Losing Your Career Edge? Go on the Offensive.

Career disappointments can be immobilizing. They happen when you: 

  • hear your degree’s in a “sorry, no openings” field
  • get promoted or transferred to an “I hate it” job
  • are downsized and believe “you’re finished” 

It’s dreadful but not terminal. 

Go on the offensive! 

This is no time to pull the covers over your head. You have hard-earned credentials, capabilities, experiences, and prospects to protect. 

Your career can’t go down the tubes unless you let it. Your knowledge and skills don’t change just because conditions do.  They are the assets that move you forward.  You must keep them well oiled, so they won’t erode.  

Here’s the issue:  When you’re unemployed, underemployed, or in the wrong job, you aren’t using your full arsenal of skills. The potential consequences of that are: 

  • Gradual decline in your expertise (You sense you don’t have it like you used to.)
  • Loss of brand value (Coworkers don’t remember your strengths or call on them.)
  • A perception that you’ve set them aside (Coworkers think you’re no longer committed to them.)
  • Sense of loss (You think you’ve lost your edge and can’t get it back.) 

Protect what you’ve got! 

Managing your career isn’t easy. It’s about work and not luck. 

Here’s the deal: No matter where you are in your career cycle, you have to take control of your brand, protect your base of skills/knowledge, and build your professional/trade affiliations. 

You should never turn your career totally over to your employer. You can and should take advantage of employer-offered opportunities, but you always need to own your career. 

Remember: You life is your business, so you need to manage it like the entrepreneur that you are, like it or not.    

Stay visible. 

There is no excuse for not taking charge of your personal brand and positioning yourself in the career arena you want, regardless of your current employment status. 

You need to make sure that your expertise and commitment to your career are out there, where you have a strong professional identity that validates your credibility. It may eventually connect you with people who will lead you to the job you’ve always wanted. 

To maintain your edge and build your brand identity, try these ideas: 

  • Join professional associations and attend annual conferences to keep up with issues, stay updated on products/services, meet experts, and network
    • Volunteer your services to these organizations, especially as someone who’ll introduce a speaker at a meeting
  • Read professional journals regularly, correspond directly with contributors, and write a letter to the editor praising an article
  • Keep any licenses up to date by attending re-credentialing sessions even if they cost you
  • Write your own blog, focused on your professional interests, expertise, and experience, air your voice and engage others by:  
    • Commenting on relevant topics/issues from your perspective
    • Reviewing books and articles by experts in your field
    • Providing an update or summary of a conference or meeting you attended
    • Notifying readers of upcoming events, news, and regulatory changes
    • Interviewing key people you’d like to know and have know you
    • Offer to guest post for others and invite them to post for you 

Make sure you include this involvement, in some fashion, on your resume or in your cover letter. 

Fight to keep your edge 

Remember: It’s not who you know but who knows you that makes a difference in the progress of your career. That’s why these steps are so important. 

If you want to take control of your career, if you accept that you owe it to yourself (and perhaps others) to protect all that you have accomplished, then make a commitment to prevent yourself from going backward. Actually, this can be fun, if you want it to be! 

What would you add to the list? Have a success story to share? Thanks.


Grit and Gumption Power a Career | An Interview with Nichola Gutgold

I knew about Nichola before I actually met her. When we finally got together for coffee, our shared passion for writing launched a terrific friendship. As associate professor of communications arts and sciences at Pennsylvania State University, Lehigh Valley campus, Nichola D. Gutgold, PhD is a prolific author on the communications styles of influential women in male-dominated fields 

When I learned that Nichola had gone to Washington, D.C. to interview Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor, my first thought was, “How did she become a force who gains access to important women?” So I decided to ask.   

DL: Nichola, here you are, professor and author, on a career roll. How did this all happen? 

NG: Well, it sure isn’t what I ever expected. My father was a coal miner and one of ten children. Though both my mom and dad were supportive of my sisters and me, they didn’t encourage a professional career route.  As a kid, the only images I had of successful career women were TV news broadcasters. 

