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!

Losing Your Shirt and Other Consequences of Career Naiveté

No one wants to look inept, but sometimes we are. It sticks out like a sore thumb when we: 

  • Lack experience and skills
  • Don’t know how the game is played
  • Align with the wrong people
  • Say the wrong things inadvertently
  • Suggest ideas that can’t work 

Sure, we can try to hide or finesse our naiveté, but in time, word gets around. 

The good guys and the bad 

If we’re lucky, we work with a boss and colleagues who have been in our shoes and want to help us get our bearings. If not, it’s like being a sitting duck. 

The more competitive our workplace, the less time we have to get from naiveté to savvy. The price of being “stupid” can get steep. 

The business world holds fabulous opportunities along with risks of failure. There are terrific people at all levels of organizations where we find priceless mentors, leaders, and friends. 

The business world can also be a mean street. Survival is a daily concern, employees want desperately to hold onto their jobs, everyone wants to get ahead, and competitors are always lurking. 

If you want a long and successful career, you need to be smart about what’s going on around you. 

Start by not falling for these hollow assurances from your boss or anyone else: 

  • Just work hard and the rewards will follow
  • You can trust management to have your best interest at heart
  • The company leadership’s got everything under control 

Remember: The company watches out for itself first. It takes care of its stakeholders in order of priority, starting with investors and ending with employees. 

So we all need to learn how to read between the lines and figure out how best to align our capabilities with what needs to get done and with the right people. 

Hang onto your shirt 

If you’re wondering if you’re being naïve, ask your self these questions: 

  • Do I have a false sense of job security?
  • Am I deluding myself about how valuable my job is to the company?
  • Is my performance really good or could I be easily replaced by someone better?
  • Am I being taken advantage of by my boss and coworkers?
  • Have others been promoted over me? If so, do I know why?
  • Do I confide too much in people I’m not sure I can trust?
  • Am I working for less money than others doing similar or less work?
  • Do I really understand what’s driving business decisions? 

The consequences of naiveté are significant and varied: 

  • Job loss or stagnation
  • Neither promotion nor lateral movement
  • Questionable work assignments and/or work load
  • Business decline or shuttering, if you’re an entrepreneur
  • Personal brand damage by your detractors 

Your career is a precious asset that you invest in everyday. It’s important that you protect it just as you would your hard earned dollars. 

You’re not alone 

Everyone gets burned along the way, some worse than others. When I started out in the race horse breeding business, the veterans could smell my naiveté a mile away. Bloodstock agents, trainers, jockeys, and even buyers found a way to cheat me, but only once. 

As an equine art gallery owner, the artists I represented told me about how they’d been cheated by dealers who stole both their artwork and their commissions. I taught them how to protect themselves by the way I worked with them. 

When I was a corporate manager, I got stung by colleagues who would try to sabotage my projects, scoop an announcement, undercut my influence, and off-load their accountabilities on me. 

Experience turns naiveté into savvy, but only if we figure out how to put it to work in constructive ways. The best thing we can do for ourselves, our careers, and our employers is to work smart on every level. That’s what it means to be business fit, dressed in a well-fitting shirt! 

Photo from h.koppdelaney via Flickr

Working From the Heart? Check Your Pulse! | Spirit and Drive as Brand Boosters.

Jobs are what we make them.  When we bring nothing, they become nothing. When we use them to unleash our spirit, they become an adventure.

Jobs give us a chance to show what we’re made of, what we stand for, and what we care about. When we take them to heart, there’s no hiding it. We do the work with an eagerness that spills over to others.

No spirit. No drive. No fun. 

I’ll grant that a lot of employers do all they can to take the joy out of working. Creative, enthusiastic employees with a “can do” attitude and the energy to go with it are told to:

  • Stick to the formula
  • Follow the pack
  • Slow down
  • Be more careful
  • Know your place 

These companies see employees like machinery. Only robots need apply.

We aren’t androids. We come with a beating heart and an active mind. Our life history, our sense of self, and our world view are high octane motivators. So it’s important for us to keep our spirit and drive alive as we build our careers.

A personal brand is more than credentials, skill sets, and performance. If you’re not sure what your brand is, ask people the first word or phrase they think of when they hear your name. Will they say you’re someone who will:

  • Say, “Yes, I can do that”
  • Volunteer in a pinch
  • Defend and/or do what’s right
  • Accept a risky assignment
  • Stretch yourself 

Every day we show what we’re made of by the way we approach our jobs. An effusive, uncontained, and generous spirit drives a vigorous career and strengthens us.

Let your heart be your guide. 

