Category Archives: Work Life

Retooling for the Second Act

In his #1 New York Times best-selling book – From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life – Harvard professor Arthur C. Brooks provides thoughtful advice for healthy aging. His attention goes to people who have spent their lives determined to be excellent at what they do. Such folks “often wind up finding their inevitable decline terrifying, their successes increasingly unsatisfying, and their relationships lacking.” He calls this phenomenon the striver’s curse.

Here’s the grim reality. Our prefrontal cortex starts to decline in middle age. We gradually lose our capacity for rapid analysis and creative innovation. Skills on which we relied become less sharp, and it’s tougher to acquire new ones. We’re more easily distracted and struggle with recall of names and facts. As proof sources, Brooks notes that the greatest time for scientific discovery is in one’s late thirties. Financial professionals peak in creativity between ages 36 and 50. Big monied entrepreneurs (i.e., those acquiring $1 billion or more in capital) cluster in the 20-34 age range. Yet even as the facts stare us in the face, we may have trouble acknowledging that they apply to us!

fluid and crystallized intelligence Not to worry! While our ability to reason, think flexibly, and solve novel problems (a.k.a., fluid intelligence) may take a dip in later years, our crystallized intelligence continues to rise. We become more skilled at interpreting, combining, synthesizing, and utilizing complex ideas based on our warehouse of knowledge and life experiences. We’ve seen a lot, had some success, made some mistakes, stubbed our toes, and lived to tell the stories. In short, we grow in wisdom. That growth creates opportunity for service and wise counsel.

With that in mind, Brooks advises those passing through middle age and beyond do three things to make the second half of life more enjoyable than the first:

  • Develop relationships
  • Start a spiritual journey
  • Embrace your weaknesses

Some stage-setting needs to occur to get on board with his recommendations. First, let go of a self-concept focused on achievement, worldly rewards, and applause. The drive to succeed crowds out relationships and other enduring sources of happiness. Its joys are short-lived and never enough. Second, jettison attachment to money, power, fame, and material goods; they obscure the essential self and inflame desire. Identify a deep purpose in life and get rid of everything that doesn’t serve it. Third, recognize life’s finitude. Commit to making the most of each day’s opportunities rather than dwelling on what may have been lost in the passage of time.

Develop Relationships. Brook reminds us that our great forests sustain enormous root systems of which individual trees are a part. The secret to strength in maturity lies in recognizing the root system of which we are a part – family, friends, communities. Our intimates help shore up our vulnerabilities while reveling in our valued contributions. We should be especially mindful to cultivate unrelated friends for whom the center of gravity rests in mutual pleasure versus familial obligation. The art of friendship takes practice, time, and commitment. It must not be left up to chance. To that end:

  • Identify folks with whom you’d like to deepen relationship; get dates on the calendar.
  • Be an attentive and respectful friend. Give people what they want and need, not necessarily what is easiest for you to offer.
  • Invest intelligently. Be clear about the mutual benefits for relationship and put some energy into realizing them.

Start a Spiritual Journey. At age 50ish, it’s time to retreat a bit from the old personal and professional duties and allocate more time toward cultivating spirituality and deep wisdom. Develop tolerance for religion’s ambiguities and inconsistencies; look for the beauty and transcendence in faith. Take a broader view of the world with less focus on self.

Make your weakness your strength: Our foibles and follies create opportunities to connect more deeply with others. In trusted companionship, we share common ground and are less likely to engage in false puffery or gloss over our limitations and mistakes. We see the world as it is and find new areas of growth and success. Our resilience overcomes fear, anger, and anxiety. We can relax and take comfort in a more authentic self.

8 Guiding Principles Behind My Career Choices

While winding down a career that I’ve pursued for the past few decades, I’ve had occasion to reflect on my journey. My thoughts have found their way into a set of blog posts that I’ve authored this Fall. I’ll be adding to that collection today.

As noted previously, I’ve had an unconventional career path… at least relative to the trajectories that my parents’ generation pursued. (My uncle worked for the same company for 43½ years before retiring at 65!) While some of my decision points were foist upon me by corporate upheavals and geographic moves, I can look back and see a few patterns that guided my choices.

eight guiding career principles

ONE: I had a very good handle on our household finances and made sure that our income was sufficient to fund our lifestyle. I never wanted money to be the overarching factor in my job choices. To my way of thinking, all of the money in the world wouldn’t be helpful if my day-to-day experience proved miserable. Fortunately, my husband and I were on the same page. We adjusted our spending as needed to ensure that our respective work lives were fulfilling and reasonably pleasant.

