Mistakes Are Career Assets. Capitalizing on Yours?

Mistakes are vital to success. They’re the fuel, the awakenings, and the pathways to achievement.

Each mistake is an aha moment, some more painful or illuminating than others.

You need your mistakes to keep moving ahead, to get better, to reach your goals. Embrace them to extract the most benefit.

Asset building

Most of us hate making mistakes. The worst are the ones we get called out on, the ones everyone knows about, and those that make us look inept. Me too.

Our mistakes have an uncanny ability to put us in a strangle hold that’s difficult to shake off. Mistakes sap our:

  • Self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Desire to try again
  • Feelings of self-worth and self-belief
  • Optimism about the future

In reality, our mistakes aren’t the culprit. We are.

We’re the ones who give negative power to our mistakes when we:

  • Inflate their significance (This will haunt me my whole career.)
  • Attribute dire consequences (I could get fired because of this.)
  • Beat ourselves up (I am such a loser.)
  • Feel beaten (I just don’t have the talent for this work.)

Most of us over blow our gaffs at work. Making mistakes, though, is something we have in common with each of our coworkers, and even our bosses. No one is immune.

The old adage is true: If you aren’t making mistakes at work, then you aren’t doing anything.

Mistakes are a sign that you’ve taken action toward the results you’re being paid for. No one thinks you’re trying to make mistakes. So when you do, let it be known that you’ve learned something.

Few of us make mistakes that are catastrophic. Most of them are more like atmospheric disturbances than category 4 hurricanes.

A mistake pinpoints a situation-based skill or awareness level missing in your arsenal.

When you make a mistake, you need to figure out:

  • What it was
  • What caused it
  • How to correct it
  • How to avoid it in the future

Each mistake gives you the chance to expand your capabilities, savvy, and confidence– career assets with a real future pay off.

Capitalizing

Instead of fearing mistakes, learn to accept and embrace them. The mistakes most detrimental to your career are the ones you keep making under the same circumstances. So you need to avoid being a recidivist.

Believe it or not, most bosses are encouraged when they see you turn a mistake into a learning moment, followed by efforts to improve.

Here are some typical mistakes and how to capitalize on them:

  1. Performance errors–You make an error setting up a spreadsheet, making key metrics unreliable. A coworker catches it. You see where you goofed and quickly come up with a better control that you share with your boss. Your credibility is restored.
  2. Relationship misreads–You put your confidence in a hard-driving coworker to complete an important part of the project you’re leading. When you ask for the status, you’re told all is well. You accept that, but when the deadline arrives, her part is incomplete. You admit to your boss that you never asked her for specifics and that you learned how not to be caught this way again.
  3. Naiveté–You volunteer to serve as acting supervisor for your work group while your boss is on leave. You’ve attended supervisory training, know the work, and believe you have leadership skills. Soon you realize your coworkers aren’t accepting you as their supervisor. Interpersonal issues arise and the work erodes. When your boss returns, you debrief him, explaining what you’ve learned and your plan to improve.

Don’t hide

It’s tempting to want to hide from your mistakes, but that only devalues them and erodes your integrity. Admitting and owning your mistakes is the first step to capitalizing on their value.

When your coworkers and boss understand that you see mistakes as the way that you improve, they’ll be inclined to help you.

Owing your mistakes sets a powerful example that doubles their asset value, turning them into real career capital.

Got a Problem? There’s a Career for That. | Taking Service to Heart

Real jobs are born out of need. They’re created to solve problems. Solve those problems and create a win-win situation: The business profits and the customer/client is satisfied.

The better we are at solving problems, the more career opportunities we create for ourselves.

Accidental discoveries

I had the misfortune last month of being hit broadside in my new car by a woman who ran the red light while I was turning left off a green arrow. I was not hurt (thanks to my Subaru Outback which deserves a pitch here) and, so far as I know, the other driver only minimally.

A car accident is a problem. In a flash people appear on the scene to help solve it. Others provide help later. Each of these people has a job and a career because car accidents occur frequently. They make a lasting difference when their caring shows. I learned a lot from them.

Police officer–He gathers information for the incident report and later the accident report. Part of his job is to be sensitive to the state of mind of the victims and to be as calming as possible.

Emergency Medical Technician–His/her role is to assess the condition of the crash victims,  provide medical treatment if required, and get a release if either party doesn’t want to go to the hospital. S/he too needs to be observant, patient, and positive.

