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What you need: Supportive Family and Friends — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

March 26th, 2013 Comments off

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Of all the features of a successful career, an abundance of supportive family and friends is high on the list. Life itself is enough of a struggle. Without the support of those around you, you will find it difficult to learn and grow in your life and your career. That said, supportive family and friends aren’t always to be found naturally. You may have to create, cultivate and convince them of how important their support can be in your life. In some desperate cases, you may find that those who should be the most supportive aren’t — or can’t be — for a variety of reasons. Understanding these reasons — and the people around you — can help you to overcome those situations and better recognize those who truly have your better interests at heart.


 
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Supportive family and friends are so important in our careers because we risk much when we enter the adult, work world. We risk being judged. We risk failure. We risk embarrassment and we even risk the discovery that we have chosen the wrong work or the wrong career. As you all know, career building can be stressful, so we need those people in our lives who can comfort us when the going gets rough; those who can mentor us and help us rebuild our confidence when our own belief in ourselves is running low. These aren’t people who lie to you just to make you feel better, but rather those who express their support, no matter what we decide and give us a firm foundation to stand upon while we reach for greater things.

Without these people, we can often feel adrift, lost and afraid. Without this stable foundation, we may not have the courage necessary to reach for bigger achievements in our lives. Without them, we can find our careers stunted and our work days unhappy, just because we lack the support for taking the most important steps. We can languish in our lives simply because it feels safer to stay in the cave than to venture out. There might be a bear waiting outside, or so the primitive parts of our mind might have us believe. To that I will say, yes, there are bears out there, but there is also so much more. It is worth braving the forest because you will find wonderful things there, too. Our family and friends can give us the courage to peek outside the cave and take in all the world has to offer.

As I mentioned earlier, though, sometimes our family might not be the best place to find support in our lives and our careers. Sadly, they might have so many of their own issues, worries and fears that they simply have no space for yours. They may be addicted, ill or the victim of their own, unsupportive family. They may simply be unable to provide you the support you need for lack of their own experience. In some cases, your family will not want you to succeed because your success would point up their own failures. Maybe they never had the courage to step outside the cave and when you do, it only, painfully, reminds them of their own failures.

Bemoaning your fate won’t help, though. Once you recognize these issues, your only recourse is to seek out and build the support you need in your life. This is when we reach out to our friends. In some cases, our friends can become more of our family than our own blood relatives. Our friends have less baggage, fewer issues and see us as an individual, rather than just a small part of a larger family and the collective issues they might have. Friends can take or leave us — and we them — so we need not appeal to them or appease them if we don’t want. We associate with friends — and they with us — because we enjoy each other’s company. We genuinely “like” being around them. This can often make it easier for them to be supportive of us when we need it. There is simply less “history” to work through than their is with our family.

Of course, if we expect others to be supportive of us, then we must be supportive of them. Again, this doesn’t mean we don’t tell the truth to our friends. Rather it often means we tell the truth when others will not. This can mean everything from telling them that, “yes, those pants do make you look fat”, to the fact that their addiction to something is endangering their life and everything in-between. Still, the most basic underpinning of the relationship is support. To be supportive of each other means that you both, honestly, want to see each other succeed — in life and career — as much as possible. This can be difficult sometimes, such as when someone is gaining more success than you are, but it is so, so important to everyone involved. We should be able to celebrate everyone’s success, even when we are struggling ourselves, since we have played some small part in their success.

The biggest enemy of supportive relationships is this — insecurity. Insecure people find it impossible to be supportive of others. They see the gains of others as a direct loss for themselves. Instead of mutual success, they only see a zero sum game where they lose when others win. Insecurity seems to be the deep-seated cause of much of the anti-social behavior we see in society today. We can experience insecurity in our families, in your relationships, in our friendships — anywhere where people interact. It is important you recognize insecurity when you see it and avoid it at all costs. I often say, “it is impossible to reason with unreasonable people” and insecure people are often the most unreasonable people you will meet. They see the world through one filter. They see any success as a direct attack on their life and career. Because they see the world this way, they will lash out, attack and sabotage those around them when possible. They become the exact opposite of the supportive environment that we all need to thrive. Avoid them at all costs.

I hope that your family is helpful and supportive in your life and career. Many are. I have seen mothers and fathers grit their teeth and smile when their children make decisions different from what they might make. They welcome them back to offer a friendly and supportive shoulder when needed. They help their children to succeed in every way possible.

