You May Have to Battle for Meaning in Your Career

You May Have to Battle for Meaning in Your Career

Tired business woman with boxing glovesYour desire for meaning in your career may lead you on a path that includes confusion, sacrifice, loss, and surrender. And, it will suck when you have those experiences.

Like me, you may have seen a ton of TV and movie portrayals of negative job experiences and have had your own unpleasant career incidents. You may have also read articles about how most people are not happy in their jobs and have found yourself in conversations with family and friends who repeat their own stories of job dissatisfaction.

If you’ve felt discouraged because of the insidious and accepted theme of work discontent and have felt like giving up on the idea of professional work that’s meaningful to you, you’re not alone…

…and, DON’T GIVE UP!

Know Your Career Meaning Cause is Worthy

Also, like me, you may have felt a light inside of you that won’t go out and that refuses to give up on the notion and vision of a working life that makes sense and allows you to express who you are, while contributing to the realization of a larger goal of service. And, although you may need to rest for a while due to frustration and weariness, you’ll find a way to keeping walking the path of career meaning the best way you can.

Know that I and others are walking this path with you and will battle on! Why? Because the creation of a world where people spend most of their days enjoying their work (for the most part), while making a difference, is a worthy cause.

Recognize Obstacles on a Career Meaning Path

Smartphone with new job texxtYou may discover that the work you’re doing:

  • Isn’t what you thought it would be
  • Doesn’t match your personality
  • Will not lead to where you want to go
  • Involves working with personality types that are not a match for you
  • Is too limiting and you’ve outgrown it
  • Isn’t the right industry or service area
  • Isn’t in the right geographical location for your overall well-being

…and the list goes on…

At this point in my career, I’ve encountered every one of the obstacles listed and more. I can say that with professional experience and maturity, you’ll be able to handle the challenges on your professional path more skillfully. You’ll learn, hopefully more quickly than I, what type of people and work environments work best for you.

But, because you’re always evolving, some obstacles will repeat. You’ll be confronted with need to create new opportunities in your career again and again.

Protect Your Sanity in a Career Meaning Desert

We still seem to live in a society where enjoying your work is a rare phenomenon. So, in this current desolate landscape, you’ll find that certain people and tools will be invaluable on your trek to create meaning in your career. Here are a few recommendations based on the hard won boons of wisdom gained from my own journey:

Keep a journal of your professional experiences

Document what works and what doesn’t work early in and throughout your career and look for patterns and connections. Keeping a journal is essential, especially during challenging times.

Seek and access knowledge to expand your professional understanding and vision

Take time to reflect and identify the knowledge you need to create a professional path that inspires you. Sometimes, you’ll need self-knowledge that can be gained from personality tests or from getting direct feedback from others. Sometimes, you’ll need mentorship to determine how to best develop on your path. Sometimes, you’ll need multiple tracks of knowledge or someone to help you get clear on what you need and what your best next steps might be.

Develop a mindset of trust and faith

You may need to leave a well-paying job or several well-paying jobs that are not a fit whether it’s the work itself, or not the right people fit, or you’ve outgrown the situation in some way. Making the choice to move on is scary and needs to be well-thought out and planned out to the best of your ability. The price of staying in an unworkable situation, in terms of the painful impacts on your physical, mental, and social health, is simply not worth it. Trust that there are other positions and other people with whom to contribute and have faith to take action in their direction.

Know that we battle on together for a better work future

Woman holding boxing glovesI’ve read several articles that spotlight the fact that the Gen-Y/Millennial generation gives more focus on and priority to having “meaningful” careers. Millennials seem more inclined to let go of ego-driven games that focus on authoritarian pursuits like power, money, and control.

Recently, I learned that there’s a label for those folks who inhabit an experience that contains elements of both the Gen X and Gen Y perspectives: Xennials. And, learning about the Xennial classification was super cool to me because I believe that people around my age are a bridge between perspectives. We have depth knowledge of and experience with the “old school” and the “new school.”

The Millennial/Xennial generational desire, freedom, and ability to create meaning in career signifies a relatively new chapter in our evolution. And, you and I are helping write this new chapter right now with our beliefs and each professional decision we make.

So, one vital question for all of us is: “How will you demonstrate that meaning is important in your career and in the careers of others?”

Often the battle is with overcoming your own fears, helping end the tyranny of how things have always been, and staying committed to your vision. Are you with me?

Would love to read and respond to your comments!

Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net: Ambro (tired business woman), Stuart Miles (new job smartphone), and photostock (woman with red boxing gloves)

The Gifts of Employment Discrimination

The Gifts of Employment Discrimination

John Green, author of “The Fault in Our Stars” (BTW, a great movie, haven’t read the book), gave a quick and insightful video overview about data on systemic racial bias in America last year. Watch John pull at his hair multiple times, while discussing the numbers in this quick video…

Watch “Racism in the United States: By the Numbers” (3 mins 55 secs)

The Difference Your Name Can Make

Resume, CV, and Job ApplicationJohn spotlights a 2004 University of Chicago study on racial bias in employment hiring where thousands of resumes were submitted to a variety of employers. All of the resumes submitted to employers where completely identical, except for the applicant’s name.

