Take the International Women’s Day Mentor Pledge

If you really want to help women have an equal voice in the world, mentor one. Be willing to become one woman’s biggest fan, her strongest advocate and active sponsor.  Invest your valuable knowledge to help her truly succeed.   So today, in honor of International Women’s Day, personally pledge to mentor at least one woman this year.

Are you willing to be a supportive catalyst, and mentor a woman this year?


Yes, women have made significant advances in the past 50 years, but there is so much more women could do.  Because at all levels of leadership – boardroom, school board, court house, state house – women remain underrepresented, and in some cases, absent altogether. Only when women are equally represented in all leadership roles with men, will our local communities and global economy maximize potential.

Why mentor a woman?  When you mentor a woman, you could vastly increase her potential to succeed.  Relationships make the difference.  Authentic mentoring goes much deeper than networking, trouble–shooting, or an occasional lunch.  It’s a relationship built on trust, which makes it possible to provide relevant insights.   Mentoring is more than merely access to someone’s contacts; it is person-to-person involvement  and investment in another person’s life.

A good mentor is a smart friend, one who is committed to helping a woman learn faster, take risks, and avoid mistakes — someone who is willing to share their experience, insights, and passion.  Just take what you already know and accelerate her growth. It’s that simple.

Whatever you’ve learned — from your success and failures or managing your career and personal life — someone out there can benefit from your know-how.  Be a catalyst for a woman to advance her career, take on a leadership role, run for office, or lead a better life.  Help her work through a business plan or career options, help navigate office politics, shore up technical skills, role model a balanced work/personal life, and much more.

Wondering who to mentor?  The opportunities are endless, so choose something you care about:

  • If you’re a change agent, mentor a change agent.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, mentor a start up.
  • If you’re an intrapreneur, find another in your company.
  • If you’re an accountant, mentor an accountant.
  • If you’re a consultant, mentor a new freelancer.
  • If you’re in political office, mentor a woman who wants to enter politics.
  • If you’ve survived a merger, mentor someone who’s in the middle of one.
  • If you’ve changed careers, mentor someone who’s considering doing the same thing.

(Need more proof that women need mentors to make real progress? Check out the links below.)

And let’s totally bust the myth that “women don’t help women!”  I know I’ve been mentoring women since I started my career more than 30 years ago.  Some women help other women, some don’t.  (And some men support women, some don’t.) Whether you have a sister, daughter, wife/partner, cousin, co-worker, or friend, you’re likely to know a woman who could benefit from having a mentor.

Looking for a woman to mentor?  Find one at MentorPlanet.com.  You’ll also find tips to start your mentoring relationship.

Still need inspiration to take the “Mentor a Woman Pledge”?  Check out the leaders and activists from around the globe at the 3rd annual Women in the World Summit  — from Hillary Clinton to Angelina Jolie.  

So today, take the International Women’s Day Mentor Pledge to mentor a woman in 2012 — and become her biggest fan, her source of support and courage.   Imagine how different our world would be if everyone decided to mentor just one woman in 2012.  Working together, we can create a tipping point to build momentum for women’s voices and leadership to reach equal representation.  Be a mentor and support women who are on the move, making a difference around the world.

Links:

On average, a Minnesota woman is shortchanged $11,000 annually or $1 million over the course of her professional career; women with advanced degrees (doctors, lawyers), it’s twice as much (a $2 million loss). Poverty, homelessness, and a lack of affordable quality childcare remain problems that disproportionately affect Minnesota’s female-headed households, women of color, and older women.

McKinsey Research: Changing companies’ minds about women The percentage of women on boards and senior-executive teams remains stuck at around 15 percent in many countries, and just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Women account for roughly 53 % of entry-level professional employees in the largest US industrial corporations, but only 37 % of middle-management positions, 28 percent of vice-president and senior-managerial roles, and 14 percent of seats on executive committees.  And nearly four times as many men as women at large companies make the jump from the executive committee to CEO.

The World Needs Female Entrepreneurs Now More Than Ever


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!

Is it crazy to consider a career shift in this economy?

Is now the right time? When would it be a good time? Certainly there are valid reasons not to change. The economy is tough and if you’re earning a decent living it is easy to rationalize staying where you are.  All too often we put this decision off.  We wait for the perfect time or for the perfect opportunity to come to us.

