William Bridges originally published Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes in 1980, which is around the time I first came across it and began giving copies to friends, coworkers, and clients.  So simple a paradigm for understanding your personal reaction to the things that happen to and around you, it barely qualifies in the world of academic models that took shape later in the decade and in later decades.

I always struggled with organizational development diagrams, pictures, arrows and circles, lines and boxes, and pictorials representing the theoretical flow of human energy or other intangible movement.  I’m not sure if I’m just linear, or whether I start to digress as soon as I see something ambiguous, like the word “change.”  I love the idea of change, and I’m a transition diver–I just go for it and see what happens–but the pictures tend to feel very controlling and unfriendly to me.

So the simplicity of Bridges’ model is that it isn’t really a model, it’s kind of a lens you can choose to use.  In his view, change is what happens around you, it’s external.  Transition is what you do to adapt.  Before you can transition to a beginning, there has to be an ending, and after the ending there is a neutral zone.  You pass through the neutral zone at your own pace, and eventually find yourself at a new beginning.

Neutral zones can be troublesome, because you are neither there nor here–not at an end or a beginning.  When you long for the comfort of your old life, your old ways, your old self, just the longing itself lets you know it’s past, and therefore not present.  You have arrived in the neutral zone.  In the neutral zone, you aren’t really moving forward and you can’t go back, and that can create a lot of unconscious or subconscious maneuvering, as you try to hang on and try to move ahead, simultaneously.  Physically, you might experience feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety, sadness, pain, all the while looking for the happiness a new beginning can represent.  Confusing, on a good day, but with all the potential for destructive action on the worst days.

We don’t always know the exact way in which we create what we think are safety nets, back-up plans, rationalizations, and alternatives, but sometimes they exert more power than the real deal, the intention or ambition that started the end of the old and the plan for the new.  It helps to be self-aware and to know that the something that is going on inside you is healthy and a sign that you are adapting.  You can hit the pause button, listen to yourself, and figure out what to do next.

I recommend Bridges’ book, now a classic, and in a new revised (2004) edition.  It’s short, elegant, simple, and very straightforward.  It applies to so much of our big and small changes in life, whether we are conscious of the neutral zone or just sail though it.  Aging, illness, graduation, moving from one house to another, loss of job, new job, new partner, divorce, breakup, best friend moved, empty nest, promotion, new hobby sports injury, weight gain, weight loss, new boss, new president (!). . . .you get the picture; it’s a lens for clarifying why we often feel a bit stuck, unstable, or just not there yet.

What the Job Pays

One of the more challenging job questions goes something like this:

“I found out about a job I think I might want.  The description (or posting) checks almost all my boxes.  But how do I find out what the job pays so I know whether (or not) to apply?”

The short answer is that you necessarily apply before you know the pay, and the rest of the story is that you may never find out.  However, I can tell you how this usually works or plays out, so that at least you know there is no secret code that everyone else has, but you don’t.

Notes on pay:

  • Base pay usually represents the value of a job to an employer.
  • A “range” means the range from the minimum value of a job to the maximum value of the same job (the most an employer will pay).
  • The midpoint is the value of a job when the person in the job is fully qualified and experienced in the job.
  • Job value is employer specific, though it is usually tied to two balancing factors—external competitiveness and internal equity.
  • The employer sets the midpoint (and the minimum and the maximum around it) according to an employer-specific formula, which is based on the employer’s human resources or talent strategy (including the frequency and basis for pay increases).

Usually, an employer wants to bring in new employees above the minimum and below the midpoint of the range.  Typically, an employer will not want to hire above the midpoint, for a lot of reasons.

If an employer does not have any of those things—ranges, midpoints, formulas, and so on—pay is set based on what the employer can afford, or according to the “going rate,” or via internal equity (what everyone else gets, plus or minus a factor for contravening forces, like fairness to a long-tenured staff member, or desperate need for a specific skill set).

Sometimes the highest paying jobs are those that require “combat pay,” which is based on working conditions that include long hours, emotional stress, crises to be managed, or job insecurity due to industry or company circumstances.

