Alignment

(This post takes about 3 minutes to read)

Ever driven a car that was slightly out of alignment? It might pull a little to the left or a little to the right. Generally, you can manage the inconvenience by concentrating. It is not that big of a deal, something you just live with. Occasionally, when you adjust the radio or heater, you might lose your concentration and find yourself drifting into the wrong lane. You become aware and snap back into the right place.

Sometimes, alignment can be seriously off. The car REALLY wants to go left or right. You have to muscle it all of the time just to keep it going straight. Driving becomes a struggle. It takes constant attention and drains lots of energy from what could be a simple endeavor.

Whether it is “slightly out of” or “seriously off”, alignment also has a negative impact on the car. You wear out your tires in an unnatural way. Other mechanical devices get worn differently than if the car was in alignment. You are probably facing much higher costs down the road when those parts wear out.

Ever think your career is out of alignment?

I think it is the same thing with a career. We get out of alignment. What we are doing does not quite match up to what we would like to do. Or it does not match who we really are. We find ourselves drifting. We seem to be low on energy. The bad boss. The unfriendly customers. The endless red tape and paperwork. Doing a job with no meaning. But we decide that we can “put up” with the misalignment “for a while” because it is “not that bad”. Or worse yet, we are so accustomed to it that we hardly notice it.

Is your career, or the job you were in right now, out of alignment? Is it slightly out of alignment, making you vaguely uncomfortable some or all of the time? Or is it totally out of alignment, where it is a struggle to get through each day? Just like the parts of a car, misalignment in a career has bad, long-term consequences. You lose energy. You are worn down. You don’t last as long as you would like.

In his book Barking Up the Wrong Tree, author Eric Barker says this:

What is the most important thing to remember when it comes to success?

One word- Alignment

Success is not the result of any single quality; it’s about alignment between who you are and where you choose to be. The right skill in the right role. A good person surrounded by other good people. A story that connects you with the world in a way that keeps you going. A network that helps you, and a job that leverages your natural introversion or extroversion. A level of confidence that keeps you going while learning and forgiving yourself for the inevitable failures. A balance between the big four (happiness, achievement, significance and legacy) that creates a well-rounded life with no regrets.

A story that connects you with the world in a way that keeps you going.

Notice he did not say the most important thing to think about success is “money”. Or “prestige”. Or “the most toys”. Or the “right” job title. Focusing on alignment may just give us the metaphor we need for our careers

He further defines the “Big 4” that we need to balance this way:

  1. Happiness = Enjoying yourself and the people around you
  2. Achievement  = Winning/hitting goals that mean something to you
  3. Significance = Counting to others (not counting ON others)
  4. Legacy = extending your values to help others (now and when you are gone)

Maybe that provides a formula for you to consider how to achieve alignment. Focusing on those four aligns you with yourself (enjoying self and achieving my goals) and those around you (counting to others and a legacy that outlives you). Aligning to people – not things – is important.

Maybe it is time for you to “get in the shop” and realign yourself. Your mind and body will thank you for it.

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When “Where” Changes

(This post takes about 3 minutes to read)

Careers are made up of number of “Where’s”. Where do I want to be in five years? Where would I like my job to be? Where do I want to be living? Where do I go next? The list goes on. But what happens when your “where” is not what you really want? What about when your “Where” does not equal “this is what I want”?

Ryen Russillo wanted to be at ESPN much of his adult life. He worked so hard to get to be a radio and TV personality talking about sports every day. Fame, fortune, recognition and reaching the pinnacle of his craft was his in his 40’s. Now, after 10 years of success, he is walking away from it all. What is he going to do? He is going out west to try something new.

Similarly, a number of national politicians are not going to run for reelection because the Congress or Senate they aspired to is not what they thought it was. I suspect many of them had a goal to be part of making new policy and laws for America. But once they got to their goal position, reality proved to be quite different. Their “there” was not what they really wanted to do with their life.

In the cases I cited above, those people probably made a lot of money, so they have some financial assets to fall back on. We don’t need to worry about their futures. But it still must be hard to realize that the thing you most wanted is no longer the thing you really want now. Perhaps more importantly, how hard is it to ADMIT that and take action?

Surveys indicate that 70% of workers are not engaged at work. That means nearly 3 out of 4 workers have gotten THERE but don’t like it where they are. Yet they are not doing anything noticeable to change the situation. Think about people you know. Each day, they go through the motions. Unhappy. Disengaged. Not challenged. But unable – or is it unwilling? – to do anything about it.

Let’s face it. We all sometimes end up someplace (our “where”) we never intended. Circumstances, financial need, family reasons or simply being “pigeonholed” got us there. Or, we end up in a place where others told us to go (“dad always wanted me to be an accountant” or “mom always wanted me to go to this school”). Our “where” was really their “where”. Life takes twists and turns. The place we wanted to be was great, until a merger occurred, a new boss came, or the market got disrupted. Or perhaps we simply grew up and changed. “Where” we wanted to be was right at a point in time, but not anymore.