Tow truck driver–Two tow trucks were required at the scene; my driver was a woman which made me smile. Her job was to get the wreckage off the road quickly and to let me know where the car was being taken. She too was pleasant, efficient, and professional.

Insurance adjuster–The adjuster is the insured’s representative with the other insurance company. His job is to record my account of the accident over the phone. He and the other driver’s adjuster make a determination of fault. The adjuster explains the process, advises on next steps, and also needs to be patient and calming.

Material Damage Adjuster/Appraiser–The appraiser determines what the insurance company will pay in damages. This job requires the ability to communicate these hard numbers with the claimant in a way that demonstrates the fairness of the final decision. Just like the adjuster, the ability to be both factual and caring is important.

Body Shop/Salvage Company Staff–Along the way, my car took a stop at a body shop for a more detailed damage assessment. Then it went to the salvage company that purchased it. The staff and owner were professional, sincerely commiserating with my misfortune.

Rental Car Manager–I got a rental from Enterprise where the young woman manager took the time to make conversation before explaining the terms. It turned out that she was eager to develop her leadership capabilities, so we chatted about that. (When I returned the car, I gave her a copy of my book and she waived the gas charge. Okay, I’d only used 1/8 tank over two weeks, but the gesture was lovely.) She treated me like I mattered as a person.

Car Salesman–I called the salesman who sold me the original Outback and left a voice mail that I’d need a new one. He called me at home to cheer me up. He immediately set aside a car for me. I knew I was in good hands.

For my accident case alone, there are nine jobs, representing nine different career paths, that had been created because people like me get in car accidents.

Each role exists to solve a piece of a big problem, helping accident victims deal with and recover from a scaring and costly experience.

Distinguishing yourself

What has struck me most about this experience was the seemingly effortless caring that each person demonstrated. Every person in my chain had a heart for service.

I know that not everyone with a service jobs “gets it” and I’m sure you have a horror story to tell. But, if anything, this accident demonstrated that when you’re in a job that solves a problem for people and you really care, your commitment to serve will motivate your best performance. Let that be you, okay?

Please remember: Stay off your phone while driving. No texting. Wear your seat belt. Be attentive! :-) Thanks.

Photo from @Doug88888 via Flickr

Don’t Believe In Yourself? That’s “Lin-Sanity”! | 10 Confidence Builders

Sometimes we say we do when we don’t. Or say we don’t when we might. Other times we wonder if we do or should or can. Getting a grip on sustainable self-belief can make us crazy.

It seems that every success story we hear boils down to how the person always believed s/he could:

  • Overcome the odds
  • Seize their big moment
  • Get recognized
  • Reach the top

Their self-belief is what sustained them when they were down and nearly out. It was the one internal force that fueled their momentum and prevented any idea of quitting.

I don’t know about you, but there are days when believing in myself is no problem. Then (ugh) there are those seemingly endless other days when nothing is clear, self-doubt takes over, and my optimism goes underground.

Unfortunately, the success that we’re after often feels elusive. The more our vision of it waivers, the more difficult it is for us to dig deep when the going gets tough.

Keep reaching.

Jeremy Lin has become  an inspiration to legions of fans.

Lin is an American pro basketball player for the New York Knicks with an economics degree from Harvard (and a 3.1 GPA) and parents originally from Taiwan. At 6’3″ Lin had enough height to play serious basketball; he performed exceptionally in high school, allowing for the belief that he could play professionally.

Here’s what happened: Lin

  • Did not receive a college athletic scholarship
  • Was not drafted into the pros after college
  • Eventually got a partially guaranteed contract the Gold State Warriors
  • Was then waived both by the Warriors and then the Houston Rockets in preseason
  • Was picked up by the Knicks as a back-up player for 2011-12

Through all the ups and down, the being shuffled around, and the disappointments, Lin kept playing and getting better. He got to demonstrate both his talent and his belief in himself when the Knicks finally put him in a game.

At the time Knicks’ coach Mike D’Antoni said, “He got lucky because we were playing so bad.” That was Lin’s moment and he seized it. The Knicks won that game and the next six under Lin’s on-floor leadership.

D’Antoni said that Lin has a point-guard mentality and “a rhyme and a reason for what he is doing out there.” (How’ s that for helping to boost self-belief!)

The adoration of Knicks fans for Lin gave birth to the term “lin-sanity.” What Lin has done seems “insane,” given his bumpy ride which included sleeping on his brother’s sofa in NYC waiting for his moment.

Consider these lin-sights

Jeremy Lin didn’t just believe in himself, he kept working at becoming a better player.

