5 Ways to Save Yourself from Blind Exuberance | Hold Your Horses

Nothing beats it–that heart-pumping excitement that comes from the prospect of:

  • Landing a great job or promotion
  • Getting an overseas assignment
  • Buying into a promising start up

Our minds are flooded with seductive images of what we can make happen.

That’s all good, except, to be successful, we need to be in touch with our naiveté, replacing it with solid knowledge .

Face what you don’t know.

It’s easy to get sold a bill of goods:

  • The job description isn’t what the job is
  • The promotion is a dead end, not a growth opportunity
  • The start-up was poorly managed so it folded

Our exuberance for an opportunity is often rooted in our emotions, so we’re inclined to make our decisions based on incomplete information.

Career opportunities are, first and foremost, business decisions, so they require the same due diligence as any corporate merger. Your life is your business, remember?

I’ve certainly had plenty of experience reining in my own boundless exuberance throughout my varied career..

I learned the hardest lessons as a race and show horse breeder. My knowledge of the industry was zero before I started. (There’s your first sign!) I’d learned to ride as an adult, did a little showing on my first horse, bought a broodmare, and then a small farm that needed to be made horse-ready. Next I met a work colleague into horse racing and “I was off.”

This experience taught me these five lessons for any career move :

1. Understand the economics: Calculate the hard dollar benefits and exposures over time for any career change you make. Discuss this openly and without discomfort.

I learned: Horses are expensive even when you take care of them yourself: feed, vet care, farriers, trainers, gear, trailering, and endless supplies. There’s no escaping the cost.

2. Assess the physical demands: Be honest about whether or not you are up to the demands of the job over the long haul–the hours, the stress, the travel, the expectations.

I learned: Horses are work every day all year: lugging, lifting, stacking, dodging, restraining, and getting dragged around (mostly by foals). Hurting is a constant.

3. Face your emotions: Determine the level of your self-confidence and self-esteem, tolerance for criticism and disappointment, anticipating exposures that lie ahead.

I learned: Horses die, get severely injured, and often lack needed talent. Making the decision to euthanize a beloved sick or severely injured horse was tormenting. Learning to face reality is one thing; acting on it another.

4. Study the players: Dig into what’s driving your opportunity and who the beneficiaries are if you particpate. Ask probing questions about expectations, authority, and the key players.

I learned: Commercial horse breeding is an industry. Every product (horse) is one of a kind. If you don’t know how to sell or buy, it’s easy to get cheated. And I was, more than once.

5. Analyze the market:  Examine the path ahead and what it will take to get there. Your coworkers and others are also competing for available opportunities, so position yourself for the future. Don’t jump at just anything.

I learned: Horses aren’t easy to sell. The market is glutted, many buyers are clueless, games can be played, and seller “celebrity” often rules. Selling privately is different from selling at auction. In this game, it’s every horseman for him/herself.

Hold your horses.

We all need passion and drive to be successful. That’s how we weather the storms of disappointment and fuel our resilience.

No matter what career you’re in, there are cold hard realities that need to be grasped, managed, and overcome to achieve and advance.

I can remember every “beating” I took in the horse business. Each one left both a welt on my psyche along with a priceless gem of understanding. Some lessons I learned after one whack and others after many. In time, I was able to anticipate the obstacles and side-step them before they got me. I wouldn’t swap the experience and all the joy and excitement for anything.

These lessons are where business savvy comes from. Once you’ve got your arms around them, you can act on your exuberance with confidence. YAY!

Winner, Loser, or Also-ran? How Attitude Defines You

Attitudes reveal us—what we value, how we think, and what we’re after. They’re the stuff of statements like:

  • “With an attitude like that he’ll be an obstacle on our project?”
  • “We don’t need a supervisor with an attitude like hers?”
  • “I can’t give him a good rating with that attitude.”

People observe our attitudes and then define us through their own attitude-shaded lens. Like it or not, we’re locked in an inexorable cycle of labeling.

Attitudes revealed

Attitude is defined as either a positive or hostile disposition or state of mind. Our feelings, thoughts, and points of view form our attitudes.

No matter how we come by them, attitudes become features like traits and characteristics that can work for or against career success.

We live in a fast-and-loose labeling world. There are labels for everyone in every profession and walk of life.

Politicians will label you as a conservative, liberal, moderate, progressive, or independent even if your viewpoints don’t fit their label for every issue.

At work, you’re put into attitude boxes like team player, go-getter, troublemaker, or bullier even when your attitudes are situation based.

Attitude labels stick, so we need to understand how we’re attracting them and how to turn them around when they’re a liability.

