Unexpected Discoveries from Unrelated Experiences | Taking My Own Advice

Finding something of value you weren’t looking for can be thrilling, especially when it

By: T R L

includes self-discovery.

Recently, I wrote a post about how learning something unrelated to your job can actually boost your career.

I figured if that advice was good for you, it would do me good too. So I started taking  acoustic guitar lessons where I’m learning more than I ever imagined about myself and my career while making a little music.

Why bother?                                                       

It’s easy to get comfortable with our lives, even when we aren’t happy about the trajectory.

Deep down we know there are things we’d like to do, but the energy or the courage to make the effort isn’t there.

What we often forget is that new experiences add to our portfolio, broadening the skills and reference points we bring to our careers. Simply put, new experiences make us more interesting and more confident.

My interest in learning guitar was just a curiosity. I’d played piano as a kid but the guitar’s portability and intimacy seemed more suited to me now. I may have continued putting it off except in passing my friend, Pam, said she’d often thought about taking guitar. That’s all it took. We were both in.

And the beat begins.

Expect the unexpected. That’s how it goes when you try something new.

This process is pretty much the same no matter what you take on:

Get properly equipped–The first guitar I got was too small, so I exchanged it for a Martin that was perfect. Then I learned it had to live in a case where the right humidity was managed. After I got that straight, I needed a metronome, a tuner, and picks.  Done!

Learn skills and right attitudes–I signed up for lessons with Joey Mutis, a teaching, performing, and recorded musician/song writer, perfect. In two sessions, he got me comfortable with my guitar and  began helping me overcome my perfectionism anxieties while teaching me playing mechanics.

Build new perspectives–I needed to understand and accept that playing isn’t about getting all the notes right, but rather about making music. Ultimately, playing guitar is about playing with others, so it’s important is that everyone follows the beat and ends together, a few bad notes generally go unnoticed by listeners. Who knew?

Nurture your aptitudes–I learned that everything about guitar playing can be taught, but not rhythm. Luckily I have that. It was a relief that I brought something built-in to the experience.

Get connected–Now every time I see guitar players, I’m transfixed by their playing. I’ve discovered  friends and colleagues who play, so now I can talk about gigs, gear, and techniques, enriching our connection and building a broader bond.

While expecting a good time learning guitar, I found  a life-enriching experience.

The deeper vibe

Things we do for fun become fuel for professional growth. This guitar experience for me is no exception. As a coach and consultant, I will bring new perspectives to clients on:

Mistakes–Expecting or seeking perfection becomes useless and  punishing self-criticism that only hampers performance. In spite of some wrong notes, the music still reaches you. The same is true for your projects, presentations, and plans. So you need to just keep going, correcting for any serious mistakes in the next take.

Teamwork–Successful teams work through their problems, helping each other out, shaking off incidental mistakes, and reinforcing their collective purpose–to get the right work done in the best way possible. A good band does that because, to each player, the music matters.

Practice–Practice makes progress, not perfection. What matters is to stay committed, discover your ever-increasing capabilities, and enjoy the process while you wait for the next opportunity to showcase what you have mastered.

Learning is a process. The more we invest, the greater our return. It brings insights and revelations at every turn, through every experience, and by the sheer strength of your curiosity.

Today’s another day for you to revisit something that you’ve always wanted to explore. Then  go ahead and do it.  Your career will thank you.

Ready to Reboot Your Career? How “Reinventing” Worked for Me, More Than Once.

Careers can get old for a lot of reasons:WLI Conference 2008 2

  • Boredom when the work gets too predictable
  • Declining fulfillment from achievements
  • Disenchantment with a job going no where
  • Curiosity about what’s out there
  • Compensation ceilings that won’t meet future needs

I’ve experienced all of these at different times. Each one caused significant stress, confusion, and frustration–sometimes all at once.

I tried to force my way through them, telling myself that they were just temporary and would pass. But, of course, they didn’t and they don’t. The only way to get beyond these bumps is to change–not our favorite thing.

It’s not about reinventing your self.

Finding your way to a different career is not about reinventing who you are. Rather, it’s about redirecting your path so you can do work that fits who you are.