According to John, the study indicated that Lakeisha and Jamal got 50% fewer call backs than Emily and Brendan, despite having literally identical resumes. John went on to state that “To the deny the existence of systematic racism is to deny a huge body of evidence indicating that racial bias affects almost every facet of American Life.” [Thanks, John for how you eloquently and quickly raised awareness with this video!]

I have a friend named Lakeisha and I’m a black girl named Latoya. So, I’ve been well aware of this reality for some time. I actually had a conversation with my mom about this subject just a few weeks before watching this video. And, my mom started to apologize for naming me Latoya. I stopped her and told her not to worry about this “fact.” I don’t want to work with someone who would dismiss my resume simply because my name is Latoya.

I know that some people chose to give their children racial or gender “neutral” names like Blake or Jordan to minimize name discrimination. However, my mother was 14 years old when she named me Latoya and I’m pretty sure that no one in my family had ever needed to create a resume before the late 1970s. So, at the time of my birth, no one in my family would have known that a name could make such a difference in terms of call backs.

[Personal Rant]: I have to thank the unknown nurses who took care of me in my first days of life and were responsible for submitting the name on my birth certificate. Someone submitted my name as “Latoya” not “LaToya.”

My personality is simply not flamboyant enough to carry that capital “T” and I don’t care for the extra effort it takes to make an unnecessary capital letter in the middle of my name. But, despite the fact that I write my name as “Latoya,” some folks insist on writing my name with a capital “T” in emails, even though I clearly sign my email responses with “Latoya.”

Enough with that, let’s get back to the point…

Finding the Seeds of Equivalent Benefit

Gift BoxesNapoleon Hill, a noted American author in the area of personal success, believed that every adversity in life provides “seeds of equivalent benefit.” Do I believe that I’ve gotten fewer call backs from my resume due to my first name? Yes. However, the name on my resume is actually a way in which potential hiring managers and employers with this type of bias have been weeded out of MY life. That’s a gift.

Last month, I had the opportunity to share my perspective on this subject with a young budding entrepreneur at a networking event, who also happens to be African-American. He (with a racial neutral name) shared his concerns about “outing” himself as Black by posting a photo on his business website.

This young man had talked with his family and friends and many seemed to think that keeping his photo off of his website was the best way to maximize his potential income. I voted in the contrary and shared my belief that there are more than enough people in this world with whom to do good business and who will not dismiss his business simply because he’s Black.

I saw the light in this young man’s eyes when he recognized the truth of what I communicated. Another gift. I sincerely hope that he chose to post his picture proudly on his website. The truth is that someone could simply “google” him and determine his “racial status” relatively quickly.

Why do business with someone who’s immature enough or so stunted in their human development that they judge you based on a name or the color of your skin? Many of our limiting thoughts are based on a “scarcity mentality.” Even though it’s sometimes difficult to believe or hard to see, there IS enough for everyone.

Would love to read your comments!


Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net: Job Interview Forms (phasinphoto) and Gift Boxes (Stuart Miles).

The Unexpected Career Opening

The Unexpected Career Opening

Today, as I was working with an insurance agent to add coverage to my policy, the woman with whom I was speaking shared that she had heard that the company where I work is a great company.

During the course of our conversation, she also mentioned that she had visited the company’s website and had not seen any job openings posted and expressed an interest in learning about potential openings. Some on the spot career networking was happening!

GETTING AND UNEXPECTED CAREER OPENING

Door openingWhat’s remarkable is that I have met two additional people in the last three weeks, who also mentioned applying at the company where I work and showing their good favor toward this company.

These encounters with professionals, interested in the company where I work, have really struck a cord in my mind, because my working at this company was an unexpected career opening. Next month, marks my one year anniversary with this company. However, I was only expected to work here for two weeks!

While making not so steady income from freelance work over the past several years and searching for full-time work in areas where I have professional interest, I have also taken assignments from various temporary agencies to supplement my income. This time last year, I had been offered a full-time position with a non-profit agency and was planning to begin that position in November. So, when I received the call for my current assignment, which has lasted for almost a year now, I was not interested.

In fact, I advised my agency contact to send someone else for the job. Well, the agency could not find someone else and called me back. Because I liked the young woman whom I had been working with at the agency, I agreed to take the assignment for a week or two before my full-time position started (I have a soft spot for young professionals just starting out in their careers and who have that zeal to do their best!).

However, when November arrived last year, the position that I had been waiting to start evaporated into thin air. There was no funding to move forward with the position. Fortunately, the division where I was working needed additional tasks completed at the end of the year and I was apparently the right professional to do them. As the company and the group got to know me and my work and I got to know them, we seemed to create a very good working relationship. As a result, I was asked to extend my assignment and agreed.