Base pay does not usually take into account any kind of discretionary or performance-based cash incentive arrangement, it does not include the value of health and welfare benefits and perquisites (like a paid parking space or club membership), and it does not include stock or other ownership provisions.  However, an employer may choose to establish a less competitive base pay policy because of other highly attractive features of its talent strategy.

So into this pay landscape you wander, interested in a job you heard about, but needing essential information:  What is that job worth to that particular organization?

Most employers don’t advertise pay ranges, either internally (to their employees) or externally (to the market).  The reason for this is simple:  internally, pay becomes a distraction, and externally, it usually isn’t necessary, unless the employer is forced to compete for talent based only on pay.    Employers typically would prefer that employees are focused on customers, clients, constituencies, and just about anything other than how much the work they or anyone else is doing should be worth.

If you think you want a certain job because the work sounds like a fit for your experience, skills, and ambitions, your next step should be to research the company and the other employees.  Who are these people and how might you help them get where they all want to go?  I think you should go so far as to seek important information about the person to whom a job reports and what their experience is, what they might teach you, and whether you would be the right fit for that person’s organization.

Next, you need to examine competitor companies, to see how your target company and job stack up in the industry, community, and your profession.  Look for articles, mentions, tweets, legal actions, sanctions, and gossip.  All important.

If you are still interested, and after all your research you can see how this job that fits you also fits into the overall company strategy, it’s time to apply, even though you still don’t know what the job pays.  If along the way, you have somehow connected with someone who works for the company, you should not ask that individual what the job pays.  From this point on, pretend (to yourself, not to anyone else) that the job pays exactly what you had in mind all along.

It is better if you apply without knowing what the job pays.  The message conveyed is that you like the sound of the work.  It also conveys that you have confidence in your judgment.

Only three things can happen next.

  1. You apply for the job and no one contacts you, because they don’t see the same “fit” that you do.  Remember, they know more about the company, job, and other applicants than you do.
  2. You apply for the job and someone contacts you to ask you screening questions, which may include asking your salary requirement.  It’s a legitimate question, not a trick question—you have to answer it.  You might begin with a dodge, like “it depends on the whole package,” but at the end of the day, the screener is looking for the ball park.  If you are at $200K and the job pays $85K, it’s the wrong ball park, and you both know it.  If you don’t care about the money and you would do this particular job for $100K, then say $100K, you might be in or close enough to the ball park.  If it’s $75K, say $75K; they aren’t going to give you less than the job is worth to them, with you as the incumbent.
  3. You apply for the job and are invited to interview.  You are offered the job, and a   compensation and benefits package is offered to you, which you can accept, decline, or negotiate.  Or you are not offered the job, and at that stage it’s unlikely that it had anything to do with money.

If you are asked for salary requirement information during the application process (on the online application, for example) answer truthfully.  And, if you are asked for your current salary, you do have to answer that question truthfully, and it is a different question.  What you are currently earning and what you require of the applied-for job are two different things.

The best thing to remember about pay is that it is not an absolute.  Once you have met your future leadership and colleagues, they may decide that you are worth more than the last person in the job, or that they undershot the market.  Or, if you are wildly unqualified but impressed them, they may decide that they will take a chance on you but at less than they planned for the fully qualified but higher paid targeted talent.

The only real guidepost in all of this is to never do what you personally can’t afford to do.  I once had a headhunter try to talk me into taking a job with a company that wanted to pay 75% of the annual cash compensation as discretionary/incentive pay following the end of the fiscal year.  The remaining 25% to be paid out monthly would not have been enough base pay to cover my mortgage and other expenses.  It was a hell no for me, but for someone else, it might have been fine.

Many people work for health or retirement benefits, for needed access to a new career or training in a specialized field, or discounted education, or other, personal objectives.  Cash compensation is only one of many reasons to pursue a great job.


The Perils and Problems of Group Interviews

Full disclosure:  I hate these.  Either as a participating interviewer, or as the interviewee, I experience these as far less effective and useful than one on one conversational interviews.

