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Book Review: Hard Lessons by Jonathan Schorr

I always like reading about industries unfamiliar to me firsthand because success and obstacles have common threads across industries, and looking from the outside in often gives a perspective that is tough to see when you’re waist deep in immediate issues.  Jonathan Schorr’s Hard Lessons is a play-by-play of Oakland’s struggle to open charter schools in the inner city.  Told from multiple points of view — teacher, student, parent, administration — it’s a fascinating story but also a good coaching book.  Some lessons from Hard Lessons:

Progress can take a while.  Schorr spends time describing the difficult start-up phase before and after the charter schools opened.  You can feel how slow and seemingly hopeless the circumstances were.  Yet, because we can see the fruits of plowing through the difficulty, we get the benefit (without the interminable wait) of hindsight and the encouragement that we too can prevail if we want something as badly as some of those parents wanted a good education for their kids.

But just because we push doesn’t mean we have to rush.  Some of the biggest problems came when decisions were rushed — hiring calls where no references were checked, teachers using an approach without training and therefore digging a deeper hole for themselves.  There are numerous examples of haste makes waste here.  It reminds us that even when we want to move things forward, we shouldn’t push things.

Sometimes you need to reconsider options you earlier might have dismissed.  The parents who lobbied so hard against the district schools later aligned themselves with the district when a new administration came in.  Great lesson on how we shouldn’t be afraid to go back, reassess, and perhaps move in a direction that was not ideal before.  Our circumstances change, and we should always adjust for what’s best now, even if that means doing something deemed less than ideal before.

I strongly recommend looking at experiences and stories outside your immediate sphere of knowledge, as Hard Lessons provided for me.  You will stretch your mind, learn something new, and possibly get unstuck on something that currently feels intractable.

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Book Review: Improv Wisdom By Patricia Madson

I have to love the book that introduced me to the term, bricolage, or as Madson puts it, “use what is there artfully.”  Improv Wisdom by Patricia Madson is a must-read for improvisers but still a good read if all you know about improv is Drew Carey in “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

Madson, chair of the undergraduate acting department at Stanford and creator of the Stanford Improvisors, lists 13 maxims of improv and coaches on how these relate to life at large, not just on stage.  The subtitle of the book, “Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up” are two of the maxims. Bricolage was in the chapter on Make Mistakes, Please.  Other insightful chapters include Be Average, Face the Facts, and Stay On Course. 

You will likely enjoy the book more if you have improv in your experience because Madson doesn’t take too much time explaining the concepts.  But her ability to draw parallels between what could be seen as pithy improv rules and important life concepts is impressive.   This book is a fast read, thoroughly enjoyable, and incredibly deep.

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Crazy Times Demand Crazy Thinking

When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command.  Very often, that individual is crazy – Dave Barry

That quote makes me laugh out loud.  The cynical me finds it funny to think that the only person available to help in a hopeless situation is hopeless themselves.  But I’ve started liking this quote even more lately because of these times.  It is a bad job market, and I am a career coach.  I work with people day in and day out to keep them motivated on their job search or proactively managing their career despite seemingly unmanageable circumstances.  When I remind people that the real opportunity is in rocky times such as these, very often, my clients look at me like I’m crazy.  I have become the crazy person in Dave Barry’s quote.  But that’s okay with me because crazy times demand crazy thinking.

You want to start a business in the middle of a recession?  Of course you can!

You want to change careers from accounting to media?  The best time is now!

You want to ask for a raise and promotion while your industry descends into flames?  Let’s ask for even more.

These are all examples of what real clients are going through.  And while our conversations are much deeper than the short answer that I share above, the context is similar.  Yes, you can make scary moves in a scary economy if you are ready to commit and to do the work.  It would be nice to have been ready to go for it during a boom market, but sometimes you are not.  And I would bet on the person who is 100% committed to an audacious goal in the worst market than the person who is unsure about a lesser goal in the best market.  Emotional readiness trumps market conditions anytime.

I decided to finally leave corporate and pursue acting in the middle of a personal crisis.  I bought my first house when I was unemployed.  I made a big financial commitment at the same time I launched a new business.  These were some of the best decisions that I made, though even now as I write them I feel like I am describing a crazy person.  Why would I choose to make these big decisions during inopportune times?

Because emotional readiness trumps market conditions.  How you feel internally will dictate your success more than any external condition.  When you’re so sure what you want that you’re willing to work at whatever obstacles come after, then you are ready to go for it.  If it seems crazy to the outside world but sound to you, then you are onto something.  These are crazy times.  We may not have good external conditions for awhile, and we can’t control when things will get better.  So get to work on the internal conditions, and when they’re right, go crazy.