I was lucky enough to go to college, the first in my family to get a degree. I graduated with a double major in mass communications and English, thinking I would teach. While an undergrad, I worked for a while as a newspaper beat reporter. It was a lot of grunt work and a bad fit for me. 

I didn’t have any specific career goals after I graduated. So I worked briefly for a TV station, a small advertising business, and then in PR for a shopping mall.   

DL: Did these jobs discourage you? 

NG: Not really. I always had a sense that I needed to expand my educational credentials. It wasn’t long before I went for an MA in Speech/Communication at Bloomsburg University. 

While studying for my masters, I got married and helped my husband start his own advertising business. Balancing all this was a bit hairy. Once I completed my degree I became an adjunct professor at a couple local colleges and Penn State. That’s when I realized I needed a doctorate. 

DL: Was getting your PhD your most important career choice? 

NG: Yes, it would make all the difference, but it came with real sacrifice. When I started my PhD, I was thirty years old with a young daughter. The rigors of the degree took everything I had, requiring me to study well into the night while jockeying my family responsibilities (often not too well) and my teaching. It was a time of tremendous stress and guilt. 

I am fortunate to be strong-willed and optimistic. I knew in my heart that I had to give my all to achieve that degree. If I wanted to be taken seriously in my career and have opportunities presented to me, that PhD was the ticket. 

DL: After you got your degree, what made you start writing books about influential women? 

NG: It’s always amazing how one thing leads to another if we’re open to it. I’d seen Elizabeth Dole speak on TV at the Republican National Convention. I was intrigued by her beauty queen look and her willingness to demure to her husband’s political aspirations even though she could have been the presidential candidate. So I decided to do my dissertation on her speech-making style. 

I wrote to Elizabeth when she ran the Red Cross, more or less begging for an interview. It took several letters until one day, her office contacted me to say she was coming to Hershey, PA to speak and had bought me ticket to hear her. I was stunned and thrilled. That’s how it all started. 

DL: I suspect it can feel pretty intimidating to contact these women. What gives you the nerve to do it? 

NG: I’ve come to realize that women like Elizabeth Dole and the Justices Ginsberg and Sotomayor have their own stories to tell and few opportunities to tell them. Sure they’re in the news, but you’d be surprised at how little in-depth attention they get personally. 

But it takes perseverance. I often have to write many letters (not e-mails) requesting an interview and then following up. Sometimes I get a quick response and other times I wait. I just don’t give up. 

DL: It still amazes me that they will agree to talk to you. What’s your magic? 

To have Penn State University as 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. It lets these women know that I am a professional, dedicated to getting things right. 

I also make it clear that my focus is on their speech and communication styles. I don’t critique what they say, just how they say it, specifically the techniques they use to make their points to influence change. 

It doesn’t take magic, just work hard and optimism. A positive spirit and a can-do attitude have the power to make things happen. 

Nichola Gutgold blogs at TalkDoc. Her books include Almost Madam President: Why Hillary Clinton ‘Won’ in 2008 , Seen and Heard: The Women of Television News, and Paving the Way for Madam President. With Molly Wertheimer she co-authored, Elizabeth Hanford Dole: Speaking from the Heart. She is currently writing a book on communications styles of the women Supreme Court Justices.

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!

Did You Know? Career Skill-Building Begins at Home.

Got a life? Then you’ve got a gold mine. Why? Because your life is crammed with opportunities to build the skills you need for a successful career. 

Don’t believe me? 

Think of a “crazy time” in your life when you had to contend with challenging situations like starting college, moving into a house or apartment, getting a divorce or out of debt. 

Those situations require real management skills although that may not be what you’re thinking in the heat of the moment. 

Every life challenge teaches us something important about ourselves, other people, and the way the world works. When we don’t learn from our experiences, we squander an opportunity to expand the arsenal of skills and insights our career growth depends on. 

Life lessons build skills. 

In my late 20’s, I, a country-loving girl, convinced my then husband, a Brooklyn, New York native, to rent an old farmhouse which had been the family home of an elderly, reclusive woman, recently deceased.  Prior to being rented, this remote homestead on 15 acres had been cleaned and painted from top to bottom. 