For me, if I’m advising an employer, the objective of every step of a process should bring out the best in a job candidate, reliably, and intentionally.  And with group interviews, there is high risk of turning off a candidate or diminishing candidate performance unless the interviewing team has clear objectives and experienced leadership, specific individual assignments,  and is transparent with the candidate about how performance in the group interview will be evaluated.

If you are a candidate, you want to find out as much about the folks who will be in the room as you can.  Usually, you will be given an itinerary in advance, including names, titles, times, locations, and so on.  Look up every one of  them up on LinkedIn, research them on the organization’s website, and ask your connections how you would likely work with them or with their staffs if you get the job. Once you have done your homework,  prepare yourself based on what you learned.

And if you are ushered into a room with a group of folks who look nice and well-intentioned but not particularly organized or focused, at least heed the following guidelines.

  1. Ask if you may have the names and positions of the interviewers.  It isn’t an unreasonable request, especially for someone who plans to write thank you notes to each member of the interviewing team.  But you will need this for a more important reason—remembering names and roles as the interview progresses will become increasingly harder as it goes along.  The names are important for obvious reasons, but the roles give you context for the questions you are likely to be asked.
  2. Introduce yourself and summarize your interest and what you hope to accomplish in the available time. You can thank the assembled for giving you the chance to be there, too, and that’s a nice touch.
  3. Make sure everyone there has a copy of your resume and any other materials they might need.  You should have extra copies with you.
  4. If you need water or tissues, ask for them before you sit down and before the door is closed behind the last person in. It’s hard to believe, but entirely possible, that no one is in charge of this event.  It’s unlikely that the absence of basic comforts is a test, so ask for the water before your throat closes, and for the tissue before your nose runs or your brow erupts in sweat.  If you wait for the crisis, it’s your emergency, if you ask ahead of time, it’s their opportunity to be helpful, which is better. Regarding the tissue, it’s better to ask for a fresh one than to pull your handkerchief or personal tissue out of your pocket.
  5. Take brief notes.   In order to remember a point or the second part of a two-point question.  Also, those notes can help with your thank you notes. . . .
  6. Answer the person who asked the question. You can look around the table as you answer, but it’s the questioner you must circle back to and ask if you answered his or her question.
  7. Do not, in this interview, try to be funny or tell a joke, figuratively join the group, nudge-nudge-wink-wink with a subset of the group or the group at large, state a personal opinion unless asked specifically to state a personal opinion (and even then, be careful), or provide confidential information about your present employer or anyone else in the industry.
  8. Dress as if you are making a formal presentation on a stage in front of an audience. This is one step up from a regular interview.  If the group interview is on the same day as a regular interview, it’s still a step up.
  9. Expect that the subject is going to change a lot and this whole experience may lack basic continuity. People often come to these interviews with only one question prepared, and they are going to ask it no matter what.  Even if you already answered it, answer it again, in a slightly different way.
  10. Be briefer than you normally would; your job is to let everyone have time for his or her participation. Your answers should be slightly shorter than you think they should be.  They sound longer to everyone who is waiting to ask their own question.  The most frequent feedback on a group interview feedback form is that the candidate rambled on. Even if they really didn’t.
  11. When the clock signals the time is up and the interview is over, it will be over even if you are in the middle of a sentence, even if you are the best candidate ever, and even if you have much much more to say. Group norms are more controlling than individual norms and at least one person in that room has somewhere they must be in about thirty seconds. Finish it up fast and thank everyone, by saying “Thank you everyone,” and looking around the room at each person if you don’t have time to shake all the hands.   If you do have a minute or two, shake and thank, using names if you know all of them.

If you are fortunate, someone in the group has been watching the clock and as the time starts to run out, will ask if you have any questions.  Know that the person who asked you that is probably one of the leaders of the group, and you can direct your question to that individual.  Do not throw a hardball.  Here are my nominations for a good general question in a group interview:

“What’s the best thing about working here?”

And that’s about it.

Send thank you notes to everyone who participated, and yes, handwritten notes are still the best.  If you are the one who emails (instead of writes with pen and ink) those niceties, you may lose by that slim a margin.  Yes, it is true.

