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June 2011
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August 2011

How Do You Know When You're Stuck?


I've been writing a lot lately about positive professional development, trying to think differently about how we approach our own learning and growth. But it occurs to me that for many of us, thinking about career and professional growth can be tough if we're feeling stuck in our current careers. All this "positive" stuff can start to sound like the manic ramblings of a crazy person. Who has TIME for positive professional development when you're just trying to keep your head above water? 

Having been in the "stuck" place (I accidentally typed "suck" place and think that might have been more appropriate), I know how it can feel to be around people encouraging you to be positive. In fact, experts suggest that random "Be Positive!" stuff can actually be toxic. So it can help to first know when you're stuck and to acknowledge what that might be doing to you before you launch into anything else. 

I've shared in the past the times when I've felt stuck, as in in this post. Re-reading it, I can see that for me, there are always clues to when I'm feeling burnt out. See if these ring true for you:

  • Bored
  • Work is a chore that I have to slog through. I find myself devising weird little incentives, like "if you do this task, you can do mindless web browsing for 15 minutes." And I dread sitting down at my desk in the morning. 
  • Isolated and wanting to withdraw from people around me. I tend to go into my little cave when I'm in stuck mode. Of course while I'm in there, I think I'm the only person in the world who feels stuck and I can also go on a pity party for myself. 
  • Anxious and stressed out. Often I will wake up in the night with 5 million things on my mind that I can't shut down. The more I think about these things, the more anxious I feel. 
  • Difficulty focusing on one task. Multi-tasking becomes the norm, but in a very scattered way, disconnected from any real strategy. It's activity, not action

The thing that I've found is that "stuckness" can sneak up on you. It's a sort of quicksand that you wander into indavertently and don't realize is killing you until you're up to your neck in it. You become the frog in boiling water

The trick I've found is to try to pay attention to when you're getting stuck, so you can act sooner, rather than later to derail things. For me, the best way to tell is to keep daily journals so I can see when I'm trending toward stuck. I also try to monitor myself for some of the symptoms I described above. 

So here's my question for the day. How do you know when you're getting stuck? Is this something you try to monitor on a regular basis? And how do you monitor it? 


I'm running two free Positive Professional Development Camps on July 26 and 28. Check out this post for more information and to sign up. There are only a few spots left, so I'd encourage you to sign up quickly! And if you can't attend, go ahead and fill out the form anyway, just to let me know you're interested so I can see about scheduling additional sessions. 

12 More Professional Development Questions

Glavom i bradom / In Person at 12 Motovun Film Festival

Steve Woodruff's recent article on the 12 Most Important Questions for Your Identity may be geared toward companies, but I think are just as useful for individuals. Below are my re-writes for individual professional development. 

1. What do you REALLY want to do? 

This is really the most vital question you can ask yourself. It is the question that can (and should) drive all of your professional development actions. 

2. Where do you really ring the bell? 

This question is about your strengths, your most important qualities--your positive core. While you may be pretty good at many things, knowing the 1-3 things you're REALLY good at can help you think more strategically about how to build on your assets. 

3. Where is there a hole in the market?

Don't be a commodity, like everyone else. Look around your profession or industry and see where someone needs to make a difference and drive some big changes. How could your skills and talents fill that hole? 

4. Is there an opportunty to become the "go-to" person for a specialized niche? 

This might be related to your answer to number 3, but look to places where you might be able to become highly specialized and focused. It's better to be absolutely necessary to a small group of customers, based on your specialized talents, than it is to be like everyone else. 

5. Who are your ideal customers (or employers)?

In his post, Steve shares a piece of advice he received years ago--"Not all business is good business." Just because you COULD work for someone doesn't mean you should. It's definitely worth it for you to define your ideal employer or, if you're a small business, your ideal customers. This can help you refine and focus your efforts. 

6. What do you want to build? 

This is about what role you want work to play in your life. What does work do for you? Is career incredibly important so you want to put a lot of energy into it? Or is it a means to an end? Is work about you doing something great in the world? How does it tie in with your identity and sense of self? 

7. Where is the revenue?

In the process of planning for your career and professional development, you may find that you want to be in a different place than you are now. Maybe instead of working for another company you want to work for yourself. Or maybe you want to move into a different industry or profession. How will you support yourself during this transition? 

8. What kind of people do I need around me?

When it comes to professional development and career, I think it helps to look at the support system we need and whether or not we have it. Who is supporting you in professional development? Do you have colleagues around you who want to learn? What about mentors and sponsors? Have you created for yourself a circle that allows you to grow and flourish professionally?

