The Art of Possibility, Part III

It’s difficult to track all the long-term results of learning to think differently or more powerfully or with more possibility! That kind of learning can last a lifetime and hopefully ultimately results in a good life, full of meaning, purpose and satisfaction. I was more than startled when a former client of mine (from about 20 years ago) introduced me at a social gathering as, “the woman who changed my life.” I had no idea she thought that, even though I knew she was a very satisfied client. What I think she probably meant was that I helped her to think differently – and it had a big impact on her life.

The Benjamin and Rosamund  Zander book, The Art of Possibility, to which I have been referring in Parts I and II of this blog series, is filled with stories of transformation, from those of young music students to those of leaders within large corporations such as Hewlitt-Packard. These are stories of people who were profoundly changed by “practicing the practices” set forth in the Zanders’ book, changes which led to countless positive results in their lives. While we are accustomed to and want to hear “success stories” that resulted in making it to the top or becoming rich and famous, what about some of the hidden “inner triumphs”, your “hidden triumphs” that maybe no one knows about but you?

What about the attorney who has finally found her own voice and conquered the legion of negative inner voices having to do with the sexual abuse she experienced as a child? Or the businessman who has found peace after accepting his alcoholism and committing to sobriety?  Or the corporate trainer who searched for and finally found and reconciled with the father who abandoned her as a child?  Or the science teacher who managed to pull herself out of an abusive marriage and make a good life with her young son? These are amazing “inner” success stories that also need mentioning, all of which I have had the privilege of witnessing with my own clients over the years. They are also examples of what can happen when people begin to think differently – with possibility – and because they do, they can take effective action that leads to a better life.          

On a much lighter note, just last week, one of my clients, a bright young recent college graduate who has been experiencing what I call the “post-partum blues” following her graduation and return to the Bay Area, struck gold! As part of her “homework” in our work together, she did what I call a “soft search”: she searched softly, not with pressure or anxiety, and not with the intent of immediately applying to any particular job, but with an attitude that says:

With my gifts, talents, education, experience and values, surely there is something out there for me. I wonder what it is. . . Then explore. Be curious. Be creative. Follow the yellow brick road. Look at job descriptions, look for one that appeals to you, one that attracts you. Look for that one thing that lights you up inside and has you thinking, “I could do this! I have done this! I know just what to say in the cover letter and interview!”

What she found that had her all lit up inside with possibilities was a website she had never heard about before, www.idealist.com. Because she is a “values-based” person, who has loved volunteering for several different non-profits throughout high school and college, has outstanding communication skills, and is inspired by organizations to which she can make a contribution (one of the practices in The Art of Possibility, by the way) she realized she had struck gold! There were so many possibilities all of a sudden, that we found ourselves hot on the trail of possibility. Suddenly there was no struggle involved in developing a clear, powerful resume that not only says what she has done in the past, but reveals the kind of person she is, what her values are, and how her gifts, talents, skills and experience will help the organization achieve its mission. Suddenly, what to say in a cover letter became much clearer.

If you are confused, have no idea what you want to do, and are having a hard time relating to the practices revealed in The Art of Possibility: take heart. Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you see it! And once you know what you want, and you see that it actually exists in the world, you will be filled with the energy it takes to get yourself where you want to go!

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The Art of Possibility, Part II

I hope I was successful in the The Art of Possibility, Part I in enticing some of you to begin reading The Art of Possibility (Rosamund Stone Zander and Bernard Zander, Harvard Business School Press, 2000; Penguin Books, 2002). I will be touching on many concepts and practices from the book, while you are hopefully delving deeper into your personal copy on your own.

As the Zanders warn (or promise) in the introduction, this is not a book like many other self-help books that promise remarkable success and transformation in one sitting. The thinking behind the life coaching advice in “the Art” is based in neuroscience research and the original experience of the Zanders with real students in business and the arts. The Art requires adopting a complex set of “practices” designed to help thinking with possibility instead of thinking with long-established and mostly unconscious biases and habitual thinking patterns that serve to block possibilities.

Here is a quote from Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855, Danish philosopher and theologian), embedded on page 113 of the book, that speaks to possibility thinking:

If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye, which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility? (from Either/Or)

The thing is, most people, in my own Career/Life Coaching experience over the years, and according to the Zanders, do not think with possibility. Most people tend to think toward the future with more fear and trembling than with minds wide open to incredibly dazzling possibilities. This appears to be the result, quite simply, of our biology, which is rooted in evolution and the scientific realities of self-preservation and survival of the fittest. Our minds, throughout evolution, have been “wired” to look out for threats and danger with extreme caution. While this is completely understandable, on the one hand, it does not exactly pave the way for thinking with the kind of possibility that can and does move mountains for some people. In other words, my own words, it is understandable, but not powerful. Fear and cynicism cause us to think small, with caution and limitation, rather than with possibility.

