Acknowledgement

I wrote this to someone the other day:

“Thank you. We all need some encouragement in life, even for those things that we do because we love to do them.”

I truly was thankful to the other person. They are a regular reader of my blog posts, and they provide comments back to me every once in a while. Think about it. They take a little time out of their week to dedicate to me. They don’t have to do that, but they do.

I write my blog posts because I love to write. I find it fun to write about the subject of careers. There is a sense of accomplishment, of completing a task, that I find stimulating. I recognize that not many people read my posts. I am not looking for a national following or expecting to make fame or fortune from the blog. It is simply something I love to do.

The gratitude I felt from the other person’s simple gesture of commenting on my posts was more profound that I would have guessed initially. After all, if I do something because I like to do it, why do I care what others say?

That got me thinking.

Encouragement and acknowledgement matter. They do lead to joy. And we all probably don’t spend enough energy doing either one of them.

What people in our life might we encourage or acknowledge? Is there someone doing something very simple, that we get some occasional satisfaction from? It could be the mail carrier. How about the friendly face at Starbucks, Dunkin or Panera? Perhaps it is the person we see walking on the indoor track or lifting weights who is not the most fit person in the world, but is trying hard.

We also overestimate how awkward saying thank you really is and underestimate how much joy it will bring the other personJessica Stillman

If you work, take a moment to think about those people who do things that make your life a little better. The computer network is always up and running. The conference rooms are (relatively) clean. Someone made sure that we have a new printer to use. It is so true that we sometimes only recognize something when it breaks.

That begs the question: What if I made some small gesture, occasionally, to acknowledge that something worked?

What is the cost of that gesture to me? Virtually nothing. What might be the return someone else gets from it? Immeasurable.

Simple acknowledgement by me (minimal effort) = Huge joy for them (maximum benefit)

That is quite a winning equation. We all underestimate the impact we can have on others. We overthink the amount of effort we have to put into a gesture in order to “do it right”. Or maybe we don’t think about it at all. Often, we assume because someone is doing some task that it is not necessary to acknowledge them. Ever. But I know that is not the case. This is a case where “a little goes a long way”.

Let’s turn that to job search.

The job seeker gets a note saying “your resume has been received”, “you are being considered” or “we will get back to you”. Might a thank you be in order? Someone takes some of their time to pass along a networking contact, look at our resume or simply ask us how things are going. Do we thank them later? We see a fellow job seeker, do we have a word of encouragement for them?

How about if you have a job? A job seeker asks for some feedback. We have a discussion with someone about their job search. Do you follow up with them? We could take a moment to send them an encouraging note. Small gesture. Big reward. Got five minutes? Do it this week. To someone. Anyone. You will multiply your impact.

Here is a really short article on the subject of thank you: https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/study-if-you-understood-how-much-people-like-being-thanked-youd-express-more-gratitude.html

 

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“Its a Great Job Market”

That line drives me crazy.

One of the most frustrating things I run into is the difference between published information on the job market and the reality.

The headlines shout about a great job market. The job market is good for some people. If you are a young person just starting out, it might be good. If you have a selected few specialized skills, it might be good. Willing (and able financially) to take a job paying $12-$15 an hour? The market is good. If you have time to take off, without pay, to get training for a long period of time, it can be good in the future. If you have wide interests and might be able to take less pay, the job market might be good.

But if you are like so many of us – experienced, skilled in a particular field and accustomed to a decent wage, you see a much different reality.

I recently read an article about the Ohio job outlook. These were the fastest growing “high wage” jobs:

  • Physician Assistant
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Information Security Analyst
  • Operations Research Analyst
  • Software Developers
  • Social and Community Service Managers
  • Physical Therapists
  • Actuaries
  • Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists

Great list. But if you peal the list back a little, all of them require high level, specialized degrees. Few of us have those degrees.

If you move to “fastest growing middle wage jobs”, very few require a four-year degree: pipe layer, plumber, substance abuse counselor, vet. tech., massage therapist and actor. Yet they are highly specialized.

Here is my point. The odds are stacked against you if you are looking to break into the “high wage” jobs. Most of us do not have experience in those jobs. Who among us can take a year or three to go back to school to earn the needed degree or certification?