We fell in love with the place immediately, committed to a one-year lease, and moved in with our two show dogs and a cat. 

Let the adventure and skill-building lessons begin: 

Learned Lesson #1: Due diligence minimizes surprises. 

On moving day, I went into the basement and noticed that the concrete walls were almost completely black. So I looked closer and to my horror discovered that they were covered with tens of thousands of millipedes, little wormy creatures with lots of legs. Dial, Terminix, asap! So much for a pre-rental inspection. 

Next, during the early onset of winter, I noticed that there was scrap-able frost on the inside of the bathroom windows. Awaken one brutal awareness: There was no insulation anywhere in this house and no storm windows. Bad news! 

It’s important to check things out before sealing any deal! 

Learned Lesson #2: Risk management reduces calamity.

At one point, the realtor/superintendent sent his freelance, furnace serviceman to maintain the oil burner. This guy spent about a half-hour noodling around in the basement, pushing the reset button back and forth, and still the furnace wouldn’t start. So he touched a match to it and started an oil fire. 

He calmly asked, “Do you know the number of your fire company?” Answer, “No.” “Well, you should call them,” he replied. 

It took the fire company three hours to find the place. By then the house was filled with black smoke, but nothing worse. After several hours of huge fans sucking the smoke out, the calamity was over. 

Having people in the ready, who can bail you out of trouble, is smart business. 

Learned Lesson #3: Problem-solving requires initiative. 

As the winter wore on, so did the miseries of being cold while not wanting to go broke heating an un-insulated house. Something had to be done. 

We made a deal with the realtor/superintendent to share the cost of making operational a fireplace in the dining room where we would live for four months, sleeping in a trundle bed with our pets. Lovely, eh? 

It became my job to start the early morning fires in that freezing cold room. The fire wood, stored in the adjacent summer kitchen, was damp and hard to light. 

I was teaching high school at the time and a kid in my class worked at a bowling alley. When I explained my plight, he asked if I’d like him to bring me discarded bowling pins to use as kindling. You betcha! Compressed sawdust covered with lacquer starts in a flash. 

Engagement of resources and timely decision-making create good results 

And so it goes…. 

Our lives provide endless experiences that let us develop management skills away from the office’s watchful eyes. Through those life experiences, we build our skills, insights, resilience, tolerance for stress, and courage. Experiential learning bolsters our confidence and enhances our credibility. The skills you develop at home and bring to the job will enrich your career. Seize the day! 

Do you have a story to tell about skills you learned from your life experiences? Thanks.

What (Career) Luck’s Got To Do With It | Paying It Forward

For all my achievements, titles and business ventures, I’ve come to realize that I am simply a learner who teaches and writes. Even though I’m inwardly shy, I have things I need to say, not for myself, but for you. 

There have been lots of twists and turns to my career: classroom teaching, Fortune 500 manager jobs, commercial horse breeding and other small business ventures. Each was rich with discoveries about what it takes to achieve the success I wanted. 

Sometimes we make our luck and other times it’s a gift. Mine came embodied in some wonderfully generous and enlightened leaders who saw something about me that motivated their support and inspired my hard work. Their gift to me was access and the opportunity to see how business works from the inside. 

I learned that success emerges from being clear about what we’re after and the cumulative effect of all the work we do

So I wrote—Business Fitness | The Power to Succeed—YourWay 

It took me over 20 years to gather my discoveries together and package them around a useful metaphor.  Since business is a competitive undertaking like sports and since we, as employees or owners, drive the outcome, I realized that “business fitness” is what it takes to drive our success.

I wrote it for new grads, entry level hires, folks feeling stuck or overlooked, fast-trackers looking for an edge, small business owners trying to do it all, professional practitioners/education leaders facing management challenges and many others. 

A gift with a lift 

Writing Business Fitness was my way to “pay it forward” for all the help I’d been given. It honored those leaders who trusted in me. 

