Keeping Your Search Alive

Staying motivated in the search for a new job, especially during times of unemployment, can be one of the biggest challenges in the process. After all, who wants to hear “no” all the time, or worse – nothing at all? Sending out résumés and cover letters for jobs for which one is perfectly qualified and not getting a reply can wear out even the most resilient job seeker. What can you do to stay engaged and motivated? Here are a few tips.

Make a Plan for your Day. Whether you create tomorrow’s plan in the evening or start early with a planning session, make a list of the things that you need to accomplish. Don’t stop until you have completed your list. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and something to talk about if there is a significant person in your life who wants to know what you have been doing all day (can you say “spouse”?).

Eliminate the Distractions. While it can be tempting to kill time in front of the TV or with social media sites, set a time limit for these activities and stick to it. If 30 minutes a day is your Facebook budget, don’t stretch it to 35.

Get out of the House. Get your exercise, shower, dress and go meet people. Get out to the job fairs, meet colleagues for coffee and stay tuned in to the current events in your field.

Challenge Yourself to Add to your Network. Your network should include recruiters – both recruiting agency people and staff recruiters – as well as people with whom you have worked and those that you don’t know yet. Attend as many live events with other people as possible.

Don’t Stop with LinkedIn Messages. Anyone can build a network on LinkedIn, but if it is nothing more than a list of people and their pictures – a list of people you don’t know – you have not done enough. Pick up the phone. Send a personal note. Make the connection more meaningful and valuable for you and the other person. You will be surprised at how warmly some will welcome the extra effort.

Learn Something New. Public libraries, state departments of labor and other organizations give you the opportunity to learn new skills and meet new people, mostly for free. Explore the opportunities and sign up.

Volunteer. You can add new things to your résumé and meet people while helping others. Don’t discount the value of this activity.

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you have been doing all of these things and know that you are working as hard as you can to find a job, feel good about your effort. It’s a challenging labor market filled with wary hiring managers and senior leaders trying to chart a course in an uncertain environment. Don’t take it personally and keep at it.

Would You Sleep with the Elephants?

Job Description: Elephant rehabilitation specialist. Must be comfortable working and living with pachyderms, especially young elephants. Job requires constant 24×7 interaction, including sleeping in close quarters with emotionally traumatized animals. Excellent benefits, including full paid medical.

Do you want that job? Can you bed down in the same stall with an elephant prone to night terrors? There are those who do, and they love their work. That is if non-verbal cues and looks of joy mean anything.

During the long week of entertaining our children after the historic Halloween weekend snow storm that rocked Connecticut back into the days before Edison, we ventured down to the Norwalk Maritime Aquarium, a gem of a facility that includes an IMAX theatre. After tears of terror at a 3D movie at Disney in the spring, I didn’t know what to expect from my seven and five year olds, but we took a chance and got tickets to see Born to be Wild. The 2011 movie, featuring narration by Morgan Freeman, depicts the work of Daphne Sheldrick and Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas. Both oversee facilities that rescue young animals from near certain death after their mothers have been killed. For us, the promise of a six story high movie screen filled with baby elephants and orangutans was enough to get us there, but it delivered much more.

It is clear that Dr. Galdikas and Ms. Sheldrick, who work with orangutans in Borneo and elephants in Kenya, respectively, love their work. They have been doing it for decades and have had amazing success, rehabilitating these animals and successfully integrating them back into the wild. What impressed me, at least as much as these women and their work, was the total engagement of the people who serve in the facilities, some living with and sleeping with terror stricken animals. One statement by Ms. Sheldrick that I will paraphrase sticks with me: “Elephants have remarkable memories, and what they remember is terrible.”

If you take the time to see the movie – and I recommend that you do – you will witness people doing what they love. One would have to love the work to sleep in the same stall as an elephant, being there throughout the night to provide comfort and risking injury and death in the process. I wonder how many of us are so dedicated to our work that we would face serious risk to get it done. Am I as dedicated to my work as these Kenyans are to theirs? Drop 10 bucks and 40 minutes of your time and see this movie. My guess is that you will be informed and inspired in more ways than one.

Quit It!

“What am I doing?” Have you ever had one of those moments – maybe days or even weeks – of clarity when you realize that what you are doing is not moving you towards your long-term goals? Your actions, your job, your daily routine are taking caring of some immediate need, but are doing nothing to help you fulfill some greater purpose.

Seth Godin tackles this subject in his slim volume, The Dip. He offers a simple idea: maybe we should be quitting, quitting the things that are not moving us towards some purpose, goal or accomplishment. If what you are doing to survive is not moving you towards being the best at something, you should quit the distractions and focus on your purpose.

