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Life Goes On. Go With It.

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

No one is immune from the occasional cosmic gut punch. Stuff happens in every life that’s life threatening, gut-wrenching, and/or soul crushing. We’re dazed initially when it happens, but eventually, we literally need to come back to Life.

There is no better place to remember this than at Mount St. Helens.  I had the chance to hike there this week.  Seeing what’s going on there 33 years after its own cosmic gut punch was amazing.

On May 18, 1980 at 8:32 AM Pacific Time, this previously  dormant volcano in Washington’s Cascade Mountains roared to life with stunning devastation.  The top 1500 feet of the mountain slumped off the north side after a 5.1 earthquake.  Horrendous volcanic explosions that hurled rocks and hot gases at over 300 miles per hour followed in seconds.  The heat of that caused the snow and  ice on the mountain to melt, resulting in massive mud flows that swept a slurry of muddy water, ice, rocks, and trees over the landscape and into local lakes and rivers.

The blast downed or killed over 217 square miles of timber.  Virtually every bird in the vicinity, most of the mammals, and many of the fish died.  The debris was as much as 150 feet deep.  At the end of that day, the devastation  was complete.  The landscape was as inhospitable as the moon. Much of the mountain still looks that way:

Mount St. Helens hike 001

The dome in the center near was is now the top of the mountain grew after that unbelievable day.  The volcano spewed lava for six years, but in more subdued fashion.  It’s quiet now, but still on fire inside.  The dark area shows how much the debris has been carved by ground water in the ensuing years.

Thirty-three years isn’t even a nanosecond in terms of geologic time.  In the grand scheme of seismic change, it’s like we are still in the same moment the mountain blew up.  But if you look closer (or in this case, behind you), the evidence that life goes on is all around at Mount St. Helens.

The area is now a National Volcanic Monument, and the US Forest Service does a nice job of explaining how the volcanic apocalypse happened–and what happened immediately after.  Even when the entire mountain was convulsing, pocket gophers were safely burrowed underground.  When the violence stopped, they started digging out.  That action shoved dormant seeds to the surface.  Within weeks, those had sprouted, and plants were starting to grow.

Some of the fish avoided the catastrophe because they were below the ice of a still frozen lake, which helped moderate the impact of the heat.  Once the lake thawed fully later, their existence continued as if nothing had happened.

But even in the lakes where everything had been killed, life returned with unexpected speed.  On land, mammals and birds carried seeds from beyond the blast zone back on hooves and feathers or in intestines, giving even more plants the chance to germinate and grow.  And now, not even four decades after the blast, Mount St. Helens has more a more biodiversity than it did before the top blew off.

Yes, the timber companies harvested many of the downed trees and planted many more to replace them.  Yes, it looks different.  But life really has gone on at Mount St. Helens.  The day we were there, wildflowers were screaming their colors in the sun all along the trail.

 

Mount St. Helens hike 008

The red of Indian paintbrush, the fragrant lavender blue of prairie lupine, a variety of different yellow flowers dancing happily in the breeze and even an occasional young spruce tree made the place look like a garden.  Entire forests of alder trees have grown up.  (Alders create a better soil for later trees.)

You can’t get much more destruction than what went on at Mount St. Helens in 1980.  And yet, life there is back without hesitation.

That’s such a great lesson.

Even if what happened is awful.  Even if what it left you with is far “less” than what you had before, go on.  Be part of life.  It might be different, but it can still be rich and diverse and beautiful.

 

The Answer Is Soup

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Perhaps you watched the same national news program I did tonight–where they did a piece on Detroit Soup.  I hope you were as impressed as I am.

Yes, this does involve soup.

No, it is not about feeding the needy with soup.

Detroit Soup describes itself as … “a collaborative situation..a public dinner…a platform for connection…a theatrical environment…a democratic experiment in micro-funding…a relational hub bringing together various creative communities…a forum for critical but accessible discussion…an opportunity to support creative people in Detroit.”

It is definitely all of these things, but mostly, it is ingenious.  The movement hosts a monthly  soup dinner where diners pay $5 for a bowl of soup–with salad and bread (and the whole thing looked yummy when I saw it on the news).  While they are at the meal, they hear about creative projects that people in the community are hoping to fund.  As part of the event, the diners vote on which project to support.  Proceeds from that evening’s soup dinner go to that project.

There are so many things right about what Detroit Soup is doing that it’s hard to figure out where to start in discussing them.

