Five Things You Can Do Right Now

Without preamble, these are for you if 1.) You are not happy with the way things are going at work, or 2.) You are happy but concerned that you are not keeping up with your career plans, or 3.) You have not been thinking about yourself and your career, or 4.) You just feel like doing something to generate a different tempo in your work/life balance, or 5.) You just try stuff you read about online.

  1.  Start a new kind of journal.  This is a paper and pencil (or pen or tape and crayon; just not pixels and code) exercise.  Begin by buying a portable book of paper and a pen or pencil just for this journal.  When you see or find something written or drawn that generates new ideas, affirming research, or just pictures or words that move you, write, copy, cut, paste, or draw in your book.  That’s all.  Just think of this as focused, real-world Pinterest, maybe?  In only a little while, you can start to see your new pattern, and watch it pick up steam and energy. I think of this as my portable vision board.
  2. Research.  If you want fresh ideas, a new perspective, new friends or an interest group, or a better sense of what could be nagging at you in the back of your brain, research is one of the keys.  Research tends to be outward–it’s not always okay to hang around in your head and expect new thinking to just show up.  Research includes asking people the questions that lead to answers or new questions, using search engines to gather formal knowledge, and going to places where information is dispensed.  Developing spreadsheets and data follows immediately–it isn’t real if it isn’t written and organized.
  3. Sleep.  You need to process, and that happens when you aren’t fully awake and alert.  If you have to nap, you have to nap; if you need to sleep through the night, you have to arrange to do that somehow if it doesn’t come easily to you.  Pay attention to this; you need to sleep in order to think and make good decisions.
  4. Affirm.  Practice affirmations to manage your day to day mood, reactions, energy, outward appearance, and interactions with others.  If you are experiencing distress or confusion, frustration or anger, it’s really important to get that under control.  The best way to get control of yourself is to affirm that you are who you want to be.  Negative self-talk (“I’m a mess; I’m out of control; I’m too angry to deal with this; I’m never going to get what I want”) is affirmation, and it’s powerful.  The only way to stop it is to replace it with positive self-talk (“I can handle this setback; I’m getting a lot done; I’m going to be fine; I am calm and thoughtful under pressure; I’m really in a great position to get what I want”).  Write your affirmations in your new Journal and review them every morning and evening.
  5. Create a timeline and list of goals.  All goals should be time-sensitive, if not time-bound.  Write your goals and deadlines in your journal and revise them as needed; you can do that; they are yours.

I promise–this little list is better than stewing helplessly about and letting your fears and frustrations boil over and change you in a negative way.  Don’t force your own hand by reciting the crazy over and over.  Build your strength buy staying in control and performing some basic rituals–you will find comfort in the process of quantifying and articulating what you really want.

So I made a list. . .

What was interesting about the whole list thing was that my husband Jim adopted it immediately.  See number 3, below?  Twenty-four hours after it was published, we had a replacement cable box.  Now I did go to the Brighthouse office (along for the ride, it seems), but there was no doubt Jim was on board with the cable box plan.  Note: what a good idea; who knew the whole system had been upgraded while we suffered and rebooted?

Number 2: the car at least has new headliner, but we continue to discuss the detailing and the timing of same.  And his car has been added to the list.  As well as several matters that extend beyond detailing.  And the notion of a new car seems to be under discussion.

I had a wonderful lunch with Laura–two hours and I got to see her amazing son when we picked him up from camp.

Number 5:  closets cleaned.  Not fun, not at all.  However, Jim has cleaned out at least three more, and they really needed it.  We seem to have a lot of closets.  We did discuss turning a room into a closet, but then were not sure what we would do with the closets.  For those of you wondering about closets, it’s Florida and we don’t have basements.  But we do have garages, and now those are cleaned out also.

The stuff in number 6 was discarded.  By the time it got to the envelope it was not interesting.  Lesson learned.

I couldn’t part with the textbooks. Not one.  I have no idea what that means.

Numbers 8 through 12 did not get on the table, and I think I know why.

The main value of the list appears to have been in motivating my list-maker husband.  Anything he could participate in, motivate, cross off the list, or influence, got done.  But by the time I got to number 8, I was in serious in-my-head territory and it may be that these are really too cerebral and/or creative for list inclusion.