Interestingly enough, many of us are living in limbo. We aren’t fully committed to our current career or to figuring out what might be a better option.  Isn’t life too short to linger in a career that isn’t a good fit anymore?  Why wait — until you’re too locked into your current situation to change, you can’t stand your work situation any longer, or you’ve actually lost your job — before you actively consider a career shift? Exploring options while you’re in your back-up mode — worrying about finances or feeling like you’re living in limbo — isn’t an ideal environment to be open to new possibilities or actively take a risk.  (It can work, but the stress can be stifling.)

Time is life’s real currency. Are you living your life’s currency wisely?

Why not invest in yourself now? Doesn’t it make more sense to do it while you have the energy to thoughtfully evaluate your possibilities?

Time is life’s real currency.  The heart of the question is: Are you living your life’s currency wisely? Many of us start our careers optimistically, without much analysis of our choice.  Out in the real world, we gradually figure out that it was nothing like we had imagined.  Few of us did more than rudimentary skills testing.  Perhaps only a fraction of us found a mentor to help us provide real-world insights to see if we were making a good choice.  Maybe you loved your job for years; only now it has lost the excitement or the meaning it once held.  Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to be quite successful, too well, in fact, so that you don’t even consider what might make you happier — your “best self.”  Let’s hope we don’t sell out for golden handcuffs, especially if the salary isn’t all that great to begin with (or even if it is), because it’s our lives we’re talking about here!

Why not raise the bar? Consider a career change to find one that is more interesting, rewarding, and meaningful — perhaps one that is “more livable” too.  Naturally all careers have trade-offs, but the trouble is that we don’t often take the time to find a better match for ourselves.  We stay where we started just because it seems easier.  On reflection, and once we’ve made the shift, we wonder why we waited so long!  (Some of you may find that this process helps you determine that you’re in the right career; all you needed was a little rejuvenation!)

Take the time to imagine what your life would be like if only you could make a shift. According to Civic Ventures, more than 8 million Americans between 44 and 77 are embarking on new careers. We’ve all heard stories, but somehow we can’t see ourselves — our options.  So stimulate your thinking with a few real life examples:

  • An intellectual property consultant switched to his love of the ocean and now sells sailboats.
  • A banker opted out of corporate life; he prefers to work on his own, remodeling houses.
  • A computer programmer went back to school for a degree in nonprofit management; and now works in energy conservation.
  • A beautician went back to school to become a massage therapist.
  • A stockbroker now teaches fitness and relaxation.
  • A photographer’s representative switched to planning travel for touring musicians.
  • A public relations consultant who loves language, is now a teacher (teaching English to French students).
  • A copywriter went back to school to become an acupuncturist.
  • A dancer/actress became a marketing consultant (also farms part-time).
  • A marketing strategist became a stay-at-home dad, web entrepreneur, and real estate investor.

Don’t start exploring career options with the job market.  Start by asking the more important question: “What do I really want?” Career experts often recommend evaluating the future growth in a particular field, researching potential employers, estimating income and advancement options, etc.  That’s vitally important, but that’s actually the easy part — and it shouldn’t be where you start.

External analysis should come AFTER your internal analysis, which is often more challenging. You know yourself better than you did right after college or your first job. All too often, we know what we don’t want rather than what we want.  Knowing what we don’t want helps us cross options off the list, which is good. Getting us out of our routine and into the more exciting, dynamic world of our passions, possibilities, and motivations is what’s key.  Of course, money matters.  But it’s not solely about the money.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

According to Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, you’re more likely to be successful when you find a strong convergence between these two factors:

  • a career that taps into your values (meaning), interests, and abilities and
  • a vibrant field with plenty of job options and upward mobility — and one valued by society.

Start exploring career options by expanding your network. One of the biggest barriers is your existing network. Colleagues know you only in your current role — which is a very narrow view of your potential. Schedule informational interviews with people outside of your current circle — people who are open to seeing you in new roles.

The good news is that it is fairly easy to network these days. Even though everyone is busy, most people want to expand their network too.  Make a commitment to yourself to meet at least one new person each week — with the precise intent of helping to identify what you value, your deepest passion, and your strongest interests. Meet in person, over coffee or lunch, so you can truly to get to know one another in a meaningful way. Be sure to help them expand their network too.

Remember to document what you learn from each interview. Keeping track of your efforts will help you feel like you’re making progress.  It’s likely to take time to piece together all the components of a successful career move. Unless you’ve been training as a concert pianist since the 2nd grade, and built up 10,000 hours of practice, chances are you’ll be in the research phase for a while.  If you’re typically used to making quick decisions, try to enjoy the process and allow yourself time to dig past the first good idea.  For people that love thinking about options, find someone that will help keep you on track so you don’t get lost in the options — a colleague, a coach, or mentor.