Most organizations who conduct group interviews are trying to be inclusive in the selection process, while not consuming a misleading amount of an individual candidate’s time, energy, or enthusiasm.  My best advice is to manage your risk carefully–it’s usually not the best place to let it all hang out and to give the performance of a lifetime.  That said, a/the real decision-maker, heavy influencer, or organizational sage could be buried among a dozen participants in a group interview, so holding too much back can work against you, too.




Land the Plane

Is this you?

You have never felt quite comfortable in the job market, asking for help with your journey, or explaining to your networking connections what your next step is likely to be.  As regards your network, you don’t often ask for help.

You are okay when you are researching job postings, filling out online applications, or refining a resume that illustrates what you used to do, where you have been, and what you have done—but writing a cover letter authentically describing what you want to do, where you want to work, or how your past connects with your future, not so much.

You get interviews, but don’t like or warm up to  the interviewers or their questions.

You apply for jobs when the posting sounds interesting, even if you aren’t familiar with the job family, terminology, profession, or company.

The job often sounds interesting but the company culture or the fit is all wrong for you.

You want to make sure you have seen all your options before you make the leap to a less than perfect fit.

You are starting to imagine a different future than the one that you have been pursuing—maybe a complete turnaround, to something you haven’t considered until now.

You have turned down three or more interviews or jobs, including applications you have withdrawn before you were offered the job.

Here’s the thing.

It’s time to land the plane.  You are finding ways to avoid commitment.  You are actually not looking for the right job—or any job.

I don’t know how many ways this pattern of avoidance can go wrong from a mental health point of view.  But I do know these things:

Your destination is on the ground, not in the clouds.  You have to land the plane to get started on the work of the work, which is different from the job.  A job is a relationship with an organization, with others who are committed to getting something done, a service, a product, a plan.  The work is the activity or collection of activities that form a profession, a process, a role, or in general, a contribution to the whole.

There is no ideal job anymore—no one finds the perfect place, pay, people, or projects.  Everyone compromises on the ideal in order to be current and learning and economically stable.

Not all that long ago, Gallup did a study of best places to work, and determined that they are marked by this: their employees like the people they work with, trust the people they work for, and take pride in what they do.  You can choose to like, trust, and take pride in your work—it is, in fact, up to you to do so.

You should not respond to an online posting if you do not know a lot about the company, the work, and (not or) the upside and the downside implications of that job forevermore appearing as the next job on your resume.  Think about that.  Upside and downside.  Where do you do after that job?  Why?

Whatever you are doing behind that computer screen, stop it and go to places where there are stimulating working people who make you laugh and think.

When you interview or network, force yourself to find the very best things about the people who cared enough and had enough interest in you to invite you to learn more about them.  Just decide you like them and think of them as good, kind, and helpful.  Do not test them.  Do not find them imperfect.  Do not imagine them being their worst selves.  Imagine you can depend on them, see them daily, and learn to like them very much.  They have moms, dads, siblings, and pets—just like you.  Good days and bad days,

I used to tell job candidates who were not sure about the leap to imagine what it’s like when they bring all of their skills to the party—not what is it like now, but what would it be like if you taught us everything you know and showed us your personal leadership in the thing you are good at.  Think about that—how can you make it better?

At the end of the day, there is very little that “feels” right about a new place, new job, new friends, and new work to do every day.  It’s a commitment to make it all less new and more familiar.  You cannot stay up in the air.

Land the plane.

Change is Inevitable

John Maxwell said “Change is inevitable; growth is optional.”  Tony Robbins’ version is “Change is inevitable; progress is optional.”   Either way, the world and the economic environment are changing more rapidly, more suddenly, and more dramatically than ever before.

If you are choosing a career, how then do you consider the question of sustainability?  You love what you do, or what you think you want to do, but what about the future of whatever career or careers that might represent?

I don’t know the answer, and the horizon on answers about the future is shorter than it used to be.  Five-year plans are probably really three-year plans, and in some cases they become obsolete faster than that, depending on the industry and region of the world.

