2020 has been a wonderful year if you enjoy a large amount of ambiguity. This is a strength for some people, but for many of us (myself included!), that simply isn’t the case. We’ve seen a global pandemic, parallels between COVID-19 and the climate crisis, and the Black Lives Matter movement take center stage and we’re only halfway through the year.

We don’t have resolution yet on how any of these things will turn out, which creates uncertainty as we face the ambiguity. And if you’re like a lot of my friends and clients, you’re not entirely sure what you can do or how you can be a part of the changes that are happening. Though when in doubt, wear a mask!!

To that end, we’re going to spend some time looking at 3 things you can do when you’re trying to find your place, whether in a movement, at work, or in life! Those things boil down to the 3 S’s:

  1. Strengths
  2. Start
  3. Stretch

You’ve heard me talk about strengths before and I’ll continue to talk about them because they are foundational to your career. Knowing and using your strengths sets you up for success, plain and simple.

So when we are faced with any existential sort of question (What is my place in the movement?  How can I get involved?  What flavor of ice cream should I get?) knowing your strengths is the best place to start. If you aren’t entirely clear on your strengths, I highly recommend the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment and book.

Why is knowing your strengths so important?

When you know your strengths, you can offer them to the world. And the world needs exactly the things you’re great at.

If you’re gifted in strategy, let others know that you’ve developed strategic plans and would be happy to help if they need it. If you’re detail-oriented, offer to be a second set of eyes on a document before it is shared.

It should be obvious, but if you’ve never used social media, don’t volunteer to head up a social media campaign. It feels good to be helpful and many of us struggle with saying no, but when you know your strengths, it’s a lot easier to say no to something that doesn’t align with them. You likely can suggest a different way to leverage your communication strength, for instance letter writing.

A note of encouragement: the first time you offer up your strengths to others, it may not be what they need in the moment. And unless they are gifted with the strength of strategy, they may not be able to see where and how in the future you and your strengths may fit. Know that your strengths are extremely valuable, regardless of the point-in-time need. Keep offering them up and you’ll find a great fit for them somewhere and it’s often in even better ways than we first imagined!

#PositiveAction Offer to share your strengths with one person or organization this week and see what develops!

 

This is one of a three-part series on finding your place. We’ll explore Start and Stretch in the next two blog posts.

 

Image by S. Hermann  from Pixabay

Your career story encapsulates all the things you use to tell other people about your work. It includes your resume and LinkedIn profile, but it also includes things like a digital portfolio, your social media accounts, your personal brand, even conversations you have with co-workers.

If you’re like most people, your career story is the most underutilized tool in your career path toolbox. So let’s talk about how you can use your career story to stand out from the sea of blandness that so often permeates everyone’s career story.

There are many reasons why it’s important to stand out, but the one we’ll focus on is gaining a slight edge.

Think about it. The most pivotal decisions that other people make affecting your career are usually around whether to hire you, promote you, or give you that amazing, career-changing assignment. In all these decisions, is the person that has to make the call is comparing you with your stellar skillset to some skill-less person they met on the street? No! They are comparing you with similarly qualified individuals.

It’s usually a hard choice because any of the people they select will likely be successful in the role or assignment. What ends the tie? It’s the person that has a little extra something, that can tip the odds imperceptibly in their favor. The one with the slight edge.

So wherever possible then, you want to be the person with the slight edge! You want to be telling your career story in ways that are easy to understand and remember so when it comes time for that big decision to be made, you have the slight edge.  How do we do that? There are 3 must-have career story components.

  1. Authority – Show and share your expertise
  2. Advantage – Demonstrate the value you bring
  3. Authentically You – Your unique approach, style and way of being!

Can it really be that simple? Absolutely! As long as you remember that your career story is not simply a point in time resume or LinkedIn profile. It’s ALL the ways you tell others about your work. Things like:

When a co-worker asks you how you think that meeting just went. When your boss inquires how initiative XYZ is going. When you meet someone for the very first time. When you rate yourself on an annual performance self-review. When you chat with co-workers at lunch.