It’s important to remember that your career isn’t limited by your direct experience. Sure, many employers are looking for someone with a perfect fit.  But more and more, smart business people know that skills can be taught.  What matters more is a person’s ability to learning and adapt.  As the senior editor at Inc Magazine, Norm Brodsky says, companies should “hire for attitude not skills.”

Are you truly committed to your own happiness?

On the surface, the question seems ridiculous. Of course we want to be happy.  Why else would we be working so hard at it — trying to find a better job, the right job, or any job.  Why else would we try so hard to improve our lives — we have a long list of what we think we must do in order to be happy.  We’re smart people; we’ve tried so much, in so many ways. On good days, life seems okay. But there aren’t enough of them, even for many of us that wouldn’t call ourselves unhappy.

But are we making any real progress?  What’s keeping us from being happy? We start with good intentions. We lead such full, hectic lives that we’re often overwhelmed — even depressed at times.  It’s difficult to find time to think about what to do differently — or where to start.  Or we know what we want, but changing feels nearly impossible. How will we find time to do one more thing?  Our careers demand a great deal.  Our personal lives are complicated.  So figuring out what could improve our happiness is illusive.

Our expectations are high. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, many of us are extremely frustrated. “We believe that we can do anything and are profoundly disappointed when reality doesn’t meet or even come close to perfection.” To compound the problem, Lyubomirsky states that our independent culture doesn’t provide the support we need to cope with increasing stress and uncertainty. She uses a “happiness continuum,” a scale that ranges from very, very low to very, very high.  Some people that are ranked on the low side minimize success, explaining it away as merely luck or persistence.  Others are more resilient and find support to adapt to even tough challenges.

Learned Optimism author Martin Seligman has been studying optimists and pessimists for 25 years and the theory of “learned helplessness.” He says that:

  • Pessimists believe that bad events are their fault, will last a long time, and undermine everything. They feel helpless (lacking control) and may become depressed.
  • Optimists believe that defeat is merely a temporary setback or a challenge — it doesn’t knock them down. They have a perspective and mindset to move forward.

Fortunately, there is a great deal we can do to overcome pessimism and increase our happiness — even those of us that might not paint ourselves as pessimists but have some tendencies when life gets more challenging. “Pessimism is escapable,” asserts Seligman. Rather than merely adopting “a positive mental attitude,” he provides practical techniques on his website, Authentic Happiness.

Learning new skills help you take action, accomplish more and start feeling better — happier.  Lyubomirsky agrees; she says that 50% of our happiness factor is due to genetics, which we can’t do anything about.  Another 10% is based on circumstances, which come and go.  But a large percentage, 40%, is influenced by what we do and what we think.  This means there is a great deal we can to impact our own happiness. But it isn’t easy.  She cautions, “Aiming for greater happiness is no small endeavor…(it) requires effort and commitment.”

So what does it take for us to change, to actually commit to our own happiness? Let’s start with a little myth busting from FastCo:

What Doesn’t Work

  • Fear doesn’t work — it instills denial.
  • Crisis doesn’t work — perhaps for the same reason fear doesn’t.
  • Facts don’t work — if they don’t match our perceptions, they won’t make sense.
  • Small, gradual change doesn’t work — it takes too long to see results.

What Works

  • Positive visions motivate.
  • Emotional appeals inspire.
  • Radical change to generate quick results.

While Seligman and Lyubomirsky offer proven techniques to help improve your happiness, reading a book about behavior change might not be inspiring enough — or produce quick results. So here’s a tip from that unconventional short-cutter, fast-tracker Tim Ferris (Mr. 4-hour Work Week) who stated in a recent blog: “To learn a skill, I often look — not for the best in the world — but for people who’ve made the greatest progress in the shortest period of time.”

That’s what I’d call a good combination of positive vision and quick results. When changing behavior, momentum matters and milestones matter. Ferris’s blog featured Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less, who believes:  “The only way you’ll form long-lasting habits is by…focusing on one habit at a time, one month at a time…focus all your energy on that one habit.” He says changing simple basic habits are the “force multiplier” for long-lasting success.  Here’s his easy, 4-step approach:

  1. Select one habit to focus on this month. Pick whatever you think will have the biggest impact on your life right now.  Example: If stress is your number one issue, choose to exercise.
  2. Write down your plan — state your specific goal for each day.  Example: Exercise 30 minutes every morning at 6:30 a.m.
  3. Select a “trigger” that signals it is time to act. Example: Select “brushing your teeth” as an action that reminds you its time to start exercising.
  4. Post your goal publicly and tell as many people as possible.  Example: Tell all your family and friends or set up a chat group and keep them posted.  (Okay, this idea didn’t appeal to me.  Perhaps Leo would say I wasn’t that committed. For me, I wouldn’t want to bother most people with my daily exercise routine.  But I would select several of close friends to support me and motivate me to succeed — and not let me off the hook!  This helps overcome the lone cowboy mentality and help us get the support we need while we’re trying something new.)

