Here we are in another college graduation season. Congratulations! What a great milestone to achieve. As a gift, I thought I would share a few thoughts around what this means for you career-wise. Many of you, after all, are being cast out into a work world full of possibilities with varying levels of support. There’s lots to think about and consider.
First of all, the concept of work itself is changing. Boundaries aren’t as clear, but that means more options and flexibility than ever before. Socially minded-businesses are established “not only for profit”, companies are collaborating internally and externally, and new definitions of work arrangements are emerging with the “gig economy”. We are no longer necessarily bound to one career or one job in one company. You may be working for someone else, starting your own enterprise, or even working on several different things at once. Opportunities to experiment with your career abound.
With these in mind, you don’t have to see your career in the long-established analogy of “climbing the ladder” and attaining job titles. Instead, think about it as all about collecting meaningful experiences that enhance your development and your life. With that framing, first consider what’s most important according to your own ambitions and in what environment and then seek the endeavors that might align with that, if only for now. Nothing is set in stone forever, but you want to make the most of your time and energy. Make decisions and be open to changes, all with purpose in mind.
This leaves lots of room for you to forge your own path, one that is as unique as you are. In other words, know that there is no one way to do anything, no formula that is failsafe. This requires you to stay self-aware and true to yourself. Utilize your talents, constantly learn new things, and share and collaborate with others for the greater good. Combine traditional and non-traditional ways of collecting those experiences and doing meaningful work. Establish, cultivate, and grow your network to enable you to get help and to help others.
Don’t forget to manage who you are and who you aspire to be. Yes, work is a large part of life and it enables our livelihoods, but you are so much more than that. Avoid defining yourself primarily or solely by your work, because your career will experience curveballs and you don’t want to throw in an identity crisis in the middle of it. Trust me, I’ve seen that happen. Make your sense of self the one constant in life. That means everything is as fulfilling to you both in and outside of your work. True, you have lots of energy and are willing to do what it takes for career success, but seeing (and living) beyond work ensures you won’t burn out. You still have “lots of runway” as they say. Work hard, but pace yourself.
For everyone else, three things: one, understand that new graduates are entering a different version of the world than we first encountered. Imposing rigidity, even with good intentions, won’t be helpful to the young people in your life. Instead, be a supportive sounding board. Offer your wisdom considering today’s context. Be collaborative, and learn from each other. Second, think about this new generation of workers as you design and manage your work cultures, environments, and experiences. How will you integrate and leverage the talents of multiple generations in your workplace? If you aren’t sure, ask me how. And third, it’s not too late to see your own careers in a different light. The same choices new graduates have are still available to you, no matter your life stage. The only constraints you have are those that you impose on yourself.
5/22 Update: Many thanks to Thought Catalog for publishing this post on their website!
Feels like Uber is getting a lot of media coverage these days, for better or worse. The title of this New York Times article is "Uber's Model Could Change Your Work" (Click the pic above to see it). I share this not because I agree with the author here, but for the dialogue that it stimulates. Warning-the tone is unnecessarily negative and conveys one emotion above all others, fear. Disrupting the status quo in an evolutionary or revolutionary way is how innovation happens. The #futureofwork is coming no matter what we do, so I'm not sure what this article expects people to do with their information other than to be cranky. We can influence whether it is for the better or worse. Having a tech company's model re-draw the boundaries is not necessarily a bad thing, it's different. The question for us individually is whether we are willing to adapt ourselves into the talent of the future and bring about positive outcomes. Work is changing and has always changed so there is no use fighting it. Leverage it.
Check out this opinion piece from Bloomberg BusinessWeek, "Recruit Me With A Manicure" as food for thought. There is hardly any topic about diversity that doesn't stir up strong emotions or controversy amongst people. As a woman of color, my life experiences and culture studies have informed how I feel about this. Separate from that, we can respond to this article from a Design of Work Experience (DOWE) perspective. It expands our understanding of the concept, and also gives us a different way of looking at this long-debated topic. Let's look at this hypothetically:
1. First, a company could articulate the archetype of qualities that would be successful there--not what they would like, but what would realistically work in that culture. If it doesn't look pretty, I would suggest some transformation work to set the right conditions for top talent to thrive. Gender (as in the case of this article) wouldn't be a quality per se, but the company might decide that the hired group as a whole should reflect diversity to leverage its benefits.