Look at yourself

Your attitude is the one thing in life that you always control. So if you’re displaying attitudes that are causing you problems you don’t want, change!

Start with some self-appraisal:

  • Make a list of the positive and negative words being used by others to define your attitude.  (Reread your last two performance appraisals for insights. Listen closely to what your boss and peers are saying to or about you.)
  • Next to each word, write 3 situations where you remember doing or saying something that triggered it. (If you can’t remember, ask a trusted coworker or your boss for help.)
  • Talk to a family member or friend about how you come across in certain circumstances. Chances are your attitudes show up in you personal life too.

Commit to an attitude management plan:

  • Identify actions you will take to retain positive attitude labels and fix the negative ones.
  • Identify triggers that bring out your negative attitudes and how you will manage your actions and words when they appear.
  • Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss your commitment to improving attitudes that need work.
  • Share your plan for change and solicit your boss’s support. Be as specific as practical.
  • Make good on your plan by sticking with it.

The harsh reality is that attitude is more important to career success than talent. No one wants to work with a gifted leader or technician with a bad attitude. Good results are more likely to come from those with average talent who are happy working together.

The consequences of inaction

Negative attitude labels that go uncorrected can crush a career. Winners showcase can-do attitudes, collaboration, courage, and trustworthiness, even in the heat of battle.

The also-rans (ah, yes, another label) are those who go unnoticed. Their attitudes are often unrevealed, other than their willingness to just go along with what’s asked. They don’t make waves and they don’t progress much either.

Employees with negative attitudes often resist direction, find fault with all decisions, bully co-workers, and/or obstruct progress. They perceive they’re winning when their careers are actually in free-fall.

When our attitudes are on display, observers reinforce the labels they’ve assigned to us, until one day their labels have replaced our names. We become known as the:

  • Obstructionist or Problem Child
  • Hard-ass or Power Monger
  • Team Player or Advocate

Negative labels can be dangerous. Just watch a political campaign and see how labels about what a candidate believes are turned into weaponry through name-calling and pigeonholing.

You need to protect yourself from unfair attitude labeling by renewing efforts to manage your attitudes effectively. If where you work doesn’t fit your nature, do the smart thing: Employ attitudes that serve you positively each day while you take steps to make a career change. You can do this!

Photo from Ayleen Gaspar via Flickr

Wondering If You’ve Got What It Takes? Open Your Eyes. | Building Self-Confidence

I’ve never reposted before, but after reading Cherry Woodburn’s initial post in her “Confidence Chronicles” series, I knew it was time to repost this one.  Cherry’s interview with Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, career services entrepreneur and one of only 27 Master Resume Writers in the world, showcases the core importance of confidence to career success. 

I often hear this: “I don’t have enough:

  • experience for that job
  • knowledge to lead a team
  • years with the company to advance
  • know-how to start my own business.”

Exactly, who says we aren’t good enough? Most of the time, we’re the guilty party.

Doubt is our enemy.

Negative self-talk is often riddled with self-doubt. We look at what others are achieving, compare ourselves, and question whether we have what it takes. We self-assess against standards that we invent before we know what the real expectations are.

Self-confidence is as much about being willing to explore an opportunity as it is about being able to execute an assignment. All too often, we worry about our ability to do a job before we understand what it is.

Doubt cannot be allowed to rule.  

The antidote to doubt is reality. Not some “reality” you imagine but the reality that exists.

Start by looking around. Who is doing the work that you think you’re “not good enough” to do as well or better?

Look hard and long at those people. Watch exactly what they do and say. Pay attention to the actual results they produce. Examine their work closely. Find out what others are saying about it.

Then ask yourself, “Can I produce work like that or better?”  My guess is that, in most cases, your answer will be, “Sure.”

If you’ve been reading my posts for a bit, you know that I spent many years as a commercial horse breeder. I knew nothing about it when I started.

Before I bought my farm, I had doubts about whether or not I could care for horses on my own since I’d had no knowledge or experience. The owner of the barn where I’d been boarding warned me, “You could kill those horses if you don’t feel ‘em right.” That rocked me.

Then I stopped to think about her and the other people I’d met who were in the horse business. I asked myself, “Is there any reason to believe that the people in this business are smarter than I am? Do I have good people to advise me when I have questions?” The answers were obvious.

Self-confidence is not arrogance. 

Arrogance is when you act like you know everything. Self-confidence is about believing in yourself. It builds courage, keeps you moving forward in spite of setbacks, and enables you to seize opportunities to grow.

You find self-confidence by looking positively at yourself, acknowledging what you can do. You build self-confidence by testing your capabilities.