First, it is a local effort aimed at helping local projects.  They’ve funded a company that designed and is manufacturing coats that convert into sleeping bags.  A high school entrepreneurial team is bringing out a clothing line with custom silkscreen designs with the proceeds from a different soup dinner.  (In addition to support from Detroit Soup, their advisors are students from the University of Michigan.)

Even if you don’t get that evening’s funding, it’s a chance to give your project some visibility, which is crucial to finding other sources of startup capital.

And if you not there for funding, but rather for soup, in addition to a hearty meal that’s also pretty healthy, you get the chance to learn what’s going on in the  community and the opportunity to get involved if you want.  You get to feel like you are a part of something because of that vote you got by showing up.  You get to talk to your neighbors.  And if you have kids, you get to teach them early what grassroots efforts are all about.

What would happen if we had Soup in every city in the US?  How about Chicago Soup and Orlando Soup and Tacoma Soup?  People helping people gets a lot more done than any government program ever will.  Keeping it local and face-to-face will cull out the charlatans and cheats a lot more easily.  Working at the microfunding level gets mentors and coaches into the picture before the mistakes are massively expensive.  Best of all, the entire community scores a win with each success.

It is heartwarming to see the wealthy step up to meaningful philanthropy.  Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are willing to use a lot of what they’ve amassed for the greater good.  But we can all be part of this picture when the effort looks like Detroit Soup.  We get to be the “angel investors” just by having a bowl of soup.  We get to give people a leg up by showing up and being part of something really good.

You don’t have to live in Detroit to make this kind of thing happen.  (But how fitting that our mega-industrial car manufacturing Mecca is where this idea seems to have hatched.) Waiting for the big corporations to bring their jobs home won’t get us very far.  It’s time to get the ball rolling with soup.

How can you encourage new ideas and businesses in your community?  How can you be part of nurturing the next Golden Age of American business?  One, like the last one, that’s build on ingenuity, grit, and the help of friends.

 

The Secret of “Livin’ Large”

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Living the Good Life is not a matter of winning the lottery. People who have come into a lot of money often end up more miserable–and destitute–than before the “lucky” event.  Still, our fantasies are about having life suddenly become wonderful because we have all the money we could ever hope to require.

Remember the adage “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need”?  Well, that applies to money as a resource for “livin’ large”–in capital letters!

It’s not about “being able to have the money to do whatever I want.”  Money isn’t what’s stopping most of us.  We don’t put our priorities where our hearts are and then blame not having enough money for the disappointment.

Let’s try an experiment.  If you could do anything you chose with the day you are currently living, what would it be?  How many of you said “Buy a Ferrari”?  How many said “Buy a huge house with a massive pool and hire ten servants”?

It’s not the stuff that money can buy that makes the biggest difference.  Perhaps you said “Take my family on a cruise.”  Yes, that does take money, and you may not have it.  But what you want is some special time with your loved ones.  A cruise would be nice, but not doing anything because you can’t afford that keeps you from “livin’ large.”

There are all kinds of affordable directions to go with your fantasy of taking the family on a cruise.  You could do a “virtual cruise” where every family member chooses a port of call and then provides the images and information so everyone else feels a bit like they’ve been there.  (That means you would not be limited to a real route either.  On the web, going from Paris to Phuket, Thailand is just as fast as going from Minneapolis to St. Paul.)

Or you could invite everyone to your place for an overnight and do the “shipboard” things yourself–midnight buffet or elaborate dinner (with friends as staff), elegant clothes expected of the “cruisers”, ballroom dancing–or whatever parody of it you want to invent.

What you need is fun with your family.  Don’t wait around for someone to drop a wad of cash in your lap so you can do something someone else is trying to tell you and sell you as fun.

One of the most distressing aspects of our high-tech, buy-it-right-now culture is that we’ve forgotten how to invent fun.  We can chose any movie we want “on demand.”  We can buy clothes at midnight sitting at the computer in our underwear.  That progress may give us a lot of things “instantly” that we had to wait days or weeks and mount multiple shopping trips for before.  But it has left us a bit short in terms of creative success at coming up with an alternative when what we “want” is something we know we can’t afford–or find.  (It’s also whacked the daylights out of our ability to say “no” more often when “affording it” is a stretch.)

Livin’ large is about doing what you really want to do.  If your values and your actions are not in sync, no amount of money is going to make you happy.  If you are doing what you believe is the most important thing to do, most–if not all–of time, you are most likely grinning from ear to ear far more often than those more affluent and more rudderless.

