Monthly Blogs 2015
I first published this blog four years ago this month. Its message is even more timely today. This is the season for resolutions and generosity. With all that is happening in our neighborhoods and the larger world, let’s revisit what each of us can do to help make things better.
When I think about close community, the above photo comes to mind. It is an African elder (in brown) surrounded by some members of his tribe. This photo was taken by Roberta Taylor six years ago when I joined a dozen Americans and one man from Brunei to study tribal life in Tanzania. While I don’t remember this man’s name, exact age or very much about him, I do know that he was at least 75 years old, and loved by his community.
Over the past nine years I have been one of the December presenters at Leadership Philadelphia. This is a civic engagement/leadership development program led by my sister, Liz Dow. In my session I ask the participants to answer this question: “If today was your 75th birthday, and life had gone really well for you, what would people be thanking you for?” The Leadership Philadelphia program includes one full day’s immersion into a different civic theme each month over a ten month period. I tell each participant that one of the most important outcomes of these deep dives is to ultimately discover and pursue their next community calling.
Each year I have these 120 for-profit and non-profit leaders do this exercise because their 75th birthday vision can help shape more immediate priorities and actions. Let me walk you through the process. Round 1 involves asking your three imagined 75th birthday guests what they would like to thank you for. These guests include one each from your personal, professional and community life. If you were in this class, what would each person be thanking you for?
Round 2 asks these same three people about today. What would each representative suggest you continue to do, and what would each suggest you change in order to achieve your 75th birthday vision? Please note when you do this exercise that each representative could be alive or not. Go ahead, try it. After you are done, ask yourself, “Is it time for a change … a new year’s resolution?”
Let’s make sure we are on the same page on the definition of terms. I am speaking of both community calling and ultimately our community legacy here, so let me stop and define each. Aristotle is credited with these words: “Our calling is the intersection of our talents and the needs of the world.” In other words, what we are really good at, care about and enjoy doing (our preferred talents) need to find their way into our primary work, and hopefully also into our service to the community. And our legacy? Here are my own words: “Our legacy is our personal, professional and community contributions that live on in the hearts, minds, words and deeds of others.” Another way of saying this comes from psychologist Erik Erikson: “We are what survives of us.”
You now have some new tools and strategies for discovering and pursuing your next community calling and building your community legacy. Try the exercises I have suggested. Picture yourself in the center of your tribe as a wise, generous and beloved elder. Have a happy new year, and an especially happy 75th birthday!
Who are the people who amaze and inspire you? The men highlighted in this blog are three of my favorites. One has become a sports legend at age 94, another performed for the first time on a broadway stage at age 85, and the third is business icon Steve Jobs. Each has taught me invaluable lessons and left an enduring legacy.
The oldest is still with us, well into overtime! Mark Sertich is a 94 year old hockey player from Duluth, Minnesota. My father, George Dow Sr., is the second story. He was invited by Hugh Jackman to dance and sing on a broadway stage on his 85th birthday. The third is Steve Jobs, founder then reinventor of Apple Computer. I’ll be sharing inspiring videos, articles and insights about these incredible individuals.
Mark Sertich (pictured above) is a 94 year old hockey player who was recently featured on the CBS Evening News. Just take a look at this guy and consider what you too might be able to do as a 40, 50, or 60 something youngster (by comparison). Please hang in there during the unavoidable commercial and as Mark’s story unfolds you’ll start believing that there really is a fountain of youth hidden somewhere near Duluth, Minnesota.
George Dow Sr., my dad, was asked by Hugh Jackman to join him on a broadway stage on his 85th birthday. Take a look at how my sister Liz described that magical evening in her Huffington Post blog from last year. We believe that saying yes to Jackman’s invitation extended our father’s life by another seven years. It gave him an incredible story to tell (over and over). You might say that my father lived off the fumes of that experience all the way to age 92.
Stories about these first two inspirational men fall into the sports, entertainment and longevity outliers category. Because this is a career blog, I’m going to spend a bit more time on this third story. The month after Steve Jobs’ death four years ago, I wrote a blog that included a link to his inspirational 2005 Stanford commencement speech, and some very insightful commentary from my friend Greg Guettler. These are Greg’s words from that November 2011 blog:
“Although there have been plenty of laudatory comments made about Steve Jobs, I can’t help but think that Steve would be reprimanding us for our shortsightedness. Was he visionary? Of course. Did he have a profound impact on technology? Probably more so than any other individual of our time. But, he did not hit a home run every time at bat. Rather, what Steve Jobs exemplified was an unrelenting ability to use failure as a way to define success.
