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Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?

I once had a client who had a hard time with her coworkers (and as it turned out, also with her partner) because she simply had to say exactly what she thought. This ‘brutal honesty’ kick resulted in rocky communication, and ultimately a lower quality of life for her at work.

Honesty with self and others is a critical virtue under almost every major philosophical framework. The truth – seeing it, discerning it and telling it – is important.

But honesty, while incontestable in principle, is more tenuous in practice.

The problem is that our desire to be honest with our words does not exist in a vacuum. There is a world that receives it. There are people who must hear, honor, accept, reject, be helped by or hurt by these words we unleash in the name of honesty.

I am not saying that you can’t be honest. I am saying you can’t be honest at someone else’s expense. There is precious little point in stating truths for the sake of truth if, ultimately, it doesn’t help a person or situation.

My client and I made this handy little flow chart together to help her think it through in 10 seconds before she opened her mouth. I have since used it regularly and it has prevented me from jumping headlong into futile battles and/or causing other people unnecessary pain.

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Good Enough is the New Perfect

Recently I felt like I had a major breakthrough with something I have been working on trying to change and felt exhilarated that something had shifted, finally! – and so significantly and quickly!   

Alas, my joy was short lived. I was humbled as I ran into my own limitations. I had to re-learn a lesson that I already knew very well. A lesson that is a central Careerly tenet: change is incremental. Nothing that is sustainable happens overnight.   

Which.. should be good news, right? It takes the pressure off! The truth is that real change is hard work and takes time. Every good thing takes time to build. It’s often two steps forward and one step back. And it’s best to forgive yourself for that fact of life.   

A related lesson is that there is only so much one can improve, change, optimize. Here’s advice - you may have received or heard of - but which is not true: follow your dreams, do what you love, and you’ll turn your whole life around! You’ll be this other happier person floating on pure contentment and bliss, just like the uber-success stories featured on the magazines covers. The meh job, crazy boss and horrible commute will be behind you forever, the daily grind but a distant bad memory.   

If you haven't discovered this already, you will at some point: a part of life is a daily grind no matter what you do. For example, there is a lot of grind involved in working for yourself even if it’s doing what you love. Freelancers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs typically report that while they enjoy their work more,  there is financial insecurity and other challenges that simply don't exist with a regular job + steady paycheck. One makes a calculated trade-in of one set of positives/negatives for another set of positives/negatives.   

Now, have improvements been made? Has happiness and productivity increased? Yes, absolutely. But the quality-of-life improvements we are talking about are over months, perhaps years, and is more in the range of 40 - 50%. Not 100%.

And that is the crux of my message here. There is no magic wand – no 100% awesomeness turnkey solution to life no matter what you do. Everything has a good side and bad side. A ying and a yang.   

And that is fine. Based on solid footing, you can still pursue your dreams and passions, just on a path that is sustainable.. which means it will last!  Besides, in what universe is a 30% improvement not good? In my book, that number counts for excellent. Eventually you can improve a little more and get to 40%, perhaps even 50%! And we have to believe that is good enough. Even more than good enough.   

So, for less stress, adopt a ‘good enough’ attitude for all attempted change: work, relationships, health, diets, and exercise plans. I think that if you try to improve yourself, to love honestly, to make the world a better place, just the trying is good. If you do a teeny tiny little more than you did yesterday, that’s success.   

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How to Get What you Want

"I want this."

That is the first step. Saying it out loud. Believe it or not, you are 30% of the way there.

If you don’t articulate what you want, you won’t get it. Is it a job you can be proud of? The family life of your dreams? Is it more peace and serenity in your day? Better physical and mental health? 

In fall 2011, when I first considered coaching full-time it seemed scary. It also seemed possible in a vague ‘follow your dreams’ sort of way, but not concrete enough to warrant quitting a solid job, a good income, and what anybody would call a ‘great situation.’ 

But then I looked at some of the clients I was already working with ad hoc – how effective I was and how happy they were, and I said, “I want this.” Which then helped me articulate a plan to move forward and make a fuzzy dream into something concrete, realistic, and possible. 