EMBRACING THE  CAREER PORTFOLIO PATH

Interestingly, I knew a woman, during the early years of my professional life, who had spent most of her career on temporary assignments. In my early twenties, fresh out of college, I could not understand how she tolerated the uncertainty of not knowing from where her next paycheck would come!

Fast forward almost 10 years later, outsourcing and the numbers of workers with temporary agencies have grown immensely. In retrospect, that early serial temp professional, who had embraced the “portfolio career” based lifestyle, may have simply been a pioneer ahead of her time! Now, I also appreciate the distinct virtues of temporary work assignments including flexibility, exposure to different work environments, opportunities to develop and use different skill sets, and being outside of office politics, etc. Of course, there are many drawbacks to the temp professional life.

However, the ultimate potential benefit of taking a temporary assignment is an unexpected career opening, like I have experienced. This extended assignment has exposed me to an industry with which I had a very vague awareness and to a type of work that I could not have even described before this opportunity. I have no guarantees or firm ideas about where this particular opening is taking me. However, I have already gained a great deal from the experience.

In a parallel fashion, one of my oldest friends also spent a year on a temporary assignment. Through this assignment, she gained employment with a very well known and prominent entertainment company. It seems as though many well-established companies are using temporary work arrangements as a way to access new talent and to conduct a trial working relationship, in a manner that must be more cost effective on some balance sheet.

A couple of months ago, my friend was offered a full-time position and has now transitioned out of that temporary assignment to her “dream job” within that company. First hand and second hand accounts demonstrate how temporary assignments do have their perks and can be used as a strategic way to encourage some unexpected career openings, especially in today’s bizarre job market.

The Essential Aspects of Career Success

The Essential Aspects of Career Success

This week, I participated in my first ever Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day (TODSWD) event. The group that I’m working with created a presentation and a game to educate and entertain about 30 children of the organization’s employees during their all day visit.  This year’s theme “Invent the Future” was chosen to emphasize that the work a person does today impacts future success.

Honestly, I’ve been so caught up in projects lately that I did not pay much attention to the planning regarding this event. Finally, the day before the event, I realized how aligned this event is to my passion for career and professional development. So, I was really excited about the day on the eve of the event.

TODSW Day started 19 years ago, about 3 years before I graduated from high school. I do recall my younger brother visiting my mother’s work during my senior year in high school. I also remember thinking about how “cool” it would have been to get a day off from school and actually visit a work site. I did feel a bit envious at the time. The relative recent inception of this program, says a lot about the newness of the notion of each of us being able to take ownership of our own careers. So, you younger professionals out there are starting your work life at a great time in the history of career development!

According to Carolyn McKecuen, president of the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day foundation, the program is:

“Designed to be more than a career day…the program goes beyond the average ‘shadow’ an adult. Exposing girls and boys to what a parent or mentor in their lives does during the work day is important, but showing them the value of their education, helping them discover the power and possibilities associated with a balanced work and family life, and providing them an opportunity to share how they envision the future and begin steps toward their end goals in a hands-on and interactive environment is key to their achieving success.”

Discovering ways to harness the value of your education, finding a balance between work and family life, and sharing how you envision your future will remain essential aspects of your experience of career success. So, the fact that this program starts early with inviting children to think in this way is phenomenal.

Another essential aspect to heighten your experience of professional success, involves finding ways to serve your community with your unique talents and gifts. Your future participation in a TODSW Day event or volunteering to mentor a child, teen, or younger professional is an excellent way to keep connected with the vital importance of career and professional development to your overall sense of well-being.

If you missed this observance this year, it happens on the 4th Thursday in April every year. You can also explore mentoring program with your local Boys and Girls Club. You’ll feel great serving the community in this way and provide a positive life model for a upcoming future professional.

We’re all inventing our futures…so let’s make them remarkable!

Take a Lesson from the “Networking Challenged”

Take a Lesson from the “Networking Challenged”

Last Friday, I attended an “open house” for a new business and professional development center that two friends launched in Raleigh this month.  I count myself lucky to have friends who are creative, take initiative, and have a dedicated focus on professional development and helping others succeed.

This gathering stands out to me and holds a lot of significance. Why? Because I had to develop a willingness to leap out of my comfort zone and attend various networking events throughout the Raleigh area, in order to connect with the two people, who launched this new venture. How did I develop that willingness? Out of pure necessity!

In the beginning years of my career,  you would have never found me out networking. What!? N-E-T-W-O-R-K-I-N-G. I loathed the entire experience of standing around  in a room of people “schmoozing” and talking about work or subjects that I had absolutely no interest. I prided myself on being the type of person who carried on conversations of “meaning” and “depth.” Most professional gatherings seemed like a total waste of my energy and time. During the early days of my career, I typically found ways to skip those events or escaped as quickly as possible.

In 2007, after completing 3 years of an intense graduate program, I received my masters in Transpersonal Psychology. At that point, I decided to relocate from the San Francisco Bay area to North Carolina where some close relatives lived. After adding a masters to my resume, which already contained two undergraduate degrees from a prestigious university, I believed that I was qualified to land a wider range of work. In addition, I had always found employment when I wanted it, without fail. So, I expected to find work easily as I started submitting applications.