If you are blessed with such a family, appreciate it, celebrate it and thank them at every opportunity. If your family is not as supportive as you wish or need, though, it is up to you to find another, more supportive environment. You might find this through your friends, your organizations or even your work, but find it you must. Everything will depend on finding a supportive environment that will help you to thrive. That said, if you are seeking out a supportive environment, you must seek to be the same for others. You can’t have one without the other.

***

Archive: When you Can’t Help — From the Career Opportunities Podcast

February 14th, 2013 Comments off

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As the world of technology becomes more complex, you as a high-tech worker or consultant will start to feel the effects of this complexity. In the past we may have prided ourselves on our ability to provide a solution to every client, but today the world is simply too complicated to allow that. Too frequently these days we find ourselves standing between two, finger-pointing corporations who insist to the end that the problem is not their fault. Despite your best effort, you will have to admit, sometimes, that you can’t help the client any further.


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This week I visited a new client to set up their DSL. Yes, even today there are still many people using a dialup modem to connect to the Internet. Normally, these broadband installations are simple and straightforward, as long as the telephone or cable company has activated the line. There are times I have to contact tech support to solve a small problem, but even these questions are usually handled quickly. In this case, though, while the connection was somewhat active, it was not stable. I had it working at one moment, only to lose it the next. After contacting tech support, they ordered an on-site visit to check the line and insure there were no problems.

Of course, the telephone company checked the line, only to say that the line was ok, but the modem that had been delivered by the ISP was faulty. Subsequent calls to the ISP resulted in a stonewall and a refusal to deliver a new modem. There we were, stuck between two companies. As of the writing of this column, we have not come to an agreement yet. I am sure it will take several more phone calls and hours of wasted time. In the end, though, there is little I can do for the client except act as an advisor and technology translator and help them navigate through the problem.

When faced with a problem such as this, you have to insure that you don’t become the focus of the client’s anger and frustration. I am very careful to insure that the client knows I am doing all I can. I will assist them with phone calls to vendors, even to the point of having them create a conference call if I cannot be on-site. I explain very clearly to them the responsibility of all the players and what we, together, can do to resolve the issue. You must be on their side or the vendor’s problem will quickly become yours.

Do everything you can to provide alternatives. In cases where DSL is unavailable or unreliable, I will help the client to investigate cable modem or wireless broadband…whatever might provide a solution. This can sometimes lead to several hours of unpaid work, but I believe that the potential earnings from a client often make up for these initial problems. That said, there comes a time when you simply have to throw up your hands and give in.

It can be very frustrating and disheartening for you when you realize that no adequate solution exists to a client’s problem. I am always reluctant to suggest the purchase of a new computer or a return to older technology, such as dial-up, but sometimes you have no choice. Circumstances such as the environment, utility infrastructure, uncooperative vendors and more can eventually put enough roadblocks in your way that a project is no longer feasible.

It can be difficult, so you must clearly explain to the client the realities of the situation. Carefully go over each step of the process and detail each problem. Next, do everything in your power to return their system to the basic functionality they had before. Make sure their dial-up networking is functioning or their older software continues to work. I do my best to fulfill the ancient Hippocratic oath in my own way and “do no harm.” I think this is the best standard possible to guide your work. Finally, let them know if there might be a time to re-visit the issue in the future. Perhaps they will be buying a new computer or moving to a new location. Let them know that you are still available for any other problems or questions they might have in the future.

There comes a time when circumstances, corporations and technology will conspire against your best efforts. Do the best for your clients and yourself by understanding when you simply can’t help them any further. Do all you can and then move on — and hopefully they will, too, once they understand the road blocks. If you do this correctly, you will retain your client and develop a good working relationship, even if you can’t solve this particular problem. If you handle the situation poorly, you will be lumped in with the creator of the problem and seen as part of the problem, not someone who is working in the client’s best interest. When this occurs, the damage to your reputation and your career will be dramatic.

***

The trouble of being self-sustaining in your career

April 19th, 2010 1 comment

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There is an old cliche quote that says, “Behind every great man is a woman” with a host of addendum on the end to fit the specific situation. While I don’t dispute this, except to say that it also works the other way, there are times in our lives and career when we must be self-sustaining. There are times when the support of a spouse simply isn’t available for a host of reasons. It is in these times that we can all “fall down” and find our careers mired in the mud only because we simply don’t have enough individual energy to move us forward. Sometimes, we all need a cheerleader on the sidelines. Without them, something can seem dramatically absent from our lives and our work.

I am mainly talking about spouses, of all sorts, in this column, as this is my own experience. Close friends and family can also be “sustainers” in your career and their absence can be just as damaging. “Sustainers” help us through the rough spots in our careers by providing advice, support, wisdom and, most importantly, their energy. We all have an ebb and flow to our personal and work energy and sustainers help us get through the low spots without foundering on the rocks of sleep and self-doubt.

Sustainers can be absent from our lives for a number of reasons, even though they may be physically present. Often there is simply a lack of interest in the careers of our spouses. In my relationship, my wife has no great interest in careers, technology or new media — three of my greatest interests and also where I focus the majority of my work. This lack of interest doesn’t stem from malice, but rather the fact that she has her own busy career in television writing and now, as a university educator. Second, she is not terribly enthralled with any of my career interests. This is probably quite common in many relationships. We don’t always have to love everything our partner does.

This means, though, that we must each be self-sustaining in our own, individual careers. We may support each other emotionally and physically, but we need to look elsewhere for our career support. Usually we have to look inwards. We have to be able to push on when the writing isn’t going well. We have to find our own reasons to continue working on a new project. We need to find our own ways of keeping our energy going, even when we might rather take a nap.

The trouble, of course, is that we only have so much energy, so much willpower, so much creativity and, without a sustainer to help us, we can fall down. I am sure this has happened to you, just as it has happened to me. We can fall into a pit where nothing seems important enough to work on — nothing seems worth the effort — or, as in my case, nothing is more important than sleep. It can be very tiring to be your sole, best, cheerleader and nearly impossible to maintain for long periods.

So, what do you do when you need a sustainer in your life? You go and find one. I have several groups of like-minded folks I meet with regularly for specifically this reason. My New Media Interchange and New Media Mastermind groups help me explore that area of my work, BarCampLA and LA Geek Dinners feed the technology side and Tuesdays with Transitioners gives me a place to discuss career issues. I need these groups, and the conversation they bring, to keep me moving forward, give me a place to vent my frustration and get a little cheerleading from my companions.

Don’t be surprised, or dismayed, to find that you are having trouble sustaining your own energy about your work. It is a common problem, but the solutions are just as common. If, due to a difference in interests, lack of time or other issue, your spouse can’t provide you the support you need, reach out to friends, family and fellow interested people to keep your interest and energy at a productive level. We all need a cheerleader in our lives and sometimes we have to go out and find them.



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What are you selling to your employer?

September 19th, 2009 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoWhat are you selling to your employer?
By Douglas E. Welch

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[audio:http://welchwrite.com/career/audio/2009/career-op-20090918.mp3]

The nature of work has changed dramatically over the centuries. As a people, we moved from hunting and gathering, to subsistence farming, to larger agricultural communities, through industrialization to manufacturing and into the “information economy. Sweeping dramatic changes all, but each stage has demanded more physical work than thought. Even the information economy still encompasses much “grunt work” to keep it operating. In many cases in your career, companies are still only buying your “hands”. Sure, they might also be buying a certain amount of your “head” — your best thoughts and ideas — but the next wave in business, which many people do not understand, is asking people to sell their hearts, as well. This will not, and should not, come cheap.

It is probably obvious what I mean by selling your “hands” to your employer. In the past, this might have meant working in a farm field or on an assembly line, but today it could also apply to webmasters and server administrators whose job it is to keep information resources running. In my work as a computer consultant, most of my time is spent troubleshooting, repairing and recovering. Even though I find training and preventive maintenance to be much more involving and rewarding, in many ways I am the high-tech equivalent of a plumber. My job is to fix ‘what’s broke’ as quickly as possible.

As I am moving my consulting business into New Media work, I find that I am selling more of my “head” than my hands. Instead of doing the actual work of setting up blogs and social media accounts, I spend more time helping individuals and businesses discover what is possible and the best ways to make use of these new tools. I have moved from making the automobile on the assembly line to helping design the car that will be made by others. In some ways, writing this column and podcast has also been more “head” work than “hand.” Each week I try to develop ideas that help you “build the career you deserve.” This shows how different parts of your career can simultaneously be at different steps in this new migration of the concepts of career and work.

Today, though, we are entering entirely new waters in the work world. To be deeply successful, to do the best work possible, we need to find a company, a business or a life where we can “sell” our “heart” — our passion. While it can sound odd to discuss selling our passion, that is truly what we are doing. In the best careers, we find a place where we are willing to provide our passionate skills and thoughts to another in return for monetary rewards. This isn’t selling out. This is finding what I consider to be the epitome, sine quo non, of careers — a career where you make money doing something you love. A career in which you can invest your heart and soul. A career that supports you not only monetarily, but spiritually.

