12 Essential Resolutions to Change Careers This Year

So, you're thinking about changing careers (or at least changing jobs).

It may seem like a daunting task, especially if you have a busy life or if you don't know what your next career will be.

Below are 12 (sometimes surprising) ideas for making that transition easier, smoother.

Some of these tips are one-time projects; others are projects to start new habits in your life. 

Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

(1) Make an envy list

Not sure what you’re really into or yearning for? Make a list of the people you envy, plus the reason your envy them. This will point you towards things you want for you life and career that you (for whatever reason) don’t think you can have. They can be people you know personally, of famous people you know of.

For the longest time I envied a colleague who owned her own business. I envied her self-determination, her creative freedom, and her earning potential. I didn’t even recognize it as envy until I started planning my own career rebirth. My belief that I didn’t have enough knowledge to start my own business prevented me from even thinking about it.

Once I surfaced this desire - this envy - I could look at it more rationally, and I realized what I needed to learn to make it happen. 

Once you’ve unearthed the things you want for yourself through your envy list you can set about going after them. If you feel stopped by obstacles (as I did) you can employ the help of a mentor, accountability buddy or coach to help you overcome them.

(2) Revive your passions – off the clock

Research shows that we are most dedicated and creative when we’re doing something for the love of it, rather than for rewards such as pay (see this fascinating short video for more). If your job is stale or stressful, an easy way to revitalize your career is to start first by doing something you care about on your own time – the way you want to do it. This may be a hobby, volunteering for a cause, or taking classes. Once you’ve been doing it for a while, you may have new expertise to add it into your resume or bring ideas back to your work team.

(3) Identify your core requirements for a good, sustainable life

Humans are so adaptable that we get a little too good at “making due” with what we have, no matter how inadequate. We get so good at surviving that we forget what it means to thrive. This is the “boiling frog” analogy.

How to break this cycle? Start by identifying your core requirements for work and life. These are the nuts-and-bolts aspects that are part of your life needs right now. For example, in my program The Flint Career Map, I show you some simple ways to identify the following:

  • Financial needs, including savings and other goals
  • Preferred salary
  • The natural talents that you want to use at work
  • Preferred level of responsibility at work
  • Preferred places to live
  • The kind of company structure you want to work for (public, private or for-profit)
  • The size company you want to work for
  • The corporate culture you prefer
  • The top five qualities of co-workers you prefer
  • Your top 5 preferred working conditions
  • The timeline of your ideal day (start time, number of hours, etc.)

How does your current job stack up? If there are too many differences between your core requirements and your current work life, it’s time to start looking ahead to your next career upgrade.

(4) Instead of setting goals, create habits

For example, instead of resolving to lose 10 pounds, resolve to eat your five-a-day fruits and veggies and walk every night after dinner. Instead of resolving to get out of the job you hate before you turn (X) years old, resolve to devote X hours every week on the job search until you find a job you’ll love.

Why do this? Two reasons: one, designing the habits will make the path to your actual goal much more clear. If you fall off the wagon you can just get back on again by resuming the habit. Two, habits will create more long-lasting changes in your life, rather than backsliding after a goal is attained.

Instead of setting goals, create habits. The goals will take care of themselves.

(5) Get an accountability buddy (and/or hire a coach)

This will help you achieve any of the other 11 projects. One couple I know decided they needed to loose weight. They, along with some other relatives, had a “Biggest Loser” weight-loss contest in early 2014. The winner got a package of massages, paid for by the others. It helps if you and your buddy agree on both a reward for success AND a consequence for falling short.

(6) Exercise your change muscle every day for a month

It’s estimated that 50-80% of our lives are habit, run on autopilot. The advantage is that these habits streamline things, leaving mental energy for new challenges that arise. The disadvantage is that we get used to being comfortable; change then feels uncomfortable, even if it’s necessary and useful (like a career upgrade). 

The easy solution? Get more used to change, starting with small, fun things. Drive a different route to work. Run a small errand on a bicycle. Cook a meal you’re never made before. Watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee. Try a music genre that's new to you. Before you know it, you’ll start to feel more alive and vibrant, and you’ll see change as a welcome adventure instead of a windstorm to endure. This will make the larger changes in life (like a new job) more welcome, too.

(7) Expand your social circles – strategically

It's still true that the best way to get hired - or find new career opportunities - is through networking. Expanding your social circles will expand your career opportunities. But your time is valuable, so it's important to do this strategically, without spinning your wheels too much.

Meeting new people at parties is fun, but it's hit-or-miss when it comes to opening new career doors for you. Instead, go where the people are that are already doing what you want to be doing.

Think about your passions and your envy list. Would you like to learn how to start a business? Get into professional photography? Learn how to manage people? Become a skydive instructor? Think about where you could make friends and contacts with similar skills or interests. This could be through Meetup.com, Facebook groups, your local Chamber of Commerce, Toastmasters, conferences/professional associations, and virtual groups online.

Even if you don’t think you’re qualified (yet) to move into your new career, you can get into the field as a hobbyist or learner. Your new friends will support you to keep going, and provide valuable networking contacts down the road.

(8) Seek out a career mentor

Actually, finding a formal career mentor is easier said than done (See my series on this, in this blog.) It’s a big commitment for the mentor, and as a result I find many people are reluctant to ask. If you can find one, wonderful!

If not, focus on finding mini-mentors for specific things you want to learn. Take someone out to lunch so you can pick their brain on something specific, like marketing as a musician or what it’s really like to be a physical therapist. If the person seems receptive to share what they know, ask to continue the relationship.

(9) Turn off the TV for a month (Including video games)

Some of you have already joined the growing club of people who don’t watch TV. For others, this may seem like radical advice. But consider this: the more disconcerting this project seems to you, the more you may need it.

The average American watches about five hours of TV every day. Surprised? Since there are about 16 waking hours to every day, if you cut out the TV, it’s like getting two more free days in every week. Cool eh?

What happens when you turn off the tube? Like any habit change, it feels a little wobbly at first. Then, a wonderful thing happens: your time fills with other things. More leisure. More interactive playing with the kids. More outdoor time, more fitness, more hobbies, more sleep. And, if you need it, more time on career-upgrade projects like job-hunting, networking or taking classes.

(10) Make your health and vitality a top priority for an entire month

Why is this advice in a list of career-boosters? Because it’s all interconnected. If you feel better, you’ll have more energy and mental stamina to work on your career. If you look energetic and healthy, you’ll have an edge in interviews no matter what your age.

You don’t have to reach some pie-in-the-sky perfection during this time. Just resolve, for one month, to PRIORITIZE your health and vitality. Give it the time it needs, and actually DO whatever you’ve been resolving for ages to do: cook more meals instead of eating out. Get enough sleep. Hire a personal trainer, or get a fitness buddy (see above). Fix your desk ergonomics. Eat your five-a-day fruits and veggies. Drink enough water. Kick the soda habit. Get some massages (or other care) for your aching body. Start meditating. Whatever. Think of it as the oil change for your body-car that’s been overdue for 6000 miles.

(11) Start each day with something inspiring or uplifting

This is an easy one – once you start you won’t want to stop. One friend of mine starts most days with Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” Another friend posts four things he’s grateful about to Facebook every day in November. When a client's previous job started getting old, she got into watching a TED talk (https://www.ted.com) every morning instead of the news until she got up the gumption to get another, better paying job. Another friend of mine, a very successful fitness coach, gets up at 5am (before the kids) to read inspirational books with her first cup of coffee. I guarantee that, whatever you day has in store for you, it will be easier if you start this way.

(12) Surround yourself with more honest, supportive people

When I first became a supervisor in nonprofits, I inherited a team that was mostly comprised of people who liked to tell me what they really thought – especially when they were unhappy. At first I found this stressful and draining.

After a while, though, I realized what a gift it was. They all really cared about what was happening, and cared enough to tell their boss when they thought something was wrong. That takes integrity and a bit of courage.

Having positive people in your life is nice. Having honest ones, who will call you on your stuff in the name of your own goals, is priceless.

Final Thoughts

Remember, this is your year.

Setting up a great support structure in your life, including people, personal reflection and good habits paves the way. With persistence and support, you can have a career that fits well, pays well and makes a difference in the world.

5 Ways To Bypass Your Inner Critic and Get Clear on Your Dreams

From time to time I come across this advice for uncovering What You Were Meant To Do With Your Life: Ask yourself, If I knew I could not fail, what would I do?

I have to admit to you, I hate this question. More accurately, I dread it.

You see, I can’t seem to play this game with out waking up the sleeping giant – my inner critic.

The more I dream, the louder she gets: Be a professional dancer – you’re too old to start that now. End world hunger, or violence against children – you’re too introverted to fly around the world making speeches. Start a retreat center – yeah, maybe when your son starts college. Who has the time?

Pretty soon, I feel anxious and overwhelmed, and I’ve convinced myself that I’ll never amount to anything. 

I need a trick for bypassing the inner critic.

