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Archive for May, 2010

Someone has to do that job…or not

May 22nd, 2010 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoWhen pressed, we can come up with a hundred and one reasons why we stay in a lousy job. “The economy is bad. There aren’t any jobs available. I’m not cut out for anything else.” For me, though, the worst excuse, by far is “Well, someone has to do the job.” To this I reply, “someone may have to do the job, but it doesn’t have to be you.”

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Let me be very clear that I am not talking about all the unpleasant, but extremely necessary work out there like garbage collection, sewer maintenance or animal control. Even in these unpleasant activities, workers can find high levels of job satisfaction along with equally high salaries. This is exactly how it should be with all unpleasant, but high necessity jobs.

The jobs I am talking about are the one’s with the abusive boss — the one’s with low salaries and no raises – the one’s that make your life worse, instead of better. These jobs suck the life out of you and, in some cases, everyone you work with. They deaden you to your own skills and capabilities. They use you up, discard the husk and replace you with yet another cog in the machine.

Sure, someone has to do these jobs, but it doesn’t have to be you. If you are reading this column or listening to this podcast, you are already far better than these jobs. These jobs are for those who haven’t thought about what they want out of their careers. These jobs are for those who have decided to settle instead of trying to build the career they deserve. These jobs are for those who have given up any hope of a productive career and simply slog through day after day. I can’t imagine that description applying to anyone who has taken the time and energy to join me here.

Let me lay it out in very clear terms. You are better than any of these jobs. There is no reason any of you should dread going to work each day. If you are, then this is a clear sign it is time to find a job that better matches your capabilities. When the economy is down, conventional wisdom says that “any job is a good job”, but I don’t believe it. Any job that tears you down bit by bit is more destructive than no job at all. Before you even realize it, you have dug yourself into a pit. Getting out of that pit can take months or years. Years when you should have been pursuing the career you deserve, not merely surviving in a lousy, and destructive, job.

Imagine how much better the world might be if everyone doing these destructive jobs found something else. What would it be like if you weren’t constantly receiving unwanted telemarketing calls, spam email and infomercials for unnecessary items. Someone has to do those jobs, but it doesn’t have to be you. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be them. Many of these jobs shouldn’t be done by anyone. The sooner we realize that, the better off we all will be.



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There are no certainties in employment, nor should you expect them

May 14th, 2010 Comments off

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News arrived recently that a friend had been laid off, downsized, right-sized, fired from the company where he had worked for 22 years. Another friend was laid off after 18 years with the same company. These weren’t static drones doing the same job in the same cubicle year after year. They both held many roles in their companies. They both climbed the career ladder. They both had excellent reviews. They both were gone when business climates, business needs and the world changed.

How many times do we need to hear this story before we begin to understand that there are no certainties in employment or in our career. There are many things outside our control. Businesses go bankrupt. Markets disappear. The entire economy is disrupted. No matter how well we do our work, if the business crashes beneath us, we will fall, too. This is why it is so important to control whatever we can in our own life and careers. It also means divorcing our careers and our self-worth from our companies.

First, no matter where you work, your personal goal should be to acquire as may transferable skills as possible. This is a fancy way of saying — learn everything you can that you might, one day, be able to use somewhere else. It is these skills that are your lifeline to the future. Your knowledge of custom, internal system will be worthless once you leave the company. You need to learn how your business applies tools, knowledge and concepts that are applicable to the outside world. Take note of this information. Learn all you can. Think about how you might apply it in the future. In this way, you are preparing for the inevitable time when change will give you a swift kick in the pants…and you will be ready for it.

Next, especially when times are good, you need to remind yourself that your company is not a friend. They are not family. The company as an entity cannot empathize. It only exists for its own purposes, to “increase shareholder value.” Sure your managers and fellow employees might feel sad when you are let go, but “the company” will feel nothing. You should never forget this. You do so at your peril. If you start to think of the company as an individual or a friend, your career is in danger.

It has been said so much is almost a modern cliché, but no matter where you work, you must think of yourself as an independent contractor. You must believe that the contract, the job, the money could end tomorrow. Even more, you must always be looking for the next job, the next project. Long term jobs are very comforting. You have regular money, regular schedule, regular co-workers. They are also dangerous. It is very hard to think about the future of your career when you are cocooned inside such an environment. It can be very hard to imagine anything different than what you have.

