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Career Resiliency: Plan for the worst

Things happen. It’s the way of the world. As much as we’d like to be able to go back in time and remake the world according to our likes and preferences that just isn’t possible. (At least not yet. I’m sure Elon Musk must have something cooking along these lines.)

So now what? If we can’t rid the world of accidents, mishaps, back luck and utter catastrophe, what do we do?
Rather than remake the world, it is in fact far easier to remake ourselves. We need to become resilient. This way when the inevitable happens, as Seneca would say, we can “let fate find us prepared and active.” That’s all well and good you may say, but how do we become resilient? Luckily there are concrete steps you can take, especially when it comes to your career.

The first step is to imagine the worst. What are some horrible things that could happen to you in regards to your career? The most obvious is losing your job entirely, but what else? Demotion? Transfer? New boss? New mission? New vision for the company? Make a nice big doom and gloom list. Once you see it in black and white in front of you it will be easier to prepare.

Next, imagine how you’d deal with each one. Remember, we are thinking about what we can actually accomplish, not what we wish we could do. We may wish we could get upper management to see they should never have reorganized our division, but that won’t happen. What we can do is learn the new game and play it as best we can. We may wish we could turn back the clock and not be let go. But we can call on contacts to get an interview in another firm. Sketch out a quick response to each career catastrophe.

Now, prepare for the worst. Some career hiccups are easier to prepare for than others. A new boss for instance requires a shift in attitude and perhaps a little relationship building. Being prepared for that is more about keeping your state of mind open. Losing your job and thus looking for a new one is a large undertaking and there are things you can- and should- have in place well beforehand. [References, well developed connections, a ready-to-go resume etc.]. Create your plans and then get to work. If you need to write your resumes then do it. If you need to save a month’s salary to put aside, then do it. Even if it takes a long time to have your contingency plans in place, the very act of working towards them will strengthen your will if anything should happen. The more prepared you are the better your reactions will be.

This is where resiliency really kicks in. You’ll never be caught flat-footed because you will have thought about this before. You thought about, acknowledged it, prepared to deal with it and put a plan of action in place. If you have a plan in place for all the possible worst-case scenarios then when some of them inevitably happen you’ll be ready and prepared to meet that fate with action.

Not loving your job? Then focus on what you can control

Ever had a bad day at work? One of those days where your colleagues are annoying; the clients need babysitting or the boss is pressing you for what amounts to busy work- or sometimes all three?

Me too. We all have. And if you’re not careful you can start to string days like that together and pretty soon you have bad weeks, bad months and ultimately you end up hating going to work every day. No one wants that. Ideally, you want to enjoy what you do. But sometimes you have to recapture the joy and You are not in control of the world, you are only in control of how you respond to it. Choose to respond well.ambition you felt when you took those first faltering steps into your desired career.

So how do you get back there? Take your cue from ancient philosophy and act like a stoic.

Stoicism is experiencing a bit of a revival lately and for good reason. It is a simple way of looking at the world that allows you to zero in on what matters and feel more satisfied no matter the situation. In brief, stoicism says that the path to happiness is found in accepting that which we have been given in life, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desires or fears, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan.

In other words, we cannot let the things we cannot control dominate our thoughts and therefore our lives. There is no sense having anxiety over the weather since there is nothing you can do to change it. A stoic would respond to a beautiful sunny day them same as cold and rainy one. He is alive and he has things he needs to accomplish and he simply gets on with it regardless of what the world may throw in his way.

This concept can be really handy when applied to your career.

A stoic wouldn’t worry about gossiping colleagues, or a demanding boss. He would simply see his day as a series of tasks that he can ether perform or not perform. Seeing as performing them would be doing his part in the overall plan for the organization (company, business, school etc.) he would do them to the best of his ability. He would not concern himself with the things he could not control, like his co-worker’s attitudes or problems that were someone else’s responsibility.

Everyone has their own path, so walk yours and try not to concern yourself with how others choose to walk theirs. I’m not saying this is easy, but with practice you’ll be able to start to see the benefits of focusing on what is in your power and leaving the rest aside. You’ll find yourself less concerned with the little annoying aspects that are part of everyone’s job. You’ll instead see the benefits and the good that comes from your own individual contributions.

