Got a Job That’s Crushing You? Lift the Weight.

As the year winds down, we often get reflective about the career situations we’re in and what may lie ahead. Hopefully, this repost from early in 2010 might help you reset your focus and get out from under.

Oh, boy, it’s exciting to get a new job, especially with a new company. Everything looks so promising. We feel really good about ourselves. You know: validated, reinforced, and successful.                                           

It’s amazing how our careers can start out in one place and morph to another. 

It’s all so gradual that we hardly know it’s happening until one day we realize that we’re someplace that we don’t want to be. Or, more often, a place that’s crushing us. 

I have a talented friend who was hired by a huge company two years ago in marketing communications. After a few months, the department downsized and the work doubled as sales needed more and more marketing materials to cut through the barriers of a tight economy. The demands on my friend accelerated. Other staffers weren’t pulling their weight. So her days got longer and longer. 

Has this happened to you? It has to me. I thought it would be my demise. 

Feeling trapped in your job, paralyzes your ability to make changes. 

Our jobs can’t trap us but we can convince ourselves that they do. After all, we go to work every day by choice. It only takes a letter or a word to say, “Bye, bye.” 

It’s really our personal situations that create the bind. When we have dependents, debts, health issues, and family commitments, we need to keep our jobs, even when they’re wrong for us. 

The demands of our personal lives, coupled with the stresses of our jobs, can drive us to an airless place. Here’s how we often feel: 

  • · Exhausted and unable to think analytically
  • · Defeated and unable to fathom any options
  • · Imprisoned by the workload and the realities of our lives 

Truth is: There are always other options. They may require some creativity, planning, repositioning, and timing, but they exist. 

The struggle is: If you’re exhausted from your “work life,” the idea of exploring options, solving problems, and firing up your smothered optimism at the end of the day is too much. 

So what to do? Start small and focus on yourself. 

  1. Make a list of the little things that make you feel uplifted (15 minutes of quiet time, an outing with a friend, a short walk, a few flowers in a vase). Give yourself at least one daily.
  2. Make two lists about your job: Things I Have to Do and Things That Can Wait (Maybe Forever). Smart employees negotiate work output with their supervisors. If you don’t explain what can and cannot get done reasonably, your supervisor will expect it all. We are not mules unless we agree to be. Heehaw! 
  3. Take a hard look at your personal situation and come up with ways to reduce your obligations and a timetable for how long you believe you need this job. Doing this will help you feel more empowered, since you’re now staying for your personal business reasons. (Your life is your business, remember?) 
  4. Then, develop a career change strategy—one that you will implement while you still have a job. Do this with your timeline in mind and a focus on work that fits you. 

You always have options and choices. 

None of us much cares for change because it’s disruptive. We operate too often on the principle that “The devil we know is better than the one we don’t.” This can make us our own worst enemy. 

Small steps are important steps because they add up. The more you take, the farther you get. Each one helps you get more business fit. 

Getting help can be a really worthwhile investment. You’ll probably only need a leg up and then you’ll be on your way. I’m rootin’ for ya’! 

Do you have an “I feel trapped in my job” story to share or an “I escaped” one? Your story might help others.

Photo from sevgi.k via Flickr

A Must Do! Career Due Diligence |Your Life Is Your Business

We spend hours pouring over newspaper inserts to find the best clothing buys and grocery store coupons. We spend hours Googling information about vacation spots and fitness regimens. All, before we commit.

Shouldn’t we do this for our career choices too? 

Ask any high school student facing college what s/he plans to major in and you’ll hear: English, econ, accounting, pysch. 

Then ask, “Why?” Typical answers:

  • “It’s my favorite subject.”
  • “I get good grades in that subject.”
  • “I want to be an accountant [doctor, teacher, marketer]….”
  • “My parents said that would be a good major for me.”

The problem isn’t these answers: It’s the questions left unanswered like:

  • What careers paths/jobs will that major open for you?
  • Do those paths match what you want from your life? 

A college education today is still believed to be a “leg up” to better jobs, mainly  higher pay and promotions. It doesn’t necessarily mean better for your happiness, satisfaction, or health. So a lot is riding on your major and the jobs attached to it.

Why due diligence? Because it’s your life! 

Students pick majors with romanticized notions about the great jobs they’ll get by being accomplished students. They never talk to anyone currently doing those entry level or supervisory jobs to get a behind-the-scenes look.

I once coached a graduate from a prestigious university whose major was criminal justice. Just before graduation, she realized that starting jobs in her field meant street assignments. No way! So she stayed on, switching to journalism until she realized that starting reporter jobs meant evenings and weekends chasing stories. She switched again to English lit and graduated with no direction, huge tuition bills, and no viable career path.

Hard to believe she didn’t investigate  those job realities the second and third time? It just didn’t occur to her and she’s not alone.

I’ve also worked with many, career-weary adults who took a long time to admit that they had invested years in a career that never fit them. Each one had to either reinvent him/herself or start over. Even with their own experiences behind them, they don’t teach their children how to avoid the same mistakes. Why? Because no one showed them how.