When it comes to matters of career choice, change and development, or of finding oneself in a major life transition, fear looms large. In the course of my own work, my clients and I work through a series of homework assignments together that are designed to help them begin to think with possibility rather than remain stuck in various fears about the future or with an overall attitude that is self-limiting and that actually prevents new possibilities for the future. Together, we work through at least two concepts that at first appear to be entrenched opposites—The Vision and the Voices.

This, too, tends to produce a sometimes transformation result in which the client is able to resolve their negative inner voices and reach a place where a new “wise, determined voice” appears that sounds a lot like this: This is who I am, this is what a want, and this is how I am going to get there. The “homework” that I do with my clients is, to borrow a phrase from Ben Zander when he introduces the “practices” described in the book, “simple, but not easy” (p.5). Simple and profound, I would say.

Anything described as a “practice,” rather than a rule, implies that as you practice, e.g., a musical instrument, ballet, cooking, meditation, centering, you get more adept. Practices are not intellectual concepts to memorize and eventually learn once and for all. As you practice them, you begin to learn and change in a fundamental way, and then you practice some more.

Here is a list of the practices presented by the Zanders in The Art of Possibility and a few words quoted from each chapter, which I hope will create curiosity and new thinking. Simply knowing about the practices will not create automatic change or transformation, although, I suppose you never know.  After all, anything is possible

The First Practice: It’s All Invented
A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying, ‘Situation Hopeless STOP No one wears shoes’. The other writes back triumphantly, ‘Glorious business opportunity STOP They have no shoes’.” (p. 9)

The Second Practice: Stepping Into a Universe of Possibility
“Once you have begun to distinguish that it’s all invented, you can create a place to dwell where new inventions are the order of the day. Such a place we call the ‘universe of possibility’.” The authors call the world in which we are in the habit of living, the “world of measurement.” (p. 17)

The Third Practice: Giving an A
“Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. If we were to apply this visionary concept to education, it would be pointless to compare one child to another. Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of each child’s developing skills, mastery and self-expression.” (p. 26)

The Fourth Practice: I am a Contribution
“Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison . . .” The questions “. . . Am I loved for who I am or for what I have accomplished? could both be replaced by the joyful question, How will I be a contribution today?” (p. 57)

The Fifth Practice: Leading from Any Chair
“I (Ben Zander) had been conducting for nearly twenty years when it suddenly dawned on me that the conductor of an orchestra does not make a sound. His picture may appear on the cover of the CD . . . but his true power derives from his ability to make other people powerful.” (pp. 68, 69)

The Sixth Practice: Rule No. 6
The only Rule:  “Don’t take yourself so g__ damn seriously.” (p. 79)

The Seventh Practice: The Way Things Are
“From the film Babe: The scene:  Christmas day on the farm. The pig, cow, hens and Ferdinand the duck crowd by the kitchen window, craning their necks to see which unfortunate one of their kind has been chosen to become the main course at dinner. On the platter is Roseanna the duck, dressed with sauce l’orange.
Duck (Ferdinand): Why Roseanna? She had such a beautiful nature. I can’t take it anymore! It’s too much for a duck. It eats away at the soul . . .
Cow: The only way to find happiness is to accept that the way things are is the way things are.
Duck: The way things are stinks!” (p. 99)

The Eighth Practice: Giving Way to Passion
“The practice of this chapter . . . has two steps:
1) The first step is to notice where you are holding back, and let go. Release those barriers of self that keep you separate and in control, and let the vital energy of passion surge through you, connecting you to all beyond.
2) The second step is to participate wholly. Allow yourself to be a channel to shape the stream of passion into a new expression for the world.” (p. 114)
(Editorial comment from Bonnie: Now that one is a lot to swallow at this point. Don’t let it stop you from learning from the other practices and tackling this when you’re more open to the practices, if you are.)

The Ninth Practice: Lighting a Spark
Enrollment is the practice of this chapter. Enrolling is not about forcing, cajoling tricking, bargaining, pressuring, or guilt-tripping someone into doing something your way. Enrollment is the art and practice of generating a spark of possibility for others to share.” (p. 125)

The Tenth Practice: Being the Board
“When the way things are seems to offer no possibility; when you are angry and blocked and, for all your efforts, others refuse to move or cooperate, or even to be halfway decent; when even enrollment does not work and you are at your wit’s end — you can take out this next practice: our graduate course in possibility. In this one, you rename yourself as the board on which the whole game is being played. You move the problematic aspect of any circumstance from the outside world inside the boundaries of yourself; with this act you can transform the world.” (p. 141)
(Editorial comment from Bonnie: Don’t worry too much about this one, although it is worrisome. It’s the graduate course and beyond most of us, it would seem.)

