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Archive: Career Complaints can lead to bigger problems — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

January 31st, 2014 Comments off

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Over the course of any career, you are sure to have complaints both large and small. It is a simple fact of life that our work is not always perfect. That said, some people can fall into the role of the constant complainer – someone who always has a complaint at hand, ready to toss it into any conversation, whether appropriate or not. Worse still, these people can lead others down the wrong path and enable them to become a constant complainer, as well.

Now, this is not to say that you will never have anything to complain about, but complaining without thinking or attempting to resolve your problems first is absolutely worthless. Complainers that rebut any attempt to help them out of their situation, or those that constantly find one problem after another, will soon find themselves outcast by both their co-workers and possible even their company. You need to make sure that if you have a complaint, you are the first one to offer up possible solutions to the problem. Your initial solutions might not work, but they pave the way for others to get involved and work on the problem with you. Constant complainers can sometimes get their problems resolved, but it is usually out of the frustration of others than any sincere attempt to solve the problem itself.

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Complaining can be dangerous to everyone in a company, as well. It has a way of spreading throughout a company if left unchecked. Even the smallest complaints can take on a life of their own, especially if there are some accomplished complainers to keep the issue alive. Complaining can also be dangerous to you individually, too. There have been times in my career when I have had to actively avoid some co-workers in order to remove myself from a bad situation. You have to be aware of what is happening and short circuit the complaint cycle if is becoming unproductive. Otherwise, you run the danger of being lumped together with the complainers when management decides to address the issue. The fact is, management could decide to remove the constant complainers rather than address the source of the complaints.

Due to all these issues, it can be very helpful to have outside resources to discuss your career and work complaints. In this way, you can work towards resolving your issues without effecting your day-to-day reputation. I consider this the best of both worlds. In some cases, this might be your friends who work for other companies, your mentor or anyone with a kindly ear. I know I often call upon my friend, Sam, when I am facing a difficulty with a client. He knows me well enough to offer good advice and knows that I will accept that advice without reservation even if I can’t act on it, at the moment. Sometimes, the most important thing we need is simply someone to listen.

To offer up another resource for discussing your career issues, I recently started a regular Career Complaints topic on the Career Opportunities forums at forums.friendsintech.com. Here you can discus your career issues, work issues, fears and wishes with a dedicated group completely disconnected from your workplace. I only have one stipulation for this forum, beyond the usual requests to be professional and polite. If you have a career complaint, you have to have one thought, one idea, one plan on how you can address the issue before you bring it up in the forum.

I know, sometimes it can be difficult to see your way out of a problem when you are buried inside it, but by looking for one possible change, no matter how small, it forces you to think about your problem as unemotionally as possible. It is in this conscious thought that you find the beginning of a solution. This is as true for life as it is for your career. Don’t worry, though, I will respond to any posts to this forum area and your fellow Career Opportunities readers and listeners are sure to chime in, as well. You won’t be alone. I only ask that you take the first step in building your own personal solution to your problem.The next time you are tempted to gather around the water cooler and complain about your job or your career, I hope you will turn to your friends and family, or the Career Opportunities forums, so you can develop the solutions you need without damaging your reputation or your career.

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Creating Opportunity — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

January 7th, 2014 Comments off

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In this Year of Opportunity, one of your biggest goals should be create opportunity around you. It may sound odd, but yes, you have the ability to create your own opportunities through your own, direct actions. Creating opportunity requires some work your part, but the results should be more than worth it. Take some of that energy you have spent searching for a job and start searching for — and creating — your own opportunities this year.


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Know and become known

The most important part of creating opportunity is to know others and to make yourself known to others. Opportunities come from the people you know, both individually and as part of various groups. It only makes sense that the more people you know the more opportunities you will be exposed to. Too many of us cocoon ourselves away from the world, refusing to interact with others because we feel inadequate, unaccomplished or just plain scared. You must break out of this. You are a unique, capable, interesting individual and you deserve to know and interact with others and they you. Insecurity can trap you in a hole of your own making and actively prevent you from climbing out.