But first, it helps to understand what this inner critic really is:

We humans have a built-in survival system, designed to bring us back to our safety (comfort) zone. This comfort zone is what we know. We know how to function in this zone. Even if this place is not completely satisfying – in fact, even if it’s lousy – it’s familiar, and we know how to survive here. The comfort zone includes our physical environment, our social network, even our identity.

When we leave our comfort zone – and even when we think about leaving it – the survival part of our brain says, “Hey, that’s potentially dangerous out there. Better return to the place we know.” Unfortunately, this happens even when contemplating a change that we KNOW would make life better, like applying for a better-paying job.

Moreover, our survival systems don’t distinguish very well between physical threats, social threats, and threats to our identity. Those negative messages are like cattle herders, trying to drive the cattle back into the fenced area of our comfort zones. Get back! Hee-ya!

The inner critic the most cautious part of our brains. 

Many times, it’s incredibly helpful that we have this automatic threat-assessment system. Dark, unfamiliar alley? Maybe not! Fresh coffee at the drive-thru? Better make sure it’s not too hot before gulping it down!

Trouble is, it is hard to just “turn it off.” Maybe even impossible. And, since it’s mostly helpful, we wouldn’t want to turn it off completely and forever anyway.

So, how to selectively bypass this critic and get clear on your dreams?

Try any or all of the techniques that follow. Some are geared specifically towards careers, others for your big exciting life goals in general.

Technique #1: Recognize the inner critic for what it is

Make a list of the objections your inner critic tends to throw at you. To get at these think about big decisions you considered in the past or ones you are considering now. See which objections are most common, and most likely to stop you in your tracks.

Then, notice whenever they arise, and see them for what they are: your automatic survival system, your internal cattle herders. Then choose to ignore them – or see them as problems to be solved rather than walls blocking your path.

Technique #2: Make the other voices louder

Interview 6-10 people in your life; have them reflect back to you what you’re good at, and what they appreciate about you. Sometimes others close to us can see it better than we can.

Prepare 4-6 questions that you’ll ask each person. Ask these people to reflect back what you’ve been saying you want for your life…what are you excited about…what dreams you have articulated…what you’re naturally good at doing. Compile the list and see what patterns emerge.

Technique #3: Create an envy list

Make a list of people who’s careers you envy. They can be people you know personally or famous people you know of. Then next to each one list what it is about those careers you desire most – the freedom? The income? The kind of work they do? The travel? The kind of impact they have in the world? Often, this list will help us recognize the things we want for ourselves, but believe are out of reach.

Technique #4: Bypass the critic with pictures

Create a vision board for your ideal life. Include as many aspects as you can: career, health, relationships, living environment, financial wellbeing, etc. For best results, draw MOST of it yourself rather than cutting out images from magazines; this will help (1) keep your vision from being tainted by the limitations imposed by the advertising industry (such as gender or racial stereotyping), and (2) make the symbolic meaning of the drawing as personal and tailored to you as possible.

There are only two rules – no words, and no numbers – but as a guideline I also recommend using as much detail (and color!) as possible.

While this may seem similar to the dreaded “If-you-know-you-could-not-fail-what-would-you-do?” question, it actually works differently. By drawing symbolically, you make it easier to feel and intuit rather than (over) think your way through the exercise. Your results are more likely to be what you actually crave than what you’ve convinced yourself is important. And, finally, this symbolic image of your ideal life will leave open multiple options for achieving it, which allows you to fold in, rather than be sidetracked by, the unexpected opportunities that come your way.

Final Thoughts

Learning to quiet your inner critic is certainly a process.

Remember to be patient and kind with yourself. Just learning to recognize this voice, and engage with it, is a big step all by itself. As you learn to discern between your inner critic and your inner voice (which might also be called your dreams, your “heart,” or your intuition), it will get easier to “go for it” and create the life you desire and deserve.

What To Do When Your Spouse Doesn't Support Your Career Dreams

Spousal support – or the lack of it – is one of the issues that come up a lot when people want to change careers.

Often, this conflict is not about the new career itself. Instead, it’s often about other, related issues below the surface that are ongoing, but unresolved.

Chances are, when career issues come up, these conversations fall into the same pattern every time, with each person playing a typical role.

Delany was a successful banker, but as she turned 50 she wanted to drop out of the high-pressure, workaholic world of banking and start her own decorating business. Trouble was, her husband seemed totally against it. He was afraid of the pay cut she’d have as she started up, and took every opportunity to remind her that her last business startup had failed to get off the ground 5 years before. She desperately wanted his support, but couldn’t figure out how to get it.

The secret for changing how these conversations turn out is to focus more on your spouse’s needs FIRST. Only by addressing the objections your spouse has can you expect to gain their trust and support.

How to do this? Take a look at the guide that follows. Then imagine in your mind how you might use this guide with whatever sticking points you and your spouse have.

(1) Prepare by loading your ballast stone into the boat

In old sailing vessels, the ballast stone sat at the bottom of the boat and kept everything balanced and upright, especially before the cargo was loaded.

Before everything, make a checklist for yourself, reasons why your career plan is a good idea, research you’ve already done, etc. – so you can remember your rational reasons for doing something if your spouse responds with criticism or anger. This is your ballast stone.

(2) Get into a place of empathy

Say you announce to your spouse that you want the family to go on a long, overnight canoe trip to a place the family has never been before. Your partner has never even been canoeing. You can imagine they might have a list of questions, right? Where are we going? What do I need to bring? Is it going to be dangerous? Etc.

Your new career announcement might feel exactly like that to your spouse. So it can help you manage YOUR defensiveness by remembering that your spouse isn’t criticizing you as a person – even if it comes out sounding that way.

(3) Open the conversation proactively & lovingly

Pick a time when things are calm to discuss the issues surrounding your career. Schedule the conversation if necessary. When you brain is calm, each of you has the best chance of seeing the situation through the others’ eyes and for problem solving. Waiting until either of you is upset makes it almost impossible to work through it together.

(4) Be specific about your intent for the conversation

You’ve advocated for the canoe trip a few times already. So, if you bring it up again, your partner might assume it will be more of the same. Bam – defenses up.

To minimize this, be clear about your intention from the start. Show that you want to hear them out and address their concerns as part of the outcome. “John, I’ve noticed we’ve had some BIG conversations about this canoe trip I want to take. Can we set a time to talk about it? I want us to be able to understand each others’ needs, and see if there’s a way for this trip to really make sense for all of us as a family.”

(5) Transform the conversation with listening

Yes, I know – you’ve heard it all already, and you know what your spouse is going to say. But here’s the thing: what you really know well are the surface concerns your partner has felt more comfortable voicing in the past, before the conversation turned sour. Your task here is to make it safe to go below the surface – the other 7/8ths of the iceberg, so to speak. Yes, he’s concerned about money. But why?

So: get as curious as possible about your spouse’s perspective. Make it okay to say whatever he has to say. Remember, it’s not about you as a person, it’s about whatever he or she fears.

Don’t put a time limit on it. You know you’re doing it right when your partner begins to relax, both physically and mentally, like a fish who’s been put back into the water.

What you can say:

  • What are your top concerns?
  • Can you say a little more about how you see things?
  • What impact would that have on you? On us? The family?
  • You said before that you are concerned about (name concern). Say some more about how this is important to you.
  • What information might you have that I don’t?
  • How are you feeling about all of this?
  • What would it mean to you if that happened?
  • What else?

(6) Show that you heard

It is very important to show that you take your spouse’s concerns seriously if you are going to gain more support from her in the long run. And, your partner – like all of us – needs you to show that you have heard her and take her concerns seriously before she can “move on” to problem solving.

What you can say: 

  • Okay, so it sounds like overall you are concerned about (summarize what they said). Do I have that right?
  • Sounds like you may be feeling (describe feelings).
  • Sounds like you’re afraid that…

(7) Use “Yes, And...” instead of “But” to add your own perspective

Once you sense that your partner is feeling heard, you can begin to say more about your own perspective.

This may include supplying information to address your partner’s concerns, as well as sharing more about your wants vs. needs for your career. Here’s an important tip: use the “Yes/And” technique to add your own perspective without negating that of your spouse.

Delany might say, “Yes, I appreciate that my last business startup didn’t succeed. And, there are certain things I’ve learned from that experience that will help me be more successful this time, such as…”

(8) When tensions run high, step back for a moment and repeat your intent

Even using the above strategies, you and your partner will probably hit some occasional “icebergs” – topics with a lot of emotional stuff under the surface. That’s normal for conversations around important topics like this. Gently and lovingly remind your partner that your intent is to work through it – together.

(9) Repeat steps 4-7 until everything is out on the table

(10) Paddle the canoe together

Make your spouse your partner in figuring this out; include your spouse’s input in crafting solutions whenever possible. Brainstorm and look for fresh, creative solutions that meet both your needs.

This is like saying, “Okay honey, since you’ve agreed to go canoeing with me, I agree to let you help pick the route.”

