Tuesday
Nov292016

Designing Your Life

I've discovered another outstanding career design book, this one entitled "Designing Your Life," subtitled "How to build a well-lived joyful life," by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. Yes, the title sounds like so many other career guidance book titles, but this book is truly exceptional, coming at the process in a new way that very much mirrors my approach. The underlying premise of the book is that there are MANY versions of ourselves, each of which can lead to building a satisfying career. It is full of interesting facts, valuable suggestions, and structured exercises that shed a bright light on potential career paths forward.

Another important philosophy guiding the authors is that passion for work generally ".....comes AFTER (people) try something, discover they like it, and develop mastery - not before." This makes so much sense if you think about it - until you're familiar with the "landscape" of a new career (e.g. becoming adept at the tasks involved, familiar with the field's unique vocabulary) you are likely to feel uncertain about your abilities to master your new path forward. And it's pretty difficult to feel passionately about something uncertain.

Some of the exercises in the book are quite unique. One of them is called creating a "Good Time Journal," which has you note the activities that you undertake in which you feel "engaged, energized, and in flow." It also asks you to note your "peak experiences:" those times where everything seems to be going just right. There is quite a bit of emphasis in the book on free association (the authors prescribe making a "mind map" beginning with the good times / peak experiences and thinking of ideas that relate to them. So, for example, if one of your peak experiences was participating in planning the office Christmas party you might free associate the terms "party planner," "caterer," or further afield "urban planner" or "chef." The key is to let your mind wander, and to not self-censor.

Another valuable exercise poses some very fundamental questions about the role of work in life, questions that you probably haven't thought much about. For example, What is work for? What does work mean to you? What defines work that is good or worthwhile? What do money, experience, growth, and fulfillment have to do with it? And a related one asks you to think about what kind of work you'd do if money or image were not issues.

This creative approach to career planning isn't for everyone. Many people might be more comfortable with career testing that is highly structured and provides relatively unambiguous career direction. The problem with that approach is that it tends to play back to you what you already know about yourself, because the answers you provide in the test are based on your past experience, rather than being grounded in future possibility. 

Related to this, another unique attribute of the book that I particularly enjoyed was the sprinkling of statements that limit exploration, accompanied by reframes that open up ways of thinking. For example: Dysfunctional belief: To be happy I have to make the (one) right choice.  Reframe: There is no right choice - only good choosing.

Finally, the book emphasizes the value of assembling a group of people to help you come up with ideas to explore and ways of exploring them. This may be a challenge for lots of people, but if you're willing and able to do it you will be availing yourself of multiple perspectives and experiences that can only serve to help you design a great career path forward. Or several!

 

Sunday
Nov272016

Accepting Responsibility

One of the salient themes that emerged for me during the presidential campaign was the failure of both candidates to accept responsibility for the actions that, perhaps more than any others, contributed to the antipathy that so many voters felt towards each of them.

For Mrs. Clinton (and many of her supporters), the abdication of responsibility took the form of consistent attempts to try and paper over the gravity of the email controversy, either through denial, "others did it too," obfuscation, or (closer to acceptance of responsibility), regret, but never flat-out admission that she'd committed a very serious breach of procedural norms and ethics. Then there were the Goldman Sacks transcripts. 

For Trump, evidence comes in the the form of his failure to own up to virtually any of his multitudinous inaccurate statements or lies, his misogynistic statements about a wide variety of women, or how his statements contributed to a darkening, coarsening, and threatening tone that resulted in the "Lock her up" chants. Not to mention the refusal to release his tax returns.

Since I'm not writing a political blog, let me comment on how a failure to accept responsibility impacts personal development and, potentially, a career.

Accepting responsibility means being truthful to both yourself and to the outside world about errors you may have made, or hurts you may have inflicted. It's an admission of imperfection, of being wrong, of screwing up. No one likes to do that, but to NOT do it blocks the opportunity to learn, and to grow from your mistakes. What's more, admitting culpability is pretty uniformly admired as a sign of integrity and bravery, while evasion of responsibility, once discovered (which it usually is), can tarnish your image. Furthermore, a willingness to consider your own role in a screw-up reduces the distortion that blocks clarity, sharpens the ability to view situations objectively and accurately, and thereby enables you to create more creative and workable solutions to problems.