In my view, unless you are severely limited by problematic behaviors, trying to remake your essential self is an exercise that keeps you from going where you need to go.

Instead, redirect yourself by aligning your capabilities, interests, and energies to a more suitable line of work.

On the surface, this may sound pretty easy, but it isn’t. Each redirection means:

  • Acclimating to a different industry and/or workplace
  • Forging new relationships
  • Adapting to financial impacts
  • Dealing with potentially negative feedback from friends and family
  • Fear, self-doubt, and a new learning curve

There is, however, something exhilarating about a big change, so long as you’re ready for it. Newness, discovery, and challenge have the power to put you in high gear.

Keep options open.

This is a timely post for me since I’m getting ready to redirect my “career life” again, building on and remolding the pieces that have served me along the way.

My career unfolded like this:

Primary Career Path: Teaching Management   Consulting

I love words and how they can help us deal with life. So with an undergraduate degree in English, I became a high school teacher. Over ten years in the classroom, I learned how to instruct, manage groups, handle multiple priorities, and influence change.

Eventually, I got bored by routine, frustrated by some decisions, and curious about the world outside the classroom.

I decided to learn about big business by asking to speak to managers in HR about how public education could do a better job preparing their future employees.

Those meetings gave me a comfort level with business people and led to my first job at a large electric utility. There I learned how to manage effectively and lead when the stakes were high.

I also learned how the business worked and where its weaknesses were. After 20+ years as a senior manager there, I’d achieved my goals and realized I didn’t want to go any further.

I left and started a consulting practice, an entrepreneurial venture that would have to support me. I had done some freelance consulting that prepared me for this new venture which has been ongoing since 2002.

Corollary Career Paths: Production Sales

I’d always had a dream to own a horse so I started taking riding lessons when I was 30. Eventually I bought and boarded two horses. I wanted to care for them myself,  so I bought a small farm that needed plenty of work, all of which was new to me.DGL anad Foal

Before I knew it, I was breeding horses (production) for the race track and the show ring. This was an entirely new and foreign industry for me which fulfilled my curiosity, challenged me intellectually, and increased my fulfillment for almost 20 years.

Concurrently, my horse enterprise led to ownership for ten years of an equestrian art gallery, where I learned about retail sales. This rounded out my business resume.

Together, all of these efforts to redirect my career have created a range of experiences I  continue to draw on. Fortunately, careers don’t have to come to an end.

What next?

Career management is our job. It takes introspection and exploration, a good bit of courage and some luck. As our careers evolve, we evolve with them, learning what really floats our boat and what doesn’t.

I still have my original love of words, that’s why I blog. I love the quiet beauty of my farm where I can think and unearth new perspectives free from distraction. I am seeking to uncover how I will redirect again. Ideas come to mind and then fade into others. The same will happen for you until the right answer appears. Let’s continue to keep our options open. I’ll keep you posted on my progress and hope you will do the same.

What’s in your mind right now about how you might redirect your career? What challenges do you face? Sometimes writing it down makes it clearer. I’d love to hear from you.

The Sweet Sound of Striking the Right Chord | An Interview with Ricky Bell

I met Ricky Bell because my home office computer was deadly slow. As an independent computer technician, Ricky came highly recommended by my accountant, so I knew I’d be in good hands. To my surprise, I soon learned that those hands were equally talented on the neck of a guitar and that Ricky had connected two talents into one amazing career.    

DL:  Ricky, do you consider yourself a computer guy who’s a musician or a musician who’s a computer guy? 

RB: My goals as a musician drive everything I do. It’s been that way since I was a high school kid, working whatever decent-paying jobs I could find, including telemarketing, to earn enough money to buy more music gear. I’m still that way, investing in new equipment that helps me make better music. 

DL:  Is that what your IT business does for you today? 

RB: That and a lot more. After I got my A.A. degree in information technology, I apprenticed in IT for a couple years until I realized I could earn more if I had my own clients. So I went into business doing on-site residential and business troubleshooting, then database development and website design. I also handle convention production audio for my corporate clients plus IT consulting services. 

As a married man with a family, I need a business that provides a growing income. As a musician, I needed flexibility so I can play. Being an IT entrepreneur gives me both. 