Life is harsh sometimes. In fact, when it comes to the workplace, it can often be harsh. Through no fault of your own, you can find yourself looking for the next step in your career. Prepare for that eventuality now and hopefully you will never need it. Chances are, though, that there will be at least one time in your career where you will be forced to changed jobs long before you would like. You might even find that making plans might open some opportunities you hadn’t really thought of before. There are no certainties in the workplace, beyond those you create yourself.



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Open Thread: What are your Top Career Questions?

May 13th, 2010 5 comments
CareerCampLA 2010 - 04
Image by dewelch via Flickr

What are your top 1-2 Career Questions?

I want to collect your top career questions and then present them to my “team” of career advisors. In this way I hope do give you a variety of viewpoints on the most pressing issues of the day.

This post is an “Open Thread” to both collect your questions and also allow you comment on the questions of others.

Got a question that is really concerning you? Add it as a comment to this post. Then, come back and chime in on the questions of others.

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I Like This – May 13, 2010

May 13th, 2010 Comments off
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Archive: Would you recommend a friend?

May 12th, 2010 Comments off

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If you want a good litmus test of how much you like your current job or your current company, ask yourself this question, “Would you recommend that a friend work at your company? If you are like many high-tech workers today, you probably found yourself saying “Uh…” This simple question can elicit a strong response if you take the time to ask it of yourself. Would you? If not, why not? If you wouldn’t recommend a friend work at your company, why are you working there? Hmm. As with all good questions, this one spurs even more questions and a deeper evaluation of the current state of your career.

A gross simplification, but…

As with all litmus tests, this one is a gross simplification of reality, but I still think it can be useful. Sure, there might be any number of reasons why you wouldn’t recommend a friend work at your company. Still, the thinking that this question provokes can be very useful to someone who is constantly evaluating and adjusting their career in the search for something better.

Why and Why not?

Do you find yourself unwilling to recommend anyone come to work for your company? I have been in this situation myself on occasion. Sometimes, we don’t want to burden our friends with what we see as fundamental problems at a company. Perhaps you see major flaws in the company that you believe will limit its growth and potential in the years to come. Maybe you already know about impending layoffs. All are good reasons to save a friend the trouble of applying and interviewing.

More importantly, though, you need to ask yourself, “If I wouldn’t recommend someone work here, why am I still working here?” Like a surprising smack in the face, this question can, and should, shake you up. Why indeed? If you have such fundamental issues with a company, doesn’t this tell you something about your job and your career?

Of course it does, if you take the time to explore the issues fully. You couldn’t be asking for clearer direction in your career than this. Sometimes, though, we bury our own problems so deeply that we can almost forget they exist. We numb ourselves in the day-to-day routine, tell ourselves to “suck it up” and stop trying to make the changes we so desperately need. Ignoring issues will never make them disappear completely, though. Time and time again they will crop up whenever we are having a particularly bad day or when the stress level rises to the breaking point.

What to do?

Ok, so now that I have brought these issues to the surface again, what do you do? First, try to decipher where your dissatisfaction arises. Are you just in the wrong job, or do you feel the entire company has problems? Is it just problems with one manager or one co-worker, or does everyone annoy you? Are you in an industry you care nothing about, or are you disappointed that you can’t do the work you really want?

Next, try to address these issues. If you feel you are in the wrong job, look around the company and see if there are any openings that might suit you better. If the problem is a manager or co-worker, see if you can move to a different project or department. Finally, if the problems are too large, start looking for another company. Whatever the case, though, you must do something. Don’t re-bury your issues for another day, week or month until something else causes you think about them again. Every day you need to be addressing these issues in an effort to resolve them. You owe this to yourself. You will never achieve the career you desire if you dislike the jobs that make up that career.

One simple question can lead to so many others. Analyzing your actions towards others can open up your thinking, by providing a bit of distance between yourself and your issues. Would you recommend a friend work at your company, in your department, as your partner? If not, then there are more difficult questions to be asked.



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What I’m Reading…How Successful People Think by John C. Maxwell

May 12th, 2010 Comments off

I have been reading John C. Maxwell’s books for years and have found many useful ideas and much useful advice. This small volume seems like a condensation of many of his larger books and while that might seem like a criticism, it is in fact a strength.

How Successful People Think is a great book to have around for reviewing the concepts found in other Maxwell books. After reading the longer books, sometimes you just need a reminder, a nudge to help you put those tool back into practice. This book would be perfect to keep close at hand when life and work starts to feel a little overwhelming. After flipping through a few pages, you are sure to get back on track. If you need more help, you can always re-read the more comprehensive books.

