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October 2011

Who Do You Have to Thank For Being Where You Are Today?

thank you note for every language

As I do more work with positive professional development and the idea of working from a place of opportunities, gratitude and learning, I've been doing some thinking about the roles that different people have played in my life.

From a purely practical point of view, being aware of who has contributed to my professional growth is a way for me to tend to my network--thanking and doing things for the people who have made contributions to my development. On a more spiritual/emotional level, though I think that recogizing the people who have contributed to your growth is a way to get back in touch with more positive emotions, especially when I think of some of the people who, at the time, seemed like purely negative influences. 

I think, for example, of a former business partner. He was difficult and had severe mental health issues that only became apparent to me after a year of working together. We had an ugly parting of the ways and for a time, I looked upon that experience as purely negative.

But in retrospect, I'm grateful for the opportunity to have worked with him. I had to shore up the places in our business where he was weak and from that I learned new skills and made new connections. I also learned much about myself and what I needed to be looking for in future business associates. Now, with the passage of years, I'm grateful to him for providing me with experiences that pushed and challenged me. They helped me grow in ways I might not have otherwise grown. 

As you look at your own career path, think about all the people with whom you've come into contact. Some were probably sources of inspiration, motivation and positive feelings, so identifying and thanking them is easier. But what about your more "negative" experiences--the thorns in your side, the colleagues who were a consistent source of annoyance, the boss who criticized all that you did? They influenced who you are now too. What did you learn from them? How did they help you grow? Take some time to experience gratitude for those experiences and how they transformed you. If you can, reach out and thank those people for the learning you have gained. It can be a powerful tool for turning around any lingering negativity.


Careerclarity6 Looking for career clarity? Sign up for my online Career Clarity Camp, which runs from October 10-November 7, 2011.

Learn more here


Professional Development Tool: The First Hour


What I do first thing in the morning tends to set the tone for the rest of my day. Starting with my email inbox inevitably sets me up for a day of reacting to other people's agendas and unproductive "multi-tasking." When I begin my day with an hour spent on a high-impact project, though, things tend to flow more smoothly. I accomplish more and feel that sense of "flow" more frequently. I also am happier and more energetic. 

As Ali Luke from Pick The Brain points out:

Hour One matters because it sets the tone for what’s to come. If you start off well, it’s relatively easy to keep going: you feel motivated by what you’ve achieved, so you carry on doing great work.

Conversely, if you spend the first hour of your day bogged down in trivia or rushing to catch up, you may well find that you get more and more behind. The day rushes on – or drags – and, at the end of it, you don’t feel much sense of satisfaction.

Getting the first hour right will set you up for success – and keep you on track towards your goals.

Here's a 30-Day Experiment for you. Instead of checking your email first thing in the morning, try using the first hour of your day to focus on some aspect of your professional development. You can use it to:

  • Build your professional network. Doing a favor for someone, thanking them for their work or writing a recommendation for someone on LinkedIn can be great ways to start the day. 
  • Participate in an online course or community discussion.

Putting your professional development at the start of your day will ensure that you devote time and energy to it. It will also set you up for learning throughout the remainder of your day. 

What do you do during the first hour of your day?


Want priority registration for events, special discounts and other goodies? Then sign up for The Bamboo Project newsletter!

If you sign up before January, 2012, you'll get my free "Looking Back/Looking Ahead" activities. Each day for 15 days, you'll receive an email with a specific question that can help you reflect on what you've learned in 2011 and get you started planning for 2012. It's a great way to jumpstart your career for the New Year!


Sign up for Career Clarity Camp--If You're Ready to Get Clear


I'm excited to announce that I'll be running a month-long Online Career Clarity Camp from October 10--November 7, 2011.  

Who Should Participate? 

I put this camp together for people who are ready to:

  • Move from Career Certainty to Career Clarity--For people who recognize that there is no certainty when it comes to our careers, so we have to gain clarity about ourselves and our opportunities in order to embrace uncertainty. 
  • Become the Start-up of You, whether that means working for themselves or building their start-up skills and mentality for work in a "what have you done for me lately?" economy. 

What's Going to Happen in this Camp?

I'm going to warn you up front that this will be pretty intense. During the camp we're going to be engaging in a really deliberate cycle of Action/Reflection. You won't be able to just sit back and read. You'll need to be ready do some work. But I promise it will be fun and interesting. 