Chances are, this conversation will unfold over time. It’s okay if you take a break and come back to it later. If you get stuck you can always get help from a coach or counselor.

But, chances are, if you are persistent in coming back to the strategies mentioned above you will, with some practice, get your canoe moving in a positive direction toward your goals and dreams.

Good reading:

This article draws on the inspired work of the following authors. For more how-to detail, and helpful examples, of the above techniques check out:

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes are High. By Patterson, Grenny, McMillian, and Switzer. 2002, McGraw-Hill.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. By Stone, Patton, and Heen. 1999, Penguin Books.

Five Habits that Keep You Stuck in a Job You Hate

dock lines only.jpg

In my late twenties, I finally bought a house.

I was so proud of that house that I spent a lot of time (and a fair amount of money) on continuous projects.

I painted and re-painted; I hand-finished my own wood furniture; I installed another half-bath and a deck; I landscaped like it was going out of style.

It was a stressful time at work, and on Fridays I would quip to my office mates that I was going to spend the weekend doing “gardening therapy” to unwind and shake off the stress of the week.

And it worked, very well. By Monday I felt refreshed and renewed, and (mostly) ready to jump back into the fray.

But you know what those projects also did? They kept me stuck in a job where I was burning out.

How is this, you ask? Isn’t it healthy to have hobbies, interests other than work, and personal renewal?

Well, yes – to a point.

You see, it depends on the purpose these activities serve, and the amount of time they take up. SOME time spent on renewal is important. Yet, it’s very easy for these same activities to actually get in the way of your larger goals in life.

During that time I was doing all the house projects, I was NOT spending time setting up mentors, seeking expert advice on my workplace situation, learning what else was out there in the nonprofit world, setting 10-year career goals, or planning my next career move. I was just seeking comfort – and escape. It wasn’t until my thirties, when my son was born, that I could look back and see where all the time had gone.

So, if you are stuck in a job you hate, or a job that saps your energy, take stock. Which life activities renew you – and which are just distracting you?

Here are my top five choices. Which ones apply to you?

Do you let the steam out of the kettle?

Imagine a kettle that is trying to boil. Every time it gets close, someone comes by and opens the flapper a bit, letting out just enough steam that the kettle never whistles.

Many comfort habits are not renewing, but simply ways to numb the pain – a glass of wine with dinner, a chocolate bar when you’re stressed, a night of mindless TV. (This is different from endorphin-releasing activities that increase health and manage stress, like exercise, meditation, and laughter with friends.)

The whistle is your inner voice, telling you to get the heck out of that job. Instead of lifting the flapper with numbing activities, resolve to take the kettle off the burner entirely by changing your work situation.

Do your hobbies and projects eat up more time than you think?

Some of those house projects I did were necessary repairs; others were useful and increased the value of the house. Yet, others were completely unnecessary and distracted me from the larger issues in my life. (Did I really need to repaint the dining room three times?)

Try this: fold a piece of paper into thirds (or make an Excel document with three columns.) In the first column, list all of the hobbies and projects of your household from the past six months that you can remember.

Now, consider which items were/are renewal activities, and which might be distracting/escape activities. In column two, re-write all the items that help you renew. In column three, write down anything from column one that are escape activities (or renewal activities you do so much they become escape activities).

What do you notice? Where in your life is there room to replace escape activities with time spent on your career?

Do you fritter away your rainy-day or business start-up money?

Back when I was a Program Director, one of my staff decided he wanted to take an extended trip to Australia. Between his job and his own small business, he probably had a comparable yearly income to me. Yet, while I went years without allowing myself a significant vacation, he achieved his goal in eight months, and saved enough to spend over two weeks in Australia.

How did he do it? Simple; he paid himself.

Once he set his goal, and figured out how much he needed to save, he started cutting out the extras in his life. And every time he did so, he put the money in a separate savings account. He did this with little things – his daily Starbucks allotment went in there, as he drank supermarket coffee brewed at home – as well as larger payments, such as the difference between the rent for his tiny apartment and the larger one he could have afforded.

This strategy works because you focus on the reward of moving closer to your goal, rather than the sense of deprivement when you deny yourself your daily and weekly comforts.

Have a career goal that you think is financially out of reach, like starting a business or getting more training? Try paying yourself.

Do you read and consume media to entertain yourself, rather than to better yourself?

In my late twenties, I spent a summer month consulting and co-facilitating on a corporate teambuilding project in another town upstate. During our weekend down time, I noticed that my host’s kitchen table was filled with books about business, leadership, and the health care industry. He had a goal of reading one book a week – an ambitious project. I was reading also – but mostly science fiction, my favorite. (And, to be honest, I was watching movies at the end of the night more than I was reading.)

Within 5 years, he transitioned over and became an in-house trainer in the health care industry, with a significant increase in salary. It wasn’t until I saw the connection between his reading habits and his career growth that I began doing the same – with great promotion results of my own.

Give up your favorite unwind-reading or show? No – we all need that sometimes; that falls in the renewal category. Instead, limit the time spent on these and spend time each week with material that expands your knowledge base, feeds your true passions, and furthers your career.

Is your social circle is the same size it’s been for years (or: Are your co-workers your main friends)?

Now, if you’re a natural introvert like me, having a small circle of close friends that you’ve known for years is part of how you define The Good Life. (I’ve known all my "besties" for over 15 years.) Or, you may be extroverted, but you hang out with your co-workers more than anyone else. This is perfectly fine, in and of itself, and I’m sure they are wonderful people.

And, if you want to get out of a rut and into a new job or career, it will help immensely to expand your social network. Here are three reasons why:

  1. New friends (or at least new acquaintances) will expose you to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new networking opportunities. Networking is still the number one way that people land new jobs.
  2.  If your friends are your co-workers, they may have a vested interest in keeping you at your current workplace – either to keep seeing your lovely face, or to validate their own decision to stay at their jobs. As a result, they may not be the best support network to encourage you when you have moments of doubt in your job search.
  3. Making new friends is a great way to exercise your “change muscle” and get used to change in your life. This, in turn, will make changing jobs or careers feel more comfortable, more doable.

Am I telling you to dump your current friends? Definitely not! Hold on to the people that love you and make your life sweeter.

Just add some new spice into the soup, okay? Join a new club; revive an old hobby; do something on Meetup; join a professional organization; spend some time on LinkedIn; talk to people at that conference you needed to go to anyway; etc.

If something doesn’t feel right, give it time OR try something else. In time, it will pay off in wonderful and unexpected ways.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

The Big Secret New Moms Know About Finding Mentors

Part 4 of 4 in my series Finding a Mentor.

I’m here to let you in on a little secret about finding real-life mentors.

But, if you’re a mom, you might already know this secret about finding a mentor in the real world.

What’s so special about moms – in particular, new moms with babies and toddlers running around?

Two things:

One, moms of very young children are extremely busy. I myself have a young child, and I’m here to tell you that it’s almost impossible to understand ahead of time how a baby or small child will reduce the amount of free time you have to basically zero. As in, “Did I manage a shower today? Awesome!” (Those of you with children are nodding your heads vigorously right now.)

Two, most new moms are extremely grateful for the emotional support, advice, product recommendations, and etc. they’ve recently gotten from other new moms. I remember being told about bouncy chairs by my dear college friend. (Amazingly, I had previously never heard of them.) During my son’s first 6 months of life, bouncy chairs allowed me to eat a meal uninterrupted and go to the bathroom in peace. (Thank you, Konnie.) I could go on and on about advice for morning sickness, safe bedding, nursing schedules, stretch marks, as well as the free babysitting I received.

As a result, new moms are greatly motivated to pay if forward and help other new moms, despite being very limited on time.

How do they do it? Here's the secret:

New moms create a network of mini-mentors.

New (including expecting) moms create networking opportunities for themselves. They have baby showers; they create groups on Facebook and Meetup.com so they can network with other moms, they post their experiences and problems on social media so other moms can comment; they have play dates.

And then, other moms heed the call. They come to the showers and play dates, join the groups. And what do they mostly talk about? They talk about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting. They share stories, lessons learned and advice. They commiserate, but mostly they help.

Many, if not most, new moms create for themselves a network of mini-mentors: a group of people they can turn to for various things they need related to parenting. Instead of relying heavily on one other mom to meet all their needs, they draw on many people, a little at a time. And they know who they can turn to for various things: I go to Sue for advice on food allergies, to Alberta for advice on getting back into shape post-partum, to Erika when I don’t know how to handle my child’s tantrums.

And this is the big secret for finding mentors in the real world: develop a network of mini-mentors for your career.

(I want to acknowledge here all the dads who are just as busy as the moms, especially the stay-at-home dads. However the moms, for whatever reason, do much more mini-mentor networking than the dads. Just check the Facebook or Meetup groups in your local area and you’ll see what I mean.)

Below are six reasons this strategy works well for careers, as well as for parenting. I’ve also included some simple strategies for starting your mini-mentor network.