The Eleventh Practice: Creating Frameworks for Possibility
“The practice of this chapter is to invent and sustain frameworks that bring forth possibility. It is about restructuring meanings, creating visions, and establishing environments where possibility is spoken – where the buoyant force of possibility overcomes the pull of the downward spiral.” (p. 163)
Thank you for sticking with me, if you could or did. There’s a lot to swallow here, but it’s all practical Career/Life Coaching advice.   

Next time, in The Art of Possibility, Part III, the final part of this blog series, you will hear some heartening success stories from the Zanders and also stories from me about some of my own clients who benefitted from learning to think differently in the course of our work together and who discovered brand new and surprising possibilities in their careers and lives.

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The Art of Possibility, Part I

It’s been almost 15 years since Benjamin Zander, the beloved former conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, and his executive coach wife and business partner, Rosamund Stone Zander, wrote their national bestseller, published by and at the request of the Harvard Business School Press, The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. But in case you missed it and its valuable life coaching advice, or forgot about it, I’m calling it to your attention. While it’s not exactly a light summer read, it is a book that could possibly change your life forever.

As I read the book this past year, I was amazed to find so many intersections and echoes between the Zanders’ original work and my own life coaching experience over the past 25 years. Even though this was a book right up my alley, I never paid much attention to it, because I thought it was a book just about developing a world class orchestra—until I came face to face with Benjamin Zander at a national Charles Schwab Conference a handful of years ago where he was a keynote speaker. Although I did not read The Art of Possibility even then, I became even more intrigued early this year when a number of our financial planning staff came back from a financial planning conference raving about Benjamin Zander’s keynote speech there! I finally embarked on the book, which begins with a paragraph that seems to challenge the reader to do some deep thinking right off the bat or drop the book and run for cover:

This is a how-to book of an unusual kind. Unlike the genre of how-to book that offer strategies to surmount the hurdles of a competitive world and move out ahead, the objective of this book is to provide the reader the means to lift off from that world of struggle and sail into a vast universe of possibility. Our premise is that many of the circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may only appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view. Find the right framework and extraordinary accomplishment becomes an everyday experience.

Whoa, Nellie. . .This is where I momentarily screech to a halt. Even though I trust that the Zanders know what they’re talking about in this seminal career and life coaching tome, even though I know that their work is highly respected and even revered, and even though I have already been inspired in person by one half of the “Roz and Ben” team, I just can’t imagine how they are going to pull this off. I think to myself, “That sounds way too good to be true. Who is ever going to believe that?”

What especially grabs me, though, gives me a chill, and tells me that I am about to do some very deep thinking is that I immediately know what the authors mean by their stated premise in The Art of Possibility:

Our premise is that many of the circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may only appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view.

But this requires a lot more explainin’ than I have time for here, so follow along in my next blog post, The Art of Possibility, Part II, but in the meantime, both for your personal satisfaction and for the valuable life coaching advice inside, I challenge you to read this curious, audacious, and powerful book!
 

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The Power of a Service Attitude

Jim and I just returned from an exquisite three-week trip to Japan during the legendary Cherry Blossom Festival, and we are refreshed rather than exhausted, as we most often are after an international trip. We had not travelled to Japan before, so were not prepared for the beauty we would encounter either in the cherry blossom trees themselves or the Japanese people. If you have been to Japan in the winter, summer or fall, but not spring, you at least know what I mean about the inner and outer beauty of the people.
Cherry Blossoms
Since our return home a little over a week ago, I have had the conversation about the incredible service attitude of the Japanese people with lots of friends and family, including my nephew, who has been married to a wonderful Okinawan woman for ten years, during which time he has spent quite a bit of time working in and visiting Japan; a client who worked for four very happy years in Japan for an American company, a friend who recently visited Tokyo and Kyoto as Jim and I did, and a young American-born Japanese woman who works in the architectural office next door to Bell Investment Advisors who has vacationed in Japan twice. Every conversation has included unsolicited remarks about the kindness, beauty, thoughtfulness, and peacefulness of the Japanese people. While we’ve all heard about the earthquake and nuclear disaster in northern Japan, and frequent news reports about the sluggish Japanese economy, it is not apparent to the naked eye. The stores, restaurants, and countless shopping centers are full of very happy looking, well-dressed groups of people enjoying themselves.

