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Archive for March, 2010

When Do You Quit?

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Knowing when to give up on a project or plan requires both wisdom and courage. How do you decide?

Health care reform legislation is still being debated, and the outcome of the eventual vote is getting “iffier” by the minute. In my home state of Washington, they’re in special session of the legislature because they’d been unable to agree upon a budget during the regular session. These are two political examples of something we all grapple with personally:  How do you decide when it’s time to throw in the towel?

My dad seemed better at this than I am.  Raised during the depression, with the family in dire straights after the death of his father, he was still capable of deciding when something simply wasn’t worth working on any more.  He was good with his hands and had a wonderful, practical mind, so it didn’t happen very often.   But when it was time, he was wise about pulling the plug.  Sometimes it was to just throw the thing out and buy a new one.  Sometimes it was to start over with better materials.  Sometimes it was to take a different approach to solving the problem that precipitated the effort in the first place.  But first he would pronounce “Ah, piss on it.” about what he had been doing to get what he needed.

I need that wisdom.  Way too often, I end up piling one bad solution on top of another and making a monstrously ineffective mess of the whole thing.  My kitchen is a good example.  It needs to be remodeled.  The appliances are starting to die.  The  countertops were chipped and cut up when I moved in six years ago.  The flooring was probably worn out long before that, but it’s still here.

This is my year to redo the kitchen.  All I really need to do is those three things.  Instead, I’ve turned it into a project that makes a lunar launch look simple.  I need to quit and go back to basics.   I am wasting time now and money eventually if I don’t.

It would be nice if we could get it right and perfect the first time we did anything.   But that’s not reality.  It takes courage to look at a lot of hard work and decide you have to give up on it.   But building onto old bad solutions only worsens the problem.  This is true for my life.  This is true for my state.  This is true for my country.  Two wrongs don’t always make a right.  Sometimes they just make a bigger mess.


What to Do if You Hate Your Job

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

“Love what you do” is great advice, but what if you’re stuck in a job you hate?

Every so often, a new guru advocates “Do what you love.” It’s the best career advice ever, whether you’re just starting your work years or getting ready to throttle back for retirement.

But what if you’re already doing something you don‘t love?  Most of us can’t afford to just implode what’s paying the bills.  How do you get from what you are doing now—which you may literally hate—to what you really want to do without totally starting over?

• It doesn’t have to be a jump over the cliff. We tend to think either/or on this.  Keep doing what you’re making money at now or take a massive, scary leap into the unknown.  You can do a lot on your current job to prepare for that better work life.  Think remodel rather than demolition.

• Get real about what you want to do. Flesh out your dream job right now so you know what you’re getting into.  If you fantasize rather than taking a serious look, you see only the minuses of your current job and only the pluses of your dream job.  Be honest about that new work and thorough with the details. You’ll either be creating momentum for the day when you can make the transition or learning that your “dream job” isn’t all that much better—or maybe even different—than what you’re doing.

• Become a virtuoso at what you can now. Many of the skills you need for your “perfect work” can be developed in any job.  Follow-through, time management, writing, speaking, and critical thinking skills are all transferable. Patience, tolerance, and persistence are attributes that are golden anywhere.  Work at becoming a superstar at these kinds of things right now.

• Find the center of the sweet spot. What’s most important about your dream job?  Sometimes the crux of what you yearn for can be part of what you are already doing.  If you can’t find a way to put it in your current work, give yourself that special thing in a hobby or with group involvement.  Doing so will whet you appetite for more and create the motivation to take bigger steps eventually.

• Educate yourself in small doses. The word “educate” conjures up expensive, time-intensive options—college degrees or formal training for accreditation of some sort.  That thinking makes the dream unachievable because the “entry fee” is more than you can handle either in time or money or both.

Get your education in smaller doses.  Read books.  Surf the Net.  Make friends with people who do what you want to do.  Join groups involved in that profession or interest area. You can learn a lot in doable steps if you get rid of the  idea that learning has to be in some kind of formal setting.  Plus as people in the field get to know you, you develop a network that you’ll need later.

• Don’t wait. Staying in a job you hate indefinitely is self-inflicted slavery.  Anything you can do to help yourself move toward something better is healthier emotionally.  But let me be very clear, most often that does not require quitting instantly.  But it does involve moving toward what you are more interested in.

Getting your feet wet as soon as you can has lots of benefits.  People in that field can start to appreciate you sooner because you met them early on.  Your focus becomes sharper as you get more depth.  And if you do eventually decide to seek that formal credential, the coursework will be easier because you are already familiar with the terminology and the concepts.

Anybody can say “I hate my job.”  And any job is going to be awful on occasion.  But if you really need something different to make your heart sing, the only one stopping you is you.

You can change that.