Friday, July 29, 2011

Willingness and Boundaries

I had coffee yesterday with a client about her new career as an artist.  The content wasn’t particularly important; the points were.

“Look,” I told her, “even though you’re in the career of your dreams, there’s still about 30% of it that you won’t like doing.  Every job has that, whether it’s administrative or marketing or the work you don’t like, those production pieces you churn out for the money.  You have to decide what you’re willing to do.

“Then you also have to decide what boundaries you’ll put around your artistry.  How many hours do you want to work at it a day?  It’s the rare artist who’ll stay at the creative task for eight or twelve hours.  If it’s four to five hours a day, put a fence around that time and defend it from incursion by your other responsibilities and the 30% that’s necessary to do.”

Another story.

When I learned a friend was dying a couple of years ago, I called another friend, the soul of pragmatism.  “What shall I do?” I wailed, “I hate being around death, but I feel like I should do something.” “Decide what you’re willing to do and not do.  Visit the hospital, take food, drive her to treatments; and tell your friend these are the things you can do.”  Willingness and boundaries.

Whether you’re out of a job or working at changing careers, your daily life is full and has its frustrations.  You have to know how much you WILL do to move yourself forward, and what your boundaries are. . .what you WON’T do.  You need to sit yourself down and have a heart to heart with the person you see in the mirror:  “What am I willing to do and not do?”  “What feels like the right thing for me to do?” (always an unerring pointer to one’s correct behavior.)  The heart and mind and path ahead are always clearer after conversations like this.

Your family wants you to spend as much possible time on job hunting.  Your soul needs time for yourself, and the family needs time with you.  If you’re seeking your NEXT, you also have a day job, a family and a dream of your possibilities.  You have to be deliberate about how you allocate your time:  your future, your family, you.  If you get real obsessive in one area or the other, bitterness often follows and it’s often because you’ve left yourself out of the equation.

Ask yourself willingness and boundary questions so you can feel at peace with your work and job seeking activities, to keep your hectic life in balance.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Devil You Know

What’s keeping you from pursuing your NEXT?  You’re miserable where you are.  Why do you sit in a lump of inaction?  I define “inaction” rather broadly.  It includes: reading books about career change or about getting-what-you-want-by-simply-thinking-about-it; looking on the internet for jobs, talking to your spouse or friends about how miserable you are, brooding in the basement.  I’m not even talking about TV and video games!  This is gold-clad inaction. 

“Action” would look like this:  Reading the book, but doing the exercises and reflecting on what that means for you and your NEXT; using the internet to research fields you might be interested in and finding people who might be willing to talk to you about that and making the call; telling an accountability buddy your progress and your goals.  In other words, taking actions that move you forward an inch or a mile into this unknown.

Reading this, why, oh leader of the charging pack at work, aren’t you getting your butt in gear?  It is important to recognize that where you sit every day from dawn till dusk constitutes the devil you know.  You understand it here; you get few surprises, you’re accustomed to the misery, your body likes its routine, your family likes the money you bring in.  And maybe, as the ghost of Puritan forebears whisper in your ear, you’re not supposed to be happy anyway.

As much as you’d like to feel charged up about your NEXT, in the beginning change equals risk, danger, loss, the unknown.  Making change requires greater energy than the progress you initially see.  You may show a bravado face to the world, but almost everything in you resists taking action.

What to do about it? 

1.  Shake hands with your imperfect ole self and recognize the landscape; you’ve been here before any time you’ve contemplated change, and it sucks.  You and your sterling rationalizations are quite happy here, thanks; never mind that your soul is screaming for change.

2.  Commit to doing just one thing a day on behalf of yourself and your growth.  It doesn’t have to be huge.  Read a chapter (and DO the exercise).  Make one call.  Research other jobs 15 minutes a day.  I have an author friend who’s written nearly a dozen books.  She hates to write, but she makes herself write 15 minutes a day.  She finishes a book in a year (okay, so it’s large print); but she gets the job done. So can you.

3.  Content yourself with seeing little progress at first.  It’s a matter of accumulating mass.  If you’re saving money for a vacation, $50 doesn’t seem like much.  If you started on this goal a year ago, you now have $600, and that's something.  One pound of weight loss is nothing; ten pounds is a dress size.  Don't expect huge attaboys from yourself when you’re muddling around the staring block; just keep going and you’ll be proud as you complete that first mile.

4.  Really look at this “devil you know.”  What’s here?  What do you hate about it?  Why does it no longer suit you?  Bring these thoughts into the fresh air of change and make them visible.  Write them.  Look at them from time to time so you don’t stay sunk in your stinky reality. 