6 Reasons We All Need Mini-Mentors For Our Careers 

1. You are employing the power of micro-commitments

Yes, it is awesome if you can find someone who is willing and able to become your true-blue, formal mentor, someone who will meet you every month and check in with you when you get off-track. However, it may take some time to find this kind of match. In the meantime, there are almost certainly people around you who are willing to make micro-commitments of their time: 30 minutes of brain-picking over coffee, a brief email exchange, a question while you happen to be together at a party or other event.

Try this: Make a list of five people you know that could potentially be mini-mentors right now. Don’t stop until you reach five (or more).

2. Having multiple mentors lets them specialize

Mentors are real people, with strengths and weaknesses just like you and me. Let them mentor you in what they are really good at – and let go of the expectation that they can fix all of your problems in every aspect of your career. 

Try this: There may be a temptation to pick the person that is most comfortable to ask. But the best strategy uses the reverse approach – make a list of what you’re good at. Then a list of what you wish you knew more about/were more confident about. Now rank the second list. The top 4 are the areas were you should seek out a mentor. 

3. Each mentor exposes you to a new network of people, ideas and opportunities

If your mentors specialize in different professional (and personal) areas, chances are they also have distinct social networks. Make sure that some of your time with them allows for connections to these networks to happen, either by chance or by making specific introductions. Networking is still one of the most important ways to build businesses, find jobs, and get “fresh blood” into your creative thinking.

Try this: Consider your list of five potential mini-mentors. Sketch or describe the network each one has. Do they completely overlap or are they different? If they are not at least somewhat different, add another potential mini-mentor to your list, one who does have a different network.

4. Different mentors have different perspectives

For a number of years in my former field of adventure education, I relied heavily on one person as a mentor. This person advised me that, in order to make the industry safer, certain activities in our field were becoming passé and should be eliminated. Following this person’s advice, I told my staff and clients the same thing. Some clients objected, and I think I actually lost a little business over it. But, I held fast to what I had been taught. 

About seven years later, I had a new mentor in this field, who had a different perspective on some of these same activities. My new mentor believed in keeping some of these “higher risk” activities, but changing the way they were facilitated to manage the risk and lower the chance of injury. Same desired outcome – safety – with a different approach.

I still value both people as mentors. And, I am now more likely to take the advice of a mentor and think it through for myself, rather than just following what I’ve been taught. If you have more than one mentor for a topic that is very important to you, you are more likely to gain a broader, more nuanced understanding of the issues – and the possibilities.

Try this: Consider a topic, skill or issue that is crucial to you in your current field. Who in your list of mini-mentors might have different perspectives on it? If you are not sure you may ask, or you may consider adding another person to your list.

5. Mentoring relationships have a life cycle

There are many reasons that a particular mentor may cease to be a primary mentor after a while. This person may teach you all they have to teach on a particular subject. You (or they) may change careers or specialties. One of you may move away, and the relationship may lose its momentum without regular contact. Your mentor may go through a life change (such as illness, childbirth, or the extended care of an elderly parent) and may not have time or energy to mentor for the foreseeable future. 

If you have chosen well, this relationship will not end but simply evolve, into a friendship or something similar. You may stay in contact, but may realize you just can’t lean on this person the way you used to.

If you have developed a mentoring network of mini-mentors, the evolution of this one relationship will have less negative impact on your career overall.

6. Mini-mentoring networks create an easy way to give back

When you develop a network of mini-mentors, chances are, all of you may be donating micro-commitments of mentoring back and forth – including you. This is in part because you will be following the 3-to-1 Rule I outline in Part 2 of this series, which you can find here

It’s also because some of the mentors in your network will be peers, rather than people way ahead of you in their careers. Your peer mentors will offer you their expertise, and you will offer them yours.

And, as part of giving back to your mentors, you’ll probably introduce some of your mentors to each other, which will add strands to the web. (Think about the new-mom networks I described above.)

All of this giving-and-receiving-and-giving-again will keep the enthusiasm and the momentum up in your mentoring network. It’s an easy way to keep it going, and it just feels good to be able to pay-it-forward on a regular basis. 

Good luck developing your mini-mentor network! Let me know how it goes, okay?

 

 

Finding a Mentor, Made Easy

Part 3 of 4 in the series Finding a Mentor

How on earth do I get someone to be my mentor?”

This seems like a big hurdle, doesn’t it?

When I encourage clients to find a mentor, I can hear the mental brakes screech to a halt in front of the roadblock called It’s Too Much To Ask. As in, it’s too much to ask someone I really admire to give me his or her time and free advice.

And they’re right. At least, the way people typically approach mentoring.

But, there is one easy, important way to make finding a great mentor more likely (and asking more comfortable). Just remember this:

Be a farmer, not a hunter

How does a farmer get a great harvest? She plows the field, she sows the seeds. She waters, she weeds, she fertilizes, she waits. Only after the crops have had plenty of time to grow does she harvest the delightful vegetables.

In short, the successful farmer gives quite a bit to the soil and crops before he sees the results.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

A great mentoring relationship grows rather organically (pun intended) out of a relationship that has already been nurtured. And in case you hadn’t guessed, you (the potential mentee) are the farmer. It’s up to you, my friend, to initiate the nurturing.

(Now, this is not to imply any criticism of hunting, either actual hunting or metaphorical hunting. After all, when we’re looking for a job we go “job hunting.” It’s just that farming is the metaphor I encourage you to use for developing a mentoring relationship. You don’t go out and “get” one that already exists; you create it from the seed of a relationship.)

So back to farming. Let’s take a peek at what this actually looks like when seeking a mentor. Although there is no “playbook,” there are guiding principles to this approach. They are:

1. Look first for potential mentors within the network you already have.

People who know you should know what great things you are capable of, and you have already done some of the groundwork of nurturing there relationships.

Once you have taken stock of the kind of mentoring you need (see here for my article on this), you can look around at your social network for someone who has the skills and experience to help you grow.

One tip: Pick someone who is already 10 steps ahead of you in their own career, at least in the area you need mentoring.

2. If you want to approach someone you don’t already know, develop a basic relationship FIRST.

Is there someone you don’t know personally, but have a mentor-crush on? It’s still possible to end up with this person as your mentor. But, like dating, it’s important to approach this person gradually, and (again) nurture the relationship as a give-and-take. Have conversations. Develop trust. And, when possible, offer to do something meaningful and genuinely helpful for the other person first. (See below.)

One tip: If your mentor-crush is someone quite famous, either nationally or just in your particular field, chances are that they are already swamped with requests to be a mentor. This will make it fairly unlikely that they will be able to say “yes” to you (although not impossible…). Consider how hard you are willing to work to get a mentor, and choose a potential mentor accordingly.

3. Follow the 3-1 rule.

Can you count three ways you have given to your potential mentor, before you ask for help? If not, you may not have nurtured the relationship enough.

This giving could be all sorts of things. Perhaps you’ve connected them with someone else that helps their career. Perhaps you’ve sent them an article or link, or even a client referral. Perhaps you’ve done them a favor. Perhaps you’ve simply been a good listener, and showed that you care about their world and their concerns.

4. Prove yourself worthy of their commitment first.

Chances are if you consider person X a great potential mentor, others do too. Even if you do have a relationship with this person, they may be getting multiple requests to be a mentor. In a way, you need to audition for the “job” of mentee.

Does this seem strange? Consider it from your potential mentor’s perspective: they are volunteering their time; they are probably already pretty busy. Their main ROI (return on investment) is the sense of satisfaction they’ll get from helping someone succeed. So, they will be more inclined to mentor someone who looks likely to succeed with their help.

You don’t need to stand on your head and juggle (unless that’s your talent). But, you do need to show your potential mentor your talent and potential. Ask yourself the following. If you can’t say yes to these questions, consider upping your game for a while before asking.

  • Do I walk my talk around this person?
  • Do I keep my commitments (including being on time)?
  • Do I act professionally around this person, and others they associate with?
  • Have they witnessed or experienced my finest work to date?
  • Have I shown initiative, and a willingness to be a contribution, around this person?
  • Would this person feel confident that I am a person who willingly takes (and uses) feedback from others?

5. Start with a more specific and limited request.

A great way to start is by saying you admire their work/accomplishments and want to learn more about what they do (or how they got to where they are). Could you buy them a coffee and pick their brain a bit? If so, set a time limit (say, 30 or 60 minutes or whatever they can manage) and stick to it like glue. Be sure to pay for the coffee.

This is your basic informational interview. Come prepared with some questions, ones that show you’ve done your homework (i.e., don’t ask anything you could have easily learned from their website or other readily available materials.) Take notes if you like, and strike a conversational tone. Be personable, interested, open.

Tip #1: Make sure you invite them to tell their story. It will show interest in them as a person (not just as a tool to help you) and will also yield unexpected ways to find common ground between you. For example, you could ask:

  • So how did you get into this field/industry/business?
  • What do you like best about what you do?
  • What’s been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

You may not have time to ask lots of these sorts of questions. However, asking at least one is a very valuable use of your time.