How about you? When you envision your greater purpose, the thing that you were built to do, how do your current activities move you towards that bright future? Are they? Or are your activities putting you in idle, revving your engine, surviving, but not moving you towards your purpose?

What about the dip the author refers to? Godin shares that getting to be the best at something requires a lot of time and effort in the trenches, working hard, sometimes in anonymity, moving towards that goal. There isn’t a lot of glamour and prestige in the dip, but if you make it to the other side, you can be the best at something, something that truly matters to you.

I was fortunate to stumble upon this book and it challenged me, and even though it is several years old, it is still relevant. I am considering what I need to quit so I can devote my time and energy to those things most valuable to me. How about you? What are you doing, what are your goals, and are you making progress towards them? Or are you just doing what you need to pay the next month’s rent? What will change in your life to move you back onto the right path?

Comments? Share what you are doing, not doing and quitting. Maybe you will inspire someone else.

Energized by Work?

For some people, the idea that one could be excited and enthusiastic about work seems ludicrous. You probably know people like that, those who dread another Monday because it feels like another five day prison sentence. It’s not like that for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be like that for anyone.

During the past week, while working on a freelance writing assignment, I had the opportunity to interview a person working for an organization that does important life-saving work in the pharmaceutical industry. As we discussed his project and the results of the company’s work, he was bubbling with genuine excitement about the past year and what the new one holds. I even commented to him that his excitement was evident and contagious.

Maybe you are fortunate to know someone like that and can draw some inspiration from that person’s story. Maybe you are blessed to be someone in a similar situation. You spring out of bed in the morning, ready to fulfill your plans and grab new opportunities.

It’s also possible that your excitement about your work falls short of what I am describing. Why? What can you change to make it better and find more meaning in your work? Is it time to change jobs or your career path? Go back to school to learn something new? Volunteer to do something fulfilling and lasting?

There is an infinite amount of important work to be done in the world. We all can only contribute the most is we are doing something we truly enjoy. Seek it out. Take a chance. Make a difference.


Looking Back, Moving Forward

My family and I took a trip into New York City yesterday, where we saw a few minutes of the Columbus Day parade, visited and dropped some cash at the Lego and American Girl stores at Rockefeller Center, and made the trip to the south end of the island to visit the 9/11 Memorial. Anyone who lived through that day will have their own thoughts and emotions about that day and this place, and these are mine.

We all have a purpose towards which we are working. Individually and collectively, we are striving to achieve something in our lives. There are setbacks along the way – some are minor while some are profound and even tragic – but there is no denying that we are all working towards something in our own ways.

We only have a short time to make our contribution. Most of us have careers measured in decades. Those who perished on that day in September likely thought the same thing and could not have anticipated what would unfold in the morning hours. We just do not know how long we have, so we must make every day count. Our time investments may be in family, personal growth, our faith, our relationships or our work, but there is something to be done every day. Don’t take one for granted.

Loss and pain can help us find a goal. In this picture, you are looking at names on the North Tower Memorial, with the flag hanging on the Freedom Tower that is rising to its eventual height of 1,776 feet. New development driven by motivated and purposeful people is springing from that ground where so many died. What can each of us learn from our own losses, and how can we rise and grow from those experiences?

Finally, we must take time to remember. The experience at this memorial is unique as the sound of the perpetual waterfall washes over you and drowns out the din of the surrounding construction site bustle. Look back, learn the lessons that are there for us, and move forward. My guess is that those who died that day would approve.

Get Your Grand Slam Yet?

As summer winds down and Labor Day quickly approaches, many will be heading back to work with vacations a fond memory and the final four months of the year ahead. After a few more holidays, we can all look forward to the least favorite American workplace ritual: the annual review. The darling process of HR and the bane of the rest of us, performance evaluations are a fact of life.

If you work for a company with a solid culture of feedback and frequent check-ins with the boss, this is no big deal. You probably get recognition and criticism throughout the year and you know where you stand. If you work for a different kind of organization, you may have only this one opportunity – as painful as it is – to present yourself and your accomplishments for the year. So what are you doing to get ready?

Review the past eight months and ask yourself this question: If you had to write your self-evaluation today for the year, what would you say? What have you done to deliver more value than your paycheck? What have you done to help your boss and your boss’s boss? Are you struggling with this question?

If you have not done anything special, now is the time to get working. You still have time to do something above and beyond your job description that can define your year. If you have done some great things but can’t remember the details, start making notes. As I write this, I think about the Yankees/Rays game of Saturday 8/13. Jorge Posada came off the bench after a manager-directed time out and went three-for-five with a grand slam. Do you have a similar story? If not, get serious and finish the year strong.

