Friday, October 30, 2009

The New Normal

As the national unemployment rate approaches 10%, I see increasing numbers of people who are becoming resigned to an economy where 9-11% unemployment may become the “new normal.” As this plays out in our work and lives, I see growing fear and anxiety, shattered dreams and confidence, and find it a continuing challenge to help people feel hopeful about the future.

It is, however, a “normal” reaction to feel discouraged during times like these, whether this comes from being bombarded by news of layoffs and budget cuts or by having the real experience of conducting an active and smart job search and seeing nothing positive come about. So, it should come as no surprise that so many are feeling hopeless and even helpless during these times.

As a coach, I wish I could help people easily and quickly move through these emotions and on to a successful conclusion of their journey. Unfortunately, all I can do is remind my clients and anyone else reading this, that by staying in the game, focusing on the process, and keeping a positive frame of mind, eventually (probably later rather than sooner for most of us) the problem will be resolved.

The challenge to stay disciplined, to be both patient and persistent, is probably the key characteristic that distinguishes those who are successful in a job or career change. They find a way, no matter how they might be feeling, to get up each morning and “go to work,” even if they are fairly certain that the work of the day will have little or no positive results. They recognize that by taking one step at time, moving a bit each day, that the cumulative effect, the body of work, so to speak, will start creating momentum. The problem for many of us is that we give up before the momentum kicks in and can do its work.

Here are some suggestions about how to work your way through the new normal:

1. Write a personal mission statement—for some this might be very concrete (I want to have a job as a . . . . by . . . at . . . salary) or it could be more esoteric (I want to help others to . . . through . . .). Read it regularly and let the energy of your mission motivate you to action.

2. Create a flexible structure that has steps/tasks to do each day. Do your best to complete those tasks.

3. Find a buddy, partner, or good friend who can act as a guide, mentor, and who has your permission and blessing to give you honest feedback, as needed.

4. When stuck or confused about what to do next, stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “What’s the smartest thing I can do right now?” Then do that thing.

Best wishes.

Mark Guterman

Friday, October 23, 2009

Career Change 101

I have a new client who is confronting classic dilemma of making a lot of money in a career he is very unhappy with. He feels trapped, as they say, by golden handcuffs, and is struggling trying to figure out how to do work he likes and still having a substantial income. He doesn’t lack for ideas, but most of them, for a variety of reasons, are not feasible (not enough income potential, too risky, spouse does not approve, etc.).

In addition to the challenge of deciding what he wants to do, he is also a very impatient person. He wants to know the answer right now, so that he can get moving sooner rather than later. As we’ve worked together, he is beginning to realize that his impatience is one of the reasons he is where he is, and has said a number of times “I’ve allowed my ambition to get out ahead of what I want to do.” He is working on ways to modulate his ambition so eventually it will be in resonance with his vision and goals. When that begins to happen, I believe he will be both very happy and very successful.

He is currently crafting a “personal job description,” that will capture honestly, and in great detail the following: What are the tasks/projects that I most wants to work on; what are the skills that go with those tasks/project; what is the work environment that allows me to do my best work; what are the values that I hold that I must have and would like to have met in my new work; and, what most energizes and motivates me to show up for work each day. As he puts this together, he is establishing an anchor, a basis for articulating what he “should” do (even if he doesn’t know what to call it yet).

He will soon begin doing informational interviewing, along with parallel internet research. His plans are to take his completed job description and interview the smartest and most well connected people he knows (and can get referred to) to ask the following fundamental questions: When you see my job description, what ideas come to mind? Who do you know who does something like this? How does someone with my background get from where I am now to this new career? Based on what he learns from these interviews, he will adapt his job description and keep moving forward until he has identified a match close enough to meet most, if not all of his, criteria.

Once he gets to that point, he will shift gears into job search mode, crafting a resume that shows his transferable skills, and learning how to tell the story of why he is making the change and how he will bring his unique qualities to his new work. For anyone who has ever gone through this process, you know how hard it is and how rewarding it can be when you see it through to the end.

Best wishes.

Mark Guterman