The opportunities to tell your career story are everywhere. You need to decide if you’re going to take advantage or if someone else will have the slight edge for that awesome assignment you’ve been hoping for…

#PositiveAction Share your career story with a close co-worker making sure to include your Authority and Advantage while keeping it Authentically You. Practice until you’re comfortable sharing it at every opportunity!

 

I’ve had people ask me how they can help support my small business during the pandemic, especially if they’re not in need of career services right now. It’s as easy as shopping at Amazon! By clicking that affiliate link, my business earns a small commission (usually 1%) on what you buy. It’s like dropping a penny on the street for my small business to pick up, without all the back and forth and tossing of change!  

We’ve finally made it to the homeschool home stretch. It’s our last week. We did it. I can honestly say I’ve never been so happy for summer break before! In fact, last year at this time, I was worrying about how to balance my work and client commitments with my kids home from school for 3 whole months (different year, completely different perspective…).

Although our homeschool adventure is over (at least for now), I wouldn’t necessarily say it was an overwhelming success. We did what we needed to by focusing mostly on the minimum requirements. It wasn’t always pretty. It wasn’t without crying (by both the kids AND me). But it’s done.

I will not be winning any awards for this work. In fact, I don’t even think I’d win top homeschool teacher in our house! So let’s just move on, shall we?

Work can be like that sometimes. We give it our all, but it doesn’t end up being a success. We aren’t in the running for any awards or even a thank you from co-workers.

Sometimes, that’s because the work didn’t play to our strengths. Sometimes it’s circumstances outside our control (anyone ever built awesome software only to have it decommissioned a few months later when the company gets bought out? Or was that just me?). It’s the amazing report we share with the executive team, only to have it shelved for another time, which is usually code for NEVER! It’s the product we release with much fanfare… only to hear crickets chirping in response.

I learned a lot from my homeschool experience, similar to the times when I failed at work. The learnings can be awful, brutal, excruciating even, but they teach us as well (or better sometimes) than our success stories. Here’s the three things that I was reminded of during this experience. Sidebar, have you noticed that sometimes you’re re-learning a lesson you thought you knew?  Apparently, I needed to be re-reminded of these lessons in a new context.

  1. Doing work aligned with your strengths is critical – there are roughly a kajillion reasons why I didn’t consider majoring in elementary education in college, but primarily because it’s not something I’m interested in or particularly skilled at. This homeschool experience reminded me yet again just how tough and misery-inducing work can be when it doesn’t align to your strengths. If that’s you right now at work, I’m sorry. It sucks. Know that your strengths are valuable, even if your present work conditions don’t see the value. And look for any opportunity you can to do work more aligned with your strengths.
  2. The learning curve is steep AND stressful – this is true for the things you’re excited to learn, but I found the curve to be steeper and WAY more stressful since it was a topic I wasn’t particularly keen on learning. I needed to step up my selfcare game significantly to help with the stress (running, using the familiar to find comfort, old things, etc.) in order to make it through. If you’re about to make a job change, plan ahead and know that you’re going to need more time for stress management.
  3. Always find something to celebrate – making it through to Friday felt like a major accomplishment most weeks and was worth celebrating. Pizza for dinner! There were enough other issues going on that we needed to find any win, no matter how small since it often felt disorganized and downright ugly, but hey, progress was the goal, not perfection. We’d ask what was working for the kids and try to lean into those things. We got VERY creative with schedules and tried things even if we didn’t think they’d work (because nothing could be worse than the first week!). If you’re on a tough project at work right now, the thing your team could use most is some celebration, no matter how seemingly small the win is. Those small celebrations make a big difference. If you’re having a hard time seeing all the little things that are awesome, then check out The Book of Awesome, which is sure to help you find something to appreciate no matter what!

I have no idea what the future holds, if or when I’ll be expected to homeschool again. I’ll be slightly more ready if there is a next time, but definitely won’t be holding any space on my trophy shelf for one of those homeschooler of the year awards. Better keep these lessons handy just in case!

#PositiveAction If you’re struggling with something at work, think about how you can apply a lesson you’ve already learned to make it better. We can’t always turn failure into success, but we can definitely improve on it!