But I have been paying more attention to lists, list-makers, and list management techniques and will be experimenting with another round.  Jim says that getting something on the list is a task in itself, that half the effort is done when the note is made.

I don’t see that.  Oddly, I remembered everything that was fairly concrete, and carried that list in my head.  But if I had not written and published the list, I don’t know that Jim would have made sure that even part of the times got checked off, which for a list maker is apparently the best thing about the list process.


1. Finish Christmas presents for sisters. I make these, so this requires time and a brisk pace, but also quality.

2. Get car detailed. This has its own list.

3. Replace sitting room Cable Box. Which has been tiling, sputtering, achieving a dead stop, and generally not working for at least 6 months.

4. Get together with Laura H. It’s been too long.

5. Clean out at least three closets.

6. Mail stuff that has been sitting on the table in the upstairs hall.

7. Discard MBA textbooks. Okay, most of them.

8. Assemble letter and photos for Dad. Actually mail those too.

9. Find out what is in the pantry cupboard and why we need it. Also check the dates on the packaging.

10. Learn how to Twitter and Instagram.

11. Research M.Ed. programs.

12. Outline a chapter. Or the whole book

Making a List

I was once interviewed for a job by a very disorganized person.  She was so disorganized that ten minutes into the interview, she very suddenly exclaimed “Oh My  God; I forgot!” And then loaded me into her car to continue the interview while we sped toward an unknown destination where the incomplete task awaited her attention.

When it was my turn, I asked her if she was organized, given that it looked like she might not be, and that could very directly affect the quality of my work life.  She paused, and then tapped her right temple and said that she thought of herself as “Intuitively Organized,” which as I well know means “Nope, not me.”  I declined the next interview and escaped.  I tend to work better with the well-organized, list-making, question-asking, reminding, and all around beloved obsessives who start every day, if not every hour, with a list.

List-makers, you fascinate me.  I marvel at grocery lists, being one of those folks who decide what I need once I get the cart, and not a minute before.  I check my email to find out what’s on deck for the day ahead.  I decide what to watch once I’m seated in front of the television.  I get it all done, mind you, and to a fairly rigorous standard, but without a list.  There’s a plan–find dinner, get work done or just moved in the right direction, watch television–just not a list.

So for this vacation, I’m going to learn to make a list and see how that works out.  My plan is to get organized, so here is my list so far:

1.  Finish Christmas presents for sisters.  I make these, so this requires time and a brisk pace, but also quality.

2.  Get car detailed. This has its own list.

3.  Replace sitting room Cable Box.  Which has been tiling, sputtering, achieving a dead stop, and generally not working for at least 6 months.

4.  Get together with Laura H.  It’s been too long.

5. Clean out at least three closets.

6.  Mail stuff that has been sitting on the table in the upstairs hall.

7.  Discard MBA textbooks.  Okay, most of them.

8.  Assemble letter and photos for Dad.  Actually mail those too.

9.  Find out what is in the pantry cupboard and why we need it.  Also check the dates on the packaging.

10.  Learn how to Twitter and Instagram.

11.  Research M.Ed. programs.

12.  Outline a chapter.  Or the whole book

We shall see how this goes.  I’ll keep you posted.


A Letter From Your Mentor

This is a guest post contributed by my dear friend and mentor Professor Kristen David Adams, an extraordinary woman, author, and law professor.  We have had many occasions to wonder together at good choices and bad choices made by the people with whom we share our connections.  I think Kristen says it better than I ever could.

Words From Your Mentor

Good afternoon, Mentee. Earlier today, I made an introduction on your behalf to one of my close professional contacts, at your request. I am not entirely sure that you understood the significance of your having made this request, or of my having granted it. So here are some things I would like you to know.

You Probably Can’t Improve My Relationship . . .

Although I think highly of you, which is why I made this introduction on your behalf, you probably are not in a position to improve this relationship for me. Here’s what I mean: the person to whom I introduced you already thinks highly of me, which is why he or she agreed to talk with/meet with you. My contacts expect that any person to whom I would introduce any of them would, similarly, be impressive.

. . . But You Can Harm It.

Having said this, you are in a position to make me look bad. Very bad, in fact. If you are rude or nonresponsive, you may cause my contact to second-guess my professional judgment in having sent you their way. Thus, you can actually harm my professional reputation as well as your own, by handling the situation badly.