TWO: I made sure that I worked with good people. Working relationships played a major role in my professional happiness as well as the quality of my work. I’ve had several occasions where I’ve gutted it out and worked with difficult folks. But such stints were short-lived. I generally maneuvered my way into circumstances where I both respected and liked the people with whom I worked.

THREE: I worked within or with organizations that operated in integrity. Not all of them managed to live into their stated goals consistently. But I needed to feel that they made the effort to attain high standards of conduct with their partners, suppliers, customers, employees, and regulatory agencies. When I sensed a fundamental disconnect between stated policies and behaviors, I opted to move to a different environment.

FOUR: I thrived in learning environments where I felt challenged to stretch my capabilities. I’ve often said that I could have been a professional student if someone paid me to attend classes. I find lots of things fascinating. There are few things that are better than taking classes from passionate professors who love their subject matter and open new avenues of knowledge for me. I suppose that’s why consulting has always suited me well. Each assignment brings new challenges, and the range of industries that I’ve covered made me feel as though I’d taken a series of “field trips.”

FIVE: I chose positions that were aligned with my personal preferences. Chief among those preferences was my desire to do the work rather than manage people who do it. When push comes to shove, I can serve as an able manager and delegator, but I don’t enjoy those roles as much as being in the trenches. That’s another reason why consulting proved to be a good fit for me.

SIX: I was attentive to building and perfecting marketable skills that would enable me to secure employment readily. I’ve stayed current on the technologies pertinent to my industry as well as those that fuel marketing, collaboration, and customer support. And I’ve also worked on the fundamentals – leadership, communications, project management, change management, writing, etc. It’s a pragmatic approach to career management… and an outgrowth of being the daughter of Depression Era parents.

SEVEN: I opted for flexibility on work hours as much as possible. To be sure, I’ve needed to accommodate other people’s schedules, commitments, and deadlines. But I’ve also had a great deal of freedom to attend to personal responsibilities – e.g., “The plumber will arrive at your home sometime between 9 and 4 on Tuesday.” I’ve been able to pick the times of day when I’m most productive or inspired. My home office was a BIG help… although a bit lonely for this highly extroverted person!

EIGHT: I made adjustments to balance my personal and professional interests. My home life takes precedence over all professional aspirations. I’m far prouder of my blissful 36-years-and-counting marriage than I am of anything that I’ve achieved in my career. But I also have artistic sensibilities for which I’ve needed breathing room to express.

Successful Entry into a Non-Profit

The past couple of posts focused on preparation for making the transition from a for-profit to a non-profit setting. Here are some tips for a successful launch once you’ve found your match.

FIRST: Immerse yourself in the organization. Get familiar with its history, its evolution, its current mission, and the programs and services that fulfill it. Get to know the leadership team. If possible and appropriate, sit in on staff meetings and/or Board meetings to understand the larger context in which you’ll be operating. Analyze the financial statements; pay particular attention to the sources and uses of funds. Learn about the general operational flows. In short: Be an inquisitive, interested, and respectful student.

SECOND: Gain clarity on your assignment: (i) what’s expected of you, (ii) when deliverables are due (and what they should look like), (iii) who the key stakeholders are, (iv) the current best thinking on how to proceed, and (v) the nature and timing of internal (and external) progress reports. Be flexible. The scope and/or timing of your work may shift over time. And you may need to wear many hats and re-purpose your skill set and experience as the organization gets to know you better.

build relationshipsTHIRD: Build relationships across the organization. Making personal connections is crucial for establishing professional trust and respect. Schedule one-to-one and small group meet-ups during breaks or meal times. Encourage co-workers to talk about their work and why they’re committed to it. Be willing to pitch in with tasks outside your project area – e.g., assist at outings or fundraisers, clean up the break room, help with hiring or volunteer screening.

FOURTH: Be humble, open-minded, and willing to learn. If you haven’t worked previously in the social sector, you may be viewed with a jaundiced eye. Corporate types may have been disrespectful toward them in the past by deeming their operations inefficient or poorly managed. Or, they may simply resent the fact that they have toiled away for years with substandard resources at lower pay for the sake of the cause, and you’re the Johnny-come-lately who’s dropping in after you’ve had your fill of for-profit work. Any hint of arrogance or superiority could be magnified and become a barrier to the good work that you might accomplish together.

FIFTH: Be patient. Things may not run as smoothly as you’d like. Common “speed bumps” in a new assignment include:

  • Key resources not queued effectively – e.g., stakeholder availability, budget for planned activities, technology
  • Lack of process, tools, frameworks to complete the project (which may need to be developed first)
  • Difficulty getting decisions made given diffusion of power, availability of decision makers, impact on other parts of the organization
  • Changing organizational priorities/commitments – especially when key funding sources dry up or get slashed
  • Staff turnover

During my year as an Encore Fellow with the Oregon Community Foundation, I had the opportunity to meet with a peer group of Fellows serving with other agencies. I really enjoyed hearing about everyone else’s’ experiences and benefited from their insights on making my assignment as productive and enjoyable as possible. If you have the opportunity to participate in such a group, I highly recommend it.

Walking in a Non-Profit’s Shoes

walk in a non-profit's shoes“The social sector wants to know who you are and what you care about before wanting to hear what you’ve done or what you’re capable of.”
– Jay Bloom, Bloom Anew

If you’ve decided to make the jump from the corporate to the social sector, recognize that you’ll be walking into a very different environment. Your knowledge, skills, experience, and connections may benefit the organization, but it’s a whole new ballgame in how they’ll play out.

High Level Strategy

For Profit Non-Profit
Goal: To achieve above average return on investment sustainably for the owners Goal: To carry out a defined mission by delivering services in response to identified needs
Strategy may be construed using proven constructs based on market segmentation, buyer behavior, value chain economics, competitive dynamics, other factors Strategy may need to account for issues with deep social complexity that are not solved easily
Above average returns generally proceed from competitive advantage Mission generally advanced through collaboration across the sector

Note: In Forces For Good: The Six Practices of High Impact Non-Profits, Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant cite nurturing non-profit networks as one of the six practices of high impact non-profits. Such networks consist of like-minded peers who use an “open source” approach and work in coalitions to influence legislation or conduct grassroots advocacy campaigns. However, high impact non-profits also live in the tension between the need for collaboration and the reality of competing against their peers in fundraising and grant acquisition.


For Profit Non-Profit
Senior business leaders with a high degree of organizational and fiscal expertise Influential community leaders, program experts, funders, service recipients, etc. with varying expertise in management
Generally not involved in the day-to-day operations Actively involved in fundraising; may be involved in day-to-day operations

Senior Leadership Accountability

For Profit Non-Profit
  • Owners/Shareholders
  • Board of Directors
  • Government agencies (regulators, buyers)
  • Strategic partners
  • Governing Board
  • Advisory Board
  • Funders and donors
  • Government agencies (regulators, grantors)
  • Politicians
  • Partners, collaboratives
  • Clients & their families
  • Volunteers
  • Community at large

Note: Non-profit leaders are more accountable to their employees than their for-profit counterparts. Non-profit employees tend to be mission-driven and passionate. They want their voices to be heard; they want to know that they are making a difference. Non-profit employees believe they could make more money elsewhere; they are less afraid of termination.

Financial Resources

For Profit Non-Profit
  • Stock issuance
  • Corporate bonds
  • Bank loans
  • Net profits from sales of products & services
  • Government grants
  • Institutional grants (foundations, corporations)
  • Individual donors
  • Fundraising events
  • Fee for service
  • Social enterprise
Operational efficiency sweetens all funding sources Operational efficiency may or may not influence funding

Note: Resource availability in the social sector feels the influence of shifting political sands, federal, state, and local budgetary constraints, public awareness/interest, donor fatigue, etc. Committed funds may be withdrawn at will, thereby disrupting services and program outcomes.