Nothing’s better than an “I’m going for it” spirit. I thought you might like to meet a few folks who have it as the centerpiece of their personal brand:

Carla was the new executive director of a high visibility, non-profit child care agency in dire straits. She was a fearless, undaunted advocate for disadvantaged children, determined to increase public awareness, improve services, and stabilize funding. Nothing was going to stop her.

She became a national voice for these children, built a high-performing organization, expanded services, ran a capital campaign to build a multi-million dollar facility, and didn’t rest until the needs of these children were served.

Peggy was a marketing supervisor for a technology company bought out by a giant. She was considered an outsider after the transition and didn’t like that one bit. She knew her marketing creativity and leadership skills were strong but not being utilized.

Knowing that she could do more, she set out to showcase her talents by asking for high visibility assignments. Each time she stepped out, more higher- ups recognized her. She put herself out there as a speaker, executive event planner, global representative, and marketing manager. Her respect for her talents and drive to serve the company earned her executive status.

Mark was an entry-level hire with a degrees in English and government at a Fortune 500 energy company. As a non-engineering employee, his career growth opportunities seemed limited. But Mark has an exceptional ability to learn and understand business and technical operations.

He also has an uncontainable desire to make a difference and a strong commitment to employees. By saying “yes” to some ugly assignments, Mark succeeded in saving the company tens of millions, fixing major process failures, and building the company brand—all a reflection of his willingness to take personal career risks for the greater good. He has never lost his drive. 

Let your spirit be your guide. 

We need to do all we can to nurture our spirit as we work. That inner drive that lets us know we’re doing something that matters is served by each heartbeat. Business fitness starts by understanding what kind of success we really want. Our heart tells us that. Our spirit and drive make it happen. And the beat goes on!

What drives you in your career? Still searching? Your discoveries and your questions will be helpful. Thanks.


The Job Market’s A Moving Target. How’s Your Aim? | Positioning As Career Strategy

Specialties—they’re everywhere! The more we hear about them, the more excited we get about the prospects. Surely, there’s a way to align our education and training to get a job doing something exciting.

The old days of generalist jobs are waning. Today you can become a forensic accountant, reading specialist, triage nurse, “green” builder, news media blogger, or packaging engineer. The options are intoxicating.

Jobs brand the marketplace.

Jobs tell us about what businesses are trying to make, service, or sell. They need us to do that.

Here’s the rub: Society and its economy are always in flux. When the flux is upward, there’s lots of a business activity and jobs. When it’s down, opportunity shrinks. 

We select careers with an optimistic view of the future. Sometimes our decisions are based on what “has always been” or “is now.” Other times they’re about “what’s on the horizon” or “what could be.” In any event, we select our academic majors, our internships, our craft apprenticeships, and our starting jobs based on our interests and our “best guess” about what the marketplace will need.

Options are not opportunities. 

Here’s the challenge: Whether you are just entering the job market or making a transition, even though there are lots of ways to apply what you know, the marketplace is short on openings. That leaves many talented employee prospects in limbo.

A career strategy that doesn’t weigh career options with employment opportunities is short-sighted. Those who are business fit are business savvy. That means looking at the job market through the eyes of a business professional, a marketplace analyst, and a futurist, not as a job seeker.

Align your expectations with marketplace realities. 

Most people talk about wanting a job. I suggest we should want a position instead. A job is about tasks. A position is about vantage point. The vast majority of employees don’t land the job of their dreams at first. We’re not supposed to. To start we need to position ourselves in a business or industry with growth potential, in a job we can perform well, and then attract increased opportunity so we can expand ourselves.

Positioning is about making strategic moves to advance our careers. It protects us from being on the outside looking in as the business landscape changes.

At minimum I see four categories of careers:

1. “Old reliables”—Established careers like sales, education, police, politician, plumber, and electrician 

2. “Newbies”—Emerging careers like green technologies, health information technology, home stager, simulation developer, and emergency management.

3. “Off and running”—Evolving careers producing families of jobs in areas like electronics, health care, program analysis, and engineering

4. “New horizons”—Uncharted waters that may be a source of future careers in areas like medical, space, and oceanic research, climate change, and food production

Depending on where these career sources are in their own cycles, they are either sustaining, eliminating, increasing, replacing, or innovating jobs that need us.

We need to watch where we aim. 

It’s important to keep shooting for the career that bring the best out in us. But it makes no sense to shoot wildly. We need to understand that the target is moving, so we need to move with it. That’s why it’s important to position yourself to use the shifting and changing marketplace to your advantage.

You may start in an “old reliable” job and see an opportunity to align with one of the “newbies.” Or you may land in an “off and running” career that is so innovative that you find yourself contributing to a “new horizon.” Just remember to keep your eye on the target, the career you want, and position yourself to make the right connections. A little patience will serve you well too!

How have you been able to position yourself to make a good career move? Did you have obstacles to overcome? How did you handle that?