The biggest mistake we make is telling ourselves that we have to be the best at something before we are “entitled” to be self-confident. In fact, we just have to be as good as the situation requires.

Role models are everywhere. 

If your self-confidence is a bit shaky, it’s time to look around and see who’s out there doing what you want to do with capabilities similar to yours. In the past four months, I watched these two confidence-building situations unfold:

1.) A Gen Y college grad, who hated her job, started a blog, made professional on-line contacts, was recognized for her writing talents, started freelancing, and just got a full-time job.

2.) An experienced marketing professional was downsized, couldn’t find another job, talked to independent contractors about how they worked, informally looked for clients, blogged about her “start up” experiences, got great advice, opened an office, and saw her business start to grow.

Self-confidence evolves. Every step you take helps you build your truly capable self. You can mentor, volunteer to lead a team, give speeches, deliver training, start a hobby business, or cover a temporary vacancy at work.

Every step you take to become business fit builds your self-confidence. If you haven’t had a chance to learn the seven smart moves, perhaps now’s the time. Your self-confidence is your success engine. Without it, we don’t move very far or very fast. Vroooom!

How has your self-confidence been tested? What were you able to do to overcome your doubts and move ahead?  

Photo from nicer than air via Flickr

Career Alert: “Your Employer Brands You. Take It or Leave It.”

Companies are credentials. Who we work for says a lot about us. Just ask any resume screener or hiring manager. 

This reality adds to the job search and career building pressures that are already intense enough. No one ever said this career success thing was going to be easy. 

What’s in a name? 

Here’s how it happens: Organizations have their own identities. They are defined by the mission, decisions, and performance of the leadership. 

The marketplace sees organizations as though they are people, judging them based on their conduct. 

When an insurance company is notoriously slow paying its claims, they may be branded as insensitive, unreliable, or ineffective. That can stick to us. 

When a manufacturing company is known to donate money and free up employees to volunteer for community service, we’re part of that brand whether we volunteer or not. 

The old adage even applies when it comes to your employer: “You’re judged by the company you keep.” 

The choice is yours. 

We can choose to work for well-regarded companies or questionable ones. I know these are desperate times and finding a job is difficult. 

But, each time we say, “yes” to an employer, we’re entering into a unique relationship. We agree to perform the work they want in exchange for the salary and benefits they pay. 

Every company operates based on its values. That’s what drives its decision-making. Values attract certain kinds of customers and investors, suppliers and employees. 

Values are words like: quality, reliability, accountability, cooperation, integrity, service, innovation, and safety. 

When organizations deliver on their values, they are held in high regard. (It doesn’t matter how large or small they are.) When they don’t, they get a black eye and share it with you, their employee. 

It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’ll just keep our heads down, do our work, and go home, so we don’t get tangled up in all this. But at some point, we know whether or not what’s going on around us is compatible with the person we are. Protecting our personal/professional brand is essential to our successful career. 

Sit on the right shoulders

There is enormous benefit to your brand when you work for a well-respected organization, large or small. Here are a few: 

No apologies required: When asked where you work, your answer is met with positive reactions to what the organization does and your part in its success.

Requests for information: People consider you a credible voice who can help them connect with the right resources and/or put their concerns or questions in perspective.

Access to influencers: Simply being employed by well-respected companies makes it easier to be heard at community meetings, gain access to politicians, and  meet with other business leaders.

Invitations to represent: Good companies are sought after and need employee representatives, like you, to serve on non-profit boards, to attend local fund-raisers, and to speak to community groups.

Opportunities to grow: Everyone loves a winner. When you work for a successful company, their success rubs off on you, expanding your credentials by proximity. As more doors open to you, your brand expands. So you may find yourself asked to attend a special meeting for an executive, participate on an industry research project, or write and publish a paper. 

When I asked Nichola D. Gutgold, PhD, associate professor of communications arts and sciences atPenn State University, about how she was able to gain access to so many powerful women in government, media, and the Supreme Court for her books, she told me: 

“To have Penn State Universityas 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.” 

Give credit 

The resources and the reach of our companies propel their brands. We draw on both to expand our own brands. 

Our organizations aren’t perfect and neither are we, but together we can help each other to be better. 

You know when you’re working for the right organization. Its shoulders give you the lift you need to reach great heights. Steady now! 

Phote from nedrichards via Flickr

Putting (Even Undiscovered) Passion to Work…Your Way!

Do “follow your passion” career messages rattle your nerves? 

Oprah’s life coach guests expound on it. Gary Vaynerchuk evangelizes about it in his book, Crush It. Every successful rags-to-riches actor, musician, entrepreneur, and social change agent testifies to it. Halleluiah! 

They make passion sound so BIG and all-consuming, like something they can barely contain.  For them, it must be. 

But what about us? We’ve made commitments and set a course that, for now, may not be about our passions. Do we even know what our passions are? Maybe not for sure. Ugh, what do we do? 

Putting your finger on it 

My favorite definition of passion is “boundless enthusiasm.” But even that sounds pretty BIG, but something that we can control. 

Enthusiasm can be contagious and “boundless enthusiasm” irresistible. When we’ve got some to share, it’ll become magnetic. 

Clearly, not everyone wants to turn a passion into riches or fame. At the very least, most of us would like a reasonable outlet for it. (If we get some perks too, all the better!) First, we have to find our niche. 

Look outside your door 

Work can be isolating without our knowing it, causing us to table interests that we enjoy. It happened to me. 

I love the arts—theater, music, fine art, dance, literature, the whole gamut. For 20 years I was so consumed by my corporate job that I spent less and less time enriching myself through arts experiences. 

When I left that life to start my coaching/consulting practice, I decided to find my way back to the arts. 

I’m simply an arts patron. The arts always gave me a way see into myself, helping me make sense out of life. I knew that the arts could also make a tangible difference in the quality of life in a community. So, I looked for an organization in my area dedicated to arts advocacy. 

The Lehigh Valley Arts Council, with its regional reach, filled the bill. I became a member, offered to help, was asked to serve on an event committee, and voila, I found an outlet for my then “quiet” enthusiasm. 

One step leads to another.  

I started meeting wonderful people—patrons, gallery owners, artists, collectors, corporate and education leaders. The executive director, Randall Forte, hooked me with his passion for how the Arts Council’s work was making a difference in the community. He took my enthusiasm up notch. 

Then one day I realized what was happening. My love of the arts and my affiliation with the Arts Council had enabled me to (re)discover my passion for being a voice for the good the arts brings to individuals and the community. Being invited to serve on their board took me to that “boundless” state. 

I saw that my gifts of time and money to the Arts Council were providing: 

  • Teachers with workshops by national experts on ways to use the arts to help students learn and cope with life problems
  • Business and local government leaders with data on the impact of the arts on the local economy, promoting better decision-making and planning
  • Artists with professional development programs and government grant awards for arts projects
  • Arts organizations with cooperative advertising opportunities, an on-line box office, and market research information
  • Arts Council members with networking events and a sense of community

 So much good was being done. So many lives made richer. 

(If you’d like to join or donate to the Arts Council, here are the two links. They would be over-the-top grateful!) 

Who knew? 

The trickle-down effect of our flickering or raging passions teaches us much about their power. So please revisit your passion whether big or small. Discover its other layers and invest your energies. 

When we put our passions to work, we take what we gain to our jobs— leadership experiences, community relationships, insights, and experiences. All of this makes us more interesting, more engaged, and more likely to be seen at work in a fresh and even more positive light. Now let’s get “boundless!” Enjoy! 

Do you have a passion nibbling away at you? Or one that’s full-blown? I’d love to hear about it!

Idle Chit Chat or Intelligence Gathering? | An Upgrade for Casual Conversation

My favorite questions in business are: 

  • What’s really going on here?
  • Who is this person?

When we know those answers, in whole or in part, we have a leg up on nearly everything. 

When meetings don’t go right, interviews flop, or projects stall, it’s often because we don’t fully understand the needs, expectations, sensitivities, and even agendas of the people we’re dealing with. That means we need to find out! 

Create comfort 

When we feel at ease with another person, we become less guarded and more willing to share observations, experiences, and insights. 

At work that’s how we build relationships, understand boundaries, and recognize opportunities that will enhance our work and our careers. It often influences decisions, alliances, and loyalties. 

Look around. Watch those people who navigate their work environments smoothly. They don’t seem to have any difficulty approaching people at any organizational level, fit into groups of people they don’t know, or breeze through interviews without breaking a sweat. 

Chances are these folks have a knack for small talk, casual conversation, the kind of chit chat that makes others feel comfortable with them. Each time they collect a bit of information, they better understand the person they’re talking with. 

They’ll learn what’s appropriate to say and what’s not. They’ll be able to cut future tensions by talking about shared hobbies or interests. They’ll have the intelligence they need to create a bridge to solutions, compromises, and the engagement when they need it. 

Set the stage 

Not too long ago, I met with a client under difficult circumstances. I needed to build credibility right away. He had a sprawling office appointed with some interesting artifacts. While he was gathering up his papers, I noticed a display case with an unusual collection of shells. So I asked about a couple and got a fascinating mini-tutorial on the creatures that inhabited them. 

This exchange gave me a chance to learn about his interests, observe his passion, and use a shell metaphor to make a discussion point. That five-minute, opening chit chat started the meeting as a conversation instead of a presentation, creating exactly the climate I needed for my message. 

Our careers grow when the people around us regard us as colleagues. That means we need to help them forget about our job titles and focus on the work we’re both doing to get the job done.

 Pay attention 

Intelligence gathering through casual conversation works two ways: We can use it to cut any tension we may be feeling or to help others relax when they’re up tight. We can also use it to reveal appropriate things about ourselves, so that others see us in a richer way. 

Here’s how a couple scenarios might play out: 

  • At a job interview, mention how you admired a piece of sculpture in the company lobby and ask how it came to be chosen. Reveal your interest in the arts or how the piece enhances the company’s image. Given the interviewer’s response, you’ll get to see his/her interpersonal style and be ready to deal with it before the questions start. 
  • In preparation for a meeting where you are new to the group, use casual conversation with coworkers to find out a little about the attendees beforehand. Learn about their career histories, hot buttons, inner circles, loyalties, and attitudes toward your department. Then, at the meeting, you’ll be able to ask questions and make comments freely, knowing they won’t trigger any negative reactions.

What seems like idle talk can become a powerful business tool. 

Listen well 

Every question we ask increases our understanding, but we need to listen for what is meant and not just what is said. Being able to connect words with intention, to probe for clarity, and to use insights for positive purpose are the essentials for career success. So much of our business fitness is a function of our ability to put all the information pieces together. The water cooler can be your oasis! Go ahead: Take a swig! 

How have you used casual conversation to gather insights? Any tips or warnings? Thanks 

Career Today—Gone Tomorrow. Now What? | Finding “Right-fit” Job Options

Read the paper. Watch the news. Get an endless dose of pundit certainty about the uncertainty in the job market. If you have a job, the news makes you uneasy. If you don’t, it makes you sweat.

You can let the job market control you or you can step up! 

Who’s making the rules? 

When times are tough, we can allow ourselves to be paralyzed or stoke ourselves to act. We can choose to see the options or imprison ourselves in old thinking. I vote for kicking up the dust! 

It’s easy to create self-limiting rules about what’s next for you: 

  • I need to stay in marketing because that’s all I know.
  • Starting my own business would be too difficult.
  • I’m too far behind on IT applications to compete.
  • My age holds me back from the work I want. 

Then we can also crush our own spirits with negative self-talk like I’m:

  • Not smart enough
  • Too inexperienced
  • A loser—got downsized
  • Too shy, different, educated or not 

It’s time to stop grinding your teeth and to start taking a big bite out of the job options out there! 

What’s on the menu? 

The American comedian, actor, and writer, George Burns (1896-1996) said,   

  • “I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.” 
  • “I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate.” 

What if we all chose to use these two tenets to drive our career choices? How would that affect your next steps? 

Looking to the future means thinking about the work you want to be doing in your 20’s, 40’s, 60’s and beyond. (Burns was still doing standup gigs until just before his death at 100.) 

It also means thinking about work that you love…not like or enjoy or know how to do…work that you love! That’s both a challenge and a tall order. 

Sample. Nibble. Taste. 

We don’t know what we love to do until we’ve done a little of it or watched someone else.  It starts as an inkling, a whisper by our inner voice that, in time, can grow into awareness. 

If you stop paying attention to that inner voice, you’ll miss the moment when you can connect what you love to do with an opportunity to do it. 

The key is to stop looking for jobs and start looking for work you love doing.

Some will take you around the globe or across the country. Others provide opportunities to do good, develop new talents, and learn new things.

 They’re not all “fancy” jobs with big salaries and perks. They may not lead you to exactly the work you’ve secretly wanted, but they will get you closer

You may need more than one job to pay the bills, but two jobs doing what you love are better than one you hate. It is for me! 

Combine things! 

There’s no rule that says you can’t follow the career path you’re on now and fill in the gaps with work you love. That “love it” work can even supplement your income and your need to make a difference.

  • Write a book, sell an article, start a band, paint, act
  • Become a product blogger or host a Blog Talk Radio show
  • Do event planning, graphic design, building renovation, landscaping
  • Become an adjunct professor at a nearby college
  • Start a local chapter of a professional service organization
  • Teach English as a second language, champion a cause 

Enjoy the desserts! 

It’s your career and your life. Do all you can to drive it and not let it drive you. The options are out there. Your ability to think and act creatively—your business fitness—is between you and what you want. Eat up. Enjoy every morsel! 

What have you done to get closer to the kind of work that you really want to do? Any tips for how we can get there too? Thanks.