Key Infrastructure

For Profit Non-Profit
Invests in technology, marketing, and PR at a level consistent with profit objectives Limited funding for IT, marketing, and PR; all such investments scrutinized heavily
Impact: Investments improve operations via expanded market opportunity and cost efficiency Impact: Employees lack proper tools to do their work; public lacks awareness of the issue area

Note: A 2009 survey by Common Impact of over 185 non-profit leaders revealed that 79% of non-profits surveyed are spending 2% or less of their operating budgets to support key infrastructure (technology, public relations, and marketing). Compare this to the average 20% that service companies – the closest for-profit corollary to most non-profits – spend on building a healthy infrastructure. Less than 15% of non-profits have staff with functional expertise in technology, public relations, and marketing. Moreover, perceived “overspending” on infrastructure affects a non-profit’s seal of approval from rating agencies.

Organization Structure

For Profit Non-Profit
Hierarchy with clear lines of authority Flattened hierarchy with a diverse power base
Leaders have enough concentrated power to gather input, weigh options, and make decisions Leaders do not have unilateral power to make important decisions; they must lean heavily on their powers of persuasion, political currency, and shared interest
Impact: Relatively efficient decision-making process Impact: Much slower decision-making process


For Profit Non-Profit
Bottom-line results orientation
Competitive (inside and out)
Risk taking
Stress driven by organizational. style, competitive dynamics
Legislated diversity
Mission-driven with heart-felt commitment
More protective, inertial
Risk averse
Stress driven by organization style, funding concerns, magnitude of issue area, suffering of clientele
Inherent/intentional diversity

Note: You may experience grief/anger as you are truly present to the agency’s clientele and grasp the larger issues your organization faces every day. But as the Peace Corps motto suggests: It’s the toughest job you will ever love.

Making the Transition to a Not-For-Profit

I have a clear memory of the moment at which I decided to make an adjustment in my career trajectory. I’d spent the day in a truly awful corporate retreat and felt dejected in its aftermath. A couple of my colleagues and I decided to drown our sorrows in a nearby pub and wound up in a rather far-ranging discussion about work and life. Then one of my colleagues referred to our industry (tech) as the digital holocaust. He acknowledged that it helped corporations run more efficiently and economically; however, automation was responsible for job loss among persons who could least afford to sacrifice their incomes.

Suffice it to say, that characterization hit me like a ton of bricks. On the one hand, I had the training, insight, and experience to recognize the inevitability of cost saving measures to sustain competitive survival in the relentlessly Darwinian corporate environment. On the other hand, I lost my will to play an active part in that milieu. I wanted my efforts to be in service of more lofty ambitions.

I’ve met folks who’ve had a similar conversion experience. Others arrived there as a result of downsizing or early retirement. Some wanted to gain new skills or seek a better work-life balance (though the latter were surprised at the demands placed on resource-strapped social sector workers!) Whatever the motivation, we all face the challenge of finding a new home in a vast sector.

If you’re considering this path, here are a few steps you might take to figure out where you might fit.

ONE: Think about the issues or causes that might ignite your passion. The non-profit sector encompasses Health Services, Education & Research, Social Services, International Aid, Charitable Foundations, Arts & Culture, Religious Organizations, and Fraternal Organizations, to name a few. Most of their employees, funders, members, and interest groups will be deeply committed to the work they do. If you expect to be welcomed warmly, you’ll need to share their enthusiasm.

TWO: Think about which approach to the issue area best suits your skills and interests. Do you see yourself as an advocate or policymaker who wields influence with lawmakers, governmental agencies, foundations, and/or public opinion? Are you interested in working with organizations that provide direct service? Would you like to serve as a consultant and provide capacity building services? Do you enjoy being affiliated with a membership organization? What atmosphere and activities fill you up?

THREE: Identify skills, expertise, experience, and connections that could benefit non-profits. Consider how these assets might be leveraged to address a non-profit’s top capacity building needs:

  • Funding, funding, funding: Executive Directors (EDs) face significant (and growing) competition for scarce dollars – especially unrestricted funds.
  • Human capital: Every organization faces the challenge of getting the right people in the right roles with systems to manage them successfully. Non-profits face the added hindrance of sub-par market compensation.
  • Technology: Non-profits need to build a robust communications and information technology infrastructure on a shoestring budget.
  • Impact evaluation: Quantitative and qualitative measurements must be prepared to demonstrate short- and long-term program impact and inform continuous improvement. It’s not just “good for business”; it’s a requirement for sustained funding.
  • Fiscal management: Regulatory authorities, funders, strategic partners, and others have placed increased demands on non-profits to shore up their fiscal policies & procedures, budgeting, forecasting, cash flow analysis, risk assessments, financial statement preparation, and audit practices. It’s a daunting task if these disciplines are not established.
  • Marketing: Non-profits need a compelling brand identity and messaging to garner public support and position them favorably among their constituents. Otherwise, they risk having their issue area fly below the radar and their stellar performance become a well-kept secret.

FOUR: Figure out what kind of non-profit is right for you. Do you want to work for a start-up? A founder-driven operation? A grass-roots organization? A large institution? Would you prefer a long-established, stable organization? Do you thrive in a growth-oriented operation? Or are you best suited to throw in with an organization in transition that’s seeking a fresh infusion of ideas and energy?

You might be one of those rare individuals who can quickly rip through this list and figure everything out on your own. But, for most of us, it takes a bit of thinking, a bit of dialog with trusted associates, a bit of outside help, and a bit of dipping toes in the water to figure it out. That’s OK! Just start the journey and be open to where it leads.

The Encore Years: Passion and Purpose

Every day for the next 10 years, ten thousand Americans will reach the traditional retirement age. Like their parents before them, some will leave demanding careers to pursue leisure activities and long-standing interests. Some will continue working in their chosen fields, perhaps addressing shortfalls in retirement resources. Others may look for paid or unpaid positions that leverage a lifetime of skills, wisdom, and experience in service of others.

Marc Freedman’s book Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life provides an extended argument in favor of pursuing meaningful work in one’s “golden years.” He notes:

  • older man at workLives are getting longer; careers are getting shorter. As such, it pays to cultivate a second (or third or fourth)
  • An active lifestyle is twice as important as one’s genetic inheritance in helping individuals thrive in later life.
  • Extended work improves psychological and physical health.
  • Social connections cultivated in work and volunteer settings support successful aging.
  • Interacting with youth – e.g., tutoring or mentoring – helps people stay young.
  • Older Americans need to stay engaged in the workforce to forestall an anticipated labor shortage.

These “encore years” can be all about choice. They open up the possibility of passionate involvement in something about which individuals care deeply. They may offer flexibility in the times of years, times of day, and hours one works. And they can bring just the right amount of income to bridge the gap between income/resources and monthly expenses. Freedman refers to this period as a chance to “blend the spirit of social impact with the pragmatic need for real pay and benefits.”

To be clear, the “encore years” are not just a transitional phase between one’s primary career and retirement. It’s a new body of work that marries clear-eyed pragmatism with the determination to make the world better.

I had the opportunity to participate in Freedman’s Encore Fellows program through a placement with the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF). My fellowship focused on promoting volunteerism in Early Childhood Education (ECE). The project had the following goals:

  • man reading with childBring adults into children’s lives in ways that improve the children’s readiness to learn
  • Increase the capacity of ECE organizations to serve young children
  • Raise awareness of early childhood as a volunteer arena for older adults
  • Educate the early childhood field about how to use volunteers effectively

OCF engaged a wide array of organizations in the project through pilot programs, volunteer management audits, and funded implementations. Working individually and collectively, they explored requirements for recruiting, training, and supporting older adults in working with young children and their families. They also address orientation and training needs for program staff to incorporate Boomers into their working environments. My principal task was to capture “best practices” and create a repository of materials that could be customized readily by ECE organizations around the State.

encore fellowSuffice it to say, I learned a lot about early childhood through my year with OCF. My position included participation in Social Venture Partners Portland’s (SVPP’s) Ready for Kindergarten initiative. I spent two years on SVPP’s Grant Evaluation Committee – once as a member, and once as its Chair. I was also part of a cohort of Fellows who met monthly to explore all aspects of non-profit management and share things we learned from our varied assignments. It was a great experience through which I made a number of strong connections.

Now several years into my “encore years,” I’m still engaged part-time in my long-time career while continuing to pursue projects that deliver favorable results for my community. I really don’t think about “retiring,” per se. I expect that I’ll always seek some form of purposeful work that stimulates my brain, stretches my capabilities, ignites my passion, builds connections, and contributes to my community. And having built up my “nest egg,” I’ve earned the privilege of choosing how I’ll invest my time and talents. And that feels mighty “golden” to me!

Career Path… or Career Adventure?

As I prepared to leave graduate school years ago, I put a lot of time and energy into mapping out my career. I identified the industry in which I wanted to work (telecommunications) – an area characterized by tumultuous change and growth, both of which spelled o-p-p-o-r-t-u-n-i-t-y for me. I decided to look for positions in sales and marketing, first with a larger company, and then at a start-up. And I envisioned movement up the ladder as my career progressed.

career adventureNot surprisingly, career planning factored into every job interview. Prospective employers asked about where I’d see myself in 5-10 years. They expected me to have a destination in mind when embarking on my professional journey. They wanted to know how the current position fit into that plan and assess the likelihood that the company and I shared long-term interests.

In the ensuing years, I remained conscious of how each position helped me progress toward my long-term goal. I occasionally took assignments for which I was ill-suited in order to gain valuable experience that would confer “street creds” and serve me in the future. I changed companies when I felt that I’d stalled out so I could keep moving forward. And I worried about how my resume was shaping up and whether or not I was keeping pace with my peers.

Then life got in the way. Doors that I expected to open remained resolutely closed. My two-career household made shifts in geography that took me away from my professional “sweet spot.” Family responsibilities impinged on my capacity to be a hard-charging workaholic. I adjusted time and again. And then the big jolt hit. I realized that the destination toward which I’d been moving all these years wasn’t a place that I wanted to go. I couldn’t see myself living there, and I didn’t want to make the personal sacrifices necessary to ensure my arrival.

I remember feeling as though I was the only person in the world to find myself in this predicament. I didn’t like the idea of getting off the path, but I didn’t want to stay on it either. I decided to take some time off to think about what I really wanted to do and consider my options. I treated myself like a project and gave myself a series of tasks to help me course-correct and set off toward a new destination. Simple, right?

Not so much…

After years of focused energy on my chosen path, I’d done a fine job of shutting down the part of me that could tap into my inner source of joy and gratification. I didn’t know what it was or even where to look for it. And, as a lifelong overachiever, I was decidedly uncomfortable foregoing the steady diet of personal accomplishments.

Venturing forth into my social circles, I was asked regularly, “What are you doing these days?” I felt as though I should have something impressive to say in response. If I wasn’t charging up the corporate ladder, I should at least be making some substantive contribution to my community or the world at large. It seemed indulgent to take time out to invest in myself.

Long story short, I didn’t “find myself” by sitting on a lily pad and contemplating my future. I found it by doing. By experimenting. I took on a variety of consulting assignments in the for-profit and non-profit communities. I got a second Master’s degree and pursued ministry in the church and hospital settings. I served as an Encore Fellow with the Oregon Community Foundation. I participated actively in two social venture partnerships. I volunteered. I got back into the performing arts. I paid attention to what “worked” (and what didn’t) and kept that in mind when seeking new opportunities.

There are plenty of social circles in which “experimenting” is a euphemism for “floundering.” A career shift is OK so long as you pick a road and take off on the next journey. Moreover, gender stereotypes conjure up the image of a woman who can’t make up her own mind. For quite some time, that kind of feedback felt shaming. It had the effect of shutting down the voice of the inner self who longed for joy and gratification. It was something I needed to overcome.

Have I found my ultimate destination? Not really. But I’m not looking for it either. In fact, I no longer embrace the notion of a “career path.” It’s too restrictive and prone to headlong pursuits of goals that may or may not make sense downstream. I prefer to think of my journey as a “career adventure.” I seek work that I find interesting, enlightening, meaningful, and energizing. I want to collaborate with folks whose contributions and companionship put a spring in my step. And I want my professional endeavors to play nicely with my personal and lifestyle goals.

I don’t regret any of the experiences that brought me to this point. I learned a lot from them and found most of my professional gigs rewarding. Through careful financial planning, I’ve given myself the flexibility to pursue things that “light me up.” I don’t worry a whole lot about whether any of my choices will move me toward the illusive “next step.” And I’m not afraid to make mistakes. After all, it’s an adventure!

If only I could come up with a great “sound bite” to describe it…

What I’d Tell My Younger Self

As I gradually transition to a new phase in my life, I’ve thought a great deal about what I might say to that fresh-faced Stanford MBA who launched her career several decades ago. Here are a few things that come to mind…

career adviceChoose an industry and a role within it that inherently interest you. You’ll get a lot of “good advice” about what’s hot and what’s not, what pays well and what doesn’t, and where opportunity knocks. But remember: You’re going to spend a really big chunk of your life immersed in that environment. If you don’t find it captivating, or the demands of your job are a mismatch with your personality, you won’t do your best work or feel energized about it. And that’s a tough row to hoe week-after-week, year-after-year.

Take advantage of information interviews to gain a sense of career options that you think you’d find attractive. Folks who’ve been around the track a few times are generally delighted to lend a helping hand to someone who is interested in joining the ranks. Don’t be afraid to ask! But do your homework before the meeting. Read about issues facing the industry. Take a look at sample job descriptions to understand a bit about the scope of responsibilities. Come prepared with conversation starters to help you explore a day-in-the-life as well as the key ingredients to success. See where and how it might light you up; surface frustrations and challenges.

Put your best foot forward when seeking employment. Make sure your job application, resume, and other materials are well-written and build a compelling case for why you’d make a great addition to the organization. (Have someone proof your work to surface typos and grammatical mistakes!) As with your information interviews, do your homework on the industry, the company, and the position for which you are applying. In short, be prepared to make a great impression… every time.

Don’t sweat it if you don’t hit pay dirt during your first few years on the job. You may have thought deeply about what floats your boat yet still come up short on enthusiasm once you get into the position. That’s OK! There are things you simply won’t know about yourself until you’re actually doing the work. And there are things about the company that you won’t know until you’re actually in it. Take time to think through the factors that make your situation unappealing. Be specific! Then ask yourself:

  • Are there things about yourself that you simply need to work on? (Better to stay on the job and work out your own junk rather than play out that same old act on a new stage!)
  • Are there things you can learn and skills you can develop before moving on?
  • Is your employer amenable to working with you to make adjustments?
  • Do you need to log a respectable amount of time here before vying for a new position?

Learn to be your own advocate. It’d be lovely if there was a fairy godmother who played a starring role in your advancement. But most of us aren’t blessed with that kind of mentor. It’s up to you to discern which projects, experiences, responsibilities, job titles, et al will advance your journey. And it’s up to you to keep an eye out for opportunities as they arise. That being said, make sure you’ve mastered the work to which you’ve been assigned before clamoring after the next one.

Beware of being perceived as indispensable to the job you’re currently doing. There will be a high degree of resistance to letting you move on. (In fact, it could very well be the reason that you don’t even hear about new opportunities!) Cultivate skills that will make you eligible for the next logical step in your career. Work with your boss to groom your replacement and develop the transition plan that will help things run smoothly once you’ve left. If you’re a great employee, they’ll want to keep you interested and engaged rather than lose you.

Don’t expect the workplace to be a meritocracy. The best and brightest don’t always find their way to the top of the heap. A number of other factors play a role: connections, tenure, “fit,” luck, etc. It may not seem fair, but that’s the way it works. Get over it. Focus on putting forth your best possible work while advancing your skills and knowledge.

Surround yourself with great people. Few things are as rewarding as working with a collective of folks who share your passion, stimulate your mind, challenge you to be your best self, and serve as traveling companions on your professional journey. They’ll make work much more interesting and enjoyable. They’ll share in your triumphs and lift you up in your disappointments. And quite a few of them will wind up becoming life-long friends.

The Art of Collaboration

The opening weeks of 2019 have been bumpy. The daily news feed serves up stories that highlight the dissention among our elected officials. Yet another mainline church stares down the barrel of schism over differences of opinion regarding the LGBTQ community. An undercurrent of tension lies within the fabric of a local organization that is near and dear to me. Some personal and professional relationships are not firing on all pistons. I seem to be channeling Shakespeare’s King Richard in thinking: “Now is the winter of our discontent…”

Truth be told, I have a great life. I consider myself to have been richly blessed on so many levels. But I am a social being who revels in community, and I find disharmony deeply troubling. I’m particularly vexed by scenarios that get stuck in win-lose confrontations without putting forth good faith efforts at finding a win-win. It seems we might risk becoming Macbeth’s “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

connectionThe library bookshelves teem with tomes on leadership and team building. The book that caught my eye was Twyla Tharp’s The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together. Tharp is a world-renowned dancer, choreographer, and author who lives and works in New York City. She founded the Twyla Tharp Dance Company and created a distinctive body of work that fused classical, jazz, and pop music.

Here are quotes that resonated for me:

“The wisdom of a smart group is greater than the brainpower of its smartest member.”

“People are people. And people are problems. But people practiced in collaboration will do better than those who insist on their individuality.”

“Personal emotional commitment is essential. Collaborators aren’t born; they’re made. Built one day at a time through practice, through attention, through discipline, through habit.”

“Collaboration balances self-absorption. It’s a powerful tool for socialization and tolerance.”

“A clearly stated and consciously shared purpose is the foundation of great collaborators.”

“The sooner you establish a routine, the more smoothly your collaboration will advance.”

“The first requirement of collaboration is commitment… With agreement, you don’t revisit. You execute.”

“Creative disagreements between sympathetic collaborators spur new ideas.”

“Collaboration can be internal – an act of listening to others and then having a silent, private conversation with yourself.”

“The ultimate best result of any collaboration is learning to look through your collaborator’s eye.”

Twarp also shared the ethos of the Guarneri Quartet, an American string quartet founded in 1964 that performed for over four decades with only one personnel change: “Honesty and bluntness, but not to the point of pain. Mutual respect, but not to the point of formality and stiffness. Shared values, so the group’s mission can carry it over the inevitable bumps. And, of course, actual achievement, so the group is supported by an appreciative community.”

As patrons, we can let art lift our hearts, spark our imaginations, and promote an appreciation for our shared humanity. As a community in distress, we might reflect on what the collaborative arts have to teach us about finding a way forward.

A Business Model for Change Management

In an earlier post, I covered the psychology of change as interpreted by Drs. Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente, all PhDs. It wasn’t my first introduction to the subject matter. I’d heard about it from a colleague at Vanguard Communications when he launched a company dedicated to this discipline.

ready for changeA former engineer and program manager with Bell Labs, Jeff Hiatt made the astute observation that superior technical solutions combined with expert project management proved insufficient to guarantee success. The missing ingredient was the “people side of change.” When people embrace and adopt change, things can go swimmingly. When they don’t, things can go awry.

Since 1994, Jeff and his colleagues at Prosci have conducted research and developed best practices help people and their organizations embrace and adopt change. They provide “best in class” training and materials and partner with corporations, government agencies, and not-for-profits.

I mention Jeff’s work because the model he developed to support organizational change is equally relevant to personal change. It’s called ADKAR to reflect the 5 basic steps of effective change management:

Awareness represents an individual’s consciousness of a need for change and the risk of doing nothing. While there may be external drivers to create the impetus for change, the person needs a clear understanding of “what’s in it for me.”

Desire represents the willingness to move forward and make the change. In otrher words, the “what’s in it for me” is noteworthy enough to get on the priority list and motivate behavioral adjustments.

Knowledge represents the information and training necessary to make the change. It may include facts, systems, processes, skills, and behaviors.

Ability represents the capacity to turn knowledge into action. It’s more than well-intentioned activity; it implies a level of performance that will produce the desired results.

Reinforcement represents the internal and external actions, processes, rewards, recognitions, et al, that stoke the fires of change and keeping it going.

It’s easy to remember the acronym – ADKAR – and apply it to any situation. And it doesn’t take a fancy plan to put it into effect. Here’s an example from my household:

Awareness: My husband’s primary care physician was concerned about cholesterol and its potential for harm as my husband ages. The doctor wanted him to consider taking a statin.

Desire: We have friends who’ve taken statins and had unpleasant side effects. Our research on the drug did not evoke enthusiasm. So we opted to explore opportunities to lower cholesterol naturally.

Knowledge: We read several books on the whole food plant based diet and watched the Forks Over Knives video. These materials created a compelling case that a dietary shift could result in a substantive drop in our cholesterol.

Ability: I purchased several whole food plant based cookbooks and trained myself on meal planning and cooking without using meat, poultry, fish, dairy, or eggs. We also decided to cut way back on salt, sugar, and fat.

Reinforcement: We’re compiling a collection of delicious recipes that are just as satisfying (if not more so) than our prior eating habits. We both realized impressive drops in blood serum cholesterol which elicited praise from my husband’s physician.

In sum: If you’re a business manager who worries about change management for your organization, check out Prosci. If you aren’t ready to make that investment personally or professionally, try giving the model a test drive!