If you can articulate what you want, you are well on your merry way to getting what you want. Well before we can lean-in to our ambition, we must know what it is. And we must be careful not to be swayed by what everyone else defines it to be. For some it’s a seat at the (corporate) table, for others it’s raising a happy and healthy family, and yet for others it’s service to community. 

Ambition is a tricky thing. It gets a bad name. But really it’s about our ability to articulate what we want and believe that we have a fairly decent shot at it. 

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On Saying Thank You

Many people have helped you get to where you are today. Parents, teachers, old bosses and mentors, the guy who drove the train this morning for you to get to work on time. 

Nobody accomplishes anything alone.

There are people we collaborate with all the time on projects, at home, on the playground, in the conference room who’s cooperation we constantly need to get our things done, who’s acquiescence or outright support is crucial for us to meet our goals. 

Say thank you:

- for making this possible 

- for hiring me 

- for believing in my project 

- for making dinner 

- for turning up 

…because nobody does anything alone.   

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“What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger”

Before Kelly Clarkson said it, Plato said it. So did Confucius, Jesus, and Buddha.   

Every major religion and philosophy in the world that has stood the test of time over thousands of years all got behind this: trials and tribulations, challenge and hardship is the fuel that drives human excellence and growth.   

It is nature’s way of ensuring you have the life skills and judgment ability you need. Highly challenging situations make you resilient and build new psychological and emotional muscles. We may never build these new muscles and/or strengthen existing ones that are weak if we weren’t thrown the situations and life circumstances that give us this “mental gym.” Trials and tribulations transform us into stronger, leaner, meaner, fighting machines. 

What doesn’t kill you doesn’t just make you stronger. It gives you freedom.   

Conquering any difficulty pushes back an invisible line, and so adds to your freedom. It adds to your freedom from worry, anxiety, and pain.  Every time you go through a challenging job search,or job loss, or a break up, or a health problem, and you bounce back– you are laying down new wiring in your brain that helps you cope with and execute life in a slightly improved way each time, with more options and more creatively.   

Here’s to the stuff we don’t like, but that makes us psychologically (and physically) stronger, freer, and happier.

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4 Terrible Pieces Of Career Advice You Should Ignore

I coach, teach, and mentor about work, jobs, and careers for a living. And I’m big on taking risks, making mistakes, living and learning, pushing boundaries. You may overhear me say things like “if something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” I was never one for moderation, and still struggle to stay within the designated zone. So, when someone like me advises caution, it means something.

My interest in other peoples’ wellbeing and success is deep and genuine. What follows is from the heart, even if it sounds harsh. Someone’s got to be the bad cop and call it like it is. I worry that good, well-meaning folks, and especially our youth, are being told things that are simply untrue and don’t stand up to any objective scrutiny—things that create impossible expectations, are incredibly misleading, and essentially lead people down the garden path full of unicorns and rainbows.

Of course we want to inspire our clients, our students, and our mentees to pursue their dreams. Our garden and our path must have the occasional unicorn and rainbow to make us believe in beautiful things. But our path must also be true, real, and stable. To that end, there are a few things we need to stop saying. Here are four of them:

1. You can be anyone you want to be.

This belongs right up there with “you can have it all.” You can’t be anyone you want to be, nor can you have it all. The universe is specifically designed to prevent this.

Those who say this — especially to women — typically have an unusually fortuitouscareer and life story to tell, and it’s from this perch that they preach to the more earth-bound.

Here’s what we really should be saying: You can’t be anyone you want to be, but you can be more of who you already are. All of us are born with specific talents and gifts. We have certain natural inclinations and capacities. Over time, we add to these with learned skills and experiences. The sum total of this package is what makes you unique and what will allow you to make unique contributions to this world. This is what you have going for you—not being anyone you want to be, but developing who you already are.

Your best bet is to identify and develop this set of innate talents and strengths. If you’re unsure, take some tests, such as Myers-Briggs and Strengths Finder. They will identify a list of careers where you would most likely succeed based on your strengths.

There is great joy in embracing and being as much of who you are as possible. In fact, if you shirk away from this, the world loses out on you.