2. Once they know what they are looking for, perhaps they would go out to understand the behaviors and motivations of candidates. They could look for ways in how those aforementioned qualities are demonstrated and select the people that exemplify them best. To attract these target people to their company, perhaps they follow their activities, interests, and interactions. Then they go out and meet them there. In the process, they might discover that some of these candidates enjoy manicures, so they host an recruitment event at a nail bar.
Not as controversial sounding now, huh? It makes sense. A DOWE approach lets the target candidates define the recruitment activities, which makes the company more attractive to them. It ensures a strong job-person-company fit-match, thus ensuring greater hiring success and retention. Compare that to how some things happen today, where companies don't set the conditions for success, think hiring for job requirements is enough, recruitment activities are always the same, matches aren't that strong, and hiring success rate hovers around the 50% mark (thanks, Google). Convinced? Now design for the on boarding experience, DOWE-style!
I've been documenting "moments" of my writing process as a personal ethnography of sorts. For me, the process has been just as important as the book itself will be. I consider myself a lifelong learner--and I've learned so much about research, writing, the publishing process, and even myself. The typing of the keyboard has forced me to organize and hone my thoughts, and the iterative process has given me lots and lots of practice. What a great personal development opportunity this has been. This pic is one of my favorites so far--it reminds me that you can't always choose the moments that ideas come to you. Sometimes it comes in the middle of the night, and I had better take advantage of getting them down because it won't be there in the morning! Having coached others to take opportunities at seemingly inopportune moments, I am happily eating my own advice.
I’ve talked about the importance of networking in my previous blog post, “Pearls of Wisdom for Career Transitions”. It bears discussion again because I continue to be amazed at the beauty of how it works. Here are three recent examples. Read on below about why it matters.
When I (re-) relocated to CA, I needed to rebuild my network from the ground up. It had been 15+ years since I lived and worked on the West Coast. There was no such thing as LinkedIn or Facebook to keep in touch with back then. I spent my first few months meeting with as many people as I could, no matter their background or connection to me or my work. I was introduced (through my aunt by marriage) to a consultant who specializes in late startup/early IPO compensation. Getting to know her gave me another contact I could refer if any of my clients ever needed that kind of expertise. She mentioned how she was getting so busy, she needed to hire more staff to help. The very next week, I was in contact with a former CIO I worked with, who introduced me to someone he worked with previously. This new contact had a background in both labor law and compensation. He also happened to be looking for new opportunities. I made the introductions on e-mail, and they were able to work together remotely for a while. Because he was on the East Coast and she was on the West Coast, they might not have otherwise met.
About a year ago, I was flying somewhere and my seatmate and I ended up chatting. We connected on social media thereafter. He works as a sound engineer, but also owns an IT consulting practice. We stayed in touch periodically. One day he asked whether I could refer anyone to his client. They were looking for a firm to help them develop a B2B marketing strategy. I made introductions to four different providers, all with very different strengths and approaches to their work. It gave me a great excuse to reconnect with those contacts, help someone out, and expand everyone’s networks at the same time.
Earlier this year, I was talking with agents and publishers about my upcoming book on Design of Work Experience. When it came to the contract negotiations with my publisher, I decided to seek some legal advice rather than go through an agent. It turned out to be a great decision, because I found a great lawyer. We connected through a former colleague who was a corporate attorney and whose wife (also an attorney) published a novel in the last few years. I was so impressed with his background and in awe of the advice I received. I would’ve never found him (or anyone of his caliber) if it weren’t for my network.
My consulting business is largely built through referrals within my network. It makes things a lot easier--they already know what I’m good at and how well I do it. I am somewhat of a “known quantity” instead of a stranger starting from scratch. This approach has worked so far, and I’m glad for it. When you look beyond the obvious fact that networking is a good business practice, there’s even more benefits to be had:
You build knowledge. Finding out about what other people are doing and how their business is evolving builds your own knowledge of industry and what’s going on. It leads to new paths one can pursue, or new people to meet and learn from. If you ask me, networking should be a huge part of learning and development efforts.
You know where you stand. Reaching out to your network gives you feedback—of your importance to them, the quality of your relationship, and how they feel about you. Those that value your relationship will be responsive and will seek you out. It also highlights for you where you might need to make more effort, or it gives you insight on where to “trim” or “prune” your network.
