Three Bulls-Eyes!

I am always half-expecting a bulls-eye out of left field, meaning that one of my clients finds the perfect fit — the job that we designed in my office based on the clarity that has emerged regarding their gifts, talents, values, experience and desires (and one that reflects their own criteria for “the next step.”) Those criteria answer the question, “What do you want now?” — now that you have had your first professional job, now that you are ready for an increase in salary or a better title and role, or now that the kids are out of the house, or now that you want to find work you love, etc.

Sometimes the process and search take a very long time, and sometimes it is remarkably fast. You just never know. One thing you can expect is that there are going to be ups and downs during “the search for something better.” But in September, spectacularly, three of my clients hit their bulls-eye jobs! These are stories worth telling, because the marketplace is full of bad rumors that feed right into people’s self-doubts about making positive changes in their professional lives. People are getting good jobs every day despite what you might hear to the contrary. Here are just three examples. There are more.

#1: Gwen, 30, Theater Arts Management

Gwen, now 30, was in an extremely difficult period of her life when we first started working together two years ago. She was employed in her chosen field of work, thankfully, but painfully underemployed in terms of salary and role. Her personal life and living situation were also mess (her word). She had been a huge success in college and seemed most likely to succeed, so the fact that nothing seemed to be working out during her twenties was a huge disappointment. She and her first serious love interest had recently broken up, and she was trying to move on but feeling pretty hopeless about everything. A friend told her about me.

Sometimes when Gwen and I met, I would just be there with her in her misery, and sometimes we would end up laughing our heads off about how bad things were, or we would delight in something good that had happened. As I have learned from experience, both personally and professionally, when you are desperate and think you are at the absolute end of your rope, it might actually be good news, because you’re probably at the end of your rope . . .

I just took a minute to look through Gwen’s file and see that we had had ten sessions together over a period of two years. We covered a lot of territory during that time, including: two apartment moves; one very painful breakup; a new significant relationship; a promotion and salary increase at the unsatisfactory job; a new resume that better reflected her background, foreground, and future; three or four job possibilities that did not work out; and at last, a great job, with desired title and salary increase with the very theater company she had been dreaming about since college graduation. She is in love with and living with a new partner — a match that looks very solid.

I tend to refer to the late 20s as the “Yikes Years.” For so many people, the late 20s are about facing reality squarely in the eye and finding out that “real life” is not an easy thing. It’s about becoming an adult the hard way, by experiencing and working through deep disappointments, and eventually realizing that life is full of wonderful surprises as well as unlucky breaks, and that important decisions are not iron-clad but redeemable. When Gwen was experiencing her most painful years, she never imagined that she could be this happy in a personal relationship and/or this happy in a professional role.

#2: Steven, 44, Executive Sales

Steven was already an award-winning sales professional when we began working together two months ago. He had been with his company, a well-known corporate professional products firm, for over ten years, during which time he consistently met and exceeded his annual sales goals, regularly mentored less experienced and less-successful account reps, and had established himself as someone who was successful in winning, managing, and developing top corporate accounts.

So what’s wrong with this picture? A few things . . . one thing to note is that Steven had been with his company for ten years. Ten years is a long time in the constantly evolving life of an employee. Tremendous self-growth takes place in a decade, but it is difficult-to-impossible for a person to measure his or her own self-growth. Rather there is often a gradual dawning awareness of dissatisfaction of one kind and another. What was once comfortable and satisfactory becomes more and more uncomfortable and dissatisfactory.

This actually can be a very good development in the long run — one that means you are growing and that maybe you have actually outgrown your current situation, but it usually doesn’t feel good at all. There is a natural tendency to resist change and the anxiety it produces, which is why so many people tend to stay in a bad situation rather than turning everything upside down to find something else or even hope to find something better. In Steven’s situation, with a wife and two children, he was accustomed to making a very good living, so there was a lot at risk as he began to search for something better.

But the continual corporate changes over the past five years had made his job more and more difficult. The changes seemed to be designed to serve the corporation but not the employees. Commission percentages continually decreased while the amount of work required to earn them seemed to increase. The corporate structure offered less and less support to its sales force, while requiring more and more of them. He couldn’t help feeling that the care he had once felt from the executive team had disappeared.

In looking through Steven’s file, I see that we had six sessions over a period of three months during which he began to gain clarity about his gifts, talents, experience, and accomplishments, and he began to gain confidence that he would be able to find something better — a better firm, a better role, and a better future. With this increased confidence, we redesigned his resume, and he began his search.

He quickly had a couple of “nibbles” on his resume, and within weeks had found his “bulls-eye” — a privately-owned company selling high-end quality furnishings to businesses. The position he eventually came to fill had been open for almost nine months, while the company waited for just the right candidate for the job. It seems like a match made in heaven. He will enjoy a significant salary increase, a lucrative commission structure, an attractive but reasonable travel schedule, lots of training, and a supportive corporate structure to help its employees reach their goals. Steven didn’t even realize how discouraged he had been until he got a glimpse of this new future.

#3: Erin, STEAM Education

Erin is 38, has an impressive resume and a friendly, positive demeanor. Her resume and embodied knowledge demonstrate her solid expertise with primary and junior high-aged kids in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics training. She is not a classroom school teacher, and in fact does not want to be one; in particular, she loves the dynamism of community outreach in her work. She designs STEAM curricula and provides training programs that teachers can utilize to enrich their own classrooms and schools.