Alternatives to Exercising: Before you get out of bed each morning, journal for 30 minutes.  Every day at noon, take a 30-minute break to unplug and relax.  As soon as dinner is over, take 30 minutes to create art.  As soon as you get home from work, care for your garden for 30 minutes.  Every night at 9:30, meditate for 30-minutes. The key is do it DAILY for a SET amount of time — and focus on fun rather than a chore. (If you hate gardening, then let the weeds grow and focus on something else!).

This routine might not sound like fun, or significant; but I’ll bet doing it everyday produces results!  Persistence isn’t pretty, but the results prove to you that once you set your mind to something you can do it. Once accomplished, you gain confidence in your commitment to yourself; you believe you can make progress on tougher challenges next month, next time.  Success breeds success.

Interestingly enough, this idea of focus matches management guru Peter Drucker’s thinking: “You can only have one number one priority.” “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

Okay, so having one priority sounds ridiculous, impossible. Drucker and Babauta aren’t suggesting that you don’t do other things — only that you seriously focus on just one activity.  Your endless list of projects and responsibilities won’t go away.  But you can take control over something, one thing.

But how do you decide what to do first?

Drucker explains, “It’s so easy to do what’s familiar, comfortable, or fun. It’s so difficult, sometimes, to tackle the highest priority. And sometimes it’s difficult to even know your top priorities. We get lost in options, opportunities, and choices.” “If you can’t establish clear career priorities by yourself, use friends and business acquaintances as a sounding board. They will want to help. Ask them to help you determine your first things and second things. Or seek an outside coach or advisor to help you focus. Because if you don’t know what your first things are, you simply can’t do them first.”

So what’s your focus this month — pick just one thing! Appeal to your emotions; pick one thing that will inspire you.  Pick something that you think will give you quick results. Don’t tackle the most difficult or complicated. Don’t do something too reckless. Don’t use this particular exercise to start searching for your dream job, finding your soul mate, or learning French, not yet.  Start with something fun, that you can do on your own, that will make you feel a bit happier.  No it won’t change everything, but it might just kick-start your enthusiasm — and your commitment to your own happiness.

After all this, I’m inspired to pick my monthly focus.

Now, what about you?  Don’t know where to start? We’ll talk about that next time.

Career Passion Shouldn’t Be an Oxymoron

Work, we spend most of our waking hours there — and a majority of our creative energy.  You’d think more of us would choose something we truly cared about.  If so many of us are unhappy at work, why not do something we love? There are many reasons, even seemingly good reasons. We settle in, glad to have a job, and doing something we excel in.  It’s familiar.

But, what is the price we’re paying? Are we setting the bar too low, selling life short in a career we don’t value?  You can’t ever get that time back.  Ever. Today it isn’t as though we have only two choices:  making a decent living and barely getting by.  Actually most of us have more career options than ever before.

What's Your Career Passion?

In a recent Forbes article, Lisa Earle McLoed says that when you love what you do it “delivers just about the best return on investment you can get.  Because when you show up with your heart, your mind works at a far greater capacity than when you leave your heart at home.” It’s tough to solve problems and face harsh obstacles when you aren’t fully engaged.  Sure, many of us do amazing things at work, even under really difficult circumstances.  But imagine what you could accomplish if you had more career passion.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Job Versus Vocation — What I Didn’t Learn in B-School, Andrew J. Hoffman stresses the importance of career passion — “There’s pure joy when you take a risk to pursue your dream and find work that you deeply connect with.”   Well, his definition of “pure joy” might be different from mine; but I agree with Hoffman’s point —  take time to think about what you want.  Do you want a job, a career, or a calling? “A calling” might be too strong a word for many of us, but why not seek out a career to be passionate about?  It’s the passion that says you’re leading a life worth living, worthy of all your hard-earned knowledge and your genuine interest.