You can find more books by John C. Maxwell, including Thinking for a Change, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, and Developing the Leader Within You via Amazon.com or in The WelchWrite Bookstore.

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The Well-Lived Life

May 7th, 2010 Comments off

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Do you have what it takes to truly be the person you can, and want, to be? Everyday I am faced with people who have decided to be less than everything they could be. They have decided that short cuts, scams and outright crimes are the easiest ways to accomplish what few goals they have. In some cases, they lack any goals at all beyond servicing greed or a bad habit that must be fed. They have given up any chance at a better life and settled for one filled only with empty rewards. Rewards that will leave them feeling empty, no matter how attractive they might seem. You can’t achieve your own, best, life by constantly chasing the easy answers down one dead end after another. It will always remain beyond your reach, even if it is still within your sight. It will taunt you with its closeness but always be beyond your grasp.

What does this poorly led life look like? You probably see examples of it every day — People and businesses who would rather scam people into signing up for a service they neither want, nor need, instead of building a product that people actually want to purchase – people who write articles and create videos that only seek to tear people down instead of building them up – people taking advantage of loopholes, shortcuts and unknowledgeable people to line their pocketbooks.

While it may seem like people get away with their transgressions, I think they reap another, more costly, reward. They live a half-life, a simulacrum, instead of the life they should be living. They spend their lives worrying – waiting for it all to come tumbling down around their ears.

I am not just talking about career criminals here. I am sure we all have neighbors, acquaintances, and perhaps even friends and family members who suffer from this to varying degrees. In some ways, we have all looked for the easy answer the easy score, the easy fortune. Hopefully, you, like myself, have found that you could not bear the half-life, the feelings of despair that it caused. I hope that you have found that even with all the typical struggles of our lives, there was still a correct and proper way to live them.

This isn’t about religion, either. Religious tenets, at their best, only seek to reinforce what we already know to be true. They are reminders, guidelines and rubrics for behavior that are but an outward display of inward, and inborn, desires to live a good life.

Even in the darkest despair, the worst ghettos, on the sidewalks of your city’s Skid Row, you will find those that still try to live the best life they can under the circumstances they are given. In fact, wealh in some ways, makes it easier for us to go astray, shows us more fruitless dead ends to travel down. Life is most likely to take a turn for the worse exactly when we feel it is going well. Immersed in our success, we take our eye off what truly matters. We allow ourselves to be distracted or apathetic until we suddenly find ourselves at a dead end of our own making.

Why are you struggling right now? Is it circumstance, bad luck, a bad economy or have you made decisions you regret? Are you at a dead end in your life and career? If so, turn around right now and head back the way you came. You will find the path again and find a second chance. A chance to take another path that will lead you on to the good life and away from despair and stagnation.. Your perfect life is out there. Your job is to seek it out at every turn. Even if you never reach perfection – few of us do – the journey alone will accomplish more than all those that take shortcuts to a dead end, again and again.



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I Like This – May 6, 2010

May 6th, 2010 Comments off
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What I’m Reading…The Compassionate Instinct

May 4th, 2010 Comments off

Over the years I have often wondered if maybe nice guys really do finish last. I am not the most competitive person in the world and sometimes think it has held me back. That makes “The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness” a good read for me. It is made up of short essays which use hard science to tease out the existence, need and desire for compassion in all its forms. There are essays on hope, empathy, forgiveness and the whole continuum of compassionate behaviors in all primates, including humans.

The essay-based format allows for quick dives into the content, so you don’t feel you have to swallow the entire book at one sitting. Time spent thinking about what you have read is important, and almost required, as you delve into some of the deepest aspects of what makes us human.

I first head about this book from an interview with the two of the editors on Tech Nation with Moira Gunn. You can listen to the program using the link below.

The Science of Human Goodness
Dacher Keltner, Jason Marsh
Psychology Professor and Editor, Greater Good magazine

Dr. Moira Gunn talks with UC Berkeley Psychology Professor, Dacher Keltner and the editor of Greater Good magazine, Jason Marsh, about how humans are naturally programmed to be good and what separates those who are from those who are not.

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Douglas traveling to the UK in June

May 1st, 2010 Comments off

I, along with my family, will be traveling to the UK from June 16 through June 26.

We will start our travels in Cardiff, as my wife is presenting a paper at the “Investigating Torchwood” Conference at the University of Glamorgan.

We will then be traveling the south central part of the country (destinations still undecided), ending up in London eventually towards the end of that week.

For my UK readers/listeners, is there any interest in setting up a Tweetup/Meetup while we are there?

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