Tokyo is the largest city in the world, but it does not feel stressful, like New York, for instance. The first thing we noticed was how amazingly clean the cities are! I kept snapping photos of cleanliness – of the streets, the cars, the taxi’s, the trains, the busses, the subways, the train stations. They seem to have solved the countless issues surrounding the question of how to handle waste, garbage pickup, and recycling (there are 18 ways of separating trash!). In the three weeks we were in Japan, both in the big cities and smaller outlying towns, we honestly saw no litter – not a can, not a Kleenex, not a paper towel anywhere. If there was one that didn’t make it into a trash bin, the first person to see it would stop and pick it up, so it wouldn’t be there long. There aren’t that many trash cans apparent in public places, which would seem problematic, but it just isn’t. The restaurants and bathrooms have avoided masses of napkins and paper towels by offering hot, rolled wash cloths at meal time and by installing Dyson or Toto fast-drying hand dryers in just about all of the bathrooms in Japan.

The bathrooms are truly incredible: clean, clean, clean. I recall three that had little meditation gardens to look at on the other side of the wall in the bathroom. I could go on and on about the toilets – clearly the best in the world – but may be going into a little too much detail. Let me just say that America is way behind the Japanese in this regard. It took me a week to learn what all the buttons on the arm rests were for, but once I got the hang of it, it was truly a pleasure. . .  Returning to the average public restroom in America has been pretty dreary by contrast.

The work ethic in Japan is striking as well. The people are incredibly industrious and take their jobs – whatever they are – very seriously. Their “service attitude” is apparent at every turn. You get the distinct feeling that the shopkeeper, the sushi chef, the inn-keeper, the bartender, the cab driver, the ticket-taker, the information person at the train station, the barista, and the post office worker, truly care about you and just can’t do enough for you to make sure you are welcomed, you find your way, you enjoy your meal, your concert, your drink – WHATEVER!  And whatever service they provide for you actually ends with a bow. We observed this on the many trains we took – sleek, clean, beautiful, bullet trains that arrive on time. When the ticket-taker completes the task, he/she stops at the end of the car and bows to the whole car with what appears to be sincere gratitude for the pleasure of serving you.

On our second night in Tokyo when we got into bed, with the window of our bedroom ajar, we suddenly realized how oddly quiet it was outside, and we couldn’t figure it out. I know the sound of big cities at night – especially New York City. It’s always noisy at night with people’s voices, horn-honking traffic, and machinery at work. We heard two horn-honks the whole time we were in the country. There are millions of new, clean, energy-efficient cars swiftly moving along both narrow streets, broad boulevards, and first class highways, but even the drivers seem competent and caring. The taxicabs are literally spotless, and to prove it, the seat covers are made out of – you won’t believe me here – white lace! The taxi drivers wear white gloves!

Jim and I both talked about and thought about the effect the pervasive service attitude of kindness had on us and realized that we did not feel stressed-out. It made us feel really good – relaxed, cared for, safe, grateful, touched, and happy. We thought about our staff at Bell Investment Advisors, and how they, too, have a positive “service attitude” – not exactly the bowing type as in Japan, but a distinct service attitude, nonetheless, and one that seems to make our clients very happy and us very proud.

Two days after our return from Japan, we joined a team of about 50 volunteers, for the second of two workdays in April on a Rebuilding Together-Oakland (RTO) project made up of Bell Investment Advisors’ staff, their family members, and clients, along with the staff, family members and clients of the Wendel Rosen law firm in our building at 1111 Broadway.  We have participated in RTO for the past three years now, and we’re hooked.

IMG_3030RTO is a non-profit organization that rehabilitates the homes of low-income elderly and disabled people who are unable to provide adequate upkeep themselves.  Donations to the organization pay for the materials required for the projects, and volunteers provide the labor. It’s always so much fun to work side-by-side with your fellow employees in a different context than usual, and to work side-by-side with your neighbors for the good of someone you don’t even know who needs and appreciates the gift of your labor. The owner of the home we worked on this year, who has owned and run a children’s daycare center out of her home for years, was thrilled with the results, and deeply grateful, especially for so many extras she didn’t expect, right down to the beautiful, colorful flowers in her garden. The smiles on the faces of the volunteers at the end of a long, hard day say it all: you can’t help feeling good about doing something good for someone else. Kindness multiplies. It’s the same the world over.

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Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre

As I hope many of you already know from the Bell Youth-in-the-Arts Grant page in the Community section of our website, http://www.bellinvest.com, the 2013 Bell Youth- in-the-Arts Grant was awarded to Oakland’s own Gritty City Repertory Youth Theatre. Gritty City Rep was selected from a group of 35 other impressive applicant organizations, all of which have emerged in recent years to augment the dwindling arts programs available in the Oakland public schools. To learn more about GCR and the other nine finalists, please see http://www.bellinvest.com/about/bell-youth-arts-grant.