If you want to feel rich, start with what you do with your time.  Annie Dillard said it well:  “How we spend oure days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Do what you believe in.  Focus your time and energy on the people and things you enjoy.  Publisher’s Clearinghouse may come along anyway.  If so, you will find that a lot of money is nice, but a lot of meaning is better.

 

Getting Life off Hold

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

For many of us, there’s a lot on hold right now. We”re waiting “for the economy to improve” or “until I get a job” or “until my spouse gets a job” to do a wide variety of things. Waiting is difficult, especially when you have no control over what you’re waiting for.  Worse, it’s a waste of time if  what you’re waiting for isn’t likely to happen.

It would be fabulous if the economy just started improving on its own and we worked our way out of this recession the same way we’ve always done–by waiting it out.  But this recession has diabolical staying power.   Is continuing with the waiting game all that smart?  Perhaps it’s time to regroup entirely and get on with things a different way.

The current economic situation is the “new normal.” The spending and easy credit of the first decade of this century are not coming back. Automatic bonuses and wage increases have given way to lay-offs and salary reductions for years now.  It’s time to change the basic question from “How long is this downturn going to last? to “How can I live my life best given the ways things are now?”

To accomplish that, it helps to consider three things carefully:

  • Are your assumptions still valid? When the economy went south, we all assumed it was just an interruption.  Now it’s apparent that’s not the case.  Lots has changed that will not be changing back.   That means you need to put every single assumption you’re using to determine your course of action on table and examine each carefully.

Are you assuming you have to work in a certain field?  For a certain salary?  Are you still counting on the value of  your house for what it was listed at in 2007 in your planning?  Are you still assuming you will continue to live where you are living now?  (Where you’ve decided to live can make a huge difference in job availability and cost of living.   They are hiring bigtime in Williston, North Dakota.)

Take as many of the limiting assumptions as you can out of play and then see what options appear.

  • What are your alternatives?  Once we see an appealing option, it’s easy to fall in love with it and run with that before you’ve explored the full range of possibilities.  Start by defining what you really need.  Then look at how many different ways can you meet that need.  Then assess each one for its potential.

When things are in as much flux as they are now, it’s the people who can see possibilities in new places who thrive.  If you do it right, the changes you decide to make because the situation has changed can springboard you to a much more satisfying version of life.  That happens when you see the possibilities though.  Too often we think we are seeing the whole picture when we’re fixated on one thing that we insist is the thing that needs to change.

Do you really need to do that thing?  Or is there a different action/goal that will meet the real need just as well, but work better in this version of “normal?”

Look at the consequences of what you want to do, too.  Know what the fallout is going to be.  Know where things might go wrong and decide if you can live with that.

  • What’s the biggest step you can take wisely?  The hardest thing about dealing with a bad economy is that it’s a paralyzing phenomenon.  We just stop–and wait–as if a monster was standing in the middle of the road.  We let the monster decide what’s going to happen.

We place the blame for holding up the action with “the economy.”  “I can’t do ____ until the ecomony improves” is a version of victimhood.  I’m not suggesting that you ignore the economy and go full bore toward what you wanted before everything melted down.  But finding something you can move forward on will improve you confidence and your batting average.

This might be as tiny a step as gathering information about a new alternative.  Size is not as important as the simple act of doing something.  The big payoff comes from doing that little something again and again.

We’ve been on hold a long time.   It’s time to look at what we are waiting for.

  • What’s the probability that you’re waiting for is ever going to happen?
  • How many other ways can you meet the need that you thought would be covered by that eventuality?
  • How much do you lose by waiting? By taking action?  How much do you have to gain when you wait…when you act?

Even when it’s hard, life is good.  Don’t waste it waiting for stuff that’s not what you need now.   Change what you can without more waiting.  Move in the direction of what you want long term, even if it’s an inch at a time.

 

 

 

Kindness: The Low Cost Miracle Cure

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Try a little kindness when things aren’t going well. It’s amazing what you can get back on track with just a little dose—as the giver rather than the receiver.

For some reason, kindness tends to take a back seat when difficulties mount and that’s too bad.  That’s when we need to use it most—and I do mean give it not get it.  (Though being on the receiving end is nice, too….)

