Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Lately, I've been doing a pretty good job of writing my fiction novel according to a schedule--not waiting until the "mood" or the "writing magic" strikes me. I just sit down and sure enough, stuff comes out and even though there is the odd moment of staring at the screen--with the cursor blinking at me, reminding me (blink, blink) that I'm not getting any younger or (sigh) any closer (blink, blink) to becoming Stephanie Meyer/Sophie Kinsella/Meg Cabot and (blink, blink) who do I think I am anyway trying to write a novel--I do actually manage to get a decent amount of writing done just by being plain, old, sometimes creatively-uninspired me in yoga pants with laughable bank account and starting.

Sounds easy, right? Just start. Never mind that it's taken me the better part of a year to really start the starting with any regularity.

I don't know about you but I often have to spend a lot of time thinking about something. Sometimes with wild and gleeful anticipation and other times with dread and a slight sense of panic but whatever it is, I often percolate and ruminate and muse and imagine and squint at the girl on the swing that hangs above my desk and even when I've done all that, I amuse myself by looking up synonyms for words like percole and ruminate and muse...

Oh, I have great intentions and I come up with amazing ideas and plans (have you ever noticed that the brilliant ideas you get at 3:42 am sound absolutely ridiculous when you say them aloud to someone at 10:00 the same morning?) but I am still training myself on the consistently doing part.

In my head, some things seem so big and bold and barrier-filled. Sometimes in a wonderful, thrilling way and other times in a scary, unwieldy way. And whether I'm full of shivery excitement or goosebumpy with nerves, the fact is that I need to move past thinking about scenarios that merely keep me revelling in the possibilities...because just thinking about them won't get me closer to achieving them. Neither does all that doubting, insecure self talk that goes through my head.

Ah, but it's such fun and so familar and safe.

Often, successful career evolution or change, like many other things, is about developing good habits, tackling small things every day and yep, just committing regular time to the doing part even when you don't particularly feel the magic. Then, the tough part: you have to rinse, lather and repeat many, many, many (sigh) times.

So annoying how that works.

But thousands and thousands of fiction words--and blink, blinks--later, I can tell you that it actually does. So, if you're staring at the sides of your cubicle or (lucky you!) out the window thinking, "How do I get to where I want to go?", try what at first might feel monotonous and mundane: think about what little steps you can take on a regular basis to help start your career going in directions you dream of.

And then launch yourself out of that chair and start doing them!

I'm off to lather, rinse and repeat.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Fake It Until You Make It

When I look back at the last couple of posts, I have to laugh at how sporty I seem. All that Olympic athlete admiration and addiction makes me sound as if I'm a real sports junkie...or at least a fan.


Actually, I am the quintessential bookworm. My parents signed me up for soccer lessons when I was 6 to help me "get out of my shell" and I spent every match running away from the ball (it really hurts when it hits you!) I spontaneously forget the rules of the game during the rare times I am watching sporting events and I am irrationally intimidated by stores that sell running shoes and spandex and those wildly out-of-my-league carabeener thingys.

Nope. Not sporty at all...or am I?

I've been working on my fitness and have been running and doing other forms of cardiovascular torture...er...exercise every day. I run at home, on the treadmill, where no one can see me or notice the very un-sporty way I huff and puff and pretend to be athletic. But the other day, I boldly bought a new exercise shirt to wear in the privacy of my own home and y'know, it perked me up a bit and dare I say...kind of made me feel as if I wasn't just "faking it until I made it" but that maybe, finally, possibly, inconceivably and yes, even deservedly, after hundreds of kilometres and gallons of sweat, that I was actually becoming a little sporty!

It made me think about career aspirations. If you have a goal or a dream, maybe it feels far away. Maybe you feel as if you're masquerading and a huge fake. But I bet that you're not. I bet you're still defining yourself as you were but maybe all that work you're doing towards your goal is actually helping you to become, without you even noticing it.

Comedian/actor Billy Crystal used to say: "it's not how you feel but how you look...and you look mahvelous!" And not to encourage a shopping habit or consumerism, but maybe if you outfitted yourself with one of the tools or sartorial attributes of the job you aspire to, you might see yourself in a new light--as in, almost or already there.

Wearing my new shirt and squinting my eyes a little, I can imagine that Eloise, one of my favourite children's characters might stand in front of me and say, "You look rawther sporty today."

How about you? I bet you look mahvelous too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tree versus Tunnel

Have you tried a Jappa Dog? Would you?

In my last post, I talked about learning from the career model put forth by Olympic athletes and it was basically a post full of awe and, to some extent, envy for the way Olympic athletes can delay career gratification, focus on smaller goals on the way to a big goal, persevere in the face of adversity and put all their career eggs in one basket. (I also wouldn't mind getting my hands on one of the Canada jackets that they wear to the medal ceremonies but that's a wish list for another day).