I've seen that transparency is often a necessity for accepting responsibility, because if what's going on isn't transparent, it's a lot easier to hide from acceptance. And recall that transparency means fully visible IN BOTH DIRECTIONS: externally and internally.

Turning to how this may impact your career: "throwing someone under the bus" has become a commonly used phrase in the work sphere. And those who frequently do so quickly gain reputations as dishonest, untrustworthy and potentially dangerous colleagues. They are often targeted for revenge. And their inability to "man up" (sorry, ladies, but we have not had et de-genderized that term) indicates an immaturity and lack of wisdom exhibited by the 5 year old who swears he didn't raid the cookie jar, even in the face of 5 missing Oreos, or who blames his sister.

True, wisdom and maturity are not required in many positions. But they are certainly valued in upper echelons of management, so working on more easily and quickly accepting responsibility makes good career sense.

For those of you who would say about the election "well, didn't failure to accept responsibility win out in the end?" I would say perhaps (there are, after all, exceptions to every rule) but I can't help thinking that if Hillary had "womaned up" (well, I tried) to her trespasses she would have improved her image sufficiently to win.

Friday
Nov042016

Healing Election Wounds

I am writing this on the Friday before Election Day, knowing that I may be in a less calm and objective place starting Tuesday night. But NO MATTER THE OUTCOME I passionately believe that we have an obligation as responsible citizens to ensure that we maximize the arc of progress. This means replacing the combative "us against them" mentality that has motivated most of us in the run up to Tuesday with 2 key questions: "What contribution can I make to healing the country?" and "What can I do to help the government resume contributing to the welfare of the people?" Where can you help build bridges with those with a different vision of the country? What compromises can you support that will help unlock the frozen gears of government?  

OK, that's my civic take on the upcoming election. My take as a therapist and coach is to remind you that the external reality of circumstances is only as powerful as we allow it to be, and that how we THINK about that reality and what we DO about it are actually more significant. Famed psychologist Victor Frankl survived Auschwitz by reminding himself of that truism (as outlined in his classic work  "Man's Search for Meaning), surely you can survive a Trump or Clinton loss. 

Fine, but if your candidate loses, what practical (as opposed to theoretical or philosophical) steps can you take to move out of a state of bitterness and resentment. If Hillary Clinton wins Trump voters need to focus on the positive things she brings to the table, which they can enumerate as they see fit. Perhaps her lifelong work on behalf of children, or the strong relationships she's built with leaders abroad, or her relatively moderate record as a senator. If Trump wins Hillary voters should be impressed that a man whom most pundits dismissed all along was able to capture the Presidency despite minimal institutional support and significant Republican defections. Or that he was able to motivate millions to a fevered pitch of concern about the political system of the nation. Or that he has built a worldwide business and a powerful brand. All of these achievements required tremendous skill and tenacity.

And try to avoid mentally demonizing the supporters of your opponent. The vast, vast majority of them care deeply about the direction of our country and simply want to do their best to ensure that they and their families get the best chance at a life of peace and prosperity.

You will need to consciously dial back your emphasis on the many faults of the winner and look for what's ok about him/her. Maybe it's only a position on an issue or two, but at least that's a beginning. You might even want to get a head start on altering your thought process by imagining the outcome you don't want and then beginning to see how you might create some alchemy to change your reaction to it.

Here is a wish that I send you: May you be gracious in exhibiting the extra joy that will come if your candidate wins, and gracious in the acceptance of your candidate's loss, but in either case coming to peaceful terms with the outcome and then rejecting division and striving for a renewed connection to your fellow Americans.

 

ADDENDUM: 11/9/16

The surprising outcome of the election is dismaying to millions; if you're one of them think about what you can do to in your own sphere to work towards the kind of nation you want us to be. Whether that's engaging in local politics, volunteering for an organization that helps others, donating to causes you believe in....remember that you can help make a difference.

