Finding Yourself in Your Work or Losing Yourself in It? | Pursuing Growth

Work has a habit of revealing a lot about you.

Coworkers watch what you do and then draw conclusions like you:

  • Really know how to get stuff done the right way (or not)
  • Are someone who should be promoted (or never allowed to supervise)
  • Want to keep getting better (or only do enough to get by)

You assess yourself too each time you cross a work hurdle, discovering that you:

  • Take to new assignments with relative ease (or struggle with new expectations)
  • Collaborate easily with others (or create conflict)
  • See a future for yourself there (or can’t wait for a way out)

Our career stops can be either greenhouses or dark holes.

It’s your call.

Our careers are what we make them. They’re a product of the work we do.

Career problems arise when we forget that we’re doing the driving.

For lots of compelling reasons, we convince ourselves that the most important things are to:

  • Keep our jobs
  • Get promoted to anything
  • Work endless hours as though that’s a sign of our value
  • Acquire the trappings of success (titles, perks, access, and raises)

To avoid getting lost on a road to somewhere you don’t want to be, you need to keep asking yourself  no-nonsense questions like:

  • Why did I take this job?
  • What am I working toward and is that what I really want?
  • What are my options?
  • What’s my plan?

It’s tempting to set these questions aside when you think you’ve landed your dream job. But one day, you’ll wake up and realize there are other dreams you’re ready to chase.

Career growth is intrinsic compensation. It’s not the training programs your company offers. It’s what you seize when you’ve mastered your job, developed your skills, and engaged in new experiences.

I started my career teaching high school in an upscale school district. I was excited to be learning so much about how to do the job well, handling challenging students, and discovering how schools really worked.

In the mid-1970s I had relocated and was teaching in a suburban school at a time when teachers weren’t held in very high regard. There were strikes and I was becoming disillusioned. After 10 years in education, growth stalled for me. So I moved on.

Instead of growing in that career, I was starting to lose myself.

It happened again when I was a manager at a big corporation. The first 10 years were full of growth, discovery, and ever-increasing challenges, followed by five years honing that growth, and five more on a mammoth change project. When what lay ahead was more of the same, off I went.

Listen to your inner voice.

If you’ve read this far, you know whether or not you’re growing in your career or losing yourself in it.

You also likely have a sense of what the next couple of years will look like for you and what your job will give or take from you. Now’s the time to plan your next steps.

Mike Greenberg, ESPN radio and TV host, offered this advice on the Mike & Mike program (9/25/13):

You can’t wish for things as they used to be. Just go with the way things are.

Perhaps your job used to be what you always wanted, but it’s now changed and the company culture with it. The reality is that you won’t get the past back; you only have the way things are to build from. The sooner you have a plan, the happier you’ll be.

Commitment to your growth never needs to stop.

Former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, now 87, was interviewed on the CBS Sunday Morning program (10/20/13) upon the release of his new book. When asked about retirement, he answered:

 I don’t know what it [retirement] means. Stop thinking?

When it comes to our careers, there is no reason to stop thinking…and growing.

 

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

Jobs with Baggage and What to Do About Them

Like it or not, we’re labeled by our jobs and the organizations that employ us. When we say what we do, people form an opinion based on job stereotypes. 

That can work in our favor when we have job titles like engineer, nurse, technology expert, or entrepreneur. More often than not, the marketplace buzz around those jobs casts them in a good light. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. 

Your baggage claim 

Some job titles and the industries that assign them come with a not-so-stellar history. The titles themselves can make a job seekers blood run cold like: 

  • Car salesman
  • Insurance agent
  • Call center rep
  • Retail clerk 

Today there’s also baggage around jobs in banking, investment services, government, law, and the media to name a few. How we regard certain jobs depends on our individual experiences, values, perspectives, and knowledge. 

It’s easy to generalize and presume that anyone or everyone who works in a certain field fits a negative stereotype. As a result we’re likely to steel ourselves for a bad experience, often adopting an attitude that will provoke it. 

Negative brands around jobs and industries are difficult to break, especially when they have taken deep hold of the marketplace psyche for many years. 

Break the mold 

At some point in our careers, we’ll likely have a job that isn’t held in high regard because of its title. Our challenge is to turn negative perceptions into positives through our actions.