DL: When did you know you had the talent to be a successful musician? 

RB: I’ve been playing music since I was a kid—violin in 3rd grade, piano in 6th, guitar and drums in 7th and 8th. I play six instruments and have been playing in cover bands since high school. 

I figured out that I might have a real talent for the guitar when I took lessons from Greg Howe, guitar player for Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Enrique Iglesias. I wasn’t sure that I was any good until at 13 my friend’s parents let me sit in with their band. When they called me a “prodigy,” it got my attention. 

DL: How did that revelation change things for you? 

RB: I started to put myself out there more. My breakthrough came when I entered one of my original songs in a contest run by WZZO radio. As the winner (out of 150 entrants), I got to perform my song on stage at The State Theatre in Easton,PA with Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. That recognition was a watershed moment in my music career.  

DL: What were your next steps? 

RB: I never like to say “no” to opportunity which means that to say “yes” I often have to go out on a limb.   

I’d been working a freelance job as a cameraman for Blue Ridge Cable, a sister company of Penns Peak, a concert venue in PA. Through that connection, I was invited to play at an American Cancer Society benefit there—just me singing and playing my guitar. The performance was so successful that I was booked by Penns Peak to open for major music groups, including Styx, REO Speedwagon, Kansas, and The Tubes.

DL: Where are you now with your music? 

RB: For me it’s all about performing to reach as many people as I can. I play with three bands now, two are my own. I play guitar and sing as a duo with my friend, Ian Frey, percussionist, at small venues and private parties. My cover band, Connect5, plays at larger venues where we keep the crowd dancing.   

I also play harmonica and sing as the Elwood character with the tribute band, The Blues Brotherhood, for large stage, sell-out crowds at casinos and the like. 

DL: How do music and your IT work fit together to meet your career aspirations ? 

RB: Computers and music share common ground in the music studio and on stage. Whether I’m performing with my bands, recording music, creating websites, or solving computer problems, my IT knowledge is always key to achieving successful results.   

I have no set-in-stone plan for the future. I continue to say “yes” to good opportunities the way I always have. All I need is money in the bank and the opportunity to play music. After all, I still need to buy more gear! 

Long term I just want to keep moving forward and upward. Making music and getting paid for it while taking care of my IT clients and raising my beautiful family matter most to me. Everything works together. 

DL: Your story reminds us all that careers emerge from the choices that we make. The more open-minded we are about our options and the more willing we are to take risks, particularly on ourselves, the more likely we are to fashion a career that fits us, striking the right chord. Thanks, Ricky, for sharing your story.

You can follow Ricky Bell and listen to his music and his bands at his website and on Facebook.  Here’s a two-minute video sampling of Ricky in action.

The “You’ve Got Potential” Scam—Resist It With Action

Someone says it to you. You say it about a friend or coworker:

  • “You have so much potential.”
  • “With all your potential, you can really go far.”
  • “Don’t waste your potential.”
  • “I think s/he has potential to do so much more.” 

When we’re in school or just starting our careers, being told we have “potential” sounds like praise, reason for optimism, and early votes for our success. 

After we’ve been at our jobs for awhile, having missed out on some opportunities, potential feels like a weight, unfulfilled expectations, and reason to doubt future success. 

No points for potential 

Potential is what we and others think we could do if we tried and then more of, if we tried harder. 

We want to be successful. Everyone wins, or so it seems, when we turn our potential into achievement. 

Lots of people bask in all the attention heaped on them for the potential they’re deemed to have. Others shrink from the pressures of their potential and sabotage their future success. 

On its own, unfortunately, potential can become a self-defeating scam that won’t win us any success points unless we act. 

Potential as “could’ve” 

Career potential is undelivered ability. It’s what we could achieve if we operationalized what we’re seemingly capable of. 

It’s also a guess. Who really knows what’s really latent in us and whether or not it can be put into practice in a big enough way to create real success.?

I’ve overheard many conversations like these: 

“Donald is so smart. He could’ve gone to medical school and become a doctor.”

“My daughter has such a beautiful golf swing that she could’ve become a pro golfer.”