You are not in control of the world, you are only in control of how you respond to it. Choose to respond well.

How Do You Define Success?

Success. It is a strange word. It isn’t strange like *absquatulate. It doesn’t sound funny, and we all know what the word success means. If we listen to modern, western society success is having material wealth, high-end consumer goods and financial security. Put more bluntly, money = success.

Or does it?

I certainly thought it did, and I managed my career accordingly. But a funny thing happened along the way. As I eventually tripled my yearly business goals, I found I was not nearly three times happier. Three times busier, maybe, but I wasn’t suddenly living on a beach drinking fancy umbrella drinks all day.

Success as a concept is actually very environmentally dependent. Success in work is different from success in our personal lives, which is again different in terms of our health goals. While I was making more money, I had let my health slide and I often felt too busy to just stop and enjoy things. So clearly, for me, success had to mean more than simply the acquisition of wealth.

So I decided to ask myself what success really meant to me. This exercise taught me  few things.

I would argue that when it comes to our careers, spending some time really thinking about what success means to us personally is important for three reasons.

First, without a clear sense of when we reach our goal we’re likely to end up continually climbing the career ladder long after the benefits have outweighed the costs. This was a lesson I actually had to learn twice. I have two parallel careers- teaching and writing. Early on in my teaching career I thought taking on more and more responsibility was what I had to do. Eventually this lead me to starting on the path to administration. But then I realized that I didn’t have to keep climbing if what I really enjoyed was the classroom. Once I made that decision I instantly felt better. Funny how I had to relearn the same thing many years later as my second career followed a similar path.

Second, while wealth and power can be positives, in and of themselves they are not enough to make us happy. Again, more money and more responsibility were not leading to happiness. Did it feel good to be able to pay all my bills and have some money left over for recreational purposes? Sure. But I also continually raised my standard of living, which basically kept me in an infinity loop. Make more money to spend more money, which in turn meant I needed more money. Rinse, repeat.

Third, often our career goals need to dovetail with other personal goals to be fulfilling. Here is the key; at least it is for me. It is all about a balance between the personal and the professional. When we start to have some success it is so easy to just keep pushing, just keep climbing. What we have to continually remind ourselves is that there is more. For me, this means having clear personal goals that surround my family, avocations and health, as well as professional goals that allow me the freedom to pursue them.

In short, we need to define when enough is enough. We need to remember that we are not solely our jobs, that success means thriving. And we cannot thrive if we neglect other aspects of our lives to simply climb the ever-present ladder.

*By the way, absquatulate means to leave abruptly. Cool word, right?

 

If I Could Turn Back Time: Job Search Advice for Grads

I don’t work with  graduates, as my clientele are generally industry leaders or those on the rise. However, who among us wouldn’t like to go back in time and tell our 22-year-old selves what to do to guarantee, or at least stack the deck in favor of, our future success. If I could go back in time and tell someone in his mid 30’s what he should do at 22, I could make their current search a lot easier. Here are 4 things I’d say:

1. Start building your network today.

Once you know what field your career will be focused on, start searching out thought leaders and high achievers and connect with them. Where? I would focus on LinkedIn and Twitter. Don’t worry about not having a lot to say to your target community, just build your connections. Over time relationships will develop that will prove absolutely vital to your career track. I can not emphasize this enough. Your reach grows exponentially with each new contact and you never know where the next lead will come from.

2. Own your name.

Start creating accounts everywhere, from the new and trendy, to the old and stable, you want to own your name wherever you can. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pandora, Instagram, Good Reads, you name it. You do not have to be active, but you do not want another person with your name to overshadow your online identity. Create a basic profile that mentions your career field and points to your website. Don’t have one? See the next step.

3. Create your own website at YourName.com

Whether you get a .com, .net or .me is not as important as having your name attached.  Once you have accounts all over the web in your name, you need a website to point people back to. Owning your own domain name allows you to curate a professional brand over time. There are a number of options available for this from Wix, to Square Space to the venerable WordPress, and they all make creation as easy as drag and drop. Start with a basic set up: Bio page, Resume page, Contact page. Do not feel like you need to stat blogging about your career as soon as you get out of school. That can wait until you really have something to say. This is more about owning your brand identity online at this point. But if you have a writing bent and want a safe topic to blog about, see the next step.