Don’t get me wrong. Every career is an adventure. That’s good. What isn’t good is committing to a career path blindly. Due diligence helps minimize painful disappointment or reasons to start over. You can’t control for everything, but you can avoid lot of missteps.

You need to do this! 

Whether you are a student, an entry level or veteran employee, each time you say to yourself: “I want to be a [job title]:”

  • Write down the name(s) of 5 people in your family, community or among your friends, who are doing that job or one like it
  • Ask them to spend 15 minutes explaining to you what they do on a daily basis
  • Ask what they like best or least, what skills or education they needed, what it takes to get promoted, and who else you can talk to
  • See whether or not their work environment fits you
  • Ask yourself: Can I see myself in that line of work for a long time? 

(This is called information interviewing, a technique credited to Richard N. Bolles, who’s book, What Color Is Your Parachute?, gives the details. Find more on line. See, it’s all out there for the Googling!)

CBS contributor, Ben Stein, says, “The giants I have worked with in my life… found the thing that they were very, very good at, and did that with extraordinary focus.” Then he adds: “…harmonize your goals with your talents.”

That’s big! If your goals aren’t rooted in a realistic understanding of what the job market is all about, harmony is harder to come by. When you’re business fit, you’ve achieved the understanding and insights you need to build your best career. Let the explorations begin!

Have a story about a student who isn’t making the connection between his/her studies and the job market? Any ideas why students don’t explore the real story behind the kinds of jobs they’re after? Your insights can make a big difference!

Got a Job That’s Crushing You? | Start to Lift the Weight

Oh, boy, it’s exciting to get a new job, especially with a new company. Everything looks so promising. We feel really good about ourselves–validated,  reinforced, and successful.                                         

It’s amazing how our careers can start out in one place and morph to another. 

It’s all so gradual that we hardly know it’s happening until one day we realize that we’re someplace that we don’t want to be. Or, more often, a place that’s crushing us. 

I have a talented friend who was hired by a huge company two years ago in marketing communications. After a few months, the department downsized and the work doubled as sales needed more and more marketing materials to cut through the barriers of a tight economy. The demands on my friend accelerated. Other staffers weren’t pulling their weight. So her days got longer and longer. 

Has this happened to you? It has to me. I thought it would be my demise. 

Feeling trapped in your job, paralyzes your ability to make changes. 

Our jobs can’t trap us but we can convince ourselves that they do. After all, we go to work every day by choice. It only takes a letter or a word to say, “Bye, bye.” 

It’s really our personal situations that create the bind. When we have dependents, debts, health issues, and family commitments, we need to keep our jobs, even when they are wrong for us. 

The demands of our personal lives, coupled with the stresses of our jobs, can drive us to an airless place. Here’s how we often feel: 

  • Exhausted and unable to think analytically
  • Defeated and unable to fathom any options
  • Imprisoned by the workload and the realities of our lives 

Truth is: There are always other options. They may require some creativity, planning, repositioning, and timing, but they exist. 

The struggle is: If you are exhausted from your “work life,” the idea of exploring options, solving problems, and firing up your smothered optimism at the end of the day is too much. 

So what to do? Start small and focus on yourself. 

  1. Make a list of the little things that make you feel uplifted (15 minutes of quiet time, an outing with a friend, a short walk, a few flowers in a vase). Give yourself at least one daily.
  2.  Make two lists about your job: Things I Have to Do and Things That Can Wait (Maybe Forever). Smart employees negotiate work output with their supervisors. If you don’t explain what can and cannot get done reasonably, your supervisor will expect it all. We are not mules unless we agree to be. Heehaw! 
  3. Take a hard look at your personal situation and come up ways to reduce your obligations and a timetable for how long you believe you need this job. Doing this will help you feel more empowered, since you’re now staying for your personal business reasons. (Your life is your business, remember?) 
  4. Then, develop a career change strategy—one that you will implement while you still have a job. Do this with your timeline in mind and a focus on work that fits you. 

You always have options and choices. 

None of us much cares for change because it’s disruptive. We operate too often on the principle that “The devil we know is better than the one we don’t.” This can make us our own worst enemy. 

Small steps are important steps because they add up. The more you take, the farther you get. Each one helps you get more business fit. 

Getting help can be a really worthwhile investment. You’ll probably only need a leg up and then you’ll be on your way. I’m rootin’ for ya’! 

Do you have an “I feel trapped in my job” story to share or an “I escaped” one? That would be a big help all around.

 

Frustrated About Your Performance Appraisal? | Time To Take Control

Here we go again! It’s time for the annual performance review, an experience that creates either euphoric satisfaction or stunned disbelief. Anything in the middle feels like a dull thud and doesn’t amount to much.

Once we get our rating news, we’re left with several options: reach higher, get better, give up, or hide. 

Performance reviews often feel like verdicts by a one person jury. 

That’s because the process for evaluating performance is driven by your immediate supervisor or manager. S/he hunkers down behind closed doors at appraisal time, thinks about what you’ve done, rates you, and then writes comments. (That’s the torturous part for supervisors. They usually don’t know what to write or how. It’s not a happy time.) 

Because I was that manager for over twenty years, I know there’s a better way. 