Recently, after driving my car for 14 years, I decided to buy a new one. I don’t do this often because I dread the whole dealing-with-the-car-salesman thing. Here’s what I was expecting: 

  • Pressure to buy more car than I needed
  • Back and forth negotiating, made complicated by the trade and/or financing
  • Not really getting the best deal
  • Fast-talking plus bait and switch promises
  • Being left hanging when I had questions after the sale 

I brought this baggage to the experience, something, Jeff, my salesman, had to overcome. So here’s what he provided: 

  • Patient listening and attention to what I wanted
  • Information about the best-fit model for me and its features
  • A clear statement about the sticker price and discussion about what I wanted to pay
  • An upfront trade price so I could decided if wanted to sell my old car privately
  • A meeting on the features while sitting in the model, resulting in a chance to get to know each other
  • A sense of humor, respectfulness, and advocacy (I didn’t want to be “sold” any warranty and undercoating extras, so Jeff kept that from happening.)
  • Availability to answer questions anytime after I’d taken the car home 

My experience with Jeff was so good that I talked to him a bit about the negative label that comes with being a car salesman. I learned that prior to this job, he and his brother had owned a couple of fitness businesses where he had developed his customer service skills, practicing his philosophy about dealing fairly and ethically with people. 

His view was that, since he enjoyed people and selling cars, he would be the kind of car salesman that broke the negative mold. Clearly there are many Jeff’s out there, and each one will gradually lift the negative baggage off the car salesman title. 

Lesson learned: The positive behaviors that we demonstrate in our jobs re-brand them. 

The power of one 

Shunning a job because the title comes with baggage makes no sense, particularly if it provides opportunity and growth potential that helps you build a satisfying career. When it’s your job, you own it. That means you put your stamp on it, making it represent the values, standards, and ethics that brand it positively. 

Jobs are about productivity and relationships. By adding value and delivering high quality service, you’ll showcase what a job well done really means. Each one of us makes a difference and there’s true power in that. 

Photo from Carcomparing.eu via Flickr

Career Turning Points—Dumb Luck, Daily Grind, or Positioning?

Careers evolve in countless ways. When we look back, we can usually identify the turning points, pivotal moments, and even epiphanies that have jolted our careers, hopefully, forward. 

My last post about “small bangs” (pivotal moments) that create career momentum prompted a terrific comment from professional journalist and blogger, Vickie Elmer. She wrote:

When I write a business leader’s profile, I sometimes ask about their “crucial turning points,” another term for pivotal moments. They always have great stories to share. I wonder how often we recognize them as they are happening and how often they just seem like another task or another game? How do we recognize them and make the most of them, especially when they are surprises? I’d love to hear more from you on this topic.

I believe the answers reveal a great deal about the way we look at things.

Tune in. 

Pivotal moments become turning points. If we can’t recognize a pivotal moment, we won’t turn.

We each get lots of them, so if we fail to recognize them all, we’ll likely get another chance or bump into a friend who clues us in.

We increase our chances of recognizing pivotal moments when we’re reasonably clear about what we want from our careers.

It’s easy for us to glibly say: “I want a job that I love with good pay and an opportunity to get promoted.” Vagaries don’t cut it.

You need to get laser-focused on what you’re looking for. Then you can let some pivotal moments come to you and others you can shop for.

Zero in: Write down what you want from your career. Read it every day to imbed in your mind what it is that you’re after. Then watch for pivotal moment opportunities.

Here’s what I wanted from my corporate career and what drove my choices: The opportunity to influence decision-making no matter what my title or what department I worked in. I was not interested in climbing the corporate ladder. I just wanted to do meaningful work with outcomes that mattered.

Now pay attention to what’s going on around you.

The signs 

Once you know what you’re after, you’ll be better able to detect opportunities that could become your turning points like:

Dumb luck: Some pivotal moments are surprises like being tapped at the last minute to lead a meeting of movers and shakers (increased visibility), bumping into an important client at a community meeting (relationship building), or reading an article in the paper that tips you off about a job opportunity (advantage).

Daily grind: The work you do day after day can become an eventual career turning point like management’s recognition of your technical or leadership expertise, your ability to bring assignments to closure, or your talent for seeing the big picture, all of which gives you a leg up for a next move.

Positioning: You can attract turning points by seizing opportunities to increase your level of engagement like volunteering for assignments out of your comfort zone, letting your aspirations be known to your boss or mentor, and demonstrating a willingness to take on challenges, particularly those others avoid.

Fear not. 

Many turning point opportunities are missed because we’re loath to act out of fear of failure, lack of self-confidence, low commit to our goals, and naiveté.

  • If you’re vague about your career desires, you’ll miss the pivotal moments.
  • If you don’t believe that those moments are in your future, you’ll miss them again.
  • If you discount the fact that careers are part luck and part talent, pivotal moments will likely be lost.

Yes, turning points are easier to identify after they’ve materialized and elusive before. That’s the “hindsight is 20/20” thing.

However, the clearer you are about where you want your career to go, the more likely that you’ll spot and then seize on those pivotal moments, using them smartly.