While visiting relatives, after returning triumphantly from California with my new degree, one of my great aunts voiced the same underlying belief and somewhat misguided assumption that I held, “With a masters degree, you must be able to get any job that you want now!” As you may have guessed, my initial efforts to find employment yielded no invitations for interviews and hardly any responses at all. What was going on here? I felt completely baffled by the non-response that I received to my work applications.

Several months after experiencing what felt like one professional rejection after another, I finally had an epiphany. I realized that every one of my professional positions had resulted from a network that I didn’t even know I had! The existence of my professional network had been completely invisible to me. After moving to North Carolina, where I did not have a job lined up and no one, except for my family knew me, I recognized the power of professional relationships and connections for the first time.

Truthfully, I don’t know if I can really claim to have had a professional network in my younger career days. I had “access” and was “tapped into” networks because of the reputation of my undergraduate university. Due to the fact that major companies flock to Carnegie Mellon University and interview on campus, I easily found internships and my first full-time position after college. I never had to think or go outside of my university’s network to find work. So, I had no idea that I was severely “networking challenged” when I left campus for the “real world.”

Being “networking challenged,” is not a unique concern for the first generation professional. However, the likelihood of being afflicted by this condition is probably higher for individuals, who are the first in their family to graduate from college and venture into new fields. Also, those students, who easily find work through college career centers, may need to address challenges in the networking arena.

If you can identify with being “somewhat” to “extremely” networking challenged, you are at the beginning of a grand adventure! Try focusing your networking development efforts in two main areas: connecting with yourself and connecting with other professionals.

  1. If networking feels like a “drag” to you, you may be a major source of your own discomfort.
    Without your own professional center, it’s difficult, if not impossible to experience a true sense of connection and inspiration in conversations with other professionals. So, if you’re a young professional, please know that your first efforts at networking may not be that much fun. During my early career years, I simply was not clear about what work and subjects truly inspired me. It’s absolutely critical to take time to explore and develop your own professional interests and to move skillfully away from career areas that hold no real appeal for you.
  2. Find events where you can interact with people who are creative and “cool” to you. If you find networking events where you don’t connect with the folks in the room, maybe try the event 1 to 2 times more. If you make connections at later events, then the group may be a longer term resource, if not move on! Experiment with different industry groups, attend groups focused on entrepreneurs, ask the people who know you for some suggestions for professional gatherings, find conferences with topics that make you curious or intrigue you, etc.

I truly have experienced a radical networking skills transformation over the past 3 years and so can you!  What seemed like a simple move to North Carolina had an unexpected and life-altering influence. I was forced to lay a foundation and build a professional network from the ground floor.

Thankfully, I have not heard that word “schmooze” used to describe any of the networking events that I’ve attended and enjoyed in the Raleigh area. Now, when I go a few weeks without meeting someone new, I start to feel the need to find an event and build new relationships. You might say that I experience “cravings” to connect now.  What’s my motive?

Networking with proactive and creative people is fun!

If you live in the Raleigh area, please check out the list of networking groups and events provided on the “Evolve” page. By the way, if you visit the newly opened Center for Excellence in Raleigh, the owners humbly request that you come to build “connections” instead of networking.

Know Thy Career Value! What About Meaning?

Know Thy Career Value! What About Meaning?

I have been thinking a lot about “value” and “meaning” lately.

Many of us, and most certainly myself, desire a professional life that has a sense of “meaning.” I have been seeking and craving meaning for my entire life.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to know what something really “means” and to connect with and be a part of something that has greater “meaning” than myself. A “meaningful” career or a “valuable” career? The art is in creating both.

Over the past few months, the concept of “value” has taken center stage in my continued exploration of writings on career and professional development. Authors, like Jill Konrath, stress the importance of defining and conveying “your unique value proposition” as you create stellar cover letters and the perfect resume. I realized an important distinction and relationship between “meaning” and “value” that I didn’t fully understand until recently.

I get “meaning.” The word makes me feel all warm and sunny inside. Meaning is usually associated with words like “purpose” and “passion.” In contrast “value” takes me to a more cerebral place of hard facts, numbers, and production.

We are asked to consider questions like:

  • “What value will you bring to this position?”
  • “What value did you provide in your past positions?”
  • “What results did you deliver?”

The subject of meaning feels more connected with my core motivations. The topic of value feels associated with a requirement that I communicate  my “work accomplishments” in order to justify that someone hire me. Did my work yield time savings? Did my work save money? I definitely get the benefit of exercises that help us get clear about the value that I bring or you offer. At the same time, I’ve been somewhat challenged by the notion.