9. What do you stink at? 

OK, so this question doesn't tie into my focus on "positive professional development," but it actually isn't a bad one to ask. Finding out what you are NOT good at is a great clue about where you need to develop your connections and network. It's also a good way to help you refine your vision for your career and professional development--how can you create opportunities for yourself that mitigate your weaknesses?

10. Where's the synergy? 

In terms of professional development, this could apply to people, companies or opportunities. Who or what can you connect to that will allow you to generate a value that is greater than the sum of its parts? 

11. How's your network?

Big, big question. Who is in your network? What have you done for them lately? Are there other people you'd like to add? Who? What are you going to do for them? This is a world where connections can make or break us professionally. Paying attention to the health of your network is a major professional development skill. 

12. Where are your examples and inspiration?

Now HERE is a great positive PD question. Look around you. Who do you know personally who is an inspirational example of learning and professional development? What stories, quotes, ideas, etc. can you collect that will inspire you to grow as a learner and keep on learning?

So that's my modification of Steve's list. Thoughts? How could we use these for ongoing professional development? 


I'm running two free Positive Professional Development Camps on July 26 and 28. Check out this post for more information and to sign up. Space is limited!

Positive Professional Development Online Day Camps

Girl Scout Day Camp

UPDATE! The Postivie Professional Development Online Day Camps are filled as of July 13, but I'm starting a waiting list in case anyone ends up dropping out. If you're still interested in attending, fill out this form and I will add you to the list. You can also complete the form if you are interested in attending, but can't make these particular dates/times. Depending on interest, I may look at scheduling additional sessions. 


Last week I was exploring how we can use positive questions to support professional development. I wrote a post here on how to prime the pump and another one on how to use positive questions to decide what you want to learn about. Then I looked at some strategies for exploring positive questions and how to translate insights into action

I've been wanting to experiment with doing online "day camps" where we use visuals, positive questions and a community of like-minded learners to engage in professional development and it occurred to me over the weekend that these questions offered a perfect opportunity to do that. 

So. . . here's what I'm planning. 

The Process

For both online day camps--described below--we will be using the Exploring New Options Image Center to consider some key questions. For each camp, we'll log-in to the Image Center and call in to a conference line (which I will also send out to you). We'll have the chance to create our images in response to the prompts and then talk about what we've created. I'll also send out some follow-up information and exercises you can use to dig more deeply into the topic. 

I'm not trying to make this super-complicated. I just want to experiment with using the Image Center and the positive questions to see where it takes us. I'm also really interested in the conversational aspect--what happens when we share our ideas and how can we move from vision to action? 

Positive PD Online Day Camp 1: Priming the Pump

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 from 7-8:30 p.m (EDT)

In this session, we're going to explore what we can create for ourselves in terms of a learning environment that best suits our needs. We'll use some of the questions from this post on Positive Questions for Professional Development: Setting the Stage--which ones will be a surprise!  We will then identify how to move from insights to action and what we can do to move forward. 

Postive PD Online Day Camp 2: Defining a Vision for Learning

Thursday, July 28, 2011 from 7-8:30 p.m (EDT)

In the second camp, we'll use the questions from this post on Developing a Vision for Learning--again, the specific questions will be a surprise. The goal will be to come up with an inspirational learning plan that supports where we want to go with our professional development. Again, we'll end by looking at how we can move from insights into action and what steps we need to take to implement our visions. 

UPDATE--Since I posted this, the class has filled up. I have created a waiting list, however, so if you want to join it, you can fill out this form. If someone drops out of the class, I will go to the waiting list and notify you. Also, if you are interested in the Day Camps but couldn't participate on these dates, then use the form to let me know you're interested in future sessions. 

Positive Professional Development: Insights Into Action

ready for action

This week I've been exploring using positive questioning strategies to drive professional development. Previous posts included: 

In today's post, I want to explore ways to translate insights into action. How do you move from creating a vision for inspired learning into enacting that vision? There are a few things we can do that I'll describe in greater detail below. 

Action, Not Activity

Before getting into specific strategies, I want to go back to my post last week on action vs. activity. As I discussed then, action is something that is inspired by a deeper strategic vision for what we want, while activity is action with no real connection to purpose or goals. 

As we look at ways to move from the insights we gained in exploring positive professional development questions, we want to make sure that the steps we take to enact this vision are tied strategically to what it is we're trying to create. We want to keep asking ourselves, how will this action take me closer to the learning vision I've created for myself? If it doesn't do that, then I should reconsider the activity because it won't be connected to real inspired learning. 

Changing Habits

 As we look at how to enact in our professional lives a more positive approach to professional development, I think it's useful to consider changing our habits, rather than trying to enact some full-scale "Learning Plan." Reality is, when we treat learning as an event, something we pay attention to only once in awhile, we are much less likely to achieve our professional goals. We need to see learning as a habit--like exercising or making good food choices--that can lead us to a healthier professional life. Lasting change often happens incrementally, not in one fell swoop.  So, how do we instill in ourselves the small habits of learning that will inspire us and keep us fresh? 