You build good karma, and you get good karma. Note here that they might not come from the same sources, but “what goes around comes around” as they say. I encourage those I coach to reach out and help others when they are feeling discouraged. Eventually, you’ll feel better and the universe will reward you for your good work. I enjoy being able to share my network with others, and I am willing to go the extra mile especially for those who do the same. All good stuff, all around.
You build your reputation. Your personal brand matters. It’s built by a combination of the tone you set through your actions and how others react to you. Building a great reputation ultimately leads to better opportunities. Networking is one way of building that reputation. Pretty logical stuff.
Everyone always says they should do a better job of networking, but they never have the time or bandwidth for it. I’ve learned that you really should build and nourish your network before you need it. You don’t want to be seen as the type that only calls when they are looking for something, so make the time and be generous. Pick up the phone, send that e-mail, or schedule that coffee to see how your network is doing. So what is your favorite networking story? Please feel free to share in the comments section.
For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you’ve seen my live tweets from last week’s Exceptional Women in Publishing Conference (#ewip2014). I was asked by a friend on one of the panels to cover their session as a way of practicing my tweeting skills. The bug bit me and I ended up tweeting all day long. One of the other sessions I attended was How to Manage Transitions and Grow Your Own Career. This was of interest to me not only because of my work, but also because I have gone through my own personal journey with several transitions throughout my life. With all this first hand experience with transitions, I was interested to hear what others had to say.
This distinguished panel included successful women in media: Amanada Enayati (Columnist , CNN Health), Cynthia Samuels (Partner, The Cobblestone Team), Peggy Northrup (Editor-in-Chief, Sunset), and Sarah Granger, (Founder, Center for Technology, Media & Society). There were some real gems to take away, like asking yourself “What am I learning?” and defining “What does a sustainable life look like?” Entrepreneurship in-between jobs was encouraged. The overall storyline was about unplanned transitions that (im)posed new challenges and how they were able to rise above it. It’s a great, inspiring theme—in fact, I’ve blogged about it before (When Stepping Down is a Step Up). What I wanted to contribute to the dialogue was a different storyline: how one can purposefully plan for a happy transition to a new career. As I was not a panelist in this case, I chose to bite my tongue, hear more from others, and then blog about it. And here we are.
My website bio talks about my previous life as a corporate executive before transitioning to a portfolio career. This panel at ewip inspired me to be introspective about my own experience. I believe enough time has passed since my transition and now I can share some pearls of wisdom gathered thus far:
1. Not all transitions are bad. Human nature (our fight/flight instinct) has trained us to fear change. Organizations employ change management to address this for the many transitions that come with running a business. Having managed lots of change initiatives I can tell you that though the initial reaction is typically shock and fear, there is often an equal amount of opportunity that can come from it. One’s response should be to leverage it. Get used to change, and you will master it. It is a matter of taking this perspective and allowing it to guide your actions. The undesirable alternative is to base your actions on fear, and where does that leave you? Opportunity rules!
2. Not all transitions are unexpected. This is something I wanted to share during the session at the conference. It took me a few years to realize this and bring it to life, but my transition was planned. Transitions don’t have to be sprung upon or imposed on you. In fact, you could decide to make a transition if you wanted to on your own. This means you can plan ahead for a transition whether you are planning to make one or not, and you’ll be prepared. I oftentimes ask people what their dream job would be. There are the lucky few that are living their dream jobs today, but many people would rather be doing something else. If you are not where you want to be, you can actually do something about it. Plan a transition with purpose, and purposefully. It will feel much better to choose things on your own timing rather than have it happen to you.
3. Build and maintain your network all the time, and especially before you need it. Everyone knows how important networking is, but few live by it. I know people that are typically very social, but when you put in the “networking” terminology, they are turned off or they act differently. There are others who call upon their network only when they need it, but otherwise disappear. Networking is about relationships. Cultivating your network is building relationships. You will need your network to help you. Conclusion? Make the time. We are all busy, but social media has made it much easier to keep in touch. It takes all of 10 seconds these days to send a simple “how are you doing?” to someone. If you don’t leave too much time between meetings you can actually catch up over a short coffee break or phone call. Personally, I have found networking to be extremely fun these days. I’m meeting people I wouldn’t have met if I didn’t make the effort, and I love hearing about their experiences.