In sales and marketing related professions, tracking metrics about how many clients you’ve converted and what percentage increase in purchases you helped create is normal.  If you’re working on a commission, you’re definitely motivated to keep track of numbers! As a young consultant, working on a project by project basis, I was usually on to another project before any clear results emerged from my work. Did I work hard? Yes. Did I work smart? Definitely yes! However, “working hard” and “working productively and creatively” seem too “touchy feely” for the whole career “value” conversation.

Additionally, once my and other consultants efforts are delivered, we have no ability to guarantee that a client will actually use the work that we provide. In fact, I toiled for a year, giving up nights and weekends regularly, helping develop a corporate-wide information system, that by all accounts was never used! Experiences on that particular project, sent me into a crisis of meaning as I lamented over the question “What am I doing with my life?”

On certain resumes, I include a line like this:

“Independently designed and created over 50 analytical reports for an enterprise-wide corporate data warehouse.”

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it,  does it make a sound? If you create over 50 custom reports that are never used, does that work yield any tangible value?

What exactly was the point of me and my colleagues giving our best efforts, if our work was never used?

Some people say, “Well, at least you got an opportunity to develop some new skills.” Indeed, over 10 years later, I still get regular emails from headhunters. Apparently, one of my old resume postings still exists in cyberspace and references that software application that I used to create those reports.  Several times a year, I get messages from recruiters looking to place someone who has experience with that application. Apparently, businesses  continue to “value” professional skill with that tool. Unfortunately, I haven’t used that application in over 10 years and have limited interest in continued work in that area.

On reflection, I now wish that I could have been career savvy enough to bring “meaning” to that particular value questionable work assignment. However, that project was my very first “job” as a first-generation professional. I wish that I would have known to take the time to talk with other professionals, whom had more years of experience as a consultant. Through that networking and interviewing process, I may have gotten some needed clarity about my professional path.

The firm where I worked, immediately after my undergraduate studies, randomly placed me on a project within the telecommunications industry. Well, it wasn’t really random. Telecommunications represented one of the main industry focus areas for the office where I worked. Did I know that particular point when I accepted that position? Nope. Did I know to ask about an industry focus during my interview process? That would be a negative. What did I know? I wanted to work in the Washington, DC office because I was young and wanted to be in a vibrant city!

I can honestly say that I have absolutely no heart or interest in supporting the telecommunications industry! Don’t get me wrong. I get the “value” and “importance” of telecommunications. I think it’s great that we have phones, internet, and text messaging. However, I don’t get jazzed talking about “voice”, “data”, “internet coverage”, “VPN”, or tracking that type of information. While the word “telecom” may bring smiles of joy to certain professionals’ faces, just thinking about those terms makes my eyes roll back in my head.

Three years of my young professional career was spent working within the telecommunications industry. In effect, I filled my head full of industry speak for which I had no interest. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the awareness that I had no interest. I was assigned to projects. So, I did the work without question for a couple of projects. I wish that I would have interviewed our clients about what made them passionate about their work. I like to think that those discussions would have helped me realize that I simply didn’t feel a sense of meaningful work connection with telecommunications.

Ultimately balancing “value” and “meaning” is essential. However,  I recognize a deeper interest in “professional meaning” than “career value” within myself. I definitely get more enthusiastic about the qualitative (meaning) versus the quantitative (value) aspects of my work. Fortunately, I was exposed to the “mixed method” research approach. Ever heard of it? Mixed methods endeavors to unify the strengths of both quantitative and qualitative approaches.

I’m committed to giving attention to the internal and external aspects of my professional path and the points at which those areas intersect. Meaning can lead to value as value can point toward meaning.

My early professional experiences remain the central motivation from my work within the career and professional development space. This work is meaningful to me and has brought “value” to the lives of others.

The early career mismatch that I experienced inspires me to continue searching for meaning, when value may not always be apparent. I’m committed to providing a listening ear, mentorship, and guidance to young professionals. Happily, I’m celebrating a year of writing on this blog. Yep, it’s been a year already.

Happy 1st birthday, FirstGenerationProfessional.com!

A very special thanks to all of my visitors and readers over this past year. I hope that you’ve discovered some meaning and value through this work!

A Modus Operandi for the 21st Century Professional

A Modus Operandi for the 21st Century Professional

Yesterday evening, I spent almost 3 hours brainstorming with two inspirational young women. We met to create a shared vision, combine our ideas, and pool our efforts to develop a new career and professional development group. The aim of this group is to respond to a need for a new level of professional support and collaboration that will help motivated professionals, like ourselves, skillfully and happily navigate our career paths.

About a month ago, the three of us, along with a group of diverse professionals, met for a Brazen Careerist Crowdsource Your Career Meetup.com event in the Triangle. Amazingly, professionals from all over the world coordinated to meet in their current cities to socialize, network and discuss the crowdsourced question: What does it mean to be in the driver’s seat of your life and career?

The latest Brazen Careerist Crowdsource Your Career events are happening tomorrow, September 22nd, when “groups all over the world will rally together to answer life’s hard-hitting questions”. Find a group meeting in your area.