4. Read. A lot.

Just because you have graduated doesn’t mean you can stop learning. The world moves faster with every passing year and only those who keep up with it will succeed professionally. Best of all this is a completely no-cost professional development activity. All you need is a library card and the discipline to set aside 20 mins a day. Go to Amazon and check the recent best seller list in your field, then go take out one of the top ten and read it. Once you’re done you now have something to share to your audience. This is a safe way for someone just entering the profession to contribute value to even the most seasoned leader. Everyone likes to hear about new developments in their field. If you want to start blogging in your field as a recent grad there is nothing better than sharing some book reviews of professional reads.

Follow these four steps and over time you’ll develop three things every mid-career professional wishes they had: a wide and deep connection list, a quantifiable personal brand, and an audience.  No resume, profile or cover letter is more valuable than that.

The 5 Rules of Writing

As someone who writes for a living, as well as spends a good portion of each day teaching writing to others, it always amuses me when people say that paying someone to write for them is a waste of time. That they want their writing, whether it be a resume, letter or white paper, to sound like them. So having someone else write it is a waste of time. I understand the impulse, but many people do not always understand what goes in to a piece of writing and therefore are making a judgement on something they have not been completely informed on.

This short post aims to remedy that.

Rule One:
Writing takes a lot of time, and that is because a lot of the work of writing isn’t actually writing. It’s thinking, daydreaming, planning, daydreaming some more, then outlining, then actually starting to draft. Believe me, I wish the process could be simplified and that we could simply sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and let the words fly. Unfortunately, for most of us it simply doesn’t work that way.

Rule Two:
Writing, should be renamed editing, since this is most of what professional writing entails. After that elongated foreplay with the ideas and the eventual writing of the first draft, editing is the real heart of the work of the writer. Editing and rewriting. Again and again and again. There is much more rewriting involved in writing than most non-writers could possibly imagine. You change the intro, you rewrite the transitions, you play around with voice or tense. The permutations available are endless, and sometimes it feels like you need to see them all before you are happy choosing one.

Rule Three:
Grammar is hard. Unless you really payed attention in high school english class, you can assume you have forgotten half of what you learned and modern uses of text are not helping out. (Can you you find the five errors in the previous sentence? If you can, nice work!) English has a reputation as one of the hardest languages to learn for good reason. There are rules upon and rules and then of course exceptions to most of them. And I know from experience, if you make a mistake, someone will point it out to you, and probably at the most inopportune time.

Rule Four:
Voice is not something you can just turn on. It is something that develops only after a lot of practice. If you don’t write everyday, trying to develop a distinctive voice in your writing is nearly impossible. Voice comes from time spent doing the work and nothing else. One popular writing exercise is to copy an author’s work whose voice you like. And by copy I mean literally- sit down at a computer and an open book next to you and rewrite the prose from the page. By doing this you will eventually see patterns and styles that you only noticed subconsciously while reading. Developing voice in your writing is really more about time than talent.

Rule Five:
Unless you are a bit of a sadist, writing is often boring, tedious work. The feeling of accomplishments and pride that come from looking at a well-wrought piece of writing only comes after hours and often days of tedious grunt work.

So, can you write your own resume, letter or white paper? Of course you can. The question is, do you want to? Id the time and effort required to do it well a good use of your own time? That is a question only you can answer.

4 Steps to Avoid Jobseeker Burn Out

Some tasks are all encompassing endeavors, consuming the entirety of your mental and physical energy. After a while these kinds of tasks can wear you down to the point where you feel like throwing in the towel and just being done. When this sort of situation is described, most people think of a 60 hour a week power job, great pay, but a soul destroying workload.  Ironically, I’d suggest it is the task of looking for that job that can be the most disheartening.

That 60 hour a week position may be a grind, but at least it provides and gives you a sense of accomplishment. Looking for work is devoid of both of those attributes, which makes the activities required by the jobseeker that much harder, and that much more prone to burn out. But there is hope. There are concrete things you can do to avoid that feeling of giving up and instead make steady progress until you’ve landed a new position.