Think About It.

So stop and think about this for a moment, and you will understand what a gift it is that I made a professional introduction on your behalf to one of my close professional contacts. In fact, given that I am putting you in a position in which you could ultimately harm one of my close professional relationships – and there is actually no clear upside for me other than the fact that I care about you –one of the greatest acts of confidence is for a mentor to introduce a mentee to a member of the mentor’s own professional network. Don’t undervalue this gift.

It’s Not About You

To be blunt, I actually don’t care whether you decide you aren’t interested in whatever my contact has to offer, or whether you are terribly busy when he or she contacts you, or even whether you are dealing with a difficult personal circumstance that makes it difficult for you to be responsive. This is a situation in which it is, really truly, not about you. It’s actually about me; specifically, my long-standing business relationship with another person whom I value.   

Treat My Contacts Better Than Your Own

To sum up: (1) Introducing you to my own network is probably the greatest gift I can give you, (2) Any rudeness or non-responsiveness on your part has the potential to hurt my professional reputation as well as your own, and (3) There are really no circumstances in which it is acceptable for you to be rude or non-responsive to one of my contacts, whom I have engaged on your behalf. So don’t look to the Golden Rule here; instead, treat my contacts even better than your own.

Note:  If you have not asked for help, but it is offered to you, and you don’t know you have the ability or the will to follow through, say so to the offerer.  It sounds like this:

I appreciate your confidence and trust in me, and I know how valuable your offer is.  I am not quite ready to accept it, because I don’t know if I can follow through in a timely way.  Can I call you or let you know in a few days?  I have some other obligations and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.  I hope you understand.  And thank you very much.”

If, however, you have asked for help, support, or a referral, your patron or mentor goes to the front of the line.  

Rebranding In Place

You’ve been in the same job or company for a while; the honeymoon ended long ago, and you’ve been pretty comfortable.  You work with friends, they know you well, and you have no serious complaints about the organization.  Work life is good.

Except for one not-so-little thing.  You just put a good bit of time and effort into getting your advanced degree in an discipline related to your work–let’s say an MBA.  But when you did that, after the celebratory party and the cards of congratulations from your coworkers, nothing changed.  It’s same old, same old.

You probably didn’t have a new career plan for your newly minted, better credentialed, and more prepared, educated, and informed self–you never saw yourself leaving and you don’t need a career plan if you aren’t seeking a new job, right?

Not so much.  Assuming you don’t want to put all that work you did to waste, you need a career plan for blooming where you’re planted, as they say (though I don’t know anything about horticulture, I love that expression).

This isn’t always easy, and there are some risks.  If you have ever gone back to a high school reunion after many years, you know that when you do, you are likely to be treated by your former classmates as if you were in twelfth grade, and you are likely to react to that as you would if you were in tenth grade or younger.  And, if you showed up dramatically changed, even your best friends don’t know what to do or what to say.  You just don’t seem like you.

Of course your education isn’t sudden; you’ve been changing ever so gradually all along your path.  But you have been attending to your classwork and you have been wearing the pained expression of a work in progress, that students in graduate programs tend to wear.  You’re not where you were, and not where you are headed; in transit.  That all changes when you are finally fully degreed and decreed.

And, that MBA (or whatever your new credential you have earned) isn’t front and center for anyone in your workplace except you.  If people know about it; they are waiting to see the evidence–it helps them, or it doesn’t.  It helps the organization, or it doesn’t.  You help, or you don’t.  So the first thing is identifying how you can help.  And then helping–really helping, not issuing new opinions or making corrections that to the new you seem obvious.  It’s a long way between theoretically and technically accurate and actually useful and operationally viable.  We all forget that sometimes

But here are some ideas about managing what you can manage on the personal branding front.

1.  Avoid this: “In my finance class, Dr. So and So said to do it this way.”  I have no further comment.  Just don’t do that.

2.  Change your resume and change your LinkedIn profile, and anything else that shows where you have been and what you have done.  That way, you can articulate exactly what has changed and exactly what hasn’t, which is very important.

3.  Do have a conversation with whomever in your organization has those conversations about how you can accept more work and responsibility, in addition to what you already have.  Yes–more work, not a better job or title or more money.  You have something to prove before you move up.  Test your wings before you ask for their gilding.