Tip #2: You should mostly listen during an informational interview. However, since you are also hoping the relationship will continue, look for small windows to share things about yourself that will (a) show common ground and (b) provide evidence for the questions asked in #4, above. Limit your comments to between 30 seconds and two minutes each, unless your coffee-mate asks for more.

Tip #3: Be looking, also, for ways that you can help the person you are interviewing (the 3-1 rule). If you think of things, mention them briefly (“That makes me think of an article you may like, can I send it to you later today?”) and return to your format. Obviously, follow through on what you promise (this will speak volumes about you as a potential mentee).

So, basically you are on a “first date” with this person. If it seems to be going well, and by that I mean the other person is engaged and you seem to click, ask for a second “date.” By this I mean one of two things: (1) ask if you can meet them again for another chat, in a month or two, or (2) ask if they would be willing to help you with a specific issue or project. (“Would you be willing to give me feedback on my demo tape/blog/brochure/etc.?”)

If you already have a decent relationship with this person, it may make more sense to start with this request, rather than the informational interview. As I said, these are guiding principles, not a playbook. At any rate, the point is to start with a specific and limited request.

6. Baby steps, baby.

Keep asking, and giving; after a while you may have a mentoring relationship without ever uttering the phrase, “Will you be my mentor?” If the relationship is strong enough, or if the person seems interested in mentoring, you may actually formalize the relationship with this question. However, it may develop without it just fine.

Will you need to keep up the 3-1 rule, after this? Yes – but it will look somewhat different. At this point, part of your “giving” is (1) being enthusiastically open to receiving feedback or advice, (2) showing that you have the initiative to act on their advice and create results, and (3) showing how much you appreciate their investment in you with thank you notes and the like. Providing direct value like networking referrals will only be part of the mix (albeit still an important one).

7. If the answer is no, let it go.

Remember that “no” is a gift as well. In the long run, that person would not have had their heart in it. Look for the person who is enthusiastic and willing.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

Do You Need a Mentor, Coach, or Consultant? Find Out Here

Part 2 of 4 in the series Finding a Mentor

People might think I’m crazy for recommending mentors so much. After all, wouldn’t it put me out of business if every person had one?

On the contrary, there are important differences between mentors, coaches, and consultants, and the services they provide. In fact while we’re at it, we’ll add one more to the list: counselor/therapist. If you know how they differ, you can pick one and have the best match for the kind of support you need at every stage of your career (and life in general).

Take the following mini-quiz below to find out what kind of professional you need most.

(1) Do you have a specific task you need done, with a high learning curve?

If so, you may need a consultant. A consultant is someone who is paid to share his or her proven expertise on specific topics, often for a limited time (until a measurable outcome is reached or for a set time, for example). A consultant says, “I recommend you do it exactly this way” – or, “Let me do that for you.”

This is helpful if you don’t know how to do it yourself, have limited time, and don’t have much room for the usual mistakes-while-you-learn. For example you may hire a consultant to design your website for you, or do payroll.

The benefit? You are paying for this person’s undivided attention, and should expect to get it. And, you can reasonably demand results, again because you are paying for it.

The drawback? Consultants can be expensive. (In fact, the good ones should be.) And, after the consultant is done you still may not be able to do that particular thing yourself, that you are paying them to do.

(2) Do you feel stuck in the past, or unable to function in daily life?

If so, you may need a counselor/therapist. A counselor is someone who helps you resolve the past (i.e., a traumatic event) or overcome issues that prevent you from living a reasonably normal life. Counseling may involve grief counseling, marriage or family therapy, therapy for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction recovery, therapy for anger or anxiety management, or more serious mental issues (such as clinical depression or bipolar disorder).

This is helpful if you have trouble keeping jobs, keeping relationships, or experiencing the pleasures of life. It is also helpful if you are experiencing flashbacks or hallucinations, or wish to overcome an addiction.

The benefit? A trained therapist can help you overcome a personal difficulty that you are having trouble overcoming yourself, and get back to enjoying life again. Your therapist can also help you get an official diagnosis for your problem, get access to social services or connect you with someone who can proscribe medication if you need it. Many therapists also take health insurance.

The drawback? Although counseling/therapy may be what you really need, you will need to “face” your issue and that may be difficult at first.

(This, however, should not be a reason to avoid getting the therapy you need. Of the four services listed here, I consider this one the least “optional” if you really have a problem. Enough said.)

(3) Do you feel stopped by an obstacle, either professionally or personally?

If so, you may need a coach. A coach is someone who helps you get a new perspective, seek out tools and resources, so that you creatively overcome the obstacles in your way. A coach helps you think new thoughts on an old problem, set goals and be accountable to them, and generally helps you see your way out of the forest. A coach says, “Let me help you to do it yourself.”

This is helpful if you don’t know what the answer is to a question (for example, “what should my next career be?”) that should only be answered by yourself. It’s also helpful if you keep running into the same roadblock over and over (for example, “I want to start training for a new career but I never seem to have the time/money/courage.”) Unlike therapists, coaches tend to focus on the present and the future (rather than resolving the past).

The benefit? With a coach, you get control over the outcome or decision, because it’s yours to make. Also, you will leave the experience with confidence in your competence – in the end, you made it happen, not the coach.

The drawback? Although coaches are good motivators, you have to be willing to do your own projects and “homework” between coaching sessions for coaching to yield results. (If you are highly motivated this may not be a drawback.)

Note: My business is a blend of coaching and consulting; I believe this is what career-changers and job-seekers need most. See here for more.

(4) Are you more interested in a long-term relationship with someone in your field, than with a guarantee of specific results?

If so, you may need a mentor most of all. A mentor is someone who acts as a role model, a professional sounding board, a reassuring I’ve-done-it-so-you-can-too person. Mentors share their personal stories, and their wisdom and suggestions based on those stories, in order to help you along. A mentor says, “Let me tell you what I’ve learned.”

This is helpful if you would like ongoing, low-density support (i.e., whenever you can both make time). A mentor is very helpful if you want support and ideas from someone who knows your industry or profession. It’s also a good fit if you are budget-conscious (there is little cost beyond travel to meet, and perhaps a shared meal).

The benefit? A good mentoring relationship can last years, if not a lifetime, with little financial cost.

The drawback? Since most mentors are volunteering their services, you have to find one that is willing to commit to you. This can take more time and effort than hiring a consultant, therapist or coach. And, since most mentors are not trained “as mentors,” there is no guarantee of specific outcomes. What they have to offer is more like the Play-Doh right out of the can; you have to shape it to make it fit what you need.

Having said that, a good mentor is invaluable and the benefits outweigh the challenges. I recommend finding one if you can.

Q. So Michelle, which one of these is best?
It really depends on your situation and your need. These different professionals play different roles and provide different benefits. In fact, you may end up working with several of these professionals at the same time.

Q. Can’t I find someone to do all of these things for me?
Yes, and no. Some professionals play several of these roles (one colleague of mine is a licensed therapist, provides consulting for health-care agencies, and mentors her new staff) but not necessary with the same people. Some therapists will have counseling and coaching clients. Some coaches will offer consulting. Some consultants will mentor protégés, and so on. Usually you will have one primary relationship with a given professional.

You may have a secondary one, provided it is not against their code of ethics. For example as a coach I may offer some consulting to a client on a limited basis. However, a therapist will not offer therapy and mentoring to the same person.

Q. Great! So how do I find the right mentor for me?
That, my friend, is the subject of another article. Stay tuned.

 

Want a Mentor? Five Questions to Ask Yourself First

Part 1 of 4 in the series Finding a Mentor

Have dreams of finding the perfect mentor? You’re not alone. Many people want a mentor, and with good reason. Mentors can help us avoid the potholes in the road, make those big leaps of faith a lot less scary, and help our careers go farther, easier. As a career coach I highly recommend that you find one if you can.

But first: you need to prepare a bit. Asking someone to mentor you is somewhat like going steady: it’s a commitment of the head and heart, for you and for that person. They are going to give their time and their emotional energy to your success. You want to make sure it’s right for both of you.

So here are five questions to ask yourself. Give them some thought; brainstorm your ideas to each one first, then polish them down into short answers you could give to someone if they asked.

(1) What are my top mentoring needs?

Why this is important:

  • Mentors need motivation. How clear you are on what you need, and how big the scope of your need is, may influence whether someone says “yes.” Potential mentors will want to believe they can be successful giving you what you need before they’ll say yes (let’s be honest, why would they bother otherwise?).
  • Time is precious to mentors. If you can show that you’ve thought this through, the other person will be more confident that you are worth the investment of their commitment.
  • YOU may need several mini-mentors. You may discover that you need one person to mentor you on topic X and another person to mentor you on topic Y. (See my upcoming article on mini-mentors for more on this.)

How to do it: Ask yourself...