It is always painful to select one winner among so many worthy competitors, but in the end, the pain is offset by the joy of notifying the winner!  It is part of my role in the selection process to notify the top ten finalists of their standing and benefits and then the winner, in this case the Executive Director of Gritty City Youth Repertory Theatre, Lindsay Krumbein. She was thrilled, of course, to be recognized and encouraged by this honor on behalf of and along with the many students whose lives are being transformed by their participation in this innovative urban theatre experience.  She couldn’t wait to tell them at their very next rehearsal!

Next came the day for the actual delivery of the $5,000 check — an exciting and gratifying experience for all of us. It took place on a cold, rainy day in February at 1540 Broadway in Oakland where the brand new community theatre, Flight Deck, was already well under construction. Gritty City Rep has been selected by Flight Deck’s managing group, Ragged Wing Ensemble, to be one of a small number of resident companies, which means GCR will finally have a permanent home in which to house its administrative offices and to gather, rehearse, and perform.

IMG_5050

In its earliest days, when Gritty City was just an idea, the “offices” were pretty much boxes, papers, a computer and phone at Lindsay Krumbein’s home. For the past few years, however, there have been several different places that have served as temporary homes. An irony exists here somewhere, as “Flight” Deck becomes the place where Gritty City finally “lands.” Our grant will help make this dream come true and will assist the group in mounting its first production there, Sharman Macdonald’s After Juliet, opening May 29 and running through June 7.

As you approach the theatre, you will realize that construction is also going on right next door, where a brand new “farm to table” restaurant, Township, is emerging. Both street fronts share the same orange slanted awning on the outside, which bodes well for both endeavors. When you attend one, you will connect with the other, a sort of “twofer” smack dab in the midst of our renaissance city of Oakland. IMG_5058

While the theatre appears relatively small at first glance, once inside, the innovative space opens up in unique and surprising ways, including movable risers to provide seating. The space can be arranged in a variety of ways, from proscenium, to thrust, to theatre-in-the-round, depending on the particular needs of each production.  I could also easily imagine the space being used for a variety of community events, e.g., concerts, public school gatherings, and Oakland Chamber of Commerce meetings.

If you happen to poke your head in the door anytime soon, you will no doubt observe a variety of worker bees wielding hammers, pushing brooms, drilling holes, wiring wires, finishing up — all being done by a broad mix of professionals and volunteers, all happily at work completely transforming this former eyesore of a building (a warehouse uninhabited for over 30 years!) into something entirely new that hundreds of people will enjoy beginning in May.

On May 29, opening night of Gritty City’s first production at Flight Deck, Jim and I will be there along with many clients, colleagues and friends. Please join us! …and be sure to approach us to let us know you are there as well.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT
2014 Bell Youth-in-the-Arts Grant applications are now available!
Oakland organizations can apply for the 2014 Bell Youth-in-the-Arts Grant by downloading the Grant Application and Guidelines below:

Download 2014 Grant Application
Download 2014 Grant Guidelines

Application Deadline: 09/19/14

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Hitting the Bulls-eye!

Just last week, one of my clients, Pamela – a writer/editor in her mid-twenties — hit the bulls-eye, – the very job toward which she had been aiming for the last three years, without realizing it. What she was experiencing was a lot of career pain, the symptoms of which included the dreads (dreading going to work every day); the drabs (boredom, verging on depression); and the dregs (obsessive-compulsive negative thinking and talking about the job).

If you have any or all of these symptoms relating to your job or career, take two Advil (my personal favorite) and call your career coach! It might be time for the Big Dig! A career coach just might be able to help you dig yourself out of the hole you are in and into the light and air that awaits you just above ground. As long as you’re down there struggling, you can’t see anything else.

You may not believe me now, but it doesn’t take all that much time to get a handle on what lies beyond the limited world you can see from that dark place. For Pamela, it took about six career coaching sessions over a period of two months to move from “I am stuck forever in this job because the economy is so bad and I’ll never get another job in my field,” to “I know who I am, I know what I want, and I am determined to keep looking until I find it.”

This transformed, powerful (as opposed to weak) attitude is predicated on finally knowing what you want and what you are looking for – the bulls-eye. You can’t find the needle in the haystack unless you know what it looks like. It requires that you sit with the not-knowing for a while until you develop a solid list of criteria for your next step. This list often emerges right out of the pain you are in. The pain is a sign of what you want but don’t have. The pain often points to its opposite, which actually points you in the direction of what you want next.

Example 1: You have no autonomy. This points to the fact that you want more autonomy. Check. Example 2: You have no say in how things are run. This points to the fact that you want more authority. Check. Example 3: You don’t respect your boss or your company. This points to the fact that you want to work for a company and boss you can respect. Check.