2. You can do anything you want. All it takes is hard work and determination.

This statement is thrown around usually after a one-in-a-million example: Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four and didn’t read until seven, but turned out to win a Nobel prize; Oprah Winfrey was fired from her television-reporting job and told she wasn’t fit to be on screen, but today she is the billionaire queen of television talk shows; Michael Jordan was actually cut from his high school basketball team before going on to become possibly the best basketball player of all time.

These people did amazing things, no doubt. But the reason these stories are so inspirational is because they are few and far between. We’re being disingenuous if we attribute it all to hard work, since an incredible amount of natural talent played a part, but luck especially had huge influence. Scientists who study the huge acclaim of hits like "Harry Potter" or how certain people become overnight successes share that the processes involved are highly unpredictable, and don’t necessarily have a bearing on the quality of the product or the effort expended. It’s not that the success isn’t deserved, but that it’s wildly out of proportion with any objective measure of quality.

The truth we don’t want to accept is that hard work is only one part of the equation. There are a lot of hardworking people out there. In fact, there are people working three jobs and making just enough to pay rent. These people work hard, but still fall short of meeting their goals. Why? Well, there are a myriad reasons: a lack of education or training, inevitable circumstances, planned or unexpected constraints, and unforeseen events, such as poor health or a prolonged recession.

Look, we need inspiration to motivate us to keep us going, to give it our best shot. I do one key thing all day, and that is encouraging my clients — especially my graduate student clients — to put forth their very best efforts. But I’m not going to tell the fish who can’t climb trees that maybe they should just work harder at it. You know what that does? It leads to self-doubt and low self-esteem.

3. Follow your passion. The money will follow.

The number of self-help gurus and motivational speakers who say this with a straight face is astounding. Popular career books like to peddle it, too, probably because it’s a lovely idea and one that sells.

“Follow your passion” or “do what you love” may be perfectly valid advice, but when it comes to finding a career you like that is also sustainable, love and passion alone won’t cut it.

There is no quick fix for career happiness. It’s a long road of trying things out, identifying what you’re naturally good at, and being willing to work at a passion through classes and taking on additional responsibilities wherever you can, such as through volunteering or pro bono work.

There may also be underlying factors to your career malaise. You may find that, even in your new passion, things may not hold for long because “everywhere you go, there you are.” If I tell you the number of clients that come to us post burn-out from the “passion carousel,” you’d be surprised.

So, what’s the major disconnection between all this passion and the money that’s not following? Your passion has to sell. No matter how much you love a thing, it’s not a livelihood unless and until you can sell it. What you love must also be what the world needs. It must be something that the market values and will pay for. This is not optional. It’s mandatory.

And since you have to be able to sell your passion, you must be good at your passion. You can’t just love yoga. You have to be talented at some aspect of it — teaching it, writing about it — in order to make a living. I love career coaching, but I won’t survive or thrive unless I’m good at it. Ideally, what you’re good at and what you love will converge over time.

This is why we repeatedly emphasize the following in our workshops and blog posts: instead of focusing on passion, look at what you are naturally good at, what comes to you relatively easily, what energizes you, what others recognize you for, and what you’ve been rewarded and promoted for.

Look at your current job situation: what are the tasks that engage and energize you versus the ones that shut you down? Where do you excel with ease, and where do you struggle? Where can you make a contribution to your team, your organization, or your community? This last one alone can create a sense of purpose and — God forbid — real passion.

4. Dance like nobody is watching.

This is bad advice — period. If you are in public, you should not dance like nobody is watching. People are watching, and most of them have video recorders on their cell phones.

Anyone who wants to hire you, network with you, work with you, or date you will google you. They can easily find what you share on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube. You don’t have to curate content as perfectly as we do for our clients, but, at the very least, make sure that your post, pins, likes, and tweets are fairly innocuous. Would you be comfortable if both your boss and your mom saw it? If the answer is no, then don’t put it on the internet. It’s shocking how many people don’t seem to have a handle on this. The world is small, people — very small. And when you’re looking for work, it’s actually pretty tiny.

Here’s the good news:

Wonderful things are possible in this world. Many people find work they love, can sustain it, and make a decent living out of it, while also contributing to their families, friends, and community. The key is to get to know yourself well, embrace your natural strengths, and slowly but surely move in the direction of matching these to correlated lines of work. The universe has a way of collaborating with what is both possible and inspiring.

Wonderful things are possible in this world. 

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In This Together

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Life is difficult. It breaks all of us.

Work stress, relationship challenges, family demands, mortgages and bills, the price of zucchini going up due to the organic movement in your town…  It all adds up.

Well, when you are curled up in the fetal position under your desk, or taken the day off and lying on your sofa eating ice-cream, remember…

We are all in this together.

All of us are going through similar things  – or at least similar feelings, emotions, fears, and insecurities. This is a career blog, so we could pick as an example the absolute stress associated with finding a job when you are unemployed, securing a summer internship when you are in school, or trying to break back into the market after not having worked for some years.

But the underlying fear, exhaustion, and worry is the same in other situations, such as financial hardship, relationship unhappiness, a bad boss, or just .. life being life.

So what can we do to help ourselves? Try these three things. No magical promises here, just trying to help us feel better, just for today.

  • First, find a quiet space and calm the h*ll down! Your favorite spot on the sofa, a walk outside, the bathroom at work if that’s all that’s available right now. “Take some deep breaths” is probably the most overused, overdone piece of advice EVER but you know what, it works to at least alleviate the immediate craziness. Seriously. Inhale for 8, Exhale for 8. Repeat 8 times.
  • Second, write a gratitude list. OK, even we are sighing and eye-rolling as we write that. But here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter if you think its stupid- just suspend disbelief and do it – 5 minutes – 10 things you are grateful for. If you are annoyed with all the gratitude postings crowding your Facebook feed, that’s ok too. Don’t worry about that, or them, right now. Just focus on what you have in your life that you like. Here’s one list that we love because it really brings it back to the basics.
  • Third, remember – we are in this together. Recognize the universality of the strange and beautiful struggle that is life, and help someone else. We cannot stress this enough. This is truly the secret tool. When you focus on  someone else, it automatically takes your mind’s focus away from you, and there’s immediate relief. At the very least, don’t judge others. That will NOT help you feel better.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Among all the creatures on Earth, only we can empathize with other members of our species. And since the things that torment us the most are the things that connect us the best to each other, we will feel better when we make that connection.

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Doing What You Love Is Only One Component Of Job Satisfaction

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If satisfaction comes from figuring out what you love to do and doing it, how many of us can claim to be truly satisfied at work? Certainly, Confucius, the ancient Chinese philosopher, made a wise point when he said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” All of us at some point have experienced this feeling. When you are engaged in doing something you really like, then you don’t feel like that day of work was strenuous or boring. Instead, you enjoyed it, and time flew by. Can we be in this zone every day? Is it even possible? Even those who are lucky enough to follow their passion — photographers, creative directors, pastry chefs, and coaches like me — will tell you that it takes more than passion to make a living.

We all discovered, one way or another, that doing what you love (or #DWYL – yes, it is now a movement with its own hashtag) is only one part of the equation. In fact, there are three key parts to the equation of job satisfaction.

1) You have to like it – the DWYL, following your passion thing.
2) You have to be good at it – talent, skill, etc
3) The world must want it - there must exist a market that will pay for it.

Passion + talent without a market will make you broke. Passion + market without talent will make you fail. Talent + market without passion will make you bored.

So, with that, what do you do if you are currently doing work you are not crazy about? First, get some perspective. Jobs have meaning and purpose to the extent that we give them meaning and purpose. We do this by knowing our values, beliefs, and purpose for living. For example, if you have a mortgage and children to raise, perhaps the main purpose of your job is a paycheck. As we figure out the big picture of these elements, we can put our job into perspective and make our job (whatever that job is) work for us instead of us working for the job.

Second, identify and fix what you can, and—at least for the interim (or until you are in a position to quit)—make peace with and accept what you can’t.

Third, set about gaining as much experience and skills as you can in the current situation as a stepping-stone towards eventually doing work that you love more. In other words, even in this job today, you can work towards your #DWYL future. Work on projects, set and meet goals, and capture an accomplishment or two that you can use as compelling material on an updated resume and in future interviews. Focus on your future. Make the most of the situation and take advantage of every opportunity, small and big, that comes your way. And get a head start on finding work that you love while you are still employed.

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How To Do Resume Action Verbs

Recognizing – and saying – you accomplished something is important. There is no place this is more essential than on your resume.

Every bullet point on a resume counts. And how you start each one wins you at least 50% of the battle. The use of clear past tense action verbs at the beginning of sentences is critical.

Start each bullet on your resume with the strongest possible action verb that you can use: led, directed, analyzed, negotiated, planned, implemented, authored, created, designed, launched, and recommended. 

Two rules of thumb: first, every bullet point (in the experience section at least) should convey the sense, as robustly as you possibly can, that you did X, Y, or Z, i.e. an action, an accomplishment.

Second, these actions must cleverly reflect critical skills that almost all jobs require, and that every person who ever reads a resume is consciously or sub-consciously looking for in a candidate:

Problem Solving • Analytical • Leadership • Teamwork • Communication• Persuasion/Influencing • Quantitative • Creativity • Relationship Management

Some examples

NO    Responsible for making short videos and sizzle reels.

YES   Produced over 23 short documentary videos on complex topics ranging from X to Y.

NO    Maintained website and coordinated database updates.

YES   Ran the organization’s website, oversaw critical updates to a 1000+ member database.

NO   Worked on notes for the committee on various policy issues.

YES   Drafted notes for, and briefed, the committee on relevant foreign policy issues such as X and Y.

Think you need more guidance? Check out our resumes page for more great free resources. Get started on your resume with one of our five templates. Download a list of Careerly approved resume action verbs here.

 

 

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How to Navigate a Difficult Time or Decision

It is rare that we will ever know everything we need to know before we make a significant career – or life – decision. 

Sure, we can gather data and information, do our due diligence, and make reasonable inferences. But what if things are still unclear? At some point trust and faith have to kick in, that everything will turn out ok in the end.  

Have you heard of information asymmetry? it means that perfect - full- information is not available. We don't have perfect visibility. Ever. No matter how much we think, re-think, analyze, and evaluate every possible criteria, options, possibilities, probabilities, and scenarios, we cannot totally be certain of anything. This is true for the future of our jobs and career paths, as much as for our personal lives. 

And yet, every day we are called on to make decisions – large and small – in spite of this information asymmetry. Should I leave my job or seek a promotion? Go to graduate school? Switch careers? Start a business? Start a family? What to do? 

If I got a dollar for every time a client says to me, “But what should I dooooooo?” and $1000 for answering it, I’d be Tony Robbins. But I am not. Instead what I can do is share with them- and you - this list of twenty affirmations. I chose them because they are true for me, and I believe that they are true for you. 

1. I have good intuition and a good heart that guides me. 

2. I am capable of making good choices. 

3. I am resourceful and resilient; I can bounce back if I make a mistake. 

4. I draw from abundant reserves of inner strength. 

5. I unequivocally trust my own mind. 

6. I am a unique person in this world with a unique set of gifts and circumstances. 

7. I matter and what I have to offer this world also matters. 

8. I accept some inner conflict and anxiety on a major issue as a good sign. 

9. I know that this situation will ultimately work out. 

10. I can muster up a little more hope and courage just for today. 

11. I can focus on hopeful and helpful ways to look at this problem. 

12. I listen to all feedback and input with gratitude and careful attention. 

13. I see how the wear and tear of difficulties I encounter make me stronger in the long run. 

14. I surround myself with people who love, respect, and treat me well. 

15. I have the ability to leave any situation that is detrimental or unhealthy. 

16. I have a choice in the work that I do in this world. 

17. I can enlist the help of experts and get all the guidance I need. 

18. I trust in my own ability to provide well for my own future. 

19. I have the smarts and the wherewithal to get through this. 

20. Every problem has a solution, and I will seek it with resolve. 

 

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Here's how you WIN. Everytime.

If you are like me, you often forget one crucial fact: that the entire universe, with one stunning exception, is composed of other people.

What a concept.  

And so..  before it’s the other side of noon, you have probably engaged in battle – outright or in your head– with your partner, your co-worker, a friend, or someone on your commute to work.

It’s really hard that we have to share this planet with others. But we do. And since 99% of the battles we engage in are probably useless, how great would it be if we could save that energy and time for more constructive, life-giving endeavors?

Sun Tsu, the ancient Chinese war strategist wrote some great stuff about waging war; his books are popular business school fodder.  The parallels between his military situations in “The Art of War” and the types of daily life battles we wage constantly with friends, frenemies, family members, partners, bosses and co-workers are interesting.

Since good conflict resolution skills are helpful in the workplace, marketplace, and at home, here are five rules from Sun Tsu’s military strategy adopted for our modern day battles:

1. The first rule of course is not to fight.

Control your inner turmoil so you don’t fight unnecessary wars. If you are not in danger, do not fight a battle. Don’t launch a war simply out of anger or resentment, or because you are right. Take action if it is to your advantage only. This is difficult, because we get hurt/upset - and often rightly so - by things people say. The issue is that people around you will say outrageous things all the time- untrue things, un-researched claims, ridiculous opinions (yes, opinions can be ridiculous) - and it'll takes a colossal amount of time to course correct all of them. The alternative is to suck it up - find a way to deal with the inner turmoil - but let the people say what they want, do what they want, and think what they want. as long as there is no direct impact on your life. Remember that their ineptitude is a much bigger liability to their life than to yours. Their liability impacts you only at this tiny point of contact; it impacts them every minute of every day.

2. Don’t engage people or situations in battle unless you know that you are going to win.

Unless there is a clear victory, there is ZERO point in fighting. It doesn’t matter if you are right, or if your action is 100% justified, or if the whole world agrees with you and is on your side. For example you get an email that you find objectionable (because it is insensitive, condescending, unfair, <insert reason>). You are about to write a sharp retort. Read the email again- is there a defined action or response required from you? If not, then ask yourself- what do I hope to gain from responding to this? Unless you can answer that question, and you are happy with the answer (and the risk you are taking, because chances you won't get what you want) don’t engage! Otherwise, by the very act of responding, you lose the battle. You are effectively engaging in something that likely as has no positive outcome for you at the end of the day, and paying the hefty price of hours wasted that you will not get back.

3. Don’t attack walled cities.

A large employer, for example, is a walled city. You may have a bad boss or an unfair work situation and you may be tempted to fight it. However, unless you are guaranteed some major changes, (which would be rare) drop it. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the best strategy here. Try to think of one or two actions that will pacify your enemy and keep them at bay. Be deliberately non-threatening and let your enemies underestimate you. Lie low and keep your cards close to your chest.  If you come across any weapons – i.e. the ability to execute on a threat – send a clear message to your opponent of the ability as well as the intention, but remember the goal is still to win without fighting.

4. If you really must fight, then move rapidly.

What is valued in war is a quick and decisive victory, not prolonged operations. If you have a conflict with someone that you cannot ignore and you are in a position with some power to take a specific action – file a complaint, end a business relationship –do it quickly, cleanly, and move on as rapidly as you can. When you have an issue with someone, it is not their problem. It is your problem. So fix that - i.e. stop the engagement on your end; don’t berate and harass them. Leave them to their life.

5. Build a strong position.

Weak positioning will catch up with you; false positioning will destroy you. Learn your subject well enough to teach it. Know your enemy, your environment, your terrain, and your destination thoroughly and in detail.

Now all that may sound a little drastic - and the Sun Tsu mindset is certainly aggressive. But let's just take this as a rule of thumb- the less active enemies you have in life, the better. It's just not worth it. This is why people who fly under the radar, who try to be agreeable and kind and just get on with it, are so successful. So try to swallow your pride and convert would-be detractors to supporters and fans. Make friends. Help people.

And remember always: no matter how strong you are, even offensive strategy should be aimed at winning without major conflict. Those who actually fight real wars understand that even when they are on the winning side, it is still of paramount importance to minimize the conflict – i.e. not fight unless you really have to, and when fighting to make it quick, and not prolong war. Why? Because fighting consumes unparalleled energy, time, and resources. Are you willing to spend X amount of time and capital on this battle, which then means you cannot spend it on Y?

There is a massive opportunity cost to every single battle – little and large – that you decide to engage in. Think before you raise the sword.

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