I am sure some of you are shaking your heads, not believing that such a career exists, but you can look around you to see some current practitioners of this idea. Yo Yo Ma and other classical musicians of less reknown make a living doing what they love. Many other artists, too. Many of the great thinkers we read or see speak at conferences all over the world have reached this level, in some ways. It isn’t only famous people, though. The songwriter who sells a top 40 hit remains largely unknown, but supports themselves and their families in fine style. We have many friend who are “working” actors you see on television nearly every day, who love their work and are successful, even if they are not “star” names to you. For me, the very definition of success is having a comfortable life while doing something you love. There are opportunities to be successful no matter your industry or type of work. These opportunities arise from finding a place where you can exercise your passions as much as possible. In some ways, I don’t think you can do your best work unless you are truly passionate about what you are doing.

So what are you selling? Your hands, your head or your heart? If you want to build the career you deserve you need to do some hard thinking about your work and your life. You need to discover your passions so that you can go and find a place — a new company, your own business, a career in the arts, whatever — where you can engage your passions and reach the highest levels of financial and spiritual success possible.



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Career Tip for September 18, 2009

September 18th, 2009 Comments off

[Tip] Leadership is of the utmost importance, even if you are only leading yourself. Lead yourself and others may follow, though.

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Who are you laboring for?

September 13th, 2009 Comments off

Career Opportunities podcast logoWho are you laboring for?
By Douglas E. Welch

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[audio:http://welchwrite.com/career/audio/2009/career-op-20090911.mp3]

This week began with the US celebration of the Labor Day holiday, celebrating the labor that keeps our economy and our nation moving forward. Labor Day “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” according the US Department of Labor web site, but I think it is much more important to think of our own personal labor, and the benefits it brings us. The true meaning of our labor can get lost among the interlinked needs of company, employee, business and individual.

Everyone works for someone else, this is always true. Whether you are a traditional employee or a freelancer, we sell our time, our knowledge and our skills to someone in return for money. Too often, though, we only consider the effects of our labor on our employer or customer. Instead, no matter what your work arrangement, you must also consider the effect of your work on yourself. How does your work effect not only your monetary well-being but also your mental, spiritual and medical well-being?

The value equation of work doesn’t move in one direction. Yes, you must provide value to the person who provides your paycheck or pays your invoices, but you also need to be gaining something other than money. I am very fond of saying that money should never be the sole reason for doing — or not doing — anything. There are countless reasons and needs that surround any work decision. To reduce it to a simple matter of dollars and cents is a disservice to both you and your employer. If your job isn’t valuable to you, in a number of ways, then it is a clear sign that you need to find a way to increase its value or find a job that provides that additional value.

So, what are the other valuable items you should be finding in your job? First, and most important, is knowledge. Your job should be challenging in a variety of ways. You should be learning new things about a wide variety of topics as often as you can. Sure, over the years some tasks will become almost automatic, but this stable environment should provide you opportunities to stretch your skills and knowledge. If you aren’t learning more each day, your value to your company can actually decrease over time. At its worst, you can become better and better at a task that is needed less and less. If you aren’t learning about new methods, new needs, new changes in your company — and your industry in general — you could find your job has disappeared out from under you.

Next, the new skills, experience and knowledge you gain each day must be transferable to another job, another company, another industry. Certain jobs can be so specific that the skills you have are only applicable to a very narrow band of industries. Sure, there will always be some specific skills, but if the majority of your work is taken up with these tasks, you might find it very hard to find your next job. You must take every opportunity to explore all aspects of your job and find those skills that serve not only your current position, but whatever future position you might desire.

These two valuable items, knowledge and transferable skills are the driving factors in a long and successful career. By pursuing them, you are preparing for the reality that a career is made of many jobs over many years, not one job with one company. You have to prepare yourself for the dissolution of any particular company, or even an entire industry. Your paycheck may cover your expenses and allow you to buy the items you want for your house and family now, but expanded knowledge and transferable skills are the added value of any job that allows you to build the career you deserve in the future.



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Archive: Sales is Everything – December 17, 2004

January 30th, 2008 Comments off

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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[audio:http://welchwrite.com/dewelch/ce/2004/audio/co041217.mp3]

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Yes, that’s right, “sales” is everything. Business experts like Tom Peters preach it, industry pundits carry on the charge, even I know this is true, but taking it to heart and integrating this thought into my business is a troublesome task. I bemoan the past when…was it ever true?… there were sales people and everyone else. If you worked in development, technical support or any other aspect of business, you didn’t have to think about sales. It was something that the “Sales guys” did. This would be my dream world, but dreams don’t put food on the table.

This Friday: February 1, 2008: Without risk we all stagnate


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