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Monthly Archives: May 2011

What My Five Careers Have Taught Me: Top 10 Lessons of Career Reinvention

I’ve significantly revised my career numerous times over my 25 years of working, and each time, I’ve learned some powerful, surprising lessons — about myself, my capabilities, perceptions, misconceptions, and about what it takes for me to attain what I want.

Each career shift led me down a new path, and often, the destination wasn’t at all what I’d hoped or planned.  Huge mistakes were made, certainly, but what I’ve learned has been of great value and utility, allowing me to focus ever more closely on what matters to me.

As I examine my trajectory, my career paths have involved the following fields, industries, and skills (or a combination of these):

  • Copywriting and marketing – in scientific publishing
  • New product development and market research – in book clubs, publishing and membership services
  • Marketing – professional book clubs
  • Product Management –  in consumer membership services
  • Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Life/Career Coaching
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Women’s Career/Executive Coaching
  • Writing, Speaking
  • Marketing Consulting for Entrepreneurs
  • Executive Recruiting

In remembering who I was as a youngster and young adult, and all the endeavors I loved throughout my life and the roles I’ve assumed, I can now see core, recurring themes about who I am and what I love to do,  including:

  • Understanding human behavior
  • Helping address people’s needs
  • Serving as a empathic listener
  • Discovering and testing new models and creating new solutions
  • Transforming chaos into order
  • Identifying compelling messages/benefits and finding well-matched receivers of those products/benefits
  • Communicating through writing, speaking and performing
  • Using positive thinking and positivity models to be of help
  • Connecting people with endeavors they thrive at
  • Supporting people through dramatic change

I’ve marveled at how my deepest values, preferences, and interests have remained almost unchanged since I was a child, and I’ve seen this same phenomenon in hundreds of folks I’ve coached.

The key lesson I’ve learned through my career reinventions is this– what you loved as a child and young person you most likely still love.  And the key to having a fulfilling professional life is to find the right form in which to honor the essence of who you are and what you love.

As one of my favorite authors, Maria Nemeth, of The Energy of Money says, we’re all happiest when we’re giving form to our Life Intentions in ways that support our lives and help the world.

 So what have my numerous careers taught me?  Here are my top 10 lessons:

1)      Starting over as a beginner is a refreshing, and empowering step that keeps you engaged and enlivened

2)      Being a non-expert reconnects you to your humility

3)      You need a great deal of help from others to be who you want to be

4)       You have core skills and talents that long to be utilized in this lifetime (and you’ll be sick and sad if you deny them)

5)      If you’re doing something you love, but the form of it doesn’t fit your life needs and priorities, you’ll suffer

6)      You can’t hurry love – you won’t succeed if you’re in a desperate rush to be great at something you love

7)      Applying yourself to something new reaffirms your courage, gifts and weaknesses, and what you need to heal in yourself

8)      There is absolutely no security or stability except in what you feel inside of yourself

9)      There is no perfect career – there’s only the perfectly imperfect journey of applying yourself to something you love and value

10)   Embracing a new professional identity changes you because of the new realities you create (which is completely different from dreaming about it from the outside, for all eternity)

I remember being moved after reading this beautiful passage from Viktor Frankl’s powerful book, Man’s Search for Meaning, (a MUST-read book for everyone), and it has stuck with me all these years:

“…The person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest.  What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a young person?  For the possibilities the young person has, the future which is in store for him? “No thank you,” he will think. “Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered.  These sufferings are even the things of which I’m most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.”

In the end, it’s about living life to the fullest.  If finding new work is something you dream of, all I can say to you is, “Do it.”

What new work do you dream about doing?  Do you have the courage to make that dream a reality?

The Wrong Kind of Help – Six Key Traits of “Help” that Hurts

As an empowerment researcher, I’ve studied for eight years what constitutes “helpful” help versus advice or counsel that diminishes and demeans, or sends you in the wrong direction.

The sad news is that thousands of so-called “helpers” in our world today – our family members, friends, service providers of all walks (doctors, lawyers, financial consultants, therapists, coaches, counselors, intuitive, healers, etc.) – simply haven’t done the inner and outer work they need to, to offer empowering, uplifting support.  Instead, the assistance they give is the disempowering kind, dragging us down, keeping us stuck at the same problematic level we seek to rise above.

In my therapy training and work as a career coach, I’ve learned (and tell my clients openly) that only they can discern if the help they’re getting is right for them.  And they should walk away immediately when it’s not.

Each individual has his/her own unique personality, values, beliefs, traits, needs, and priorities – and these coalesce in a way that is individual and special. So the help you receive needs to honor that individuality – and make you right, not wrong. 