In addition, what company is going to consider hiring someone with no experience in the required field, simply because they are “hard-working, problem-solving, good worker”? The person with 20 years of banking experience. The data analyst from a corporation. The IT project manager. The Retail manager. All might have a great record of accomplishments. But most organizations are not going to hire them for an information security analyst or a nurse practitioner.

Unless you have been doing work in one of those fields, you probably are not going to get a company to even consider you.

So what do we do about it?

For people who are seeking a new job

Do not get discouraged when you do not find a job quickly. It is true that the unemployment rate is low. But what does that really mean? It means nothing to you.

It is a fact that “companies have job openings”. But if those jobs are in fields where you have no experience, no interest or the wages are significantly lower than you can live on, they are not real jobs for you.

Recognize that you may be in for a struggle. But more importantly, not having a job is not an indictment of you. You do not have a fatal flaw that is keeping you from finding a job. The lack of opportunities is real. Surround yourself with others who can help you work your way mentally and emotionally through the roller coaster of job search.

For people who have a friend/neighbor/family member looking for a job

Please don’t say, “I hear that jobs are plentiful, you will have no problem finding a job!”. Falsely giving someone hopes does not help. Ignore the headlines that say, “Workers in Command as economy grows”. Be encouraging, but do not think it is simple. Look at the true situation. Would you be willing to go back to school for a year or more just to be eligible to be hired for a specific job? Would you apply for jobs doing something you have no interest in doing, simply because they are openings? Telling someone it will be easy, when it probably won’t be easy, can be very discouraging.

For people in jobs now

Recognize that you could be next in line to be looking for employment. Plan now. If you lost your job tomorrow, would you be interested and qualified for the jobs listed above? If you are like 90% of the people I meet, the answer is no. Look for learning and training opportunities now. Consider ways to gain skills through volunteering, gigs or part time work. Start networking NOW with others. Don’t wait until you have to look for a job.

The Bottom Line

I am not trying to be negative. It is not all “doom and gloom”. But job search is REALLY hard. Communities, politicians, and media all want to be boosters for their situation.  That is why you will see and hear a lot about how good the job market is. It may be for some people. But not for everyone. If we can all be a little more aware of the reality, we can all be more supportive and prepared.

Role models?

I often say that I believe everyone we encounter is a role model. They might be a positive one or a negative one. Perhaps the role they are modeling is something simple – the person who smiles and says hello when you pass them on the street. They might be a role model for something much larger – the person who strives to better themselves in the face of extreme poverty or health issues.

The other day when I was at the fitness center I ran into two role models for career and life. The fact that it happened while working out makes sense because I am in my element when running. But I am not a real social person at the fitness center normally. I am there to get my workout in. Saturday was different.

I was running on the indoor track and noticed a guy similar in age to me who was running for a long time. As it happened, I was getting ready for my slower cool-down run just as he came around the corner. So I decided to say to him that I noticed that he was running for a long time. He told me he was running 13 miles! On the 200 meter indoor track, that means he was running 104 laps!

Take a moment to process that. 104 times around a track. For fun.

It turns out he was preparing for a marathon in Phoenix next weekend. He went on to tell me that this would be his 75th marathon. Last year he ran 21 marathons, but this year he was “only” going to run about 12 of them. His goal is to get 100 marathons, with at least one in every state, in 2020.

What was cool to me (setting aside if you think he is crazy for all of that running) is that he was pursuing a dream that really energized him. Despite the fact he had already run 10 miles, he carried on most of the conversation for the mile we ran together. He was truly excited. A role model for doing something you really enjoy and embracing it.

After finishing with him, I went to the fitness center to stretch. A guy walked towards me, and we realized we worked at NCR Corporation many years ago. I asked him what he was doing now (he was also close to me in age). He was excited to tell me he was a 1st grade school teacher. For the past 14 years, he had taught, after a long career in business. He jokingly told me, “I decided that if I was going to work with people who acted like 7 year olds, I might as well work with 7 year old people!” We laughed at that joke.

He was proud to tell me of his journey. “It was a tough conversation with my wife to tell her I wanted to take two years to get a masters degree (to be able to teach) and earn significantly less money.” But he clearly loved what he was doing.

So what do those to have in common? Their excitement for what they are doing. And, they chose to do something that most people would not understand – or agree with. And they were happy to discuss that. 

