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Combine all aspects of your life into your career — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

July 1st, 2014 Comments off

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Each and every one of us is a unique combination of knowledge, temperament and experience. We all have different wants, needs and desires.  It is this very uniqueness that can bring us great success in our careers, if we use it to its full potential. If you can find ways to bring all your experiences, all your desires and all your knowledge to bear on your career, you will find many opportunities to find work and do great work.


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The trick to bringing everything that is “you” to bear on your career is finding the edges, the boundaries, those areas where different aspects of your life and work interact. At these boundaries you will find interaction, friction, conflict and overlap that can lead to deeper thoughts and understanding, unique viewpoints and new ideas that have never been seen before. It is at these edges — away from the safe, predictable middle, that you will find the best sources of a good job and a great career.

What makes these edges so special? It is said that most, if not all, great innovations come from combining two or more elements that no one had thought of combining before. Gutenberg combined the features of a coin punch with those of a wine press to create his printing press. The inventor of Velcro combined the natural stickiness of burrs with clothing to produce something extremely useful and unique, Velcro. Just as you can combine ideas to create new innovations, you can combine aspects of yourself to create new careers.

Find the edges of your life. Perhaps you are a musician in one area of your life, but you also love technology or video games. Could you combine these two areas and develop musical video games, programs to teach music or music for videogames and other online projects? Maybe you could look at it in the other direction. Could you use your technological skills to create algorithmic music, interactive environments or meditation programs? What two aspects of your life can you rub against each other and create some sparks?

You don’t have to combine just those things you like, though. Maybe you have a pet peeve or annoyance that your would like to solve. What other tools in your skill set could you use to solve that problem? Again, look for those edges where the problem and your skills rub against each other. Is there another interest in your life that can be brought to bear on the problem?

Look beyond what you might consider traditional work skills, too. Do you sail? Do you surf? Do you rock climb? Do you write poetry? Each of these is a valid part of your life and experience. You might not think of including them as part of your career, but you should. It is unique and interesting aspects like this that can cause some of the biggest leaps in your career innovation. What have you learned in these hobbies that would be useful in your career? I can imagine that seeing 1,2 or 3 handholds or footholds ahead in your climb could prove very useful for planning any project or job, just as the ability to read the wind and currents could help you predict the future of a new product. Don’t discount your skills just because they aren’t traditionally used in the office. Everything you know, everything you do, should be fodder for producing better work and a better career.

Think of your world as a series of circles the touch or overlap one another. In fact, draw some Venn diagrams yourself. You probably learned about these in high school math class. Where do your interests create an intersecting set or a union? Below is a diagram of interests from my own life. Some circles are skills. Some are interests. Some are types of people. Some are goals I want accomplish in my life. All your circles will be and should be unique to you. It is your life, interests and skills,after all.

Diagram of Douglas' Skills and Interests

The next time you are considering where to go in your career, look to the edges of all these circles and see what new, exciting possibilities arise. You don’t have to stick with the same old jobs, the same old careers, the same old life. Look to the edges and see what amazing adventures can be found there.

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Audio: Organization: The 7 Skills of a Successful Careerist — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

October 2nd, 2013 Comments off

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Read and Listen to the Introduction to this series, The 7 Skills of a Successful Careerist.

When most of us think about organization, we think about calendars, address books and to-do lists, but organization, as it relates to your life and career, is so much more. We all know  from personal experience how unorganized people and companies can make our lives much more difficult than it need be – sometimes to the point of chaos. Why would we wish to inflict this on others ourselves? If you want to have a successful career, you must become organized – at least in some basic way. Thankfully, and despite what you might think, it’s relatively easy to be organized. Even more, the slightest bit of organization, will help you to stand out among those who haven’t yet learned that lesson. Organization can be an excellent way to build a very successful career.


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The first step in getting organized — and staying organized — is to CAPTURE EVERYTHING. Too often – in work and life – we simply ignore or forget when we are given the events, action items, and creative ideas that need to be accomplished. There’s no way you can hope to smoothly make your way through life, if you don’t remember what needs to be done and when. Yet again though, through personal experience, we know that people do this every day. Instead of organizing themselves, they rely on others to constantly remind them what they should be doing.

Capturing everything doesn’t require any technology more expensive than paper and pencil. Sure technology can help you capture and manage more information, more easily, but the basic factor in organization is a change in behavior, not the addition of more technology. Developing an understanding of organization and the methods involved will allow you to use whatever is available. Here are 3 basic concepts to get you started on the road to organization.