Change is a big part of life. We really can’t be sure of anything being sustainable. Yet we treat our career/life blend as if it is immune from change. Or, more damaging, we think “I can’t do anything about it”. Giving up, not trying, is a choice we make. But it is not the right choice!

Think about these two questions:

  1. Does your “Where I am now” match your “Where I wanted to be”?
  2. More importantly, like Ryen and the congressmen I cited earlier, does your “Where I am now” meet “what I want in career/life (Now)”?

If you cannot answer both of those questions with a resounding “Yes”. It is time to reevaluate. You owe it to yourself to move on. Movement takes a first step. It is allowed to be a small step. Investigate a side gig or volunteer somewhere. Keep a journal for a while. Reach out to someone you have lost touch with. Talk to a coach or mentor. Spend a little time each week or month simply reflecting on where you want to be.

After all, shouldn’t you be somewhere YOU want to be?

Impatience and the Career Search

The other day, I was driving between various appointments and errands. The roads were still icy from the snow and cold weather we have been experiencing. After a short while, I found myself impatient with the other drivers (why are they going so slow?). I also found myself trying to rush from place to place – because I like to be efficient.
But guess what happened. Yellow lights. I counted them. I got six yellow lights (about half of the lights I encountered on my drive). And I had to stop at every one of them.

I realized a message was being sent to me. I am NOT in that big a hurry. Losing a minute or two here, or there, is not going to throw off my productivity. Am I really doing myself – and others – a disservice by trying to be in a hurry? Was I perhaps driving a little unsafely?

That got me thinking about impatience and job seeking.

Does rushing make sense?

We rush to get to the next application, the next interview, the next networking meeting. We are told to “treat job search like a job”. I think that means: use your full day (don’t spend half the day cleaning out your garage), be productive (use your hours on job search) and don’t waste time (if you can’t figure something out, move on to something else). Great advice.

But in that rushing about, are we truly heading in the direction we want to go? Might we better serve ourselves by obeying the speed limits, being aware of others on the journey and recognizing that we will get there eventually (it might only be one minute later)?

Might I miss something VERY IMPORTANT on my rush to get to the next place? We leave a networking event because we have somewhere else to be. Who might we have missed out on the chance to talk with in our hurry to get to the next place? We quickly skim a list of job postings so we can complete that task and move to the next list of job postings. Might we have missed a hidden gem? How about an opportunity at a company where we actually know someone who works there?

Recognizing the good thing in caution signs

Yellow lights are there for a purpose (although sometimes I think their purpose is to aggravate me). Their purpose is to tell us “caution”. Caution means to avoid mistakes. Another definition is “prudent forethought to minimize risk”.  We don’t know what other people might do. But we can control ourselves. Maybe if we slow down, proceed with a little caution, we might avoid a mistake. Someone else gets to run into trouble.

Throwing “caution to the wind” may sound cool, but when it increases our risk, that might not be a good strategy. We fly ahead, pursuing a job, ignoring the caution signs. Maybe that job is not a good one. Maybe we are wasting our time pursuing something that is not going to work out. Perhaps we put too much emphasis on one opportunity at the expense of some promising options.

Impatience is okay – in moderation

I am not suggesting anyone in job search be overly cautious. We need to keep pushing ourselves to get up, to look for one more opportunity, to pursue one more connection. It takes effort. If you don’t hear back from someone, you need to follow up. If you don’t have an inside connection at a company, you need to keep looking. Be a little impatient.

But keep looking for – and recognizing – those yellow lights. They might have something for you.

One way to learn about a company culture

(this post takes about 2.5 minutes to read)

Ask most people what they look for in a job, and eventually they will talk about “company culture”. This is an elusive concept, this thing called culture. It takes some real work to decide what you really are looking for in a company’s culture. You may be able to articulate a few key words, but getting into what those words really mean takes some time and energy.

For instance, you may say “I want to work for a company that values its people”. Is it enough if the company states something about the importance of people in their mission statement? What if they pay people above average wages? What if they have flexible working hours? Might being able to work from home be good enough to say it values its people? I think those are only some of the factors. Maybe you have your own definition.

But I suspect most of us would have different definitions of what they really mean by “valuing people” for instance.

To make it even more complicated, not many people can clearly identify what “culture” really is. Do the products, the location, the look of the offices, the way things are communicated, the management style, the “extras” a company provides describe the culture? I think the answer can be, “yes, some of the time, depending on the situation”. That doesn’t help much.

