Monday, October 18, 2010

Your Career: A Day at the Beach

On a rainy day in Southern California (yes, they sometimes do happen), I reminisce about the several beach days I had recently over the summer.  In this reverie, I thought of an analogy to career development that would make sense to anyone who has been to a crowded beach on a hot summer day.  When you arrive at the beach on such a day, how do you pick your spot on the sand?  For me, I am grateful to land on any spot—though I try not to get too close to others, and I prefer to be within sight of the ocean.  Under these conditions, do I wind up exactly where I want to?  Rarely.  But I certainly do not want to walk all over the beach waiting to find such a spot either.  It is much nicer on those fortunate days where it is not so crowded. 

But then there are times when even under the most crowded conditions, I find the ultimate spot in the sand:  a great spot, right near the ocean, where the air is chilled to that moderate temperature that facilitates relaxation.  But even in these circumstances, I might become subject to changing tides.  Have you ever found yourself as such, perfectly situated on the beach when over the hours, the rising tide creeps toward your towels or blanket and suddenly your optimal spot is in jeopardy of being submerged.  A large wave can come from nowhere and make this happen in an unexpected second to one who has drifted into a sun-induced slumber or meditative state.

Think about the correlations here with career experience.  In a competitive and crowded job market, people are also compelled to grab the most immediate job offers that they can land—sometimes less than ideal.  Opportunities that you prefer might not be available.  In a job search, circumstance might not allow us to go for what is ideal, try as we might. 

Additionally, even when we are fortunate enough to find a great job or spot, the landscape is constantly changing.  Optimal for a time, but if we get too comfortable and we are not wary of the implications of these changes, we can find ourselves in a most uncomfortable situation.

My current work allows me to assist many who have been displaced from jobs that they have successfully held for years.  The new economy has been particularly brutal on some, and it is sobering to see individuals accustomed to making six figures participating in a program that compels them to at least consider jobs that pay minimum wage.   I see the greatest potential for success for those who are open to any possibility within their range, and who are also willing to move away from positions that while once were favorable, are now metaphorically submerged.  The winning attitude also contains a sense of gratitude.  Even if we have to settle into a less than ideal spot, or if our once enviable spot is taken; to have a day on the beach, to have that opportunity, is something truly to be grateful.  And thus, I cannot wait until the weather again gives me another shot to hit the sand.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cheers: Just Follow Your Nose, It Always Knows

 Guy Kawasaki's   Holy Kaw!  segment on led me to an interesting article in WSJ titled, No Glass Ceiling for the Best Job in the World by David Kesmodel.  In this article he reflects how even though men account for nearly 73% of the beer-drinking market, women apparently are better tasters when it comes to testing new product.

Though I could reflect on how stereotypes have prevented employers from identifying top talent, what struck me most in this article is how often it is that people can go through their entire lives without ever noticing or identifying what their talents or gifts are.

The article mentions how Miller Brewing recruited women in-house from marketers and secretaries to see if any of them had any talent as professional tasters.  I imagine that in that quest, they identified some true talent--talent that would be more valuable applied in tasting than whatever else they were doing for the company.

It makes me wonder What if these individuals worked in some other manufacturing outfit, say auto parts?  What if they limited their search to individuals that had already established themselves as tasters (must have experience!)?

Apparently, there was an element of randomness or happenstance that allowed these opportunities to occur.  But in regards to identifying what your talent is, there is another gem in the article, where a Polish beer taster reflects how she is not quite sure why she is an adept beer-taster. Her best guess is that she loved to smell perfumes as a child.

Here are two things that can be learned from this woman in regards to career:
  1.  One way to identify your career calling is to identify something that brings (or brought) you pleasure.  The woman who enjoyed playing and experimenting with aromas now gets paid to identify minute tastes and aromas in beer. What did you love to do/spend hours doing when you were a child?  Might this thing have any context in what you do now for a living?
  2. Try not to disregard anything that is (or was) unique about you.  Enjoying perfumes might seem so trivial in most any context, but look what it led to for this woman? 

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Placebo or Nocebo: Which Pill Will You Swallow?

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to get my Swine Flu immunization. Quite a few people in my circle have been getting sick, and the media's pervasive coverage of this illness would make it seem that the pending pandemic is potentially pernicious enough to rival the Black Plague or something so dramatic. So, with that, I determined, "Why not?"

While waiting in the doctor's office, I grabbed the news magazine on the top and began reading. I cannot tell you the date or name of the publication, nor the name of the article, but what I read was quite fascinating indeed.

Most of us are familiar with the placebo effect, where an inert pill (commonly sugar) is given to a patient who is then told that the said pill will have therapeutic effect. Lo and behold, the condition of some patients improves, because the patient merely believes that the placebo will help them.

The article I read spoke that the opposite effect or nocebo sometimes occurs with patients who are told that a treatment might have undesirable side effects. We have seen how pharmaceutical companies (almost laughably) toss in their "undesirable side effects" disclaimers in the television ads for new medications. It turns out that when people are under the impression that a medication "may hurt" or bring about these undesirable side effects when given an inert treatment, they often feel the negative effects.

