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Archive for February, 2012

Rethinking Work Work Work

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Ever since I started speaking out about smarter versions of retirement, I’ve been an advocate of including meaningful work in the mix of your “leisure” years.  I do think that’s important.  But there’s a huge difference between “good work” and “work work work”.

With more and more of us accepting that not working at all isn’t going to be part of the strategy for our “golden years”, perhaps it’s time to take a look at this “work work work” thing.

The idea that people of character demonstrate hard work above all else has some interesting religious underpinnings.  The “work work work”  we are steeped in now grew, at least initially, from the Protestant Work Ethic–an element of the religious revolt against the Catholic Church that started with Martin Luther in 1520.  The Catholics taught that good deeds would get you to heaven.  (And included buying your way in as an option for “good deeds.”)  The Protestant revolt insisted that God predetermines who’s going to heaven (and who’s not) and that doing a lot of hard work during your life is an indication that you’re one of the chosen.  Working hard became important as a way to look holy.

For you individually,  that “work work work” mentality probably has nothing to do with religion.  It’s more likely a case of  “I need this job.”  Or maybe “That’s just the way things go for responsible adults.”  But the societal expectation that everyone needs to work hard has deep, old roots that make more logical choices difficult to sell.  “Work work work” is not particularly effective in most cases.  Premier atheletes already know this.  The rest of us need to catch on.

We don’t need to work harder.  We need to work smarter.

We don’t need to work ten hour days to prove we are worthy employees.  We need to solve problems well, get the product out where people can buy it, satisfy the customer, etc.  How many hours it takes to to do that should be a function of what needs to get done, not a time clock.

There’s a lot of cachet in working long hours though.  I once had a boss who did all sorts of non-business things during the day.  (He reprimanded me once for interrupting him–while he was balancing his personal checking account on company time.)  Then each night, he would stay until 7:00 or later because that’s when the higher ups would lavish special attention.  “You’re dedicated and here late, so you’re one of us” was the clear message.  The guy was nowhere near as productive or effective as those of us who left closer to the prescribed end of the work day.  But he got kudos just for making it look like he was work work working.

Perhaps we need to consider using a different word than “work” in how we look at what we do for a living.   In her new book Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, Martha Beck recommends thinking in terms of a cycle of play and rest with no “work” in the picture whatsoever.  Rest is not always sleep and play is not just a round of golf in her scenario.  Rest is anything you do to recharge (which for me, oddly enough, includes digging in the garden dirt and doing the dishes).  Play is what you do to honor your purpose for being here at all.

When you boil it down to this kind of dichotomy, the place “work” has taken becomes more clear.  “Work” is what most of us do because other people expect it of us.  We need to rethink that mindset.  When we put effort into what we believe in, that we really want to see get done, we are energized.  When we do work that we don’t believe in but feel required to do, we are drained.

Every year you spend “work work working” takes a toll on you physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  If you still need a paycheck as you move into the last third of your life, find something that feels like play if you want to thrive.


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.


What’s the Point?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Having a sense of purpose is a key element to living well. That’s easy to say—or write.  But actually connecting with that purpose and staying true to it is a whole different ballgame.

Purpose can be elusive, especially if you are the kind of person who changes a lot over time.  Usually all that changing includes new directions in what you believe to be the point of being here at all. As you mature spiritually and emotionally, your sense of what your life is about gets deeper and more complex.  Unless, of course you get distracted by…well….living.

It’s not full speed ahead toward that point on the horizon even if you do have a clear sense of why you’re on the planet. I just read of a couple who’d survived two nights on Mount Rainier—in January–after getting lost on what was supposed to be an easy snowshoe trek.  Whatever their purpose was before they faced that peril, it was suspended while they dug snow caves, climbed steep slopes in the snow, and otherwise focused all their energy on surviving the immediate moment.  Now that they did survive, their sense of purpose will most likely be permanently different.

My point?  As you move through life, your assessment of “what’s the point?” is going to change.  Acknowledging that is a good start toward keeping yourself both focused and satisfied.

Here’s an example:  when you first have kids, your purpose is to parent them.  But as they grow, your purpose on their behalf changes.  Sure, you still love them, encourage them, and make sure they have the resources you can help them find to move toward being happy, successful adults.  But you go from being the center of that child’s universe to being the font of all solutions to being a coach, then a cheerleader, and ultimately, a proud spectator.  Parents who don’t understand that their parenting purpose changes end up hurt, angry, and worse.

When your purpose changes and you’re not in sync with that change, you won’t feel settled.  It can make you restless or irritable or even angry.  If those unpleasant emotions pop up without you being able to put a finger on “why,” you may want to take a look at what’s going on with your sense of purpose.

There are also a few things you can do to strengthen your sense of purpose at its core. In A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose Eckhart Tolle distinguishes between your internal purpose, which drives you toward ever higher evolution emotionally/spiritually, and an external purpose that addresses your contribution to the greater good as a worker, leader, teacher, whatever.   It’s that external purpose that morphs again and again.  Knowing your internal purpose at those times can keep your life satisfying.

When you think about “purpose,” think dynamically.  Your sense of what you are here to do today will probably not be anywhere close to what you are focusing on in ten years.  But also, think authentically.  In Finding Your Way in a Wild New World Martha Beck recommends starting with your first answer to “What’s the point?” and digging deeper by asking successive questions that come from your previous answer until you get to the one that doesn’t produce another question.   Then you’re at your core—at least according to Martha.

Here’s how it looked when I tried it:
When I started focusing on retirement issues, the answer to “Why am I doing this?” was “Because I’m furious with our cultural norm for how we treat people who are old enough to retire.”  That answer produced the question “Why am I angry about that?” To that I answered “I’m angry because we all lose by doing it this way.  More health problems, more social problems, and all that talent and experience wasted.”

Okay, so “Why am I upset about what society chooses to waste?”  The answer to that was “There’s a better way that would benefit us all and I want to help bring that about.”

“And what’s the point of me being involved in that?”  Well…”I need to help.  I need to solve problems.”

Okay, now I’m to something intrinsic to me. I can use that awareness a lot of different ways.  The point of my whole life is “How can I help?”  I’m not here to be an “expert.”  I’m not here to sell gazillions of books.  I’m here to help.  Very soothing to know when my life gets crazy—or confusing.

Knowing there’s more than one version of purpose and understanding your core (or internal) purpose can make life more serene and satisfying—whether you are just stepping into adulthood or planning what you want to do in your 90th year.