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Stop Looking for Perfect

Stop Looking for Perfect
When we are young, we dream of what our lives will become. We see our careers as a straight line on progressive advancement with each job complete with a boss who nurtures our potential and co-workers who both recognize and respect our talents. We see a spouse and a couple of healthy kids living in a nice house in the suburbs. We see weekends that look more like beer commercials than real life.

This fantasy future we see is completely understandable given what our culture feeds us pretty much from birth, but of course once we get a few years under our belt we come to realize the life that TV and the rest of the media fed us from childhood wasn’t exactly true.

There are two paths we can take once this realization hits. One path is bitterness and disappointment, and it is a very appealing path when we feel like life has not lived up to our expectations for it. When our career track looks more like a scatter-plot graph than a straight line headed north we look for people to blame- bosses who were intimidated by our talents, co workers who stole credit, an economy that simply did not reward achievement. When our family life hits the inevitable pitfalls of life we can blame our spouse.

This path leads to a life that is never good enough and always lacking. Clearly, this isn’t the way we want to go.

The second path we can take once we realize that life is not a Hallmark movie is acceptance with purpose. The world is not perfect and neither is mankind, and because of this life will always be something of a roller-coaster ride. But as the philosopher Josef Pieper said, ” he alone can do good who knows what things are like and what their situation is.” Acknowledge the world and your place in it- and then get to work making your corner of it better.

It is tempting to look for perfect. Sometimes it almost feels like we deserve it. But perfect doesn’t exist, and the sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can learn to appreciate what life is- pretty darn amazing. Would we like a well-paying job in a company that rewards hard work and is loyal to its workers that we can stay in for 25 years? Of course. But remember that “work” as we think of it today is a pretty new concept. Historically most people slaved away on small patches of land to scrape out a living, constantly worrying of they could feed their family. Would we like the perfect home with the white picket fence and a weed free, gloriously green yard? Sure! But I’ll take my slightly run down 120 year old house with no yard to speak of over living in the tenement housing many of my ancestors did when they first came to this country.

Accepting the world as it is doesn’t mean settling; it means looking at life objectively for what it is and realizing that it really is pretty good. When we can see that it is so much easier to get back in the trenches and do the work we were meant to do and make the world just a little bit better.

What does a daily ritual for jobseekers look like?

What does a daily ritual for jobseekers look like?
Earlier this year I talked at length about why’d you’d want to create a daily ritual, but I did not spell out exactly what one would look like. Hopefully I have convinced you of the former as I am about to deliver the latter. Here are a few different ways to go about building a daily ritual. Just note that these are only ideas to get you started- this is a very personal activity which will look different for everyone.

To me, a good daily ritual should incorporate activities that hit all the major aspects of one’s well-being, the physical, mental and spiritual. It is only when all three are giving their own space to grow that someone can truly thrive. How you jigsaw the pieces together is largely personal preference.

Physical. I don’t think I need to point out the thousands of studies linking physical health to mental health. We all know about the endorphin release you get from moving your body and how physical activity can allow the brain to work out problems it has been wrestling with. Movement is good- we just need to build a daily ritual of doing it.

You could choose to start every day with something as simple as a walk around your neighborhood (after a cup of coffee of course). Or perhaps you are more incline to take a daily jog. Or maybe you really want to challenge yourself and you take the 100 burpee-a-day challenge. What you chose for your physical ritual is not as important as doing it every day, at the same time of the day. Make it how you do mornings.

Mental. Jobseeking is a mentally draining task as it is very repetitive. You have to take the same steps, day after day to achieve the results you want. Research the job and company. Make some connections. Tailor your documents and apply. Then do it again. And again. You get the idea. If you don’t build some intellectual enrichment onto your day you will begin to feel the weight of this repetitive schedule. While you could of course enroll in a class, this article is for jobseekers, who could very likely be out of work, so I am aiming for no cost activities. (This is why I did not mention joining a gym above). Luckily there is a completely no cost solution to the mental aspect of your daily ritual as well- the library.

Put aside a period of time each day where you simply read something that will benefit you down the road once you land your new job. I’d suggest doing this sometime around mid-day so that it can act as a break as well as a recharge for your brain after a morning spend scouring LinkedIn or The Ladders. Not sure what to read? Just type your job title into Amazon and see what comes up. I guarantee they’ll be plenty of books to choose from. Write down ten titles and then go to your local library and see what you can find.