Moving from Insight to Action

This exercise is adapted from an activity in Appreciative Living, an excellent primer on how to use appreciative inquiry practices in your life. It focuses on enacting small, but significant changes in habits that bring you closer to your vision without you having to make major overhauls. It's like changing one eating habit at a time, rather than going on a full-scale diet. 

Start by going back to the insights you gained in responding to the questions about developing a positive learning environment for yourself and creating a vision for what you want to learn. Answer this question:

As I step back and reflect on what I really want and where I am today, what do I see as one of the most significant changes I could make that would help me to get to what I want? What ONE change would have the greatest impact in helping me achieve what I really desire here? 

Once you've achieved some clarity, then ask yourself:

What one small change could I make now, no matter how small, that would align with this high impact change? What could I do today that would get me a step closer to this larger vision I want to create? 

When you've identified this change, then take that step. See what happens. Modify what you're doing as appropriate. Use these questions to identify new steps you could take to keep moving forward. 


Run:Swiftly Tech SS & Run:Speed Shorts

Some Small Steps You Can Take

Here are a few "learning habits" you might want to try. Let me suggest that you only pick one or two at a time to see how you can incorporate them into your life, how well they work for you, etc. Once they become ingrained as habits, then look at adding something else when you're ready for a new challenge or to change things up a bit. 

  • The One Sentence Journal--This is a small, easy habit to incorporate into your daily life. Each day, at a regular time, write one sentence that is tied to your learning vision. It could be something you learned that day or a question that came up for you or something you want to try out. You'll find more in this post. You may want to consider signing up for Oh Life for this practice. It's an email-based journaling option that will remind you daily about posting with the added bonus of including a random entry you've posted previously.
  • 20 Questions to Ask Yourself Every Sunday--This is a great list of questions that you can adapt for enacting your professional development plan. Take 30 minutes at the beginning of the week to work your way through some or all of these and see what impact it has on your learning. 
  • 60 Small Ways to Improve Your Life in the Next 100 Days--Scroll down this list to items 8-13 in the Learning/Personal Development section. There are some great ideas for small changes you can make. I particularly like the idea of setting your alarm 1 minute earlier each day, so that by the end of the 100 days, you're getting up an hour and 40 minutes earlier, thus giving yourself a nice chunk of "me" time for learning. 
  • Debrief Yourself--Take a look at some of these questions and see how you might use them to reflect on various professional and learning experiences on a regular basis. 
  • Incorporate Reflective Practice--On one level, learning is a continuous cycle of "act/reflect." Many of us have the "act" part down pretty well, but don't always take the time for reflection. This post includes a link to a great 4-pager on reflective practice. You may also want to check out this post on incorporating reflective practices into the organization. 
  • Connect with Like-Minded Peers--One of the best ways to learn is with the support of others. Although there can be obvious value in connecting to people within your industry or occupation, I actually think that some of the greatest growth comes simply from connecting to people who also want to become more adept at learning. You don't have to be around people who want to learn about the same things, necessarily. You just need to be connected to people who love to learn.  It's much more fun with a buddy. And you may find that people from different walks of life who share your love of learning can offer you new perspectives and ideas to learn from as well. 

Some Final Words

So what are some of the take-aways from this week that I hope you get?

  • Learning should come from inspiration, not desperation. Finding ways to inspire your learning, rather than to goad yourself into it will always be more effective. 
  • Positive questions can take us in new directions in our professional development. They can ignite our passions and interest and give great energy to our professional development process. 
  • Learning is a habit--we have to look for ways to build it into our lives so that we become the learners we want to be. Focusing on events and "big plans," can be a recipe for failure. Like losing weight, learning is really about finding the habits that work for us to inspire our learning and keep us learning for the long haul. 
  • Focus on creating a learning lifestyle. What we're really talking about here is creating for ourselves a learning lifestyle, incorporating into our lives healthy learning habits. We are trying to become learners, not simply participating in learning activities. It's the difference between being a healthy person and a yo-yo dieter. A healthy person has developed small healthy habits for living, making choices in food, exercise, etc. that support his/her vision of the self as a healthy person. A yo-yo dieter is someone who eats well and exercises only to gain the short term advantage of losing a few pounds. When that goal is reached, slowly the old habits creep back in and the dieter finds that more weight has been gained and the cycle starts all over again. We don't want to be "yo-yo learners." We want to be healthy learners.  

So what are your thoughts on this post and the rest of the week? Has this series provoked your thinking on professional development? Would love to hear more!