Filed under: life coaching, philosophy, , , , , , ,

On Geoff Colvin’s The Upside of the Downturn

http://money.cnn.com/2009/05/28/news/economy/colvin_upside.fortune/index.htm

Above is an excerpt from Fortune writer Geoff Colvin’s upcoming book.  The article is about business (Fortune readers are supposed to be the CEO demographic) but his Five Moves To Make Now (with some extrapolation) carry key insights for below the C-suite and everyday life:

1) Evaluate employees better.  Colvin talks about company performance reviews, but in our personal lives we also have our teams, so reassess yours.  If you’ve been unhappy with your housekeeper or haircutter or some other service provider, now is an excellent time to revisit that since you need to be watching your costs anyway.  On a personal relationship note, you may have outgrown a relationship or find someone has become an energy drain.  Give an honest evaluation and try to make things work, or move on.

2) End guidance.  Colvin refers to stock market guidance on how company financials are faring every quarter.  In our personal lives, sometimes we track things too closely as well.  This may be financial when we open our monthly investment statements and get depressed. If you’ve decided to only rebalance annually, check statements regularly for account accuracy but otherwise let it go.  Are there other areas where you track too closely in the short term and fail to see the long term potential?  Career, fitness, parenthood, relationship?

3) Manage for value.  Colvin talks about business value here, but this is easily relatable to personal value.  In a tough market, where we are stretched for time and dollars, we may have to make different choices.  Are you doing the things that matter?

4) Expand your mind about risks.  Is there something you’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t think it was the right time?  That trip abroad may be cheaper now.  That entrepreneurial venture may seem less risky now that security at traditional jobs has decreased.  I somehow have managed to take the biggest risks (leaving corporate for acting, investing in real estate, starting my own company) during times when the external circumstances would seem to outsiders less than ideal.  But internally, it was the best time for me, and your internal readiness always trumps external considerations.  So downturn or no, we always take risks.  Which ones do you want to take now?

5) Mine employees for ideas.  Colvin points to businesses that get great ideas from lower-level employees.  It’s always good practice to talk to different people, and collect ideas from as many sources as you can.  I have a show next week, in which I write a character monologue that I then perform.  I feel like my kids and my friends actually wrote it because I just expanded on the clever things I’ve heard along the way.  We don’t have to do everything all by ourselves.

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Before You Get Your New Job, “Play the Part!”

Here is a guest blog from a fellow coach – Rose Manco from Envision Possibilities.   Sometimes Life Coaches and Career Coaches overlap because in order to conduct a proactive job search, you have to have the right attitude and the right mental state.  Rose and I both volunteer at an Employment Group at St. Clare’s Church in Staten Island, and in this piece she outlines several helpful strategies when looking for a job: 

I was watching Neil Cavuto on TV the other night when he began to tell the story about a man called Al whom he would see on the train every morning on his daily commute to work. By chance, one morning Neil and Al got to talking and it was then that Neil learned Al had lost his job months before. Neil was surprised to hear this because he would see him every day, briefcase in hand.

Al explained he felt it was important that regardless of the circumstance he keep to his routine instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for himself. As a matter of fact, his family wasn’t even aware he had lost his job. Where once Al carried important documents in his briefcase, he now carried lunch and a newspaper to sustain him as he pounded the pavement looking for work.

Neil was so impressed with Al’s positive attitude and determination he gave him the name of someone whom he thought would be able to help him find a job, which in the end, he did. In Neil Cavuto’s words, “Al played the part until he got the part”.

I was recently invited to be a guest speaker to a group of individuals who lost their jobs and needed a bit of encouragement and life strategy tools to help them while they continued with the grueling process of searching for a job.

A few days later, a gentleman in the group who was feeling discouraged and despondent about the possibility of him ever finding a job at his age, called me to “pick my brain” to see what else he could do. I suggested that one of the best ways for him to keep motivated when it seems as if all doors are being slammed in his face is to share and volunteer his valuable professional skills with those who could use his expertise.

While it was important for him to continue with the important task of a job search, it was just and perhaps in his case even more important to find a venue where he could feel as if he is still a contributing member to society.