Perhaps this is the right time for you to give a copy to yourself or someone who is: 

  • Struggling to find the right career path
  • Starting out in a new job and working to find his/her way
  • Trying to position him/herself for advancement
  • Working to build a strong brand or repair a damaged one
  • Looking for a way to distinguish him/herself
  • Trying to expand his/her reach

 Business Fitness includes plenty of stories with interesting plot lines, except these stories are true. You’ll meet real people who faced significant career challenges and see why some succeeded and other failed. You’ll also hear from me about “hot seat” and “aha” moments from my youth and my adult career. (Some are quite embarrassing!) 

There is also plenty of “how to” information on: 

  • Personal brand building and management
  • Writing effective goal statements
  • Using knowledge to build leverage
  • Building, supporting, and engaging an internal network of allies
  • Attracting a following, building a power base, and collaborating for results
  • Taking the lead and managing risk
  • Getting support for an initiative and managing change 

It’s a book you can roam through, reading what you need when you need it. There are even exercises to help you put things in order. 

My offer 

It’s so uncomfortable for me to promote my own work. Sales isn’t naturally in my blood. But I wrote Business Fitness to let you in on the insights I’ve gained. So, since I believe in the book’s value, here goes: 

When you buy a copy from my website, the book is $19.95 ($2.00 below list) with free shipping in the Continental U.S. It comes signed and/or personalized with a bookmark. 

Through December 18, 2010, I will also wrap it and include a gift card free.  

If you or your business would like to give it as a gift to multiple employees or customers/clients, there are quantity prices plus shipping. The “My Book” tab here has details. 

Whew, that’s over with! 

Hearing from you 

Your thoughts and feedback about the book and my posts are immensely valuable to me. I love to hear your stories and your views on the challenges of your work life. 

I write to help you find a technique or perspective that will make the path you’re on easier to navigate. It’s always a gift to me when you read and respond! Thanks, ~Dawn

Dullard or Dynamo? A Case for Change! | Your Life Is Your Business

“You just don’t get it.” Ouch! That’s a pretty damning phrase these days. It’s also a reminder that we need to keep up or be left behind with no one waiting for us to catch up.

The more you know the more options you have.

Do you know dull people? I do. Are you dull? I hope not. We’re all susceptible to becoming stuck in a rut or irrelevant if we aren’t careful. So ask yourself:

  • Do I hang around with the same people all the time?
  • Am I doing the same things in my free time?
  • Do I avoid new challenges at work?
  • Am I doing my work the same old way? 

If you answered “yes” or “unsure,” oops!  

When a company answers “yes” to those questions, it’s saying, we

  • Don’t want new employees or customers either
  • Don’t invest in performance improvements
  • Don’t take risks to become more competitive
  • Don’t adopt new industry best practices 

Would you buy stock in that company? Me neither! Would you buy stock in yourself? Hummmm!

You can’t go forward when you’re stopped or in reverse. 

Your life is your business and you’re the only one driving. You can either go forward, park, or back up.

Business survival depends on the ability to grow and remain relevant in the marketplace. That’s why companies engage in research and development, exploration of new work methods, and employee training.

You need to do that too…for yourself. If your life is one dimensional, you limit yourself. Too many people expect the company they work for to provide learning and growth opportunities instead of finding those outlets themselves. Hey, it’s your life. Learn what you need to learn. Accept experiences that will enrich you. Do it yourself!

A casual comment may be all you need. 

A friend of mine invited me to attend a local horseman’s expo that featured vendors who sold tack, clothing, supplies, and services for people like us who were into horses.

During our wanderings, we met a woman who was selling equine art, signed prints featuring everything from cowboys to race horses. We loved what we saw.

As we were leaving the venue, my friend asked, “Would you like to do that?”

“What?” I asked.

“Become an equine art dealer,” she replied.

That’s all it took.

Now you may be wondering why I’d want to take that on. After all, I was already a commercial horse breeder and had a major corporate job.

The answer: “Because I knew nothing about retailing. I’d never been a waitress or a clerk. Never took money—cash, check, or credit cards—from anyone. I knew nothing about inventory management or sales for that matter.

Here was a chance for me to learn how all this works with products that I was passionate about and for customers who were horse enthusiasts like I was.