I am ecstatic to witness and participate in this movement of mostly Gen Y professionals, who are setting an inspirational example for future generations, willingly asking themselves tough questions, sharing insights and support, and issuing a growing call to action for all professionals to take ownership of their careers!

The inaugural “Brazen” event revealed a genuine need for professionals to gather in a fresh and more intentional way. Personally, I had been feeling the need for more discussion, collaboration, and support among professionals in order to steer a more confident and authentic course through this new global workspace and economy. In fact, this website is a core part of my efforts to connect with other professionals and affect evolutionary change in perspectives, ongoing efforts, and support structures related to career and professional development.

My conversations with these two younger career travelers revealed similar interests, desires, and dreams for more connection and support. So, we made tentative plans to meet and explore insights and ideas geared toward realizing our shared mission.

Toward the end of our first official meeting this evening, I posed a question about the ultimate “vision” for our initiative. Of course, I, myself, did not have a clear answer when I asked that question!  However, as I drove home inspired and hopeful, a vision for an overall M.O. or Modus Operandi of the 21st Century Professional began to emerge.  Here’s my first draft:

I want to experience or at least help catalyze the movement toward a world forever influenced and revolutionized by:

  • Self-aware, confident, and informed professionals committed to life-long learning and development, who provide genuine value, make a difference, and joyfully earn ample income.
  • Inspired professionals, who embrace and intentionally design their career path, by exploring their life stories, interests, challenges, and strengths and collaborating with others in order to identify their unique and inspirational contributions, original ideas, and solutions that they can offer to the world.
  • Motivated professionals skilled at identifying, creating, and accessing useful resources, while building competence and supportive relationships to navigate through stuck places and challenges in their careers successfully and expeditiously.
  • Evolving professionals, who give priority to aiding other professionals through mentoring and connecting (i.e., sharing insights, useful perspectives, encouragement, and resources).
  • Proactive professionals committed to creating, sponsoring, supporting, and insisting on improvements of social structures and the creation of additional support services including space and opportunities to connect, collaborate, and share available resources that facilitate and support a pervasive experience of a fulfilling work life.

My dream and our shared vision is still developing. So, I (and I’m sure “we”) would love to hear and read about any thoughts, additions, or questions you have in response to the outline above.

  • What needs do you have as an evolving professional?

  • What new professional M.O. do you want to realize in your own life and career?

Unleash Your Career Potential

Unleash Your Career Potential

I kept hitting a wall.

Every time I thought about creating a 3 to 5 year career plan, my mind would simply go blank. I had no idea where to start on such a project. In fact, the whole idea of a 3 to 5 year plan seemed like a total drag to me. How the heck was I, a 22 year old, supposed to know what I’d be doing in 3 to 5 years?

In 1999, a plan sounded like a good idea and like gibberish to my young adult mind. The following questions became top of mind for me as I reflected on this subject:

  • If career planning is such a great idea, why do most of us encounter such difficulties with actually creating a 3 to 5 year plan?
  • Why do so many of us suffer from what feels like writer’s block in our career and professional development?
  • Why have many of us never put a plan on paper?

As I have been reflecting on these questions, a few ideas have come to mind:

  1. We are limited by narrow agendas
  2. We are conditioned to accept a plan that we did not help create
  3. We need an inspiring vision

1) Limiting agendas.

What education, mentoring, or coaching was I provided in the area of career planning? None, that I can recall during my primary education. Everything had been laid out for me and my peers: 6 years in elementary school, 2 years in middle school, 4 years in high school, and another 4 years in college. I had been very committed to that plan and successfully accomplished each educational milestone on that track.

Then, at 22 years old, I hear that I “should” create a 3 to 5 year plan. My plan, like most first generation professionals, was to graduate from college, get a “good” job, and climb the corporate ladder. I know that many others continue to share that same agenda. I was not prepared to think beyond that limited plan.

Guess what? A 3 to 5 year plan never materialized in my younger professional days. Instead, I proceeded from project to project as a consultant, knew that the career track of becoming a “partner” in a firm was definitely not for me, and, like many people, escaped the corporate world by going back to graduate school. My young adult mind was right! I had no idea that I would return to graduate school in order to pursue a masters degree in Transpersonal Psychology in 2004.

2) Following the steps on the ladder.

The idea of “climbing the corporate ladder” was planted in my mind at a very early age. I grew up in the 1980s culture of “big business.” Of course, my impressionable mind was enthralled by the glamorous images of business professionals making their mark in New York City. I have a belief that the greatest period of success with “climbing the corporate ladder” occurred in the 1980s and then peaked in the 1990s.

Since then, the corporate ladder has fallen on hard times. In fact, last year, I read about the “career ladder” being replaced by the idea of the “career lattice.” Instead of progressing in a linear fashion up a career ladder, many people may find that their career takes them in a variety of directions because of multiple job changes due to global trends like outsourcing, balancing work priorities with other life responsibilities, economic downturns, etc.

Unfortunately, I believe that we continue to give the idea of “climbing the corporate ladder” a lot of influence in measuring our career success. More significantly, our attention to this traditional and somewhat obsolete idea limits our ability to think creatively as professionals.