Drama aside, you still have to make decisions.  Here are some things to think about.

  1.  What is it that you really like about work itself?  Identify the elements and contours of the attractors inherent in the career or job you sought or are seeking.   Are they sustainable into the future of the job you declared for?  Or are they obsolescence-bound?  For example, face to face contact has succumbed to FaceTime and Skype, travel as a job feature is fast coming off the table, and as well we know, news reporting is more entertainment than journalism, no matter the medium.
  2. What is your risk/reward tolerance?  Jobs with substantial paychecks most often involve higher risk:  sales, scarcity of resources, specialization, geographic undesirability, start-ups, long and painful hours, immense emotional burden.  Jobs with less risk pay less and will likely continue to throughout your career.  You can budget risk; many people choose high risk situations early in a career, where the risk of failure is presumable more tolerable, and where high rewards can lead to a broader range of future choices.  Choosing wisely early can be a hedge against future change.
  3. Are you able to stay current in your field?  Often, change sneaks up on you, and there you are, using language suitable for the last millennium and talking about irrelevant matters in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Yes, people notice when you haven’t kept up with the times and your own professional development.
  4. Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist?  The current career popularity contest is producing STEM winners, so anything science, technology, engineering and math is open for business.  A word of caution:  shortages lead to overabundance, and it doesn’t take that long.  So if you heard that a specific job (ceramic widgets engineer level three, for example) is making megazillions, know that that job has a boss who supervises lots of cweL3’s and has a PhD in management.  Generalizing may lead to the more sustainable path in the end.  But you don’t really know.
  5. Do you have the genes of an Entrepreneur?   If you do, you may have the most choices (but we are back to that risk/reward thing).   It’s hard to know until you leap into the volcano if volcano-leaping is for you.  starting and managing your own business can be satisfying or it can be lonely or it can be both.  Depending on the business itself, it may be either sustainable (at the right scale) or salable enough to allow you a handful of future choices.
  6. Are you considering a profession that requires extensive education and a license at the end of the education road?  Doctors, Lawyers, Architects, Pharmacists, Ministers, Teachers, Veterinarians are pretty sustainable careers, but the compensation is all over the map and rises and falls with the tides.  You can almost always work, but you may not always be able to bank.  Teachers and Veterinarians will tell you that you really have to love the work itself; it’s a lifestyle as much as a career.  And–very important–before you invest in the very expensive education you are contemplating, know where pay in the profession is heading
  7. What does the world really need?  To the 3 circle diagram my husband loves (what do love to do, what are you good at, and what will people pay you for), I always add:  think about what the world needs, or at least what your corner of it needs more of.

I am crazy about Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, Parts Unknown.  One of his dinner companions–I think it was in Shanghai–pointed out that with a world population of more than 7 billion (and of course those are not all people of working age wherever they are)  it is conceivable that economically speaking, for purposes of production, we do not need as many people working as we have in the past.  One of our human challenges of the future will be to develop a solution to the puzzle of productivity–that as we become more efficient as a society, we eliminate jobs, careers, and economic platforms.

Change, meanwhile, marches on.










When You Don’t Know What You Want

You don’t always get to do what you love, find your passion, or or even identify your dream place on the wheel of jobs and careers.  For a great many people (of all ages and stages), ideal work is elusive, or that job requires so much training and education that it’s out of reach, now and maybe for always.

So what do you do instead?

Here are some alternatives.

  1.  Find the thing that can fund the thing you like to do but can’t get paid to do.

If you make films, write books, create art, or travel voraciously every chance you get, decide what can float that boat, either by supplying funding, or by creating swaths of time, or even by getting you close to the thing in some other way.  Business travelers usually get to keep miles earned, teachers often get summers off, publishers place you near authors and ideas, and editors.  Look for the opportunity to create a platform or a bridge.

2.    Decide where you want to work, geographically, and do what is there to do.

Living where you want to live is a worthy objective, and expanding the definition of “where” to include proximity to things or people you love, as opposed to specific cities makes it a broader, richer set of considerations.  For example, if you want to be near the water, there is more than Florida to choose from.   Similarly, you can pick between cities and suburbs, plains and mountains, cold or warm climates before getting into the nitty gritty of exactly where you might launch a venture.

3.    Select an industry.

What makes your world better and how might you fit into it?  Can you see yourself somehow supporting health care, agriculture, fashion, or automobiles?  A great many people are just plain good at operations, they make things happen, whatever the things are.  For those folks, operational jobs, service jobs, administrative jobs, managerial jobs, are going to be fulfilling, as long as the work makes sense and they can see the need–and do what they do best, make things happen.  Think about pet food manufacturing, tax preparation, attractions management, or theater operation.

4.  Find kindred spirits or just really nice people who appreciate you.

Go where you think you will fit in–who thinks like you do?  Where do your friends go or where are they planning to go?  Is there a training program, a big department in need, a church enterprise, a social enterprise, or a school, or a program?  Collaboration with like-minded people can be rewarding and creates a social structure you can attach to for nutrition, connection, and sustaining interest.

5.  Consider becoming a specialist in a very specialized field.

Focus down into the details and learn everything you can about one thing.  Whatever the thing is, and it could be anything–but you do need education, so that’s important.  Without knowing you, I can’t know what the thing is, but if you start to write about it, people will as you to speak about it, and then you will meet other people and learn even more.  Being an expert does require staying up to date in your chose field–but it doesn’t require much more.  Consultants get found by the folks who need them and eventually this leads to a living.

Very few people are perpetually happy with every career contour, move, feature, or assignment.  Even the self employed struggle with exhaustion, fear, and boredom.  A career is not particularly fragile, most of the time, but it does require some patience, with yourself, and with the choices you have.  If you want different or more choices, you have to move forward, you have to produce, and you have to connect and stick with an idea that makes sense for you.





Eight Big Mistakes

I’d rather approach this from a positive point of view–eight things you can do right, right now.  However, unless you see these from the negative side, I’m not sure you can appreciate the problem.  So here they are–the eight big things that can undermine your best efforts to make a good match in the job market.

  1.  Too many narratives.  Just who the heck are you anyway?  It is fine to evolve, to have many interests, and to give in to the occasional impulse, but it’s important to establish and maintain your personal brand.  Your narrative isn’t just what you put into the world.  It guides how you think about your choices and how you can explain them to yourself as well.  When you think “Hmm, that was not like me at all” it usually means you were careless or not deliberate or intentional.  The common problem is known as trying to be “all things to all people.”
  2. Mistaking an execution error for a tactical or strategic error.  Let’s say you go to a networking event and you are unprepared, dressed inappropriately, in a bad mood, or just having an off night. It doesn’t mean that your strategy is all wrong.  If it was an event for accountants, it doesn’t mean that you should not be an accountant, or that accountants are not good networkers.  It only means you need some practice.  A strategic error is a big one–like becoming an accountant when you are sure you should have been a charter boat captain.  That kind of error requires a segue instead of more practice, advice, or preparing better next time..
  3. Overemphasizing resume, cover letters, writing samples, thank you notes, and even job postings responses.  Your materials are not you, and your crafting and redrafting of them is not a great use of your time and effort.  Get out from behind the computer and meet new people, make new friends, join other people, collaborate, and air out your brain.  Your tribe–your inner circle–can help you more than that resume, so you should spend time with them and treat them extremely well.  And never, ever, complain to them.  You do have to have a basic resume and to be familiar with the standards for a good cover letter, but thinking these will ever be perfect or that they will get you a job is to exaggerate their importance.
  4. Administrative shortfall.  Keep up with the administration of your life–paying bills, planning, maintenance on the equipment, your health, and all of the other things that go into keeping you on the straight and narrow.  Doing so builds and sustains your confidence in your choices and in your self.  That confidence provides you with space to make good decisions and allows you to be resilient when you are rejected or don’t get what you want.
  5. Debating feedback.  You don’t have to accept all feedback, but you should not debate it or be defensive when you get it or hear it.  If the feedback is objective–a score, count, deadline, or other measure, it’s easy to re-do and check the accuracy.  No debate required.  If it is someone’s opinion, it’s an opinion.  Thank them.  Move on.  No need to defend the castle; it’s yours and owner-occupied.
  6. Not defining your purpose and your core competencies and leading with your strengths and purpose at all times.  We like to think we are good at many things, and usually we are.  but core strengths are what fuels the rocket and purpose is what makes the destination clear. This could not be more important–the ability to assess yourself against criteria that you establish is a foundational career skill and you begin to learn it by simply doing it.  Many of us become known for many things, but are not always sure how they fit together or help us get better at what we want to do.
  7. Undervaluing personal traits, appearance, or language.  We either think no one is looking, no one cares, or that everyone is looking and that everyone cares.  Neither is true–it just matters when it matters, so you have to be prepared for the times when it does.  that means good habits but not excessive self-consciousness.
  8. Accepting innumeracy as a thing that is okay.  It isn’t.  If you say you aren’t good with numbers you will believe it and then you won’t be.  If you aren’t, you need to practice and get better at quantifying accurately.  It’s important.

Your Playlist

We used to call it “Playing the old tapes.” because music used to live on physical recording media.  “Playing the old tapes” meant listening to the songs from when you were stupid, either stupid in love, stupid in breaking up, or, well, maybe just not who you were eventually going to become.  In effect, the old tapes are likely to take away some of your more recent, rational learning and replace it with some strangely familiar, irrational yearning.

Usually, old tapes are just fine for normal nostalgic purposes, like remembering where you were when you first heard some of the classics–Desperado, This Old Heart of Mine, Stairway to Heaven, or Sweet Caroline.  Or anything from the Grateful Dead or Led Zeppelin.

But.  We all have a bit of a figurative playlist hanging around inside, and when certain songs come on–something happens and it strikes a familiar chord or when you make a mistake and experience regret, it can trigger feelings that lead to old reflexes and bad habits.  Instead of conjuring up your current vision of competence, new behaviors, and new opportunities to get what you want from within yourself, you find yourself in fear, frustration, or anxiety.

You have to keep your playlist current.  We do that through affirmations.

Everybody who just thought of SNL’s Jack Handy raise your hand.  That isn’t what I mean, but some of those were funny.

An affirmation is a specific, positively written and crafted, present tense description of a desired state.  For example, “I am at my best when I prepare and organize my day.  I eat a healthy breakfast, make a list of priorities, and take the time to think about and visualize how I want to present myself in meetings.”  Or, “I’m happiest when I am able to make others happy.  I look for opportunities to thank, acknowledge, provide feedback to, or otherwise recognize everyone for their importance in my life.”

Or this simple:  “I pay my bills on time, and set funds aside for emergencies before I divert money to luxuries.  I manage my finances by the 15th of each month, and compete the task before the end of that day.”

Or this wild:  “I am innovative and I nourish my creative side.  Each day, I break one habit by doing something completely out of my routine.”

Or this profound:  “I am on the road to changing my life.  Today, I will meet two new people and learn how I can help them accomplish something that means a lot to them.”

Affirmations don’t have to be grand.  I once affirmed my way into becoming a nonsmoker.  I affirmed my way into competence in Algebra.  I affirmed my way into discontinuing my negative self-talk and accompanying reflexive dismissal of compliments on hard-earned skills (Example of my toxic self-talk:  Friend:  You are so good at that.  Me:  Oh no I’m really not; just lots of experience.).  I am a habitual and chronic corrector of negative self-talk when I encounter it.

I hate to hear anyone say they aren’t good at something, and I usually stop that dialogue or soliloquy and say:  You probably would be if you didn’t tell yourself you aren’t.  And that is true, to a large extent.  I was never the math whiz I started out to be after my parents told me I was better at words and meaning.  Oddly, I later found out I was pretty good at both and liked them both pretty much equally.

You can’t control everything with affirmations, but you can make a dent in your mood, your performance, and your ultimate health and happiness.  Calm shines through everything, and learning to affirm what you want influences that more than anything else.  Calm and serenity is not random; it’s the product of acceptance, determination, and positivity.

Start affirmations this way:

  1.  Write your affirmations in positive language, in the present tense, and be very specific.  Each affirmation can be several sentences, or just one.  It helps if you can visualize the active form of the affirmation.  For me, for example, if I wanted to smoke I would visualize myself clapping my hands and smiling–no cigarettes in that mental picture.  I imagined myself joyful after a year of being cigarette-free.
  2. Say your affirmations to yourself each day, not necessarily aloud, and visualize something that represents that affirmation as you do that.  You can do this any time of day or more than once each day, but make sure you advance them each day.
  3. Retire affirmations that are no longer representative of your priorities, that have been accomplished, or that are not under your control.  I think it’s hard to tell someone they shouldn’t try to affirm something they can’t control, but inevitably, we all learn that through experience.  When you learn that through experience, change the affirmation, not the objective.   For example, an affirmation to lose weight does not work as well as an affirmation to eat healthy food in sensible portions.  “Lose weight” is not a behavior, but a result of many small changes, all of which can be affected by specific affirmations.
  4. I like to put affirmations on index cards or on separate pages of a journal.  Focus on only one at a time.  If writing another note or adding a drawing comes to mind, do it.
  5. You can share or not share your affirmations.  When I learned to do this, via Lou Tice’s Investment in Excellence education program, we discussed them with other program participants and it was a powerful experience.

But the most powerful experience is when you begin to see changes in yourself and in your life and in the way you think and react to others.  Think of yourself as a force for good in the world and your affirmations as your supply of spiritual raw material.




Say this, not that.

It’s happened a few too many times in the last few weeks.   Someone tells me they are thinking of making a job change, or a student or grad mentions the future, and I ask, “What are your plans?” or “What do you want to do?”in response.

No matter what, no matter how confused you may be, never say “I don’t know” to the person who asks you that question.  It stops the conversation, it renders your potential helper or ally helpless, and it isn’t quite as honest as you think.

It just looks a little like you may be lost and waiting to be found instead of doing the finding, and that’s not going to inspire anyone to mention the opportunities they might know about.

Expect to be asked this, if you are a student or graduate, and prepare.  If you aren’t a student or grad, but you give someone a reason to ask, you too can be prepared with a good, motivating answer.  The holidays are a great time to meet the very people who might lead to the right opportunity.  Aim for a personal brand that inspires others to get behind you, find a way to help, and enlist in your challenge.  To be effective, you have to say what you do know, not that you don’t know.  “I don’t know” is an affirmation; here are alternative responses, also affirmations. to the question “What are you considering doing next?”:

  1.  I haven’t settled on one thing yet–I’m good at X, Y, and Z (general talents, like planning, analysis, operations, project management, or building relationships).  So I’m exploring ideas that use those competencies.
  2. (Said while nodding affirmatively) That’s my big question–I like so many things.  I find myself drawn to jobs that really test my math skills/persuasive ability/tenacity/fun-loving nature/commitment to animal welfare.  What do you think I should consider?
  3. I’m so glad you asked.  What do you know about XYZ Company (or firm)?  I’d love to work for them and I haven’t met anyone who knows the inside story of their success.  Or how about ABC Company?  Do you think its true that they provide really great training?
  4. I just love work; I’m the one who will try anything and stick to it until I get it done.  If you know of anyone looking for a great utility player, I’m the one they should talk to.  [Here’s what we know about those of you who don’t know: you do know WHO you like to work with and WHERE you’d like the work to be, geographically.  What you actually do probably matters less to you than the organization’s culture and community. You’re the ones who want the fit with the people.]
  5. Tell me what you think are the strongest needs in the market right now with someone who has my skills (name them) and experience (briefly).  I’ve been doing some research on A,B,and C, and I’m curious about your thoughts.

All of these are more digestible than “I don’t know.”  You think the question was “What do you want,” but really, it was “How can I help?” in disguise.  It is the relationship with the person who asked–an interested helper–that you are looking for.  The right job emerges from that relationship.

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.