 

Important Programming Note: With the shift into summer and school letting out for the year, the blog will be changing to new posts every other week instead of weekly. If you are missing your Work Authentically fix, you can get a more regular dose of inspiration when you follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

Image by AxxLC from Pixabay

It’s a short week, thanks to the Memorial Day holiday in the United States, so this week’s blog is an excerpt from my new e-book, Get Out of Your Pajamas, Take a Shower, and Talk to Someone: Job Searching During a Pandemic, Economic Downturn, Recession, or Other Crisis. If you enjoy it, you can pick up a copy on Amazon today.

Communication

You may be wondering, “But what about my dog/cat/fish/child/parent/step-child/in-law/illness/circumstance/situation/other unnamed person, animal, or challenge that is making it more difficult to do my best work during this time?” My best advice is this:

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

Communicate and clarify expectations for yourself and others. Communicate your availability if you have specific times when you have other commitments (caring for children, pets, or parents, for example). Communicate how your work is going. Communicate any obstacles preventing you from doing your work. Communicate to your team on how they are doing and ask that they do the same for you.

A misunderstanding never starts with too much communication.

You seem like you’ve got a great handle on stress management and mental health, so I probably don’t even need to mention this, but… During any sort of crisis, (but also just in general!) don’t try to do it all! The stress will consume you in short order. Be clear and realistic about what you are able and willing to do.

Know that in times of uncertainty, communication can help lessen the fear, even if it doesn’t change the amount of ambiguity you’re facing. Your new co-workers will appreciate your honesty and authenticity and it will likely create or enhance an environment where they feel comfortable sharing in the same way.

#PositiveAction How can you communicate with honesty and authenticity today?

This ends the excerpt, but I wanted to share that this e-book covers several topics including how to activate your network, refreshing your resume and LinkedIn profile, interview prep, and more! I know not everyone loves reading, so it’s deliberately short to focus on what you need to know to be super effective in your job search and nothing more. Here’s to efficiency!!

Technology has dramatically changed the job search. You need to consider algorithms, ATS’s (that’s applicant tracking systems for those unfamiliar), your social media posts, and a whole lot of other things that you didn’t have to think about 20 years ago. Even 10 years ago, those things all mattered much less than they do today.

I talk to lots of job seekers that struggle with embracing these technological changes, partly because they prefer a more human approach. If you fall into this camp, I’ve got great news for you: keeping humans at the center of your job search will actually be much more effective than most other strategies!

Well this is surprising (but is it? Is it really?).

We’ve talked before about the importance of being kind, and relationship currency, and not being a grade-A jerk (or any kind of jerk!) when you’re faced with an interruption. Our relationships with others define not just our workplaces, but our entire lives.

So how do we bring our relationships into focus in the context of a job search? The first thing to do is tell everyone you know that you’re in the midst of job search. Some people may not know. Some may not remember, even if you did tell them already. This best done not through a generic post on social media about looking for a job, but rather reaching out to people individually and sharing with them specifically what you’re looking for in your job search.

And when I say everyone you know, I mean everyone! You’ll be surprised at who ends up helping you and who ends up ignoring your request (extend them a little kindness and know they likely have a good reason if they didn’t help). So yes, your former co-workers can be a good starting point, but don’t leave out friends and family, neighbors, acquaintances, and people you know through various community organizations and businesses.

I have a friend that has been looking for a job throughout the pandemic. He has done all the right things from a technology standpoint and has a great resume and LinkedIn profile. He recently was interviewed for one of the positions he applied for online, but the reason he got the call wasn’t because his resume made it through the ATS and was keyword optimized (although it did make it through).

It’s because his neighbor was an employee at the company and looked up the job posting to see who the hiring manager was and then shared it with my friend. My friend wrote a nice, personal message to the hiring manager, which helped him stand out from the over 1,500 (!) people that applied online. On top of that, a former co-worker took the time to write my friend a glowing recommendation and sent it to the hiring manager. These three steps didn’t take a ton of extra time, but had a huge impact on the hiring process.