“My boss is the only one with a real strategy. He could’ve easily been the CEO.”

Really? Who’s to know? Why didn’t these outcomes take place? 

Potential is risk 

No guts, no glory—these are the facts about potential. Whatever our talents, gifts, and capabilities are, if we don’t put them out there, act on them, and take the chance that we’ll fail or succeed, it’s as though they don’t exist. 

You get no points in the end for potential. You, in fact, may get a black mark for squandering it because you were afraid to: 

  • Test it against the requirements of the marketplace
  • Put in the hard work to turn it into real knowledge and skills
  • Risk criticism, failure, challenges, and struggle
  • Expose your frailties, your ego, and/or your security 

With action, potential can turn itself into achievement in a thousand ways big and small, like 

  • Achieving a diploma or degree
  • Breaking into sports broadcasting
  • Starting a cottage business
  • Problem-solving your way out of the projects 

“Could’ve” of doesn’t get you anywhere. “Should’ve” doesn’t either. 

Country singer Toby Keith’s lyric is a great reminder: 

“Shoulda been a cowboy

Should’ve learned to rope and ride….” 

We’ve actually got to do stuff. We don’t get anywhere on a wish. We have to learn and act. We have to stick our necks out. 

Potential is investment capital 

We start with potential. It’s always in you. It’s like a money stash that we’re born with and have the opportunity to invest. 

If we leave it buried and don’t act, it delivers no return. If we invest it by acting, we have a chance, not a guarantee, it will grow.

It’s important to listen to everyone who identifies what they see as our potential. There’s a good chance that the people we trust the most and who know us best see what we can’t about ourselves.

Our challenge is to pay attention and try to see what they see. Then we need to ask ourselves, “Am I going to do what it takes to turn my potential into achievement or just let it lie?” I’ve got my money on you taking action. 

Photo from cessable via Flickr






Career Going Nowhere? Ask for What You Want

Do you keep repeating the same old lines about your career?

“I work hard but I’m going nowhere. I want to: 

  • Earn more money
  • Be promoted
  • Get interesting assignments
  • Work somewhere else.” 

Who are you actually saying this to? Yourself, close friends, coworkers, and even strangers at a party (how sad is that?). Is it helping? My guess is, “no.” 

Exactly what do you want, anyhow? 

We have an easier time saying what we don’t want than what we do. 

At work, no one is assigned to read our minds. (Where’s Johnny Carson’s Carnac when we need him?) 

We’ve likely spent little or no time thinking, planning, or positioning ourselves to be considered for real opportunities. On top of that, we haven’t told anyone specifically what we want or asked for help. 

Now what? 

We have to plan our own course: That includes making decisions and acting on them, being fully invested in outcomes, and not being afraid. 

Start with these steps which aren’t as easy as they sound: 

  • Decide on the kind of work you want to do and where
  • Find out the salary growth potential of that work
  • Understand the progression line of jobs that you’ll need to follow
  • Look at growth opportunities over the next 5 years
  • Commit to developing your knowledge, skills, and experience 

This is the front work that hardly anyone does. 

Be decisive. Commit to a specific career path for the next 5 years, even though what you want may come sooner or a little later. Follow your plan, capitalizing on opportunities and learning everything you can.  

Now, ask for what you want! 

“Asking” makes what you say you want real. That scares some people.   

It also means meeting face-to-face with the people who can help you, saying the words, and committing to a course of action. You’re now entering into a unique kind of partnership. 

Your first “asking” conversation would likely be with your boss or an influential colleague and should be big picture focused like this: 

“I want to grow in my career and be recognized for my contributions. I’m committed to doing the work that’s necessary. I specifically want to position myself for opportunities (like______) and am looking for guidance/support/mentoring (depending on whom you’re talking to) from you. Would you be willing?” (The follow up ask: “If not, can you suggest someone else?”) 

As things start to unfold, you’ll want to have targeted “asking” conversations with your boss and others like these: 

1. “I would like to create more stretch goals for myself this year so that I can continue to demonstrate my value. I would appreciate your input/support on these 4 new goals.” 