The business involved contracting with equine artists willing to provide copies of their work, prints and originals, on consignment. We would sell their art at major horse shows in PA and NJ where we set up as vendors. We also sold art on line.

I did this for 10 years. Here’s a partial list of what I learned how to do:

  • Procure and merchandize products
  • Market through cooperative advertising
  • Attract and retain customers
  • Manage inventory, pricing, and on-line sales
  • Package, transport, and ship
  • Manage the legal and accounting aspect of a partnership 

This wasn’t a very profitable business but it was a highly enriching experience.  

Nothing beats an ace-in-the-hole. 

We all sleep better at night when we have the right skills and experiences to maximize our career and job options. It’s like having a business fitness 401K. So fight the good fight against dullness and irrelevance by taking advantage of opportunities to learn and do. It’s all money in the bank.

Care to share an experience where you tried something new? What did you learn and how did it feel? Your story may spark a change!


Besieged by Problems? Out of Ideas? | Circle Your Masterminds

In the dumps? Disgusted? Feel like no one’s struggling with career frustrations and business uncertainties the way you are? Makes you ask yourself, “What’s my problem?” Well, that’s how I felt. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an employee, a business owner, a budding entrepreneur, college student, or unemployed. We just don’t have all the answers.

Finding answers is about accumulating knowledge. 

And it isn’t just about information. Knowledge includes insights, perspectives, conclusions, and us

Yes, the most important knowledge we bring to our work is self-knowledge. Are you aware of what motivates, frightens, energizes, and limits you? Do you understand and deal with your strengths and weaknesses? Are you an effective problem solver? 

This is heady stuff that we often overlook. But it’s the real stuff of career and business success. 

The best route to that understanding is through people who want it too. 

Find like-minded people who trust each other. They’re gold!

 This is what mastermind groups are. You can get a group together around any issue you face: 

  • Career decision-making and job hunting
  • Building your small business
  • Creating better marketing strategies
  • Personal or professional development
  • Expanding your network
  • Increasing your self-confidence
  • Developing new products or services  

(If this is new to you, read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It’ll amaze you.) 

I needed a mastermind group when I started my solo practice. 

Here’s the scenario: I’d left a big corporation and the handsome, every-two-week paycheck to start my consulting business. The risk was hefty. 

I worked all day, six days a week alone—no employees, no meetings, no one. 

I knew three former colleagues who were also starting new businesses, two with a real sense of urgency like mine. We were all struggling with the same issues: 

  • no colleagues for idea sharing, support, or accountability
  • difficulty staying motivated in isolation
  • trouble staying focused and resisting procrastination
  • dealing with uncertainty, negative thoughts, and discouragement 

So we formed a mastermind group that we called Gold Minds and met monthly for three years. 

Being held accountable by others makes us more accountable to ourselves. 

The Gold Minds met at my dining room table from nine to noon. Our meetings included agendas, assignments, roundtables, grillings (always constructive), status reports and laugher. We: 

  • confronted each other about our foibles and fears
  • shared leads and made referrals
  • reviewed and approved our annual goals
  • challenged each other on our quarterly performance results
  • conducted information exchanges; discussed  books read in common 

We were a kind of board of directors, committed to each other’s success.

It’s not much fun going it alone. So don’t!  

Career and business challenges never stop. The right mastermind group can be a huge relief. For these groups to be successful, you need to manage expectations up front. 

In our case each member agreed to:

  • Be trustworthy and hold our conversations in confidence       
  • Accept all members as equals
  • Adhere to the goals and agendas set by the group
  • Be kind, patient, supportive, and sensitive
  • Demonstrate a positive, can-do attitude
  • Learn from others and communicate openly
  • Have a good sense of humor

You get back what you put in. 

Mastermind groups can cultivate a generosity of spirit that attracts positive results. Like-minded people committed to helping each other are an empowering force. Through them we become more business fit, finding success our way as they find it their way.  

Have you had a mastermind group experience? What went well and what didn’t? Any suggestions you can add? Thanks, as always!

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