5.  In your early days of creating change, make yourself accountable to someone, coach or friend, for reporting your progress and crafting new goals.  There’s magic in this.

You and your comfort with the devil you know are the most important block to your NEXT.  Kick that devil aside and you’re on your way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I Want the White Coat

The point:  You have to embrace it all.

A member of my family had a brain aneurysm the other day.  As we trek daily to the ICU waiting room we see a lot of docs, superior in their physician armor, crisp in their white coats.  While I wait to see whether the ICU nurse will buzz me in, their card-swipe causes doors to swing wide for them.

While The Client Chair has held MDs who assure me their careers are different from this medical film clip, at this moment as a peasant visitor, I want the white coat.  In my career movie, I want to stride into the room, be seen as vital, in charge; to be made way for, deferred to.  In the next moment, I acknowledge that I don’t want blood on me EVER, to take organic chemistry, to have someone second-guess my diagnosis because they got their medical degree at Google University; or to be yelled at because a loved one died, to be on my feet for 14 hours in surgery, to deny care because the hospital that owns me dictates it.  In short, I want the glamor of the job, not the drudge of its reality.

When you’re thinking of your next career, what you most often see is the white coat, not that reality.  Examples:  College forensics classes are bulging because TV CSI stars work amid multi-hued bottles in muted-toned labs, and investigators work trash dump crime scenes in spike heels.  In real police life their status and environment are quite different.  Similarly, with TV news anchors.  You don’t see the 2:00 AM reporting for work, the no social life, the emotional toll of reporting ongoing horrific stories like 9/11 or community flooding or child murders.  You have no idea of the discipline and fortitude this takes, or how dreadful this industry can be.

If you can picture people you know who are successful and happy in any of these professions, it’s because they bought the whole package.  They looked at all of it, good and bad, and said, “This is what I want.”  If they’re unhappy in those jobs, it’s possible they saw only the white coat and thought, “Cool.”  That crisp white coat might have become a straitjacket, and they may now be sitting in The Client Chair saying to me, “Now what?”

If you want to change careers, especially if you’re not sure of your direction, make it a point to have serious conversations with people already in the job.  Ask them to tell you what’s great about it, what’s not, the challenges and sacrifices.  The road of change is generally not easy.  You have to know you want all of this NEXT.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


One of the most impatiently self-confident consultants you’ll ever meet is Alan Weiss.  He’s famous for barking at his mentee clients, “Eighty percent and go!”  In other words, don’t dink around till you have perfection, which conveniently continues to elude you and lets you wallow in inaction.  Get most of the prep work done and launch, is Alan's message.

(As an aside, he’s incorrect if you try to apply this to a project you’re doing for a demanding client, or if you work for a perfectionist, or if the tolerance for error is zilch.  Then you have to put in the time and sweat to get it absolutely right.  You won’t be forgiven for less.  Otherwise, Alan is absolutely right.)

Move! is particularly true regarding your NEXT.  You can develop an Ideas list in about a minute:  Call this person.  Research an accounting degree.  Ask the pastor about volunteering.  Sign up for a workshop.  Talk to your wife about starting a business. 

It can take forever to get you off your duff and into action, however.  Whatever is the locus of your current unhappiness, non-Move! is at least the devil you know.  Move! is the devil you don’t and the risk you fear.  Ideas are the scary beginning for  you; they can be dead-ends.  Begin anyway.

The point of Move! is to JUST GET YOU MOVING, which has a magic of its own and often sparks other ideas and movement.  Move! also lets you:

* cross things off your list. 
* test your hypotheses about what you want. 
* get you to another contact, another idea. 
* help you know you’re truly serious about finding whatever's NEXT for you. 

You can learn some disappointing things.  The online college brochure makes you tired; you don’t want another degree.  You talk to your wife and she apparently married you for better or worse but not lunch-and-then-some!  She likes you out of the house.  These outcomes are simply data that tell you:

* I didn’t want that. 
* I’m not interested in starting over.
* This might be a fun hobby, but not a career.
* I made a new friend!
* Wow, that gives me a great idea.
* Back to the drawing board
* Hmm, this might be worth pursuing.  Who can I call to learn more?

That’s what you’re really looking for, the path to forward movement in this quest.  What new ideas did you get?  What helpful contact have you unearthed?  What might be an even more interesting combination of all your wants?  This is a winnowing, narrowing, learning process.  One client told me he didn’t know how to think outside the box.  What he didn’t recognize, in the impressive work he was doing, was that he had LEAPT out of it!  You, like he, will be exploring new territory.

Move! is a testament to your determination.  To paraphrase a saying about selling:  Nothin’ happens till somebody Moves!  Git.