Need proof? After leaving Apple in 1985, he spent the next 11 years trying to recreate success through the launch of NeXT computer hardware, then in the transformational launch of NeXT software, and then in the acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd. During that 11-year period, he spent most of his Apple fortune trying to build the next great thing – and failed at nearly all of them. But then, through a bit of serendipity, Apple purchased NeXT for its Operating System and the rest is history.
But here’s where it gets interesting. When Jobs went back to Apple they had some 350 R&D projects underway (typical, I think for managers who don’t understand the market and value everything equally as a result). Steve came in, interviewed the managers and reduced that list to 10. What made him so good at whittling down the project list? Failure. Newton, Apple III, Lisa, the Puck mouse, the G4 Cube, NeXT. He had plenty of mistakes. Some might characterize Jobs as being too visionary or ahead of his time. But the end result is – he learned from them all.
So, here’s the point of the Steve Jobs legacy: You can’t hit a home run if you’re afraid to take a swing. If you miss, don’t underestimate the power of what you’ve just learned. Do what you love. Love what you do. Never give up.”
Have these three men inspired you? Who knows, maybe you’ll be the next on this “outliers” list one day. Hang in there and keep shooting for the stars. You never know what magic might be just around the corner… at any age!
Where do you turn when you need just the right words to guide you? I belong to a True North Group, and would like to offer three inspirational writings that were shared at this month’s meeting. If you need help finding strength, perspective or shelter from the storm, you’ll appreciate what you’re about to read and hear.
The Winds of Fate
American Author Ella Wheeler Wilcox
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
Which tells us the way to go.
Like the winds of the seas are the ways of fate,
As we voyage along through the life.
Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
What I’ve Learned
Maya Angelou on her 74th birthday
I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.
I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life.
I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life.’
I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.
I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back.
I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.
I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one.
I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.
I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Peace of Mind
The best way to experience the comfort that comes from these words is to hear them from the author. Enjoy the peace of mind that comes from this Irish poet in his one minute blessing.
This month I’m going to dispense with the usual written blog and instead share my new audio visual presentation. Click Here to open it. You’ll be done in under seven minutes.
I have worked hard to make this presentation relevant, interesting and brief. Let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Could going solo professionally be your future career direction? I began to think seriously about this option in 2001. That is the same year author Daniel Pink published Free Agent Nation, The Future of Working for Yourself. This book has been an inspiration and a compass ever since.
In 2004, long before my 2010 shift to solo entrepreneurship, I took the advice from Daniel Pink’s book and formed my first F.A.N. (Free Agent Nation) club with four former clients. We still meet twice yearly. I created my second group, composed of eight solo career and executive coaches, in 2006. We still meet monthly. These groups have been instrumental to my success and well being as a free agent. In this blog I’ll describe F.A.N. Clubs for anyone wishing to go solo and go farther by going together.
In 2002, I heard Daniel Pink give the keynote presentation at a career consultants’ conference. He had recently published the first edition of his Free Agent Nation book. Pink made a strong case for the inevitable growth and benefits of free agency. He also paid special attention to the needs of his audience, and discussed how solo entrepreneurship could offer great opportunities for both career coaches and their clients.
Before this conference ended, several of us met to discuss both the up and down sides of free agency. There were an abundance of positives already described by Pink in his lecture and book, but we felt we also needed to discuss approaches to the biggest land mines of free agency. We decided that the areas of greatest concern were social isolation, intellectual isolation, inability to leverage resources, and obsessive/workaholic tendencies.
As it turns out, Pink had already anticipated each of our concerns. In the second edition of his book, published later that same year, he added a resource guide that offered many helpful remedies for the problems we had noted.
I listed Daniel Pink’s 101 free agent survival strategies in my January, 2012 blog. Click this link to see this list. In another section of his resource collection, Pink offered 10 suggestions for starting and maintaining a F.A.N. Club.
Think about what you want to accomplish.