Being kind is not a matter of having money to throw around.  It’s more a case of noticing what you can give—a smile, a nod of recognition, your place in line if you really aren’t in a hurry.  Kindness is a simple, effective way to connect with the rest of the world.  And that, quite often, is what we need, even if the pain comes in different packaging—like a frustrating job search, bad news from the doctor, or mean-spiritedness from someone in your life.

One of my best experiences with the magic of simple kindness was in Scotland almost two decades ago.  I went out for a walk one morning in Edinburgh and passed a white-haired man also out for a morning walk.  I smiled at him.  Then came the magic.  I didn’t just get a simple smile in return.  The man’s whole face lit up with appreciation at being acknowledged as a fellow human.  Him showing me that moment of happiness made me delightfully happy.  All in literally seconds, with just the use of a few facial muscles.

That’s the biggest deal about kindness.  It’s not something you “do for someone else.”  Yes, your effort is usually extended toward someone else, but the benefits go both ways.  I smile again every time I think of that man’s reaction.  I feel good about being human and being alive again and again because of that one experience—where I made the easy effort to connect by smiling at him.

This isn’t just something to do in large, sophisticated foreign cities on morning walks.  Opportunities for little acts of kindness abound for all of us every day.  Pulling the neighbor’s garbage can out of the road when it blew there.  Trying to keep your car as far as you can from the cyclist you’re passing on a city street.   Letting mistakes go unmentioned when noting them is not going to improve the outcome.

So much of our energy these days seems to be focused on making sure other people know there’s something wrong with them.  Congress for sure.  But even with friends.  A dear woman I’ve been hiking with for over five years told me Sunday that my feet turn too far out when I walk.  What was the point of that observation?  (They’ve been this way for 65 years, and I walk fine unless I try to turn them in the way hers go.)

What would happen if we started an epidemic of kindness?  I’m not talking about huge acts of generosity like funding schools or building hospitals in Somalia.  If each of us decided to do five small acts of kindness everyday, how would things change?

In part, we’d all feel better about ourselves, I suspect.  Most of those “this is wrong with you” comments stem from I-don’t-feel-so-good-about-myself thoughts.  Rather than trying to build yourself up by knocking someone else, do something kind.  It doesn’t even have to be for that person.  The resulting sense of peace alone is worth the effort.  Plus that other person might then be motivated to do some other kindness.

Kindness affects the receiver but defines the giver:  “I am well enough off that I can be kind.”  That sense of abundance doesn’t flow from the size of your investment account.  It comes from the strength of your character.  We can all be rich enough to be kind.  We just have to choose it.  Every day.

Do the Next Thing

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Whether it’s building a business or finding a job, the best advice is “Do the next thing.”  Too often, we do one thing and stop.  Then we wait for the reaction on that thing–the e-mail or phone call expressing interest, the dreaded form rejection letter, the suggestion that a prospective client wants to hear more.

Doing it that way means you spend a lot of your time waiting for what someone else may or may not do.  And waiting is a passive process.  So you lose momentum.  And you feel less effective because…well..nothing’s happening while you are doing all that waiting.

In other cases, you capitalize on one opportunity and call it good.  The chance to speak to a group or have coffee with someone who’s willing to mentor you.  Instead of using that as a springboard for doing more things, we consider ourselves done once we’ve written the thank you note.

Why do we do this?  I think it’s because it’s easier to handle life in little tidbits–to do one thing and then…well….rest.   The problem with this approach is that you start from the point of inertia every time and have to work up the moxie to do that one thing again and again.  You have to talk yourself into it and then get yourself going over and over.

If you look for the next thing with everything you do, you don’t have that acceleration challenge because you’re already moving.  You don’t have to talk yourself into it because you’re still finishing the last thing so you’re already in “do it” mode.

But even better, those “next things” can hold some pretty fun magic.  A year ago,  a career counselor on the other side of the country contacted me about reviewing my book on her blog.  Of course, I was delighted to send a review copy, and she did a wonderful write-up of what I had to say.   End of story, right?

Not really.  After I thanked her for the review, I decided I needed to check out her website more thoroughly.  Among the many things she offers there were links to TV shows she’d done interviewing people who had switched careers after 50 and were thriving.  One  interview in particular intrigued me, and I asked her to e-introduce me to that person.  She graciously agreed.

Then the “next thing” was to contact him.  When I did, I discovered he was looking for experts to write for his web-based business.  In particular, he was looking for somene to cover the business perspective of employing older workers.  That’s an angle I’d been trying to find a way to work for a year.  Perfect.  And that was it, right?  Nope.

