Getting Unstuck: 4 Obstacles to Clear to Move Forward with Career Support
May 18, 2020
If there’s ever a time to seek support for your career and overall wellbeing, this is probably it. Even though some areas of the country and globe are beginning to relax stay-at-home orders and social distancing, it doesn’t mean that stress and anxiety will go away anytime soon, whether about your health or the state of your career or employment situation.
I’ve written previously about the types of professionals to potentially include in your support network and leveraging coaches and advisors of various types to your benefit, as well as signs it may be time to reach out. Here, I’ll focus on a few different obstacles and ways to think differently about them if you’ve been reluctant to seek external help from a coach or advisor in support of your career or in making a transition into a new career phase, industry, or role.
Feeling Vulnerable: It’s not easy to be vulnerable and put yourself out there with someone who you may not have worked with before or have an established relationship. A big part of being coached is letting your guard down and opening up about your challenges and what gets in your way, in addition to what your goals and desired outcomes are, so you can get unstuck or simply move forward. This is why it’s so important to have introductory conversations with potential coaches to see who you click with, how easily you can build rapport with them, and gauge if they both “get” you and have an approach that works for you. Enter any coaching with a mindset of “it’s OK to be vulnerable in this situation” and you’ll have a much more fruitful and valuable experience than if you stay mentally or emotionally closed off.
Unsure of the Value: Coaching can be one of those things where it’s hard to know exactly what you’re getting for your time and money, beyond a few nice conversations. And while it’s true that coaching sessions can seem amorphous on the surface because there may not be an obvious product that goes with it, there are definitely tangible items coaches can provide to ensure you get high value for your dollars and effort. This can include assessment tools/reports, a concrete action plan that you co-create, vision/goal documents or frameworks, exercises/activities that you do toward your progress, training content, recommended resources, etc. Ideally, there’s also a flow within the coaching sessions themselves for you and the coach to gauge your progress and for the two of you to decide how you’ll measure results, in addition to helping you uncover any obstacles and identify next steps. Be sure to ask coaches you talk to what they do with clients to ensure there are tangible ways to support you in getting the results you need.
Devoting the Time: As with anything, there’s a time investment when it comes to working with a coach or advisor and making the time for it can be challenging. That said, for those things that are truly important, you have the ability to set priorities and set aside time so you can focus on making the changes and taking the necessary steps to help you get to where you want to be. Coaching is also one of those things that requires you to dedicate yourself to doing the work and taking the actions needed for your success. The coach can’t do this for you, so sometimes it creates the perception that the coach isn’t doing anything and has the easier role. Coaching, ideally, is a partnership between you and the coach, with each person devoted to ensuring you have a good outcome, so entering into it with this in mind can be helpful. You can also ask the coach what they do behind the scenes beyond the coaching sessions to contribute toward your success.
Unsure of Your Goal: It can be difficult sometimes to pinpoint what you want from a coach or advisor. Perhaps you have a feeling or know that something isn’t how you’d like it to be or you know you need help and are having a hard time identifying what it is exactly that a coach can do for you. Having an introductory conversation is a good place to start to begin to uncover what’s at the root of your seeking support. It may a take a couple sessions or conversations to figure this out, and part of working with a coach can be to get clear on what it is that you need specifically. Don’t let any discomfort in the ambiguity of it prevent you from getting the support you need.
Regardless of your situation, there are people ready to become a trusted resource for you to help get you through times of change and transition who’d be more than happy to work with you and see it as their mission in life for you to live a fulfilling life. All you need to do is take a first step to find “your person” to be the partner at your side.
Trusting Yourself: 6 Tips to Gain Self-Confidence in Turbulent Times
May 4, 2020
Whether experiencing a voluntary or involuntary career transition, your self-confidence level can be damaged, potentially causing you to doubt your judgment or intuition due to the degree of change you’re living through, having been thrust into a new situation.
It can be difficult to trust yourself, even if you’ve been through a lot of different transitions before. And yet, being able to trust yourself is important to help you get through your next transition and build your confidence once again, if lacking. When it takes a beating, we need to build it back up, so we’re ready to tackle new challenges that will inevitably crop up and go forth into our next adventure successfully.
How can you do this? By learning how to trust yourself again with these tips:
1. Embrace Who You Are: You’ve gotten this far in life due to specific attributes, characteristics, and strengths, whether you realize it or not. Note your accomplishments and what led to those and give yourself some love for where you are right now. While we may not love everything about some negative behaviors we engage in, we can certainly practice being ourselves and change what we can. A bit of unconditional love for yourself as a human being, warts and all, goes a long way.
2. Look Inward: Especially during this time of physical distancing, take a bit of time, whether a few minutes a day or a few times a week, to meditate or pay attention to what your body is doing. Take some deep breaths and let your thoughts wander. Try to notice what thoughts keep coming up. If they’re self-critical, release them and focus on what you’re doing that’s positive in your life. Reflect on your strengths and how you can channel them in specific ways to benefit other people or improve your situation.
3. Take a Learning Perspective: If you make what turns out to be a bad decision (believe me, I’ve made plenty along my career path and in my current state of self-employment – many, many of them), take what lessons you can from it to apply in the future. We can often beat ourselves up from making what we think are bad decisions, when often in hindsight, or when we talk them through with trusted confidantes, it’s not as bad as we think. We have great imaginations that can run wild sometimes, so don’t let a bad decision become a big obstacle. Acknowledge it, learn from it, and move forward.
4. Set Realistic, Achievable Goals: The ol’ SMART goal formula is smart for a reason. It typically includes the components of being realistic (or relevant) and attainable (or achievable or actionable, depending on where you learned what the A stands for). While there’s nothing wrong with setting stretch goals to push us a bit and provide motivation, it’s important to not get overly ambitious to the point where we get down on ourselves too much and tank our self-confidence all over again. Instead, set a few reasonable smaller goals to help you get where you want to be. You’ll then get the satisfaction of reaching milestones, and the dopamine hit that goes with it, and experience success.
5. Keep Commitments: Following through on commitments you make is another way to have some successes and boost your self-trust and confidence level. Whether it’s a promise you keep to someone important in your life, sticking with a change you’ve wanted to make in your diet or exercise regimen, or taking specific steps toward your career-related goals, when you keep commitments, it builds trust both in yourself and with other people. Chances are, you’ll also earn some kudos for being dependable, resilient, and full of integrity, characteristics you can also leverage for what you’re transitioning to next.
6. Avoid Negative Naysayers: Who’s currently in your life who may be unsupportive or overly negative about what you do, the choices you make, or your level of success? Taking some time to assess the state of your relationships and who’s in your circle can be of great benefit to then purge these naysayers from your life. These are the ones who may not want you to succeed for one reason or another or only have negative things to say. It’s easier said than done, I know, especially if you have “people pleaser” tendencies. That said, think about what life could be like if these naysayers weren’t in it and you didn’t have their negative messages taking up headspace, and then take steps to distance yourself from them as best you can. It may ruffle some feathers that need serious ruffling, and that’s OK.
And a bonus tip…
7. Ditch Perfectionism: I know, another one easier said than done, and yet so important to our overall confidence and wellbeing. As human beings, we are naturally imperfect. Trying so hard to be perfect is an exercise in futility, as there’s no such thing, and everyone has their own definition of it anyway. So there. Stop driving yourself crazy. Enough already.
Trusting yourself, and gaining self-confidence in kind, takes focus and effort, like anything else. When you do it, though, you’ll put yourself in a great position to take advantage of new opportunities, regardless of your situation.
Ready or Not: 5 Factors for Post-Pandemic Career Change
April 20, 2020
While things are whack-a-doodle these days (my technical term for going through the pandemic situation), it can be a good time to pull back, take a breath, and reset priorities as well as consider what you’d like life to look like once we come out the other side of stay at home orders. Many organizations will be doing the same, as they assess what work looks like going forward, and so can you.
How do you know you’re ready to make a career change when it’s such an unsettled time? Well, as with many activities, there’s pretty much never a good time and we can be pulled off track easily. Reasons (excuses) abound and us humans excel at coming up with them, imaginary or otherwise. To counter this, it’s good to do your best to tune out the chaos and tune in to any career notions you’ve had, whether before the virus took hold or now, and spend some time considering if you want to make a change and if so, if you are truly ready to do so.
Here are a few factors to keep in mind to signal that it’s time to make a move away from what you’re currently doing in your career:
Level of Burnout/Stress: Much has been written regarding the signs of burnout (physical, mental, emotional) which can be all too real. While of course your financial situation is a key part of your career picture, it’s important to identify the toll your current work takes on you and if you see it as worth it to continue paying this toll at the sacrifice of your health and wellbeing. We’re no good to anyone or anything without our health, let alone be able to spend our hard-earned money, if the thought of going to work (virtual or otherwise again in the future) makes us sick.
