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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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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: Interview with David Jefferson of JPL – February 8, 2006

July 22nd, 2009 Comments off
[audio:http://welchwrite.com/dewelch/ce/2006/audio/career-op-20060208a.mp3]

This is the first in our on-going interview series with high-tech careerists of all types.

Today’s interview is with David Jefferson, senior engineer/navigator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). We talk about how we got started in his career, how high-tech is integrated into his work and how you plan for projects that take 10 years or more to come to fruition.


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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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