Cynics might criticize this approach as being too idealistic, too impractical. But as author Seth Godin says: “impossible and perfect” are the two biggest principles stopping people from making progress. I think he’s right. We think it’s “impossible” to have our dream job (or anything like it), and so we focus on all the obstacles.  Or we look for the “perfect” career,” one that’s an absolutely sure bet.   

Often what is really holding us back is a lack of commitment to ourselves.  Figuring out what we’re passionate about can be hard work. Not all of us know what we want.  All too often we only know what we don’t want — and we’re too burned out, frustrated, or busy to make time to think about it.   Or we have a few ideas, maybe even a clear picture of what we want, we just don’t know how to get there. Sometimes it takes trial and error. Gone are the days when our destiny was tied to whatever our parents did or being stuck to one career. Instead, we have a torrent of possibilities even if it doesn’t seem that way. The good news is that today’s career options are so varied; the bad news is that it’s confusing to sort them all out.

THREE WAYS TO RE-ENERGIZE YOUR CAREER PASSION

1. Can’t quit your current job? Re-energize yourself by taking on a new project.  At first glance, this appears to be counter-intuitive.  Even if you’re working long hours, according to research psychologist Dr. Steve Wright, people are happier when they have a job that fully engages them. So find something that’s interesting, challenging, and a good match to your strengths. Find a project, or better yet create one, that you find stimulating.  Or, if you’re passionate about your job, but the environment is sour, mentor someone that could benefit from your expertise.  It won’t fix your current situation, but it might make it more interesting and expand your network.  Or make yourself the new project, and find yourself a mentor. Seek out someone in your field that might reignite your passion for the job or help you start thinking about possibilities.  We all have options though they seem illusive when times are tough.

2. Don’t have a clue what to do? Try a few tools to help you get to know yourself better.  There are almost too many to choose from.  As a place to start, here are four very different approaches to consider:

  • Gallups’ StrengthsFinder 2.0, is a book that gives you a code to take their online test, which automatically generates a personalized Strengths Insight Report and Action-Planning Guide.  Ranked #1 bestsellers by both the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek, the book costs $25.
  • The Artists Way and The Artist’s Way at Work are both popular 12-week workbooks.  You complete detailed exercises each week to “rediscover your creative self.” which I think all of us need to be innovative at work.  I found they are more interesting than many career-focused workbooks. The Artists Way has sold over 2 million copies worldwide, so you can easily find them for under $25 too.  They encourage people to work together, in groups, to provide support while you explore options.
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is “the world’s most widely used personality assessment,” with roughly two million assessments taken every year. You can take the assessment test online, free http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp It is so popular that there are other tests, books and resources available on line, compete with career suggestions by personality type; many are free or under $25.
  • Find personal support — books and tools can only go so far. Often what we need is a person to help us sift through the options — a life coach, executive coach or mentor.  Each approach has pros and cons, but what’s important is that you find the support you need to figure out what’s next.  Life coaches often charge $100-$150/hour, executive coaches may charge more.  Mentoring, on the other hand, is free.  With either option (fee or free), it’s important to find a person that fits your values, interests, and personality.

3. Know what you want to do, but don’t know how to get there? If you’re passionate about a career option, then finding support to help you on your way is key.  Often our existing networks aren’t as effective to get where we want to go.  Instead, I recommend finding a mentor to accelerate your transition.  They have the direct, real-world experience and insights you need that are relevant to a specific job.  What’s more, they have a network to help open doors to vital connections. If they specialize in the area you’re interested in, life coaches and executive coaches might be useful too.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have several careers I was passionate about.  There’s an ebb and flow. What I wanted, worked for a time.  Then as I learned more about the job and myself, I gained courage. I was willing to ask important questions about what I really wanted. Each time, I’ve been grateful for the chance to try something new — and live more of the life I envisioned. I’m hoping you’ll be inspired to make the time to invest in yourself and explore your career passion.

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Are We Notoriously Bad at Knowing What Makes Us Happy?

Take a minute to think about it.  Haven’t we all jumped into something — started a new job, moved to a new town, gotten married, retired early — only to find out it wasn’t what we expected.

Fortunately, according to Stumbling on Happiness author Daniel Gilbert, we are far more resilient than we predict.  Unfortunately, Gilbert’s research finds that “most of us spend so much of our lives turning rudders and hoisting sails, only to find that Shangri-la isn’t what and where we thought it would be.”