 

 

Monday
Oct242016

Lots of Ways to Make Your Current Job Better - Part Two

 

Some of the primary causes of job dissatisfaction, and some topline suggestions for addressing them, are listed here below:

COMPENSATION

Who doesn't want to earn more money at their job? But recognize that some of the other factors listed below can have an equal, or even greater, impact on your job satisfaction. Nonetheless, you may succeed if you press for a raise at the right time and in the right circumstances (In other words, don't lobby for an increase if your firm just lost a client or a source of funding, or if your boss is having a bad week!). Your case needs to rest on the value you are providing, NOT on industry averages or how long it's been since your last raise or the fact that you just moved and have a higher mortgage. Emphasize concrete ways you are benefitting the organization, illustrating it with any numbers you can cite or significant qualitative examples such as client compliments, successful training of others, or positive publicity you helped generate.

Another suggestion - don't overlook the possibility of earning some money on the side if you can improve your productivity and thereby free up a little time from your current schedule (see below). Opportunities range from tutoring to freelance consulting to selling items on eBay.

WORK/LIFE BALANCE, LOCATION AND COMMUTING

A fifty to sixty hour workweek isn't something that most people enjoy; yet many workers routinely spend that much time at their jobs (plus commuting time, which can easily add another 10). There are, however, ways to effectively address this issue.

1. Organize better. Multi-tasking may feel like you're whizzing ahead, but studies consistently show decreased productivity when several tasks are being attended to at the same time. Set priorities, calendar assignments, plan out work flow.

2. Delegate more. Yes, you may be able to do something better and faster than someone you have working for you, but if you don't push them they will never grow. Hand-off some of your work.

3. Take care of yourself. Things like proper diet, adequate sleep, and exercise will increase your energy level and consequently your productivity, allowing you to spend less time working.

4. Explore the possibility of working remotely at least a few days a month. You'll save on commuting time and may find that you are more productive in the absence of distractions that inevitably pop up at work. As always, try to craft an argument about how remote work can benefit not just you but your organization. Recognize, however, that you need to be disciplined if you're working from home, and not allow the flexibility to do as you please sabotage good work habits.

COLLEAGUES

I often hear clients complain about working with difficult colleagues. Professional rivalry, racism, sexism, homophobia, or just plain personality clashes can make life at the job pretty miserable. One way of dealing with this scenario in certain (rare) cases is to ask for a transfer to a different department. A more broadly applicable strategy is to craft a win/win conversation in which you suggest to your difficult co-worker that there could be benefits in a more peaceful relationship. Those benefits could vary from sharing workload to teaming up to improve an organizational issue such as overly rigid departmental procedures, a micromanaging mutual boss, or crafting a strategy to deal with an obstreperous client. Please note that in order to maximize the chances that a strategy of reconciliation will work it needs to be sincerely proposed, so do the internal work necessary (counseling, self-affirmation, prayer, meditation, whatever) to get you into the right mental space.

ROUTINE

Many of my clients, particularly those in government, complain about the boring, routine nature of their work. It's a lot easier to complain about this than to take action, but here are some steps I'd suggest exploring to liven up your day:

1. Stretch yourself and ask your boss for some additional and new responsibility that involves work that is more interesting/challenging. If the boss agrees (by no means a sure thing, of course) you will have to invest extra time to perform this new duty competently, but if you think of it as an investment that will improve the odds of your moving off of your boring or dead-end assignment it will be worth it.

2. If you're in the government, consider requesting a "detail" to a short-term position involving work of greater interest. First you will need to explore detailing possibilities (some are posted, others can be identified through networking), followed by a persuasive argument as to why moving to this detail makes sense not just for you but for your superiors, who are unlikely to enthusiastically endorse losing body count, even if it's temporary.

3. SHAKE THINGS UP! Redecorate your workspace. Rearrange your furniture. Take a walk outside. Drive a different route to work. Start earlier, leave earlier (or later/later). Instead of coffee and a danish try tea and a scone. Strike up a new acquaintance with a co-worker. Join a volunteer group within your organization (e.g. Department of Commerce, United Way, Marriott Walk to End Breast Cancer, AIDS, or Acme Manufacturing astronomy club).