The odds of my friend being one of the handful of people getting a call for an interview are WAY less than the odds of finding one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets. But my friend beat the odds by adding in something that algorithms can’t properly account for: human relationships.

#PositiveAction Whether you’re looking for a job right now or not, reach out to someone you know that you haven’t talked to in a while. It’s a whole lot easier to start a conversation when you don’t need something!

If you or someone you know is in the midst of the job search right now, I’ve got a short e-book that helps focus on the most important strategies (like talking to humans) to jump start your quest and help you stand out from the crowd. Check out Get Out of Your Pajamas, Take a Shower, and Talk to Someone: Job Searching During a Pandemic, Economic Downturn, Recession, or Other Crisis on Amazon today.

 

 

E-book cover image by Wolf Mountain Publishing

Blog post image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

As we all continue to acclimate to what’s being dubbed “the new normal” amidst COVID-19 (and let me go on record to say there’s been very little in my world that has felt remotely normal, but that’s the phrase we’re using anyway!), I find myself frequently asking the question, “So now what?” 

It’s a question that helps me figure out the best next step when I need to move forward, particularly when things I wanted, or counted on, or hoped for didn’t materialize. It keeps me from getting lost in the disappointment of it all.

I’m guessing that for many of us, that feeling of disappointment is a daily or even hourly occurrence.

There are things we hoped to accomplish that just can’t get done due to the people needing our time and attention right now, whether children, spouses, parents, co-workers, clients, and more. There are milestones we’re celebrating in new and different ways, like birthdays, holidays, even graduations. I’m sure the members of the class of 2020 are more than a little disappointed at this turn of events, even with national ceremonies planned. 

So now what? How do we move past that disappointment? Well, it ain’t easy, especially if you have been waiting a long time for a particular milestone. The disappointment doesn’t go away, but with So now what? you don’t get stuck there.

So now what? forces you to think about what else you can do. It shifts your attention to the future, instead of the disappointing past. Now that the thing you didn’t want to have happened has happened, what will you do next?

I’m not advocating that we ignore our emotions. I’m not trying to minimize the disappointment either. I’m advocating for preventing the negativity from taking over (I’ve been there and it’s no fun!).

I recently celebrated my birthday. This is nothing compared to the major milestones that many people are missing out on. The disappointment was there, though. I couldn’t do any of the things I would normally do to celebrate, like go out to eat, watch the Kentucky Derby, hit up a cool thrift shop, and meet up with friends. So now what? I could choose to wallow in my misery and sweatpants… or come up with a new plan.

I picked a meal we could make at home. I went on a hike at a recently re-opened state park nearby. I had some video calls from well-wishers. I tried a new homemade donut recipe and more importantly, I got to pick which plate I ate it on (anyone with younger kids knows how big a deal getting to pick a plate can be!). None of it was my first choice for celebrating, but it was a pretty decent plan B. I chose to have fun.  

So now what? It’s one of those questions I ask my clients frequently, especially when we’re talking about the future. Maybe that job posting closed before you got to apply. Worse yet, maybe you applied and never heard back. Worse still, maybe you interviewed and they loved you… but they decided to go with the other candidate and you’re the solid second choice. So now what? How will you keep moving forward in your job search?

In work and life, not everything goes to plan. In fact, I’m 1,000% confident that the past 2 months haven’t gone entirely the way you hoped or anticipated. So now what?

#PositiveAction Take one disappointing thing that’s happened recently and ask yourself, “So now what?” to find the next best step you can take given your present reality.

 

 

During my nearly 20 years in information technology (IT) in the corporate world, you can bet I saw my fair share of change. New technologies (duh!), processes, methodologies, organizational configurations, and so much more. The various organizations I worked for had different cultures, leaders, missions, and values. Regardless of where I worked, one thing remained the same, however. I always had to work on my birthday.

I’ve been a staunch advocate for giving each employee their birthday off since I shockingly discovered in my first year after college that I was expected to report to work on my birthday. And you won’t believe this! Chances were very good that on the big day, no one was going to tell me “happy birthday”, get me a card, or take me out to lunch.

Indeed, the closest my birthday got to any recognition most places was for my teammates to suggest (demand!) I bring in treats that I bought or prepared myself in order for them to, you know, celebrate (eat!).