4.  Volunteer for the drudgery and the most difficult of the unpleasant assignments.  That is more important than anything else you can think of to get noticed.

5.  Seek a mentor, or several in different areas of your interest.  Ask for help in promoting what you can do–ask for change, not advancement.  Rebranding is not self-promotion; you are asking for help in crafting a new narrative, one in which you are versatile, reliable, willing, loyal, open to new ideas, and always willing to help.  And you happen to have more education than everyone thought you did.

6.  Try new things.  Things you didn’t know you would like.

7.  If you work in a really big company, one with a job posting system, bid on jobs.  However, understand that there is an informal system and a little track that runs alongside the formal one.  You have to run on both tracks–you have to have political as well as educational capital.  If you have not been nice, start being nice right now.

8.  And to that point, if you have been a diva or the equivalent, you might want to quietly let folks know you have seen the light and you are doing some serious self -assessment.  And that you are making changes; if you are, be truthful, and make the changes.  Think about your narrative–you can’t erase the past, but you can acknowledge that you learned from it.

9.  Clean up the outer image, if need be.  If you have gotten into the habit of wearing jeans and dressing more casually than the management in your organization, you are remediating at this point.  Don’t do that suddenly; take one step up the sartorial ladder every few months.  We go from jeans, to slacks, to slacks with a jacket. . . . . or mix it up.  Dress for meeting days.

10.  Bear in mind that accomplishing an educational goal is a huge personal step–it takes time, money, and there is opportunity cost.  Others were growing and working hard while you were growing and working hard, though perhaps at other–equally important–qualifiers.  Be sure you notice, when you come up for air, all of the other changes and advancements around you.

When it comes to promotions and advancements, it isn’t always fair and it isn’t always your turn.  And you may not get what you thought you would from your hard work.

More education may give you many more choices,  but it doesn’t guarantee the other elements of your personal brand.  What it’s like to work with you, how you treat the work and the others around you, and how you represent your employer and organization are functions of who you are and what brought you to this point.  

And that’s usually what earns you opportunity.

They don’t need what you have.

And, as you know, you don’t have what they need.

Sometimes it’s really hard to understand why you didn’t get a call back after applying for and interviewing for a position you really wanted.  But it shouldn’t be hard to understand why you didn’t get a call back for a job you shouldn’t have bothered to apply for, a job far removed from your skills, temperament, and competencies.  A position that doesn’t require and couldn’t possibly include the things you are good at and like the most when you get to do them.

Don’t apply for, ask for, or otherwise pursue jobs that aren’t for you.  It just wastes everyone’s time and energy.  And, paradoxically, it will make you even sadder to fail to land a job you didn’t really want.

I think we place very high value on jobs we want, and far less value on all the others.  So when you go after a job on which you have placed low value, and then you don’t even get an interview, it makes you somehow feel worse.

That makes no sense at all, you know.  Organizations are looking for the right people, the ones they know belong there and will thrive and perform in the job.  they are not looking for people who have half or fewer of the qualifications the organization painstakingly listed so the right folks will know who they are.  Before you hit the send button, say (aloud) to yourself, “Perhaps they will overlook my shortfall in years of relevant experience, as well as the fact that my education is not in Finance and I don’t have a Series 7 license.  I’ve always wanted to live in Charlotte, and this is as good as any of the other jobs I saw on Monster.”

How does that sound in real words?  You see, it is possible to play head games with the screen that doesn’t say “No!” sharply when you try to upload all the wrong stuff at midnight after a few pints of Cherry Garcia and an Oreo or two.  In  your head, this is a numbers game and you never know.  You might just get an interview and if you do, you can wow them with your personality.

Not so much.  It’s a lot more likely that you will be rejected, either actively, with a nice letter, or passively, by never hearing anything at all.  If you do get an interview, and you don’t meet the qualifications, you will quickly learn that you don’t really want that job.  But somehow you are now engaged, and your head turns to “How do I get out of this?”  Thinking you will be considered.

So when you don’t get an offer, and you are feeling bad about that, remember what my wonderful sister Amy said to me many years ago on a similar occasion of not getting a job I most certainly did not want and for which I was in no way qualified:

“Why are you so upset?  They just don’t need what you have.”