The next thing?  Well, there were two.  Through that contact I met another expert who’s focused on people who start their own businesses after 50.  That gave me another angle from which to promote better use of our “retirement” years, another way to expand my knowledge base, and one more platform for increasing my visibility.

The second thing?  I got a request to be a keynote speaker for a conference on the topic because of the articles I’ve been writing from the business perspective.

Here’s the point:  None of these opportunities would have developed had I not gone beyond “thank you” with the woman who offered to review my book.  Stopping at the first thing means you’ll miss a lot of opportunities.

Doing the next thing gives you a sense of both control and movement.  When you are starting a business or trying to find a job–particularly in this economy–those are both vital and rare.

Do the next thing no matter what you are trying to do.  Go beyond the first thing–that has to be done–and see what else might be worth the effort.  It will increase your chances of success dramatically.  And it will be more fun than waiting for the phone to ring or the tone that announces a new e-mail to chime on your computer.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Adversity: Enemy or Ally?

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

What do you do when things go wrong? Get upset or learn all you can?

The current situation has plenty to get upset about—foreclosure rates and related bank screw-ups, the interminable length of unemployment when it hits, the nasty political season that is now finally ending. It’s easy to feel like a victim, bombarded by unfairness and beaten down by bad news on all fronts.

But does that help you? Does that help anybody?

Victim status has been unduly venerated for decades but that doesn’t mean you want to end up in that pit. Yeah, friends and relatives—maybe even total strangers—will feel sorry for you. But what does that get you?

A fleeting moment of attention and a lifelong sense of helplessness. Seeing yourself as a victim means you give up on the notion that you can change what you need to. (And right now, there’s a lot that’s ripe for new directions!)

If you mutter things like “Why me?” or “Not this” or “Not this again!”, you’re on the brink of victimhood. It really doesn’t help to go there. Adversity has been around as long as humans have. It’s Mother Nature’s way of keeping us sharp and helping us grow.

So instead of feeling sorry for yourself, ask the only question that’s really going to help: What can I learn from this?

Sometimes the lesson is obvious and easy. Learning that you should not buy more than you can afford is an example of that.

But sometimes the lesson is far more convoluted. This is especially true with job search right now. There are many talented, experienced people who can’t even elicit eye contact with hiring decision makers. They are capable, skilled, and have great track records full of amazing achievements, but…

But what? That’s the lesson. Maybe it’s time to move in a new direction. In that case, the lesson is to let go of that former identity and become a new learner again (a very difficult lesson for most of us). Maybe it’s the need for an entirely different network. Maybe it’s the push you need to go into business for yourself. Maybe it’s a case of figuring out you need to flip to the opposite side of the business you’ve been in.  A friend of mine went from being a geologist to selling mining and construction equipment and was highly successful at it.

Seeing adversity as a negative is like assuming winter is a waste of time for plants. Sitting in the dark helps things germinate. Adversity is a source of that velvet black thinking time if you accept it.

When things go wrong, you’re back in school, whether you realize it or not. Learn all you can:

What’s the situation itself teaching you? For example, a job search now is not like what you did in 1968. Learn all you can about the current process. Get proficient with today’s tools. Become crystal clear about the reality of the moment and what that means relative to what you already know.

What skills are you developing that you never needed before? Well, maybe we have needed them but just haven’t had a reason to learn them….like how to be smooth and calm when things are not going well. That kind of patience is golden, and adversity teaches it well.

What’s this difficulty preparing you for? At a minimum, the things we’re working our way through now are making us stronger for the long haul emotionally. “If I can get through that, I can do anything” is probably going to be our national theme song for the next decade. But when hard times are pummeling you, there are things you’re learning that will serve you on a more specific, pragmatic basis as well. You may come up with a whole new version of community living that revolutionizes lifestyle choices for the second half of life. You might create a specialized lending library. You might discover you’re good at something you’ve never explored before–that you want to do for the rest of your life. Adversity is often the source of a life-enhancing nudge.

How are you better because of this adversity? This is the crux of a life well lived–seeing whatever comes as the perfect gift. Learning more, doing things a better way, getting on with something you’ve yearned to do but haven’t been able to fit into a too full life—all of those and much more grow out of adverse situations.

Life was never intended as a cushy lounge in the hammock on a beach where it never rains. Life is a challenge because as humans we need challenges to learn, grow, and thrive. So when something bad happens, forego “Why me?” and ask “What’s to learn here?” And then get on with learning it.