I recommended an organization for him to contact who always need seasoned, talented business savvy volunteers. When at first I made this suggestion, he wasn’t too keen on the idea that he wouldn’t get paid but I helped him to realize that he needs to see this differently. One, he could feel valuable while utilizing his skills and helping others, two, he is expanding his network and broadening his exposure to small business owners and entrepreneurs who would have never known about him if he only stayed the traditional job search route. He began to see the possibilities and felt a bit more hopeful which in his case was crucial.

I heard on the radio the story of a woman who until recently had been unemployed for six months. One day as she was driving in her car, she noticed all the foreclosure signs and came to the realization that these homes and former business sites needed to be cleaned and spruced up so they could be more appealing to potential buyers. She approached the Banks with a business proposition and is now earning a comfortable living with her newly formed cleaning service.

Opportunities abound us everywhere but first we need to show up for the part and one of the ways we can do this is by keeping our minds (and eyes and ears open). On those days when life seems to be keeping you stuck, remind yourself to continue to play the part even when you don’t feel like it because you never know where the next opportunity will come from.

Rose Manco, CTACC

Personal Development & Transitions Coach

rose@envisiionpossibilities.com

718.227-2136 

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Creative careers are possible…but not necessary

It is possible to make a good living and pursue your creative and artistic passions.  It’s possible to do this at any age and stage of your career.  Check out my Wetfeet post on this very subject. 

But I feel very strongly that while making art and making money are not mutually exclusive, they are also not co-dependent.  You do not need to be paid for your art to be serious about it.  You can act in community theater and still be a good actor, but just not one that makes a living from acting.  You can design great websites and get paid for such, or you may decide that what sells commercially isn’t what you want to do, so you design websites by day and devote time after work to design what your heart really calls for.

The decision of how to be creative and how to make money are two separate decisions.  Yes, for some people, it ends up being the same thing (although there are many working actors who confess to doing the independent but artistic money loser and alternating that with the money-making but less creative blockbuster).  For many people, the payoff from being creative is going to be separate from how they pay their bills.  Instead of stressing over what money (or lack thereof) means for your creative commitment, use that energy to make more designs, get more roles. sing more songs.  Then make money however you do it best and however the market will actually bear.  Creative careers are possible but not necessary.  You can be creative regardless of what your career title actually is.

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When A Job Search Is Stuck, Sometimes Can’t Really Means Won’t

In the last week, I’ve been hearing a lot of variations on my-job-search-is-stuck.  There is the classic “How Do I Find The Time?”  Then, there’s the “How Do I Decide On A Direction?”  Another popular one is “Where Do I Start?”  The underlying theme here is that the job-seeker is desperately trying but still somehow stuck.  Much like a victim trapped in quicksand, you pull and thrash at your job search and yet you’re stuck in the mud.

When you find you’re stuck, ask yourself if you really want to do a job search at this time.  Ok, if you’ve been laid off, you may have no choice but to look, but that still doesn’t mean you want to look and this contributes to you feeling stuck.  If you don’t want to search and you don’t have to out of necessity, drop it.  Take up something else and come back to it in a few months when the reasons why you are looking are clearer and more urgent.

No, you say?  You are adamant that you want a new job?  You just need that push?  That inspiration to get started?  That key to the kingdom that sets you down exactly the right path?  Unfortunately, there is no one magic pill.  The push, inspiration, key insight is different for each jobseeker.  I spend a lot of my coaching probing and listening to find just that key.  Then I turn it again and again, every time my client is doubting himself or herself, which is often because a job search can be very distracting.

A job search is distracting.  It’s new.  It’s change.  It takes time and energy and requires that you put yourself out there to possibly be rejected and ignored.  No wonder people dread it and get stuck in their dread.  But there’s nothing physical that you’re stuck to.  You always have the power to move on.  When you say you can’t, it’s really because you won’t.  You won’t find the time.  You won’t make a decision.  You won’t get started.  A job search is stuck not because you can’t do what it takes, but because you won’t do what it takes (whether that means doing it solo or geting help when you need it).  A new job, a new career, a new life is doable.  Can you do it?  Of course, you can…The question is, “Will you?”

Filed under: career coaching, life coaching, philosophy, , , ,

Resource management, the personal way

I did an interview for The Institute for Success and Goal Achievement in July — 4 obstacles to success, 4 solutions to success, general life coaching stuff.   One of the key points I focus on in the interview and in a lot of my coaching is how people use their personal resources.  We know that companies have resource management groups that allocate people and budgets and material to different projects.  How are you allocating your time, money, skills and energy? 