Spiritual. It is hard to set up a daily ritual without paying attention to one’s spiritual nature. This will of course look different depending on the spiritual tradition to which each person belongs. But again, the important part is doing the same type of activity every day at the same time. Whether you chose to read the Bible, pray, or simply meditate on a positive affirmation is up to you.

Putting it all together. So what does a fully functioning daily ritual look like for a job seeker? Here is a sample that revolves around reading and walking. If this looks interesting to you give it a try for a week. Take it for test drive. Once you get the feel of it make your own adjustments. Make it your daily ritual.

Early mornings: Wake up before the rest of the house and simply sit with a cup of coffee. Don’t check the phone or turn on the tv- just sit for ten minutes and think about what you have to be grateful for. Start the day off by feeling positive about your situation. Being out of work isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you.

Then pick up a career book and read for ten minutes. When you’re finished jot down a few notes/thoughts in a notebook. Not on a computer- just a simple spiral notebook. Then throw on some shoes and go for a twenty-minute walk around the neighborhood. Don’t feel like you need to keep up a certain pace or go a certain distance, this is just about waking up your body in the morning.

Mid mornings: This is when you’ll do your daily research. Scan the job boards. Look up companies. Find connections. Post and comment on LinkedIn. Do your due diligence. Then chose one job opening to target in the afternoon.

Noontime: After you have finished lunch it is time to reset. Go back to your chosen professional development book and read for another ten minutes or so. Then, take another short twenty minute walk around the neighborhood.

Afternoons: Now go back to the job you have targeted for today and spend some time reworking your resume and cover letter so that they are tailored directly to this position. Try to send a copy directly to a connection you have found within the company. If you can’t make a direct inroad, try a “friend of a friend” route. And as a last resort you can apply directly through the job board. Just remember to make the resume ATS friendly if you have to send it this way.

Close out the work day with another ten minutes reading your chosen book. Be sure to jot down your thoughts quickly after each reading session. This helps cerement any lessons you learn along the way into your brain and it also gives you something to look back on.

Night: Just be done. Do no “jobsearch” work after 4:00 PM. It is important to have a dedicated work time and off time. Know that you made solid progress during the day and that you’ll pick it up again tomorrow. Now just enjoy yourself. Spend time with your family, eat a good dinner, catch up with your Netflix queue.

Making the Most of Mondays

It’s a tired and old cliche that everyone hates Mondays. No one particularly likes when that alarm goes off after a couple days of being able to sleep in. No one loves their commute to work. And most people would rather be fishing, on a beach, playing tennis or just on the couch with Netflix than pulling up to their desk on Monday mornings.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about this cliche. On the one hand I get it. The weekend is often more fun. You have more freedom and time to yourself. But on the other hand, if you have chosen the right career path, then you shouldn’t wake up on Monday already looking for Friday. For the most part I have always enjoyed my profession and while some Mondays I’d love to hit the snooze button a few more times I have always generally been OK with the start of the work week.

But I’ll let you in on a secret- there is more to making the most of Mondays than just liking your job. There are concrete steps you can take to improve the start of your work week. I call it the 3 looks, and all you’ll need is notebook*, a pen, 10 minutes and a cup of coffee. (The coffee is optional- OK who am I kidding, the coffee may be the most important part of Monday morning!)

Look Back: Think back on last week and ask yourself a few questions. Who did you help and how? What was your biggest “win”? What would you do a little differently? Jot down your thoughts in your notebook. This is key, the actual writing. Don;t just ruminate and don’t type it up in a journal app. You need to actually put pen to paper. Why? I’m not really sure, but science says things we physically write down stay with us more, and for me these kinds of introspective exercises have always gone better when I have had pen in hand.

Look Forward: Be careful with this one. The idea is to think about the biggest goals for the week, but you don’t want this to turn into a scheduling or to-do list activity. Think about sitting down to do this same exercise next week; what do you want your biggest win to be? That is what you want to look forward to. What are the big rocks you know you need to deal with and deal with well?

Look In: This helps on those really hard Mondays when you just don’t want to go to the office. Remember why you started. Now I can hear you in my head already, I started to get a good paycheck. Yes, I know, but that isn’t what I’m talking about. (And should I be worried that I can hear you in my head?). There are a lot of ways to make money; why did you chose your way? Are you in sales because you really do enjoy interacting with people? Are you a project manager because you love getting a team motivated and working towards a common goal? Maybe you’re a programmer because even as a kid you loved puzzle games and you simply enjoy the mental gymnastics required to tease out answers to tricky problems. Remember what motivated you when you were 22.