Getting Real About Salary

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Just because you made a certain wage before doesn’t mean you’ll get it now.

One of the problems that keeps cropping up with why employers don’t want to hire older workers is salary expectations–or so they say.  Taking the time to look at where you are on this issue is important whether you are in the hunt for a new position or not.

All too often, salary is a matter of ego.  “I am a success because I make a six figure income.”   I’m convinced that’s why CEO’s get the ridiculous salaries they do.  (And let’s not get me going on their appearances in front of Congress to explain their company’s bad decisions where they claim they knew nothing about what was going on.  A leader who’s out of the loop isn’t worth $1 a year.)  So let’s get rid of this baloney right now.  We are not ranked by salary in terms of our worth as human beings.

Some people think that just because they “need” a certain amount to live, they should be paid that, too.  That might work in a communist state (which have been pretty much proven not to work well overall).  But it’s completely at odds with how capitalism works.    A fair wage, yes,  but not more than that just because it makes your life work better.

Capitalism revolves around supply and demand.  If you want to make better money, you do the things that are in short supply.  At the same time, whatever you do you need to do well, so you also need to be working toward doing what you love.   When you have it right, you will find yourself saying “I can’t believe they pay me to do this!”

Here are a few dead ends you want to avoid:

  • I should be making what everyone else is making at this job.   This is true to a point, but only if you are doing the same amount of work, of the same complexity, with the same amount of supervision to get it done in the same amount of time.  If you are being paid less, find out why.  Don’t assume it’s just because your boss–or HR or “the Company”–wants to be unfair.  One of the first people I supervised thought she was ready to move into my job and that she should be paid accordingly.  She was an entry level stenographer.  I was finishing my PhD and using that knowledge in the work I was doing.  We weren’t anywhere close to equivalent. Her expectations were totally unrealistic.
  • I should be making at least as much as I made at my last job.  What’s going on in this job has no relation to what you did before.  Plus in a down economy, even if you are a superstar, there may be salary cuts.  The job you are in now pays what it’s worth in that company to do that work now.  Period.  If that isn’t what you want, then it’s time to start a job search.
  • I should make more because I’ve been here longer.  Nope…not if you are doing the same work as everyone else.  But you probably do because seniority has been a union issue for at least half a century.   In a nasty economic climate, that higher salary is like painting a bull’s eye on yourself.  Pay attention to the context you are operating in as you consider asking for a raise.

The “Great Recession” pushed the reset button on salary growth.  It’s also given us the chance to use other things as elements of a compensation package.  Free time is often more valuable than the cut in pay to go to a four day (8 hour ) week.  The chance to cross train may be worth more to you than the raise you are suppposed to get.

With cities and states cutting budgets to make ends meet, it’s obvious we aren’t out of the weeds yet.  One of the ways to keep your own path clear is to be willing to flex on salary when needed.  You’re worth as a human doesn’t rest on what you make.

 

Keeping Your Job….

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Staying employed is as much about attitude as talent.

Virtually all of us have been affected by the current unemployment situation. If we haven’t personally lost a job, taken a pay cut, or ended up on reduced hours, we have friends and family members who are dealing with any and all of that. Keeping a job has become a far more serious concern of late. Be sure you aren’t setting yourself up to loss yours with your attitude.  Here are three things to think about:

Are you excusing yourself from doing the work?  Yes, all this doom and gloom is demoralizing, but that doesn’t give you a free pass.  The longer you are in a job, the easier it is to tell yourself “I’ve done this a long time, I deserve to throttle back a little.”   You don’t have to go full bore all the time, but you do have to do the work.

One of the most frustrating comments I hear from employers about older workers is that “they don’t want to work.”  We’re talking real estate professionals and scientists with graduate degrees here–at least in terms of where I’ve heard the comments lately.  Deciding that you’ve earned the right to slow down is okay of you take less pay to slow down.  But if you are still holding the same job and claiming the same salary, that “right” you think you deserve could land you in the unemployment line.

Are you part of the solution?  It makes no difference if you are eighteen or eighty, you have things to offer that can help the company thrive.  The probability that those talents have become highly polished skills increases with experience.  Use yours with intelligence, grace, and collaboration.

This is not a case of insisting that the old ways are better.  This is a commitment to dealing with the current challenges well by bringing everything you can to bear.  In particular, learn to build alliances with those who understand what you don’t.  The difference you can make working together will be huge.