Stick to a schedule

There are so many things a jobseeker needs to be aware of and do, from networking, to LinkedIn participation, to resume customization, to researching target companies, and of course finding and applying for new positions. Once you get immersed in this world it can easily drown you.

A schedule can be your life raft. Create a concrete plan for your job search and then stick to it. For general reference, if you are unemployed and looking, then you should treat this like its own job and spend 35-40 hours a week on it. But no more. Overtime is not required. Make it reasonable, and make sure you tick off “done” on that daily to do list. Not only will this give you a feeling of momentum, it will also stop you from over reaching to the point where you just lose energy. Middle of the night crawling through job listings doesn’t help anyone.

Keep things in perspective

Being between jobs is admittedly one of the most stressful periods of adult life, which makes it a great time to remember that you are not your job. You are not your salary. You are not even your career. You are a husband, wife, mother, father, brother, sister, caring, decent human being. A job is important, yes, but it isn’t everything. A great way to be reminded of this is to do a little volunteering around your area. Be reminded that there are things much more important like family, friends and health.

Allow for you time

One trap may jobseekers find themselves in is the need for constant activity. You feel like you need to be doing something job hunt related all day, every day. A better way to look at this phase of life is as a job in and of itself. And a normal job is 40 hours a week, with a couple days off. Treat your jobsearch no different. You have a daily to do list and schedule, so just stick to them. When you have accomplished everything, be done.

Then go watch a game, play with your kids, catch a movie with your significant other. In short, just live your life. Don’t let job searching become all consuming. If you do, it will become the biggest contributor to burn out.

Combine it with career development

Finally, if you are looking for a job while unemployed, take advantage of the time off to do something to better yourself. This will both help keep you fresh and provide you with a leg up on the competition when it comes to interviewing. There are plenty of professional development learning experiences that you can do for little to no cost. If you are a LinkedIn Premium member, which you should be, then you have access to a lot of their learning modules. Take advantage of them. Even easier, and cheaper, is to use your library card and simply read up on the latest developments in your field.

Whatever you chose to do, learning while looking will help keep your motivation and momentum high.

We all Need Help- Jobseeker Edition

Helping handsAfter over 12 years of working with senior executives, and leaders on the rise, in just about every industry imaginable, I have come up with a fairly set routine in terms of how to start a resume. And the first step actually isn’t about the resume- it is about educating the client.

Most executives are very good at what they do, that’s how they came to positions of leadership after all. However, that strength often leads to a weakness; what I’d call the Achilles heel of leaders. They think strength in one area translates to strength in all areas.

Of course it doesn’t really work that way. Tom Brady (no relation, just in case you were wondering) may be the greatest quarterback of all time, but that doesn’t mean he is also the best investor of all time. While I have no inside knowledge of Mr. Brady’s finances, I am willing to bet that he has a team of financial advisers who help him manage his money.

We all need a little help.

So the first thing I often have to teach clients is that they need to let go, and let me assist them. And almost without fail, after a few initial conversations they realize they need the help and a solid working relationship ensues.

Looking for that next big step in your career is a daunting task, and you need all the help you can get. Just think of all the skills and expertise required to do it well.

  • You need the skills of a crack researcher to dive into company histories to see hiring patterns to take advantage of
  • You need the powers of the politician, namely extroversion, to create that web of connections that can help you locate opportunities when they arise
  • You need serious design skills to make sure your materials, both online and off, are pleasing to the eye and take advantage of human reading patterns and machine recognition
  • You need the writing ability of an essayist to boil down years of experience into succinct bullet points that allure, but don’t overwhelm
  • And finally you need the editing skills of your high school English teacher to make sure everything you do is perfect

That is a lot to ask of anyone one person. But luckily you don’t have to go it alone. Just like Brady, you can have a team of advisers around you to help you achieve your goals. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be a multi-millionaire to afford the help you need. You just have to be aware of what is available, and be willing to do you part and let others do theirs.

  • Find a mentor in your field who is willing to help you navigate the mine fields
  • Not an extrovert? Then make friends with LinkedIn and network the introverted way.
  • Afraid your writing and design skills are lacking? A few hundred dollars spent on a professional writer now could land you a job 1-2 months quicker. How much lost salary will those few hundred dollars save?

Don’t go it alone. We all need a little help.