I just took a moment to look at Pamela’s list of criteria for the next step and counted 15. Here are a few examples of the general and the specific types of things that show up on a typical, well-thought-through list: 1) the position includes leadership, written and verbal communication, and some form of teaching or presenting; 2) the organization is either a non-profit with a cause that I resonate with, or a company with a mission and purpose I can respect; 3) there is the possibility of flexible scheduling and working from home. There were 12 more criteria on her list.

Usually people have a pretty clear sense of their criteria for the next step when they stop to think about it. Examples of these are: appropriate job title, size of company or organization (smallish, mid-sized, global, etc.), general vicinity and commute time, salary requirement, et al. These criteria constitute the general target for your fabulous cover letter and resume. Don’t apply for jobs you don’t want, only for jobs you want and that meet your general target requirements. If your resume is actually a fit for the job description, and you know you are a good candidate, it is likely you will be called for an interview. If you don’t get that call, move on. It’s not the bulls-eye, or you would have gotten the chance for an interview. The point of the cover letter and resume is to get the interview, so you can get your body there and assess the situation. You will have criteria you are looking for, just as the interviewer(s) will have. If there is a match, you will know it. If there isn’t, move on. Don’t take everything so personally! Each opportunity will give you a clearer sense of what you really want. Our mutual intent is for you to hit the bulls-eye, just as Pamela did. Her new job – the one she is thrilled about – has all 15 of her criteria, plus many great things she didn’t even think to mention. The bulls-eye job is usually better than you imagined it would be.

And lest you think it was just Pamela who hit the bulls-eye last week because she is 25 (and you are 50), another client, Daniel, a 48-year-old marketing creative on the East Coast, hit his bulls-eye as well. He’ll be assuming a VP role in a company that is expanding internationally – yes, one of his most important criteria.

One of the things Pamela said when she got the job offer was that she felt almost guilty because she knows people who have been job-hunting for two years. My response was, Do they know who they are? Do they know what they want? Do they have their criteria written down? Do they have a great resume that clearly matches the job descriptions to which they respond?, and

Do they have a career coach?

 

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How to Follow Your Passion
(when you don’t know what it is)

Most people have heard by now about how important it is for them to find their passion, work with passion, and live with passion.

The problem is that many people honestly don’t know what their passions are, much less how to find them or turn them into paid work. Others just don’t relate to the concept or word – it’s too intense, over-the-top, or somehow inconsistent with the rest of who they are. (Visions of Van Gogh cutting off his ear for love or killing himself for his art come to mind…)

Several years ago, I worked as a career/life coach with a young woman we’ll call Tam. Tam was bright, attractive, well-educated, and soft-spoken. She was very disappointed and dissatisfied with her career in accounting. She had pleased her parents with this choice but had made herself miserable. She definitely wanted a different career path, but she had no idea what it would be.

She was not a passionate kind of person, she said. She had no passions, in fact, so how could she possibly find her way to a career she would be passionate about?

When I asked her to tell me what the word “passionate” meant to her, she quickly responded that if you were passionate about a cause, a talent, or a person, you would be willing to die for them. She was quite sure there was nothing inside or outside herself that she felt that way about; therefore, in her mind, she was defective. She had no passions.

I suggested that we consciously put on hold the whole question of passion and career change while we took some time to follow the breadcrumbs – the more subtle clues that might point the way to a different and more satisfying direction.

To do this, we had to come up with language with which she was comfortable. Instead of exploring Loves, Hates, Deep Desires and Primary Values – all impassioned words and descriptions – we considered Likes, Dislikes, Attractions and Enjoyment. This worked; she could relate.

She became more comfortable and engaged in the process. She started perking up.

Next we worked on the Inventory of Personal and Professional Assets. These include your gifts, talents, education, training, experience, skills, accomplishments and personality traits. They invariably add up to something more valuable than the sum of the parts.

Once people can actually observe and acknowledge their accomplishments in print, they begin to get a grounded sense of who they are and what they want to spend their time doing. Then they can develop a grounded sense of the value they might bring to the marketplace. Clarity begins to emerge, and clarity is power!

What began to make a lot of sense to Tam as we side-stepped the concept of passion and took a serious look at what the breadcrumbs were telling us, was – hold on to your hats! – becoming a physical therapist. What?

It’s not just that the idea of a career in the medical field was subtle; it’s that it wasn’t even part of the conversation at all. It sort of jumped out one day in the midst of our inquiry as an “Oh, and by the way, I just remembered something that might be important. The thing I love to do more than anything is read about health, exercise, and nutrition. I know quite a bit about it. My friends call me Dr. Tam and are always asking for my advice. I am all about health and fitness.”