Now, I can’t guarantee you’ll jump out of bed every Monday morning looking to take over the world, but I can promise that if you do this short exercise every Monday morning that you’ll get to work with a more positive outlook and you just may have a more productive well too.

* A note on notebooks. Yes, I know the newest Moleskin is gorgeous and the paper is amazing to write on. But you know what, the $1 spiral notebook from OfficeMax records your words just as well. Don’t fall in the live with the tools. Fall in love with the work.

Your Mistakes Do Not Define You

Everyone makes mistakes. It is part of being human. Sometime they are simple, small and relatively inconsequential. Other times they are big and fairly monumental. We make them when we are young, and despite the acquired wisdom of age, we make them when we are old. Regardless, your mistakes do not define who you are; how you react to them does.

Some people let the weight of their errors drag them down. They can not see past them, can’t seem to forgive themselves and move on. They relive them, and feel the guilt like an anchor holding them in port, unable to sail on. You don’t want to be one of these people. Their reaction to a mistake compounds the error. If you have made a misstep, whether it be on the job or with your family, the best thing to do is to own it, try to learn from it, and then let it go.

Own it. If an apology is appropriate, then apologize. Don’t try to hide it, pretend it didn’t happen or pass the buck to someone else. If you lost an account because you forgot to write the meeting into your schedule, just own up to the fact that your screwed up. There are few people if approached sincerely who will not forgive a truly contrite person. And to be honest, those who won’t are probably not people you want to be around anyway.

Learn from it. It is cliche, but it is true: everyone makes mistakes, just don’t make the same one twice. Every time we make a misstep there is an opportunity to learn something, to become a better person tomorrow than we were today. To stick with our example from above, maybe now you realize that your fancy scheduling and note taking app on your phone looks great, but is too awkward to really use on a day-to-day basis. In order to not miss any future meetings you need to go back to pen and paper. If your apology is coupled with a lesson learned and a plan not to repeat the error, most people will see that as an overall positive.

Let it go. I know, I’m singing it in my head now too– but it’s true. If we hold on to every time we make a mistake it is going to be a lead weight around our necks. Life is too short to do that to yourself, and besides, rehashing the event over and over doesn’t lead to anything positive. It just makes you feel lousy. If you have owned it, and learned something from it, there is nothing left for that error of judgement to do. It can only be a negative at this point, so just let it go and move on.

Remember, you mistakes will never define you, but your reactions to them will. Own them, learn from them and then let them go. You’ll be a better co-worker, family member and human being for the effort.

The Philosophy of Leadership

The concept of the philosopher king has been around for thousands of years. Plato, in his fictional Utopia created a system of government where the city was ruled by a philosopher king. Marcus Aurelius, one of Rome’s most successful emperors was also a student of philosophy. In fact, his personal diary, Meditations, is today consider one of the canonical texts of Stoicism. And then we have Musonius Rufus, a first century scholar who said, ” I believe a good king is from the outset and of necessity a philosopher, and the philosopher is from the outset a kingly person.”

Compare this with a typical syllabus from the modern MBA, the standard degree associated with leadership in our time.

Accounting and Business Analysis
Business Economics
Financial Management
International Management
Marketing Management
Operations Design
Information Technology for Business Value
Strategic Human Resources Management
Leading People and Teams
Innovation Leadership

Not a single philosophy, or ethics course among the list. This leads us to a few questions. Why the change? What is the outcome? What is the cost?

The why I think centers around the modern focus on fact and figures as the leading determiner of action. We have become a society that is obsessed with it. People spend an inordinate amount of time tracking everything from marketing trends to hourly stock fluctuations to the number of steps the take on a given afternoon. This reduces what is human to mere numbers, and when one looks at business, leadership and people as mere numbers then reason and ethics are no longer as important. What is important is improving numbers, whether those be profits, margins, client bases or what have you.

The outcome is a society that seem less interested in how people are affected by business and government and more interested in winning. Because when you are solely concerned with the numbers life quickly becomes more of a game than a shared experience. And games are of course played to win.

The cost at this point should be obvious. Taken to its extreme our humanity is the cost. Why the connection between kings and the study of philosophy in the ancient world? I’d suggest it is because they realized that to lead requires reason and ethics, the cornerstone of any philosophy. That to lead meant aiding people in becoming more fully human, whatever that may mean to a given society.