2. “During the year I took on additional duties outside my job description which was a cost-savings to the department. I would like to be considered for a raise and/or an exceptional contribution award for that work. Is that feasible?” (The follow up ask:” If not, what will it take to get a salary increase?”)

3. “I would like to be considered for an XYZ position when a vacancy opens up. What additional knowledge/skills/experiences should I work on to make me the strongest candidate. Would you be willing to give me routine feedback?” 

4. “I’ve always wanted to participate in the development of a new product launch. I see that the company will be forming a team this summer. Would you be willing to appoint/recommend me?” 

Asking is the first step: Reminding (not nagging) is the next. We need to keep our wants and expectations visible and in the right context. 

Remember, it’s your career 

We don’t always get what we ask for, but that doesn’t mean we give up. However, if things don’t progress according to our timetables, we may need a change of venue! 

It never hurts to ask. The worst that can happen is that someone says “no,” an important bit of information for your on-going decision making. 

How about taking a fresh look at the direction of your career? Then ask specifically for something you want. You might actually hear “yes”!

Grit and Gumption Power a Career | An Interview with Nichola Gutgold

I knew about Nichola before I actually met her. When we finally got together for coffee, our shared passion for writing launched a terrific friendship. As associate professor of communications arts and sciences at Pennsylvania State University, Lehigh Valley campus, Nichola D. Gutgold, PhD is a prolific author on the communications styles of influential women in male-dominated fields 

When I learned that Nichola had gone to Washington, D.C. to interview Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor, my first thought was, “How did she become a force who gains access to important women?” So I decided to ask.   

DL: Nichola, here you are, professor and author, on a career roll. How did this all happen? 

NG: Well, it sure isn’t what I ever expected. My father was a coal miner and one of ten children. Though both my mom and dad were supportive of my sisters and me, they didn’t encourage a professional career route.  As a kid, the only images I had of successful career women were TV news broadcasters. 

I was lucky enough to go to college, the first in my family to get a degree. I graduated with a double major in mass communications and English, thinking I would teach. While an undergrad, I worked for a while as a newspaper beat reporter. It was a lot of grunt work and a bad fit for me. 

I didn’t have any specific career goals after I graduated. So I worked briefly for a TV station, a small advertising business, and then in PR for a shopping mall.   

DL: Did these jobs discourage you? 

NG: Not really. I always had a sense that I needed to expand my educational credentials. It wasn’t long before I went for an MA in Speech/Communication at Bloomsburg University. 

While studying for my masters, I got married and helped my husband start his own advertising business. Balancing all this was a bit hairy. Once I completed my degree I became an adjunct professor at a couple local colleges and Penn State. That’s when I realized I needed a doctorate. 

DL: Was getting your PhD your most important career choice? 

NG: Yes, it would make all the difference, but it came with real sacrifice. When I started my PhD, I was thirty years old with a young daughter. The rigors of the degree took everything I had, requiring me to study well into the night while jockeying my family responsibilities (often not too well) and my teaching. It was a time of tremendous stress and guilt. 

I am fortunate to be strong-willed and optimistic. I knew in my heart that I had to give my all to achieve that degree. If I wanted to be taken seriously in my career and have opportunities presented to me, that PhD was the ticket. 

DL: After you got your degree, what made you start writing books about influential women? 

NG: It’s always amazing how one thing leads to another if we’re open to it. I’d seen Elizabeth Dole speak on TV at the Republican National Convention. I was intrigued by her beauty queen look and her willingness to demure to her husband’s political aspirations even though she could have been the presidential candidate. So I decided to do my dissertation on her speech-making style. 

I wrote to Elizabeth when she ran the Red Cross, more or less begging for an interview. It took several letters until one day, her office contacted me to say she was coming to Hershey, PA to speak and had bought me ticket to hear her. I was stunned and thrilled. That’s how it all started. 

DL: I suspect it can feel pretty intimidating to contact these women. What gives you the nerve to do it? 

NG: I’ve come to realize that women like Elizabeth Dole and the Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor have their own stories to tell and few opportunities to tell them. Sure they’re in the news, but you’d be surprised at how little in-depth attention they get personally. 

But it takes perseverance. I often have to write many letters (not e-mails) requesting an interview and then following up. Sometimes I get a quick response and other times I wait. I just don’t give up. 