Suddenly everything came to a halt, and nothing was left but a pulsing silence. We stared at each other. We were thinking the same thing at the same time: woops, did we just stumble into a passion? We both burst out laughing. There was the answer, and the answer was pure delight.

Would she cut off an ear for it? Would she die for it? Probably not. But did she apply herself to it fully? Yes. Did she bring her gifts, talents, intelligence, education and accomplishments, interest and skills to it? Yes. Does she enjoy what she is doing every day? Yes. Is she making a good living and having a good life? Yes.

Are you paying as much attention to the value of your own personal and professional assets — to the passions in your life — as you are to your financial assets? They might be worth something, and you have much to gain by exploring them with a career/life coach.

This blog post was originally published by Bonnie Bell in December 2011.

Posted in Career, Happiness, New Year | Leave a comment

While the World is Focused on Outer Celebrations, Go Within

As soon as December 26 arrives with a thunk, the world shifts its focus to the New Year. By December 31, of course, all eyes are on the clock to hone in on the final countdown to the minutes and the last ten seconds – one by one – before pandemonium sets in celebrating the arrival of the New Year. Year in, year out, this is ritual, even if you are, in fact, home alone on the couch.

But what does this, or any other entrenched ritual mean, for that matter? A church liturgy, a bar mitzvah, a graduation: what do they really mean, if anything? Any ritual, if performed with a knee jerk, can be utterly meaningless; it can be meaning-FULL, too, depending on the consciousness, intention, and value you or I bring to it.

For me, December – when the outer world is at its darkest and coldest – is the perfect time of year to “reflect and capture” meaning. It seems to happen automatically, right in the midst of things, whether I am Christmas shopping or going to parties or attending concerts or wrapping gifts or sitting in front of the fire, there I am reflecting on the year, on the continuum of my life, the swift passage of time, the stages of life, all of which have me thinking about the big stuff:  Life, Death, Meaning, Purpose.

At some point, usually very close to January 1, I actually sit down and apply the four momentum-based questions that underlie Bell Investment Advisors’ approach to investment management, financial planning, and career and life coaching. They are very simple and pragmatic in contrast to the vast, looming, largely unanswerable questions that life keeps asking within us. They are:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What’s not working?
  3. What’s missing? and,
  4. What’s next?

These are the kinds of questions that, when applied to your experience in the year just passing, tend to yield clear, meaningful answers upon which to build positive momentum in the next. The concept, in general, is that you can wise-up if you build on what’s already working, get rid of what’s not working,  add what is missing, and develop a plan of action that incorporates your up-to-date “research.”

When the clock strikes midnight this year, on a much deeper level than ever, you can acknowledge what worked in 2013, say good-bye to whatever didn’t, welcome whatever good things you are adding to your life, and move forward into the new year with commitment and determination to make these things happen. That is something to genuinely, consciously celebrate!

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Why Do You Do What You Do?

This is a very different question than the most often asked question in day-to-day life, whether in a social setting or the marketplace: What do you do? The latter is a fair question and a reliable conversation starter, one that people are used to answering in a cursory fashion, unless they happen to be unemployed or hate their work, in which case they usually dread the question and answer it awkwardly in one way or another. People who actually love their work tend to answer the question in a noticeably different and interesting way.

Why do you do what you do? is an important question in career coaching and life coaching. I’m not suggesting that you go around asking other people why they do what they do. They would probably think you were challenging them or implying something negative and become defensive. What I am suggesting, though, is that you ask this question of yourself, and see where it takes you. Be gentle, curious, open-minded, and compassionate toward yourself. You could find out some very interesting things. Maybe you are more committed to your work than you thought; maybe you haven’t been paying attention to the meaning you could derive from your work; maybe your mindlessness can be transformed into mindfulness. Work that is performed in an unconscious manner becomes a meaningless paycheck.

A friend recently attended a non-profit board retreat and was asked a similar question regarding his board participation: Why did you decide to volunteer for this? Participants were asked to reflect for a few minutes before writing down their thoughts and before answering the question aloud. (I refer to this as “reflect and capture”.) The answers when shared aloud to the whole group were surprisingly moving and inspirational. As each person shared their story, the group sensed a deeper sense of purpose in their shared commitment. By stopping to reflect and capture their thinking about meaning and purpose, mindlessness was transformed into mindfulness, and all things became new. That would be the point of a retreat, I imagine.

In my work, by the end of our series of career/life coaching sessions, I want all of my clients to know why they are doing what they are doing and be able to explain it effectively to other people, whether a husband, a wife, a partner, a relative, a friend, or a potential employer. We don’t just jump in and write a different story. What we want, and what is most powerful, is the authentic story, the authentic narrative, which begins to emerge all by itself as we dive in and do the work of reflecting and capturing your thinking on several Big Questions you might not be asking yourself.