Comfort with Change: What information do you need to be present to make a change? As people, it’s typically not the concept of change we can be leery of; it’s usually fear of the unknown and impact of the change on our lives. If your comfort level in making a major change is low, how can you make gradual changes to build your resilience and be able to expect the unexpected more often than not? This pandemic experience has probably already built you some new muscles in terms of adaptation and flexibility. How can you then take this situation and extend it further into a change for your future?
Timeframe: When thinking of the arc of your career and when you might like to do something different, is that a short-term goal (next 1-2 years) or farther out (3+ years)? While having a lengthier timeline in mind is great for taking smaller steps toward your goal, it can also come back to bite you if you tend to be a procrastinator or perfectionist (not that I am, by the way, just saying that SOME people are). Oh wait, yeah, both of those are me too! The longer the time horizon, the easier it is for us to allow events to interfere and make excuses.
Clarity of What’s Next: It’s good to be clear when thinking of making a change that it’s not a temporary response to something that’s in your face that you’re unhappy about and isn’t a reflex to flee your current situation. What is it that you’d be running to as opposed to running away from? If you’re not sure yet, it’s a good idea to get some help, whether from a coach or trusted advisor and really think about if your circumstances are truly temporary or if this has been building for quite some time. Moving too quickly has its own consequences, especially if unclear about your goal or direction.
Level of Motivation: What’s your level of desire to make a change? How’s your self-discipline to stick to a goal and take the necessary steps to get there? If both of these are low, then you may need to do some preliminary work to raise them. Everything from how you manage anxiety to the health of your relationships and social support network to learning from mistakes or setbacks to being confident you can succeed comes into play here. If any of these items are lacking, then building them up will go a long way toward giving you some momentum to take your first steps toward career change.
While some changes are forced on us, like what we’re experiencing right now, it doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t be planful and thoughtful in determining what’s next. It also doesn’t mean that we have to live in a state of paralysis waiting for things to happen. If feeling out of control, take control as best you can. A good place to start is your own career. Even if all you do is a bit of online research and have a few conversations to explore possibilities, it’s still forward progress.
Career Rejiggering: 8 Questions to Identify Your Value
April 6, 2020
Depending on the state of your career amidst the current coronavirus situation, you may be thinking about changing direction, whether laid off or having more downtime due to staying at home. There’s no real way to know what the job and stock markets will look like, impacting job and retirement decisions, or how the world of work will change, now that more employers are getting a taste of managing and leading a virtual workforce, once we’re on the other side of the pandemic.
Making the decision to retire from your current work or shift careers can be fraught with self-doubt, fear and trepidation, and uncertainty about the future, even in “normal” times, yet can also be an exciting and adventurous time in your life, leading to great experiences and more fulfillment.
Sometimes, a fear of lost identity or becoming irrelevant comes into play with career changes and can hold you back, especially if you closely identified with your work role and your new one is that of “retiree” or something quite different from what you’ve been doing. A key strategy to overcome these concerns is to focus on the value you bring through your talents, skills, strengths, and experiences. Much of this has to do with how you re-brand yourself, whether your goal is to keep working full time, part time, as a volunteer, business owner, independent consultant, or board member.
To begin identifying how you add value, answer these questions to trigger ideas:
- What are 3-5 career accomplishments you’re proud of and what did you do specifically to get those outcomes?
- What are 3-5 specific examples of how you’ve used your strengths to contribute to an organization’s culture in a positive way?
- What are 3-5 skills (technical or non-technical) you’ve applied in your career that you can see transferring easily to different organizations or scenarios and how can you transfer them?
- What are some new skills you’d like to learn or think you will need to learn to make a career change and how will you gain this learning?
- What are 3-5 positive characteristics or attributes people tend to ascribe to you consistently? If unsure, who can you ask to find out?
- How do those characteristics or attributes tie to your contributions to groups, organizations, or what you’d like to move toward next?
- What type of work/tasks have you enjoyed doing in your career that you’d like to continue to do in some way? What might that look like?
- Ignoring any job titles or life roles, such as parent, manager, director, friend, etc., what would a “headline” be that describes who you are in 3-5 words?
This last one is tough, because it’s hard to encapsulate who you are in a few words, yet it’s also powerful, especially to help you get away from pigeonholing yourself into a job title or thinking you can only be identified by a work role. Mine that I’ve just started using is, “Career Fear Slayer.” Sometimes, I’ll adapt it to, “Career Change Champion,” depending on the situation when I’m interacting with people. Notice it’s not a job title like “coach,” or “career transition professional,” because I want to apply it regardless of what I’m doing to earn a living. I can be a “slayer” or a “champion” as a volunteer, mentor, retiree, contractor, etc. and it describes my value of taking the fear out of career transitions.
Play around with it and have some fun, especially in these stressful times, while you’re at home and perhaps getting bored with binge watching, pet watching, online video watching, 24-hour news watching, or taking a breather from all the scary stuff. It can also make answering that question, “What do you do?” when networking a lot easier to answer.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to become a totally new person (unless you really want to!) when you make a career change or retire to something else, as you’re valuable to the world regardless. You may just need to spend a bit of time identifying how you add this value specifically to whatever it is you want to do next or figuring out what that “next” is for you exactly.
Often, the word “reinvention” is [over]used these days when it comes to career transition. To me, this implies that you need to make drastic changes in who you are, when that may not be the case. How about that instead, it’s about revaluation (Is that a word? It didn’t get flagged in spell check.), i.e. knowing what and who you already are and applying that value in different ways? This makes the prospect of career change much less daunting, I think. See? Career fear slayer. Totally doing it right now.
Pushing Through: 5 Areas of Focus for Career Change in Chaotic Times
March 23, 2020
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” This insight from Marie Curie applies regardless of what we’re afraid of: viruses (i.e. death), failure, success, being replaced or irrelevant, loss, etc. The more we deepen our understanding of what’s behind the fear, the better we can face it and work through it to get the outcome we desire. This is especially true in these times of uncertainty and insecurity, when it can feel like we have no control over our circumstances.
And yet, what we can take control of is how we respond to the chaos and volatility in the world around us to affect our outcomes for the better, even when we’re looking to make a career change and the timing seems bad and we’re tempted to pull back. It’s easy to make assumptions that we can’t make a move when there’s a crisis happening, and while some options may not be available to us in the moment, we can certainly set ourselves up to be well-positioned in the future. Those who press forward during difficult times will fare better in the long run than those who retract from a career change.
How? By focusing on a few areas of your world that may need some tending to that have been neglected or pushed to the background lately:
Health: This is a great time to get your proverbial house in order when it comes to your physical and mental health. Turning inward and working on yourself goes a long way toward uncovering what’s holding you back and any fears, disappointments, or anger you’ve been avoiding working through because there’s always something else that takes precedence. You name it, we are experts at putting it up as a roadblock. Whether it’s changing diets or an exercise regimen (or starting one) or assessing what’s really going on as a root cause of our issues, this is an opportunity to take stock and make decisions on what needs to be different for you to thrive, however you define success.
Relationships: Much has already been written on the importance of staying connected to people during this time of quarantine and distancing and much will most likely change when it comes to how we interact in the future as a result, as well as what businesses survive and in what form. What are the relationships in your life that are important and what can you do to engage with those folks to keep them intact? Who in your network haven’t you talked to in a while and how can you connect to check in? What’s the shape of your online presence and what needs to be done to get it to the point where you’re connecting to those who you can both give something to and get something from as a value-added relationship for your career and theirs? Assess, act, and (virtually) connect as needed.
Goals: So, what were those New Year’s resolutions you set a few months ago? How’s it going with them? What have you been meaning to get to “someday” that you can tackle, even if in small bites? As the clock keeps ticking, reminding yourself of the goals you’ve set and scheduling time to make progress on them can relieve anxiety and buoy your spirits to pull out of any paralysis you may be experiencing. Separating yourself from the 24/7 drip of horrible news of the day and creating some physical separation from those in your environment, even if only for an hour, to revisit your goals and gain a bit of momentum can put things in greater perspective and lead to empowerment.
Environment: There’s a reason why charitable organizations are seeing an uptick in donations of “stuff” in recent weeks. People are taking time to get organized and ditch the clutter that’s been in their environment and weighing them down, literally or figuratively. What needs cleaning, purging, rearranging, or repurposing in your immediate environment that’d make a big difference to your outlook and wellbeing? For me, personally, when my “stuff” is in chaos or piling up, I feel in chaos and heavy. When we clear the clutter, whether in our environment or our heads, we can have clarity of thought and purpose, so it becomes much easier to make decisions. Spend some time getting organized and you’ll notice a big difference, I bet, in your mindset and overall health.