My advice to folks seeking help is this – if after the first meeting with the helper you feel empowered, excited, and validated,  and if the help allows you to progress in satisfying ways, then it’s a good match.  If on the other hand, you feel demeaned or misunderstood, challenged in negative ways, and discouraged,  then it’s time to change your helper.

What Kind of Help is the Hurting Kind?

The following are hallmarks of assistance that is wrong for you – and ends up being hurtful not helpful.

You’ll know “bad” help when:

  1. The helper claims s/he is an expert about you (it’s not true – you’re the expert about you)
  2. The help is one-size-fits-all, that applies the same tools and approaches to everyone  – it’s not tailored to your individualized case or scenario
  3. The helper assumes you need “fixing” or believes you’re the problem
  4. The help you receive keeps you stuck  –  you keep experiencing the same the problems over and over
  5. The helper is enmeshed with you – s/he does not support you to grow beyond the help they give
    (I hate to say it, folks, but there are many therapists, coaches and consultants out there who WANT you to keep you coming back because of the money it makes them or because they want you to need them.  I see this in some exorbitantly-paid therapists and consultants all the time.)
  6. Receiving help is a negative experience that drains you of your vitality, hope, and excitement for life. (Or, on the other hand, the help is so overly-optimistic that it doesn’t reflect reality and leads you astray).

 My world is about helping professional women achieve their highest visions.  As I’ve moved into the leadership arena, I’ve seen a lot out there that calls itself “leadership coaching” for women, claiming that it helps women advance.  But what I see instead is a good deal of faulty advice or information that tells women they’re wrong for how they feel and what they want. 

To counter this, I’m launching a new yearlong, 12-part Career Enhancement Program for corporate women for corporate organizations, designed to enliven and support professional women to attain the career visions they hold most exciting and fulfilling.  I aim to provide the highest form of help I can – assistance that achieves the following goals:

Empowering Support:

1)      Validates you – Makes you right (not wrong); focuses NOT on “fixing”you, but honoring who you are at your core

2)      Tailors the help to your specific values, beliefs and needs – not one-size-fits- all

3)      Strengthens and stretches you, helping you see your greatest talents and strengths as well as growth areas

4)      Takes you to a new level – so you overcome previous challenges and are ready for new ones

5)      Encourages you to be more of who you already are – authentically and with integrity, so you can help others
expand and grow as well

6)      Fills you up so you want to experience even more of life and work – gives you a deep and thorough understanding of who you are and where you want to go, realistically.

If your organization is committed to inclusion and diversity, and wants to support professional women’s growth, I hope you’ll reach out – I’d love to offer this 12-month Career Enhancement Program to you and your colleagues.

In the meantime, please remember that getting outside your own head and asking for support to overcome your specific challenges is vitally important.  But choosing the right kind of help– the kind that allows you to move toward the highest and best version of you – is the most important choice of all.  And only you can choose the best help for you.

What kind of help works best for you? And have you ever received help that hurts?

The Top 6 Reasons People Want Out of Their Work

I’ve recently become immersed in executive search work through my new role as Marketing VP for Synergy Partners USA – a specialized executive search firm based in Wilton, CT.  I’m loving the new work — it helps me be of service both to individuals who want to enhance their careers, and organizations who want top marketing talent to help them build and grow.  I’m also connecting with terrific HR and senior management folks committed to diversity and providing career development programs for their female talent as well, which I love to provide through my firm Ellia Communications.  It’s cool!

As a career coach and in exec search work, I’ve spoken with scores of professionals who’ve shared some version of, “I’m really ready for a change, but I’m not sure exactly where to go from here.”

If I’ve heard this message once, I’ve heard it 1000 times now.  So many people spend years crafting careers that appear successful on the outside, only to find that at some point, usually in midlife, the career comes up short.  It’s missing some vital component (or several) that turns the work into something less than fulfilling, lacking in purpose, unstable, inauthentic, unsustainable, or a combination of all of the above.

Why are so many folks dissatisfied with their work and long for change?

Here’s what I’ve found to be the top six reasons people are dissatisfied with their work and want out:

1. They find it impossible to balance work and outside life

2. The money they earn isn’t enough to sustain them or their families

3. The skills and talents required for their work aren’t are a good fit

4. They feel chronically undervalued or mistreated

5. They experience little positive meaning or purpose in their work

6. It’s simply too hard to keep going with it

In short, they’re saying: “I don’t know what I want, but I know it’s not this.”

If the above describes your experience, read on for some tips to help you create the change you want — away from feeling trapped, toward feeling more confident, courageous and committed to making positive career change today.