Consider the fact that a corporate ladder is controlled and defined by a business organization. As a new professional, I was aware that the set path in my company went like this: 2 years as an Analyst, 2 years as a Consultant, 2-4 years as a Senior Consultant, 2-4 years a Manager, 2-4 years as a Senior Manager, and ultimately Partner. By accepting such a linear model, it is very easy to just follow the track and conform to what’s expected. There’s no need to think about a 3 to 5 year plan, it’s already been defined for you.

3) Putting the plan before the vision.

What do you want to be known for? What skills do you want to develop? Have you explored multiple career options for using your talents and living your values? What professionals inspire you? How much free time do you want? What type of impact do you want to have on people and the world? These and many other questions that appeal to your imagination and essential motivations will inspire you to create a plan that you will happily put into action.

My early professional vision was limited by the types of companies that I was exposed to during my career search and then by what I thought was possible within the firm that I selected.  I now know that I started my career by accepting a position that had little connection with who I was or wanted to be as a professional. I skipped the valuable phase of career and professional exploration. Therefore, the most skillful 3 to 5 year plan for my young professional self would have been to answer those introspective types of questions.

Ironically, I have always loved the process of planning and organizing.  This week, I visited one of my favorite free assessment sites, SimilarMinds.com and took a 58 question “Career Inventory Test”. My results: The Planner.  Even I, a natural born planner,  encountered a creative block on the subject of the 3 to 5 year plan. The simple and common sense truth is that you have to know where you want to go in order to make a resourceful and effective plan to get there.

A Passionate Professional Life Awaits You

A Passionate Professional Life Awaits You

This time last year, I was working as an independent contractor while I waited to start a career development facilitator (CDF) course that began in June. Now, I continue to work as an independent contractor, who has finally gotten clear on what passions she wants to develop in her work as a professional.

I began 2009 with two undergraduate degrees, a masters degree, and a decade of diverse professional skills and experience. Yet, I felt lost in terms of my professional direction and experienced a deep yearning “to have something to work toward.”

I voiced that desire out loud and in a two hour time span, with the the aid of the internet, I had discovered a CDF training being offered in a city where I knew that I would have a place to stay with friends.

The idea of helping people with career-related needs had entered my thoughts on and off over the course of several years. I had aided various people with writing resumes and cover letters and I had volunteered through agencies that assisted people with job searching and acquiring computer skills.  However, I had no idea about how or if that spark of interest would ever develop.

As I was surfing the internet that fateful evening, the idea of career coaching arose in my thoughts again and my web searching turned in that direction. Thankfully, my business and technology background has helped me perfect an art in terms of finding what I need on the internet.

After reviewing several costly options to pursue this interest, I discovered a very economical training offered through the North Carolina Workforce Development Training Center. I felt like I had my answer to “something to work toward.” I conducted more research on the program, called and spoke with one of the program directors, confirmed my place to stay, and registered for the class.

As I worked my way through the course, I realized that the class materials were helping me answer questions about career and professional development that I didn’t even know that I needed to answer. As I recognized the career confusion I felt after graduating as a first-generation college student, the idea of the first-generation professional came forth through this study.

I was able to experience compassion for myself as I reflected on all of the “bumbling around” and “trial and error” I had experienced in terms of my work and career. As a first-generation professional, the likelihood of confusion and a lack of vision is high, especially without recognition of this experience, mentors, and support.

I completed some career assessments for myself during the 120 hours of training, started the process of considering what I am truly passionate about learning and developing, and finally understood the vital importance of career and professional development. Through this class, I learned about the North Carolina Career Development Association (NCCDA) and conducted my first informational interview with the contact for this organization, who is a professional in the field.

I had three degrees and had never conducted an informational interview with anyone in any fields related to those degrees! Having earned three degrees with no career conversations with actual professionals in the field is absurd to me now.

My informational interview with that career development professional revealed a commonality between our paths and interests. I left that first meeting greatly inspired and energized by our interaction. In contrast, I felt like a misfit in the cultural environment of my first professional work position, from day one. Due to the profound sense of professional disconnect at the beginning of my career, I heeded my intuitive warning signs and decided not to pursue licensure as a marriage and family therapist (MFT) after my graduate studies.

My graduate school program director strongly advised me to continue on the expected MFT track and I could not. I grappled with and second-guessed my decision as I worked with the fact that I felt no professional direction a year after graduation.

Over the course of this past year, others have shared similar stories about struggles with confusion and a sense of “trial and error” throughout their educational, career, and professional development. Some educational and career decisions, which were later discovered to be a mismatch, have been financially and psychologically costly to many. I know that there are strategies, methods, and support that can help optimize and better facilitate our paths as developing professionals.

If you have not already given dedicated time to your professional development and 1) feel bored, stagnant, confused, or blocked, 2) are in career transition, or 3) are starting your work path, now is the time to immerse yourself!