Assessing culture from the outside 

It is really tough to assess  a company culture when you are on the outside looking in. Company culture includes the beliefs and behaviors that define how a company’s employees and management interact. But most of us would agree that the culture can be different in certain departments or locations. At the end of the day, the culture of the company will define how you are treated day-to-day. Perhaps more important than your actual job duties, culture can really determine how engaged you are at a job.

Forbes Magazine: “Don’t get burned by accepting a job offer before learning about the company culture.” 

What if you could understand a company’s culture a little better before you work there? Would looking at some examples help you better define what you mean by company culture? I think it might help me.

A read a really fascinating article the other day that helped get at this issue. The premise of the article is that the words a company uses on job descriptions provide some insight. The author, in addressing companies, says, “the truth of your cultural environment shows up in the language that your team uses to communicate — especially when your entire company uses the same words.”

So with that, the author looked at the list of companies and their most-used phrases. For instance, the three phrases that show up for Amazon are “Wickedly”, “Fast Paced Environment”, and “Maniacal”. I have to admit, I would not want to work there.  I do not mind fast paced, but maniacal does not suit me at all. That is not the company culture I want. On the other hand, Twitter shows “Nerd”, “Passion for Learning” and “Diverse Perspectives”. That sounds like me.

I challenge you to go the article and look at the ten companies. Which ones fit you and which don’t? Comment back on that. I would love to hear your perspectives. (For the record, Twitter, Slack and Apple hit the right notes for me). Perhaps you will learn a little more about yourself.

 

To read this article (it’s pretty short) and see the list of companies and their phrases, go here https://textio.ai/1000-different-people-the-same-words-6149b5a1f351

Relearning

(This post takes about three minutes to read) 

Sometimes we need to relearn simple lessons.

I am working with a young man, Marcus Graham (https://www.djmarkyg.com/ ) on developing his business plan. We have been working together for about three months. Recently Marcus presented his 15 minute sales pitch to a few, select people. We were looking for business connections and feedback on the presentation.

We got a LOT of feedback.

The feedback was clear. Our pitch was NOT clear.

What was really cool about that was neither of us was disappointed or particularly dispirited by what we learned. It was clear – our message was mixed.

This drove home three great lessons for anyone endeavoring to do something new or different.

1.Be willing to ask for feedback

First, be willing to ask for feedback. When you work alone or in your small team, it is so easy to get concurrence and start down a path. Your thinking becomes very insular, often without you recognizing it. People all start thinking in a certain way, simply swept along because the energy feels good. But feedback from an outsider can often poke holes in your thinking.  That is when a big improvement might occur. For Marcus and I, we had been so wrapped up in creating a smooth-flowing presentation that we failed to truly scrutinize the content. The feedback got us back on track.

2. Be open

Second, be willing to take in the feedback without any defensiveness. If you listen to learn, you will. Ask questions to clarify. Don’t make statements to justify what you were trying to do. Open yourself up as you hear contradictory words from others. In the end, you get to decide what feedback to use and what to discard. But first, you have to open up to all of it. If a 25 year old can do that, anyone can do that.

If you listen TO LEARN, you will

3. Focus

Third, there are always only a few lessons to remember when you are presenting to others. One, keep your story clear and compelling. Two, focus. Three, always leave them coming back for more.  Four, where your energy is, the audience will feel it. Go there. Five, what is the essence of your message you want to leave everyone with? Anything outside of that core message (while it may be accurate, interesting and informative) is distracting. When those points were driven home to us, it seemed so compelling – and simple.

You can have an idea that is good. What Marcus presented showed his passion for his work and his direction. It was professional. It was ambitious. It showed he had been planning for the future. He has a compelling story to tell. That was all good.

But often, good is not enough.

Marcus and I are going back to the drawing board. But the pieces of the picture are much clearer. We know what to focus on. And we both learned a great reminder, once again.

The Three Lessons and Careers

For any of us thinking about our jobs and careers, the lessons learned apply. We don’t want to ask for advice so often about what we should do with our careers. Networking sounds exhausting, ridiculous or too time consuming. But who else can give us feedback than other people? Second, too often we start off with all of the reasons why we can’t look at changing jobs or careers (I am too busy right now, I can’t afford to lose medical insurance, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to start). Maybe being open to the possibilities, rather than closed to them, might offer a way forward. Third, focus on a few things to start. What do I really like? What would make me more energized? What is missing in my career? Then work outwards from that focus point.

Why not try?

Starting with what you are missing, rather than what you have

(This post takes about 3 minutes to read)

A really great way to think about things is to ask yourself this counter-intuitive question.

What am I missing?

The blogger Ozan Varol believes it is a great way to become a better problem solver.

Think about it. We often approach a problem or a situation by trying to figure as much as we can out. We use our current knowledge. Perhaps we do an on-line search, read some books, find influential thinkers. Maybe a You Tube video can show us how to do something. From that outline of current knowledge, we build.