For almost five years, Erin worked for a highly-respected university where she had originally loved her position, but over a period of five years had watched the support of her program and position begin to disintegrate and the situation emerge in which more and more was being required of her and others in her position while the monetary support began to disappear.

It became clear during our sessions that Erin definitely wanted to remain in her chosen field, and after taking about a three-month break, she began an intensive search for the right position within a specific geographical area, one that would meet her salary requirements, and one that would delight and excite her. Within a few weeks, she began attracting some interest in her resume. This happens as a result of applying to positions that already meet many of the criteria in the general bulls-eye and being prepared to have strong, intelligent, cogent conversations with potential employers either on the phone or in person.

Erin had a handful of interviews for jobs in which she was definitely interested, and she suffered a few real disappointments when they did not pan out. We continued to meet periodically for “tune-ups”, as we called them. She continued the search, and kept getting closer to the bulls-eye until one day she hit it! I love getting these calls!  She said something to the effect that she had found her bulls-eye and that she knew it when she read the job description that her main duties would include teaching/training,

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Life Lessons from the Olympics

Muscular young man swims the butterfly in the poolWatching the Olympics this year has been like gobbling down manna from heaven — something completely different — and something for which I was starving to cancel out the particularly nasty political rhetoric that continues to swirl around us in this final week of the Games. I don’t know when I’ve spent this much time in front of a television set so fully engaged. I watch as much of the Olympics as I can every day and night, and when I can’t — like every day at work — I catch  up with the day’s major events on the internet and news.

Refugee Team

I’m the type who really gets into the inspirational stories of the athletes, of course. The tougher the story, the more inspired I am. This year I was especially moved to learn that for the first time in Olympic history, there is a special ten-person  “Refugee Team” for Olympic athletes “who have no country .”  That phrase was like a punch in the stomach. We take a person’s country and our own for granted — it’s where you’re born, where you live, where you will die, Isn’t it? Well no, not now, not necessarily.  Before I’d had much time to think about it, there they were, marching into the stadium on opening night: young, beautiful, proud, smiling, deeply grateful to be alive, I assume,  and somehow actually competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in spite of whatever has happened in their own tragic pasts.

Female Athletes

I am anything but an athlete. I never had any leanings in that direction at all, although as a kid I loved to swim and was always the last one out of the pool. I was thrilled when I earned my junior lifesaving badge at Girl Scout Camp and experienced my first and last standing ovation at the campfire. I learned to dive from a diving board in good form: feet together, toes pointed, barely a splash, just as my athlete father (gymnastics, boxing) taught me.

I also loved tumbling, of all things, and bouncing up toward the rafters on a trampoline, but I was always too chicken to do the somersaults and back flips. I was more into having fun with my friends and playing board games like Monopoly and Clue than practicing any sport for hours on end. But then, I grew up at a time when girls didn’t take sports seriously, and teachers and coaches didn’t take girls interested in sports seriously. What a global turnaround at the 2012 Olympiad, in which female athletes actually outnumbered male athletes for the first time!

The Olympic Spirit

What draws me most to the Olympics each time is that on a deep level the Olympic struggles both symbolize and reflect all the elements of our ordinary lives: the hero’s journey, the universal human journey, the archetypal quest for the Holy Grail/hidden treasure/golden egg. The Olympic Spirit is the human spirit in all its glory, magnified a thousand-fold upon a global stage.

In interview after interview with the medal winners, we hear about their having vision, commitment, determination, the ability to work hard, the willingness to overcome challenges — and incredible perseverance toward their goals no matter what.

Older Athletes

This year I was particularly struck by the number of athletes competing and winning their events even though they are decidedly older than athletes who competed in past Olympics. These include Michael Phelps, of course, probably the best swimmer of all time; he came back to these Olympics at age 31 to add seven more  medals to his collection, now an unparalleled stash of 28; 30-year-old Usain Bolt of Jamaica, who won his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter track event, thus retaining his “Fastest Man in the World” title; and Anthony Ervin, also an American, who at 35 won the gold in the 50-meter freestyle  swimming event the for the second time — 16 years after winning it in Sydney when he was 19 years old! These are all truly remarkable stories.

But wait. There’s more . . . There are even Olympic athletes in their  40’s, 50’s and 60’s whom you may not know about, and I think you should, just in case you are 39 or so and not exercising at all, let alone training for the Olympics.

  1. Oksana Chusovitina, 41, representing Uzbekistan in gymnastics (!) is competing in her seventh  Olympics and says she has has loved every minute of it. She is the mother of a 17-year-old son.
  2. Bernard Lagat, 41, a Kenyan and former silver medalist in the 1500-meter track event, is representing the United States this year.
  3. Phil Dutton, 52, an equestrian who won a gold medal for Australia, is now competing for the United States in his sixth Olympics.
  4. Mary Hanna, 61, an equestrian from Australia, competing in her fourth Olympic Games, plans on competing in the 2020 Games in Tokyo. “I’m just now beginning to hit my prime,” she says.

You go! Thank you all for your effort, dedication, excellence, and inspiration!! You have enriched all of our lives by your sacrifices. We love you from afar.

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The Art of Transition

One of our long-time clients at Bell Investment Advisors recently called me to ask if my Career/Life Coaching included “working with young people as well as older people.” I was surprised that after all these years, he didn’t know I work with clients from the ages of 25 to 75+; it seems like I say it all the time, but maybe I don’t say it enough. He was surprised and very pleased about the age range, since he was calling about his 27-year-old granddaughter, a bright young college grad who is trying to figure out what to do next. He urged me to put a note in our newsletter or write a blog about the age range of people I work with — in case there are other people who are operating under erroneous assumptions. So that’s what I’m doing here. (Thank you, Larry; you know who you are.)