One reader, Carly Goldsmith (blogger of "Success Without a Suit"), wondered about that last point -- advocating putting all your career eggs in one basket. And she's right -- I don't really advocate that. That point (poorly articulated no doubt due to the constant ear worm of the Olympic theme song, "I believe", that's been tormenting me these last 2 weeks) was meant to be about how I am in awe of people who put all their career eggs in one basket because it's not something I could ever do...nor is it something I normally advise others to do. I just think the ability to do it is interesting, incredible and yes, possibly sometimes gold/silver/bronze-medal producing. It's a career model that shocks me with its bravery and also, to some extent with its limited scope because for many of us, that singular focus might cause us to miss out on some really wonderful and unexpected opportunities.

So let me step down from my podium of Olympic athlete awe (and outfit envy) and clarify that I usually suggest the model of a career tree, rather than a tunnel. Working with many students and new graduates as I do, I hear from people frequently who seem to have an expection of finding the track, getting in the groove, leaving the starting gate and then coasting along for 40 years in some sort of mythical career tunnel. And I spend most of my days trying to talk them out of it.

This week, the reasons why were illustrated stoically, if not enthusiastically, by Ben Mulroney and the Jappa Dog. I'll explain why but first, more about my tree analogy (cue the laughing by those who know me as a plant killer from way back).

Thinking of your career as a tree rather than a tunnel is much more practical, flexible and yes, even fun. What I mean by a "tree" is if you grow your interests and skills out through a variety of branches, you not only keep your career interesting but you also offer yourself many options if one branch gets closed off because of career fatigue, firing, flirtation, fate or any other obstacles that may or may not continue my love affair with alliteration. Got a great job? Got one you don't love? The tree works for both situations. Keep those branches growing by volunteering, joining boards, spending time on hobbies, taking on different projects, signing up for classes and so on and so on. Hang sparkly ornaments of cool experiences and new interests on your tree's limbs whenever you can. Stretch your branches to the sky and wiggle in the wind.
And once you've stopped rolling your eyes at my analogies, come back to this week's example.

I'm pretty sure that Ben Mulroney wasn't too enthusiastic about trying one stylin' Vancouver street vendor's version of a hot dog (The Jappa Dog) with all its seaweed shavings and miso-mayonnaise toppings. And I'm pretty sure he didn't like it when he actually tasted it on camera. But he's got another interesting experience on his tree that he would never have had if he had refused to venture down a new branch.

So while we may admire those people who put all their career eggs in one basket, you may want to consider a tree instead. Because, whether it's a maple, birch, magnolia or joshua (mine resembles a banyan), your career tree can be beautiful.

Even if the Jappa Dog ain't your kind of thing.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Career Patience of "Olympic" Proportions

Interesting thing, this Olympics.

3 billion of us are estimated to have responded to the invitation to revel in our national pride, determination and fitness by doing...um, yeah...nothing.

There we are watching elite athletes sweat and strain and compete for gold and what are we doing? Sitting/lying/sprawled perfectly motionless, (except for the odd groan or cheer) sometimes for hours at a time, our only exertion that of the hurculean effort it takes to bring the snacks and beverages not normally found in an Olympic athlete's diet up to our mesmerized mouths.

The juxtaposition of elite athletes with MacDonald's as the "official restaurant of the Olympic games" strikes me as more than a little strange too.

I've also been struck this week by what a unique career model an amateur athlete is. Take Kelly Vanderbeek, ski racer for the Canadian Olympic team, for example. She tore her ACL (yeah, I'm not sure what that means either, but I know it's bad) in December, thereby ending her 2010 Olympic dreams and it got me thinking: what if, instead of being bored, demanding or impatient with our careers, we followed the model of an amateur athlete?

What if we...

1. gave our best and worked towards a goal years and years in the future, without any guarantee that we would ever reach it--but we kept working and believing anyway?

2. delayed big financial rewards now and for years, doing training, paying our dues, building our skills so that when the big opportunity came along, we'd be as ready as we could be?

3. satisfied, nourished and celebrated ourselves with small goals (e.g. races/time improvements/new technical prowess) along the way...while we waited and waited and waited some more for our chance?

4. put all our career eggs/loves in one basket and worked consistently and happily towards that goal?

and perhaps hardest of all...

5. recognized that some of it is simply not in our control--torn ACLs happen and change everything in an instant--and instead of giving up, we started working towards a new goal?

Kelly Vanderbeek had a major career goal just weeks from her grasp. She had presumably done everything right and worked very, very hard toward her goal. And now she must wait...and work hard some more--four years more. How many of us do that when things are stagnating or worse--go that terribly wrong in our careers? I acknowledge that elite athletes are often from comfortable, if not wealthy stock and have a significant basis from which to harness opportunties that we might not all have. I still think the career model they follow from there is something we can learn from.

Kelly has a career she obviously loves but it's not without its moments of heartbreak and yet she doesn't abandon it or forget the joys it brings, even when the going gets really, really rough.

And, despite all her training and good fortune and disappointment, Kelly is, at her core, just a woman like you (okay, maybe with slightly whiter teeth) with a career to deal with. And like you, when you've had a bad day on the job, she might console herself momentarily with a cheeseburger and chocolate milkshake.

It's okay. We're all allowed a moment of decadence and self-pity and besides...