4. Give more than you take. When it comes to networking, no one likes a serial taker. If you want your network to work for you, then you have to put some skin in the game and build good karma. Introduce people to each other and help solve people’s challenges by getting them the right resources, even if you don’t stand to directly benefit from it. Offer help cheerfully and readily. The good stuff will come back to you in different ways. I promise. People will be willing to help you more when you need it if they know you would do the same for others.
5. Expect good and bad days. When you are in the in-between, it’s easy to feel unmoored. Again it is a matter of perspective on which direction you want to go—do you want the good days to keep you going, or let the bad days get you down? With every journey you will experience both good and bad days. Anticipating this means that there will be no surprises and you can prepare how you will cope with the good and the bad. Every day is a new day. That means your longest bad day will be 24 hours max. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it—that’s what your friends, family, and network are there for. This is coming from me, who is reluctant to “owe” others and to ask for help. I’ve learned that it isn’t always about that, especially if you aren’t a serial taker.
6. Find energizers, build self-motivation. Without the structure of whatever “business as usual” was for you, it is up to you now to drive things from within. With transitions comes some form of flexibility. You get to structure your own life. How do you want to spend your days? What activities energize you when you need it? What’s it going to take to get things done? Most importantly, you must hold yourself accountable. Other things to expect in the self-motivation department: If you are in between company jobs (or going independent), expect your e-mail box to go silent at first. Don’t be disheartened. The life you left behind will move on without you. A friend warned me of this ahead of time, a gem from his personal experience. (Thanks, friend!) It will be through your self-motivation to fill your inbox up again. Along the same vein, I was used to having work come at me in the corporate setting (usually through a metaphorical fire hose). Now I have to find work for myself. Scary, but also liberating because I know it is all up to me, and I get to choose what work I do (#empowerment).
7. Keep your eyes on the prize, but remain intuitive and reflective. This lesson was one of the best (and hardest earned) things I’ve learned over the last few years. For a long time, I was the type of driven individual that wanted to will the world to go my way. That’s ultimately a losing war, because life simply does not work that way. Save yourself disappointment. Become really clear on what you want out of your life, look for signs around you that will get you there and be flexible (i.e. intuitive), focus your actions to support where you want to go, and then take the opportunities that come to you (including the unexpected). Reflect every day on what you are doing and why you are doing it. Get things done without losing sight of the big picture. There are lots of books out there in the self-help genre that speak to this in great detail. I’ve just summarized it for you here. ;) Suffice it to say that no matter how esoteric some of this might seem, the results have been there for me so far.
8. Practice patience. For those that know me, they know that patience is not my strong suit. Because patience is not my natural inclination, my professional journey has turned out to be many exercises in practicing patience. What I’ve learned is that it is your responsibility to do everything in your power, but it is not always up to you on the timing. Patience is a competency one has to manage along a continuum—if you are too patient, you might not be action-oriented enough. If you are impatient, you might get less-than-baked results or miss other opportunities. This is a constant challenge for all of us, but “knowing is half the battle” (as they say).
9. About that money thing….Being fiscally conservative and the breadwinner for my family, I always made sure that I had enough savings to live for 6 months without an income. This was our safety cushion. When it came time to think about my transition, I increased my savings to a year. When my transition happened, we lived off the savings but put money we earned here and there back in the pot. You need not be a penny pincher to save money. When I was getting regular paychecks, we set up money to go into another account automatically. I never saw or felt it. Financial comfort is also a mindset. I never thought we could live on a smaller budget, but we are doing just that. We are living within our means.
I considered adding a pearl of wisdom about taking risk. 10 would have been a nice round number. Let’s face it: life is full of risks. Not transitioning when you should is a risk. Transitioning is a risk. Life after transition includes risks. IMHO, risk is balanced with empowerment. If you take the position of being empowered, you can manage risk and all that comes with it. It’s the losing control thing that people don’t like about risk, but if you are empowered, you don’t have to lose it. When it comes to career you can be your own advocate or your own worst enemy. Most of us in the professional world are not in life-or-death situations. Now that’s real risk. How much risk could there be in your career? What do you stand to gain or lose? Chances are there is more to be had than to lose.
My parting words are my disclaimer: I’m not the expert on transitions, nor is any of this scientifically proven. However, I am a lifelong learner. I am a product of my experiences, and I like to learn from others. Consider this a summary of all that I’ve encountered in my professional career, managing transitions for others and myself, attending conferences, reading, and hearing lots and lots of stories from personal experiences. If anyone can take anything from what I’ve written here, then it is a gift. Thanks for reading!
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