1) Claim More Balance

Balance is not going to just fall in your lap.  You have to claim it, and commit to getting it.  How?  First, determine the three most important priorities you are committed to achieving in your personal and professional life.  What are the three things that are vital to you to bring about — that matter more than anything else?  Formulate these in terms of “to be” statements such as “to be a great parent” or “to be a successful entrepreneur” or “to be a helper of others.”   Then commit yourself to these.  Stop over-functioning (doing more than is necessary, more than is healthy, and more than is appropriate) in your life, your family, and work, and let go of doing too much and being perfect in the areas that don’t matter as much to you. 

2) Power Up with Money

To get out of financial distress, you have to become intimately connected with your money.  Create a solid budget with strong financial goals, and stick to it.  Understand what you need to survive and thrive.  Examine your spending – are you buying things in order to soothe your soul?  If so, stop over-spending.  Look at your beliefs around money that you learned as a child from living with your family.  Are your beliefs about money positive or negative, expansive or constricting? Do you believe you deserve wealth and abundance, or are you ashamed of the money you have or don’t have?  Overall, the key to overcoming chronic financial problems is to heal your relationship with money through positive and healthy beliefs, actions, and choices.  Develop an empowered money relationship, and you’ll no longer act in ways that create financial distress or drain you of your financial power.

3) Change Your Skills Focus

Do you know exactly which talents and skills are easy and natural for you to use, that give your work a sense of purpose?  Do you know what work would represent a perfect fit? Find a way (either in your existing job or in a new field or job) to tap your true and natural talents more frequently and deeply.  Take my free Career Path Assessment and figure out what you want to do more of, less of, and never again. 

4) Respect Yourself

If you’re chronically undervalued or mistreated at work and want people to change their treatment of you, start with SELF-respect.  How? Through courageous action that builds your own self-esteem – action that you know you should be taking, but haven’t found the nerve to take.  Don’t wait to become more authentic and real in your work. Speak up about who you are and what’s important to you.  Make yourself right, not wrong.  If you know something needs to be communicated, figure out a way to do it as soon as possible.  Find an advocate, sponsor or mentor at work to help you speak up in the right way so that you will be heard and respected for your viewpoint.  Start enforcing your boundaries so that you know exactly what you will tolerate and accept from others, and what you won’t. 

5) Honor What Gives Your Life Meaning

It’s a highly-destructive and misguided myth in our culture that we can’t make good money doing what we love.  We can, but it takes grit, determination, and courage and flexibility to pursue a path that you love and to make it work for you financially. 

Determine what endeavors and activities bring you joy and meaning, and bring these forward.  The key is to 1) understand the essence of what you want, and then 2) find the right form of it.  To find out if the new path you’re fantasizing about is right for you, research, research, research– interview people in the field, read all about it, get training and education, find a mentor, and determine a way to “try it on’ before you leap.  You might discover that earning money following your passion isn’t — in the end — the right thing for you, but you love to do it on a part-time or hobby basis.  If that’s the case, step up and volunteer or join a community that lets you honor your heart-aligned passions.  

6) If It’s Too Much Struggle, Change

Whether you’re in your own business and it’s simply not working, or the job you’re in feels crushingly difficult, it’s time to make change.  Let’s face it, most of us wait until there’s a full-blown crisis (read about the 12 “hidden” crises working women face) before we do something different.  I’ve personally lived through all 12 of the crises  I write about, so I understand.  But I’m asking you NOT to make the same mistakes I did.  Get outside your own head, and get help to figure out what you really want, and how to get it.

So, what’s your top reason for wanting out of your line of work?  And are you ready to do something about it?

Honoring the Loving Mother in You

Happy Mother’s Day to you!

Mother’s Day is a time of honoring and appreciating our mothers and what they have done, given, and sacrificed for us. If you are a mother, I hope you are being showered with love and appreciation this weekend.

I wonder too if we could take some time to appreciate how we have mothered ourselves into being; how despite the many deep challenges we’ve faced these past several years, we haven’t stop nurturing, guiding, and loving our own spirits, and believing in ourselves.  We haven’t given up, even when the times have been so hard. 

So often people focus on what’s terrible today, and how the world and its people are flawed.  To me, we simply don’t talk enough about how we’ve persevered, how we’ve grown through the crises, and how we’ve learned what we’re really made of, through these trying times.

Perhaps we could make today about appreciating the process of mothering, not just of the world’s children, but of our own spirits too.  Here’s a little affirmation we can say today:

“I am a loving and nurturing mother to myself. I always do the best I can. I am aware of my gaps and dedicate myself to my continued growth. I am growing in my loving acceptance and validation of myself (and others) each day.”