Recruit one pal.
Balance similarity with diversity.
Choose the right meeting locale.
Meet at a regular time.
Stick to an agenda.
Consider meeting by telephone.
Remember that groups evolve (and sometimes devolve).
My first group successfully incorporated Pink’s suggestions for starting and managing our F.A.N. club. This included inviting him to one of our meetings! At the time, he was working on his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. During our one hour phone session we discussed his and our ongoing and anticipated challenges and opportunities in free agency. Topics that day included writing, living a free agent life, growing a client base, and dealing with risk and uncertainty.
In our discussion that day, and over the next several years of regular meetings, these two F.A.N. Clubs have helped us understand free agency from both a wide angle and a finely tuned lens. With mutual support, regular meetings, wide ranging discussions and strategic exchanges, both of these F.A.N. clubs have helped us evolve as successful solo entrepreneurs.
My second group, formed in 2006, has met every month for nine years. We have maintained the same eight person membership over these years, and have helped one another with the countless ups and downs of independent entrepreneurship. We have gone far together. We anticipate continuing this group indefinitely as we navigate free agency, as a supportive team of equals.
If you choose to leave a corporate working identity and go solo, be sure to get help and advice from both peers and seasoned veterans like Daniel Pink along the way. Don’t let yourself become isolated socially, intellectually or professionally.
Find a way to share the journey with others who can help guide and support your future success, and do the same for them. Create or join a group like the F.A.N. Clubs I have described in this blog. Chances are very good that you will go much farther than you could on your own, and you’ll be happier and more productive along the way. Happy trails to you!
Last month I posted my 50th blog. Future blog relevance is critical, and both frequent and infrequent readers can help shape what I focus on.
To make future blogs as beneficial as possible for readers like you, please complete the following three minute survey: Click this link to open the survey.
The aggregate information will be compiled with your input anonymous, and much appreciated!
In his book, Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance, Bob Buford describes the first half of life as favoring the pursuit of success. In the second half, Buford suggests that the balance shifts towards significance. In discussions with my career transition clients, our focus is typically on how to achieve both success and significance in life and work. Why not both, regardless of our life stage?
In the first half of this blog I’ll be sharing some insights on success from Wharton Professor, Adam Grant. His book, Give and Take, reveals some intriguing findings about how the most successful people behave. In the second half of this blog I’ll explain how “remembering the ride home” can help us stay true to living a life of significance.
For a useful summary of Give and Take, click here. In this book, Adam Grant described three types of people: givers, takers and matchers. For the givers, it’s mostly about generosity. If you are a taker, it’s about you. If you are a matcher, whenever you give away something, you expect something of equal value in return. Who would you guess are the most successful people?
According to Grant’s research, the givers are actually both the most and the least successful. They are least successful when they give too much at the expense of their own work, don’t set boundaries well, or burn out after consistently overextending their generosity. The givers who exercise a “healthy selfishness”, while still being primarily focused on the needs of others, turn out to be the most successful. Grant describes these people as “otherish” givers. I often discuss Grant’s model in my coaching sessions, and recommend his book. How would you describe yourself? Would being an “otherish” giver be an aspirational description you would choose for yourself?
Charlie Maxwell is the CEO of Meristem, a Twin Cities based financial services firm. Charlie’s job is extremely demanding, and he is also the parent of triplets. His children all received early childhood development services from an organization named Fraser. When Charlie was asked to join the Fraser board, he quickly and whole heartedly agreed to do so.
Over time, Charlie became aware of an increasing level of frustration caused by the demands of his work and family, combined with the time and energy required by the Fraser board and also serving as a Trustee of the Foundation at the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute. He was most in touch with these frustrations on his trips in to his board and foundation meetings. On most rides home, however, Charlie would find himself feeling grateful for the choice he had made to serve in this way.
Charlie found a simple attitude adjustment as a method for alleviating these frustrations. He decided to remember the ride home on the ride to those meetings. From that point on, a broad smile appeared both to and from the meetings. Charlie has told me that he regularly shares this story with his staff, encouraging generosity as an ongoing expectation for everyone within his firm.