I know you have the answers within you. I just help you to hear them and follow them into the future you want. This is what career coaching and life coaching are all about.

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Cleaning House: You Never Know What Might Turn the Tide

For those of you who wonder if I offer career coaching services over the phone or Skype with people in cities outside the Bay Area, the answer is yes. At the moment, I have clients in New York, LA, Boston, and one in Europe. I won’t specify the country, because in addition to receiving permission from clients before using their stories, I also disguise their identities as best I can.

Pat and I have been having regular Skyping sessions—not to be confused with, but sometimes similar to, “griping sessions”—for about a year. We have not had a session for the past few months, during which time she has been doing her assigned “homework,” which was to begin executing the business plan we developed, designed to expand her home-based writing/editing/tutoring/and translation business . . . so she could finally hire a housecleaner!

In our very first career coaching session, Pat revealed that she was miserable. She felt like she was drowning under the weight of infinite responsibilities, including all that is involved with raising two primary-school boys, coping with her husband’s busy professional calendar, and juggling her own home-based business that felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. She was disappointed to tears that she could not find professional work in her chosen field (international public health) in which she had earned a Ph.D.; instead, here she was using her writing/editing/tutoring/translation skills that she never even went to college for in the first place! Her house was a mess, and she just didn’t feel she could justify hiring a housecleaner because she wasn’t bringing in enough money. She was quite sure that she was the most disorganized procrastinator in the world; even though she felt like she was working all the time, she felt she wasn’t making a difference in the world or even in her family’s life. She was definitely at a “guess I’ll go eat worms” point in her life. On top of it all, she was positive her husband would never agree to her hiring a housecleaner in light of their tight financial circumstances.

As homework, Pat eventually had a heart-to-heart conversation with her husband about all this, and was stunned to learn that he thought it was a good idea for her to hire a housecleaner. He had no idea she felt she was drowning. In retrospect, she says, it was that particular turn of events that seemed to turn the tide in her favor on many unexpected levels, not the least of which was a feeling that through this difficult conversation with her husband, she began to feel as if they were a team handling mutual responsibilities, rather than in an up-down relationship. They became more specific about who was responsible for what, and more and more “give-and-take” began to happen.

With more time available, Pat finally updated her resume—something she had been putting off forever—to include the breadth of her international experience as well as finally articulating all of the high-level teaching and translation services she had been able to provide to parents, teachers, schools and businesses as a result of her fluency in both their European language and in her own native English. So far, she had sort of “lucked into” business but had never promoted herself with any enthusiasm. “Marketing” seemed foreign and intimidating until we embarked on my career coaching crash course, which goes something like this:

Think of the original marketplace. Farmer Joe brought his eggs, Farmer Dan brought his produce, and Becky Sue, Dan’s wife, brought her freshly-baked bread. There were many others, all showing up in the same place at the same time to let people know who they were and what they had to offer for sale or trade. They each began to build an identity, good or bad, and to develop a reputation, good or bad. They spontaneously “Yelped” with one another. Some of them did so well that the gossip about them was very good; they succeeded. Some of them provided bad products or they proved themselves to be untrustworthy, and they eventually didn’t show up anymore. If you are going to build a business, I say in Crash Marketing 101, you have to let people know your name, where they can contact you, what services you provide, what experience you have, and how much you charge. Then you have to do what you said you were going to do and earn satisfied customers who will tell other people about you.

Not surprisingly for a Ph.D. in international public health, Pat got the hang of marketing, and word spread. Turns out she had lots of satisfied customers already who told lots of other people about her, once she asked them to. She started proudly handing out cards with her name and contact information on them every chance she had. She even added her Ph.D. to the card in order to create interesting conversations and let people know more about her background, so she wouldn’t feel at all bad about her foreground. She also did some proactive things like contacting schools, teachers, and businesses in the town to let them know how she might be able to help them. Almost like magic, it seemed, her business began to grow.

While busier than ever before, she reports that she is more organized than ever before, and finds she does not have time to procrastinate, so she doesn’t. With the help of the housecleaner, the house is mostly in order, and she doesn’t live in fear that someone will drop by unexpectedly to discover chaos.

The most exciting thing of all is that she has begun meeting with officials of an international nonprofit health organization located close to her town letting them know of her interest, experience and background in the kinds of issues they deal with all of the time. They want to meet her and discuss whatever possibilities might exist for her there. She also made herself known to the personnel department of the closest University, and has already contracted with a professor to do a large translation project for him. She LOVES doing this and hopes to parlay that experience into more of the same. It turns out that a little coaching helped her career in a big way.

The headline to Pat’s recent email read: “Business is Booming.” My translation: “Pat is Blooming!”

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