March 31, 2010

Finding your way to your next great career

Several weeks ago I listened to a radio segment about a guy fresh out of college, but without a lot of direction for his life. His solution to that problem was to try a lot of different jobs for a short while--a week or a month. After a year of working this way, he wrote a book about his experiences. My first thought was, “Ah, you stole my dream.”

I’ll just go out on a limb and admit it. No matter what I have done for a living, I’ve always had a wandering eye. With the exception of a two exceptionally deep love affairs with work, no job (or career) has ever been enough to hold me. My longest run was 12 years in a single profession, divvied up between two employers and a self-employment stint. I fought hard to get into that profession. After working my way in, I achieved a degree of mastery that was enough to merit interesting assignments, professional credentials, and awards from my peers. But I couldn’t imagine an entire lifetime of the same work. I wanted to know more about what was out there. Was there something else I was really intended to do? Was there someone else I had the potential to become? Doesn’t everyone wonder that?

Whether you share my wanderlust or life has dealt you some cards that force you to think about what‘s next, you may be interested in a new book designed to help you figure stuff out. The Leap: How 3 Simple Changes Can Propel Your Career from Good to Great includes access to an electronic assessment tool that allows you to evaluate how close you are to your sweet spot--the overlap between your passions AND your strengths. According to author Rick Smith, most people won’t be truly satisfied until they fine a career that combines both elements.

If you view your prospective career change as a slam-dunk effort where you figure everything out quickly and march through a series of chronological steps, you may be disappointed by Smith’s encouragement to experiment and iterate. Nevertheless, I have to say that this approach worked well for me. I volunteered and part-timed my way into both new careers. That gave me a chance to try before buying and allowed me to get experience in a low-risk way.

Evidently, I share a common denominator with other career changers: we don’t think of our changes as reinventions. With each change, I found I became a little more like myself. After I announced my most recent career change, my husband tried to make me promise that this would be the last one. I wouldn’t do it because I knew part of my life’s work would be allowing things to unfold, discovering how past experiences might fit together in ways I just couldn’t anticipate. For some of us, it’s the journey and not the outcomes that are going to matter most when we are laying on our deathbed. There are tradeoffs and compromises, especially if you choose something more than just what you are good at.

Perhaps the most important tip The Leap offers for fulfillment in work is to set your own standard for success--don’t just follow along. Without that standard, you may wake up one day with a life that someone else wanted--not yours.

March 9, 2010

Strategies for success from our friend and handyman, Dave

When we bought our house 12 years ago, it came with an unusual amenity––a handyman. On the day of the closing, the owners handed us a bundle of information about the house, including the name and telephone number for the handyman who had done virtually every repair and modification during the time they owned the house. We may have purchased our way into to this relationship, but since that time, Dave has become far more than a handyman to us. He is our friend and a source of continual inspiration. I can’t begin to tell you the number of household riddles and problems he has helped us solve because he pays attention when we do not. From leaky faucets to remodeling projects, we’ve come to depend on his talent, wisdom, and keen awareness to solve some of our stickiest problems.

One day this winter, I called Dave and asked him to come over and help us hang new drapes. He hadn’t been here an hour when he looked across the creek bank about a quarter of a mile away and asked, “Is that a coyote?” I squinted, but I couldn’t see a thing. I ran upstairs and found our binoculars. After a few minutes, we spotted Mr. Coyote under an evergreen tree, taking a nap. “I’ll bet that’s his favorite napping spot,” Dave observed. For the next few days, I watched the spot and discovered that Dave was right. We walk by that window every day but we had never noticed that the coyote arrives about mid-morning and hunkers down for a nap beneath an evergreen on the opposite bank.

This isn’t the first time I have wondered what Dave might know about us because of his acute powers of observation. We asked Dave to help us install some shelving in the basement two summers ago. After evaluating all the choices at Lowe’s and Menards, he was indecisive about what materials we should use. After some deliberation, he finally came back to the house and asked me to ride with him to see what was available. On the way, he rounded the corner at a busy intersection, slowing down and looking intently over my right shoulder. “I’m sorry Crystal, but I’m going to have to stop and figure something out here. I’ve passed this spot three times this morning and I have to know what that big glob of mess is.”

Dave pointed to a golden, abstract object about 20 feet away on my side of the road. In the middle of the street, he turned on his emergency flashers and stopped the truck. He got out and walked downhill toward the object of his curiosity. I saw him tap it gently a few times with the toe of his boot to see if anything about it was alive. Finally, he picked it up and hoisted it up over his head as though it were a hat. He came back to the truck laughing. It was only a can of foam insulation, exploded by the heat of a sunny day, but Dave could not go on with his day until he knew the nature of its origin.

Aside from occasionally wondering how much trouble Dave has gotten into because of his curiosity, I can’t help but marvel at his gift for living in the present moment. Because of that trait, he always seems to have a keen awareness of what’s going on around him and what’s important. When someone in his family has a need, Dave will drop everything to tend that need. Watching how he deals with his family, anyone can see that Dave understands how fleeting life can be. He takes it moment by moment. It seems less as if life is happening to him and more as if he is happening to life. When he is with us, he brings everything he has and everything he knows to that moment. You get the feeling that Dave would die happy if he could just help you resolve your problem. He has nowhere else to go and nothing else to do but help you—unless, of course, one of his kids calls. We’ve grown to admire that trait more with every year that passes.

What a gift! What would happen if all customer service, all business, all jobs or careers, all personal relationships were imbued with this sort of curiosity and awareness? It could be like heaven on earth. Let me share three great titles that could provide similar inspiration for you. I just love all three of these books for the insight they bring to life, business and careers.

How to Achieve A Heaven on Earth: 101 Insightful Essays from the World’s Greatest Thinkers, Leaders, and Writers, edited by John E. Wade

Upstarts: How GenY Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit from Their Success, by Donna Fenn

The Risk Takers: 16 Women and Men Share Their Entrepreneurial Strategies for Success, by Renee & Don Martin

March 5, 2010

Shall I suffer the agony of defeat in this social media skirmish?

I entered this crazy blog contest sponsored by the Indianapolis Museum of Art a couple of months ago. I didn’t really expect to be a finalist. But once I was, I looked at the competition and thought, “Hey, maybe there’s a chance that I could win.” After all, my entry was certainly as good as the others.

I felt that way until I opened the poll this morning and saw myself outvoted at a rate of 5 to 1! Yes 5 to 1. One thing is very clear to me: this isn’t about substance or style. It’s about social media. Because no one has 500 really close friends. Virtual ones, sure.

So I ask you, dear readers, should a 40-something writer like me (who uses social media as a play room, but hasn’t given it a real go) throw in the towel and let my young blogger friends bag this contest? Or should I unleash my inner warrior and enlist some help in this social media skirmish? (Okay, war.) Voting lasts until March 23. By the way, vote for Crystal. Not that winning matters to me, of course.

March 1, 2010

Learning to be still

Is there anything like sitting down with someone, expecting to receive the death sentence for something you’ve done wrong and having them bless you instead? When you get a blessing like that, you want to understand the anatomy of it. What special trait allows people to offer this kind of heaven-on-earth? I can’t help but believe that such gifts are really suffering transformed into something beautiful. It doesn’t matter who we are or how fortunate we are in life, we’re all bound to suffer from our cravings, our aversions or things we just can’t seem to accept or forgive in ourselves or others. One of the best known but least understood ways of coping is prayer and meditation.

If you, like me, look to books to improve your life, read Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. Although it is filled with a lot of eastern thought that won’t jibe with a Christian’s perspective on the world, it elaborates on a process that’s biblical in its origin: transformation of the mind through meditation.

You can read this book in stages, a few pages a night. What you’ll get is a careful dissection of meditation from a wide variety of people, from the famous to the ordinary. It is loaded with short descriptions of how people view meditation and practical advice for making it part of your life. This book is an in-depth study of how inward changes really do change the world around us. If you’re a practicing Christian and you often find yourself rushing through your prayers, you’ll find it a useful tool for learning to be still, which is really the beginning of transforming your suffering into something beautiful.

Bonus Book for Kids: Don't miss this adorable picture book to share with kids on the joys of practicing yoga, Stretch, by Doreen Cronin and Scott Menchin.