Believing in ourselves also means believing in things that matter to achieving our goals the right way, as Jeremy Lin did:

  1. Work hard, keep getting better, increase confidence
  2. Stay committed to your goals, no matter the obstacles
  3. Make your success about something more than yourself like the team
  4. Cultivate humility during the ups, courage during the downs
  5. Seize every moment to participate–always be prepared and ready
  6. Focus on the job at hand, block out distracting noise
  7. Accept success and failure as having equal value to improving
  8. Take one day at a time, don’t over analyze or project into a future you can’t control
  9. Ignore the labels you can’t do anything about
  10. Lead when you’re needed and facilitate the success of others

Why not you?

Jeremy Lin is just like you. He’d come close to finding a place in his hoped for career and then watched it slip away. So he tried again until a set of unexpected circumstances gave him a chance to shine.

Lin’s story isn’t about “celebrity” careers. It’s about yours too. It doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in. There’s a level of achievement that you want too. Attaining it starts with your belief that you can and will.

If it can happen for others, I can happen for you. And it will, when the time is right and you’re prepared and ready. Please don’t give up.

Photo from STEVESD via Flickr

Ready for the Big Stage or Too Freaked Out? | Handling Pressure

A some point you’ll likely ask yourself: “Do I have what it takes to be really successful at what I do?”

Role models provide clues to the answer. Look hard at what they’ve achieve and you’ll see they were willing to put themselves “out there.”

Now ask yourself, “Can I handle it when all eyes are on me?” Your answer either makes your blood run cold or excites you. In either case, it’s time to get prepared.

Understanding the big stage                                                                                        

Many of us go merrily along in our careers as part of a work group or team. We do our part but always in the context of others.

If we want our careers to grow, we need to demonstrate our unique talents and leadership to a broader audience.

You know you’re on the big stage when you look around and realize, at that moment, you’re alone with all the responsibility to perform exceptionally. There’s no one to lean on, save the day, or absorb the consequences.

It’s up to you alone to deliver your best and deal with the outcome.

Examples of big stage performers are everywhere:

  • Singles tennis players facing an opponent across the net in front of 10,000 spectators, many of whom are not rooting for them; they’re on their own–no coach, no trainer, no teammate
  • Live TV news anchors who carry their programs, changing gears seamlessly as updates are communicated through their ear pieces; there’s no stopping to catch their breaths, no one to bail them out.
  • Keynote speakers who need show up and then hold the attention of diverse audiences while delivering a meaningful message; there’s no one to step in when it’s not going well
  • Surgeons who literally have the lives and/or future well-being of patients in their hands, while other medical professionals watch; all accountability for the outcome is on them

There’s a big stage in every profession whether you’re a teacher/trainer, attorney, dancer, project manager, business owner, sales executive, or community leader.

It can be a lonely place or an exhilarating one. If you want to rise, you need to be able to take the stage when called upon and handle the inevitable heat.

Preparing for your role

Only a fool willingly steps onto the big stage before s/he’s ready.

When it’s our turn for the spotlight, we need to be equipped to handle the pressure. Advanced preparation is essential. We need to hone our skills, make a plan, practice, and visualize what success looks like.

We also need to be ready for the unexpected.

So, take a readiness assessment by asking yourself, “While all eyes are on me, will be I able to:”

  • Deliver the goods
  • Switch gears when I need to
  • Deal with or ignore distractions
  • Be mentally tough enough to stay on track
  • Use humor to defuse or deflect a misstep or issue
  • Trust what I know and my ability to execute my skills
  • Take advantage of opportunities to hit a home run
  • Draw on the energy of the moment to maintain motivation

Then work on things that need strengthening.

It’s easy to get freaked out about the big stage. We let ourselves get paralyzed by the pressure and the irrational belief that we might fail in such a big way that our careers will be ruined.

Don’t let that be you. Winners avoid beating themselves.

Pressure is your friend.

It wakes up your brain and gives it something exciting to process.

If you don’t believe that think of all the people who have failed at one business only to succeed at another, lost one election and won a bigger one, finished out of the money in numerous golf tournaments and then won a championship.

If you don’t work to get on the big stage and take your place when it’s offered, you’ll have no chance of grabbing your brass ring. You must play to win.

Succumbing to the fear of failure invites failure. Learning how to contend with pressure on the big stage is the path to career success and a special pride in yourself. Let the show go on!

Photo from loop_oh via Flickr

How “Now-I-Get-It” Discoveries Expand Career Savvy

Careers are mysterious. We skip naively into them, assuming that our generally optimistic assumptions about the company, our boss, and coworkers are true. Then wham, the gilt flies off the lily.

That’s okay, actually. Careers teach us to pay attention continuously.

A pulse exists below the surface of every business. It may be:

  • Unseen or foreign to us
  • Outside our understanding
  • Separate from the work we perform daily

That pulse drives business all decision-making, actions which include both simple and wildly complex variables.

Directly or indirectly, that business pulse impacts us in ways we either like or don’t. When we “get” what’s going on, we’re better positioned to respond or react in ways that are good for us, building our savvy.

What you see v. what is

Marketing is the juice. The business markets its goods and services for profit; we market our capabilities for reward.

We are also marketing targets even when it’s not obvious that we are. When we feel the pulse of it, we’re likely on the verge of a “now-I-get-it” moment.

Consider this: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but several colleges have stepped out lately  in some wild, new football uniform styles and designs—from helmets to jerseys to shoes.

Journalist Mo Rocca did a piece for the CBS Sunday Morning Program (January 8, 2012) featuring the gridiron wear of the Oregon Ducks who won the Rose Bowl. Rocca’s piece described the Oregon Ducks as looking “less like football players and more like comic book superheroes, sporting mirrored ‘special edition’ helmets that had never been worn before.”

In fact Rocca reports:

This regular season alone, the Ducks wore eight different jerseys, six pants, five helmets and four different shoe and sock colors . . . a staggering number of possible combinations.

The Oregon football team isn’t the only one sporting snazzy new unis: Notre Dame and the University of Maryland did too.

On the surface, you would think the change to more high-tech gear was strictly for on-field performance, safety, and durability. Well, as Coach Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast, my friend!”

ESPN’s Paul Lukas explains to Rocca the story behind the new uniforms move:

…when you and I were kids, you couldn’t go and buy a jersey. That market didn’t exist…They hadn’t figured out that someone would drop $200 for a polyester shirt.

And…now that they know people will do that, ‘Well, you already bought this year’s jersey. Well, what if we change our jersey next year?’ You’d go and buy another one.

The “now-I-get-it” discovery is that this change was about merchandizing and not just great TV optics.

Savvy up

There’s a secondary story about most everything in business, that’s why you need to be savvy to the underlying pulse and needs of the company you work for.

Think of the last time you didn’t get hired or promoted. It’s likely the decision wasn’t all about you. The successful candidate may have been:

  • Representative of an under-represented constituency
  • Identified for a growth assignment
  • Someone’s favorite
  • Passed over once before and due a second chance
  • A non-controversial choice

We all want to think hiring is purely about talent and capabilities, but that would deny the existence of the pulse.

Human beings create and lead businesses in service to other human beings who buy from them. The human element creates the pulse. To succeed ourselves, we need to keep our fingers on it!

Photo from Monica’s Dad via Flickr

Career in a Rut? Partner Up and Push. | A “Business Fitness” BOGO

Careers are personal. They’re about what we want from our work life and what we’ll risk to get it.                

Navigating our career path can be lonely. What it takes to be successful isn’t always clear. The messages we get may be vague or conflicting. Our coworkers may have agendas that don’t include us. 

Going it alone is how many manage their careers. That makes about as much sense as trying to lose weight, quit smoking, or master tennis without a support system. We all need someone in our corner to keep us going; they need us too. 

A rescue offer 

I wrote Business Fitness: The Power to Succeed—Your Way to make managing your career easier and to get beyond the fluff. 

If you’re ready to get serious about your career planning, I’d like to make it easy for you get (re)started: 

For all of January 2012, I’m offering buy one get one (BOGO) free, signed copies of my book.  

Just go to my website “book” tab and add one (1) copy to your cart for $19.95. (I’ll know to send two by your date of purchase.) Shipping is free in the continental U.S. 

A great career development strategy is a powerful thing. Here’s how you can us the book to build yours.

The power of partnering 

When building your career, there’s real value in partnering with someone you trust and respect, someone to hold you accountable for setting goals and staying the course for success. 

There reasons galore why we benefit from the support of a partner: 

  • It’s difficult for us to see ourselves objectively. We need a filter. 
  • It’s difficult to stay motivated when things go awry, when we’ve been disappointed, and when we lose our optimism. 
  • It’s difficult to stay up when our self-confidence wanes, self-doubt haunts us, and opportunities have been missed. 

Whether careers are exotic or mundane, they often progress in mysterious and unpredictable ways. The only aspects we control are the choices we make, the capabilities we develop, the chances we take, and the relationships we form. 

Along the way, we need to  build momentum around our efforts until the pieces take shape and a picture of our career emerges. A “business fitness” partner can keep us on track.

 Keep pushing 

Finding career success isn’t easy. It means always pressing forward. Funny, how we continually need to push and be pushed. So give this approach a try: 

  • Select a single partner or small group (no more than 5)
  • Agree to meet at a set day and time (at least twice monthly)
  • Use your first meeting to establish ground rules, particularly confidentiality around information shared. Then share what kind of success each of you wants right now.
  • Assign one chapter from Business Fitness to be read and discussed at each meeting. Agree to share answers to the inventories at each chapter end.
  • After all the chapters have been discussed, go back and (re)write your career goals and share. Hold each other accountable for specific statements.
  • Use each subsequent meeting to review progress on goals, provide insights and support, and identify ways to help each other move forward. 
  • Make the meetings and the process fun!

This process is part book club, mastermind group, and individual mentoring/coaching. As you progress, you’ll come up with endless next steps that will build your capabilities, strengthen your self-confidence, and deepen relationships. 

Career building takes discipline. There are no shortcuts that are sustainable. When we’re at our best, we feel business fit. To get there, we need each other.

When the Job Fits, Wear It. | Discovering What Matters

Ask people what they hate about their jobs and they don’t hesitate to say things like: 

  • “The work is boring.”
  • “It’s a dead end.”
  • “My boss is useless.” 

Ask them what they like and they pause a bit, then say: 

  • “Well, I’m glad I have one.”
  • “I work with some nice people.”
  • “There are some good days.” 

We can do better than this. Actually, we need to do better. 

Why? Because our jobs are about us—who we are, what we bring, how we connect, and where we’re headed. 

A job is not a static thing. It’s a living manifestation of our actions. 

Discover what matters. 

On the surface a job looks like a compilation of duties, task, and requirements. When we only work on the surface, we fail to see what’s below. 

It’s a bit like swimming in the ocean without any awareness that beneath us there are colonies of species struggling to survive, wreckages waiting to be discovered, and mysteries of the earth’s formation. 

Every job we experience is an opportunity to discover what matters to us. That’s how we figure out what we need from each subsequent job to make our careers worthwhile. 

Not long ago, I met Donna, a personal care aid for the elderly. She worked at a church-run home that sadly was closing. She was losing her job and I was there to provide career next-step ideas and tools. 

Even though Donna was disappointed, she was upbeat. She’d worked all her life in service-related jobs—a waitress at various restaurants and a clearing person for individuals and businesses. She loved working, being busy, engaged with others, feeling energized. 

There were several good transition options for Donna, particularly setting up an actual cleaning services business where she could hire others as independent cleaning people to handle anticipated volume. Our meeting was going beautifully. 

Then I asked Donna how she felt about closing the door on her work with the elderly. Suddenly, her mood changed.

She told me that the previous day, she and the two other women who worked with her as a care team went to visit several of the residents relocated to a nearby facility. Then she started to cry. 

“What’s wrong, Donna?” I asked. 

She answered, “It was so hard going there and seeing that someone else was taking care of the people I took care of. It was hard for me to give them up.” 

Donna came to realize that her job wasn’t about administering medication, helping people dress and stay clean, or ensuring their safety. It was about that important the sense of personal fulfillment and connection that comes from doing for others. 

That core realization is something we each need to discover. When we do, our career path decisions are made easier. 

Find the right fit. 

We tend to understand what a job has meant to us when we don’t have it anymore. So if you want to jump-start your understanding of what matters to you, think about bygone jobs. 

Ask yourself: 

  • What work did I miss when I moved on?
  • Who did I miss and why?
  • What part of myself did I feel like I’d left behind?

Now consider your current job, and ask yourself: 

  • What’s the real reason I do this work?
  • What do I really need/want to get out of my job? 

Your answers to these questions can help you discover the jobs that truly fit you. If you don’t like your answers, that may be a signal that you need to make a change. 

These lyrics sung by folk singer, Joni Mitchell, in “The Big Yellow Taxi” remind us how important it is to discover what matters to us before we run out of time to fully incorporate it into our careers:  

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Please don’t let anyone, especially yourself, pave over your paradise.

Photo from Bonsailara1 via Flickr