Learning: As a lifelong learner, and advocate of it, I use gaining new knowledge and skills both for stress relief and personal/professional development. What’s some reading, listening, or watching of content you can do to escape from what’s swirling around you while keeping your mind sharp and engaged? What are you curious about that intrigues you or what’s a skill you’ve wanted to develop that can benefit you and other people? What’s research you can do that aligns with what you’re thinking for a career move so you can be a step ahead and share what you discovered? There’s no end to content available and people to learn from in a virtual/long-distance world these days, so take advantage of it while you can.
Recognizing when we’re fearful and doing the work to understand where it comes from puts us on the path of taking action and changing our view of our situation. This can then set you up to move forward, regardless of the crisis at hand and how long we endure it, freeing you to take charge of your future.
Saying When: 5 Key Indicators to Seek Career Support
March 9, 2020
Often when we need career transition help the most, we can be reluctant to ask for it or recognize that by delaying taking action, we’re only lengthening our state of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or not reaching our potential. Some may then trudge along, continuing to live with the status quo, for a variety of reasons – financial, uncertainty about what type of help is needed, struggle finding a good fit with a coach or adviser, etc. At times, the issue may be a lack of awareness or recognition of when to seek external support.
The scenarios below can provide a sense of when it’s a good time to hire a coach who can work with you on career development and transitions, whether you’re looking to find a next role or industry, grow in your career, or exit into retirement or semi-retirement.
Talking Without Doing: If you think you’re having the same conversations repeatedly with friends or family, chances are…you are! While they may not want to say it to your face, inside, the receivers of your lamenting about your current situation over the course of however long with no action toward change are probably a bit exasperated. How much more time, energy, and frustration are you willing to tolerate before enough is enough, both for you and those who serve as sounding boards?
Stagnation or Burnout: Feeling depressed, disengaged, stressed out, or unproductive has huge costs, both for you in terms of your health, and for employers (upwards of $190 billion a year a couple years ago). Being in a place of feeling overstressed or just plain bored in your career or retirement is a great time to seek help from a coach to give you a spark and find a fresh perspective with a clear goal while holding you to taking action for accountability. How much longer are you willing to sacrifice your wellbeing (and that of your organization, as the case may be)?
Change in Role or Career Identity: Whether through a promotion, re-organization, job change, or shifting priorities, any time you experience a major shift in the type of work you’re doing, tackling new challenges such as becoming a people leader for the first time or leading a fully remote team, or looking to exit, there are downstream impacts, both for you and those in your orbit. Working with a coach can provide you with a plan for how you’ll handle new situations and make a transition successfully. How much are you willing to go it alone, making this change in a vacuum, potentially, at the risk of missing key pieces that could make a big difference?
Unclear Direction: When you find yourself spinning without a clear idea of what’s next or what you want to do, coaching can be a catalyst to help you home in on where to take things. Perhaps it’s not having a good understanding of your strengths or skills, so you’re not sure what to do, that’s the obstacle. Or, you may have an inkling of a next move, and are experiencing self-doubt or confusion about how to get there. Maybe it’s fear holding you back from taking action, regardless of the direction you’d like to take, causing paralysis. How much more do you want to keep spinning without a plan, wasting precious time when you could move forward instead?
Negative Self-Talk: It’s very easy for us to talk ourselves out of something and make every excuse under the sun for why we don’t act, especially when we don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we can do, have ownership over, or belief in our abilities and capacity for change. If the script running in your head is mostly negative (e.g. “I can’t do ___ because…” or, “I don’t have ____ to make the change I want so why bother?”, etc.), it’s a prime time to seek coaching to get out of your own head and consider your circumstances from a different angle. The thought-provoking, powerful questions great coaches ask are frequently the technique that leads to breakthroughs. How much longer are you willing to stay stuck in your negative thoughts without seeing a different path to change your situation?
Regardless of your specific scenario (or a mix thereof), only you can decide when it’s time to get help. In other words, when does the cost of your happiness and wellbeing become greater than the financial and/or time outlay of coaching? What’s it worth to you to make a change with some support along the way so you are confident in your decisions and actions and overcome fear?
It’s a sign of strength, in my opinion, to get help when you need it, as so often it takes a lot of the pressure off that we put on ourselves so well, and can be just what’s needed to lead the life we want and make the changes we need to do for our own good and those around us. As the saying goes, if not now, when?
No Regrets: 4 Tips for a Successful Career Transition
February 24, 2020
A recent article by Liz Weston about the regrets people have once they’re in the retirement phase of their lives mentions the lack of having “something to retire to,” struggling to replace what brought them meaning during their working years without any plan for how they’d spend their time. It also calls out a lack of friends or social contact, and not talking about each other’s expectations for what to do in retirement with a spouse or partner, as additional mistakes. Disagreements about how much to travel or where, how much time to spend with family and when, and the type and manner of housing and your overall lifestyle are just a handful of areas where lines can get crossed easily.
Regardless of your current career situation, whether headed toward retirement or not, consider the four tips below for how you can be proactive to avoid any major regrets about your next move so you can have as successful a transition as possible and a live fulfilling new chapter.
Start Talking: Set aside some time with family members who are directly impacted by your next career move to get clear about expectations, roles, and timing for making a change so everyone understands what’s involved and can join you in making critical decisions that will also impact their lives. This is not a time to go it alone and assume that you’re all on the same page. It reminds me of when I worked with managers who just assumed that employees knew what was needed or could read their minds when it came to expectations. Implied, presumed, and generally unstated expectations only lead to trouble for all concerned. Get clear and gain explicit, mutual understanding of the plan of action. Taking the time to do this upfront or early in the process will lead to less stress in the end and will likely raise things that you may not be thinking about or realizing that could be potential obstacles to overcome.
Get Planning: Even if you’re someone who “goes where the wind takes you,” and don’t get me wrong, I can often be the same way, the less intentional you are about goals and actions to take to get there, the more muddled things can be, leading to frustration and unnecessary anxiety. While staying open to options and having flexibility are great, at some point, the lack of a clear direction and plan can start to work against you. This doesn’t mean that any type of stated goals and plans are static. They should be dynamic and updated, and provide a guidepost to aim for, especially when priorities change, so you have some direction and don’t waste precious time wandering aimlessly. Any type of plan, even a loose one, can also relieve some pressure on loved ones so they have a sense of where you’re heading and how, whether to lend support, recommendations, or participate actively in what comes next.
Leverage Networking: Who do you know? Chances are, more people than you give yourself credit for, or think of off the top of your head. Scan your LinkedIn network and review contact lists to get a sense of the state of your current connections and reach out to those who you haven’t connected with in a while. Invite your contacts to have a catch-up call or conversation or an informational meeting or interview to exchange knowledge or seek their advice. Back when I was working in the accounting industry and we talked about roles and relationships we value, we’d often use the analogy of “rubber ball” and “glass ball” relationships, the rubber ball being those you could leave for a while and pick back up later (i.e. bounce back to you) as though no time had passed, with the relationship still intact. Who are the “rubber ball” people in your life you can pick back up with who could be a sounding board or source of information that would be valuable as you explore or enter your next career phase?
Embrace Researching: In addition to learning from those in your network, what information or tools do you need to be able to craft a plan and move forward? Taking some time to conduct research about career paths, potential work or volunteer roles, places to live or visit, pros and cons of making a particular career move, organizations you’re interested in, housing options, etc. can also pay dividends, and may lead you to further information that you didn’t know existed. Just make sure you don’t go too far down the “rabbit hole,” potentially causing you to lose momentum or get into “analysis paralysis.” Decide how much information is enough for you to make some informed choices or put a deadline on it and stick to it so you don’t get off track. Ask your contacts where they get good quality information about the topic(s) you’re researching if you’re not sure where to start, and have a place set aside, electronic or otherwise, to house the key information you find for easy access.
It’s not a fun place to be when you’ve gotten into a situation, only to realize that you’ve made a mistake or regret the approach you used to decide what to do. By being intentional and proactive, you can head as much off at the pass as possible, ensuring you’ve not only done your due diligence, but also set yourself up for success as best you can.
Retirement Advice is Great…Until it Isn’t
February 9, 2020
Sophocles, the ancient Greek playwright, once said, “No enemy is worse than bad advice.” And yet, we often turn to friends when seeking advice, though much of this is probably to either reinforce our own opinion or say we’ve done our due diligence, when we may wind up going with our first inclination anyway. When it comes to how to spend your time in the “slow go” or “no go” days of your career, whether engaged in traditional retirement or not, it’s important to not rely solely on the advice of friends, as of course, they are not you, and their lives and experiences differ from yours as well as their skills, strengths, and financial circumstances.
That’s not to say that it’s not good to take a consultative approach when deciding how and where to focus yourself in this “third act” of your career. It’s often helpful to hear various viewpoints to help you make informed decisions. It’s just that your friends may not be in the best position to take an objective stance and could get into the mode of problem solving, when what you’re seeking isn’t necessarily a “right answer” for a particular problem. We often fall into the trap of “everything’s a nail and I’ve got a hammer,” jumping to wanting to fix things that may not need fixing, when all we’re looking for is a sounding board with an open ear.
Consider incorporating a well-rounded strategy to decide what you want this next phase of your life to look like, meaning rather than just focusing on your friends and family for support and input, expose yourself to additional sources of help too, whether a coach, financial planner, estate attorney, CPA, counselor, or another advisor to support your goal setting, action planning, and creating a vision for your future. This will provide you with additional perspectives and information so you can be confident you’re taking the steps that are right for you as you make this transition, allowing more objective parties to play a role in service of your success.
There are some great books/resources available too, as you consider the “non-technical” aspects of retirement or slowing down a bit in your career or considering a change of direction. Here are a few of my favorites (and no, no one is asking me to plug these; I just think they’re helpful):
- Crossroads of Retirement: A High Stakes Drama About Real Life in Retirement by Robert S. Laura
- Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement by Rich Karlgaard
- How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie J. Zelinski
- Out of the Box Retirement: Creative Ideas, Role Models, and New Possibilities by the Retirement Coaches Association
- Purposeful Retirement by Hyrum W. Smith
- Retire Smart, Retire Happy by Nancy K. Schlossberg
- The Retiring Mind by Robert P. Delamontagne
- Retirement Reinvention by Robin Ryan
- Thinking Smarter: Seven Steps to Your Fulfilling Retirement and Life by Shlomo Benartzi with Roger Lewin
- Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge
When considering what you’d like to do in your late career/active retirement phase, it can also be helpful to engage in some focused brainstorming with friends and/or family, so it’s more than just going on advice alone. Since there are many facets to what it could look like, including where you live and how, think in terms of the various “pillars” of life. These include:
- Intellectual: How will you keep you mind active and sharp so as not to decline and to keep you intellectually stimulated and learning?
- Physical: How will you stay physically active to gain or maintain good physical health?
- Social: How can you ensure you have good connections with people, so you don’t become socially isolated, potentially leading to loneliness, depression, and a downward spiral?
- Spiritual: How will you engage with your spiritual side, whatever that looks like for you and feeds your soul?
- Occupational: How can you stay engaged to use your skills and strengths you’ve built throughout you career, perhaps channeled in a different direction?
- Emotional: How can you ensure you have good mental health and loving relationships?
Having a plan that touches on each of these aspects can go a long way toward a balanced, healthy, happy life as you enter the later years of your career or decide to slow down a bit. Remember that nothing says you have to be fully retired in the traditional sense of a life of leisure, unless that’s what you aim to do. Whether out of financial necessity or desire, the vision of retirement from past generations is now very different, if it even really exists at all anymore.
Be sure that if you do seek advice from friends on what your later years will look like, it’s in balance with additional objective information and support, so you can be confident with your plan of action.
Coaching & Mentoring: Which “Hat” You Wear Makes a Big Difference
January 27, 2020
Whether you work internally within an organization, are a consultant or advisor, or for your own clarity if you want to work with a coach, it’s good to understand the difference between a coach and a mentor for professional development or personal growth. The two terms are often confused or used interchangeably, when they’re actually quite different, at least in the “people development” world.
To mentor someone traditionally means to advise or train, typically with a more experienced person mentoring a less experienced person and is usually done in the context of career development. The giving of direct advice is a distinguishing feature of mentoring, whether it’s about how to perform a specific task, who to know within and outside an organization to grow one’s professional network, recommending resources, making introductions, etc. Usually, “telling” is involved more when mentoring, though that doesn’t mean mentors don’t ask questions; providing recommendations is just more of its focus than coaching and it’s often employed to help people move along their career path.
To coach someone is more about guiding the person through a self-discovery process in partnership with the coach, whether for professional or personal goal achievement. An underlying tenet of coaching is to hold the belief that the “coachee” has the answers within and it’s the role of the coach to tease those answers out, allowing for the discovery of one’s own solutions. Coaching usually involves asking powerful questions to facilitate the self-discovery process and is less about giving direct advice or telling the person what to do. It’s also important to resist being self-referential as a coach, as it’s not about you and what you would do or have done; it’s about the coachee uncovering the solution that resonates.
Often, we can move between the roles of mentor and coach, depending on the situation. The important thing is to let the coachee or mentee know when you’re wearing which hat, and to ask for their permission to move away from coaching into more of an advisory or trainer role, as an additional tenet of coaching is that the coachee drives the coaching session agenda, not the coach. It’s about the coachee progressing as they see fit toward goal achievement, not what the coach thinks the coachee needs to do. Remember, it’s not about you providing a recommended solution. That’s what an advisor, consultant, or mentor does. The coach is there to ask provocative and evocative questions, challenge limiting beliefs and assumptions, and provide a framework or “guardrails” for the conversation, enabling coachees to consider different alternatives for approaching their goals.
Not everyone is a great fit for the coaching process, at least not in the beginning of a coaching partnership, when it may take a few sessions for the coachee to experience what it’s like, especially if looking to be given a “right answer” or provided with solutions. Sometimes, for example, these folks are in need of a job search consultant (when looking for résumé, social media profile, or job search help), so in my own work I have to make the distinction between that type of support (and refer that out) and the type of work I do, which is more in that self-discovery arena. Be sure that regardless of if you’re a coach or looking for one, that you’re clear on what you provide and what you don’t, or what’re you’re looking for if searching – a coach or an advisor/consultant/mentor (or a combination). That will help things go much better for all concerned.
If mentoring, consider encouraging your mentee to seek additional mentors to gain a variety of perspectives, whether inside or outside the organization, if that’s the situation, or for life in general. It can be easy to fall into a trap of only having one mentor, who’s either a “great match” or not, and then much awkwardness can ensue with only one perspective provided. Having a robust professional network can entail having many mentors for different aspects of life and career, whether around being a leader, technical skills, financial or business acumen, health and wellness, spiritual guidance, or being a great communicator, to name a few. Someone who’s an effective mentor for one area may not be quite so much in another. Do what you can to help your mentees develop a well-rounded network. They’ll thank you in the end for looking out for their growth and well-being.
If unsure which hat you’re wearing in a given situation, ask yourself if you’re providing a prescriptive plan or recommended solutions. If so, then you’re probably taking on the role of a mentor or advisor as opposed to that of a coach. Each has its value, of course, yet making this distinction will help all involved ensure that appropriate needs are met in the most effective way possible.
Upskilling: 5 Tips to Develop Skills for Your Career Transition
January 13, 2020
As humans, we’re never really “done” learning, until or unless we decide to be, or we run up against a health issue that interferes. I always say that I’ll keep learning until I take my last breath, as long as I’m able to do so. Sure, we’ll usually encounter some people who may take the attitude that they’ve learned or seen it all, yet these are the folks I wonder about if they lose their job or retire without any curiosity about learning new things, running the risk of disease or dementia in their later years if they don’t keep their minds sharp.
Regardless of your situation or career, there are always new subjects to learn about and new skills to acquire, especially if you’re looking to change what you’re currently doing, let alone keeping up with the fast pace of change these days. When contemplating a career move, spend some time gauging what, if any, skills are necessary for you to make the leap successfully. Below are a few tips to help with this.
- Assess What to Learn: If you’re looking at a different role, industry, or career direction, review job descriptions, organizations’ websites, and talk to those who are currently doing what you’d like to do to see what skills are required and which are “nice-to-have” to determine where you may have some gaps. If slowing down in your career, identify what you’ve always wanted to learn about, whether work-related or not, and investigate where you can acquire the knowledge and skill you’re interested in, whether in person or online.
- Take Advantage of Convenient Learning Options: For those age 50+, consider Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, offering low-cost courses through 124 educational institutions across the United States to learn for the fun of it, without exams or grades. Otherwise, there are plenty of online options to take skills-based courses, whether for free or for monthly subscription fees. Open Culture lists free courses available through universities and providers such as edX and Coursera. There’s always LinkedIn Learning and Udemy as well for convenient options. And, of course, taking advantage of offerings through your employer, if possible, can be of great benefit, as well as checking out your city or town’s community center education and activity programs.
- Find a Community: Between Meetup, 1 Million Cups (for entrepreneurs), the thousands of professional associations, Chambers of Commerce, community service and charitable organizations, and gatherings of networking roundtables or mastermind groups, there’s something for everyone. Often, it takes trial and error (and paying some fees) to check out different groups to see what the best fit is for you. Depending on what you’re looking for in terms of people and desired results, it can definitely be worth the time and effort when you’ve found a good networking home, whether to make a career shift, for social support, or for continuing education.
- Form a Power Team: It can be tempting, especially for us introverts, to go it alone when it comes to finding that next opportunity or transitioning into a semi-retirement or retirement situation. To ease stress and make things a bit easier on yourself, consider banding together with a handful of people you know or meet (maybe 3-5 tops) who are facing the same type of situation and decide how you can best support each other. Connect on a regular cadence, whether virtual or in person, and be intentional about how you can pass referrals, introductions, or information to each other, as well as provide moral support. A regular boost from trusted contacts goes a long way with momentum and energy.
- Develop a Strategy: As with many aspects of life, we may find that we want to tackle everything at once because we get excited (great!) or get some ideas (excellent!) yet can exhaust ourselves if we try to do too much in a short timeframe (draining!). Instead, think about what makes sense for you, taking resources (budget, time, logistics, support) into account, in addition to identifying your learning goals, to form a plan of action. If there are multiple skills you want to learn, identify which are highest priority, based on what you’ll apply them toward and any hard deadlines you need to meet, whether set by you or someone else. Take these on one at a time and focus on your top priority, rather than signing up for a bunch of events and classes and then getting overwhelmed. You’ll thank yourself later and will be able to absorb and practice that much more over time, as well as build relationships.
No matter what you’d like, or need, to learn, there are many ways, formal and informal, to gain the new knowledge or skills you’re lacking to take that next step in your career and have a successful transition. Even if your current employer isn’t in a position to provide you with a lot of training or professional development experiences, or you’re slowing down in your career, you can still be proactive to ensure you get what you need. It may require some short-term pain, in the bank account or schedule, though can reap great rewards in the end.
When Bias Gets in the Way: Leveraging External Support to See Possibilities
December 30, 2019
During these times of “fake news,” polarizing issues, and the seemingly massive amount of information our brains take in on any given day, it can be easy to act according to our biases as a way to make sense of things and get through it all. After all, it’s a way for our brains to filter, done in fractions of a second, without our even recognizing it more often than not. This is why it’s a good idea to work with coaches, advisors, and experts who can be as much of an objective sounding board as possible for you when it comes to setting a course for your future and what your next chapter will be.
While of course we all have our biases and can make snap judgments, working with an objective third party who’s not entrenched in your everyday life or work can be of great benefit to ensure you’re making as good a decision as you can, given your current circumstances and goals. Here are just a few of the common biases that can get in your way to potentially raise and counteract with the support of an advisor or coach:
Confirmation Bias: This is the classic one of only getting information from sources that confirm what you already believe, rather than challenging your beliefs to broaden your thinking and perspective. A trusted coach or expert can help you see situations in a different light, ask powerful questions to reframe your current thinking or belief, and challenge you in a supportive way with alternate ways of seeing things, as well as help you separate fact from fiction (or at least from the story in your head about why something is the way it is). With an open mind, great things can happen.
Negativity Bias: As humans, we can easily latch on to, and not necessarily ever let go of, information we perceive as negative more than what’s positive. Whether it’s a bit of constructive feedback, survey results, or impressions about someone or something, we can tend to focus only on what’s wrong instead of what’s right. One constructive or negative comment out of how ever many then becomes the thing that sticks. Instead, an advisor or coach can work with you to see circumstances and people from a more positive perspective in service of your seeing what’s possible to help you move forward.
Attribution Bias: With this one, we can have the tendency to evaluate ourselves based on our good intentions and other people based on their actions. In other words, we may not attribute something someone says or does to their own good intentions, a grace we will give ourselves. “I didn’t mean to…” can become a mantra. This bias crops up a lot when in conflict with someone. We can fall into the trap of generalizing how a group of people or a specific person will act solely on what we surmise to be true without understanding their intent behind their actions or having any real context. A coach or advisor can help you see when you may be acting on a bias against someone, or a group, and may not be recognizing the same behavior in yourself.
Anchoring Bias: Within nanoseconds we get an impression of someone or something, “anchoring” this perception in our minds, regardless of if it’s based on true or reliable information. This tendency to act on first impressions or having a “knee-jerk” reaction can often trip us up, including when we limit ourselves and what we can do, based on the first thought that pops into our heads. While there are many times when a gut reaction can be a good thing, operating off of an anchoring bias may not be supportive of achieving your goals, an additional bias you can overcome through working with a coach or expert.
In-Group Bias: Another classic bias of when we exclude people or viewpoints because they aren’t like us. In other words, being in an “out group” rather than an “in group.” Sometimes, when thinking about making a career change or going after what we want for our future, we may get caught in a trap of inertia or staying stagnant due to potentially being in an “out group” or having to learn to work with people different from us or in a new industry that’s unfamiliar. This can lead to potentially latching on to those who are like us in new environments or sticking with an unhappy status quo to avoid this situation. A coach or advisor can uncover where you may be limiting yourself due to in-group bias, whether it’s in terms of goals, workplaces, or diversity of thought and ideas to gain perspective.
Having biases is unavoidable, as we all have them, due to our culture, upbringing, and life experiences. As long as it exists, we can have a bias for or against anything with an impact that’s big, small, or in between. The key is to recognize when we are acting, or potentially acting, off of one and take steps to counteract it as needed. This is when an objective third party can be invaluable, guiding you to new possibilities for your future.
Finding Your Way: Leveraging Coaching to Realize Your Vision
December 16, 2019
Name an athlete, musician, or any type of performer who has been able to excel without the support of a coach. This is my common response when people wonder why they might need a coach, whether it’s to up their own performance, gain clarity on their goals, or consider alternate approaches to situations that have them spinning or stuck.
Thankfully, much has changed over the years for coaching to now be (mostly) seen as beneficial to anyone, not just for those in “remedial” scenarios or the loftiest positions. One of the many reasons to hire or work with a coach is the support provided to plan and execute on your vision (and to figure out what it is in the first place). For some, being able to think long-term is difficult, let alone know where to start, so engaging with a coach is a good first step. Here are a few benefits of working with a coach to create your vision and action plan to attain it.
Accountability: Coaches are great “accountability partners,” because they will be your champion by providing support as well as “hold your feet to the fire” to increase your odds of making the kind of progress you want. You’re the one who owns your action plan that you co-create with your coach, so it’s up to you to execute it. Your coach is there to check in, offer encouragement, and explore any obstacles that get in your way so you can course correct as needed.
Documentation: When you work with a coach, chances are you’ll come away with a plan that is recorded somehow, whether electronically, on paper, or through an activity such as creating a visual or artistic reminder of what it is you’re aspiring to for ongoing reference. Sometimes, it’s hard to keep a vision in the forefront because we’re either trying to store all of the information in our heads, don’t have an effective mechanism to keep track, or get wrapped up in whatever day-to-day chaos exists. A coach can support you with this process, so you don’t forget what it is you’ve decided.
Challenge: A key part of a coach’s job is to challenge your thinking and how you perceive things so you can clear barriers out of your way and change any limiting beliefs into positive ones to support you in moving forward. As you reply to powerful questions from your coach, be prepared to have your responses addressed more deeply with the goal of uncovering and working through where you may be unrealistic in your goals, are limiting yourself too much, or say something that makes your coach go “hmm.” Keep in mind that being challenged in this way is all in service of you and your vision.
Objectivity: One of the beauties of having a coach is to work with someone who can be objective in terms of the conversations with you, since chances are, at least for most envisioning and future path goal-setting purposes, the coach isn’t necessarily a teammate, boss, or close family member and can have a more objective lens to look through on the situations you describe. While a coach isn’t there to tell you what to do, an objective presence to offer a different perspective can be a breath of fresh air, so to speak.
Tools and Techniques: Coaches tend to have a wealth of tools and techniques in their tool belts that they’ve honed over the years within the workplace and beyond, with a good amount of training in how to coach effectively. Some have the misperception that coaching is only about asking questions, which is a big part of it, though there are specific models, processes, and additional skills, such as gauging fit, refining coaching presence, measuring the impact of coaching, and using various strategies, that are needed to work with all manner and style of clients, just as with any other discipline. Being exposed to a variety of tools and coaching methodologies through your coach will only increase the return on your investment in coaching to achieve your vision.
Confidence: When you have a vision for your future and a plan to go with it, it can be a real confidence booster, in addition to having a way to check that you’re on track. When working with a coach on your plan, it can generate both excitement and energy to focus on what you need to do to realize your goal, providing the confidence that you can both execute on it, because it’s aligned with your needs, skills, and situation, and trust it, because it came from you and your coach together. It’s not prescribed or spoon-fed, so it’s truly your plan that matches who you are.
These and many additional benefits of working with a coach on the vision and plan for your future not listed here, some tangible, some not, can all be considerations for seeking the support you need to create the life you want. While nothing’s a guarantee, of course, a good coach-client relationship could be the spark you need to take that all-important first step.
Don’t Go it Alone: Building Your Retirement Transition Team
December 2, 2019
Just because you may be thinking of retirement or semi-retirement (or at least perhaps not being as “go-go-go” in your career) doesn’t mean that you need to be on your own or lose your network. It’s still important in this phase of your life to maintain, and even increase, connections with people, not only for social interaction and well-being, but also in the practical sense of ensuring you have the support you need to make a successful transition.
In this spirit, think about who can be on your own personal “board of directors” to provide guidance and services that you need in all aspects of this critical change in your life to not “go it alone.” Here are a few to consider, some of whom you may already have in place:
Accountant/CPA: There are, of course, many tax implications when retiring or semi-retiring, not the least of which relates to when you’ll be drawing on any retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s. Thinking of becoming an ex-patriot and living internationally? That’s another whole ball of tax wax. Be sure you have a trusted tax accountant and/or tax planner who can help you with these items.
Coach: Making a retirement transition, regardless of what it looks like or how much of a decrease in work it involves, is one of the biggest transitions to make in our careers. Having a well-qualified coach to guide you in the process of self-discovery to figure out your new identity (i.e. who’ll you’ll be in this new phase of your life) and how you’ll spend your time (after all, you may be retired for up to 20-30 years) helps avoid a downward spiral, both physically and emotionally. It also avoids getting into retirement and asking the “Now what?” question once you’ve gotten through the “honeymoon” phase or the grandkids are grown or the travel budget or desire to be on the road is maxed out. Of course, I’m biased on this one!
Family Counselor: Sometimes, if there are family dynamics issues that run deep that a coach may not be qualified or able to help with, it’s good to turn to a family counselor or therapist who can support working though these issues with you and your affected relatives, especially with a spouse or in a family business. The prospect of being together 24/7 can definitely alter communication and relationship dynamics for a couple, especially if both spouses or partners have been working outside the home, or one works from home, and now the other wants to as well or is fully retiring, etc. Too much together time can cause additional or different issues that may require different support. The same is true with the sale of a family business if there are “sticky” or dysfunctional family relationships in play.
Financial Advisor: A trusted financial advisor can support you not only with ensuring you have a solid plan for your finances in retirement, but also with considerations around the lifestyle you’d like to have so you know if you can afford it, health/life/eldercare insurance recommendations, tax considerations, wealth management, inheritance issues, charitable giving and philanthropy implications, end-of-life considerations, etc. If you already have a trusted advisor, consider if there are some of these aspects that you may need help with that you may not already have in place.
Housing Specialist/Realtor: If you plan on downsizing, rightsizing, or relocating, or are considering a retirement community with a graduated system of care in terms of levels of independence, chances are you may need to look to a realtor to sell and/or buy your real estate, and/or a senior housing specialist or broker who can research and connect you with different retirement communities or care facilities. Even if you don’t anticipate needing to make a housing change soon, it’s good to know who you can go to when the time comes. With so many housing options and communities, it can be daunting to figure this out on your own, especially if unsure about your geographic location preferences.
Professional Organizer/Downsizing Specialist: It’s one thing to decide to move and find a place, it’s another to deal with all of your stuff. And let’s face it, some of us have a lot of stuff, especially if we’ve lived in the same place for many years. Just the thought of going through all of it and having to get rid of things can be overwhelming, and in some cases, emotionally fraught, especially with items that have a lot of sentimental value. An organizer can support you in this and help you decide how to let go of things in a way that honors your memories and respects the process, allowing you to lighten the load, in more ways than one.
While this list of potential members of your “board” for slowing down in your career certainly isn’t exhaustive, perhaps it’s provided a bit of food for thought or raised some aspects of this type of transition to think about more concretely. It’s easy to see retirement or semi-retirement as off in the distance or happening “someday,” whether near or far, yet it can be hard to wrap our arms around what all needs to be in place for it to be successful. Better to take charge of what you can now to realize your vision for this phase of your life!
Spice Up Your Career Transition: 6 Tips to Decide What You Really Want
November 18, 2019
“So, tell me what you want, what you really, really want.” Wannabe from the Spice Girls, anyone? Circa 1996? C’mon, I can’t be the only one who knows this song, right? Please say no.
Often, when it comes to knowing what we want to do next, whether in the “go-go” phase of our career or the “slow-go” phase of active retirement or semi-retirement, we can struggle knowing exactly what it is we really, really want, or we haven’t spent that much time thinking about it. To assist with getting clear on what you truly want your next phase to look like, consider the following areas of focus.
Creative Outlets: While many people may think or say that they aren’t very creative, there are all types of creativity, whether creating something from scratch or building on existing ideas or taking a different perspective on how to accomplish a goal or task. Brainstorm the ways that you are creative (artistically, by being resourceful, using your intuition, creating processes, frameworks, or models, etc.). In looking at this list, notice what jumps out at you that could indicate either a direction or simply what to incorporate into your next career move or transition.
Accomplishments: This doesn’t have to be anything revolutionary or major, necessarily. Small to midsized accomplishments are meaningful too. In reflecting on your year to date, what is one thing (or two) that you accomplished that utilized your skills and strengths well, or that you’re satisfied having completed? Think in terms of both your work-related and personal life to note these. Next, what was it about accomplishing these items that gave you satisfaction or fulfillment? What characteristics or skills did you use to achieve your outcomes? The answers to these questions can help point the way.
Opportunities: Sometimes when it comes to recognizing or taking advantage of opportunities before us, we can easily see them as too much change, too much of a time suck, too far afield from what we’ve been doing, too this, too that, you name it. And yet, some of the best personal and professional experiences we have in life come from opportunities we haven’t encountered before that could be classic “blessings in disguise” if we give them a chance. Regardless of being paid or not, some opportunities can suggest what we want through applying our talents and making new connections.
Gravitational Pull: What topics or subject areas are you naturally drawn to that pull you toward them and continue to intrigue you? This could be hobbies or activities, topics to research and read about, or additional areas of learning. Fill in the blank of, “I keep wanting to know more about _______” or, “I always seem to find _________ fascinating.” Your responses to these prompts are a good signal of what you can steer toward next. Don’t worry about how much money you could make at it if you turned it into a career or how qualified you are. Focus on the essence of what about it interests you.
The F Word: No, not that one. I mean the one often dreaded by some: feelings. When you engage in certain work- or interest-related tasks or activities, pay attention and capture how you feel while doing them: energized, invested, active, engaged, etc. Or, on the flip side: bored, irritated, frustrated, ambivalent, neutral, etc. Those that you tend to have more positive feelings about are a strong indicator of what you want to be doing day-to-day or at least as often as possible. Then, do a bit of research on the types of roles or activities out there that could incorporate these tasks.
Needs: It can be helpful when looking for clarity to identify exactly what you need in your life when it comes to how you spend your days and contribute to the world as opposed to wants. What are the “non-negotiables,” so to speak, that you would say are critical needs for your health and overall well-being that if they weren’t present would make a big impact on your ability to thrive? This could be items tied to your financial health, relationships, work or home environment, physical and/or mental well-being, or additional items that tie to your core values. These needs can provide a baseline to build from in terms to then identify your more “ideal state” comparatively. In other words, once met, what would be in your next level up?
Identifying what you really want in your next phase is important, so you have a clear picture of what to aim for as you make decisions on whether to stay in status quo or make some sort of change. Once you know generally what it is, you can then create an overall goal for it as a basis for a plan of action. Granted, you may need to do a bit of extra work to up your skills, expand your network and relationships, or gain an understanding of what’s needed to get you where you want to be, but in the end, it can certainly be worth it. Eyes on the prize, whatever that may be for you.
8 Tips to Paint the Picture of Your Next Chapter
November 4, 2019
When it comes to identifying the parts and pieces that make up the next chapter in your career or life as a whole, it can be frustrating without a process or approach to get you there. Often, it can be helpful to create a picture or mental image in your mind of what it looks like as a good place to start. That said, what happens if you’re not really a visual person or it’s tough for you to tap into your creative side or to think far ahead?
In that case, below are my Eight Tips for Painting Your Picture. Why eight? It’s a lucky number in some cultures, Top Ten lists are everywhere, and quite frankly, I was starting to get a bit tapped out around number five.
- Work Backward. Much like the concept of “beginning with the end in mind,” start by focusing on the elements that are most important for you to ultimately have present in your life. Who are you surrounded by each day? What type of work or tasks are you doing? What is the environment like that you’re working or playing in? What does it feel like to be living this life? Once you have this clarity, you can take steps today to get there.
- Look Around. Make a decision to be intentionally observant for a specific amount of time (a week, a month, etc.) and note what you see or hear that sparks some ideas. This could be images or objects you see, people you interact with, headlines or stories that grab you, music you enjoy listening to, attending an event, etc. What specific thoughts or feelings are triggered by these observations or interactions that you can document? These notes can then give you clues about what’s important.
- Talk it Out. Take some time to do a bit of brainstorming with a friend or family member in a non-structured conversation to let your minds go and see what ideas come up about what your future could look like. Likewise, seek the counsel of a mentor or engage a coach who can be that objective sounding board to ask you good questions as food for thought and to spur additional ideas.
- Develop Your Core. Spend a few minutes to identify and document what you’d consider to be your core values, if you haven’t already. While it’s not always easy or likely that we can fill our days with activities or work that allow us to engage those values all the time, if you can get closer to doing so, even just a bit, it can make a big difference. What are you spending time on that can decrease and what can you increase so your values are tended to more often than not?
- Let it Go. Carve out some quiet time (OK, schedule it in your calendar if you have to!) to just “be” for a while and let your mind wander. I call it “letting your brain leak out your ears” time to relax and let thoughts come in that otherwise may not due to being focused on tasks or events or life’s urgencies in general. Maybe for you this is while you’re taking a shower or doing other rote tasks that don’t require a lot of concentration. Give yourself the gift of space to open your mind.
- Focus on Facets. Some call them the spokes on the “wheel of life;” for others, it’s “life pillars.” I think of them as facets. Basically, they’re the various parts of life that we typically need to tend to or feed to feel whole or grounded: occupational pursuits, spiritual interests, social/family relationships, emotional/mental wellbeing, physical health/wellness, intellectual stimulation. Creating a specific goal for each of these facets can help determine elements of your next chapter.
- Seek Feedback. Ask a few trusted colleagues or friends what they see as your strengths and key skills to test your assumptions of what you think they are. Often, the perceptions of us that people have are different from our self-perceptions, so getting this type of feedback can be valuable when determining what we can leverage in the future that we already do well. Once clear on the value you bring, you can use this as a springboard for where to take it next.
- Get it Down. It’s important to somehow document what you generate in terms of ideas or elements of what your next chapter looks like for easy and frequent reference. This can be anything you’d like it to be, such as notes in a journal, a written list, a mind map or diagram, a collage of images, or anything else you can conjure up to represent your vision. The critical thing is that it captures your thoughts and is in a format you like. Display it somewhere to jog your memory and help you focus.
Regardless of whether you choose to use one, three, or all of these tips, creating a mental image of what your potential next chapter can be is an energizing, exciting, and interesting way for both you and the important people in your life to participate in designing your future. How fun is that?
Ditch the Self-Sabotage: 4 Questions to Overcome Obstacles
October 21, 2019
When it comes to achieving goals or making forward progress through life, we frequently put up our own, or perceive, obstacles that can prevent us from getting where we want to be. It can then be easy for us to be paralyzed with inertia due to a “boulder in the road” blocking our path. Whether it’s obstacles such as procrastination, fear of failure or success, poor time management or organizational skills, limiting beliefs, perfectionism, or any other manner of roadblock, we humans can do a great job of allowing our obstacles to take over, leading to self-sabotage.
In order for your vision of the future you want to create to become reality, it’s important to work through and remove the obstacles that you have direct control over. Often, we fall into the trap of “I can’t do ____” to explain away our lack of movement. While there will always be external factors beyond our control, focusing on what you can do and positively influence is a good step in clearing away the obstacles in front of you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and think about to help you:
What exactly are my obstacles and how do I know?
It’s hard to start removing obstacles when you don’t have a good sense of what’s getting in your way and how you may be engaging in self-sabotage. To gain greater self-awareness, identify a situation (or multiple situations) when you didn’t accomplish a goal or get what you wanted. What were the factors that contributed to the outcome of the situation? What factors were things you could control or have influence on? If you’re not sure, this is a good sign that you could benefit from some feedback or input from trusted colleagues, friends, or a coach who can share with you what they perceive about how you can get in your own way.
What are my habits that can interfere with my success?
We all have habits and behavior patterns (some good, some not) that we’ve developed over the years that can feel like we’re wrapped in a cozy blanket, perfectly content in our comfort zone. To overcome our obstacles, it can be helpful to identify the routines we live in each day to then signal what we need to change. For example, if procrastinating is one of your obstacles (and also a habit you’ve fallen into), and you begin your time at work by catching up with people around the office, hanging out in the break room getting that cup of coffee or tea, or surfing online content, think about what you can do to get a faster start on the important tasks that need to get done. Making a concerted effort to change this habit (and stick to the new behavior) can enable you to overcome procrastination.
How high is my pain tolerance for not getting where I want to be?
This question is along the lines of, “What’s it worth to you to make a change?” In other words, how much longer or how many times will you tolerate not reaching your goals or making the kind of progress you want? There comes a time when the status quo isn’t acceptable anymore and you need to decide when that is. If you cruise along in status quo indefinitely, you’ll watch a lot of time go by, continuing to postpone what your future could be, making it that more difficult to remove obstacles, including the one of comfort in status quo or fear of change. When is enough, enough? Once you know your tolerance, you can then make a conscious decision to move forward, even if it involves some short-term pain.
How can I gain momentum to remove my obstacles?
For some, having short-term goals works well to provide momentum in overcoming obstacles. For other people, long-term goals with milestones along the way does the trick. Identify what motivates you to move forward and leverage that to focus on ridding yourself of your roadblocks. Do you like to have fun? Think about what activities are fun for you and consider how you can incorporate those into tasks or use them as rewards. Easily distracted? Consider what you can do specifically to eliminate distractions and give you time and space to focus a bit each day on a new habit or goal. Where and when do you do your best thinking? Creating the environment to think creatively about potential solutions to your obstacles can give you the momentum you need. Getting clear on what gives you momentum opens the door to removing your “boulders.”
Clearing obstacles out of the way so we can realize our own visions for our future and what success looks like is hard. And yet, it must often be done for us to have the life we want. By answering these questions, you can begin to take action and seek the support you may need to help you along the way, providing you with some proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. After all, as Molière said, “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”
Future Focus: Five Tips for Gaining Clarity
October 7, 2019
According to an article on the site Tech 21 Century, our brains get loaded with 34 Gb (gigabytes) of information daily, translating to an intake of about 105,000 words in a 12-hour period. And while, technically, our brains can handle that amount (and then some), it still represents a lot that comes at us to process and manage in a day. It can often feel like we don’t have enough time or capacity to focus on our goals or needs, let alone explore what we may want to do next in our careers and lives, regardless of our current situation.
Much has been written about the importance of clarity in goal achievement, whether for work or in your personal life. It’s key to high performance and the ability to move forward rather than stay stuck in a rut or in your comfort zone, without a clear picture of what to focus on for the future. What’s your level of clarity for what you’d like to do next? Here are five common areas of clarity and a tip for how to get a handle on each:
Clarity of Purpose: OK, roll your eyes at me if you’d like. I know there’s a lot out there about “finding your purpose” or “finding your passion.” And yet, it’s still a good idea to have an anchor, so to speak, of something that grounds you to provide direction, even if you don’t feel that you’re “passionate” about anything.
Tip: If that sounds like you, or even if you do have something in mind and just need to refine it, note your core values that drive your decisions. What are “non-negotiables” for you when it comes to having those values met? Once you have clarity of your values, they will inform your purpose. For example, some of my core values are learning/education, relationship building, and autonomy, so for me, independently supporting people through coaching relationships to have fulfilling careers (whether in work or retirement) is my purpose.
Clarity of Goals: Once you are clear on your purpose or what anchors you, it’s time to write down (yes, write down) two or three goals that can help you fulfill your purpose. By writing down your goals, it not only serves as a reference for you to remind you, it also supports your commitment to them (and for even greater accountability, share them with someone too!).
Tip: Keep focused on only two or three goals so it’s manageable and reasonable for you to achieve them (ideally in a year). When I see lists of 10 or more goals, I’m always leery. Less is more so your goals have the most impact and greatest chance of accomplishment. When writing them down, choose action words to start and include a measurement of some sort and a deadline so it’s very clear. For example, “Explore and document three different career path options by December 31” is clear and specific with a measurement of having identified three.
Clarity of Strengths: It’s surprising to me when I encounter someone who’s been in the workforce for a while who doesn’t have a good handle on what their strengths are or what they’re best at. Maybe part of it is only hearing negative feedback at work. If this is you, consider how you can get an idea of your strengths, as it will also help you decide what type of work or activities to focus on for the future.
Tip: You can choose a formal method to identify your strengths, such as taking an assessment (TotalSDI, StrengthsFinder, etc.) or take an informal approach, such as asking colleagues and friends what they would say your strengths are and look for common themes. What jumps out from their feedback that rings true that you can identify as a pattern? Those items can then serve as a springboard to find what allows you to leverage those strengths more regularly.
Clarity of Flow: A pioneer in the study of happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in his books and writings that “flow” is the state of being lost in what you’re doing, losing track of time while doing it. When we’re in this state, we tend to be happier. This is also known as “being in the zone.” Identifying when you’re in a state of flow can also be a good signal of what to focus on for your future in terms of how you spend your time.
Tip: Keep a notebook handy (whether electronic or hard copy) and note the times when you’ve found yourself in a state of flow. What type of tasks or activities were you doing at the time? How did you feel while doing it? How long did it last? Your responses to these questions can then provide you with a track record of the type of activities you most enjoy to explore how you can have opportunities to be in flow more often.
Clarity of Relationship: How important are relationships to you? If very important, consider how what you’re currently doing feeds this part of you/this value and if your answer is “not very well,” then it may be time to think about a change. If you’re looking to change your workplace, career path, or thinking about retiring or semi-retiring, what could you do to ensure you have the opportunity to build or strengthen relationships?
Tip: Note your key/central relationships, whether at work or not, and identify how these could be improved or expanded. If all or most of your friends come from work, how could you build additional relationships so if you leave your current workplace, you’re not left feeling stranded? How else can you build community in a way that’s meaningful for you, especially if you relocate?
By addressing these different areas of clarity, you can begin to gain a deeper understanding of what you may want to do next, whether for work or otherwise in your life, crafting a future that’s clearly in focus.
Allowing Yourself to Dream: 10 Key Questions for Envisioning Your Future
“When you dream, what do you dream about?” This question, from the song “When You Dream” by the Barenaked Ladies (their album “Stunt” is on my “stranded on a desert island” music list) is a provocative one. And let’s face it – some of what we dream about probably shouldn’t be shared with the general public (if we can even remember it). Brains are so weird! So, I’ll ask it this way, “When you dream about the next chapter in your life, what do you see?” In the rush of the day-to-day demands we have, taking time to think about the future or focusing on ourselves can be tough.
And yet, if you’re one of the many who are disengaged at work, unhappy in your career, or keep putting off taking the next step that you know you need to do in order to grow, move on, or enter retirement, it’s time to make the choice to focus on how to make the leap. Otherwise, it’s “keep on keepin’ on” time, and that won’t get you anywhere. Often, it’s a matter of knowing where to start. Making time to consider the next step in your career or life is a good first action to take. It’s like the old adage of slowing down to speed up. By investing a bit of time now to develop a plan, it’ll speed up your progress in the end, and give you an idea of what to aim for to take action.
To help you with this envisioning work, here are 10 questions to ask yourself (along with your significant other, if applicable):
- What exactly is preventing you from taking action and how is this holding you back?
- If you do take action, what’s the worst that could happen and how can you be proactive to head this off?
- If money wasn’t involved, how would you most like to spend your time?
- What can you do now to enable you to spend your time in this way?
- What scares you the most about taking a leap of faith and how could you overcome this fear?
- What’s it worth to you to stay in your status quo?
- What might you regret if you take no action?
- What’s your idea of a “great day” and how can you work toward having more of them?
- How can you transfer your skills and strengths to something different?
- When you look back 10 years from now, what would you like to have in place?
Don’t worry about having answers for all of these right now. Give yourself some time to think about the questions and talk them over with those important to you if you’d like. The crucial point is that you take the time to generate the answers, period. Then you can use them as the basis to set a goal.
So often, we hold ourselves back because we have limiting beliefs about what we’re capable of, what’s possible, how we’ll be perceived, or anything else we can or can’t do for this or that reason. In reality, it’s a way for us to stay in our comfort zone. Ask yourself what, if any, limiting beliefs you may be holding onto in areas such as:
- Making a career or job change ( e.g. “I can’t do that” or “I’ll be seen as a job hopper”)
- The value of your skills and strengths (e.g. “I’m under qualified” or “I don’t know what else I’d do”)
- What retirement looks like (e.g. “I don’t want to sit around all day” or “It’s just one step closer to death”)
- Taking a calculated risk (e.g. “I’d probably fall on my face” or “I don’t think I could handle the unknown”)
- Going for a promotion at work (e.g. “There are people way more qualified than me” or “I don’t think they’d consider me”)
Do any of these phrases sound like you? If so, you could be limiting the possibilities for your future, potentially causing you to stay resigned to your current situation, even if unhappy or not moving forward with your life. Think about how you can gain new or different insights or information to help you change your limiting belief. Who can you meet or talk to who could provide some insight? Where could you go for information? What are the experiences that helped you form this belief and are they serving you well? If not, what needs to change and how can you change it? Once able to adopt a new belief, you can then take different actions to get your desired result.
Keep in mind the words of author C.S. Lewis, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
What’s your vision for your future and what are you doing today to get you there?
When Work Ends: Answering the New Identity Question
In a recent NY Times article by Sabrina Tavernise featuring Rick Marsh, a 25-year GM employee who’s a casualty of the plant closing in Lordstown, Ohio, I was struck by two things: 1. His family’s long-time history of working at the auto giant and 2. His featured quote, “What am I as a man?” when referring to potentially being unable to provide for his family. When one job or role, employer, or industry is all you’ve known in your career, what are you to do when it’s gone, whether in retirement or due to unexpected job loss, such as in the case of Mr. Marsh?
It’s reminiscent of the many families, including a number of my classmates’ families, who were impacted by the closing of Bethlehem Steel’s Burns Harbor plant in the backyard of my hometown, Chesterton, Indiana. What were once solid, middle class jobs with decent incomes vanished, leaving more generations of people who worked at the mill behind. If you didn’t directly know someone who worked there (my Aunt Shirley did), you probably knew someone who knew someone who worked there. Such was the way of the world in Porter County between the 1960s and 1990s.
Speaking of the 1990s, my dad was a 35-year employee for the state of Indiana when he retired at age 64 back in 1995 after working as an auditor and audit supervisor. When new leadership rolled in, they pressured him to retire, though he enjoyed his work and colleagues and wasn’t ready to leave. Fast forward to June of 2009, and he was gone at age 78 due to a combination of congestive heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease. Though he and my mom traveled at times in those 14 years, and he helped out at the travel agency they had until soon after 9/11, I wonder now at the 10-year anniversary of his death what impact, if any, retirement had on his identity and desire to engage with life. It’s hard to witness an already somewhat-sedentary guy deteriorate, both mentally and physically.
His experience and stories like that of Rick Marsh and my fellow Hoosiers, as well as those of some friends and colleagues expressing fear, or at least trepidation, of wasting away in retirement or being “irrelevant,” is what’s sparked me to change the focus of my own work this past month from leadership and team development to supporting those in career transition, including those heading toward retirement, to figure out who they are beyond their work and how they’ll spend their time once their current situation ends. Not that I no longer enjoy working with leaders. It’s just that this work transition of my own feels right, and now I can work with them and anyone else to help them decide what’s next.
What Are You Asking?
When the first question out of someone’s mouth at an event is often, “What do you do?” Or, “Where do you work?” it’s tough to untangle who we are from our career. Perhaps instead, we can ask questions that some networking gurus suggest, such as, “What’s important to you in your life?” Or, “What’s a fun experience you’ve had lately?” Or, “What’s the story of what brought you here?”
In other words, who are you if not for your work? What’s your identity beyond your career? What will you do next? And, perhaps more important, who will you be?
In middle class, midwestern America, from the time many of us hit grade school and started interacting with family and friends as kids, we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If I remember right, one of my early answers was that I wanted to be the Easter Bunny, because I could spread joy and only work one day a year. Not too shabby! Nice work if you can get it. Of course, over time that answer evolved, though I never knew about the field where I’ve now spent the bulk of my career, professional learning and development, as I grew up, went to college, and started in the workforce. That was discovered over time. It makes me wonder what type of disservice we do when we ask kids that question. Now, my answer would probably be something snarky like, “I want to be alive and healthy.” Isn’t that enough when you’re ten? And then some wonder why college students frequently change majors before graduating (that is, if they have that freedom of choice). There’s a lot of exploration to do, whether early-, mid-, and late-career. As people, we’re not done growing and developing until we can no longer.
So, what questions are you asking as you network and interact with people you encounter? Are you going beyond simply what they do for a living to learn about their whole identity? And for those colleagues who are fellow “people developers,” what can you do to ensure that those you support are set up for success in their current career and beyond? The more we can encourage each other to think long term and broaden both our skill sets and visions of what we can do or be, the better equipped we’ll be when career change comes, voluntarily or not.
Lastly for yourself, if you could write your own card to introduce yourself, what would it say?