Shortly after hearing his story, I decided to try Charlie’s advice myself, on my drive in to a volunteer church meeting. At the stoplight on the corner of 36th street and Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, I took a moment to recall Charlie’s story, and began to smile myself. I pictured the faces of each of the committee members, imagined our meeting ending and then walking out of my church into the night air. I felt the warmth that was sure to come at the end of that meeting, and a pride in the contributions we had just made. I felt my emotions shift as I began to anticipate my ride home on that warm summer evening.
Before the stop light changed to green, I noticed to my immediate right the Lakewood Cemetery. I realized that one day my last ride would be to that cemetery, and just before that ride there would be a ceremony at my church, three blocks away. At that ceremony the significance of my life would be reviewed. My mind started to race ahead. What would be in my eulogy, and what should I be doing today to make that eulogy a good one?
It has become clear to me that our life’s significance is revealed both during each day’s ride home, and during those final events immediately preceding the “ultimate” ride home.
Success and significance….what can we do to achieve both? I have suggested an approach to each with the help of professor Adam Grant and his “otherish” giver strategy, and Charlie Maxwell with his advice to remember the ride home on your ride in. I hope this, and each of my blogs, has been helpful to you in your career and life. This month marks the completion of my 50th entry, and my fourth year of blogging. I sincerely hope these blogs continue to be helpful to you in your search for success and significance.
What makes us happy? What do we think makes us happy, but actually doesn’t? How can we increase our level of happiness? What makes us happy at work? In this blog, Amherst psychology professor, Dr. Catherine Sanderson, will be answering the first three questions. I’ll tackle the forth one myself.
Last month I attended the One Day University program sponsored by the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. It was wonderful. For me, it was the best of the college educational experience, but with no finals! The kickoff program was a lecture by professor Sanderson, and from the start the audience was mesmerized. Who isn’t curious about the sources of happiness, and how to get more of it into their lives? I greatly appreciate Dr. Sanderson sharing her wisdom and slides on that day, and for allowing me to share them with you via this blog.
If this were high school or college, viewing these slides would be like a “Cliff Notes” experience, in lieu of reading the actual textbook. You can learn quite a bit in just a few minutes. I recently shared these slides with some friends, and they especially appreciated the quotes and cartoons. The quote that gets the biggest response is on slide seven, “Having a baby is like suddenly getting the world’s worst roommate.” by Anne Lamott. The cartoon that gets the biggest laugh shows a man on his deathbed saying, “I should have bought more crap.”
Here’s one you might appreciate, depending on your age. On page nine, Dr. Sanderson shows a U-bend graph that reveals self-reported well-being, on a scale of 1-10. At age 18-21 happiness is rated at 6.8. At age 50-53 it bottoms out at 6.3. At age 82-85 it tops out at nearly 7.0! Surprised? See for yourself. (click the link that follows to see the slide show Science of Happiness – Minneapolis)
I chose to start off this blog with a slide show because I know how difficult it is to find time to sit down for an hour or more, even for a great lecture like this one. As you consider investing your time, it might help to know that the Princeton Review has rated Dr. Sanderson one of the top 300 professors in the country. Invest ninety minutes to watch both the lecture and the Q & A that follows. It will take less time than watching most movies, and I’m betting you’ll be happy you did it. (Click here to watch the full lecture similar to the one I experienced.)
The last item I promised to address in this blog is the question, “What makes us happy at work?” My perspective on this question has been gleaned from twenty-six years as a career management consultant. I offer each of my clients a very long statement that incorporates most job factors tied to happiness at work. “We each want to be happy with the work we do, the organization we occupy, the relationship with our boss, and with the personal factors associated with our work including compensation, location, time and travel requirements.”
Wouldn’t you agree that these are the biggest factors affecting your happiness at work? Each of us has our own unique criteria for job satisfaction, and each of the factors listed above has its own degree of importance to us. To help you explore this subject in greater depth, and help clarify what you need to be happy at your work, click this link to open my October, 2013 blog, “Evaluating an Opportunity”.
A second employment happiness filter I offer each of my clients includes these three questions:
Can you use, develop and stretch your talents (your preferred skills, interests and knowledge),
…in a purposeful way (your contributions really matter, and bring meaning to your life),
…within a place that values you, and shares your values (your values fit their values)?