Not every company or every supervisor has a systematic appraisal process. Many companies don’t even do formal performance evaluations. But you need them to. 

When they don’t, it’s in your best interest to fill the void. When they do, you have a great chance to influence the outcome. 

Because it’s your performance being rated, you need to take charge of it.

It starts with understanding the things that can work against you. Supervisors unintentionally miss important stuff about you at appraisal time because they: 

  • Mostly recall how you performed in the last three months
  • Remember either a big success or a major snafu that involved you and reflected on them
  • Think about you in terms of duties and not outcomes
  • Have so many people to supervise that you become one of the crowd
  • Communicated with you too infrequently  

Your performance contributes to your workplace brand identity, so if you don’t stand out, your contributions and value are in the shadows. 

The greater your perceived value, the higher your appraisal ratings. 

Your value as an employee is about your contribution to the goals of the company, your department, and your work group. If there are no specific goals as the basis of your appraisal, there’s no way to keep score or to rate your contributions fairly. 

So here’s a strategy that will set you up for a performance appraisal that means something: 

  • At the beginning of the rating period, write 3 to 5 measurable and/or observable goals for yourself for the year. Make sure they line up with the goals of the company. 

 

  • Show them to your supervisor and tell him/her that you want to be held accountable for achieving them as written. (Do this even if your supervisor doesn’t have goals or the company either. Show your supervisor that you aren’t afraid of committing to results. That’ll get his/her attention!)

 

  • Ask your supervisor to enter your goals on a blank appraisal form and schedule a meeting with him/her every 3 months to talk about how you are progressing.

 

  • At review time, tell your supervisor that you would like to submit a self-appraisal that s/he can use as a reference for their final rating of your performance. Write the self-appraisal and rate yourself on the same form you and your supervisor have been using all along. (When employees self-appraise, they usually rate themselves lower than their supervisors do. You can bring that up if your supervisor balks.)

 

  • At your annual performance appraisal meeting with your supervisor, talk about the gaps in the way you self-assessed v. their assessment. Ask how you can improve for the next year. 

Performance appraisal is a commentary on how focused and committed we were to getting meaningful work done. Staying focused is a mainstay for being business fit. When we do that well, we reap the rewards. Hopefully, that means a nice raise and a step up for you. 

Do you have questions about how to write your goals? Please let me know and I’ll offer some help. Thanks.

No Test Beats an Acid Test | Our Careers Need ‘Em

 Don’t you just hate tests? I didn’t like them in school and still don’t. At work there’s nothing worse then a training program with a test at the end. Takes all the fun out of it. 

Oddly enough, I’ve never hated any of my careers even though they were loaded with tests. Not the textbook type but the real life ones that come with consequences that can make or break you. 

Real-time career “tests” teach us things we need to discover. 

I started my career teaching high school English in an upscale community. That was an eye-opener for me, coming from a small town where summer vacation was a sandy bungalow at the Jersey shore, not sailing for a month in the Caribbean. 

I worked with some highly credentialed teachers, including an equity actor, a concert cellist, and a former medical resident who discovered he didn’t like being around sick people so he became a teacher.   

Now here I am, fresh out of college, trying to hold my own with these colleagues while building some “teacher credibility” with kids used to breathing rarified air. 

Here was my test: 

  • Demonstrate content knowledge in my field
  • Earn the respect of my colleagues
  • Prepare and deliver educationally sound classes
  • Reach my students in positive ways to help them learn 

So, when my classroom door closed each period, my career tests began. 

One afternoon, I was explaining gerunds and participles to a class of freshmen. You can just imagine how riveted they were.   

I was teaching with the ecstasy of the fire-and-brimstone preachers of old when, suddenly, I felt something hit my forehead. Yes, the sensation was right between my eyes. A soggy thump. 

There was a sudden hush in the room. No idle stirrings. My already racing mind had it figured out in an instant. I was just hit by a spitball…and it was one for the record books. 

“What do I do?” my mind screamed within my skull. 

“Keep going,” it yelled back. 

And that’s what I did. I kept going. I didn’t miss a beat. Those gerunds and participles were in the grip of my conscious focus. 

The class didn’t move for the rest of the period. The perpetrator walked out with everyone else sans the spotlight he’d hope for. He knew that I knew, but nothing was ever said and nothing ever happened again in that class. 

Staying focused holds everything together. 

Focus is essential to success in our careers, our businesses, and our personal lives. But it’s not easy because distractions are the enemy of focus. 

We need targets that help us keep our eye on what’s important. That’s why, in our work lives, we need to ground our focus in: 

  • Goals that guide us toward completing the important things
  • Standards that ensure we’ll produce a quality job, not a slipshod one
  • Personal integrity that drives us to do the right thing, not the expedient
  • Self-discipline and inner strength that enables us to stand our ground 

Staying focused takes us from the start to the finish.  

I didn’t know that being unflappable in the face of that awful spitball would somehow solidify my stature with those freshmen. I only knew that staying focused would get me through an unexpected challenge. I’d passed my acid test.

When we stay focused, we position ourselves to become more business fit.  Our tests often teach us exactly what we need to know! 

Got an embarrassing story to share that challenged your focus? I’d hate to be the only one out there!