  1. Why, exactly, do I need a mentor?
  2. What do I hope to learn?
  3. What are my overall goals and dreams, and how am I hoping a mentor will help me get there?
  4. Do I need a mentor to help me learn skills specific to my trade, to create networking opportunities for me, to help me work on my personal skills (such as confidence, appearance, or elevator pitch), or something else?
  5. From all this, what are my top one or two needs this year?

(2) What kind of person am I willing to take advice from?

Why this is important: Part of being mentored is allowing your mentor to tell you to do things differently. But our egos are pretty attached to who we are right now, so it can be easier to take this counsel from some people than others.

Think about all the people you've worked with and you'll probably find examples on both sides. Personally, I've had supervisors, colleagues, clients, even staff on my own team that could give me constructive criticism in a way that I readily accepted. On the other hand, there have been one or two people over the years who's feedback I always resisted (even if they were sometimes spot on).

Why is this?

A lot of it has to do with delivery. For example, if someone approaches me with a tone that says, I'd like to help you out by drawing your attention to this, I find I am much more open to the information.  I prefer information (when you do X, the result if often Y) over judgement (you're making the wrong choice). I also prefer a person who is willing to make me a partner in crafting the new course of action, rather than simply telling me what to do.

Bottom line: While you can learn to accept feedback from anyone - and in fact that's a good workplace skill - it's ideal to choose a mentor whose style naturally fits your own. Since this is a relationship based on goodwill (rather than payment), the better it feels, the more you both will invest over time.

What kind of mentor are you willing to take advice from?

How to do it: Try thinking about a person in your life that you have liked getting advice from in the past. What about this person’s approach or way of being made it so enjoyable or accessible for you? Be as specific as you can.

(3) How do I prefer to receive feedback and advice?

Why this is important: This is more about the delivery method than the tone. Some delivery methods are more comfortable for us, while others are jarring. And once again, this varies from person to person. We tend to deliver feedback to others in the way we ourselves would prefer to receive it.

Read that twice; if you remember nothing else from this article, remember that! You can’t expect your mentor to know what you need and magically deliver feedback in the way you prefer. So, you need to either (a) pick a mentor whose preference matches your own or (b) teach your mentor how you prefer to receive feedback.

How to know? Try this:

How to do it: Write down the answers to each of these questions:

  1. Do you want feedback in person, or in written form so you can consider it privately before talking to your mentor?
  2. Do you want it in-the-moment as it occurs to your mentor, or do you want to schedule a time for it so you can feel “ready?”
  3. Do you want feedback to be offered, unsolicited, or do you want the person to wait until you ask?
  4. Do you want direct advice, or do you simply want the person to tell you their experience, letting you draw you own conclusions?
  5. Do you want theory and research (“this is how 80% of startups market their businesses”), or do you want step-by-step, how-to advice?

Special note: You may not know the answer to these questions, yet. (I find that many people cannot recall having gotten good, solid, constructive feedback to consider as a model.) If this is the case, ask a potential mentor how they prefer to deliver feedback, and see how it sits with you. You might also let your mentor know you are still learning about this, and ask if it’s okay to state your preferences as they become clearer.

(4) What are my core values?

Why this is important: If you are going to feel that you mentor is steering you in the right direction, you need to share a significant number of core values with this person, because values influence every decision we make. Your mentor’s counsel needs to steer you in the direction of your core values, not away from them.

For example, let’s say you are expanding your business, and will need a few employees. If you listed “flat, egalitarian organization structure” and “decisions by consensus” as core values, but your mentor values a more hierarchical, the-boss-is-always-right structure, the advice this person gives you in this realm will not be a fit for you. (And vice versa.)

Interesting tidbit: Once you answer this question, you will notice that it affects the answer to the other four. For example, people I readily accept advice from tend to have collaboration and consensus as core values - like me.

So…what are your top five core values?

How to do it: Brainstorm a list, then prioritize your top five. Also, see if you can separate them into personal values and work or business-specific values. (If you are having trouble with this, let me know. I have a great method and can help you develop your values list in two coaching sessions.)

Important: Remember that your potential mentor may not have a polished list any more than you do at this moment. They may need some time to articulate their own if they have never been asked to do so before. So, put it out there as a question (“Hey, are we a fit?”) rather than a test (“Are you good enough for me?”). This is just professional courtesy and good karma, regardless of whether the mentoring part takes off or not.

(5) What are some of the ways I can give back to my mentor?

Why this is important: As I’ll talk about in another article, it’s important to give back to your mentor in whatever way you genuinely can. This builds goodwill and will help both of you to feel that the relationship is a partnership. Sometimes, a mentoring relationship starts when you offer to help the person you want as a mentor.

How to do it: Of course, you won’t know exactly how you can give back until the relationship unfolds. For example, you may realize you can connect your mentor to someone you know to help them, only after they share an issue they are working on. Or, you may come across an article down the road that you realize they would like.

For now, just generate a generic list of possibilities. What skills do you have? What topics do you know about? What kind of network do you have? Where have you helped people before? This list will prime the pump – and get you in the mindset of looking for ways to help your mentor.

Final Thoughts:

Doing a little self-study is an important way to prepare yourself for the mentoring experience. You’ll be more likely to ask the right person, to get their willingness to be a mentor, and to make the most of the time you have together. With a little preparation, and the right approach, you can create a rich, rewarding mentoring relationship that benefits you both and lasts for years to come.

Let me know how it goes, okay?

3 Reasons You Hate the Job You're Great At

Sally was a licensed nurse and mental health counselor, working as a health coach for an insurance company. The company sent clients to her for evaluation and counseling, mostly by phone.

She should have been happy. She was working in her field, she set her own hours, got paid $15,000 more than any other job she’d ever had, and she had good benefits.

Yet at the end of every day, she felt restless and empty inside. Eventually she began to hate her job, even though she was good at it.

It’s funny, isn’t it? Sometimes we dread a job we’re actually very good at.

How can that be?

If you find yourself in that situation, it’s crucial to understand why you’re there -- otherwise, you may switch jobs, only to wind up in the same predicament.

In my experience, there are three main reasons you hate a job you're great at.

Read each and see if you can find the one that fits your situation.

Reason #1: The Missing Mission

Remember Sally? She was earning the best money of her life, but she felt empty inside.

Why? Why not just take the paycheck and go on with her life?

Deep down, Sally wanted to work with teenagers, not adults. She was especially concerned about homeless teens and their risk of falling through the cracks.

Sally was unhappy because she had a case of mis-matched mission: the mission of her current employer did not fit her deepest, truest personal mission in life. She took the job after eight months of being unemployed because the job paid well and had other perks – but after she caught up with her bills, that missing mission felt like a big hole in her life.

Why is mission so important?

The diagram below illustrates the Four Career Domains. These are the four aspects of your self-ness that need to be fulfilled, in order for you to love your career over time.

The Four Career Domains: The overlap is where your ideal career lies. 

The Four Career Domains: The overlap is where your ideal career lies. 

Here’s a quick summary of what’s in the Four Career Domains:

  1. Best Self: Can you be your “best self” at work – who you really are, at your best? This includes your values, the roles you like to play at work, and your temperament.
  2. Passion, Mission, and Purpose: Why do you work? How does your work create meaning in your life, address an issue you care about, or involve your passions?
  3. Natural Talents and Learned Skills: Does your job use your favorite skills? Does your job challenge you to continuously grow and learn new things?
  4. Personal Requirements: Does your job fit into your life? Does it pay enough, enable you to live the lifestyle you want? Do you like the hours, the commute, the benefits? Does it allow you to “be there” for your kids? Etc.

Each of these domains must be reasonably satisfied in order for you to enjoy work and be energized (rather than drained) by it over time.

As you might guess, what’s in each domain varies quite a bit from person to person.

Here’s what it looks like when you have a case of the Missing Mission:

The Missing Mission

The Missing Mission

If you have something you’re very passionate about, or a strong sense of personal mission, you need to have it fulfilled somewhere in order to feel fulfilled in life. Some folks call it their “calling” or their “higher purpose”—those are all terms for the same need.

Some folks get their personal mission fulfilled through volunteer work, time with family or even hobbies. There’s no requirement that you get it fulfilled at work. However, if you hate a job you’re good at, this is one possible reason why, and it’s helpful to check your “mission match”—and how much this matters to you—as you determine why you are so unhappy at work.

Reason #2: The Square Peg in the Round Hole

Angela has been at her job a long time. She’s a talented engineer, and she’s been promoted a few times. Now, she’s the head of an international team, working on an airport security project. It’s important work that has the potential to save lives. She gets a lot of recognition, she visits exciting countries, and she’s paid well.

Why is she so miserable?

Angela does not want to be a project manager. She’s’ an introvert, and she really prefers to work behind the scenes. Moreover, her values include total honesty and transparency, yet her position requires a lot of political maneuvering.

Angela is miserable because she can’t be her Best Self at work. Your Best Self is a composite of your values, the social roles you prefer to play, and your temperament. It’s the person you are when you’re at your best, when you’re in your groove, when work feels effortless and exhilarating.

