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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.

 

Keys to Finding a Job after 50

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Finding a job after 50 is like digging for gold–blindfolded. There’s a ton of advice being offered, much of it by people who are not yet 50.  But what do you really need to be paying attention to? It might help to look at these five things:

Be aware of what you already know.  It’s intimidating to be looking for work again when you’ve been involved in the workforce for a quarter of a century or more.  You feel like a beginner all over again because so much has changed about how things get done on the hiring front.

Assuming that everything you have to offer is out of date is wrong-headed though.  All those years of work that you have under your belt have created a rich basic competence that you would do well to claim in how you present yourself.   You’ve learned to show up on time and get the work done.  You know how to get along with the rest of the work team.  You can relate to a client or a customer because you’ve done so many many times. All those skills are valuable.

Some enlightened employers have already begun focusing on older workers as their first source in hiring because of all this.  Experienced workers are more punctual, better problem solvers, and better with customers.  In addition, many of us older workers have critical skill and knowledge sets that simply don’t exist in younger workers.

The trick, of course, is to make sure hiring decision makers know what you know and understand its value.  Your resume, “elevator speech,” and interview responses need to highlight it.

Respect the current lay of the land.  You can’t just assume someone is going to come looking for you though.  There are far more job seekers than jobs right now and that means you have to put some effort into being seen.  To succeed in this “new land”, learn how to use the electronic options that are standard procedure for most companies these days.

Do not tell me you “don’t do computers.”  That kind of thinking is like admitting you “don’t do automobiles” in the 1930’s.  The Electronic Age has been here for decades.  Get into it if you haven’t yet.  A lot of what you need to learn about using a computer has to be done by trial and error.  No matter what age you are, you are going to “feel stupid” at the start.  To get past that, you must go through it.  It’s not that you are “too old.”  It’s that we want to believe we don’t (or shouldn’t) feel like beginners at this stage of our lives.  Not true!  Get to where you can use all the great resources available via the Internet.

Live in the now.  It’s very human to insist on continuing to be who you were in your last job.  Living in the past is only good for Renaisssance Festivals and Halloween parties.  Clinging to your old status, your old reputation, and your old authority is a sorry waste of what you have to offer to whoever you work for next.  Present yourself in terms of what you can do for this new company, not as a footnote in the history of the old one.

Do the next thing.  Finding a job is not a cookbook endeavor.  If you limit what you do to the “recipe” a given job site requires, you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities.  Whenever you complete a task, get a rejection, or receive feedback of any sort about finding your next career rung, ask yourself “What else can I do with this?  Where can I take it from here?”  Those “extra steps” are usually the ones that set you apart, provided a key contact, or identified other openings.

Manage your attitude.  Having a positive attitude is not just a self-help mantra.  When you come across as upbeat and energetic, people are less likely to even consider how old you are.  Conversely, even a little bit of negativity can trigger all the stereotypical thinking about “grumpy old people.”  Besides, life is more fun when you live it happy.  Your attitude is your choice.  Run this part of your life instead of letting it run you.

Finding a job at any age is hard work.  Finding a job in this economic climate is daunting.  If you are over 50, the challenge is compounded by the ageist thinking that plagues our society.  But you are still the one who needs to run the process and make it happen.

 

HOW do you want to work?

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

Assuming retirement is the only way to get balance in our lives is silly.  But achieving balance while employed fulltime takes some effort—and courage.  Would your life be better if your work was shaped differently?

Some basic questions:

Does what you do have to be done during regular work hours?   The “9 to 5” job is essential when the next guy is adding a bolt to the assemblage you just worked on.  It was also best when the fastest way to share information was to stop at the desk of the coworker you needed to talk to.  But today’s “product” is often information, and the quickest way to get it to someone else is electronically–even if you’re sitting next to him. If what you do is independent of what others do for the majority of the process, when you get it done might be negotiable—as long as you know how to do it.

Does your work have to be done at the Company’s physical location? Working at home is far more productive for many employees. Some companies have reduced the amount of space they lease for doing business by using this strategy. Both Company and individual worker can benefit big time with telecommuting arrangements if they are carefully crafted. What would you lose by working off site?  What would the Company gain?

Is it essential to work for someone else?  Yes, you need a paycheck, but lots of people do very well pursuing them as freelancers and contract employees. Being your own boss gives you the most flexibility for meshing work with the rest of your life.

But there are risks.  If you think working for yourself is the answer, do your homework.  What’s the market for what you want to do? Who will hire you? Will that kind of work go on indefinitely? Etc.

If you decide to go for it, there’s set-up work to be done to get it right.

  • Prove to your boss that you are productive without constant supervision. You have to be a “self-starter” to be able to not work at the office.  From this day on, get things done without asking unnecessary questions, calling avoidable meetings, and otherwise wasting time—yours and others’.  Get on with the task before someone checks to see if you are working on it.  (Waiting to start until a supervisor—or the person who needs it—asks how far you are on a project will imprison you in that cubicle forever.)
  • Work smarter.  Get hints from the “old pros.”  Don’t spend work time on non-work activities (personal phone calls, texting, online games, social sites).  How can your boss trust you to work at home if you’re playing solitaire every time she walks by your desk?
  • Be incredibly good at what you do. Learn your craft and develop an in-depth knowledge base.  Learn the interpersonal territory well, too–be it as a sales person or a troubleshooter.  Become aware of how well you are doing the job relative to others at your company and beyond.  Strive to excel.  Do this before you utter one word about working from home or with unconventional hours. Being really good at what you is prime job insurance.  It’s also going to be your ace when you start talking to your boss about a different way to work.
  • Design your nontraditional strategy so that improves your quality of life rather than just complicating it. Everyone else is still going to be working the old way.  Set boundaries so their inefficiencies and interruptions don’t invade the time you’ve opened up for other things.  Be accommodating on legitimate requests.  But get proficient at saying “no” to the people who want you to do their jobs because you know more than they do.  (This is the one negative of being good at what you do.)

If we come out of the cave on how we design work, we can make huge progress on reducing the stress of work.  For the time being, it’s going to be up to courageous individuals to lead the way.  If you are up for the challenge, it just might make “retirement” irrelevant for you—because you will love your life the way it already is.

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