If you can answer each of these three questions in the affirmative, you are most likely happy with both your work and the organization you occupy. This is the ideal. I wish you the best as you pursue it, and hope this and my previous and future blogs will help guide you along the way.
Take a look at the slides and lecture by Dr. Catherine Sanderson. If you are like me, this will be reminiscent of your favorite lecture, presented by your favorite professor, during your best college days. In the spirit of the “career care” theme in each of my blogs, I have followed Dr. Sanderson’s slides and lecture with my own thoughts about the pursuit of happiness at work. Between the two of us, we hope this blog will help you achieve greater happiness in your life and work. Happy trails to you!
Imagine you are standing on the edge of an elevated platform, just like the man above. Below you is a landing too far down for you to jump safely. Twenty feet in front of you there is a landing spot you hope to arrive at sometime soon. You look ahead and see on that landing either a clear or a partial image of your next job and next organization. You are pulled towards that new opportunity, even if it is not clear what it might be. At the same time, you are being pushed forward by your dissatisfaction. You are excited about moving toward future possibilities, but frightened by the risks immediately in front of you.
You don’t want to make a false move and end up like the free falling Don Draper in the opening credits of Mad Men. Perhaps you are feeling frozen and you are stuck. You could stay where you are, but you know you need to take that next step. The fear of making a bad decision, possibly falling into a financial, career or emotional hole, weighs heavily on you. Does this scenario sound familiar? If so, it’s time to start laying the foundation for moving on.
To get to that preferred destination, over the chasm of fear and risk, you need to lay down a collection of platforms to get you there safely and successfully. You will need to build your transition base from above with whatever time and energy you can spare for this task.
To get started, I suggest you employ the Ronnie Brooks method. Brooks is one of the founders of the Wilder Foundation’s Shannon Institute, and has taught this method for many years. Here is my interpretation of her model. You’ll need to build a platform leading to your preferred future by laying down the same elements as those prescribed for individuals already in transition, but you will need to build your foundation differently. Brooks suggests that you imagine a steadily growing platform of mattresses you toss down from above.
Step by step you will be building a foundation that leads to your exit and a new start as you create this transition bridge. While this process might seem laborious and time consuming, it will make your career transition more methodical and less risky. Even with just the first three mattresses tossed down, a softer, safer landing becomes much more likely.
I have numbered the eight career transition platforms in the order they typically need to be completed, starting with self assessment. You might be tempted to take an early leap, but be careful not to just take a job if it might lead you to a quick, but not a good, fix. Lay down at least your first three platforms before seriously considering taking that leap. Rediscover your talents and preferences. Identify and research your preferred job, industry and company options. Ideally, you should be able to clearly articulate your talents, focus and filters before taking the leap.
If you need help with the self assessment process, you can start with my June, 2012 blog: “Living life forward, understanding it backwards.” For help creating your job, organizational and personal focus and filters, take a look at my October, 2013 blog: “Evaluating an opportunity.”
The blog you are reading now marks my forty-eighth monthly entry about career transition and transformation. To learn strategies for building the eight platforms listed above, go to my monthly blog posting site and select the entries that will be most helpful to you now.
Remember that this is not just about getting another job in a new company. It’s about getting the right job within the right organization. Commitment, courage, executing a logical developmental and strategic approach, and perhaps enlisting a coach and/or group to support you will help make this a more successful and satisfying transition. Lay down a strong foundation, and you’ll have solid ground beneath your feet, reduced risk, and a cushion if you decide (or need) to jump earlier than you had planned. Is it time to start tossing down those mattresses?
One of my all time favorite movies is the 1991 classic, City Slickers. Just before his dude ranch sabbatical, the Billy Crystal character offers this hilarious one minute soliloquy on aging (click here to watch it.) Unfortunately, the advertisement that precedes it is unavoidable. Hang in there, it’s well worth the wait.
Notice the bewildered faces on the children and their teacher as Billy rambles through his speech. In the film, a construction worker dad precedes him in this “describe your work” classroom scene. By comparison, Billy’s job and life is a complete snoozer. This is the crucible moment when he realizes that something has to change. Prolonged dissatisfaction and a fatalistic view of the future can do that to a person.
Rent this movie and you’ll see how things turn out for Billy Crystal’s character. Watch it again if it’s been a while since you last saw it. It’s a very uplifting and funny film. Consider your own views on aging. What would your one minute speech on aging include? Is it time for a philosophical or career retake? Could this be your one minute wakeup call?
After completing a career assessment, discussions with my career transition clients quickly shift to the question, “What’s next?” To help show them their likely range of options, I always share the graphic above. Together we retrace their career history and discuss where most of their successes, challenges, satisfactions and frustrations have taken place. With the aid of this graphic, it becomes clear where on the organizational life cycle their career highs and lows have occurred.
In this blog, I’ll begin by walking you through this organizational life cycle model and the most common characteristics of each stage. You will then be able to track where you have found the best fit historically. You will also be better prepared to decide where you would like to make your next career move.
Formative (stage 1)
Organizations begin as formative entities. In their earliest stages, they tend to be led by individuals who have a burning passion and a powerful vision. The leadership scale is usually weighted heavily towards creativity over control. Note the dividing line at the center of the graphic above, suggesting that creativity dominates stages one and three (below the line), and control dominates stage two (above the line). As their business grows, formative organizations typically rely on limited resources and clever ways to keep the wheels on the bus as they continue to evolve. They are similar to the low flying small airplane with a bush pilot at the controls. They operate with much greater immediate risk than their larger (metaphorical) counterpart, the commercial airliner.
For the small business, false moves or unexpected threats can have dire consequences. Risk usually levels off with higher altitude and positive momentum over time. As the formative organization approaches higher economic milestones, it will likely be an acquisition target. Investors or larger entities will hope to benefit from its success, and transform it to an even higher flying entity.
Normative (stage 2)
Think large airplane with many passengers and a large crew, flying high with more routine and predictable routes, and less vulnerability to short term threats than its “formative” counterpart. Control is typically valued more than creativity, but in healthy large organizations there is the expectation that both elements remain strong. The best normative businesses are excellent teaching organizations with sophisticated people, resources and systems. Along with this complexity and large number of employees, however, comes the expectation for increased political savvy, more consensus building and the narrowing of role scope. Compare this to the formative organization’s more hands on, rapid decision cycles and overlapping of role boundaries.
Reformative (stage 3)
When you see the organizational growth curve transitioning from growth to flattening to decline, denial or basic adjustments might delay aggressive action for a while, but at some point there will be a mandate to turn the business around. This is where the organization typically needs the creative, disruptive force delivered by individuals within or outside the organization who can bring back the growth curve.
This life cycle discussion brings to mind some insights from a book I read several years ago, Barbarians To Bureaucrats, Corporate Life Cycle Strategies, by Laurence Miller. Miller’s main point is that businesses are started by barbarians and prophets, and are too often taken over, and eventually taken down, by administrators, bureaucrats and aristocrats. In order to rescue the organization from the decline brought on by these three players, the barbarians and prophets must reenter the picture to do what is needed to right the ship and grow the business again. Steve Jobs’ return to Apple Computer is a great example of this. See my November, 2011 blog for that story.
To short-circuit this decline scenario, Miller advocates a healthy balance of creativity and control during both the formative and normative phases of an organization’s life. With balanced leadership in place, the reformative stage can hopefully be avoided altogether.
I have just taken you on an organizational life cycle journey to help you see possible future destinations, and remember where you have fit best in the past. Reference this model as you leverage your self-assessments, market research and networking to build a bridge to your next career opportunity. Do you prefer the more formative organization where you wear many hats, create solutions with limited resources, operate with more creative freedom, and share space with leaders who at times resemble barbarians and prophets? Do you prefer instead a more mature organization that offers more resources, sophistication and career options, but perhaps less creative freedom, more office politics and a more narrow role? Are you a transformational leader who is excited by the creative challenges of organizational reform, even with the heavy lifting that comes with it?
How will you discover what’s next for you? First, learn the lessons from your career history. After that, consider the pros and cons of the formative, normative and reformative options I have described in this blog, and pursue whatever fits you best. Good luck finding your fit!
What does it take to move forward when it’s time for a career transition or transformation? Mostly, it takes discovery, courage and endurance. In this blog, I will be revealing quite a bit about what I have learned over the past twenty-five years in my practice. You will learn about three career transition essentials, and what each calls us to do. I will also be referencing many of my prior blogs to help you prepare for what lies ahead.
Begin by looking backwards. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Life is lived forward, but understood backwards.” What has your history taught you about who you are and what you are doing when you are at your best? Start with the exercise I describe in my June 2012 blog. Aristotle defined “calling” as the intersection of our talents (preferred skills, knowledge and interests) and the needs of the world. Do the exercise described in my June blog, even thought it will likely take you several hours. It will teach you a good deal about yourself when you have been at your best, and where your talents will be best applied in the future.
But what if your future possibilities aren’t necessarily revealed by your past? An assessment like the Strong Interest Inventory can help you discover new possibilities that you might never have considered (click here for an inexpensive online version of this assessment instrument). Consider also the career transformation strategies detailed in the book, Working Identity by Herminia Ibarra. You’ll learn about crafting experiments, shifting connections and then making sense of new possibilities. Go to my April 2012 blog for more on this approach.
I began my November, 2012 blog about courage by emphasizing the importance of structure and support for career transition success. To be most effective in career transition, commit to a logical plan, and surround yourself with people who can help guide and support you. These two elements of structure and support will always be foundational, but without courage, our potential is constrained. It’s human nature to play it safe, to avoid risk. We often do so even when we know how to cross the chasm to a new possibility that might set us free from “good enough”, or a bad situation that seems just too difficult to change. Sound familiar?
Choosing to leave a familiar path or organization can feel very risky. Equally difficult is finding the courage to say no to an opportunity that may not be a great fit or in your best interest, but could still liberate you from a bad situation or unemployment. Need help evaluating an opportunity? Read my October, 2013 blog. Need a little courage and inspiration to help you make your move? Take a look at my September, 2011 blog, “Sail Away.”
When I begin working with a client, I describe career transition as a three part process. Stage one is discovery. The beginning of this stage is both highly informative and energizing, as we “connect the dots” by way of formal assessments and conversations of history and past accomplishments. This conversation is followed by defining a logical focus, a strategic plan and building the tools for transition (resume, LinkedIn, branding statements, etc.) Stage three of the process includes discussions of how to land an opportunity that has surfaced, and deciding if this is it, or not. The middle stage is the tough one. I call it “the grind”. This is the time when you learn why sales is such a tough profession.
In this middle stage, you are squarely into the self promotion and networking process. Some love this process and sail right through it. Most, however, feel like they are on an emotional rollercoaster. The highs are exhilerating. The lows can be debilitating. If you are not chosen for an opportunity you thought you had a lock on, it feels very personal. When your calls aren’t returned, or you feel like you are just not getting traction, it can feel both very personal and very draining.
When in transition, everyone needs both support and to find in themselves a kind of toughness that can keep you moving forward in spite of actual or perceived rejection. So what can you do in the tough times? First, don’t isolation yourself. You need to surround yourself with people who can help keep your batteries charged. Remember the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Second, try to keep getting your quota of daily connections, no matter how discouraged or worn down you may feel.
If you are in a full-time job campaign, consider a “three a day” contact goal. Each day, between phone calls, email exchanges and meetings, completing any combination of these three types of connections is a good goal. When you complete your third meaningful connection of the day, consider that day a success. Remembering that sixty-five to eighty percent of all jobs are landed with the direct aid of network connections will help you keep your primary focus on networking. For additional strategies and inspiration, watch the videos and read my blogs about two people who really understand endurance, Steve Jobs and Psychologist Amy Cuddy.
In this blog I have shared my belief that discovery, courage and endurance are directly tied to career transition and transformation success. If a transition to similar work is in your future, begin by discovering who you have been, and who you would like to be if you take the best from your past and project it into the future. If you prefer a career transformation, you’ll still need the lessons from your past, but consider crafting some experiments, shifting connections and then making sense of what you learn. In time, you’ll discover brand new possibilities that can lead to a successful career transformation. Have the courage to say yes to some risk taking, while benefitting from the structure and support others can offer you. And finally, in the words of Steve Jobs, “Don’t settle.” Be cautious about the quick fix. Successful career transitions take time, and call for structure, support, perseverance, a thick skin and a positive attitude.
As this cold month of January begins a new year, I will end with some words of inspiration from author Albert Camus, “In the depths of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.”