Self-assessment: It’s All About You

I have a love-hate relationship with feedback.  First, I love feedback; I don’t particularly mind if it’s good feedback, but not-so-great (okay, negative) feedback allows me to start an argument with myself and an investigation into the ways I could have done better.  As a Myers-Briggs type ENTP, feedback makes my world go around, and I pay close attention.

The problem is that I can be swayed in the wrong (for me) direction by positive or negative feedback–I tend to pay too much attention.  Some days, I covet the introvert’s ability to shut out the world and listen to a voice in his or her head that clarifies the need or want and then turns the enterprise toward the right star.  Without dissenting opinions, and without negotiating new, heretofore  unseen objectives.  My compass points toward heat and light, the novel and difficult, the untried, untested, and interesting.  Some days, continuity and the linear, incremental path  is best, and it’s a (worthwhile) challenge for me to keep that front and center.

How do you learn that; and how do you manage yourself for the long game? I think you have to develop a process of assessing your self, for your own good, and to give you options at all times.  I think that a self management process that begins with assessment has to be conscious and aware, intentional and drama-free.  You have to be truthful with you, in order to develop a reliable process for getting  yourself through both success and failure.  No one else can do that.

Success can be as misleading as the harsh criticism we give ourselves when things don’t go right.  Both success and failure are pretty fleeting, even if and when fleeting can be measured in years.  So performing self-assessment only when you have failed is not as useful as assessing your performance against articulated goals and intentions on a regular basis.  That allows you to look at processes as well as results.

Ideas for you to consider:

1.  Set goals, no more than 3 to 5 at a time.  You can change them whenever you want, they are yours.  Write them down and review them no more than once a week but no less than once a month.  Make at least one relate to behavior, not results.  When a goal’s usefulness has expired, make a new one to replace it.

2.  Ask others for feedback and input.  But when you get feedback, think about the opinion you were given, before you simply accept it.  Decide for yourself if it’s right for you.  Keep it in your stash of things you aren’t sure about even if you are sure about it.  Don’t automatically assume that what you congratulate yourself on is really a good reason for celebration.  Give plenty of thought to the matter before registering your own pleasure at success.  When you are feeling really happy with what you did, know that is an excellent time to get humble and realistic.  Happy, of course, and humble.  And realistic.

3.  Acknowledge your capacity for change.  At the end of the day, it’s better to be willing to grow, and better to grow, than to be comfortable in your zone.  Particularly if you want to serve others, versatility in your style of interaction and the choices in your repertoire are critical to long term career success.  Be willing to try new and different ways of looking at and dealing with problems.

4.  Slow down.  Just. Slow. Down.  Not to smell the roses, but to see the opportunities.

5.  Set criteria for accepting allies in your quest, whatever it is.  Some people are not good for you, and you have to learn who they are and you have to see them coming and deflect the impact.  Their feedback or input is not useful and repeated exposure is not healthy.  That won’t change.  You can listen to an opinion and not agree, or listen and disagree, or pretend to listen and pretend to agree, if that is your first step.  Always reserve the chance to think about it, and say, “I will need to think about this. thanks for telling me.” But toxicity will always represent poison and poison will make you sick.  So learn how to move away from the danger, nicely, with dignity, and without making enemies.  Sometimes your job is to teach or set an example.

6.  Don’t reward yourself too often, or for little things you already know how to do or when to do.  Hold out for the high stakes before you indulge.  Set stakes high, when you can.

7.  Make a list of what you want to direct yourself to do, and make it real and real challenging.

Life is short.  Change is inevitable.  Learning how to manage your personal growth couldn’t be more important.



What Not to Mention

Somewhere in Job Whisperer History, there is detailed mention of the Dreadful D-words, from which it may be that poor Debbie Downer’s name derived.  The D-words are the things you don’t talk about in casual, polite, or business conversation.  Let’s review them.

1.  Death.  There are no exceptions to this, strange though it may seem.  If you have a role in the writing of the obituary, or you are speaking at a funeral service, or you have been invited to attend a wake, you know that celebration of a  life is the point of those.  A conversation about death is a serious matter and is conducted among people who have agreed to be in the conversation in advance, are not at a network event or party, and is focused, sensitive, and important.  You don’t have to be the one to mention that so and so passed away, unless it is your job to notify others.  Under those circumstances, your form is prescribed in etiquette reference books.