And so my birthday, just like all my co-workers’ birthdays before mine, became nothing more than another day of the week on the calendar, that at most included treats. Regardless of how many co-workers and bosses I shared my “everyone should get their birthday off” idea with (and it was a lot!).

It’s not because every company doesn’t know when it is – birthday is actually a required field for employment. Nope. It’s not a lack of data. It’s about valuing and appreciating people.

Too often, organizations get focused on results, bottom-line numbers, growth, and profit. Yes, every company needs to be at least somewhat focused on these things, or they’ll go out of business! But… the key piece that this focus leaves out is people.

Having happy people is the best way to get results, bottom-line numbers, growth, and profit.

I know some of you reading are managers, directors, even senior such-and-suches for the this-and-thats. Do your employees feel appreciated? They will tell you if you ask them (and many will appreciate the fact that you asked, even if nothing else changes). But, I’d challenge you to think about how you can incorporate more appreciation into your span of control.

Maybe it’s not the birthday off thing, but there’s definitely something. Do it and don’t waste a whole bunch of time asking for permission to make it happen. I promise, even the best appreciation idea is likely to get shut down somewhere in the land of approvals and red tape (you know what I’m talking about!).

Or maybe you’re not at a level where you can influence top-down changes, so I guess you get a pass on taking positive action this week, right? No way! It’s like you don’t know me at all! There’s always something you can do!

Here’s an example from an awesome team I was fortunate enough to be a part of for a short period of time. The company wasn’t going out of their way to initiate appreciation programs at that time and there was a definite focus are doing more with less, reducing costs, etc. But on this particular team, we made sure to spend more time in appreciation mode than other teams I’d been on.

The idea was simple. We had a list of everyone’s birthday. And the person responsible for buying a card was the person whose birthday was most recently celebrated. They’d bring that card back to the office and then route it to all of us to sign (secretly, even though we all knew that this was happening, but there’s a little more fun to be had when it feels like a covert operation!). On the big day for you, you got a card with more than a bunch of names on it. You got true well wishes and notes of encouragement from your teammates.

That was a long time ago… but I still have my card.

And so, my birthday is coming up in the next week and I am celebrating by (you guessed it!) taking a day off from work. Not in a let’s-do-the-same-amount-of-work-but-on-different-days kind of way. Actually taking off. Which means that next week, there won’t be a blog post. But I’ll be back with my ramblings 2 weeks from now, renewed from some time away. 

#PositiveAction What is one way to add more appreciation to your workplace this week? I have yet to meet a single employee who has felt OVER-appreciated at work!

Need some inspiration? Check out the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Chapman & White.

 

 

 

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

You’ve no doubt heard the stories that it’s impossible to get toilet paper. It can’t be done. There’s not a square to spare anywhere! 

That’s what the news stories would have us believe. And stories like that create a scarcity mindset. One of my favorite books on the topic is Scarcity by Mullainathan and Shafir. It’s a fascinating read into the science behind why it’s so hard to break out of procrastination, poor dieting results, even the cycle of poverty.

TLDR version of the book: Scarcity comes from not having enough of something. It could be not enough time. Not enough money. Not enough food. And the lack of something we need causes our brain to work differently, to tunnel, and focus on the lack. It changes our behaviors and often exacerbates the very problem we’re trying to solve.

Those stories about no toilet paper create a sense of scarcity for us. We feel fear around not having enough… and it changes our behavior. I’ll show you what I mean.

Our family had run out of TP at the end of February, so I had restocked our supply with a family-sized pack just before the shutdown started and toilet paper became scarce on the shelves. We had enough to get by for a little while.

And yet, those news stories started to get to me. I didn’t notice at first, but eventually I spotted the scarcity mindset when I found myself wondering thoughts like, “Should we be using less TP to conserve our supply?” and “Should we be trying to minimize bathroom use altogether?”

Now, I’m the furthest thing from a doctor (I get faint at the sight of needles!), but I’m pretty sure that if I asked one, they would tell me that avoiding going to the bathroom is not the recommended course of action to maintain a healthy body.