This week, I want you to take some direct action to re-connect and know others. Meet with a friend or family member. Find a new interesting meetup in your area, no matter what the topic, Give yourself permission to explore and re-engage with the world. After my own year of transition, I am having to do the same myself. Sometimes I have to nearly force myself out the door, but I always feel better for having made the effort. Even more, I always benefit from the effort in some way. Each new person I meet, each old friend I reconnect with, is another step towards creating new opportunities.

As well as knowing others, you must also seek to be known. You must share your expertise, your thoughts, your ideas, your feelings with those around you. Sharing develops deep connections with others as it often helps to solve a problem they might have. If you want to truly become a friend with someone, solve a problem for them. Nothing creates a deeper bond immediately and over time. Start blogging. Start sharing great tips and links on Facebook or wherever you prefer to spend your social media time. If you are a musician, find a place to play your music in public — for pay or not. If you are an architect, share your dream designs so that others can be inspired. If you are a caregiver, share your experiences so others can benefit and feel that they are not alone in their challenges. We all have something to share that can help those around us, if we only share it. Be known by your good deeds, your great information, your caring and your conversation.

Stop and consider your opportunities

Many times we let opportunities slip through our fingers without ever considering them opportunities at all. In this world of rush, rush, rush, it becomes even more important to stop and consider opportunities when they occur. If you don’t stop, other thoughts, other actions, other concerns will quickly push them aside and you will lose them.

The next time you think, “Hey, that’s a great idea!”, stop and write it down, note it on your smartphone, scribble it on a napkin, write it on your palm. Do whatever it takes to capture that idea for later consideration. Not every idea will turn into an opportunity, but a certain percentage will — a certain percentage that would have been lost had you not stopped to consider and capture it.

When you start doing this — capturing your ideas and thoughts, you will be amazed by two things. One, you will be amazed at how much information (and opportunity) you have been ignoring in your life and two, you will be amazed by how interesting your life can be, if you only take a moment to notice it. When you are struggling with challenges in your life and career, it can feel like nothing is important anymore. Capturing your ideas and thoughts can help to snap you out of the stupor you might find yourself in and get you back on the track to productivity.

It is a New Year and a new year requires new attitudes, new actions, new approaches to building the career you deserve. This is truly a Year of Opportunity (as every year really is) but we need to recognize that fact and put in some effort to make it the best year possible. Don’t let the past stop you from pursuing the future. Now get out there and start creating opportunity for yourself!

***

Archive: Bad reputations follow you everywhere — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

January 3rd, 2014 Comments off

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All it takes is one indiscretion, one moment of anger, to brand you with a bad reputation. Even worse, once people develop an opinion of you as a troublemaker, they may see issues where none really exist. Sometimes, we can damage our own reputation so badly that other’s expect us to be a problem. This was brought home to me again, as I watched my son’s latest Little League game.

The story goes back about 2 weeks. During another baseball game, the coaches and managers of one team had words with the coaches and parents of our team over the style of play they encouraged. The umpire (I can never imagine trying to do that job) had to sort things out, but the damage was already done. Complaints were filed with the league about one particular coach. As usual, word of this incident got around among the other teams and, most importantly, the other umpires.

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Fast forward to this week, when my son’s team faced this same coach. Sitting in the stands, I overheard the umpire’s instructions to the coaches and thought they seemed adversarial right from the start. Hmm. Had this umpire heard about the previous incident? Around the second inning of the game, I notice that the opposing coach had been removed from the game and was loudly complaining to league officials in the parking lot. I wondered what had happened, as I hadn’t seen anything overt.

As far as I can tell, the umpire for this game had heard about the previous incident and was determined to avoid any sort of repeat occurrence. In that light, he was looking for even the slightest infraction and then took advantage of that to resolve the problem as quickly as possible. Was this fair? I don’t really know, as I don’t know what precipitated the coach’s removal, but it points up the problem with how quickly developing any sort of bad reputation can effect your work.

The same thing can happen to you in your work and career. Once people have developed an opinion about you, it can color every other interaction. If you complain once, you might be branded as the complainer in the company. Slack off once and you are the slacker. It is horribly unfair, but it occurs every day. In order to deal with the speed at which life comes at us, we often fall back on making assumptions, snap judgments and stereotypes. This coping mechanism serves no one well, though. We can be labeled unfairly and we can also label others unfairly. This then leads to further complications, which can derail personal relationships and leave us wondering where it all went wrong.

Develop a reputation for one trait and it will dog you for a long time, just as it did this coach. Those around you will expect you to act in a certain way and each time you do, it will only confirm their judgment further. Over time you can dig yourself a very deep hole.

So, how do you combat this “pigeonhole” effect? You must start with the very first occurrence. If you feel that you are starting to develop a bad reputation in a particular area, you must address it immediately. Had this coach talked with previous umpires and coaches and tried to find an amicable understanding the first time, he might not have had to face this second confrontation. Instead, those around him simply assumed that he would continue to act as he had in the past.

Next, this coach also had to turn around these expectations by going out of his way to act in exactly the opposite fashion. For example, if you are seen as “the complainer”, “the hothead” or “the slacker,” you have to do everything in your power to counteract these opinions. In some cases you may simply have to “bite your tongue” in public and address issues in private with individuals. If you get angry during a meeting, you will have to spend weeks NOT getting angry. Changing perceptions is extremely difficult so you have to work at least twice as hard to change them as you did to develop these perceptions.

Think of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. He didn’t get just a little bit better, he changed completely. To quote, “He was better than his word. He did it all and infinitely more.” The best career advice is to always work to build the best reputation possible and, if you stumble, immediately correct your actions so you aren’t saddled with a bad reputation that can limit your effectiveness in your job and your career.

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Archive: Don’t be afraid – You won’t learn unless you ask — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

December 13th, 2013 Comments off

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No matter who you are, where you live or what you do, if you really want to learn something about your work, your ideas or a particular product, you only have to ask. Of course, asking for feedback can feel embarrassing and even frightening. Still, listening to other’s consul and opinion is one of the most important ways that we learn to improve our own ideas.

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The idea for this column came to me as I was watching a presentation at BarCampLA-3 (http://barcampla.org/), an un-conference here in Los Angeles that runs about every 6 months. One of the first sessions was Susie from SuperViva.com, a goal-tracking web site. I was impressed with the site, but I was even more impressed with Susie. She demonstrated the site and then asked everyone in attendance for their comments, questions and ideas. That takes guts! It also provided her with a wealth of information on what new features people might want and how to modify the site to better meet the members’ needs. Susie clearly thought her site was ready for review and knew she needed input from a wide variety of people, so BarCampLA offered her a great opportunity.

Now, you don’t have to go as far as presenting your work in a public forum, at least not yet, but there is a variety of ways to put the power of “asking” behind any of your projects, personal or professional. Start small and then grow into more public environments and larger groups of people as your project matures.

The first step in getting feedback on your ideas or projects is to collect a trusted and smart group of friends. Once you feel you have your idea in some basic form, take the idea to them and ask them what they think. This initial discussion can, and should, alter your original idea, adding features, removing others and getting you to the next step.

You start with a small group so you can acclimate yourself to the fear that all of us feel when we ask others about our ideas. We worry that others will hate the idea or even worse, want to change the idea so much that it no longer feels like our own. This fear is real and palpable. It is also the one thing that can keep you from learning and growing, so it must be overcome at all costs. Some of us can dismiss it through our own willpower. Others, like myself, will have to use tricks or rewards or otherwise force us beyond the fear. Whatever method you find best, you must move beyond the fear.

After your initial round of feedback, and any tweaks you have made to your idea or project, it is time to implement the first version. This version doesn’t have to be complete, but it should offer some clear idea of what you are trying to accomplish. Now it’s time to expand your feedback group. From the very beginning, everyone should be enticed to provide feedback on your idea or project.

Nothing can replace this hands on “usability” testing that the only the real world can provide. You will quickly notice issues and you should work just as quickly to resolve them. Sometimes, you might change one feature, only to realize that the initial idea was better. Change it back. Do whatever it takes to meet your user’s needs. I can guarantee that you will be learning something important every day.

Now that you have your idea or project in some basic shape, you repeat the process with an even larger group. This new group will bring different needs, thoughts and experiences to your project and help to refine it even more. Their ideas might contradict the concerns of earlier users, but you might find that this is simply a sign that a feature doesn’t work as well for 1,000 people as it did for 100. Again, you tweak and change, add and remove features and continue refining your ideas.

At this point, you have probably started to communicate your idea to the world at large, but this certainly doesn’t mean you stop taking input from those around you. In fact, this process should continue for the life of your product or service. If you don’t make a concerted effort to continually receive and act on feedback, you are stunting the growth of your ideas and business. 

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Don’t let “feeling stupid” stop your from learning what you need — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

August 26th, 2013 Comments off

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I have spent the last 30 years helping people to learn about technology in a number of ways and there has always been one, constant theme to this process — people hate to “feel stupid”about technology — or anything, for that matter. I think “feeling stupid” should be a diagnosed clinical physiological problem for all the damage it causes. Too many times, I have seen people suffer both personal and professional trials, simply to avoid the embarrassment and fear of “feeling stupid.” Let me tell you, though, avoiding the fear of appearing stupid to your friends, family and co-workers could be the most damaging act you take in your life and career. It can have far-reaching effects that limit your effectiveness, productivity and future success. Embrace “knowing what you don’t know” and then seek to learn.


 

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Dog Days


It is often said that the most dangerous people are those that “don’t know what they don’t know.” They blunder from one crisis to the next, never knowing that their lack of knowledge is harming both themselves and those around them. They seem totally secure in their actions, even when they have no understanding of the problem at hand. Further, they often lash out at those who try to help them learn more — their outward veneer of security masking a deep insecurity beneath. Don’t be this person. Feel confident, yes. Feel secure, but also know that their are times when “feeling stupid” is the best indicator that you have something more to learn.

No one likes to feel stupid, of course, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t all face it — often on a daily basis. What is more important than the feeling, though, is what we do about it. Some of us are so affected by “feeling stupid” that we hide away and worse, hide our stupidity. Instead, we should take every opportunity to learn more when we feel we don’t know enough. Faced with an unknown word in the paper you are reading. Look it up! Don’t understand some monetary policy, do some online research. Can’t figure out why the roses in your garden aren’t blooming? Ask a knowledgeable friend.

The truth is, there is absolutely no reason for feeling stupid in today’s world. We have so many resources to help us understand the world around us, if we only took the time and energy to use them. From the immediate and handy confines of your smartphone you can find nearly any piece of information. Sure, you might have study deeper and longer to truly understand a complex topic, but getting started in your learning has never been easier. Even more, if you truly fear “feeling stupid”, no one else needs to know what you don’t know. You can step away, do a little research and return much the wiser.

Why then, do we still fear feeling stupid so much? Mainly this is due to insecurity. We fear being judged by our coworkers, our boss, our family, our spouse. We fear what they might think about us if they only knew how stupid we really are. I have a shocking revelation for you, though. They are just as stupid as you are. Sure they are probably stupid about entirely different things, but they carry around the same baggage as you. They fear feeling stupid, too. Perhaps by understanding this fact, we can all come together in our stupidity and move beyond it. We are not alone. We all share a common burden. If we start to collectively understand that fact, perhaps we can all move beyond our feelings of stupidity and move forward with our career and lives.

“Feeling stupid” is merely a sign that we have more to learn, not a sign of weakness. If we take this sign as an indication to learn more, we turn those threatening and scary feelings into a powerful force for improvement. If we move beyond our fear, we can move forward in great leaps. More importantly, if we all collectively understand that we are all stupid in something, perhaps we can move beyond the psychological angst we all go through whenever we are confronted with our own stupidity. Perhaps we can all start helping one another with the challenges in our life and career, instead of hiding behind bluster and intimidation, whenever we find we don’t know something. Imagine what you work and life could be like if we were all helping each other learn more, instead of demeaning and punishing others if they dare show their stupidity. It is as important to “know what you don’t know” as it is to understand the ignorance of others and understand that we all have something to learn, sometime in our lives.

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Beyond the Briefcase: New visual icons and symbols for career — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

August 12th, 2013 Comments off

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I recently did a Google Image search on the word “career” just to see what it would turn up. There I found lots of pictures of signposts and arrows, lots of uses of the word Career in various typographic styles and, of course, eager, young  (almost exclusively) workers attired in suits, ties and/or skirts, often carrying briefcases. While I wasn’t that surprised by the search results, I find myself continually surprised by the icons from the past that we still use to represent work and career. Almost like the stereotypical usage of an old, rotary phone being used to represent a telephone or any type of call, the use of the briefcase or the suit and tie is just as outdated..


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Yes, of course, many people still report to a standard office wearing the standard corporate uniform, but many others now work in companies, locations and even in attire quite different. In fact, I would say that the standard icons we use for career represent less and less of the modern workforce every day. They also highlight our outdated views of career at a time when we need new and more powerful ways of developing the career you deserve. The anachronism of these icons might fool someone into thinking that today’s work world is just like our parents, or grandparents time, when I think it is clear that today’s work world is very much different, much more complex and filled with so many new opportunities.

So, I am asking all of you. What do you think the new icon for career should be? What visual metaphors spring to mind when you think of your work and your career? What single image springs to mind when someone says the word career? I’d love to hear what you think and what might envision. Share your ideas in the comments on this column, on the Career-Op pages on Facebook and Google+ or reply to me via Twitter at @careertips. I’d love to see your ideas!

For myself, my own thinking about new career icons follows a number of tracks. Here are a few of my ideas:

Lmproulx Iphone

Computer//Tablet/Smartphone

Since its invention, the telephone has always represented communication and, in many ways, business itself. “Let your fingers do the walking” through the Yellow Pages used to be one, major way of finding business and services and even customers that you needed. Today, with the ubiquitous nature of computers in business, along with the more recent counterparts, the tablet and smartphone, I think a good case could be made for making these devices the “briefcase” of our era. Instead of folders of documents, the daily newspaper, magazines and perhaps a lunch crammed into a briefcase, we carry our data and our knowledge around in these smaller and smaller digital “briefcases.” I think it is safe to say that the smartphone alone could become an icon for overall human productivity, not just career. So much, both good and bad, useful and not, occurs on these devices that it seems likely they will become the new icon of work and career.

A network of interconnecting lines and arrows

Network connection

One clear truth about careers in this age, and even in the past to some extent, is that your career is made up of a host of connections between people, companies, data and more. A network diagram with lines and arrows going in every direction certainly seems to reflect the nature of career. Rarely do you walk your career path alone. You are constantly connecting with new people, new technology, and new information. I think a good visual icon for career should clearly represent this integrated series of connections where we live and work every day. Not only would it better represent the reality of our lives and work, but also reinforce the importance of these connections both for us and for those around us.

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Douglas Portrait with Toonpaint

People often appear as career icons — the dapper professional, the uniformed plumber, the rugged construction worker, but too often they are both stereotypical and generic. As I often preach here in Career Opportunities, your career is personal — one of the most personal aspects of your life. Your career is, and should be, unique from any other career in order to match your wants needs and desires. Stereotypes are less and less useful today, as more people are developing what could be considered very non-traditional careers. They combine a unique blend of skills, knowledge and desire to create their own, personal career. Perhaps this means that the best visual icon for a career should simply be a picture of yourself, doing what you do. Maybe you are simply the best visual icon for your career. Someone as unique and individual as the career they develop.

What images come to mind when you think of career? Do they help you in the building of the career you deserve or do they hold you back with archaic ideas about work and career? Share your best visual career icons with myself and all the readers and listeners of Career Opportunities. Perhaps, together, we can find a new metaphor that represents career in a deeper and more meaningful way and move “Beyond the Briefcase!”

***

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.

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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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