Photo from h.koppdelaney via Flickr

Sizing Up Your Job—5 Signs It’s the Right Fit

A job is like any other relationship—it has its ups and downs. Some days we have nice things to say about it and on others we don’t.                       

Too often we’re likely to find ourselves among coworkers caught up in job frustration discussions. Most “I-hate-my-job” peer groups are eager to engage you as a new member. Every new complaint validates the old ones. 

Head for the hills! 

Negative associations drag us down. They’re like trying to swim against a rip current with your business suit on. 

We’re all better off looking at our jobs through a wide-angle lens. Our careers are built by each succeeding job, so we need to adopt a big picture view of where our current jobs can lead us. 

Not every job is worth keeping and not every company the right place. So it’s important to assess your job objectively to understand its true career heft. 

Start by inventorying what’s good about your job and then weigh those factors against what’s frustrating you. When you put the positives and the negative on a scale, you can see which side carries the most weight. You might be surprised at the gram weight of the good stuff. 

5 Good Signs 

We need to pay attention to the positive signs that our jobs are a good fit for us. Here are five indicators that your job is giving you what you need:  

  1. Change energizes: When you’re in the right job, you see change as an opportunity. To you it means an exciting new problem to solve, obstacles to vault, creative solutions to discover, and growth opportunities to explore. (Think of Steve Jobs and his many Apple employees.)
  2. Coworkers inspire: The people you work with encourage, motivate, and inspire you. They bring a spirit, humor, and can-do eagerness that bring out your best. A company that attracts people that you enjoy working with may be just the place to build a career. (Think of the sentiments expressed by the casts, past and present, from Saturday Night Live.)
  3. Your ideas count: It’s enormously motivating to have your ideas heard, considered, and acted upon. Your boss may be a pain in some ways, but if s/he listens to you and is influenced by what you say, that means something. Jobs that allow for innovation can make a difference. So when you have one, there’s value in building on it. (Think of anyone you know who has a patent, a copyright, or program to boast.)
  4. Reward is meaningful: Your value needs to be recognized both in tangible and intangible ways. A good job includes positive feedback (given privately or publicly), growth opportunities, a motivating performance appraisal, and fair compensation, including raises. Incremental reward is a positive sign that you’re in a good place and positioned to increase it. (Think of your job and salary history.)
  5. There are places to go: Dead-end jobs are in many ways like broken promises. When you see that your job can become a springboard to different work you’d like to do, you have a sense of future. A satisfying career doesn’t just mean climbing the ladder; it also means successfully navigating the coastline. Meaningful work in good jobs with the support of good bosses can signal the right fit. (Think of Katie Couric, a one-time beat reporter, Today Show co-host, then a news anchor, and upcoming talk-show host.) 

Let the work guide you. 

Jobs are about work. If your work and the company don’t float your boat, your career will sink, go adrift, or take you so far out to sea you’ll feel lost. 

Chris Martin, lead singer for the British alternative, rock band, Cold Play, said about his job as a songwriter:”You have to work hard, but it’s not hard work.” When that’s our truth, we know we’re in a job that’s the right fit for us. 

Photo from omnos via Flickr

Watch Out! Great Careers Can Creep Up on You

Where we start isn’t always where we finish. At least that’s the case with many careers.

It’s crazy to think that when we’re in high school we’d have a clear idea about what we want to do for a lifetime. Nevertheless, we go on to technical school or college choosing a trade or a major which declares, “This is my future.”

The business world is a big place. There are tens of thousands of career paths in as many businesses. So choosing a career is mind-boggling. 

Sorting through it all 

The process usually begins with courses we liked best in school. I said, “My favorite subject is English. So I’ll major in that, minor in education, and become an English teacher.” Whew…I’m done. I’ve got a specialty and a career to go with it to pay the bills. So that was it—until, of course, it wasn’t! 

Careers often start out as a smooth and promising ride before reality changes things. I remember those early-days programmers who loved mastering   computer languages unique to the companies they worked for. It was all good until their companies abandoned those proprietary languages and said “good-bye” to the programmers. 

We need to look at every job as a learning platform that moves us toward a career that suits us. 

Resetting our course 

Each job reveals what motivates us and what doesn’t. We get to test our limits and our principles. We start to zone in on what we’re really good at and what we aren’t. 

If we’re smart, we work with a willingness to try new things, apply our skills in new ways, and meet people with different perspectives. 

Then things start to happen. We stop seeing ourselves as being owned by our jobs but being raised by them. We recognize that we can remix our talents and our interests for career opportunities that are a better fit. 

My disquiet about my early career in teaching led me to into consumer education and then senior manager jobs at a big company. Concurrently, one of my show dogs was ill, so I was often at the vet. Eventually, my veterinarian asked me for help which led to a consulting sidelight, the precursor to the practice I have today. This kind of career transitioning is out there for anyone who’s open to it. 