Are you gobbling benefits?   Just because the company offers health insurance doesn’t mean you need to head for the doctor’s office every time you get a cold.  Many of us have gotten far too accustomed to solving our problems with pills.  The resulting skyrocketing health insurance costs has become a horrendous burden to most employers.  This is big piece of why “older workers are more expensive.”  Keep yourself healthy instead of expecting doctors to do it for you.  (They can’t anyway.  They just figure out why you are sick–sometimes–and spend a lot of your employer’s cash in the process.)

The same is true for taking more than you really need as sick days.  It’s wiser to stay home if you have something communicable, but taking a sick day to coach a baseball game?  Really?

For those of you grumbling about how miserable your job is, here’s one last bit of advice.  If you don’t want it, someone else would be ecstatic to have it.   Suck it up, turn on your smile and give it your best.

 

What to Do if You Don’t Like What You Do

Monday, January 11th, 2010

With the current economic challenges, having a job is a big plus and keeping it is a must.   But sometimes, the wrong job can be even more emotionally destructive than having no job.   What do you do then?

Those of us who can at least see retirement on the horizon are legitimately even more skittish.  When an older worker loses a job, it takes longer to find a new one.  Plus, once you are on the sidelines for a while, being older means being more vulnerable to losing confidence in yourself and letting go of work by default.  So we hunker down and keep the job we hate.

We need to get smart about finding that next thing instead of remaining a victim of the lousy economy anda horrid work situation.

The first step in a good job transition is knowing where you want to go.  If you need to find something else, be sure you are clear about why you need to change things.  Assuming that the reason work is bad is the boss or the company, when you hate that kind of work altogether is a ticket to a repeat of the job angst.  Take some time to think about what doesn’t work about this job and what’s behind that.  You may think your boss is the Ultimate Bossilla until you listen to what you friends and peers are saying about their bosses. 

Learn all you can about yourself so you have some certainty about what would be a great job for you.  Also be sure you’ve gotten to the actual core of why the current situation isn’t working.  If it’s just that the economy has slowed things down, planning an exit is a case of “out of the frying pan and into the fire.”  But if you have lost interest in the work you are now doing, maybe you need a new direction to get your mojo back.  Check this stuff out–don’t just make a bunch of assumptions without getting real information.

Once you have identified the core issues of what’s not working, then you can move to the following:

Identify realistic options for working elsewhere.  Be forewarned, if you need to jump ship, you might end up starting a whole lot farther down the ladder with the new outfit.  This may be the best thing you ever did, but take the time to think about it.  Also think in terms of where you might be able to move within  your current company if it’s really a matter of bad boss or co-worker chemistry.

This step has an unexpected and immediate benefit.  Sometimes when you take a close look at what else you could realistically do, the job you are doing becomes a whole lot more appealing.

Figure out how to be really good at doing what you want to do next.  This may be by taking classes on your own.  It may be by talking with people who are already doing that kind of work.  It may be by applying yourself on your current job more diligently so that you develop skills needed for the next job.  As Thomas Edison said, “When opportunity arrives, many people miss it because it’s wearing overalls and looks like work.”  Do the work to get good enough to be valuable in the new arena.

Build your network to include people with that interest and expertise.    Networking is not about collecting business cards from people you don’t know.  It’s about getting to know people–as friends–who are doing what you want to do.   You don’t have to like them personally or have the same politics to become good business buddies.  But you do need to know them.  The best way to make that happen is with your own initiative.

The smartest thing anyone can do in a down economy is to be helpful in the business context.  If you see an article that someone else would appreciate, send them the link.  If you note a problem developing that a business friend needs to know about, give them the heads up (unless it involves a conflict of interestor insider trading kinds of issues to do so).  Being kind is always in vogue, regardess of what the Wall Street stereotype is played like in the movies.

Keep doing your current job to the very best of your ability.  That is called integrity.  It doens’t make any difference if the whole rest of the world has lost it (which sometimes seems to be the case), operating to the best of your ability will keep you saner, happier, and more appealing as an employee–and a person

No matter how old you are, if you want to work, you can find work.  The best way to set yourself up so that you call the shots with that is to do what you love and be good at it.  So if your current job doesn’t give you that, you may need to change.  Do that with a plan.  Do that with a solid base of knowledge to draw on.  And do that with integrity.