Isn’t that what a life well lived could really be? Do something you love to talk to others about – even strangers? Do what appears to be unconventional, not because you are a rebel, but because it is what you want deep down in your soul. Live with true purpose.

How many of us are really energized by our endeavors?

Isn’t there some irony there? Both of them were pursuing something really crazy. Teach first graders? No way. Run 102 laps on a track? No thank you.

So many of us “wait for later”. We do not seriously consider an interest because the “timing is not right”. Our minds tell us that “we cannot pursue that endeavor because people will think I am nuts”. We are prone to hold back.

The author Daniel Pink says we would benefit from ceasing a behavior that hampers our happiness.

“Stop comparing yourself to others,” he advises. “Devote your time and energy to accomplishing your. . . goals and ignore what other people are doing.” That’s some pretty good advice.

I would challenge you to look at these two as role models. Ignore the voice in your head. Consider what you would really like to do. Be a little bold.

 

Are Invisible Rules Holding You Back?

Do you limit yourself? If you are human, the answer to that question is “Yes”. We all do it.

One of my favorite writers, Ozan Varol, asked this question in a recent article. He calls the things that hold us back “phantom rules. These are rules that you can’t see.” https://heleo.com/invisible-rules-holding-back/19767/  He writes about these rules keeping us fenced in.

All of us put these barriers in front of ourselves. “I don’t have the education”. “I don’t have the experience”. “There is not enough time”. “No one would consider what I have to say”. The list goes on.

As the saying goes, argue for your limitations, and you get to keep them.

Are these rules really meant to be limitations? When you shine a light on these rules as “limitations”, your mindset just might switch. Why do we want to keep our limitations? Isn’t growth and change all about going beyond our limitations? We tend to put limitations on some many things we do in life. But if you look back at your life with a clear, honest view, you will see you have continued to exceed your initial expectations

It is very easy to justify a limitation. Often we have more than one reason.

I am totally guilty of this. When I am not getting enough customers for my career coaching business, what do I think? I am great at coming up with “good” reasons: “I am no good at selling. People just don’t understand the possibility they can lose their job. People don’t like to plan. I don’t have a good value proposition.” I create a lot of really good sounding reasons.

So many “good” reasons are a potential indicator that I need to rethink my position.  As the essayist and scholar Nassim Taleb says, “By invoking more than one reason, you are trying to convince yourself.”

So what do I do about these hidden rules?

“In all affairs,” British philosopher Bertrand Russell writes, “it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you take for granted.”

That seems like a good start. Hang a question mark. Why? Is it really true? I can’t because?

Sit down with a close friend and ask them to talk with you about what you automatically consider (This might be best done over a cold beer!). Make it a game to hang a few question marks out there.

Take the way you always do something and do it differently. It could be the way you get up in the morning. Or perhaps the way you drive to work each day. Keep it simple. But really spend some time reflecting on what you see differently.

Have you considered how old are these hidden rules? Maybe they look much different in the light of today’s reality. Just because your first boss or college professor or 6th grade teacher told you something about yourself does not mean it is a rule. If you did not achieve a goal at one time in your life, it is not written in stone as a rule. The timing might be much better right now. Your cumulative experience has made that rule truly old, like the paving of a road or a bridge over a fast-moving stream.

Do you have multiple reasons for not doing something? The invisible rules often lurk behind these reasons. Like a thick floor-to-ceiling curtain, a host of reasons hides the rule. If you find yourself with a bunch of reasons for doing, or not doing something, time to open your eyes.

As usual, a spotlight is the way out from so many things we wish we did not do in life. So, put the spotlight of self-reflection on your invisible rules.

Time to Reframe

There is a huge difference in our perception of the work world and the reality of what it really is. This is causing many of us to “frame” our definition of a career in a way that is detrimental to our future. Allow me to illustrate

Unemployment Rate is Low. But. . . . . . employee engagement is also at an all-time low.

Employers complain they cannot find workers to fill the jobs they have open.. . . . .. Unfortunately, many of those jobs are low paying or are in trades, not the work many job seekers are qualified for.

More people are working “side gigs” in order to make ends meet or to pay for retirement. But . . . . . . .for most of those side gigs, people experience lots of hours, little pay.

These are among the headlines we read, day after day.

Many of us wish jobs “could be like they were for the previous generation”. But is that realistic?

Bear with me on this one for a minute. A quick view of US history helps you realize that people who worked most of their career in the years from 1950-1990 are unique. This period of work represented a time unlike anything before – or after it. Post WWII, jobs became much higher paying. They included previously-rare concepts such as a pension and medical benefits included in work. People were generally “guaranteed work for life”. Training and education was a part of the job. Companies agreed that you needed to be trained because they wanted to retain a highly productive workforce. We all probably know people who worked for GM, P&G or IBM for their whole life.

That was then. Now is very different. We are living in a time that job prospects look much more like US history prior to 1940 – no pension, lower wages, and no job security. Yet we still view jobs through a window of what the work world was like from 1950-1990.

Skip to today. People change companies all the time. IBM lets go over 30,000 workers – mostly over the age of 50. GM plans on closing more plants. Pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, who seem to be a booming business, are constantly restructuring, letting people go. The average American worker is in their job less than four years.
The odds of working for the same company, all of your career, are minuscule. Just as if you worked in 1920. Or 1890. Or any other time in history.

We all need to re-frame our thinking about careers and jobs. How?

Acknowledge that “job hopping” is not a negative. It may be a survival mechanism. Training yourself (through apprenticeships, certifications or internships) is a requirement. The “gig economy” – the labor market with short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs – might be the dominant work model for most of us. You won’t “work for one company”.

Acknowledge that loyalty to your employer is not a job requirement. You should do your best for your employer and its customers. But loyalty to self and to family should come first. Adopting an attitude that “I am going to do what is best for me” is not selfish. It is acknowledging that you are responsible for your well-being. A company is not concerned with your well-being, for the most part.

Plan ahead. I know that sounds uncomfortable to a lot of people. But companies plan ahead – at least on a yearly basis. Budgets are created. Direction is set. Your job is buried somewhere in that company’s plan. Why not create a plan of your own with your current job and company evaluated in it somewhere? If you think ahead about what you might do, could do and should do, you are prepared. If nothing else, you can evaluate whether work is meeting some needs – pay, purpose or passion.

Don’t get discouraged that today’s’ job market is so much harder than the one your parents or grandparents lived through. That generation was lucky in many ways. But they are the outlier. People in the first half of the 20th Century and all of the 19th Century had to manage careers in a very similar way to what we have to do. Many of them thrived and survived.

The first step is acknowledging the reality of the situation we all face in our careers. Reframe how you view careers to today’s reality. Understanding that reality, and the rules of the game it creates, frees us to move forward.

Career Improv?

Rose and I are 16 weeks into taking classes on Improvisational comedy. It has been so much fun in many ways. We are spending time together. We have met a diverse group of really fun people. We get to laugh, really hard, at least once a week. We are stretching our minds and comfort zones. The opportunity to learn is great.

How does this apply to careers?

There are a lot of answers, but I will focus on three.

First, the group you work with makes all of the difference in whether an experience is going to be fun and worthwhile.

When classes first started, none of us in the group of 12 knew each other (except two sets of spouses). We each came to class for our own reasons. We have at least a 30-year stretch of age difference. We come from different parts of the country to settle, at least temporarily, in Dayton. We have different educations and backgrounds.

We are all united in the goal of learning a new skill. Learning together requires each of us to respect the other. It allows us to make mistakes and know others won’t judge us too much. We celebrate each other’s successes – even if that is simply a really good laugh they drew from us one time. We support each other. Knowing we are all learning together, we try really hard to make each other succeed.

Trying to understand how someone else’s difference can be a strength for the group is a different way of thinking. Too often, we strive to have everyone be like us in thinking or attitude. That’s not going to happen in our Improv group. If I can be me, and allow them to be them, we bring out the best in each other. Improv has so much to offer. One of the most important things we have learned is this: if I can say or do something that makes the other person shine in a skit, I have succeeded. Guess what is another benefit? Focusing on the other person takes the pressure off me. Rather than me trying to force myself to be clever or funny or original every time I interact, I just try to help the other person. That is so much easier.

It is the same thing in work! When a team shares a bond to help each other, everyone shines. When we welcome others’ unique skills, talents and experiences to bear at work, the group works. Aligning goals leads to great satisfaction. Not feeling like I need to carry the whole load frees me to allow others to carry it with me.

Second, you need a great leader.

We have been very fortunate to have Aidan as our teacher so far. She is everything you want in an instructor. Knowledgeable about the craft of Improv. Encouraging. She allows us to go far enough to stretch our wings but not so far as to crash. She understands that us practicing Improv is the way we learn, not her lecturing on all of the concepts. We were all stunned to learn it was her first time teaching Improv classes. But her background from acting, along with her side job as a horse riding instructor, prepared her. Leadership doesn’t mean dumping all your knowledge into other’s heads. It means creating the right atmosphere for all to thrive.

Leadership does not mean telling others what to do. It doesn’t work best when you make sure no one ever makes a mistake. It is all about creating an atmosphere. I guarantee there are times Aidan has a really great idea for us to do with a situation that has come about. Her intervention might make that situation funnier or less stressful. We might even be thankful she did that. But if we come to depend on her, we grow less. Working your way through a chaotic scene builds strength. It’s the same at work. Nothing is scripted. You have to be ready to make changes.

Third is a shared set of standards of behavior. Improv requires you to follow a few simple rules to try to bring chaos out of a situation that you have little control over. The most important concept is to always accept whatever the other person says. “Yes, and” is the expected concept. When you “force” yourself to really listen to someone else and accept whatever they say, it totally changes your actions. You are really listening. You are not dismissing or judging the other person’s words. You come into a conversation willing to work with others. You get “out of your head”. It is liberating – and tough to do.

At work, as long as the rules of engagement are understood and honored, we can focus on the goals at hand. Maybe borrowing the Improv rule of “acceptance” would free us at work to focus more.

Improv can be defined as “acting . . . without preparation.” But that is a bit of a misnomer. Improv requires building trust with others. It requires following a few simple rules that allow you to flourish in a rapidly-changing situation. It means having a mindset that allows you to know how to react.

Sounds like some good ideas for your career.

 

Simplify

We all have a strong opinion, I suppose, about New Year’s Resolutions. I happen to like them.

For 2019, I am going to “Simplify”.

How am I doing that?

I have a list of things I would like to do. As I have spent time trying to “simplify” the list, I realize that some of the items lead me to think “I WANT to do this”. Others are “I think this might be intriguing, maybe I should try it.” Guess what? The “others” got moved off my list. I have enough on the “WANT to do list” to keep me busy. Simplifying what I hope to get done in 2019 allows me to really focus on what is important.

I have a sign up over my work desk at home. It says: “I am just NOT going to worry about what I cannot control”. That is one way I plan on simplifying my life. The weather. Politics. Other people’s opinions. Whether someone wishes to engage with me or not. I cannot control those things – and a lot of other things. I can stew over them. I can yearn to change them. I can invest time in them. But, I am not going to in 2019. Better to simplify and spend my time on what I can control.

I have been on a simplifying kick recently with possessions. My wife and my kids look on at me with a combination of mirth, head-shaking, anxiety, consternation and a host of other emotions. Oh well. I find that having a lot of possessions around the house is simply not necessary. The twentieth dress shirt in my closet. Necessary? The gift I got from someone years ago that I am never going to use. What’s the pull?  I have a great collection of wooden shore birds that I have received over the years. How about only keeping and displaying the ones I really like? I find having less clutter makes the things I have stand out more. I like that.

Explaining my business requires simplifying. It is not easy to explain what a “career coach” is. What do I do? Who do I help? How do I help them? The questions can be endless. I provide a lot of services. Some are easily described. I help write resumes. Others are not so easy to explain. I ask a lot of questions to help people discover what is really important to them. If I cannot simply explain it, it is not good enough. So I am going to keep working on simplifying what I do.

Simplifying and careers

I wonder about how “simplify” might apply to our careers. We want to sound experienced. Talking about a lot of skills I possess sounds like the right thing. After all, if I provide a list of skills that is long enough, one of them has to appeal to an employer. The things I do, if they sound simple, means anyone can do them. So who would hire me? Those are all good arguments for doing things the way we do them today.

But if you approach your career in a little different way, perhaps simplifying might work. Your career is geared towards helping someone else solve their problem or need. We read all the time that employers are struggling to find good workers. Maybe it is simply a communication problem caused by complexity. Helping someone else understand, simply, what you can do for them, might be the key to a great job. Think about it. Rather then tell them all you might be able to do for them, how about understanding their need first? Help them connect the dots from their need to your ability to fulfill that need.

Best wishes for 2019.