I've heard the "official restaurant of the Olympics" is welcoming customers.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Valentine for your Career - from Career Cupid

Career Cupid is all about how finding a great career is a lot like the process of finding a great romance. Whether you love the whole hearts/chocolate/flowers thing or not, Valentine's Day is the perfect time to re-commit to a current career you love or get inspired to find one you really do want to spend some significant time with.

For some ideas, check out my Valentine's Day interview with Cathy Keates: www.careerconsiderations.ca/blog/?p=161

Happy in your career or not, tools from the dating world can help up the romance and endorphins quotient and can make the process feel more manageable and fun. So go on--open up that box of cocoa treasures (after all, it is the universal day of guilt-free chocolate indulgence) and cozy up to the career you love.

Happy Valentine's Day from Career Cupid!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Don't take the free ride in your own life" - Nickelback

Some days, I listen to that line in the song and think, "yeah, that's me...pushing forward, going outside my comfort zone, making changes...whoo hoo!" and other times I kind of just want to tell the leader singer Chad to please, oh pretty please go and take a flying leap (and not using such nice words).

Tuesday was one of those days. Ol' Chad and his friends Bob (Seger), Melissa (Ethridge), Bono (um...guess he's one of those people with no last name) and others were singing away, keeping time to my pounding (feet) and panting (lungs) and I hated them all. I wanted to tell Melissa that, no, actually, I don't &%*$& run for life--because Tuesday while I was running, I couldn't have cared less about life!

I just wanted to give up. And not just for a minute. For every single minute of 60 minutes. It was so HARD.

I'm deep in the second month of my "back to health" regime and it has struck me more than once that the effort I'm putting forth, the energy it takes to rally my spirit and get my butt out of the chair and into exercise is kind of like the exertion you need to do something about your career. And whew, it's not easy sometimes, is it?!

When I'm not cursing at them for being so gosh darn chipper while I'm busy sweating my hands and everything else off (why do the back of my hands sweat when I run?) and no doubt seconds from dying of something really, really painful and bad (I think it's called melodrama), I really do appreciate my buddies along the road -- Chad, Bob, Melissa, Bono and especially Michael (long-suffering husband and chief cheerleader).

Couldn't do it without them, in fact.

They're there to vent at when you feel ugly and worn down and tired and hopeless (and they keep you from being overly nasty to the other 3-D people in your life!). On better days, they're there to lift your spirits and cheer you up and give you inspiration when you feel like you can fly.

Who are your career change buddies? You need 'em to remind you, among other things:

Don't take the free ride in your own life.

And after you've finished telling them to take a flying leap, you'll get through that horrible day and hopefully, have a day like I had today, when they'll make you smile and believe:

Yes, it is possible.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

To flush or not to flush? A major job search question

Ever been on the phone and heard a toilet flushing on the other person's end? What if you were trying to set up an interview to hire that person?

While I was in the stall of a public washroom recently, a person entered the washroom who was carrying on a telephone conversation on her cell phone. Dressed in a black suit and appearing very professional, it quickly became evident from the conversation I was unable to avoid overhearing that she was talking to a prospective employer and setting up an interview date.

Initially, I was a bit bemused--after all, as a career counsellor, I don't tend to recommend that job seekers conduct any conversations with prospective employers in a washroom. Until recently, the reasons for this advice seemed kind of obvious to me...

"Hi employer, nice to hear from you....Oh, you hear a toilet flushing? I'm just in the washroom because y'know...I'm a multi-tasker!


"I'm in the washroom because it was a mascara emergency!"


"I'm in the washroom because there was nowhere else to talk..."

Really? Not outdoors? Or under a tree? Or down a quiet hallway or stairwell? Or in an empty elevator? Or asking someone if there is a quiet place you can step into? Or beside a busy highway? (Because, seriously, wouldn't you rather be caught out for talking by the side of a busy freeway with trucks roaring by at high speed, than for being in the place where people go #1 and 2?)

There was nowhere else? Um...bad decision.

My reaction turned from amusement to chagrin as I realized my predicament. There I was, effectively trapped in my stall, trying to decide...to flush or not to flush? As I debated, I wondered to myself: how did this stranger's career fate become my responsibility?

It seemed that she looked at me with annoyance after I flushed and came out of the stall to wash my hands yet the woman chose to stay in the washroom to carry on her conversation, so I was faced with another predicament. After washing my hands, the only visible option for drying them was to use a very loud, wall-mounted hand dryer positioned right next to where this person was making the interview arrangements!

I wash thoroughly with soap and water so my hands were really wet--this wasn't simply a case of damp fingertips that I could wipe on my pants--and I had to go directly out to meet (and shake hands with) someone after exiting the washroom.

So, I dilly-dallied. I sighed inwardly at my image in the mirror. I shook my wet hands repeatedly in the sink. I found 2 new wrinkles. I considered whether I should head to the salon for a new style. I counted tiles on the floor.

Still, the conversation continued. What subway stop should she get off at to get to the company? Would she get reimbursed for the travel expenses to the interview?

I finally resorted to retreating back to the stalls and using tissue-paper thin, industrial toilet paper to try to mop up the water from my dripping hands. Squeezing by the woman on the phone as I existed the washroom, I resisted the urge to push the start button on the hand dryer.

But I have to confess, I lay awake last night fantasizing about it.