This got me thinking of the negativity that surrounds recession times. How does the media coverage of mass layoffs and unemployment rates impact your perception? I often find myself acknowledging that accomplishing various career or job search goals is difficult because of the times we are facing. Am I doing my clients (or myself) a favor by "pragmatically" observing that there are less jobs out there right now, therefore making their job search more difficult--or am I rather feeding a nocebo negativity, deterring them from an optimism that would feed their motivation and allow them to remain persistent in the hopes that they will soon find success?

After reading this article, I am determined to stick with the latter perception, and dwell on the positive as Pollyannaish as this may be. Perception is key. Those that are able to ignore the naysayers and who persistently pursue their goals and dreams are the ones who can change the world, innovate, and achieve the most. How does your perception of yourself, your situation, and of the greater world around you impact your achievement? Do you allow failures to derail you, or do you see them rather as opportunities to learn so that you will ultimately be successful toward whatever it is you are questing for?

Your attitude or perception can either be a placebo or nocebo regardless of what situation you face. If the distance between hard and impossible is a thousand miles wide, imagine then what can be done, no matter what barriers you currently face. Pablo Picasso said, "Everything you can imagine is real." Can you imagine a better economy? A better job? A better life? A better world? Take the positive pill and you can find whatever remedy you are seeking.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Surviving the Recession Drought

I don’t suspect that I will ever look at nature with the ego-dissolving spiritual intensity of Eckhart Tolle or his Transcendentalist predecessors, but I do enjoy the meditative solitude of being out in nature and am often inspired by it. And so yesterday, I decided to fully enjoy an hour-long hike. In that brief outing, I did have some remarkable revelations. First, I realized that though I have now been exercising regularly (thanks, Craig), I have a long way to go if I want to tackle steep inclines at a brisk pace. But more significantly, I was inspired by the mostly dry and dead vegetation. Brown and tan weeds abound throughout the hills of Southern California in the summertime, a side-effect of the sunny and cloud-free climate that otherwise makes the area so popular. Though these dead and brittle weeds are more likely to spark up in flames than to spark inspiration, yesterday I noticed something remarkable. While most of the plants looked dead, some plants somehow remained green in the midst of a drought-arid season. How can it be that these plants thrive while their immediate neighbors are dying from an unfavorable season? What made these plants better adapted to handle the harsh environment that they were planted in? Were they merely fortunate to have had their seeds land in a shadier area or somewhere closer to the water table, or was it more that they had the proper genetic make-up to flourish?
These same questions can be applied to people in a recession economy. With less wealth, many jobs have dried up. And many who still have jobs are feeling the stress of pending layoffs and carrying the slack of a lean workforce. Having access to a rainmaker might be nice right about now in this economy, but let us remember: we are not plants. Unlike plants, we do not need to be rooted in an environment that does not allow us to thrive. And not only can we move, but we also have potential to adapt quickly to our changing environment to get more favorable results. You may feel ties to your unfulfilling job/occupation just because you have been planted there for so long. Perhaps you are afraid to move because for the most part, nothing looks better around you (there really was not much green on my hike yesterday.) Maybe you are feeling resentful at your peers who are experiencing success right now, while for you, every day is a struggle. Perhaps you have not discovered changes you might make in yourself that might bring you greater success with the cards that you have been dealt. So you grew up in a dysfunctional home, think you are too shy to network and market yourself, or you have always wanted to do something but are too afraid or just don’t know how to start. How far can the apple travel from the tree? How much can you grow, adapt, and learn? And what changes/adaptations might you strive for so that you can flourish?
And maybe it is most important to appreciate things already in you that can make life favorable. What is unique and special about you? What things have you done already that have rewarded you with achievement or success? Perhaps there is nothing wrong with you or what you are doing (or are trying to do) and now is just a test of perseverance and endurance. I assure you that soon after the temperatures cool and a few rains kick in, some of these same plants that looked dead yesterday will spring back to life, and begin to even flourish more than their neighbors who now seemingly have an advantage in the dry season.
Move, change, or stay rooted in persistence and determination: you have options. Though it is not always clear what option is best, whatever option you choose for yourself, carry with it a seed of hope and optimism—for that is the one thing that allows life to abound in any environment.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Be Incredible

A few weeks ago I was watching a television airing of The Incredibles. Don’t ask why I sometimes do this when I own the DVD of a film, but that would be another topic. What I wanted to dwell on is more like what Pamela Slim does with Cinderella and appreciate how accurately career development is portrayed in a story marketed for children.
At the beginning of the movie, Mr. Incredible loves his job as a super hero so much, that he nearly misses his own wedding in order to do his job. Though I would hope that this is not the extreme it would take to prove that your job is ideally fitting, it is certainly a sign that you have found your element. This is then contrasted with when he is compelled to give up his job as superhero and try to fit in the banal and dubious role of insurance clerk. Are his weight gain and general dissatisfaction at home all due to this change in career? We would have to at least suspect such.
Again, we see how he is still drawn to what is most authentic, surreptitiously sneaking out with Frozone to fight crime. What do you find yourself voluntarily doing with your free time? What do your leisure pursuits possibly communicate about what you might be doing for your work life?
Lastly, we get the immediate transformation once Mr. Incredible is summoned to the mysterious island to fight the evil robot. The results are dramatic: he is empowered and invigorated, he is inspired to take better care of his health, passion has returned to his marriage, and he is better connected with his family in general. This is perhaps the most significant picture message that can be derived from the film. The insurance job is so exaggeratedly unfitting as Mr. Incredible can barely fit in his confining cubicle/office chair.
Are you “stuck” in a job because you are afraid to leave it because of the “security” it provides for your family? If the job makes you miserable, what are you really providing for your family anyway, when your energy and presence is perhaps the most significant gift you can provide? And is it any wonder that when the entire family is allowed to be their true selves, the bond between them is the greatest?
The truth is, when you have found the most fitting work, it makes you feel incredible. How would you like to feel like a rock star or superhero every day? And then imagine what that would do for every aspect of your life.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Is Your Work Worth Dying For?

The other evening, I watched a fascinating lecture on UCTV, the television channel that broadcasts lectures from the University of California. The particular lecture I was watching was one given by Laura A. Schmidt, titled Health in America: Whats Health Reform Got to Do with It? In it, Dr. Schmidt discusses the sociological dynamics of healthcare, and identifies something that has long been asserted by career development professionals. She suggests that the less autonomy people have at work, the more stress they tend to experience in life. And the more stress one experiences, the more likely they are to also experience the most damaging health care problems experienced by Americans. Her point was effectively made by graphs showing the incidence of major health problems correlated with social status. Those who are marginalized or who have lower status were more susceptible to health ailments, while those who have the greatest amount of control in their work had the least health problem incidence.
Though her points were made to influence how the United States approaches health care policy, they make an equally compelling statement about the workforce of the country. Is it really worth it to stay in a job that has you so stressed out that you are miserable? If you consider how EXPENSIVE health care is in its present state, and how a job where you do not feel empowered with autonomy or competent enough to feel like you are effective can be harmful to your health or even kill you, is it worth it?
How much control and autonomy do you have at your work? Are your daily tasks the kinds of tasks that you are good at, that you enjoy doing? If you are lacking in your work in either regard, take a moment to consider how your job is impacting your health. Does your job leave you feeling so drained that you are not motivated to exercise? Is it so stressful that you resort to not-so-healthy practices like binge eating, eating high-fat or high-sugary foods, drinking to excess, or using other harmful drugs? If so, strive for something better and work towards it. Work that makes you feel good about yourself will probably motivate you to also take better care of your health. So when you do this, I imagine, you are taking a step toward healthy living, and you might be more naturally inclined to be healthy in more areas in your life. Imagine if everyone loved their jobs. If that were the case, perhaps there would be no need for health care reform, because there would be no crisis in health costs to begin with.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Brush That Dirt Off Your Shoulder

Approximately six months ago I began the process of transferring and transforming my blog from an old site to a new site. Though this process began with a passionate fury, I found myself bogged down when it came to deciding which WordPress theme I should use. I am still as frugal as they come—so I limited myself to free themes, and even with that limit—there were ENDLESS options, and none that I came upon were something that I liked—something that I could call ME. Months passed with me stuck only on choosing a theme. And then, I found one that was good enough. But by then, I felt so badly about not writing for so long that it then took a month or two for me to get back on my mission and do what I set out to do in this blog which was to write honest, inspirational, and sometimes witty blog entries sharing my knowledge and experience. I procrastinated. I procrastinated because I was dismayed that my way of establishing a new blog format and domain was taking a hiatus of over six months and essentially turning my new blog into an instant ghost town. I guess the kick I needed was the combination of reading a blog posting from Leo Babauta from Zen Habits about killing excuses and a Facebook posting on Independence Day from fitness trainer

Craig Ballantyne:“If you fall ‘off the wagon’, cut your losses, don’t worry about it, and get right back on track. Immediately. It’s minor damage that can be dealt with.”

I have given others similar advice in the past—but admittedly, it is more difficult to step back into something after you have let it slide for a while. I am back, determined to bring new life to my domains—virtually and in reality. And here is the essence of success in career and in all of life’s endeavors: do not get lost in barriers, setbacks, insignificant details, or general comfort and complacency. My inability to choose a blog theme could easily be related to the existential challenge we all face which is connecting with the right theme for your unique self. When we are in a period of transition, it is sometimes difficult to create a new path or theme for ourselves. Though this consideration is most important, the pitfall is getting lost in possibilities and not making progress at all. Wherever you are in life, stay committed to your continual growth and dedicated to understanding your unique God-given role in the universe and how to use that role to your greatest potential.