Based on my own immersion process (dedicated study and experimentation over the past year), here are 7 practices and some insights that can aid you in your own process of professional development:

  1. Complete career assessments to help focus your professional research and reveal interests, skills, passions, challenges, and strengths.
  2. Read, listen to, or watch general career and professional development resources in order to structure your own understanding to skillfully navigate your work life in a way that works for you. For example, I’m an introvert and many traditional extroverted ways of seeking work and professional connection do not appeal to or work for me.
  3. Read, listen to, or watch targeted career and professional development resources in areas that you have passion. For me, reading about higher education, environmental sustainability, professional development, and intuitive eating have been key.
  4. Conduct professional outreach activities through completing informational interviews and making connections with people doing work that interests you through social media options like LinkedIn.
  5. Attend general networking events with professionals and business owners in your local area. I’ve learned a lot about different professional options that I had never considered. General networking is a great way to get exposure, to practice presenting your unique professional interests, and to refine those interests.
  6. Attend strategic networking events such as events and conferences with people in your fields of interests.
  7. Volunteer with organizations and professionals in your field and at conferences.

You can find the seeds for a passionate professional life within you and your experience!

The next steps are to plant them and then give some ongoing attention and care for those passions and interests to bud, to grow, and to come to fruition.

Are You Trading Cards or Building Relationships?

Are You Trading Cards or Building Relationships?

A couple of days ago, I was cleaning my apartment and unfolded a small piece of paper. This scrap of printer paper held the name and contact information for a woman that I had met through a temporary position that I had taken some time ago for income purposes. When I worked within that position, I gave her my business card and she not having her own, wrote her business-cards-hicontact information on a piece of paper for me. As, I was looking at this crinkled note, I realized that I would probably never contact or see that woman again. My encounter with that information deepened my understanding about the fact that building relationships represents the heart and soul of networking. What motivation does one have to build a professional relationship, if you and another person have only traded contact information?

During our time within the same organization, this woman and I never talked about what we were passionate about or the vision that we saw for our work and personal lives. Therefore, a fundamental limitation to our association exists because I have no idea about areas this woman cares deeply about and things she wants to accomplish in her life. I could have access to resources that would be helpful to her, we could share similar interests, goals, or connections, or we could offer support for each other on our journeys. I know that it is not necessary, desirable, or possible to cultivate relationships with every single person I meet professionally. However, the thoughts triggered by seeing that contact information, again, helped me understand more fully the importance of:

1) Being clear about my professional direction

2) Revealing those intentions to the world, and

3) Encouraging others to dedicate energy toward the previous two areas.

This week, I had an opportunity to get clearer about my professional direction and to communicate my interests to other professionals. The opportunity came through my attendance of an ongoing networking event for local business people at a cozy coffee shop in the North Raleigh area (click the image to find a network in your area) . mbn-bannerI had an extraordinary time meeting with local professionals from a variety of fields and chatting about a range of topics including technology, music, spirituality, and committed relationships. Interacting with that group of intentional professionals, who have invested time and energy in creating, working toward, and announcing a self-created vision and purpose for their work life, was definitely the highlight of my week. I believe that developing an evolving sense of professional direction and conveying what you love are cornerstones of being an intentional professional.

During the conversation, each attendee had a chance to speak about their work and interests to the group. I had not spoken in front of a group like this in some time and noticed a long-standing tendency of rushing myself and speaking quickly when I am sharing about who I am. I noticed that other people felt much more comfortable speaking at a slower pace than I. As a result, I gained a very timely reminder about taking my time and enjoying the opportunity to share who I am professionally instead of attempting to encapsulate all of my many interests into a rushed synopsis. As I am cultivating relationships by actually attending these and other networking events regularly, I will connect with and get to know these individuals over time. As a result, the contact information that we trade will have more value and meaning for both of us and gain more significance over time.

 

Some of you may have heard of the networking concept of the 30-second commercial/elevator speech. The idea being to create a verbal blurb about 30-seconds describing who you are and what you do. I have been resistant to this idea for some time due to the gimmicky sales nature I associate to this concept. However, I can now see the benefit of a planned “communique” that will help me feel comfortable enough to slow my speaking pace because I am confident that I am providing engaging and targeted information about who I am as a professional. I will be using a variety of sources to develop my professional promotion skills including this 30-second commerical exercise worksheet. With the intention of helping motivate the appropriate people to want to continue cultivating a relationship with me and helping make my contact information valuable, I plan to craft a creative service announcement.

When I arrived at that networking event this week, the coordinator of the meeting, Martin Brossman, introduced me to a professional networking tool for the 21st century. For decades, we have been sharing professional contact information via traditional paper business cards. At the dawn of 2010, I guess I should have expected to witness the immediate digital transfer of basic information as well as more detailed data (e.g., a LinkedIn profile, a Facebook Page) through a Poken, a new social media business card.  I plan to invest in one of these gadgets and hope that recycled materials are used to manufacture them. The Poken is a neat device, check out the video below: