How about a career plan?

(This post takes about 3 minutes to read)

Most of us make sure our cars are maintained regularly – because they are a big investment. Likewise, if we notice something wrong in our house, we fix it. Knowing that health is important, we do regular checkups. I could argue your career is nearly as important as all of those things. Think of it this way. If you work 40 years with an average salary of $50,000 per year, you will make $2 million in your work life. Isn’t that worth paying a little attention to?

Yet few people spend much time on their career plan. Why is that? We go about our day, generally mindlessly doing what we always do. Some people “hate to plan”. Some are “too busy”. Some of us “will get to it next week or month or year or decade”. But for most of us, it is simply because we don’t think about having to create a plan.

For all of you, I have a short outline of three thoughts to get you started.

First – Devote time

Devote one hour a month to thinking about your career path. That is a small sliver of your time.Write down these questions and answer them honestly. Why do you want to keep doing what you are doing now? Why do you want to stay with the company you are currently working for? In what 2-3 ways has work been good the last month? In what 2-3 ways has work been bad the last month?

The more open-ended questions you have, the better. Keep this in a small journal. Compare what you say today to what you wrote previous months. What patterns are you noticing?

Second – Commit to connect . . . and reconnect

Commit to connecting with at least one new person each month and reconnecting with one acquaintance or co-worker each month. Notice I deliberately avoided the dreaded “N” word – Networking. Networking is defined as “interact with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career”. Most people recoil at the thought of networking. It sounds phony. That is why I recommend you think of engaging others as “connecting”.

Connecting does not have to be anything formal or awkward. Meet for lunch, coffee or a drink. Call them. Commit to being somewhere they are going to be (church, meeting, party) and reach out beforehand to say “let’s talk” before, during or after the event. You never know what you might learn. You might even make a new friend.

In this context, to connect means to meet with someone you do not know at all. Reconnecting means getting back together with someone from your past – former co-worker, college friend, ex-neighbor, little league coaches or parents.

Having a set of people you connect with is the best way to keep your career moving forward. New ideas. New opportunities. Reminders of accomplishments long forgotten. These are all there, courtesy of people.

Third – once a year, plan

Once a year, do a complete career plan. Just like most of us have to look at our health care choices once a year, let’s do the same with our career plan. You pick when you want to do it. At the end of the year, start of the year, in the summer at the beach. Your career plan can look like whatever you want.

Here are some ideas to structure your plan.

Reflect on the past year. How has the last year gone both in work and in life? Look at your monthly journal entries. Write down a few trends you notice. Think ahead. What are ideas/goals for the next year?

Ponder this scenario. If your current job went away tomorrow, what would be your ideal job to take its place? Write as much detail as you can. Where would you work? For Whom? Doing what? What kind of commute? In an office or working from home?

Name 2-3 ways you are preparing yourself for that “ideal” job (education, connecting with others, reading, doing similar volunteer work, etc.). If you aren’t doing anything, what could you do this coming year? Be specific.

Maybe the most important question is to ask yourself to write about your career/life blend. The blend is where your energy is being invested, where it is growing and where it is being drained. What is the ideal blend look like? How close or far away from that blend am I? What are three actions I can take to get closer? How is my blend in sync with my spouse/significant other?

And a bonus fourth thought

Keep yourself accountable. Track this information on a something tangible – a journal, a spreadsheet, white board, phone app. Hire a coach. Having an outsider as a sounding board is a great way to really probe your plan.

So there you go. A career plan that takes less than a full day over the course of the year, less than .3% of your time. Why not get started now? Need help? Check my website for some ideas http://deanwaggenspack.weebly.com. Or connect/reconnect with me. I would love to hear from you!

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Job Seekers and Option B

(This is about a three-minute read)

Sometimes I read a book about one subject that ties into another topics. Such was the case with the book Option B by authors Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. The book talks very vividly about dealing with tragedy. The “Option B” is what we do next in the face of our original plan being totally blown up. I saw some real parallels between dealing with tragedy and dealing with job loss.

For those of us without a job 

The book says this that I believe is relevant to job seekers:

“I hated asking for help, hated needing it, worrying incessantly that I was a huge burden to everyone, and yet depended on their constant support. I was suffering from so many insecurities that I almost started a People Afraid of Inconveniencing Others support group, until I realized that all of the members would be afraid of imposing on one another and no one would show up.”

That is the huge elephant in the room for a person seeking a job. Most of us HATE to ask for help. We don’t like to be vulnerable. We don’t want to appear needy. We don’t want to inconvenience others. Who wants to be the “downer” person who brings their “problems” into an otherwise fun occasion?

We can make all kinds of reasons for not wanting to engage others for support. But we must overcome that. Few people ever plan to be unemployed. Very few people are well prepared to handle unemployment on their own (or with a few close friends and family). Like any large, complex, important problem, it takes as many resources as possible to come up with a solution. Why not engage them?

  1. People cannot help you if they don’t know what you are looking for. “I am trying to get a contact within XYZ Corp., who do you know?”
  2. People love to connect. If they can do something for you, it makes them feel useful. “Didn’t your brother in law just find a new job? Would you introduce us so we could talk about his job search strategy?

For those of us meeting a job seeker

The book offers the following quote:

When we hear that someone we care about has lost a job, started chemo, or is going through a divorce, our first impulse is usually “I should reach out now”. Then right after that impulse doubts often flood our mind. “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if talking about it makes her feel self-conscious?” “What if I’m overstepping?” Once raised, these doubts are followed by excuses like “He has so many friends and we’re not that close.” Or “She must be so busy. I don’t want to bother her.” We put off calling or offering help until we feel guilty that we didn’t do it sooner . . . and then it feels to late.

As a career and life coach, I deal with people who have lost their jobs every day. I recognize that so much of our identity is tied up in our work, that “unemployed” is a title that defies our picture. It is a lot harder to begin a conversation with someone looking for a job that it is someone who has a job. We don’t know how to approach them. We don’t want to “say the wrong thing”. We don’t want to “harp” on something they already are thinking about all of the time. So we avoid the subject. Or, perhaps worse, we ask a simple question like “How’s the job search going” in the hopes that will get us past the “uncomfortable” piece allowing us to move on to more “fun” topics.

I’d like to encourage all of us to do better. The other person is trying to implement an “Option B”. Why not see how we might help?

  1. Ask open-ended questions, not “yes/no” questions. “Can you tell me more about what you are looking to do so I can think about people to connect you with?”
  2. Be specific. Saying “how can I help?” simply puts the burden back on the job seeker. Provide a specific action. “What day next week could we go to lunch to talk about your job search?”

If we recognize these uncomfortable feelings we have, we can go to a second plan. Acknowledge our feelings. But recognize that a friend, an acquaintance, a neighbor or a family member has lost their job. We can help them.

 

 

“It’s Easy”

This is three-minute read.

When you see an advertisement telling you that something is “Easy” what do you think?  

“Lose belly fat in 20 days. It’s easy!”

“An easy way to save $50,000 in one year.”

“Four easy steps to make your resume irresistible to employers.”

My immediate reaction when I see these ads is, “No, it is not easy”.

Some of these ads are clearly trying to sell you a bill of goods. They are cheap marketing gimmicks that hope to get a small part of a large audience to buy their line. Hopefully you can avoid them.

But I believe others are well-meaning. Perhaps an individual’s experiences have taught them a system that works. Maybe they have researched and studied a problem from many angles. They have an answer that works.. .on occasion.. . In carefully measured ways… For some people.

Raising kids are “easy”?

 

But more often, I believe it is like the ad that says. “Raising Children: A Quick and Easy Planning Guide”. Raising kids is NEVER easy and quick. It is hard. It is challenging. Schooling. Navigating the teenage years. Making college choices. Learning to drive a car. Finding out how to make and save money. Just when you think you have reached “the end” of raising them (“ah, they are done with college”), it keeps going. They move back into the house. They need help with bills, life decisions, moving furniture.

 

So what does someone do when they read an ad or article by someone else who tells them a challenge in their life can be solved “quick and easy”? They may try, but not attain the goal. They may get discouraged. They may miss another path that might be right for them because it does not fit the “easy” path they just read about.

 

Career Coaching and “It’s Easy”

The other day, I saw an add for a seminar titled “When to Retire: A Quick and Easy Planning Guide”.

Is that really very unrealistic? I believe so. Perhaps what it does the most is discourage people. It can really make people feel badly: “This retirement thing sounds really intimidating, yet THEY say its easy. And quick. Something must be wrong with me.”

I think the point is that for many of the things we try to do in life, our circumstances are different. Retirement for EVERY person is different. All of us have unique circumstances. What may be easy to me may not be at all easy for you.

Depending on the person, that is not easy. It probably won’t be quick. Are you doing them a disservice by initially saying it is easy? When the inevitable bump in the road, will they reflect on your “easy” summation and decide they are incapable of achieving the goal?

A Suggestion

Now think about yourself. Do you ever find yourself telling someone else “that’s easy”?

We hear: “I need to make a presentation.” “I want to lose some weight”. “I would like to start my own marketing consulting business”.

Our initial reaction is to say “That’s easy. I can show you how to do that right now”. It may be easy for us. Or perhaps we just use that phrase naturally when someone asks for help. The point is, it is not easy for the other person. Our quick first words only places more doubt in their mind.

We all like to help others. But if we are going to help, how about thinking through our reaction? Perhaps we best serve by trying to understand more about what the person is attempting to do before we give an answer. We can also recognize that the challenge is real for them, no matter how easy it is for us.

For those of us that respond with an “It’s easy”, let’s try to be a little more understanding. If it was so easy, would the other person ask for help?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

(three minute read)

How many people do you know like to say, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”?

I think that is fairly common. For some people, it is said with a wry smile. For others, it is said sadly, with a shrug of the shoulders.

So what do we really mean when we say, “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”? Is it the idea that we are not yet grown up (after all, who really wants to “grow up”)? Is it we are not doing a job we love in the life we would like to live? Or does it truly reflect a state of uncertainty? Are we dismayed that we have not found true meaning in life, attained that ideal goal state we thought we would have found by now?

In concept, the idea of having “one place” of pure joy or “one state” where we feel like we are doing what we were meant to do sounds wonderful and logical. But I think that state is only a passing place for us. Because personal growth is always going to have us pushing for something “better”.

That does not necessarily mean it is a failing.

I believe a lot of us would like to have that “one goal”, that one spot that we are sure will make us happy and complete. Often we chase that one goal only to find out it is not what we really want now. Or it seemed like a great place in concept but reality is much different (like a vacation spot in a glossy brochure). Even if the spot is right for us now, that probably is not enough.

The place we aspire to can never be a fixed or a stationary target. The world is always turning. Change is a constant. If we decide we want to get to the top of THAT mountain, what do we do once we get there? We can sit and enjoy the view for a long time. We can take pictures. We can bask in all we see. We can reflect on what it took us to get there and congratulate ourselves. In fact we should. But after some amount of time, we are going to get bored. We no longer see anything new from that mountaintop. Or perhaps we realize we did not simply want to get to that mountain, we want more.

It may be that as we grow, we decide the original spot is not the right one anymore. Maybe we find a higher mountain. Or maybe we decide a valley is where we want to be. Walking in the lush green of a valley, with a small stream passing through and a multitude of animals sounds more like us – today. Or maybe its the beach or the plains or an iceberg.

Isn’t it the same thing with careers? We want to be “that” (doctor, teacher, engineer, vice president). Perhaps “that” is achieved but it turns out not to be so great. We have a bad boss. The company lets you go. The job has a lot of things you don’t like to do. Expectations are different than what you planned on. You thought you would be doing one thing but it turns out you are doing something else.

Sometimes the simple movement of the world changes the location of our dreams. A new business opportunity opens up to us. We learn something new about where we were going and decide it is not what we wanted (for example, you can enjoy the ocean in Maine and in Florida, but the experience is going to be much different). The world shifts in some way we could have never predicted, making us see things in an entirely new light.

I read one post where the author noted:

“(it) has been helpful . . . to view my career as an experiment. The goal of my experiment is to figure out as much as I can about what I enjoy. The only career commitment I make to myself is a commitment to keep experimenting. I try to do more of the things I enjoy, and when it’s possible, do less of the things I don’t.

That is his place he is trying to get to. It is not as clearly defined as “I want to climb to that mountain” or “I want to get to Malibu Beach” or “I want to be a defense lawyer”. But it may be more realistic.

Maybe the answer to “what I want to be when I grow up” is not fixed. It probably should not be. I think we all want to grow in some ways. Part of that growth is striving for something new. That does not mean we constantly are envious of others because they seem to “have it”. Nor does it mean we are unhappy with ourselves all of the time. It simply means that the answer to that question might be “continuing to strive for something new”.

So, if you don’t know what you want to be, DON’T DESPAIR. You are normal.

 

Loyalty

(This is about a five minute read)

Loyalty – a very interesting word.  It is defined as “a strong feeling of support or allegiance; faithful to a cause”.

I think most of us would consider loyalty to be a good quality for anyone. It generally has a great feeling to it. We want to be loyal to family, country, church, etc. The “strong feelings” that come from loyalty make the things we are faithful to very important.

Adding a modifier in front of loyalty can start to cause a blurring of its positive impact. “Blind loyalty” or “Unquestioning loyalty” may be great it some contexts (the military comes to mind). But like anything else, going to the extreme can lead to trouble (think about cults or bad relationships).

“Loyalty” can conflict with “choice” and “freedom”

Think about how loyalty can conflict with two other very strong American concepts – choice and freedom. America was created in the idea of having freedom to choose what we want to do. The “fiercely independent” person has always been lionized in American lore – the fur trapper, the frontiersman, the cowboy, the families moving out through and beyond the plains looking for a new beginning. Americans do not like being told by anyone what they must do. Rugged individualism is part of what made this country what it is. At times, making a choice means you must let go of a loyalty. Individualism means breaking bands of loyalty. That is the only way forward.

That brings me to the concept of companies and loyalty to their employees. For the most part, that loyalty is very rare anymore. Companies rightsize, downsize, merge, acquire, divest, lay off, move and any number of other actions.

Many of us are trapped in a false history that only existed for a generation or two. Only from about 1945 to 1995 was loyalty to company rewarded. Think about time before World War II. The 1930’s were a disastrous Depression, with companies jettisoning people in unheard of numbers. Before that? It was the Guilded Age, where large companies continually looked for cheaper sources of labor. Jobs could disappear instantaneously, there was no “two weeks notice” or severance”. If you look at the 19th Century, very few large companies existed. Americans kept moving westward in hopes of finding a better life.

Yet today, many of us cling to that company loyalty idea. Given that brief history lesson, why?

I think part of it is yearning for those “good old days”. Wasn’t it great when we knew if we put in good work for a company, we would be “rewarded” with a long time job and steady pay? We have a hard time letting go of the concept that the company is still loyal to me. Another part is not wanting to seem “disloyal”. That is a word that is never a positive term. Who wants to be considered “disloyal”?

It is time to stop that way of thinking.

I think it is time for all of us to turn our thinking around to the reality of today’s market. Being on the lookout for a new job is not disloyalty to company. It is being loyal to self and to your family. Being loyal to self is not selfish. It is being prudent. Don’t we owe it to our family to watch out for them and help provide for their well being?

I think Mark Twain had it right:

Why not start looking at our job (our career) in that new light? Why not be loyal to company, family and self – as long as that works for everyone? That does not mean we spend company time looking for a job rather than not doing our work. That is dishonest. But there are a number of things you can do while working to be looking for a new job:

  • Network with colleagues – in your company and outside. What do they think about prospects? What are their future plans?
  • Talk with clients and customers about trends, about what they see happening
  • Get on LinkedIn a few days a week to post something, read articles, connect with others
  • Take some time and do a self assessment. Am I learning? Am I growing? Am I happy?
  • Join a group that meets regularly to connect with acquaintances or meet people you don’t know. Grow your network
  • Work with a career/life coach. Having a sounding board is a wonderful resource

None of these things demands more than an hour or two a week. If you prefer not to be constantly doing this assessment, designate one week each month as your “career plan” week.

You have the choice – and the freedom – to manage your career. Why leave it to chance?

Being loyal to company and co-workers is admirable. Being disloyal to self and family is not. We have to get past the thought that if we are regularly working on our next job, we are not doing our current job. Those two can be done at the same time.

Loyalty. Disloyalty. Choice. Freedom. Like so much of life, those seem to be difficult to balance sometimes. But if you can change your frame from “loyalty to company” to “loyalty to self”, you may see things in a new light.

Failure – what is it, really?

“I once read that Failure leads to Success. Not necessarily. Failure can also lead to Failure. It’s your choice really whether you want to stay down or stand up.”

That quote comes from a post by Binod Shankar on Failure (http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/upside-failure-binod-shankar).  Though his article is about a item that is a clear failure – not passing the CFA exam – he points out the key to any endeavor. You have to be willing to learn from failure. You have to be willing to get up from failure and try something new.

My Own Failures

I have a lot of them (don’t worry I am not going to list them all). I failed to be what I really wanted to be as a school teacher. I had a vision of what I could do. But I learned my reality is not everyone else’s reality. I had to RE-LEARN some tough lessons about teamwork. I had to face the fact that what I wanted to do might not be the right way to do things.

I had to face the fact that what I wanted to do might not be the right way to do things – and “what I wanted to do” DID NOT WORK

I have failed so many times at road races – if you define failure as not meeting my time goals. I have walked at times during a marathon (“Real” runners NEVER walk). I have not finished races as fast as I wanted to. I’ve been beaten in races by people who I think are “too young, too old, too doesn’t look like a runner”. Those failures stay with me.

But they motivate me to try again. I get to evaluate my training and try to decide what I did wrong, or perhaps what I could do differently. The failures provide a chance to set new goals and a new path. They force me to recognize that what I think is a failure (I ran 4 minutes slower than I wanted) looks entirely differently to others (perhaps they think they could never run that fast).

We all fail

Our careers are full of failure. We aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. Sometimes they are embarrassing. Perhaps they are disheartening. But they are probably not a big deal. They may lead to loss of confidence. Or worse, job loss. We experience big failures and small failures. Public failures and private failures. Some of the failures are ones that only we know about because we did not achieve what we set out to do. Maybe a failure is the result of trying to go to far.

The point is not whether we can add up a bunch of failures. Nor is it to come up with the most spectacular failure (although that sometimes creates a great story). The main point is, do we get up from the failure? That is the true measure. Not trying again is only compounding the impact of the failure. When we “stay down” after a failure, we allow it to win. Given that we all will fail, multiple times, why give the failure the satisfaction of staying around?

There are even a lot of failures that come from effort that never happened. How about that job you decided not to pursue? The project you could have contributed more to but you decided to be quiet or let others do the work. That desire to be a nurse or a pianist or an artist or whatever else you wanted to be – but never tried. Aren’t those failures too, in some way?

Failure is a part of living life fully. Sometimes we calculate the effort required, the odds of losing and the cost/benefit of trying. Sometimes failure comes through “winging it” (or not). Whether you plan out some task fully or not is unimportant. Random things are going to intervene. You make a decision based on imperfect information. You “fail”, however you define it. It seems to me that if something is important to you, you have to be willing to fail at some aspects of it. Careers are an integral part of most of our adult lives. Failure happens to be one of the elements.

You can’t turn back the clock. But you can get up. Then you choose to move forward and try again.

Facts

“Facts are our friends”

That was a quote from a former AT&T executive who I worked for, Jerre Stead. He liked to use it to remind people that it was important to know the facts before making decisions. Much of what workers would say, believe and do was driven by their opinions. He was trying to get us to think more concretely. It was a great way to simply get us to think. Did we have facts to back up our opinions and recommendations?

Unfortunately, a lot of recent research indicates that, at times, facts might be “too-closely-held” friends. We are reluctant to let facts go, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Sometimes, what we think of as a fact is simply an anecdote we heard. It might be that a “fact” is a tidbit of information that we heard but have misinterpreted or incorrectly remembered. But once a “fact” gains a hold in our brain, it is tough to root it out.

In his post (https://heleo.com/facts-dont-change-peoples-minds-heres/16242/ ) Ozan Varol writes about how trying to change someone’s mind – even our own – is really hard to do. Our facts get tied up in our identity. He writes:

“As a result of the well-documented confirmation bias, we tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and overvalue evidence that confirms them. We filter out inconvenient truths and arguments on the opposing side. As a result, our opinions solidify, and it becomes increasingly harder to disrupt established patterns of thinking.”

We filter out inconvenient truths

Confirmation bias is very strong. We tend to follow news outlets, writers, and speakers that support our own views. We join political parties and tend to “follow the party line” even when it may contradict a belief. We live in neighborhoods with people of like mind. We socialize with people who are like us.

Look at one of today’s most common “outs” for dismissing something – “it’s fake news”. The second you declare something “fake” you get to ignore it. That makes it so simple to invoke the confirmation bias. You don’t have to put any effort into studying the fact or considering it.

I like one of Varol’s solutions to exploring changing your mind when facing new facts. If you can give the mind (and your personal identity) an “out” you might make change acceptable. For example, saying something like, your thinking was right based on what you knew at the time gives you a way out. Now with the introduction of new information, it is okay to change. That sounds like growth.

Facts are stubborn things, but so are our minds – John Adams

Here is a good example of someone whose “facts” were not her friend.  Megan Phelps-Roper was born into the Westboro Baptist Church where she was taught to believe all people other than those in her church were “unclean”. The “church’s” hate-filled message were her facts. What she was told, lived with since birth, and displayed nationally became her facts. Only when she was exposed to new viewpoints through connections with others on Twitter did she see new ways of dealing with people. Her “facts” changed once she understood her original facts were based on what she knew (and was taught) at the time. You can hear Megan Phelps-Roper’s story here: https://www.ted.com/playlists/563/great_stories_for_your_commute

Career and Facts

Our careers are affected by how each of us deals with facts and how they tie into our identity. We decide some company or some executive is good based on past results. When things start to go bad, we brush the warning signs off. The “fact” we tell ourselves is this is a great company or a stable to boss to work for. The winds battering it right now are fake or not really that bad or being imposed by someone else. We will stick to our original facts.

We do the same thing when contemplating the true meaning of “work”. We tell ourselves we won’t succeed if we try something new. Taking a chance is not worth it because this company crushes failures, that’s a “fact”. A previous boss, a parent, a co-worker or an assessment said we will never make to the next level. That “fact” stays with us because it has been “true” for the past few years. But did we really try to move on and up? Did we try new experiences? Get more education? Find a mentor? Find a new opportunity more suited to our passion?

I get it. Opening yourself to reconsider the facts is really hard to accept. When your beliefs are entwined with your identity, changing your mind means changing your identity. That’s a very hard sell. It is not easy to make that kind of change. But if we don’t allow ourselves that chance, what might we miss?

Marc Andresson once said, “Strong beliefs, loosely held”. Are we willing to have strong beliefs, but also willing to change them with new evidence? What “facts” are you holding onto about yourself and your world? Can your position be changed?