The scarcity mindset had me focused on lack and was starting to get me thinking about changing my behavior! What’s the counter to scarcity? An abundance mindset.

Abundance doesn’t focus on what you lack; it focuses on what you have. It shifts your attention away from the negative and to the positive.

For finding more toilet paper, there are options. Yes, we could check several stores and eventually, I’m sure we’d find some (we did, in case you were worried!). But I also know that if we had called or texted any number of people, a roll or two would have shown up on our doorstep in short order. Heck, there’s even a pizza place near me running a carry-out special right now that includes a free roll of TP with a large pizza!

When I focus on the abundant options, it changes my attitude and my behavior.

Let’s think about scarcity in the business world. There are lots of examples of company policies that create a culture of scarcity. Things like you can’t get promoted until you’ve been in the role for 3 years or maybe you have to have degree X to make it to level Y or how about only a small percentage of people can get a decent sized raise and oh by the way the criteria for achieving said raise is so impossible that no one knows anyone who’s ever gotten it.

Those policies, grounded in scarcity and fear don’t bring out the best in people. They are actually highly demotivating to the majority of workers.

Exceptional companies recognize this. The culture focus shifts from scarcity to abundance. Promoting people who do great work. Recognizing a degree isn’t a guarantee of the quality of work you do. Growing and cultivating leaders at all levels, knowing you can never have enough great people. Finding ways to share the wealth, but more importantly motivating people beyond money with purpose and challenge.

Scarcity cultures bring out bad behaviors in people because people believe the stories that there isn’t enough for everyone. Have you ever worked somewhere with a bunch of competitive, back-stabbing jerks all angling to get ahead? Yup. Me too. It’s no fun and good people will spot the scarcity and move on to more abundant pastures quickly.

#PositiveAction How can you challenge a scarcity belief today? Is there an abundance story that you can start telling to yourself and your team instead?

P.S. What an exciting time we live in where toilet paper and bathroom usage are totally appropriate topics to discuss in the context of work and career! Thanks for reading to the end. 

 

 

 

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

We don’t need to pretend we’re OK when we’re not OK. And right now especially, it’s OK to be not be OK! Most people are struggling. The more honest you are about your struggles, the more comfortable your team will be talking about theirs. Now is not the time for a stiff upper lip; it’s time for empathy and kindness and understanding. In fact, Gallup studied major crises across decades and found that universally, people are looking to their leaders for trust, compassion, stability, and hope.

Being a good leader* can get lost in the shuffle of busy-ness during good times, but it becomes essential during times of challenge and crisis (*Note: I’m using the term leader in the broadest sense – we are all called upon to lead in certain situations, whether with family, a group of friends, or formally at work). Maybe, like many people, you’re stuck in fear and struggling to get to hope. Fear can absolutely stop us in our tracks, but we need to remember a key element.

Fear arises whenever we face something new.

The new can be something exciting that we’ve worked toward for a long time, like getting that degree. It can be something scary that was forced upon us, like social distancing. But fear arises when we face anything new. 

We’ve all heard the adage that you can’t force a square peg in a round hole. And in a world where you’re striving to work authentically, you can’t force yourself to be who you’re not. So what do you do if compassion isn’t your thing, since that’s one thing people universally need in times like these?

Find someone you know who has it as a strength. Ask them to coach you on it in the short term so you can improve. You don’t have to become an expert in compassion; you just need a willingness to show up, ask good questions, and be there for people.

As for me, my efficiency strength is much stronger than empathy. There’s a time and a place for efficiency, but now isn’t necessarily it. At least not without a strong dose of empathy. So I’m asking others and leveraging resources like articles, podcasts, and more to make sure that I’m starting with empathy in my work. Doing less slowly, but doing it with good intent is more important for me right now.

If your strengths naturally guide you toward creating trust, compassion, stability, and hope, awesome! Do that because people need it. And if they don’t, do what you can. Don’t force it. But do keep in mind what we all need during this, and any, crisis.

#PositiveAction How can you create a little bit more trust, compassion, stability, or hope in your corner of the world today?

 

 

 

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay