How I Took the Leap: My 9 Steps

Taking the Leap: It takes both optimism and thoughtful planning

by guest blogger Angela Bushman

I recently left an enviable, reasonably well-paying job at a Fortune 500 company in favor of a free-fall into the great, unknown landscape of opportunity.

The sort of role I (until recently) occupied offered splashy, exciting projects, travel and connections with people of mind-blowing talent. It was, as many have told me, “a dream job.” It just wasn’t my dream. And that dissonance made it stressful.

I am a blend of free-spirited idealist and responsible mother and homeowner. Yet my own experiential evidence supports what might otherwise qualify as irrational optimism. I have been hired during hiring freezes, in poor economies, in dire times, when pundits and public alike have preached doom and gloom. Others in my circle have made recent moves that have offered both higher pay and reduced stress. Even the LinkedIn newsfeed notified me that a rather significant percent of my connections had made a move in the past year. Thus, I am choosing to believe in great possibilities based on the tremendous value I offer, my network of supporters and luck.

Each day I face a kaleidoscopic range of emotions, from confidence and excitement to fear and doubt. Even my optimism has a pragmatic bent — I’d begun networking and found positive support among outside colleagues even before I leapt. I have a financial cushion, and there are folks I know I can call for freelance, contract, and project work. My resume, bio, and online profiles had been diligently updated.

I struggled in my recent job for some time. Even when I began, I knew my stay would be temporary. A position in an established department of a large company calls for a narrow set of skills.  I’m better at creating something from nothing, synthesizing disparate ideas or programs and establishing the structures and systems to support what I’ve built.

And yet my ego told me I wanted this recent job on my résumé, even if for only a short time. What I planned to be a two-year stint turned into nearly four years as project after project came at me, causing a hamster-on-a-wheel effect. I had no idea how to get off. Developments in my personal life made the relative stability of staying put a necessity. Now that I am a single mother of two, established in a new life routine, I’m re-prioritizing my own health and happiness.

Within days of having made the decision to take this leap, friends and colleagues began asking me what was different?  Was I in love? Had I lost weight? Did I do something different with my hair? I was immediately happier and more joyful — and those around me could easily tell. Stress no longer plagues me. I’ve begun sleeping restoratively through the night. And I actually crave healthier foods. Even if this leap of faith seemed crazy, I know I’ve made the right choice for me.

Are you ready for a major life or career transition? If so, give yourself the gift of planning:

  1. Prepare the tools you’ll need for next steps. Update your resume, LinkedIn profile, bio and other tools you might use in your search.  Or have your business plans drafted.
  2. Start networking. Ask colleagues for recommendations, connections and contacts. Go even further:  tell everyone you know what you’re looking for and what makes you great!
  3. Plan your finances. Save or negotiate a financial cushion.  Six months of expenses is often recommended.
  4. Craft a personal marketing plan. Identify your key strengths, competencies and types of roles and organizations you’ll target. Be sure to think about what skills or services you might be able to offer on a freelance or contract basis.
  5. Notice cues in your environment. When you stop hearing “Are you crazy?!” and begin hearing, “Good for you! Let me give you some names,” — you know change is afoot. Allow yourself to be fueled by the positive energy around you.
  6. Look for evidence. I’ve recently seen a number of colleagues not only find a better work-life balance but also achieve higher earnings. There’s a trend I can embrace!
  7. Consider your total compensation. Evaluate your salary and benefits and find ways to discover how you can leverage your strengths in growing industries.
  8. Build a support system. You may experience times of uncertainty or self-doubt. Have a plan for managing through these times. Find a mentor — or counselors, colleagues and friends who can affirm your value and skills.
  9. Adopt a sales mentality. Every “no” means you’re one step closer to “YES!” in theory, but here is a link for practical tips to help you in the process.

So what’s my plan?

  • I’m taking my time and re-focusing my career direction to better leverage my strengths and achieve greater work-life balance.
  • I’m viewing opportunities in the way I view dating:  I’m not a great fit for everyone, and not every one is for me. Still, I can always get excited about meeting new people and learning about new opportunities. I’m working on finding a match that’s rewarding for both of us.
  • I’m searching for an opportunity that values and rewards my strategy, program-building, communication and relationship skills.
  • I’m connecting fearlessly by reaching out to people in decision-making roles and expanding my network.
  • I’m exploring how to publish the children’s books I’ve written.
  • I’m researching the costs and potential market for two new products.
  • I’m writing business plans for two or three business ideas that I believe have potential.
  • I’m blogging.

I wish you the very best on your next leap of faith, and I hope you’ll return the favor.

Angela Bushman is a Minneapolis-based writer, marketing communications consultant and mother. Contact her at writetouch@gmail.com.  


Your Best New Years Resolution: Find a Mentor

Get the insight and support you need to move ahead.

National Mentoring Month just happens to coincide with our annual ritual of making New Years resolutions.  As we reflect on the frustrations or lost opportunities, and all that we dream about, it is the ideal time to take stock in what we really want to happen — this year!

All too often, we do nothing more than make a good list and attempt a few weeks of effort.  Then, little changes.

Life is about moving; it’s about change.  And when things stop doing that, they’re dead.  — Twyla Tharp


This year, try something new: Find a Mentor! Research shows that going it alone isn’t the quickest or best path to success. So regardless of what you do in 2011, a mentor can help you get there. They can help you be more effective, encourage you during setbacks, ask thoughtful questions, help avoid problems, offer real world solutions or realistic alternatives you might never have even considered.

Finding a good mentor is like finding a good job.  If you know what you want, and set clear goals, you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for — and make changes that are important to you.

3 STEPS TO HELP YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT

1. Set Goals — What’s On Your List of New Year’s Resolutions?

Mentors can benefit you in so many ways that it’s important to think through what you want.  Make sure you look for a mentor that has the skills, experience, or insights that are right for you.

What do you want your future to look like? What do you dream about? What do you want to achieve? Do you dare to radically raise the bar? What would you like to change or improve? Are you unhappy at work? Career passion shouldn’t be an oxymoron. If you’re not sure what you want, a mentor can help you figure it out too.  Crystallize your goals to narrow your search:

  • I’m frustrated in my current job. I need help figuring out if I should stay or if I should make a change.
  • I want my own business. I have an idea but I’m not sure how to get started.
  • I’m really unhappy at work, burned out. I could use help figuring out how to juggle my job, my family, and having a life.
  • I run a nonprofit, but I’m having trouble managing my board.
  • I think I’m ready for a promotion, but my boss doesn’t think so.  What can I do?
  • I’ve been looking for a job for nearly 2 years.  I need someone to help regain my confidence.
  • I’ve always thought about working for a nonprofit. I’d like to talk to someone who switched from corporate life.
  • I’m doing okay as an artist, but I need someone to help me get to the next level.
  • I’m great at marketing, but I need more management experience.
  • I like my job right now, but I want to explore my options.

2. Select Criteria — What type of mentor do you want?

What makes a good match?  Think about a teacher or boss who made it easy for you to learn, and helped and encouraged you to achieve more than you thought you could. What type of person was it that helped you open doors, see strengths you didn’t know you had, or kept you focused and on track? What were the key things they did that led to your success?  Identify your top 3-5 must-haves. Narrow down your criteria so you don’t waste time interviewing mentors who aren’t a good fit.

Consider what’s really important: chemistry, communication, conflict of interest, experience, pet peeves, similarities, time commitment, trust, and values.

Example: Business Start Up I’m seeking a business owner who successfully operates an organic restaurant.  I would like one, like me, who is enthusiastic and positive, though a bit more down-to-earth.  I will probably need to meet every two weeks for a few months until I get my business plan figured out, and then monthly for the first year.

Example: Accelerating the Career Ladder I want a mentor with 10+ years of marketing experience in the health and wellness area who has been very successful in her career.  I prefer a woman — someone like me who is working long hours in a demanding job and yet still manages to have a great family life and take time for herself. I need to make sure it isn’t someone who works for one of our competitors, and I would like it to be someone who isn’t in the healthcare industry.

Example: Burned Out, Exploring Options I am hoping to find a practical person who has opted out of the fast track and simplified their life. Ideally, it would be someone who has retired early and switched careers to something they really enjoy. I certainly don’t need someone lecturing me — a know-it-all. I’d like to meet every week at first, until I’m on my way. Then monthly. Probably 6 months would do it.

3. Evaluate your options

You’ll be investing a lot of yourself.  Your mentor will be, too  — volunteering their time, insights, and experience. So  it’s essential that you carefully evaluate your options.  And be open.  Don’t be surprised if you end up refining your goals or selection criteria as you gain more insight into what you really want. Remember: the best relationships are give-and-take. Choose 2-3 candidates to initially talk with, and then select the one who will support you — make real progress toward your goals.

Find a mentor and you just might achieve those New Year resolutions!

Multiply Yourself: 6 ways to improve your life

Imagine doubling your productivity.  Hard to do, especially if you’re like a lot of people — on any given day you feel overworked and yet underutilized. It may seem impossible to believe we can do any more than we’re already doing.

But I’m guessing we can. According to Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers, businesses can achieve a 2-fold improvement by leveraging their people. Her insights are based on analyzing data from more than 150 leaders.  So, I asked myself: “Why can’t we do that for ourselves?”  If the best leaders make people smarter at work, how can we use these techniques to enrich our own lives? Don’t wait for someone else to do it.  Be your own leader and apply these concepts yourself.

Focus on your strengths and multiply your productivity

1. Be a talent finder — in yourself. How well do you know your talents?  Take the time to research your natural strengths. Find your “native genius,” as Wiseman calls it.   While “genius” may seem a bit grandiose, we all have an area or two where we truly excel.  It’s a skill we find as easy as breathing.  Something we’d do even if we weren’t getting paid, where we easily forget about time because we’re so engrossed.  Often it is something we’re passionate about. Plus, the more we devote time and energy to our talent, the more likely we are to get “extraordinary results from very ordinary people.” It makes sense because the activity is a better match to our natural skills, interests, and abilities.  Identifying talent isn’t a new idea, but how many of us have really taken the time to know ourselves — until there is a crisis.  That’s not always the best time to be open minded about ourselves.  So spend less time trying to shore up minor talents (unless they truly hamper your relationships), and focus on what you’re good at.

2. Find ways to fully utilize your natural strengths. Think about ways you can accelerate your learning cycle.  To spark the learning in you, Wiseman advises the development of an overactive imagination and a serious case of curiosity.  Find ways to create the right environment or mindset.  That way, you’re less likely to hold back because you’re more confident.  As you offer your very best thinking, creativity, and ideas, your intelligence and skill level grows.

3. Remove roadblocks. What’s really getting in the way of your being successful — your happiness?  It is easy to suggest “other people,” when often we’re our own worst enemy.  Which roadblocks apply to you: Time wasters. Overly committed.  Perfectionism.  Constantly shifting priorities.  Second-guessing decisions.  Addicted to the adrenalin rush of crisis.  All too often, reacting seems easier than planning; but the price is lost productivity.  Weisman suggests we tone down our egos.  Forget being a know-it-all and our need to be right. Stop “making a millimeter of progress in a million directions.”  Instead, leverage your actions on what’s most important.

4. Develop success traits. Motivate yourself by investing in your success. Find safe opportunities to test your skills, your ideas, and your learning — and learn quickly.  You’re sure to make mistakes — so having a sense of humor is essential.  A little laughter can go a long way.  Find smart people to learn from and debate your ideas.  As Wiseman says, “listen and ask questions 80% of the time.” Don’t feel you need to have all the answers. Spend time with people who help you become smarter, more capable. When people believe in us and support us, we’re naturally more productive.

5. Commit to working hard. Major achievements never come easy.  But you’ll be doing what you’re best at, so you’ll generally be less stressed and better able to work harder.  You’ll be highly motivated because you’ll be doing something you’re good at, which makes  improving much more likely.   Set your goals high, but give the stress a rest.

6. Believe it is possible. What will it take to ignite a fire within you? What will make you “feel exhilarated, challenged, and gratified?”  What are the first action steps you can take to test it out? Learn enough so that you can believe it just might be possible.  Break down your goal in such a way that you can actually imagine it happening.  Reframe problems as opportunities.  You can’t expect to be as motivated solving an impossible problem as you are creating a compelling opportunity. Wiseman writes about Steven Spielberg’s mindset: “All good ideas start from bad ideas.”  But Spielberg produces so many successful movies because his crew is twice as productive as others, people doing their best work, working together, giving their best.  Of course, you’ll need to anticipate problems, respond and adapt.  Above all, make sure your goal is worthy of all your hard work. Keep track of your progress — and make it visible to yourself and the people you rely on for support.

The cynic in us is quick to discount this theory. Exhausted from long hours at work and managing our complex lives, negativity and pessimism can loom large — killing our own passion. Wiseman calls this a “Diminisher.” It’s bad enough when people around us are motivation killers, but it is far worse when we do it to ourselves.  Under the guise of logic or experience, we think we have the answers.  It’s easy to lose track of how unreasonable we’re being, feeling trapped when there are options for practically all of us.  Both Diminishers and Multipliers have high expectations, but Diminishers get caught up in what they think of as honesty.  Sure, there are real obstacles, but there are real opportunities too. Often the Diminisher acts as a guard for the status quo, feeding complacency or inaction.

Of course, Pollyanna thinking won’t help either.

Smart people examine the facts, know themselves, and confront reality. To give your idea fair consideration, it requires you to think like a Multiplier.  Remove the urge to come to the first conclusion — and actively debate the pros and cons.  Even when the stakes are high, explore ideas with as little stress as you can.  Stay calm — and committed — enough to feel you’ve given it a fair shake.

A recent Twitter quote summarized the dilemma well:

RT @tnvora: There’s a difference between having a vision and suffering from a hallucination. ~Peter Scholtes

I’d say there is a fine line between the two, which requires a combination of facts and intuition. It requires an honest evaluation of your strengths and engaged debate about the possibilities.  Many great things have been accomplished while others thought the people involved were “suffering from a hallucination.”

I’m not suggesting that everything you do will automatically translate into more wealth, fame, and power — but I’d say that if you focus on your strengths and think like a Multiplier, you’re more likely to happier — and therefore more successful too. Given the right circumstances, you can even exceed the 2x multiplier by a long shot — because opportunities create more opportunities.  Or as the old adage says, nothing breeds success like success.

So start thinking about applying your strengths to your dreams:  writing that novel, starting your own business, retiring early, volunteering in Africa…or?

RT @SangyeH: “Like all explorers, we r drawn 2 discover what’s out there w/o knowing yet if we have the courage two face it.” ~Pema Chodron