2.  Divorce, yours or anyone else’s.  Impending, final, amicable, ugly, or simply inconvenient, the subject should not be uttered.  Don’t learn this the hard way–any mention of anyone’s divorce, including your own, will cast you, and casting should be controlled and intentional.  Let’s say the divorce is yours and you intend to reinvigorate your career, now that you have resolved issues you felt were constraining it.  Bringing up the divorce distracts from career as the more relevant subject–why talk about anything that isn’t forward-looking and active?  Use your energy to stay on subjects that attract interest in you but not gossip about you.

3.  Diet.  We don’t care, and raising the subject makes everyone wonder about their own hips, chins, muffin top, and underarm flab.  There is nothing to say about a diet in response to anything you might mention.  If you needed the diet, good for you, but if someone says exactly that, you say and think what?  The same is generally true of food allergies, health matters that necessitate food limitations (“I have bloodwork in the morning so I’m fasting” which actually violates number 5 below as well).  If your meeting is in a restaurant, call ahead to find out what menu selections are right for you–and have a back-up plan in emergencies.  If you requested a special meal, discuss this with the wait staff, not the table guests.  If someone else raises the subject, change the subject.  And never comment on what anyone else is eating, ever, whether you think it is enviably delectable, or positively nausea inducing.  It isn’t on your plate, so you need not concern yourself.

4.  Despair.  Unless you require immediate mental health treatment or attention from a professional, and I am not minimizing that possibility, your angst over a personal matter is not for broad consumption.  Leading with your problems, or answering the question “How are you?” too honestly may lead your prospective supporter(s) to realize that you are not stable enough to endorse, that you make questionable decisions, that you have a narcissistic streak, or that you put your discomfort front and center routinely.  They don’t know you well enough to conclude otherwise.

On this one, there is another issue.  Reciting your pain makes it stick around and intensify; it becomes an affirmation.  Take page from Pollyanna–find the good or the fascinating and stick with that for conversational moments.

5.  Disease.  Whatever it is and whatever part of you it affects, whether it’s yours or someone else’s, it’s not party talk.  That includes allergies, broken things that require visible alterations, and labels–like arthritis, migraine, and pain.  HIPAA was enacted for a reason and when it comes to stuff that aches, makes you icky, causes people in the vicinity to blush, could cause one of the other D’s, or can’t be pronounced, best to stand down and talk about a documentary you saw on the Smithsonian Channel or Modern Marvels.  Or a Super Bowl commercial about kitties making the Facebook rounds.  Anything.

If it seems to you that if you avoid these topics there is nothing left to talk about, it’s time for you to develop highly intentional talking points to guide your thinking about how you want to be perceived.  Imagine you have only a few minutes to make your best first impression (because that is exactly the case)–do you want to be remembered as the divorced person with the bad back who is trying to lose twenty pounds on the South Beach diet, or the one who is well read, active in the community, and interested in others and their interests, and knows interesting things.


Changing Careers: the Process of Reinvention

As the Boomers stroll or hurtle into into the last phase of their working lives, we hear the word “reinvention” a lot.  But reinventing yourself doesn’t only apply to Boomers getting older and running short of time, and it doesn’t only apply to changing your work.  If you have been doing something you weren’t really crazy about, or if there is something you have always wanted to do with your time and talent, or if you have been watching transformational change in your industry, or if you just stumbled over a thing you are really good at and really like, then reinvention is just the ticket.

Well.  Not so much, actually, because it isn’t all that simple.  Reinvention is a quick and easy word for a Big Big Change.  In you.   Even people who like change don’t necessarily like being changed.  We can all support change when change is a theoretical, rhetorical, or political concept that aligns well with what we believe are our values.  Until things you reach for in the dark aren’t where they used to be.  Meaning, what you took for granted was not what you planned to alter.

But even if you are motivated, for example, to simply make a living as a teacher instead of as an accountant, the voice in your head that inspired you to make that change has not actually accounted for a.) stretching actual teacher paychecks from now until retirement, b.) actual student attention span and cooperation, c.) school district (i.e., government) management hierarchy, and d.) the difference between your cubicle or office and your classroom, if you get one.  In other words, have you adequately identified your real desire?  Or, in other other words, have you accurately identified all the things that will have to change, meaning those inside of you, some of which you maybe don’t know about?