Take Ray Vallafane. According to CBS’ Steve Hartman, Ray has spent every October for the last 15 years in his basement studio, “reinventing the art of pumpkin carving. Using sculpting tools instead of knives. Ray can now take a pumpkin, and, over the course of about eight hours, transform it into a museum-quality fruit.”  Ray was a former grade school teacher who turned a pastime into a full-time carving career that also led him to sculpting models for toy companies.  Not bad! 

Then there was Jim Nicholson from the Philadelphia Daily News and now Kay Powell at the Atlanta Journal Constitutional, both journalists who, according to CBS’ Jeff Greenfield, took steps “to breathe new life” into obituary writing. Instead of writing stilted chronicles, they brought ordinary people to life with recollections and anecdotes. These writers forged a unique niche in which they have set the standard.   

Let your real career come to you. 

Sometimes we try way too hard to nail down our careers before their time. Sometimes we’re so impatient that we miss what’s right in front of us. The more we resist what we really want, the more persistent the urge becomes. 

Achieving business fitness starts with committing to discovery. The key is never to rule out career options but to explore what you need to do to get closer to what you seek. Sometimes the right chance will fall into your lap and other times it will sneak up on you. Just do your best to be ready to grab it when it’s within reach! 

What career surprises have come your way? How were you able to spot and then seize them? Thanks.

Wanted: High Flying Career. Will Work Without a Net! | Risking Failure for Success

High wire acts. Acrobats. Human cannonballs. Circus careers come with big performance expectations and high stakes. The consequences of failure can be dire.

Successful circus performers are masters of precision, flexibility, teamwork, and consistency. They own every move they make for their own good and the safety of others.

Flying through the air on a trapeze with no net below is the measure of a career that you own. When you don’t expect to fail, you’ve arrived.

What’s your act? 

Everyone wants an exciting career:

  • Marketing lead on a big account
  • Editor at a hot shot publication
  • Start up business owner
  • Global account exec
  • Ecotourism director 

What does all this take? Do we just grab a chair and dash into a cage with the Bengal tigers, listening for the roar of the crowd? 

A career is a progression of our work life. It doesn’t just appear. The jobs we take are how we get things started. There are no guarantees that those jobs will add up to a career, particularly one that makes us feel successful. We just give it our best shot.

Risk is the route to reward!

Fear is the death knell for our careers: fear of failure, the boss, new assignments, change, or rocking the boat.

Playing the game to get a raise, promotion, or plum assignment isn’t risk taking. It’s maneuvering within the safe zone.

Career risks are about owning your choices and the consequences of your decisions, good or bad. That’s when you feel the exhilaration of flying through the air without a tether or that proverbial net. That’s when you know you are fully in charge of your career and, perhaps, your life.

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t as brave as those circus aerialists. We make decisions expecting that:

  • If it doesn’t work out, we can rely our parents or spouse to bail us out
  • We can go back to the job we left behind or a prior employer
  • Going back to school will ultimately land us a better job 

We tend not to take risks that will leave us in a helpless heap if we come up short.

What are you willing to wager?

This is the quandary: Because self-preservation is a strong motivator, how do we balance our risk tolerance and our success aspirations?

Start out by being honest about what you want to achieve and why. What will make you really proud of yourself? What choices are you willing to stand up for in spite of the potentially negative reactions of people you care about? What sacrifices are you ready to make?

Look at professional athletes. Many come from backgrounds fraught with struggle and want. So they bet everything on the outside chance they will become big time athletes. If they fail, nothing much changes.

Look at children of privilege who were expected to go into the family business but want to do their own thing instead. That’s what happened with Warren Buffet’s, son, Peter, who became an Emmy Award winning musician his way. If he’d failed, he’d have paid the price on many levels.

Look at William Gates Gill, author of How Starbuck’s Saved My Life, who lost his high-powered marketing job at J. Walter Thompson Advertising. At 63 he took a service job at a Starbuck’s store in New York City because he was down and out. If he failed at that, he was done.

Fold the net…Find the glory!

Career success feels sweetest when you’ve made it your way. Safety nets are often an illusion and can become a prison. Tune out the naysayers who chant: “Girls/guys don’t do that,” “What if this all goes wrong,” “You don’t know what you’re doing.” Think for yourself and about yourself. Don’t fear risk. Embrace it smartly.

When you’re business fit, you’ve thought through the options. You’ve done your due diligence. You know where you’re headed. You’ve inventoried your capabilities. You’re packed and ready to run away to the circus! See you there!

What was the biggest career risk you’ve taken? How did it work out? Can’t wait to hear!