To begin, there are three capture “triggers” that you must learn to identify and act on the moment they occur. Sure, you will eventually need, and want, to collect even more trigger items, but these 3 are the most basic and important.
Dates and Times – Put them in your calendar

Even in our modern and technologically advanced world, our lives still follow the calendar of days, weeks, months and years. Each season still brings common activities and themes in our work. Just as we pay attention to the movement from Fall to Winter or Winter to Spring, we need to pay close attention to the events that pass through our calendars.

Whenever you are given a date or time for an event, stop – immediately – and capture it. It doesn’t matter if the date is specific or vague, near or far, large or small. Dates are important markers in our lives and in some ways they allow us to see into the future, knowing what must be done and when. The simple act of capturing these events allows us to prepare and plan.

Capturing events in your calendar also directly sends a message to those around you. If you are speaking with someone and you stop for a moment to put that date in your datebook, calendar, wherever, you are demonstrating to those around you that you are committed to being organized.Your simple action of writing it down, or entering it into your phone, sends a clear and loud message — “I Care!”
Don’t worry if the date is vague, or might change in the future. Put it in anyway. You could always move it, if it changes. It is far more important to capture all the events, rather than trying to sort out which ones are useful or not.

Next, when you’re given a prepared calendar for a school, company or organization, take a few moments to enter in any and all dates that are of interest or importance to you, your family or your company. This might include days off from school, holidays, teacher meetings, business conferences, ends of fiscal years, tax filing deadlines, etc. If it’s a date — and has any meaning or interest to you — capture it.
As a parent, I find this step particularly important. It can be hard to juggle multiple calendar when both parents work and high school age children begin to have their own unique calendar. Pickup must be arranged. Practices for theater and sports teams must be considered, along with homework, tests and other events. Capturing the bulk of those events at the beginning of the year can make your entire year run much more smoothly.

While capturing these items is a starting point, there is an advanced method you can include once the basics are working. Whenever you enter an event, take a moment to think about what needs to be done to prepare for that event and then capture those date and put them into your calendar as well. If you need to make cookies for a bake sale, or create an end-of-quarter presentation, add an event 1-2 weeks ahead to remind you to prepare.

Action items

After dates and events, the next important capture trigger are the “action items” that make up your life. These action items can be given to you by others, driven by your calendar items, or action items you give yourself. Just as with calendar items, you need to capture these items immediately, so that nothing falls in the “cracks” of your work and life.

As with calendar events, when you are having a discussion with someone, listen for action item triggers and capture them as they occur. If you hear the words “I need” or “I want”, it should immediately send you into capture mode. Those around us often give clear indications of what they want and need us to do, but if we fail to capture them, it is as if they were never said at all. This can lead to large disagreements both in life and work. Capturing these action items can go a long way towards smoothing and speeding communication with those around you.

You can capture action items in a simple list, organize them by project or category, or in whatever way makes the most sense for you personally. It’s far more important for you to capture them, then the methods you use to capture them. That said, capturing action items in one place is best. This can be a notebook, paper journal, phone or computer, but I would advise against scattering them across a bunch of sticky notes or scraps of paper. In that form, they are far too easy to misplace and make it difficult to review these items when needed.

Thoughts and Ideas

The final capture trigger in this basic organizational strategy is your own thoughts and ideas. We all have thousands of ideas and thoughts each day and yet, if you don’t capture these ideas — good, bad or indifferent – most will be lost forever. These ideas could be the basis for dramatic changes in your life and career and — in some ways — failing to capture them is like throwing away money. Your ideas are important and deserve to be captured. They are the fuel that drives your work and career. You can never tell what ideas might be useful or important in the future, so your job is to capture as many as possible and review them on a regular basis.

Rinse, Repeat and Review

That review, of course, is the final piece of this organizational strategy. You will find that calendar items, action items and your own ideas will naturally generate even more items that need to be captured. It will become a never-ending cycle of organization and productivity. The simple act of capturing these items, puts milestones along the road of your life. You can’t help to grow and improve in your work and life, because the simple act of capturing these items will constantly remind you what needs to be done and when it needs to be done.This basic and easy-to-use organizational strategy lays an excellent foundation for building the career you deserve.