From High School to College or
into The Big, Wide World of Work
I have learned over the years that most people in their twenties, contrary to the cultural belief that the twenties are carefree and easy,  experience tremendous disappointment, disillusionment, and confusion.  Throughout grammar school, junior high, high school and college most of us operate under the assumption that after we are out of school, we will know what we are doing and everything will fall into place.  Sadly, life keeps making freshman out of us as we transition through the ages and stages of life. When you’re a senior in high school, those ninth graders seem so young and foolish, and there is a sense of pride in finally reaching the mountaintop, better known as graduation. But hold it right there, because once graduated from high school, you either step into the “real world” as an employee for the first or second time, or you’re actually a freshman again, only this time in college. Then comes the shock of not being a teenager anymore but being 25, and then what? The late twenties tend to bring on the “Yikes Years” as in “Yikes, I’m almost 30! I should be grown up by now; I still don’t know who I am or what I’m doing! Help!!”

Transitioning into New Phases of Life
Successfully transitioning from one decade to another or into any new phase of life is always going to be difficult, and the sooner we learn that the better. Even when a transition seems very exciting and positive, such as getting married or having a baby or getting your first professional job, the transition from one side of the swinging trapeze to the other, when your feet finally hit solid ground on the other side, is anxiety-provoking at best. Transitions tend to trigger the deeper questions waiting beneath the façade, e.g., Who am I?  What do I want?  What do I care about?  Where am I headed? How am I going to get there?

These questions are difficult for people of all ages, even for those who have plenty of experience, but face it, the younger you are, the less perspective you have. One of the best things you can do during a transition is to get some kind of professional help, depending on the situation, sometimes coaching, sometimes therapy, sometimes help from another type of trusted advisor.

The Art of Transition
I have tremendous compassion for young people, especially in light of the constant focus on competition, being a winner, getting into the best schools, getting the best jobs, etc. Constantly having to answer the classic question, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” can lead to all sorts of false conclusions. Kids find out very early in life that they better have a good answer to this question or parents, relatives, and friends will become very worried. If your honest answer to the “What are you going to be?” question is, “I have absolutely no idea,” you will not fare well for long.  But If you’re answer is something like, “I’m going to be a lawyer,” or “I’m going to be a doctor,” you will no doubt receive praise and encouragement. This can be a good thing — or not— depending on how authentic that particular goal is for the person in question.

What About Finding Peace, Joy, and Meaning?
A few years ago, I worked with a brilliant young woman athlete from Stanford, age 28, who longed to kick back and relax and/or do something “average” for a change. She was exhausted from “having” to come out on top all the time, but the pressure to outperform was hard to ignore in her world. She longed to find balance in her life instead of the constant pressure to succeed, which had started very early in her life. Through our work together, she eventually found a sweet spot in working with kids in a role in which her compassion, empathy, and counseling skills were worth more than any other gift she had. By using these gifts, she discovered a modicum of peace, joy, and meaning that transcended her athletic skills. She stopped being afraid of turning 30 and transitioned into this next stage of life (Young Adulthood) with more enjoyment than she had ever experienced before.

Mid-Life is About Building
Mid-life is about building — building a career, a family, a home, an identity, friendships, and learning how to manage the ups and downs of life. In the 1980’s and 1990’s there was a lot of talk about men and women having “mid-life crises.”  This was supposed to happen around the age of 40 — an age to be dreaded, because it would be “over the hill” and downward from that point on. This was a time of life when men were expected to buy little red sports cars and start dating their young secretaries or the girl next door. This was the Mad Men era. Luckily, times have changed. It’s not that these types of things never happen, but so many more men and women take the choices and changes in their lives more seriously and continue to grow throughout the ages and stages of life.

The Wisdom Years
This time of life tends to refer more to career/life changes having to do with personal and spiritual growth and transformation. If you are interested in what thousands of people in this age range are doing with their careers and lives, check out Encore.org. Its purpose is to encourage people to continue to use their gifts, talents, skills, and experience in new ways that will continue to benefit themselves and society. 

There is Plenty of Time
This week I received a surprising call from a man I have known for several years as a landscape contractor. He has owned and operated his own business with a small staff for approximately 30 years.  During our exploratory call, he expressed excitement about my coaching offer and announced that he is 67 years old and really wants to make a career change. He has lots of skills other than the ones he has been using all these years, and he wants to use them.  He also wants to have more freedom from work and more time to spend with his wife than he has had all this time, but he still wants to earn some income and do something worthwhile. He has lots of ideas. He also seems to understand that life is long, and there is plenty of time to do things you haven’t been able to do yet. This sounds like a scenario that falls right into the general concept of Encore.org. I love it that he’s so positive even before we meet or embark on some coaching sessions together. It’s a very favorable sign that his transition will be successful.

Why go it alone when you can get help with making your dreams come true — at whatever age you are!

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Interview Preparation

Many years ago I found myself racing from my then-home in El Cerrito to the San Rafael Bridge, on my way to an important job interview. Just as I as I was about to make it to the freeway, the signal at the railroad crossing began to clang, causing me to slam on the brakes. The crossing bar, unfortunately, landed on the hood of my car, rather than just shy of it. I wasn’t sure what to do. Heart pounding, I jumped out of my car to see if I could lift it off, but it was much heavier than I would have imagined and  didn’t budge.

When I returned to the driver’s side of the car, I found that the door had locked behind me. There I stood in the middle of the street looking inside my car at the keys in the ignition, and engine running. Several cars had begun to line up behind me, and it looked like we were all going to be stuck for a very long time. In my rising panic, I looked to the burly guy in the car right behind me for help. He rolled down his window, and kindly suggested, “Maybe you should try the trunk. . .”

There was no alternative. While I was positive the trunk was locked, when I tried it, somehow it was not. Without so much as a moment’s hesitation, I then dove into the trunk, closed the hatchback behind me, and dropped into the driver’s seat in time to back up the car enough to allow the crossing arm to lift off the hood of my car and release me from my humiliation. Too ashamed to look back, I headed straight for the bridge and interview. I was about 10 minutes late — and, as luck would have it, so were my three interviewers. More on the outcome later.

job interview legs iStock_000050680646_SmallCan you guess what absolute no-no of interviewing I violated in the above scenario? You can Google Interview Preparation here if you need to and you will find multiple resources, from the simplest list of four basic last minute guidelines from Monster.com, to entire books on and courses in interview preparation. You will soon notice that they all contain one specific admonition that sounds something like this: “Be sure to allow extra time to comfortably get to the interview ahead of time,” in case, let’s say, a train comes along, the railroad crossing arm lands on the hood of your car, you lock yourself out of your car with the engine running, and you rip your dress and bruise your shin when you dive into the driver’s seat from the trunk of your car.

Here, from HuffPost Business, July 20, 2013, is a classic list of the 7 Worst Job Interview Mistakes People Make, minus the inevitable one about not allowing enough time to arrive at the interview at least 30 minutes ahead of time:

  • Leaving your cell phone on during the interview and/or actually answering it (people apparently do this!)
  • Being too focused on yourself and not much interested in the needs of the employer
  • Showing you are desperate by your rambling and being over-eager to please
  • Being unable to answer basic questions about your qualifications for the position or speak clearly about your strengths
  • Not expressing why you are a great fit for the position (employers want to know this!)
  • Knowing nothing about the company with which you are interviewing

Committing any one of them indicates that you have some serious work to do before you are ready to interview well, let alone be chosen for the position you actually want. Don’t just wing it! Slow down, take yourself seriously, be mindful, “own” your own resume, and over all, be prepared to explain why you think your background, education, and experience have prepared you for the position at hand. Expect to be nervous, which is entirely appropriate, but don’t let that stop you. Be authentic and engaged, listen carefully, respond sincerely, and ask questions when they actually occur to you so that the interview becomes a two-way conversation. The ultimate decision, especially when it is in the affirmative, needs to work for both parties.

And keep in mind that sometimes in life, when you least expect it, good things happen — like you actually get the job for which you interviewed, bruised shin and all, and you keep it for the next four years! Eventually you laugh with your co-workers who have become your friends about the disastrous day you had on your way to the interview for the job that turned out to be a significant turning point in your evolving career.

 

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The Search for Something Better – Redux

If you are familiar at all with my thinking, you know that I am big on recommending that people take seriously the notion of conducting a personal “Year End Review” in order to clear the path for the new. In case you have forgotten the questions that underlie momentum, here they are again:

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?
  • What’s missing?
  • What’s next?

Reflection time can be hard to come by, but find a way to carve it out. It could have everything to do with how the New Year will go for you. If you never stop to think about what you would like to change, it probably won’t. Change requires your participation. You can’t just wish it would change all by itself. You can apply the questions to your whole life, or to an aspect of your life, but allow the questions to work for you. If there is something that screams out at you — like your position in your company or your role in the company or your job or your boss — pay attention. This might be the obvious place to begin changing your life for the better.

One of my former clients recently emailed me about embarking on a new job search, now that her current position has lost its luster. The job was a great fit a few years ago for getting her out of one field and into a new one, but now she has evolved, the job hasn’t, and she is ready for something better. Big surprise!

Career, as I always say, is a verb, not a noun. You can’t just pick one and think you or it will remain the same forever. You can count on one thing: you are evolving all the time, but you only notice it about every six or seven years. That’s often when the platform you are on, or the role you are in, has become too small for who you have become. The way you will recognize your growth is that you will begin to feel antsy or bored or stuck.

If you can look at these symptoms of “career pain” as growing pain rather than as some form of abstract existential angst you can’t do anything about, you are more likely to take effective action. If your “inner voice” could communicate a little more clearly, it might say something like, “Look at you, you wonderful creature! You’ve grown so much in these past several years. Isn’t it time for you to move on to something more suitable to the Self you have become? Get out there, look around; there’s something great out there just waiting for you. . . ” With this attitude, wouldn’t you want to get right out there and find it?

Unfortunately, that’s usually not the message that arises from deep within the pit of your stomach. At the thought of change, fear and dread are likely to raise their ugly heads and growl something more like this:

Lots o’ luck on the job search! You’ll never get what you want anyway, so why bother? First you’ll have to update your resume, a task you hate doing; then make room for fresh truckloads of humiliation and rejection; then face the dreaded interviews you almost hope you won’t get, since they’re so stressful. You might as well avoid all this and just stay right where you are. (Where if you recall, you are already in pain.)

Could there be another way to proceed with the search for something better?

Here’s my verbatim response to the client I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. It suggests a different approach:

No, you don’t have to change your resume for every job opening. I don’t know who started this rumor. What you need you already have: a great, clean, clear, authentic “core” resume. (The assumption is that you, bright reader, also have a great resume, one that is clean, clear, and has been created or vetted by a professional, not just by a friends or neighbor.)

Each time you see a job opening that genuinely interests you or suddenly “lights you up inside” as you read about it, you should be able to write a compelling cover letter that explains why you think your background has prepared you for that particular role. If, however — and this will be the exception not the rule — you see a job description that requires you have some particular experience you have had but is not already emphasized in your core resume, it might be a good idea for you to tweak a section of your resume to make that experience more obvious.

The Job Search does require that you put some time in on the internet — at least two to four hours a week, possibly more, but you need to manage your mood while you are doing it. This is because you are going to see a lot more jobs you don’t want than those you do. We’re talking maybe 100 to 1 or worse. This should not be a shock. Expect it; accept it.

You are, in a sense, looking for a needle in a haystack, yes, but in order to find it, you need to have a pretty good idea of what it looks like and what you look like. There needs to be a good match in the first place in order for there to be a possibility or probability you’ll win an interview. This is not entirely unlike eHarmony or match.com, if you are looking for a possible romantic match. You have to be aware of the basic criteria that need to be present for there even to be a possible match. Then when you actually meet in person, a lot depends on chemistry. It’s the same with a job interview.

Allow your “inner eye” to show you what attracts you and/or lights you up, because there’s no accounting for that. It just shows up sometimes when you least expect it. While you are searching (for a mate or a job on the internet), your “inner voice” will be responding with: No, no, no, no, no, God No, no, no, NO, no, no, no, and then all of a sudden, you will hear yourself saying something like, “Well, that’s interesting; that sounds good; there’s a maybe . . “, or suddenly, there’ll be a “Yes!” Pay attention when that happens.

This is what I refer to as an “automatic narrative.” When it shows up, it’s like a signal from the great beyond telling you you’ve hit a possible match. It’s like having your own personal Geiger counter. Rather than fretting about what to say in your cover letter, you will find that you know just what to say. (Still, to be safe, have someone, hopefully a professional, proof the letter for you.) If you express yourself well and if you actually believe that your background and skills match the required background and skills, your letter will get the attention it deserves. If you get the interview, you will know what to say when you get there.   

Don’t force anything when you’re searching. Go with your gut as well as your rational mind. If it’s a yes, apply. If it’s a no, meaning something you aren’t really interested in or is too much of a stretch or something you find yourself rationalizing about, don’t waste your precious time or energy. You already got the answer: it was “NO.” Let it go. You won’t be convincing anyway.

Remember what this is all about. You are searching for something better than what you have right now — a step up, a step out, a step forward — movement toward more satisfying work and, therefore, a more satisfying life. That’s what the discomfort during The Job Search is really all about! Keep your eyes on the (possible) prize.    

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Not Thankful at Thanksgiving?

Attacks by ISIS in diverse places, hate-filled political agendas at home, thousands upon thousands of refugees fleeing from war torn countries, hunger, poverty — and yet right here at home, despite homelessness and way too many people in need, shopping and planning for the Big Meal continues, and gratitude somehow abounds. And in the midst of all the bad news in Sunday’s 11/22/15 New York Times, this article catches my eye: Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and contributing opinion writer.

Brooks looks back at his own wedding 24 years ago and remembers preparing a complete Thanksgiving meal for his new Spanish in-laws in Barcelona where Thanksgiving is not celebrated and turkeys are not commonly served on a holiday. Over dinner, his new family had many questions about the odd American tradition, but one philosophical question stood out: “Should you celebrate this holiday even if you don’t feel grateful?”

The question itself could be fodder for a family discussion on Thanksgiving Day, but then again it could end in some sort of meal-killing conflict among those who would celebrate or would not celebrate despite their level of gratitude. Interestingly, there is evidence to suggest that acting grateful can actually make you feel more grateful. Researchers in a 2003 study randomly assigned one group of study participants to keep a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while other groups made note of hassles or neutral events they experienced. Ten weeks later the first group demonstrated significantly greater life satisfaction than the others. Other studies led to the same conclusion. It turns out that we can actively choose to practice being grateful, and that in so doing our perceived level of happiness increases. Many of us can clearly remember a time when Oprah Winfrey spent a lot of her television show time recommending to her viewers that they keep a “gratitude journal” to increase their own perceived level of happiness. She was on to something.

I am deeply/hugely grateful to have been raised by an extremely positive, loving mother who must have figured into the interesting study Brooks cites in a 2014 article in the Journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. A particular gene, identified only as “CD38”, was discovered to have a strong association with gratitude in “relentlessly positive people who seem to be grateful all the time.” They tend to have “a global relationship with satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness, and positive emotions (particularly love).”

This was my mother. It wasn’t as if nothing bad ever happened to her, God knows, but she loved her way through circumstances and people and throughout her 85 years. She was a musician, teacher, hilarious storyteller, and the most compassionate person I’ve ever known. To an almost irritating degree she stood up for the other guy and made me put myself in his shoes much more than I ever wanted to, but still. . .

When I was about five years old, I developed a terrible fear of germs. I couldn’t stand the thought that there were these invisible “bugs” in the world that could infect me with polio or TB or something worse. My mom tried to talk me out of it, but was unsuccessful for a few years. When I started having nightmares about them, she would come into my room to comfort me in some way. One night when I couldn’t go back to sleep, she suggested that I start counting all the things I loved in my life starting with my favorite stuffed bear, followed by the merry-go-round at the nearby park. That was the very first time in my life I actually fell asleep counting my blessings and certainly was not the last. I found out that it worked!

So, not thankful at Thanksgiving? Not a problem for me, thanks to my mother in large part, and much later in life, my own spirituality.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Next: The Interview

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Back to School/Back to Work

I always forget how much I love the Fall until October, when everything starts moving toward winter, and something makes me feel like sautéing sliced apples with cinnamon and butter for breakfast and walking to the Cal stadium for a football game. The trees are definitely losing their leaves, and the days are getting shorter, despite the sunny weather hanging over past its prime. Nonetheless, here we are again, hurtling toward the holidays, cold weather or not.

The Phone Calls
My phone rings more insistently right about now: time to change jobs, time to change careers, time to go back to school, time to do something different.  Whatever the factors have brought you to this moment, and  no matter how ready you are for a change, it turns out not to be a simple snap of the fingers that makes it happen in the exact timeframe you wish you could.  Before you jump, you’ll have to stop, look, listen to yourself, and reorient and get clear about the next step that makes sense in your career evolution. Your next step should improve upon your previous step.

What’s Your Story?
To get clear about where you are headed, you have to do some thinking about where you have been. Allow your self-knowledge and wisdom guide you as you reflect on your work and life experiences to this point. You will recognize what is working by how you feel about each item on your list. They are the things that bring you satisfaction, pride, enjoyment. You want to keep doing those things and even make more room for them, if you want to raise your satisfaction quotient.

Next, think about what is not working for you.  Those things will tend to jump out at you and be very obvious because they are causing you pain! They usually “yell” at you and say things like, “I HATE this commute!”, “I can’t stand my boss!”, “I am bored out of my wits!”. The things you hate actually point to actions you can take to make your job more satisfactory and your life happier.

Clarity
Clarity is not exactly something to force into existence; it is something that will emerge as you enter into sincere thinking, reflection, conversation, self-acceptance and desire to fulfill whatever is missing in your work or life. Allow the clarity that emerges to be your guide as you design a target that includes what you want, what you don’t want, and where you want to go in the future. If you don’t know what you are looking for, how will you go about finding it?

The Resume
It is important to get the resume right. It can’t just tell the story of what you have done in the past; it needs to also tell the story of where you are headed in the future. You should be aiming toward the next step, and for you to be satisfied, it will probably require that you stretch a bit, not just look for another example of what you have already done. That’s a good way to get bored, rather than growing toward the next step. The resume should tell the story of who you actually are and not be filled with empty “resume” language.

The Cover Letter
The cover letter is your opportunity to bring some personality into the imaginary conversation that goes on in your head when you discover an opportunity that wakes you up inside. What you put into the cover letter can and should be as authentic as you can make it. Do not simply say, “Enclosed you will find my resume. I am sure you will see that my background makes me a perfect candidate for the job.”  If that is all you have to say, forget saying anything at all. If, however, you have something interesting or notable to say about your experience that adds to your powerful narrative, then by all means say it.

The Search
I have heard good things about each of the following job sites from various clients over the last several years, but this year the one I keep hearing about is Indeed.com.  Do explore this site and see all the ways that you can make use of it in your search.  Other familiar sites include: LinkedIn, Monster.com, and opportunityknocks.org.

Next: The Interview

 

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How to Plan and Take a Vacation Even if You’re Unemployed

Who doesn’t love a vacation? The mere word, which means “planned time spent not working,” along with other descriptors such as “break, breathing space, intermission, recess, recreation, respite, and rest,” immediately releases some sort of dreamy enzymes or hormones into one’s veins. But as I have heard from more than one of my unemployed clients, “vacation” is almost a dirty word.  People who are unemployed don’t feel as if they deserve any vacation, and certainly not a glamorous or expensive one.  But at the same time, being unemployed and looking for work full time is extremely stressful and exhausting! Here are some suggestions for making good use of your unemployment period, including built-in vacation days.

1. Do not use your period of unemployment as if it were a “staycation,” meaning you stay home and do nothing until your unemployment  benefits run their course. Then, in a state of panic, you begin to look for a job, any job. I clearly remember a telephone conversation I had with a woman who called me about my coaching services after taking almost a year off “to rest” while she was receiving unemployment benefits. Now that her benefits were running out, she hoped that I would be able to do a resume for her and help her with a job search, even though she was unclear about what type of work she wanted. When I told her that our work together was designed to help her gain clarity about her future, future, and that it would no doubt take approximately ten sessions, she said there was no way that she could “wait that long” to figure out what was next for her. It didn’t appear that she had done any serious thinking about herself or her offer in the marketplace during the year she was unemployed with benefits, and it became clear to me that she and I were probably not a good match under the circumstances. She hung up on me. I was relieved. . .

2. Do take your period of unemployment seriously, and plan how you will use your time constructively, every day, with the intention of finding a better job than you just left and creating a better future. Most people are better at planning vacations than planning their careers and lives. I’m not being smug or judgmental, as if it were easy for me; in fact, the reason I do what I do is because it was all so much more painful than I expected it to be, that when I began to find my way, I also found my mission, which is to be the extended hand on a rocky path in the same way that certain people extended their helping hands to me. Use the four questions underlying momentum strategy to review and reflect on the job you just left: What worked? What didn’t work? What was missing? What’s next? Keep what worked and build in more of what works; get rid of what didn’t work: you don’t need to do more of it; think about what was missing or what is missing in your career and life and add it in; ask yourself, what’s next? The next job should be better than the last, because you are evolving as you go. Say no to the things you already have learned don’t work for you. Don’t just look for a new job doing the same thing as you did before. Learn from your mistakes. Your new resume should reflect your growth. If you need help, get help early in the process, not when your checks run out.

3.  Plan each week on Sunday night or Monday morning. Don’t let the days blend into one another or slip by unnoticed. Think of all the times you said you didn’t have time to do something because you were working so much. Now that you’re not working, take advantage of it. Do you have more time to exercise? Practice an instrument? Do Yoga? Read? Get together with good friends or family? Take some concentrated time to develop important criteria for the job you are looking for next, and search for it regularly — but not constantly. Searching constantly is exhausting; searching consistently is wise. You will get used to the lay of the land on the internet, notice new job announcements when they are posted, and get a sense of what’s happening in the marketplace. Keep your eyes and ears open for possibilities you may not have already thought about. Pay attention to the news and business sections of newspapers to inform your awareness of trends and companies you can research. Make an exhaustive list of the contacts you have in your personal gold mine of contacts. These are people who already know you and think well of you. Be sure to let them know what you are up to in a short email or phone call or lunch date. Give them a clear sense of what you are looking for, not just the news that you are looking for work, in order to avoid referrals that are completely inappropriate and/or time-consuming.

4.  Build in some vacation time; you need a break from the stress of unemployment! One of my clients who is handling her unemployment very wisely searches the internet twice a week for two to four hours, has several resumes out to target agencies and companies, and keeps in touch with her “gold mine” of contacts regularly. She has had a number of interviews as well, which to my way of thinking, means she is very close to finding her target job. She took a one week camping trip (“planned time spent not working,” remember) with her son and partner to a place she’d never been before, and thoroughly enjoyed her time off from the continuing job search. Now she has landed a good temporary contract in her chosen field and is taking time off again from any further searching just to “enjoy being a non-working mom for a couple of weeks” before her son returns to school and the contract begins. I predict a good ending to this story.

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Transitions: Big Ones, Small Ones, and Everything in Between

Bonnie Bell

First of all, let me just say that I have missed you! I was out of the office for almost a month for major but not life threatening surgery, and in a bit of a health transition ever since, but all is well now, and I’m back to work full speed, and ready to get back to normal with monthly posts about breakdowns and breakthroughs in career and life. Please stay tuned.

Transitions, big or small, refer in general to the “passage from one state, stage, subject or place to another.” That’s about the simplest definition you can find to describe the types of transitions that I want to focus on here. If you Google Wikipedia or any other online dictionary or encyclopedia, you will find mountains of examples of particular transitions, more than you need, from economic to musical, to the increasingly frequent use of the term “transitioning” to specifically refer to the process of gender change. The original use of the term “transition”, however, referred to the period during childbirth when the baby has left the womb and is in the birth canal but hasn’t been born yet. That’s when the screaming happens, if you get my drift…

My purpose is to bring into focus some of the ways in which we all can learn to recognize and more effectively manage the transitions in our lives, rather than being stymied or stumped by them. Virtually every client I have ever worked with is struggling with one transition or another, and by understanding certain features of transition, we can gain wisdom about them that will help us understand why they are always hard, always painful, and always hold great potential for positive growth; it just doesn’t seem that way while we’re in the midst of a big one, like the sudden loss of a loved one or a job.

The master of the subject of transitions in general was and still is psychologist, William Bridges, ever since he wrote his first book on the subject 25 years ago, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. The revised 25th anniversary edition is readily available via Amazon, as is the body of his work on the subject. Subsequent experts in the field owe their expertise one way or another to Bridges.

When the third new client I met with in the past two weeks triggered a conversation about the difficulties of being in transition, I knew it was time to spend a little time with all of you on the subject. See how many transitions you can find in these three client stories:

  1. A woman turning 30 who has just moved back to her birthplace in the Bay Area after living in a southern state for 10 years, and who is considering a career change because she hasn’t been able to find a job in her field.
  2. A 58-year-old minister who wants to move from the ministry into business, teaching
    or counseling.
  3. A 40-year-old entrepreneur, successful but frustrated in owning her small business, who wants to return to the hospitality industry to participate on the management level with a large, high-end international chain of hotels.

Anyone can recognize, I think, that these are all examples of difficult career/life transitions, but from what I already know of them, they each are headed in a right direction that makes sense for them, and they all did the right thing when they reached out for professional help. Why???

Transitions are always hard.  That’s the main thing you need to know (and remember) about transitions right up front. I guarantee that you have experienced a slew of them already, because you started out as a baby, became a toddler, then a preschooler and/or kindergartener, and then went through countless other major and minor transitions to get through primary school, junior high (OUCH! That was probably a particularly hard one!), high school and then on and on until either high school or college or graduate school kicked you out onto the rocky road of life to survive, thrive or flop. No doubt a mixture of both occurred in various situations throughout the ages and stages of your life to this point.  The transition to retirement is a huge, often unexpected transition, even if you think you are ready for it.  With retirements increasingly lasting thirty years or more, the question we need to ask ourselves beyond “How much money will I need in retirement?” is “What am I going to be doing during retirement?”

Transitions are always hard because we humans don’t like them. We don’t like to be between a rock and a hard place, neither here nor there. After all, biologically, we are hardwired for self-preservation, and when our instinct for food, shelter and clothing is threatened by the loss of a loved one or the loss of a paycheck, we tend to freak out, to utilize a highly technical term.