I had a friend who had a demanding job, two small kids, a husband also with a demanding job, and many community service commitments.  She dreamed of writing a book.  So she blocked off time to write.  She scaled back on projects and gave up the short-term cash for the long-term investment of completing her manuscript.  She researched the subject of her novel and honed her writing skills.  She committed to writing that book and told everyone she’d do it.  She put 100% of her resources behind the book, and yes, she finished it.  But no it didn’t get picked up.  Instead, a few years later she published another book.  Completely different subject than she imagined, but she became a published author nonetheless. 

We don’t always know how things will turn out.  But we need to get started.  And we need to commit our resources (our time, money, skills and energy) to what we want.

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Creating a job search foundation

I had a new sidewalk put in at my home yesterday and thought about how much time was spent on the foundation before actually pouring the concrete.  The workers jackhammered up the old concrete and put it in a truck, layed out boards to contain the new concrete, poured gravel on the bottom and leveled it until it was just right.  This took up about 3/4 of the day.  Then came the concrete truck and it was poured in about 1 hour.

That is exactly what job seekers need to do … spend more time laying a good foundation to support all aspects of the job search.  The job offer will come once all other aspects are taken care of.  The right job search foundation includes:

1.  Knowning exactly what you want to do:  because the best candidates out there are showcasing their lazer focus to employers.  If you are just a bit unclear, they will pass over you quicker than the cement pouring out of the truck in front of my house.

2. Having an exceptional resume:  because it represents you when you are not there.  The format should be clear and orderly with not one error.  The bullets should contain quantifiable accomplishments, and if they don’t, interviewers will pass you up because that is what is found in the best resumes.

3. Being comfortable when you interview:  this is critical.  How comfortable are you at describing your strengths and weaknesses?  Because one of the biggest pet peeves of interviewers is someone who can’t think of a single weakness.  Everyone has weaknesses.  CEOs have weakenesses.  You’ve got to show the maturity and confidence of being able to talk about this with ease and authenticity.

4. Networking with everyone you can.  Networking isn’t about asking for a job.  It’s about building relationships with people that benefit all parties.  It’s a skill and it becomes easier with tips we can share with you.

5. Getting advice and coaching throughout the process.  An Olympic athlete wouldn’t think of competing in their sport without the right coach.  A coach teaches good habits, points out bad habits, and fine-tunes your approach throughout the way.    My partner & I started SixFigureStart career coaching and we do just this with clients all day.  Since we’ve hired thousands of people in our careers, we know exactly what employers want and that is our value to our clients.

So start jackhammering away your old habits and get started on your new career.  You can built it and we can help!  …. sorry, that is Home Depot’s slogan.  SixFigureStart:  We know what employers want!

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Price, cost, value

A few years ago, I wrote a column for a Monmouth County pub (I live part-time in Little Silver) about price, cost and value (http://www.ahherald.com/jobpath/2004/jp040205_value.htm).  In short, there’s a difference between the price of something, what it actually costs and how we value it.  Reasonable enough on a theoretical point, but I’ve had many occasions recently to revisit just how often there is a disconnect in day-to-day life.  Especially now that I’m running my own business and watching cash flow like a hawk.

Take our home in Little Silver, for example.  We don’t set it up for TV or Internet b/c at $40/mo minimum and just a few days per month, the price per use seems high.  The cost isn’t just the $40/mo or $500/yr, but it’s that expense creep we all experience where we add things into our budget and then it’s tough to get rid of them later.  I don’t want to get sucked up into a lifestyle so I avoid adding these ongoing items where possible.  However…there have been times when I’d readily pay upwards of $500 to have that Internet access in Little Silver just those times, much less a whole year of times.  Those single times make me think that a $500 hit over time is a good value.

Or take our Mets series plan (my husband is a rabid fan).  I am aghast at ticket prices for each individual game and at the number of games you have to buy to get a plan.  That doesn’t even reflect the true cost of the time you spend on the games, the ancillary costs of food and transportation, and an endless supply of small pencils to score the game.  However…when I think about the overall cost (as high as the $ figure gets) and the overall value (we’ve had series plans since 1993 and getting guaranteed tickets to playoff games was probably worth the cost altogether) it seems like we’re still ahead spending the money.

So I always have to check myself — that I don’t let the short-term price and cost hit distort the long-term value.  I’ll keep my personal trainer, professional development classes, housekeep help, and other short-term hits that produce long-term value.  Someone remind me I said that when I start to think short-term…

If you follow your bliss, you will always have your bliss, money or not. If you follow money, you may lose it, and you will have nothing.”  Joseph Campbell

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