Am I saying the modern focus on statistics is bad? Absolutely not. It is due to a study of them than many advances have been made possible. However, I do think that statistics needs to be tempered with philosophy to guard what is best about us. And leaders more than anyone should be well versed in it.

Invest in Yourself

We are told at a young age how important investing for the future is, whether we’re using the company’s 401k plan, investing in mutual funds or getting serious with an etrade account. We all know that investing small amounts early in our career can create a sizable nest egg for later on in life. We can even dream about getting some luck along the way and being able to retire early. In other words for many of us, investing in our financial future is an obvious win.

So why then, are we often so reluctant to invest in other aspects of our lives?

Just as our money can grow from small, consistent efforts, so too can our physical strength and endurance, our intellect, and our ability to handle difficult decisions. In fact, ever single part of our lives can be improved and made better through small, but consistent , practice and effort. And just as with our financial lives the best time to start is when we are young, but even if we missed that window, the second best time to start is TODAY.

This is especially important for the job seeker and those of us looking to take the next step in our careers. Each aspect of our lives, our health, confidence, and competence is tied together, one piece subtly influencing the other. The better all around human we become, the easier each discrete part of our lives will be.

So how should we go about investing in ourselves? I suggest by building a strong foundation and growing from there. Stick with the tried and true methods. Think of it as picking an as close to sure thing, blue chip stock as you can find. Something that probably won’t make you rich over night, but that will give you a reasonable chance of earning 4% interest over the year.

Invest in your health by taking a walk or starting a light jogging habit. Just shoot for a half an hour 4-5 times a week. Couple this with some daily calisthenics or push ups and you have a reasonable beginner’s workout plan. Over time you may want to up your game, but even if you just stick with this for the long term your investment in yourself will pay endless dividends: more metal clarity, better sleep, and improved stamina are just some of the basic benefits. How much better could you be at your job, at life, with just these minor improvements?

Don’t forget to invest in your education as well. Many people feel like that part of their lives is over once college is done. But I can tell you from personal experience that, at 45, what I learned in college, while it is not obsolete, has certainly evolved over the course of time. I’m sure your professional field is no different. We all need to stay fresh. That could mean everything from getting another advanced degree to simply giving your library card a regular weekly workout. Stay current, build on your education, and again the dividends will be worth it.

There of course are many other parts of our lives that could do with some investment. Our relationships, our spirituality, our experiences. Make a list. Create a plan of attack and invest in yourself starting today.

The most important 3 lines on LinkedIn

LinkedIn has become a one-stop-shop for many employers and jobseekers with both relying on the portal to fulfill their work-based needs. With nearly half a billion registered uses and two new members joining every second there is a vast pool of talent there ripe for the recruiter’s picking. So, as a jobseeker, how do you stand out in this extremely crowded field?

On the one hand most professionals will tell you that you need a complete profile to really compete on LinkedIn. This means you have the following:
A professional profile photo
A headline
A summary section
A work history that goes back no more than 15 years
At least 4 accomplishment for each job
A completed skills section
A handful of recommendations
Each of these pieces of information are important for their own unique reasons and you should definitely strive to represent yourself as strongly as you can in each of them. However, there is one area that is more important than all the rest and is where you need to put the most focus.

Let’s say you are a project manager. You have a complete profile with a lot of industry related keywords in your branding statement, summary and skills section, so when someone searches for “project managers” your profile shows up on the first page. Great, right? Yes, but this is only the first step in the competition to get profile views.

When our hypothetical recruiter is looking at the search results page all she sees are the profile pictures and the profile headlines. This then is your most important line on LinkedIn. You need to be sure your branding statement is dynamic enough to make the searcher click through to your actual profile page. Many jobseekers simply use the default setting which lists their most recent job title. Hopefully now you can see why that is not the best strategy. You want a line that conveys who you are and what you can deliver.

So let’s assume you pass through this first gauntlet. What’s next?

Now our recruiter is looking at your abbreviated profile page. This means she can see the first two lines in your summary right under your branding statement. In order to see the entirety of your summary and profile she’ll need to click through. This means those first two lines are the next most important lines in your profile. I’m sure at this point you can guess where this is going. Those two lines need to build on what your headline has already claimed about you. More about you and your strongest skills as a project manager. If you can hook them with those first two lines then your full profile finally has a shot to shine.

So by all means spend a lot of time getting all the parts of your profile right. But spend the most time on those all important three lines- the headline branding statement and the first two lines of your profile. Think of them as the hook and sinker of your profile as you fish for recruiter’s views.