Today, let’s thank all those who’ve been mothers to us in one way or another throughout our lives – those who’ve helped “mother” our spirits, gifts, and creative endeavors into being.

But also let’s take a moment to feel deep love and appreciation for the mothers inside of us – for the part of us that pours forth with support, encouragement, kindness, and gentleness – and keeps the love flowing – even in the most challenging of times.

Sending love to you this Mother’s Day.

The Last Thing You Need is a Vision

I am so excited today to share a guest post from my dear friend and colleague Jesse Stoner, co-author with Ken Blanchard of Full Steam Ahead, the second edition of which is out this week.  If you enjoy the post, please check out the book. Jesse is donating all proceeds from sales this week to Give Kids the World.

The Last Thing You Need Is a Vision
By Jesse Lyn Stoner

Recently a highly respected business colleague startled me by stating “vision is oversold and overrated.”

Having spent over 25 years working with leaders to create a shared vision, I had come to assume that although people often don’t know how to create one, everyone believes vision is important.

To be fair, my friend wasn’t saying that vision isn’t important; he was saying it’s less important than purpose and strategy.  But still, it sounded provocative.

I reflected on other times I’ve heard people dismiss the importance of vision.

“The Vision Thing”

Of course there’s the famous comment that plagued former US president George Bush. During his 1987 campaign, when he was urged to stop focusing on the small pieces and figure out where he wanted to take the country, he replied with an irritated “Oh, the vision thing.”  Not only did that phrase haunt him throughout his presidency, it has since earned a place of its own in Wikipedia.  Mr. Bush is also distinguished as the last US president to serve only one term.

“The Last Thing IBM Needs Is a Vision”

Another well-know dismissive remark about vision came from Louis Gertsner, Jr. in 1993 when he took the helm of IBM — “the last thing IBM needs is a vision.”  For months after he made that statement, every time I spoke to a group on the topic of vision, someone would ask my opinion. I always replied that it depended what he meant by “vision.”  If he meant a pie-in-the-sky dream that wasn’t connected to daily life, he was absolutely right.

At that time, IBM was in big trouble, with losses of $8 billion a year and morale at an all time low.  He needed to turn the ship around quickly and patch the holes below the waterline.  But would he need clear plans, strategy and direction?  You bet.  Without it, the ship would be dead in the water.

Two years later, Gertsner announced IBM’s new vision and the strategy to achieve it—a return to IBM as a customer-focused provider of computing solutions, employing network computing as an overarching strategy.  His famous turnaround was eventually detailed in his 2002 book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, It Doesn’t Matter What Path You Take.

So, are purpose and strategy enough?

It’s difficult to engage the hearts and minds of the people through purpose and strategy alone.

Purpose explains “why.” Strategy is a vehicle that takes you to your destination. It explains “how,” but it doesn’t tell “where.”  And as the Cheshire Cat in Wonderland remarked to Alice:  If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter what path you take.

I think the real problem is:

Vision is overused and under-defined.

A real vision is not a catchy phrase or slogan that is disconnected with the reality of life in the organization.  Nor is it a vague statement like being “number one.” A real vision shows you where to go and makes you want to go there.  It provides a picture that you can actually see in your imagination.

A real vision is clearly understood by everyone, engages their hearts and minds, is tied directly to their real work, and provides guidelines for making decisions.  And a real vision is enduring—lasting beyond the leadership period of the person who originally articulated it, whether that is the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Herb Kelleher’s vision for Southwest Airlines.

The process of creating the vision is as important as what it says.

Some people have a cynical attitude toward vision because the process has been misused.  Recently, a colleague provided me with a description of her experience in this situation:

Ten years ago I quit my job as a manager in a large corporation during a siege known as Redeployment, replete with vision and values workshops, many of which I was asked to lead.  It was a farce.  The company was downsizing, people were losing their jobs, and those who stayed felt bad for their friends and colleagues and insecure about their own jobs.  The platitudes in the vision meant nothing.  As a manager, I felt like we were trying to sell them a bill of goods instead of helping people deal with the reality of what was happening. Being part of the charade got to be too much for me, so I left.

If Louis Gertsner had arrived at IBM and tried to “sell” the people on a lofty vision, he would have lost credibility.  He needed to address the immediate crisis, which included restructuring.

Gertsner was right. Vision might not be the first thing you need, but it is always the last.

What has your experience been with vision? Have you experienced the power of vision on a team or in an organization? Has vision played a role in your personal life?

If you’d like to unleash the power of vision in your work and life, check out Jesse’s book, Full Steam Ahead.

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