DL: It still amazes me that they will agree to talk to you. What’s your magic? 

To have Penn State University as my employer is a huge asset. In many ways, I stand on PSU’s shoulders and that opens doors. My academic credentials also have weight. It lets these women know that I am a professional, dedicated to getting things right. 

I also make it clear that my focus is on their speech and communication styles. I don’t critique what they say, just how they say it, specifically the techniques they use to make their points to influence change. 

It doesn’t take magic, just work hard and optimism. A positive spirit and a can-do attitude have the power to make things happen. 

Nichola Gutgold blogs at TalkDoc. Her books include Almost Madam President: Why Hillary Clinton ‘Won’ in 2008 , Seen and Heard: The Women of Television News, and Paving the Way for Madam President. With Molly Wertheimer she co-authored, Elizabeth Hanford Dole: Speaking from the Heart. She is currently writing a book on communications styles of the women Supreme Court Justices.

7 Steps to Getting Unstuck | A Career Rescue Plan

Have you hit the wall? That’s how it can feel when we’re in a job that’s taking us nowhere. 

One day you wake up and realize that your growth opportunities are zilch because:

  • No one leaves your company
  • The workforce keeps shrinking
  • A zillion employees have a leg up on you
  • You’re not positioned for advancement 

This all comes with a gnawing sense that the longer you stay in your job, the more mired you’ll become, like being in career quicksand. 

Overcome panic with brains 

Nothing gets us out of a “stuck” pattern faster than a smart plan. Here are seven steps to start digging your way out of the muck. 

First, answer these “assessing” questions: 

1. What do I want? It’s one thing to say you’re stuck in your career and another to be honest about what you want. Maybe it’s an assignment that builds your skills, a lateral move, a promotion, or a job rotation. Write down exactly what you want next from your career. That becomes your goal.

 2. What’s in my way? Answer this question with your goal front and center. If you want a job change and there are no openings soon, then you need to find out when conditions might change. If you aren’t qualified for that opening or don’t come across well, then you need to fix that.   

3. What are my options? Be realistic. Look at what’s going on in your company and make your best guess at future growth opportunities that fit your time schedule. If you have to wait five years for someone to retire to apply for the job you want, decide if you want to risk waiting. 

You also need a good sense of whether or not you are someone the company views favorably. If not, weigh that data too. 

4. What am I willing to do? Getting yourself unstuck requires action. Again, be honest with yourself about how much you’re willing to do to expand your capabilities, build broader relationships, look outside, re-brand yourself, increase your visibility, follow leads, and redirect your career. It all rests on your shoulders.

Now take these “actions:” 

5. Prepare your plan. Write down what you intend to do and by when. Hold yourself accountable. Treat your quest to “un-stick” your career like the business initiative that it is.

Effectively managing your career takes the same skills as managing a work project. So if you want to achieve specific career movement by a certain date, write down exactly what you will do to make that happen. 

6. Assemble your support team. We all need a support system—the people who will provide us with insights, ideas, information, encouragement, and feedback. This may include a mentor, your boss, a friend, local entrepreneur, and/or a career coach. Pick people who care about you and can provide concrete help. Engage with them appropriately and often.

7. Keep yourself on track. It’s terribly easy to get discouraged, lose your momentum, and give up. No one ever got unstuck by quitting. Your stick-to-itiveness is the measure of your desire to more forward. That’s why you need to track each bit of progress you make and mark it on your action plan.

Watch for signs that your efforts are making an impact, even if your goal hasn’t yet been reached. Acknowledge your progress.  If you know others who are also trying to un-stick their careers too, consider getting together as a group to support each other. 

Pay attention 

Anytime we take action to move forward, we invite discovery. We learn new things, meet new people, and see situations with fresh eyes. These actions release insights that we would not have seen otherwise. 

Just at the moment when we’re ready to pack it in, something will appear in an email, someone unexpected will call, and some opportunity will present itself. If we’re not in the game, playing full out, we’ll miss these chances. So it’s important to pay attention to the little things since they often precede the big ones! Yeowza! 

How have you felt when stuck? Any steps to add?