Now, it’s unreasonable to expect that every moment of work will be blissful. But, if you’re constantly working against the grain of who you naturally are, work will eventually wear you down, even if work fulfills your personal mission, uses your natural talents, and pays well.

If you’re constantly working against the grain of who you naturally are, work will eventually wear you down.

Three reasons you can't be your Best Self at work:

(1) You get promoted beyond the type of job you originally choose – for example, getting promoted into managerial roles. We think we’re supposed to climb that ladder at work, moving into jobs with more and more prestige or pay no matter what; yet doing so can sometimes take us away from the kind of job that fits us best.

(2) You choose a job based solely on a strong sense of mission. For example, I started my career as a social studies classroom teacher, and I was very passionate about the work and about education, citizenship, and so on. Yet, my temperament was not suited to it for a number of reasons. I had to uncover other ways to fulfill my passions and mission.

(3) You picked the low-hanging fruit. If you've been unemployed for a while, and you get offered a decent job, you take it, right? Sure, in many situations that's a very prudent decision. And, it's important to see it for what it is - a stepping stone to a better choice. Take the job, but remember that it's just a way to pay the bills while you look for The Real Thing.

Your Best Self may not be missing entirely, so this can be hard to spot. It may look like this:

When you can't be your best self at work

When you can't be your best self at work

Here's my advice: If you suspect you can’t be your best self at work, start considering your options now—before you experience total burnout.

This will give you time to make a transition on your own terms—rather than getting fired for poor performance or a bad attitude.

Reason #3: You’re not using your preferred skills.

Most of us have lots of skills. The trick is: do you use your preferred skills at work?

For example, I myself am really great at changing diapers. I’ve had lots of practice, and I can change diapers with the best of them.

But, I don’t want to do it all day for work. Oh sure, if you paid me well I’d do it for a while. But eventually, I’d grow quite weary of doing it all day, even if I was well-paid. And pretty soon “bleh” would turn to “grrrr.”

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you want to do it all day. There are most likely other things you’re good at, too.

When you don't use your PREFERRED skills, work's a chore (at any salary)

When you don't use your PREFERRED skills, work's a chore (at any salary)

Three reasons you aren't using your preferred skills at work:

(1) You picked the low hanging fruit — once again, take a job that’s passed on by a friend or relative if you need work now. But remember that it's easier to find a job if you already have a job - and keep looking.

(2) There's no room for growth. You can also get into this situation if you chose a job that you originally liked, but which has no room for growth. In this case, your issue is a combination of both Preferred Skills and Best Self–especially if some of your values are “growth” and “being challenged.”

(3) You chose a career very early in life–in high school or college—before you really had a sense of everything you can do and can learn to do.

Regardless, if you’re not using your Preferred Skills, that job will get pretty old.

Some FAQs about the Four Domains:

“What if I just don’t get paid enough? Where does that fall?”

In that case, you generally don’t walk around saying, Bleh, I hate my job. If your Personal Requirements are unfulfilled, you might have the experience of loving the job, but feel stressed in the rest of your life – you hate your commute, or you are always broke, or you feel trapped living in a city, or you don’t have enough time for your kids, etc. In these scenarios, your Personal Requirements aren’t being properly fulfilled. And although that’s definitely a problem, you’ll diagnose it with a different trigger thought other than I hate this job.

“Okay, I’ve identified the reason I walk around dreading work. Now what - should I quit?”

Bravo! Diagnosing the problem is the most important step. Without it, you have a real risk of repeating the pattern again and again.

But should you quit? Here’s my perspective: many people who walk around thinking I hate my job probably should change jobs, eventually. Life’s too short to hate the thing you do more than any other waking activity, right?

And, I am 99.99% certain that there is something else for you out there, something that satisfies all of your Four Domains better than the job you hate now.

But, depending on how stressed you are, you may be able to plan a very gradual transition, 3-5 (or more) years from now.  You may want to wait, for various reasons—until your child starts/finishes school; until you pay off a credit card; until you finish that degree; until you do some career counseling. How soon you should leave a job you hate depends on your situation.

I've lived with the job this long, and I'm developing a good 401K. Doesn't it make sense to just stick it out until retirement? 

Let me answer this question with two other questions:

(1) How close are you to retirement?

(2) How happy are you, when you're not at work?

If you are close to retirement, and you're reasonably happy when you're not at work, then it may make sense to stick it out - especially if you will retire young enough and healthy enough to have some fun after you retire.

If you're under 55, but you are good at "compartmentalizing" - leaving work at the office - then you may want to stick it out for a while. I've met people who have such a strong need for financial security that meeting their deep need for security is far more important than "enjoying" work. And of course that's fine.

But - and this is the thing I want to stress - if you're unhappy even after you go home, if you fall into a funk Sunday night at the anticipation of going back to work Monday morning, if you're too drained to enjoy your weekend, if you're drinking too much or eating too much chocolate to drown out your feelings of emptiness - then "sticking it out" is just. Not. Worth. It.

If you think you're stuck with the job you have - think again.
Most likely, you believe you're stuck
because you have not yet discovered the better option

Wrapping Up: Helpful Questions

(1) Which Domain(s) do you think are missing or mismatched? (It may be more than one.)

(2) What are the chances you can get those Domains satisfied somewhere other than work? (For example, at home, or by volunteering.)

(3) What are the chances you can shift your work responsibilities, title or roles to better meet the missing Domains?

(4) How important is it to you to have those Domains satisfied at work specifically?

(4) What numbing activities might you be doing, to numb the sense of restlessness, emptiness, or frustration from work? (For example, drinking, binge chocolate-eating, 3+ hours of TV per day, etc.?)

(5) What is the price you are paying by not having those Domains satisfied at work? What is the impact on you and your life?

(6) Have you ever had a time when you loved your work (even if it was unpaid work)? What would it be like to feel that way most of the time? What would that do for your life overall?

Final Thoughts

Sometimes, we really don’t like the work we’re doing, even if we’re great at it.  We may dread going to work, and it may make it hard to enjoy the rest of our non-work life as well.

This can be really confusing, and it can be tempting to disregard the thoughts, because we’re able to do the job well.

But, as human beings, we need to feel a fulfilled sense of meaning and purpose. We need to feel we can be who we naturally are, and we also need to like the actual tasks we do all day.

Understanding what’s in your Four Career Domains, and which ones are unmet in your current job, is the first important step in getting back on track.

Good luck, and let me know what you discover.

How to Give Yourself the Best Career Advice (Part II)

Are you agonizing a career decision?

Should I look for another job?
Should I apply for that manager position?
Should I take a job with that much travel?

In Part One of this series, I showed you how to uncover more of your buried wisdom on almost any topic, including your career.

If you’ve tried it, you’ve probably uncovered some good stuff. I know it works for me.

Now: what to do with these great insights you’re getting? How do we make these insights work for you?

That’s the subject of this article.

Turning Insight Into Action Steps

For about 15 years before I became a coach, I was a professional facilitator. True story: 

On one occasion, I was facilitating a group of 8 people on a team-building course. They were stuck on a part called the Incomplete Bridge. A team needs to use two boards to get across a span - but neither board is long enough by itself.

This particular group kept doing the same thing over and over - and failing. They were convinced that if they just did that same thing better, that they would succeed. 

They were getting pretty frustrated. But they kept trying that same thing over and over to cross that washed-out bridge. 

I stopped them for a water break, and I said to them, quite casually, "You know the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results." 

They want back to their challenge, and wouldn't you know it, two outspoken members insisted on trying that same method again

Well, about three minutes after that, someone in the back spoke up. She said, "Wait! Are we being 'insane' here?" 

They stopped, had a little pow-wow, and resolved to try a few other methods to the problem. Soon after, they found the correct solution and got across the bridge. 

The moral of the story here? 

Sometimes, people get stuck only because
they don’t know what they’ve learned.

They know what they’re seeing right in front of them, but they don’t know what larger lesson they can draw from it. That’s the "bridge" between what’s going on now, and your next action step.

Fortunately, in many cases a simple process can help you cross that bridge.

Ready? Here it is:

WHAT – HOW – WHAT – NOW

“What-How-What-Now?” stands for a series of questions you can ask yourself to more easily turn your stuck-ness into meaningful action. Having a coach or facilitator ask them to you is ideal because s/he can ask follow-up questions as needed. But in the absence of that, journaling the answers can help you move “out of the mud” and get your mental car back on the road.

(1) WHAT?

The first question is: What is going on (with this issue or problem)?

This is the part you have already been doing, as you’ve written down your thoughts and feelings. (If not, go back and read Part I for more information.)

Take your time with this step. If you find yourself getting stuck in blaming, or going over and over the same scene in your head, step back and name your feelings. Do you feel anger? Resentment? Betrayal? Fear? Grief?

(Not sure? See Part I of this series for a complete diagram of feelings -- the "feelings wheel").

Once you feel “done” with this part, move on to Question 2.

(2) HOW?