It feels so good to have gained knowledge. We confidently embark on our journey, armed with our research. The problem comes when we start down that path, armed with the knowledge we have gained. Rarely do we stop to ask, “what am I missing”?

What am I missing?

Wow. That makes it a little tough, doesn’t it? Especially when we REALLY mean to ask that question. This is not the “I am missing a tool, I will go get it” or “I am missing a certain gizmo. I will go buy it at the store” question. This question is most powerful when it is about doubt-inducing, soul searching, new-direction thinking.

It is hard to admit that we might be missing something. That points out an obvious flaw in our logic. It shows vulnerability. It is hard to stop what we want to do just to think about what we don’t have. We might like the momentum we have. The knowledge we have gained is more than we started with.

But when we do take that pause caused by the question, we end up with one of two things:

  1. A new, better direction
  2. An affirmation that we are headed the right direction, renewed with confidence

Don’t those both sound good? Because when we pause, enlightenment can occur. We stop barreling down a path, like a bicycle going down a steep hill. We have a moment to think.

It’s like the famous passage from the Sherlock Holmes short story, Silver Blaze

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”

What was missing? A dog barking at a scene of the crime. That led Holmes to figure out the dog knew the perpetrator. Asking “what is missing?”, led to the answer. Now the detective team can start down the right path.

“What’s Missing” and Your Career Plan

I like to think about this question when I am talking to people about their careers. It is easy to get people to talk about what they like to do. They can discuss their experiences at a high level. They generally have an idea about what they want to do next, usually based on what they did previously (“I was a project manager at a technology company. So now I want to be a senior project manager at a technology company”). But ask them what is missing from their career aspiration often yields a stop.

And sometimes the stop can mean everything.

Here is an example. Ask what someone wants in a job. Often it is a mix of things such as: challenging work, good pay, benefits, a company with a good culture, an opportunity to use their skills at solving problems. Can’t really argue with that list. But what is missing? Maybe work/life blend is important. Is working from home or in an office more important to you? Maybe they have some experiences they would like to repeat (or not repeat). Perhaps they really value the opportunity to work on some larger team projects like they did earlier in their career. Those are the answers that come when you ask, What is Missing?

Want to read more? Read the original post at http://ozanvarol.com/the-one-question-that-will-make-you-a-better-problem-solver/

Be the Best Version of you

(this post takes about 2.5 minutes to read)

I think in today’s selfie-dominated, social media “likes” world, it is hard to tell the real person from their on-line persona. For some people, that on-line persona is driven by a need for attention. For others, they like to tell a fable of

what their life would look like if most everything was wonderful. I am not going to write about how this impacts those people.

More importantly, how does that selfie world affect us?

“When we compare ourselves to others, we remind ourselves of our own insecurities. And that is a bad place to be.” Simon Sinek

I think Simon has it right. Trying to compare to others is unproductive. It does not get us anywhere. We often compare ourselves to something that is often unreal.

When we try to achieve a life like we see other’s, we may be shooting for a unattainable target. We need to remember that others’ on-line lives are often curated. They always seem to be having fun. They are always at the cool places. They never seem to be working. We don’t read about their car breaking down. We don’t see a picture of the broken dishes. The nights they spend at home doing nothing does not get tweeted or Instagrammed.

Think of the person in the office who always seems to have a fun weekend to talk about. Or the salesperson who talks about their sales seemingly everyday. These are often our perceptions. We forgot about the times when those individuals did NOT speak about their dull days.

Trying to match someone’s highlights only is not easy. Or advisable.  As Sinek says, we only remind ourselves of our insecurities. Citing both internal and academic research, Facebook recently noted, “in general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward.”

I am wondering if that is a great idea for a New Year’s Resolution. Try to be the best version of you. #1, it is attainable. #2, the best version of you is a great gift to others. #3, it is an active attitude, not passive.

So, my Resolution for 2018 is to be a better version of me. But how do I do that? For me, it means being a better version of me – for other people. I am going to try two things specifically. One, I am going to work on realizing that I am probably not right most of the time. I  make assumptions about other’s motivations, actions, intelligence all the time. Smug in the certainty of my awesomeness, I judge. I need to stop that. Second, I am going to try to be “unproductive” 1 hour a week. Anyone who knows me (and my wife and kids would attest to this) knows I like to be efficient in EVERYTHING. This passage from a post by Oliver Burkeman prompted my thinking: “One of the sneakier pitfalls of an efficiency-based attitude to time is that we start to feel pressured to use our leisure time “productively”, too.” I DO THIS! I am not sure exactly what “unproductive” looks like, but I am going to try to find it. My hope is that it will help me be a better person.

What about you? What would a better version of you look like?