Transitions are always painful.  Once we “grow-up,” whether we are conscious of earlier painful transitions or not, we tend to minimize them, and can’t figure out why the next one that hits us between the eyes or ears is so hard. What we should get better at as we evolve is remembering that all transitions are hard and painful, and that mostly we do eventually get through them to the other side. On a deep level, transitions can yield rich wisdom about who we have been and who we are and what we want to be in the future, as long as we pay attention and learn from them. That is a good idea for a little homework you could each do about your own lives. Directions: Take some time to reflect on some of the major transitions in your life. Write them down. Then choose a particularly successful one to focus on: Describe what it was like? What was hard? What was the most painful thing about it? What did you learn? Was there a lasting change that turned out for the best?  Did you grow in wisdom?

Transitions are painful because they indicate loss, loss requires grief in order to resolve itself, and grieving is both hard and painful. Every transition implies a loss of something, even if you wanted the change and made the choice yourself. Examples might be that you made the choice to get married, or to move from the East Coast to the West Coast, or to take a job that seemed like the perfect thing. In such chosen situations, don’t be thrown for a loop because your initial joy and excitement turns into discouragement and depression after the deed is done. You are in the midst of biological and environmental stress produced by the loss of the familiar old and the fearful,
anxious new.

Because transitions are hard and painful, you are weakened and vulnerable to depression. Learn how to take good care of yourself while you are
in transition.

  1. Actively, frequently, remember the times in your life when difficult transitions actually worked out well — maybe even better than expected. This will help you build self-confidence, faith (in things hoped for but not yet seen) and determination to make them work out again.
  2. Develop what I refer to as your “Inner Resume.” Take stock of your gifts, talents, education, experience and character traits that are simply the truth about you. Write them down and memorize them so that you can claim them whenever you are vulnerable to other negative voices. Strong declarative statements about who you actually are very powerful.
  3. Ask for support from friends, family, and professionals if you need it.
  4. Do things you love to do. If it’s listening to music, or playing the piano, or reading a great novel, or taking a bike ride, do it!  It’s no doubt the fastest way to get yourself out of the negative voices and into what I call “Yes Energy”, the type of energy that automatically lifts you up and expands your thinking to higher levels.
  5. Avoid “No Energy.” These are activities or people that bring you down.
  6. Eat right, exercise, sleep well, take good care of yourself, love and forgive yourself. Put yourself in the way of grace (places where good things may happen) rather than in harm’s way. Pull out all the stops.

Sometimes, things work out much better than you even dared to hope. Trust me on this.

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More on Passion in Career and Life

Last year at about this time (1/14/14), I posted a blog, How to Follow Your Passion When You Don’t Know What It Is. You can find it by title in the Index to the right of this page and read or re-read it as a companion piece to this. Beyond that, you will see frequent references to the themes of “passion, following your bliss, living with meaning and purpose, living from the heart,” and other such related themes in most of my work and words. In the 1/14/14 post, I simply make one point about passion – that many people struggle with the fact that they don’t seem to have any passion at all, and that makes them feel defective, and/or deeply disappointed in their lives. I have never met or worked with a person who didn’t have any passions, but I have met with many people who did not know how to recognize them because they had a certain image of what a passion was supposed to look and feel like.

But there is so much more to say about passion! It’s a vast historic and contemporary subject, ridiculous to even attempt to approach in a blog. But for me personally and professionally, the experience of and or subject of passion emerges on a daily basis, and then when I go home, there it is again somewhere in the nightly news. I guess you could say I am passionate about passion, and I have a lot to say about it.   This week the story of ISIS captive Kayla Mueller, the 26-year-old from Prescott, Arizona, was all over the news. She is an example of a person so overtaken by her passion (in this case for the people of Syria) that she was willing to risk her life for it.

In the letter to her parents from captivity, she indicated that she had found the good in people even in those circumstances, that she had surrendered to God, and that she had no regrets except for the fact that she had caused them so much suffering. Here is an example of someone who in former times would no doubt have been referred to as a saint. She is also controversial, as were most of the saints. Some might call her naïve or foolish or crazy. She was nothing, if not passionate.

Not all passions are created equal. Passion is a word we toss around with increasing frequency, whether we are talking about a passion for a certain food or film or pastime or subject. In the career sense, it seems that everyone, from millennials to boomers, are searching for passion in their lives and work. But if you consult the dictionary, chances are it will begin with “The Passion”, which refers to the life, suffering and death of Jesus Christ, and on to multiple other definitions, all of which connote a certain out-of-the ordinary-ness; something intense; something highly emotional and/or powerful. Mostly we understand that if we say we are passionate about something, we mean we feel more intensely about it than if we just said we liked it or even loved it. We can be passionate about something or someone good for us, and/or something or someone not so good
for us.

Some people don’t search for their passion, their passion seizes them. An inexplicable energy or force or transcendent power overtakes them with an irresistible vision, and they cannot rest until they bring that vision into reality. It is usually not a skip down the lane. German filmmaker, producer, director, writer, actor and visionary Werner Herzog is an example of someone seized by passions and visions that drive all of his creative work. In his documentary film, The Burden of Dreams, you begin to understand that the vision is not always an uplifting joy but actually a burden. And don’t expect other people to love you for bringing your vision into reality. Controversy tends to follow
great passion.

There is no reasonable explanation for why you are passionate about whatever you are passionate about. Why is not really the question when it comes to your passion. Whether it is science or music or outer space, your passion can lead you home. Passions demand your attention. If you completely ignore them, you will not be at peace, nor will you ever get a sense that you are “fully alive”. If you try to bury them, they will haunt you. Follow your passions in order to find your way, but don’t expect smooth sailing. There will be turbulence.

   

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