The Lament For Icarus, by Herbert Draper (1898)

That’s why Gilbert strongly recommends against relying on our limited experiences and our imagination alone when we make decisions. Instead, we should take a closer look into the experience of others. Attempting to rely on our own imagination doesn’t work because we can’t imagine all the pros and cons.  It is significantly better to rely on another human being, someone who is actually doing precisely what you’re considering.  Memories aren’t that reliable either, they fade or are altered by other experiences.  It’s the current experiences that are so valuable. Gilbert goes so far as to say “perhaps we should give up on remembering and imagining entirely and use other people as surrogates for our future selves.”

I think that may be taking a good idea a bit too far, but getting real-world insights from others certainly does make sense.  Firsthand knowledge can help shape our imagination with concrete examples.  Talking to someone who’s doing whatever you might want to do allows you to dig deeper and learn about things you never even considered.

There are no guarantees of course. There are pitfalls to gaining input from others. They might not give you a completely honest response. Your actual experience will be different because the circumstances will be different.  You can talk to one person that loves their job and another person, in the same job, who hates it.  But Gilbert goes so far as to say “the experience of a single randomly selected individual can sometimes provide a better basis for predicting your future experience than your own imagination can.”  (Since this is difficult to believe, and he agrees it was difficult for him too, Gilbert gives a well thought out example in his book.  Refer to page 247.)  His point is that we’re more similar and have more in common with others than we might think.  That’s why their input can be so relevant.

What I find encouraging is that Gilbert points out how easy it is for us to increase our chance to find happiness. All we need to do is find one person that is actively doing whatever it is that we’re considering and talk to them. But will we?  We’ve been relying on our own judgment for so long.  The good news is that most people are typically quite willing to talk about what they’re doing.  And it’s more common to find a mentor to support you all along the way — someone with real-world experience.

So, before you consider jumping from your current job to another one, talk to someone who actually works there.  If you’re considering retiring to Naples, Florida, talk to someone who lives there right now.  Maybe you’re thinking about running for a political office, talk to someone who is currently running.  Sure, they won’t be totally objective, but you’ll have more real-world information to go on.  And a second opinion wouldn’t hurt.

All that said, let’s not lose the adventure.

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There are things I’ve done that, had I known all the challenges going in, well, I might never have dared to jump. A little more insight certainly would have increased my happiness factor, especially during the tough spots.  Here’s one of them, where I should have followed Gilbert’s advice before buying a house in France. Instead, all I did was skim a few books. The romantic notion of living part-time in France and a strong dollar was all that was needed. Lost in my imagination of what it would be like, I didn’t pay close attention to the clues. The first one should have been seeing so many partially completed restorations.  Listening to the real estate agents talk about pending divorces should have gotten my attention too. Fortunately, we avoided one potential mistake when my husband had spent a month alone looking for houses.  That firsthand experience avoided buying a place in the countryside, miles away from anyone, where we would have felt too isolated.

After a long search, we bought our “dream home” in a small village in the Loire Valley.  During our first night in that 15th and 19th century house, an unusually strong storm blew in — shaking everything — including our nerves. Buyer’s remorse kicked in.  It was a large house and literally every wall, floor, and ceiling needed to have decades of “improvements” removed or renovated. What’s more, the cultural differences were daunting. We were certainly not French and weren’t even British! We knew nothing about working with limestone walls, slate roofs, or historic preservation regulations. We knew no one other than a British couple who lived 30 minutes away.  And we didn’t speak French. What in hell were we thinking? Fueling our fears,  an introduction to the village mayor ended with “bon courage.”   We knew it wouldn’t be easy; logically we knew there would be challenges, but the magnitude of it all was something we never anticipated.

Le Puy Notre Dame, France

We were fortunate to receive so much help — it’s a true testimony to the kindness in people.  A local French couple really took us under their wing. They helped us find contractors, sort through restoration requirements, and learn about all things French (not to mention enjoying their delicious organic wines).  Our elderly French neighbors are practically family.  And we have friends that have relocated too: from Britain, New Zealand, Holland, etc.  It’s been three years now, and the restoration is nearly done in the main house.  We’re thrilled to have weekly renters. And when we travel back and forth to the US, we know our friends are taking care of the guests, the garden and the house until we return.  Yes, we’re quite lucky it worked out so well.

In hindsight, I should have found a mentor to help me through it all.  Sure, we made friends, but having someone to talk to that knew me, and actually lived overseas part-time too, would have changed a lot.   I would have avoided a few headaches, assimilated into the culture faster, and been happier all around.  I’ve relied on mentors in my business life, but three years ago, it never occurred to me to find one in my personal life. Having a mentor to count on during the early days and months after the initial enthusiasm wore of, yes, that would have made a world of difference.  Next time.

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