Friday
Oct072016

Lots of Ways to Make Your Current Job Better - Part One

 

After working for a while in a job that you dislike it’s only natural to focus on how to find a better one, usually at a different organization. Unfortunately that’s a process that could be frustrating, lengthy, and ultimately even unsuccessful if, as many do, you wind up in a job that isn’t much better than the one you left. That’s not to say by any means that a job change is a bad idea - it’s often the only smart solution. It’s just that I’ve often found that clients who make a genuine effort to change things at their current job quite often experience significant, positive change in a number of areas, and so can avoid or postpone the inevitable disruptions and learning curve associated with a new place of employment. Today and next time I will go over some common areas of dissatisfaction and will propose some ideas and techniques to smooth the way towards major improvement. 

First a general pointer: avoid engaging in negative conversations about your workplace and steer away from constant complainers. Of course there’s a lot that could be better where you work, but you need to be focused on what’s good rather than solely on what’s bad. Clients who come to me because they’re miserable at their current jobs are often surprised when I ask them to tell me about the positive things - the things which it turns out had essentially disappeared in the litany of negatives.  I recommend making a practice of noting at the end of each work day three things that you enjoyed or that went well at work. Maybe you overheard someone speaking positively about the organization’s latest proposal, maybe someone offered to buy you a coffee, maybe your boss returned a draft with only a few minor revisions, maybe you noticed that the reception desk had some pretty flowers on it. You may be surprised at how, in a short period of time, your overall attitude will start to shift. Training yourself to focus on the positive will highlight what works for you and dim what doesn’t.  

Your Boss/Client 

Certainly one of the most important factors in job satisfaction is your boss (assuming you have one who is fairly involved with your work). If you have clients they’ll often play an essential, and similar, role. Just contrast a boss or a client you’ve had who shows appreciation and respect (I hope you’ve had at least one) with one who is constantly micromanaging or reluctant to accept your ideas, and reflect on what a big difference that’s made to you. You may think that the person is just “that way” and that there’s nothing you can do to change their essential nature. But what I’ve found in talking to hundreds of clients is that their boss’s intrusive, overbearing behavior often comes from the boss’s or clients’ fundamental lack of trust* That trust is essential for you to gain. If you’ve made anything other than a minor mistake in producing work for that person there will inevitably (and appropriately, I think) be reliability question in the back of her/his mind. That question can be removed if you diligently apply yourself to accuracy, to adherence to agreements, to meeting deadlines, and to a productive flow of information, among other things. Don’t disappoint!  

Another key to improving the boss and/or client relationship is for you to determine their key issues. Particularly at the outset of a new business relationship you ought to work much harder on making their lives easier rather than yours. The appreciation and trust that you build up will pay innumerable dividends down the road, whether it be through compensation, autonomy, power, or function. Learn about their goals. Looking good to the powers that be or avoiding getting fired? Breakthrough thinking or don’t rock the boat? Besting a peer or allying with one? You may not hold the same goals as she/he might, but at least become aware of them and see if you’re able to go along with them.*  

Finally, there’s the super important issue of your personal relationship with him/her. One of your primary goals in any job in which you’re dealing with a boss and/or a client is to build the relationship person-to-person. I DO NOT!!! mean brown-nosing. I mean exerting at least the same effort that you would in cultivating a new social friend. You probably wouldn’t gush all over that person, but I imagine you’d focus on their positive qualities, compliment them more frequently than you might a casual acquaintance, and look for opportunities to bond (whether around interests or to extend an invitation to grab a sandwich together at lunch, or to go to the baseball game or a concert). Your colleagues might accuse you of brown-nosing…if so, let the accusation stand. Making your primary relationships at work work, where you probably spend 40% of your waking hours, is a perfectly valid goal. 

Implementing these suggestions won’t be a “magic bullet.” Building, or turning around, key relationships will undoubtedly take some time, and there are certainly exceptions with whom nothing will work. But in many, many instances you can definitely improve those two key relationships. Next time I will address colleagues, compensation, function/routine,  commute, work/life balance, and location. 

*Or from a deep-seated fear of losing the job because of poor performance, Beware of that situation - you’re in line to be a potential scapegoat! 

**Sometimes even if you’re not it still may make sense to abet, but certainly not oppose, your boss’/client’s agenda, at least until you’ve either found a new job or implemented some of the ideas herein!