Here are just a few of the many things that may have to be reinvented on the way to the new you:

1.  Your budget.  If you are the accountant in the example above, of course you have started by figuring this one out.  But for the rest of you, assume you have to start at the bottom of a new hierarchy, at beginner pay or worse, and that you may have to pay for training or education.  Before you dive into that education expense, at least sample the way the new work works, test your assumptions, spend a day in the life of your aspirational role model, and work out the numbers meticulously.  Cash flow is particularly important.  Selling the house to generate the cash for investing in you is not the worst thing you can do, but it might be close.  Consult a conservative expert and know the downside risk.

2.  Your working conditions.  I don’t necessarily mean the door to your office that closes and locks, or the free coffee you and your colleagues enjoyed, or the deadlines you controlled.  I mean that in some of the common places that people want to go to Be The Change, there are not enough dollars to pay for enough people to do the work.  So you do it.  Until it’s done. I mean that you spend your own money on supplies, that you have to raise money to do the projects you want to do, that your future and your pay are not certain, and that all the skills you have don’t necessarily stretch quite as far as the door to your comfort zone entry hall.

3.  Your patience.  Whatever you have been doing, you have been doing more effectively than the thing you have in mind to replace it.  You have shortcuts, habits, wisdom, credibility, language, relationships, and tenure that allows you to look back over your history and forgive yourself the occasional slip.  In your new world, Not.  The only way to the other side is going to be through the woods, reinventing shortcuts, habits, wisdom, credibility, language, relationships, and tenure that permits limited self-indulgence.  Reinvention is also reinvention of the learning process, and many of your new things are going to be really really new, not just to you.

4.  Your relationships.   More listening; more asking; more developing.  Sowing, not harvesting.  Open to feedback and critical examination.  Whatever the motivation to make your change, others will be involved in making you successful.  You have to ask questions and you have to be confident that the assumptions that got you interested are likely not completely valid or even useful.  It’s relationship-building that is the core of successful reinvention; this is not something you can do all by yourself.

5.  Your commitment.  And here’s where this gets tough.  When you are just starting out in your first career or your launch job, or whatever got you where you are, you were younger and maybe a tad more resilient.  Each time we make these big changes, our tolerance for imperfection and inconvenience erodes a little.  And if you have ever hit a big big disappointment, it might erode a lot.  So your commitment has to be crafted, and you have to set your rules for engagement and disengagement intentionally.  You are going to slog through some sadness at the loss of something or things you liked, well before the new things you like present themselves.  You are going to hate some days and be angry with yourself for undertaking this thing.  You are going to be appalled at the real thing hiding behind the thing you were expecting, and turn away shaking your head, unconvinced it will all work out.

It will all work out.

My advice:

Plan exhaustively for the things that matter: like money, relationships with your support system, and sound information about what you are really undertaking, for examples.  Invest in a therapist (a proven professional) before you implement the parts of the plan that require you to sell the house, buy the franchise, head into the desert, join a cult, or sign up for expensive training that requires a big loan.

The process takes as long as it takes, so you need to have checkpoints, benchmarks, safety valves, and contingencies.  Before you stop doing what you have been doing, you must have at least a year and maybe more in reserve funds.  Unless you have been pushed unwillingly into a situation where you have no choice, in which case your plan has to be highly flexible and driven by contingencies and the fundamental law of food and shelter: they come first.

Segue instead of cliff-dive.  If you are an accountant and you want to teach, teach accounting, or even financial management, or even math.   Staying in a subject family makes it easier to exploit one area of expertise while learning a whole new other thing.  As you head for career sunset, you then have a body of work that is more cohesive than choppy.  Choppy is an interesting phenomenon when you see it on a resume, and it’s hard for an employer to entertain.  Continuity, however, is a brand-builder, as it looks more like an intentional progression.

Write your story out as you live it.  This might be journaling, blogging, note-taking, or just memorializing, but it is important.  Your brain is going to be so full of disconnected experiences, emotional reactions, and new information that you will not be able to separate your narrative from your grocery list.  Writing what is happening is a form of planning.  If you are reinventing you, this is the how-to manual that you are creating as you go along.  This might seem like a nice-to-have, but it’s really a must-have.   You have to understand what you are doing as you are doing it, and writing is your best bet for returning to the scene to re-interpret when you need to.

