Your decision to take on this work has a kind of nobility to it, giving you a fineness of character, a moral muscle that will stand you in good stead down the road. You're not the first who's stepped down into bagging groceries, driving a boat, swinging a hammer, pulling blood samples; nor are you different/better than those who happily do it the whole year long. You're just here. . .for now.

What will get you through is to remember the dream, and to polish the shoes and to keep the search effort going while you proudly plunk that paycheck on the kitchen table. This is a bad time. Don't make it the end of your world. Stay away from cynicism, bitterness and defeat, and the people who court them. Keep looking toward the dream and what it promises, and do something today to remind yourself of its importance.

The dream deferred is not the dream denied.