Creativity: No Permission Needed

Have you seen this turtle? How about the pirate? Maybe you saw them while growing up in your favorite comic book. Draw the turtle, send in your work and find out if you are good enough to attend the correspondence art school. Do you think the admissions standards were tough? I remember seeing these guys on matchbooks. It’s fun to think about some guy sitting in his F150 with his new pack of Marlboro Reds thinking, “Maybe I am good enough to get into art school!” OK. It’s a Saturday and we are getting ready for a big party with coolers filled with frosty drinks, so forgive me for the silliness, but consider this: Has anyone ever made you believe you aren’t creative.

Conformity and uniformity are valued by some, and we are all taught it from the very beginning. Boys and girls, line up against the wall, and no talking! Order and discipline have their places, for sure, but have you ingested this sleeping serum at the expense of your creativity and quest to do something great.

We aren’t talking about writing the next great novel, though that would be fine. What do you want to do? What do you think about when you sit around on January 1st considering the next 365 ¼ days? What is keeping you from using your gifts, interests and talents?

Think about the technology and tools that you have at your disposal right now to do something creative and special. Do you want to write? Start a blog. Take pictures? Start shooting. Start a new business? Get to work and write a description of your idea on an index card. Do you want to help others or get deeper into your faith? Do it, whatever it is. Do something
and don’t worry about what other people think. You will make mistakes and you will have failures, but you will learn. And don’t worry about asking for permission.

Errors & Outcomes

Everyone makes mistakes. That is no revelation, for sure. Not everyone learns from those mistakes, though. If you don’t take risks and push the envelope of your own performance, you may never make mistakes, at least not serious ones. But if you are constantly challenging yourself to reach for higher performance and exploring new opportunities, you will fall. Sometimes you will fall hard. The outcome of these experiences is the measure of their worth.

When you make a mistake, or suffer a total failure, what do you take from the experience? Is your reaction one of withdrawal and muttering under your breath? “I am never going to take a risk like that again.” Or do you reflect on what went wrong, what went right and how you could do better in the future? Growth and development do not come from taking the easy road.

What risk can you take today that could lead to the next breakthrough or the next big flop? No matter the outcome, you will learn something if you take the time to reflect and look for the learning opportunities. Don’t be afraid to take a chance and scrape your knees. That’s why they make Band-Aids. Just remember to learn from and repeat the successes while avoiding making the same mistakes in the future.

Small Steps

Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus makes the point that we have more free time available to us than humans at any other time in history. One statistic that illustrates the point is that the amount of time we spend watch television continues to increase. What if we didn’t waste so much time observing and actually did something? What if we used some of this reserve brain power for some activity, rather than passivity?

I started working with a new client this past week. He is a young man in Los Angeles, and has accomplished much. He has not reached his 30th birthday. Getting to know him, I understand why. He has been entrepreneurial and has been involved in creating value, building businesses, studying and networking – and not wasting time – since he was at least 12 years old.

What are your dreams? How can you see your life better than it is today? Maybe you have a goal of helping other people, improving your relationships with your family or friends, getting fit or starting a business. How could you take your cognitive surplus and move in a direction that can improve your life? The answer does not lie in another reality TV episode, that’s
for sure. What small step can you take right now that moves you even the slightest bit towards your goal? Make the move and take the step.

More than a Microwave

If you are a leader, you probably have had to consider employee engagement and motivation. I was involved in a conversation this week about this, and some of the points made brought me back to some basic business education material: Herzberg’s Motivation Theory. Why? The talk was all about how an extra microwave in the break room would make a big difference in the employee experience. Sorry, it doesn’t really work that way.

Herzberg published his theory in 1959, and it has been a foundational topic in business education since then. Why, then, do some believe that environmental improvements will make a big difference? Maybe because simple changes are quick, easy and cheap, allowing the manager to check the box – “Yes, we did that” – and move on. These leaders should not be surprised, though, when employees don’t bow and say, “Thank you, sir, for the new tables in the employee lounge. I will never leave this company.” Having the right flavors of Doritos in the vending machine may eliminate a demotivator, but it will never drive engagement.

Herzberg’s theory went on to say that there are important motivators that influence people to work hard, including recognition, responsibility, advancement and the work itself. Other leading organizations also use the organization’s mission as a touch point for employees, hoping that the reason behind the work will improve engagement (think pharma: saving and
improving lives). I have personally seen and experienced this in organizations in different industries, and knowing the bigger picture and the “why” behind the work can sometimes be the fuel to help employees make it over the next steep hill.

Pay attention to the basics and eliminate elements that frustrate employees, but understand the limited upside of the efforts. To realize significant results, there will have to be significant effort. Recognition, strong cultures of trust and teamwork and genuinely engaged leaders focused on the needs of the employees will create great results, but these all take hard work. Rest up, re-energize and start the real job of a leader: empowering and engaging employees to deliver on the goals of the organization.