Build strong relationships intentionally.  Even if you find that you have little or nothing in common with your chosen targeted industry colleagues (and that is profoundly unlikely), the process of discovery is most often facilitated by others when we choose to interact.  Even if your process is one of disagreeing with the way things are done and your mission is change, other people are important, and this is a time when you need them.

Just remember, it will all work out.  Once you begin to put a new comfort zone around the new you, you will mostly be where you headed.  But remember–you are expanding who you are, not just redefining your career, and it is worth doing with clear intention and purpose.


Why You Didn’t Get That Job

You were sure you did well in the interviews: you dressed right, talked well, and knew the answers to all the questions.  Your resume, cover letter, and writing sample all looked perfect to you and your advisors.  But when you checked in to find out where you stood in the process, you learned the job had been filled by someone else.  What could have gone wrong?

First, the flaw in your thinking is thinking that anything went wrong.  It may not have been the outcome you wanted or even expected, but it may have been the right thing, for both you and the organization.  You only see the tip of the iceberg–the organization knows much more.  What seems to have gone wrong for you is simply an outcome, a step along the path to the organization’s future.  You may not have been the best candidate for the job.  If you did your best, you did your best.  Sometimes that isn’t enough.  The best candidates may have networked to the interview and position instead of responding to the posting, allowing the hiring manager many more glimpses at their fit.

Second, think about your narrative.  Your narrative is simply your personal story, your truth, your platform.  If you answered all the questions but didn’t reveal enough of your narrative for your interviewers to know who you are and what it would be like to work with you, you concealed that you might be the best candidate for the job and the organization.  It isn’t enough to answer the questions.  You have to generate new questions, ask good questions, and raise important questions.  A robust dialogue that results from a strong and interesting narrative lingers with an interviewer.  If you lurk along the perimeter of a safe version of your narrative, you held back, and that’s not good.  

Third, did you make stuff up?  Now, this is very bad.  And by the way, a talented and experienced interviewer will not let you know that his or her radar is on full alert–quite the contrary, the rope is going to go full out for at least an hour, maybe more.  If you have been scheduled for a half day, you’ll probably go the full half day, and never know that you pretty much blew it in the first hour when you told that tall tale.  If you embellish the truth, you will not be the successful candidate, one way or the other.  The internet being what it is, outright fibs and fabrications get caught very quickly, but more importantly, the aftermath of the interview will raise questions instead of enthusiasm and confidence.  If you aren’t forthright, you aren’t in control of your story and that leaves a murky impression of you.  You look like you take risks at the expense of others.  Not good.

Fourth, you were totally wrong: the answers you thought were right, weren’t.  Because answers are not right or wrong–they are simply revealing, or diagnostic, or supportive of an organization’s growing enthusiasm or concern.  Sometimes, you get called in for that interview just because of one thing on your resume.  Or, that phone screen caught someone on a good day and they were feeling expansive instead of critical.  But when you got to the interview it became apparent that you didn’t have the right stuff.  You weren’t really qualified.

Fifth:  Bad Manners.  Most folks don’t know what they don’t know about etiquette.  Graceless individuals struggle upstream with the burden of un-awareness.  Do you interrupt?  Grab candy from the dish?  Talk too loud or use coarse language?  Wear too much fragrance?  Grab and squeeze a hand instead of shaking it?  You get the picture; only part of an interview is about the content; form and behavior is the rest.  Your personal habits and manners are basic to all performance matters, and if they don’t measure up, an employer will not want to take the risk that they can’t be corrected or improved.  

Last.  You have one chance at references.  If they are marginal, that won’t be good enough.  Your references have to sell you.  Make sure you prime them by calling in advance and laying groundwork for support of your candidacy.

You are unlikely to ever get the precise reason you were not selected for a job,  that means you have to do a lot of guessing, obsessing, and wondering.  Sometimes you can ask, but the answer may not–and should not–satisfy you if you are looking for ways to improve your chances in the future.  If you really liked the people you met, it’s hard not to feel some rejection.  The best thing to do is to debrief yourself on these points and create a (written) list of what you will do or do better, the next time you have an opportunity to interview for a job you think you want.