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7 Skills of the Successful Careerist — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

September 9th, 2013 Comments off

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Looking back over my own long career, and the careers of family, friends and Career Opportunities listeners and readers, I have struck upon 7 Skills that can help to insure a successful career for any careerist, regardless of their work industry, their position in a company or their goals as a careerist. These fundamental skills form a solid foundation for any career and, in many ways, also enhance life outside of your career. In this introduction I will give an overview of of the skills and then explore each one further in its own, upcoming, Career Opportunities column.

 

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The 7 Skills of the Successful Careerist include:

Organization

Organization is the ability to control your life and your work as much as possible, knowing that unforeseen events will always crop up. It means tracking the work you need to do, the progress of that work and the flow of work through your life. While tools like ToDo lists, GTD and Agile processes, and calendars can help you organize, organization is an overall mindset the underpins nearly everything else you do. If you are disorganized, work and life can quickly become much more difficult than they need be.

Communication

Communication, in all its forms — face-to-face, online, written, spoken — is critical to everyone, regardless of your position or type of work. Poor communication skills will hamper any career. In some cases, poor communication limits your impact and ability to grow in your career. In other cases, it may prevent you from having a successful career at all. Do people frequently misunderstand your words, your actions or your intentions? Surely, some people will have their own communication issues, but if miscommunication is a frequent and common thread in your career, you need to look to your own communication skills, or lack thereof, as the possible source any career issues you might face.

Troubleshooting

The ability to logically think through any problems you face — both large and small — can unlock great success in your career. Too many people start flailing wildly when faced with problems, having no rhyme or reason to the way they approach the problem. This is odd when you consider that all of us have been exposed to an excellent tool for troubleshooting during our school years — the scientific method.

  • Develop a question
  • Research the questions
  • Construct a hypothesis
  • Test your hypothesis with an experiement
  • Analyze the results
  • Repeat

Applying the scientific method we all learned to problems large and small, can make you seem a troubleshooting genius. Especially to those who have ignored it or forgotten how to use it.

Empathy

“The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another” — Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Too few of us, in the heat of our career, remember what it was like to be new, to be scared, to be ignorant, to be young, to be striving, to be a entry level employee. It is almost as if we lock away our past fears and memories so we are no longer trouble by them. Unfortunately, this can lead us to be callous, petty and often, downright mean, to our fellow coworkers and careerists. Lack of empathy can also hamper relations with your customers, your clients and those you depend on for your career. Developing a sense of empathy with those around you isn’t some “soft skill” that only serves the “creatives” in your business. Rather, it is a deeply important skill and trait that can open doors to people hearts and minds and allow you, your message, your product, your work to resonate more deeply with them.

Self-Knowledge

It has been said that one of the most important traits of any person is to “know what you don’t know.” We are all ignorant on so many things, but when we forget that we are ignorant we can make deep and painful mistakes in our careers and lives. Self-Knowledge means not only understanding our own ignorance, but also taking the time to explore our actions, motivations, wanted, needs and desires so that we can better manage them and use them to achieve great things. If we don’t contemplate our own lives and work, we can find ourselves taking actions that actually harm our careers and lead us away from what we truly want. We are surrounded by a myriad of outside forces pushing us in one direction or another. If we don’t deeply think about what we want, though. we risk living someone else’s life instead of the one we truly desire.

Moneywise

If you are not moneywise — at least in the most basic ways — your life and career will be difficult. You don’t need to be a financial wizard or spend all your waking hours thinking about money, but you must know how to develop a budget, how to prevent overextending your credit, how to make the best purchasing decisions and, most importantly, how to be frugal, especially early in your career. Poor money decisions have a way of haunting you for years, if not the rest of your life. Make as few poor decisions as possible early on, and you will ease your path as you grow older. Sure, we all make poor money decisions on occasion, but we should seek to make as few as possible to prevent them damaging our long-term success.

Flexibility to Change

The world has always been filled with change. From the beginnings of civilization to today’s hyperspeed, Internet-driven culture and it has been proven that those most likely to succeed, in life and career, are those that can be flexible in the face of change. This doesn’t mean following every new fad that arises or flitting from one idea to another, but rather bending with the winds of change and finding ways to turn changes to your advantage. Sure, there will be changes we do not like. We may not wish to participate in this change or another, but neither can we ignore change as it comes rushing upon us. We need to recognize that change is omnipresent from moment to moment, day to day, year to year and our lives and careers will need to adapt to that change. To ignore change is to limit yourself, work and your career.

Look for more on these 7 Skills of the Successful Careerists in upcoming Career Opportunities columns.

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