The second question is: How has this impacted my life?” (Bonus question: How has this impacted others who are close to me?)

This question asks you to take a step back and look at the bigger picture a little. You’re looking to spot the way the situation has affected you – as well as the way your own choices have affected you. Both are important.  

I won’t lie to you – asking this question is a bit harder than the first “WHAT?” question. In fact, it may be a bit painful to answer it.

That’s because “HOW” is going to uncover some of the stuff that you already know, deep down – but which you haven’t had to face yet, because they are safely buried under things like anger, blame, or the distraction of binge-watching Netflix.

“HOW” is going to uncover some of the stuff that you already know, deep down – but which you haven’t had to face yet

Nevertheless, it’s vitally important –because it sets the stage for the third question, which (promise) feels a lot better.

So, take a breath and ask “How has this impacted my life?” Write this question in your journal, then begin to write down whatever comes up.

Here are some examples of the kinds of answers you get for "HOW?":

I am still in a job that I really don’t like.

I’m so unhappy that I am short with my partner/kids when I get home, and my family life is suffering.

I realize that, since I’ve become burned out, I have probably been really difficult to work with, and my co-workers are afraid to tell me.

I realize I haven’t really committed to building this business. I’m so afraid it will fail that I haven’t really started.

I realize that I’ve spent so much time blaming my supervisor for his shortcomings that I haven’t even considered my exit strategy. It’s been easier to be mad and to stew in it day after day than to face the fact that I need to find another place to work.

I realize I have not been in the driver’s seat of my job, so to speak. I have said yes too often, have taken on too much and have let myself get somewhat burned out.

Now, here are two very interesting things that happen when you answer the “HOW?” Question:

(1) You may have several answers to the “HOW?” question – and they may even seem contradictory. This is okay, even normal. In a messy situation, lots of truths can coexist.

(2) You may need to cycle back to “WHAT?” another time or two. If you realize you’ve become burned out and you may have become difficult to be around at work, you may uncover feelings of embarrassment and shame. This is actually pretty productive – as far as feelings are concerned, you need to “name it to tame it.”  Seeing what’s there will help the next step really work.

So, it may be a little tough to ask this question – but keep digging, because often part of why we’re stuck is because we’re wrestling with contradictory truths.

Once you have found some answers to the “HOW?” question, you might sit with that for a few days, or you might move on right away to the third question:

(3) WHAT?

The third question is: “What am I learning from all this?”

Once you’ve faced the reality of how your current situation (and some of the choices you’ve made, up until now) have impacted you, you are ready to look at what you’ve learned.

Here are some examples of answers to “WHAT am I learning?"

I’m learning that no one is going to “fix” my career but me. I need to have the courage to take full responsibility for it.

This may sound clichéd, but I’m learning that work really doesn’t love you back. You can’t sacrifice too much of yourself at work, and expect it to be repaid. You have to pace yourself, take care of yourself. You have to say “no” sometimes – as difficult as that may be.

I’m learning that I really do need a mentor.

I’m learning how important it is to get out of debt and save for the proverbial “rainy day.” That will allow me to leave a bad situation more easily.

I’m learning that I need to widen my social network so I can find another job more easily.

I’m learning that I have to investigate a new opportunity more thoroughly before saying “yes.”

Some of the things you write here may be “hard lessons learned.” And that’s okay. But ultimately, you will move through those and uncover lessons that feel more energizing, because they hint at possibilities for new action.

When that happens, you are ready to move on to Question 4.

(4) NOW?

The fourth question is: Now what?”

Now that you have peeked behind the curtain of your problem, so to speak, what is your next step?

(IMPORTANT: It you are a person who likes to take action, you may be tempted to skip right to this question. However, in my experience, I find that you’ll be more likely to break out of old, unconscious patterns if you work through the first three questions first.)

When you work on the “NOW?” question, you may…

(a) …Know exactly what you need to do next. It may be clear as day. You’ll feel a “yes” down in your gut when you think about taking this action (confirmation from your implicit learning/wisdom).

(b) …Need to brainstorm and “vet” some options before choosing. The “NOW?” journal question is a good place to do this. Then, as you look back over your list of possibilities, you can consider each of them against your values, the practicality of each, etc., or bounce them off of a trusted advisor such as your spouse or best friend (or coach).

Final Thoughts

Sometimes it’s a lot easier to write yourself out of a stuck place than to think yourself out of a stuck place. A few simple journal techniques can help you stop spinning your mental wheels and “get out of the mud.”

This combination of techniques (writing both thoughts and feelings, and using “What-How-What-Now?” have helped me work through many of my own stuck places over the years. I’ve also used “What-How-What-Now?” to great success with in-person client sessions, in both group and individual formats.

Good luck! Thank you for reading, and let me know how it goes.

How To Give Yourself the Best Career Advice (Part I)

If you’re career stuck, you may feel pretty inadequate.

Why can’t I fix this? What’s wrong with me?
Why can’t I decide?
Why don’t I have one of those “10-year visions” the gurus are always talking about?
Etc.

You may ask trusted friends and family for advice, but deep down you wish you could access a little more personal wisdom.

Well, I about to share with you a method for doing just that.

It may sound familiar, but wait – there’s a specific method I want you to try.

Here it is:

Writing down your thoughts AND feelings will help you tap into your buried wisdom. 

You - yes, you - possess far more accumulated wisdom about what you need than you realize. For pretty much every situation in your life - even for ones where you currently feel completely stuck. 

The key is to start journaling.

Now, I know some of you reading this will say you hate journaling, or never get around to it – but hear me out.

I'm talking about a specific technique, one backed by research, shown to get results. 

But first: why am I suggesting going to all this trouble? Why can't you currently access some of this wisdom, just sitting in your car driving to work?

Two reasons journaling is better:

Reason #1: Some of your wisdom is buried under distracting thoughts & feelings

Sometimes, when we're bothered by a situation, we circle around and around with troublesome thoughts or worries. It's like tires spinning in the mud, and we don't get around to thinking about how to move forward. 

For a while this may actually keep us feeling safe, since change is scary. But when you’re tired of feeling stuck and ready to take a little risk on some change, you want to finally power out of that mud and get back on the road of your life.

Reason #2: Much of our wisdom is "implicit" learning - wisdom you have to excavate from the subconscious

We are learning all the time. Sometimes our learning is explicit – conscious and on purpose. However, research shows that much of our learning happens implicitly - connections that are made on the symbolic or abstract level (that is, without words). Often, we’re not aware of this learning, because we didn’t set out to learn it. For example, assumptions about how dating or marriage "should" go is a great example of this. Certain skills, like how to balance while riding a bike, are also considered implicit learning. 

In fact, In their book Primal Leadership, authors Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee argue that when you have a “gut feeling” about something, that is your implicit learning talking to you.

So, this "hidden" wisdom is there, but in order to use it more intentionally, we must "get it out" and attach some language to it. 

The good news: journaling can help you overcome both of these hurdles.

Here are the steps for this "better" kind of journaling: 

Step 1: Find a quiet space

Step 2: Write down both THOUGHTS and FEELINGS you have on a topic

Step 3: Keep going until you feel “done” for the day

Step 4: Repeat daily, or whenever insight bubbles up, until you gain clarity and an inner call to action

That's basically it. The main trick is to write down both thoughts and feelings you have. This attaches language to both the thoughts and feelings, and thus brings both to consciousness and explicit learning. 

Acknowledging your feelings also takes some of the distracting energy out of them. That's because it helps you "step back" from them - as the saying goes, "Have your feelings so they don't have you."

(In terms of brain function, it helps the frontal lobe take the driver's seat again, so the amygdala or "fight-or-flight" part of the brain is no longer in charge. See here for one article summarizing that research.) 

At a loss to describe your feelings with words? This is fairly common. Here's a handy wheel showing tons of "feeling words" and how they are related. Outer ones are generally the most nuanced and therefore more difficult to name. 

Feelings-Wheel-2011.pdf

The (proof is in the) Pudding

Okay, ready to prove you have more accumulated wisdom that you realized?  

Try this little experiment. It helps if you have several quiet minutes to yourself. If not, then you can start it, let it percolate, and come back to finish it later. 

Remember, here are the steps: 

Step 1: Follow the instructions in the photo below, picking your 4 words. 

Step 2: Then, take out some paper and write down what else comes to mind on this topic. Be sure to include both thoughts AND feelings. 

Step 3: Write until you feel "done." 

Step 4: Write on this for several days in a row, or randomly as more insight percolates to the surface of your thoughts. 

That's it!

If you give this activity some quiet, focused time, I guarantee you will become aware of wisdom on this topic that you didn't consciously realize you had. 

Here's the photo: 

Final Thoughts

If you’re feeling career-stuck, and wished you knew what to do, start journaling thoughts and feelings. You’ll access more of your accumulated wisdom, and eventually you’ll gain enough clarity to take action.

In article two of this series, I’ll give you an easy format for turning that wisdom into action. Stay tuned!