Each week of the camp will be arranged around a theme:

  • Week 1--EXPLORE--Dreaming Possible Selves:  In the first week, you'll explore the question, "Who Could I Be?'  and you'll identify some potential options. You'll then pick one of your options to work with throughout the rest of the course.  We'll also talk about the whole messy, muddy process of career re-invention and how to get through it without going crazy.
  • Week 2--EXPERIENCE--Experimenting with Possible Selves:  During this week you'll devise some experiments for beginning to try out and explore a new career identity. We learn best from experience, so we'll explore different ways that you can begin using experiments to learn more about what you do and don't want. This is Action Week!
  • Week 3--EXPAND--Networking and Building Up Experiences: During the 3rd week, you will continue implementing your experiments from Week 2. You will also expand your exposure to people and experiences that may be able to support your potential career vision. Another week of action, with some Reflection thrown in. 
  • Week 4--EVOLVE--Revising and Evolving Your Career Story: In the final week of the course, we will start to synthesize what you've learned and look at how it has impacted your career vision and the opportunitities you may want to explore. You'll also put together some next steps.  

Each Monday I will post the assignments for the week, along with a suggested daily schedule you can use to keep yourself on track. You'll have complete freedom to decide when and how you want to do your assignments. 

I will also host one or more "live" sessions each Monday. Depending on the number of people who sign up and their locations, I may do a few sessions scheduled at different times of the day.  I want to try to work with participants' schedules as much as I can. 

During the live sessions, I will introduce that week's topic and take you through some initial exercises to get you started. These sessions will be recorded and archived so that you are able to access them later to review. You'll also be able to watch the archived sessions if you were unable to attend that week's event. 

What Do I Get from All of This? 

By the end of the Career Clarity Camp you'll have:

  • Greater clarity about your career situation and goals. I can't promise that you'll have EVERYTHING figured out. But you will have learned a process that you can continue to use to further explore and expand your options.  
  • New habits and tools for managing your career on an ongoing basis.
  • Clear action steps to move you closer to your goals.
  • Connections to other Campers who are seeking their own clarity and who can help you in your journey to move forward. 

Why Should I Take This Camp with You?

I am a certified Career Development Facilitator Instructor with over 15 years of experience in working with people to help them figure out what they want to be when they grow up. I've also had extensive experience in running a variety of career workshops and retreats, so I have many tricks up my sleeve. 

I don't have all the answers--that's where you come in! But I can create the space and activities for you to explore where you want to go. Through this course, you'll have access to a really cool visualization tool--the VisualsSpeak Image Center--that can help you find insights you may be missing, plus some great activities.

And if past workshops are any indication, you'll be connecting with some really interesting, fun people, too. Working in a group is one of the best ways to find career clarity. Conversations with others can help you feel less isolated and give you ideas and insights you aren't able to find on your own--or even one-on-one with a career counselor or coach.  I've always been really pleased with the quality of the interactions and sharing in my courses. The participants are simply amazing!

What's My Investment?

Your investment in the Career Clarity Camp is:

  • $99 USD for a month of activities and Career Clarity resources, 4 weekly live events plus a bonus wrap-up session, access to the VisualsSpeak Image Center, and interactions with your fellow Career Clarity Campers. (NOTE--This is a special introductory price I'm offering for this first round. When I offer the course again, the price will be going up! ) And $99 is a great deal--that's about the price of a cup of coffee per day. Your professional development is worth $3 a day, isn't it? 
  • About 2.5 to 3.5 hours per week of your time for the activities and the weekly live events. 

I'm Convinced! How Do I Participate? 

You can register and pay for the camp here.

There's a form for you to complete to send me your basic information and then you can pay for the camp through that page as well. 

Within 24 hours of you submitting your registration, I will send you follow-up information about the course and some pre-work to do prior to when we begin. 

What If I Want More Information?

If you need more info before you make a final commitment, feel free to email me at michelemmartin(at) I'm happy to answer any questions! 


The Best Way to Assess Your Priorities

Weekly Schedule

When I teach career workshops, one of the things we talk about is our values--what is important to us in our work and personal lives?

Participants will often tell me that family and friends are at the top of their priority list, along with opportunities for growth and development and work that has an impact. 

We will discuss how important these values are to people and then I will ask them to do another exercise--"write down how you spent your time last week." Guess what happens when I ask them to compare their values list to the ways they spent their time? Not much of a match there. 

If you want to know what you REALLY consider a priority, start observing yourself at work and at home. How are you spending your time? Is it on the activities you say are important to you? Or it it on tasks that have nothing to do with what you say you value?

When your values and how you spend your time are misaligned, that's often when you find yourself dogged by a vague sense of dissatisfaction. The longer it goes on, the worse it can get, until either your priorities need to change--or your life does. 

It's worth looking at how you spend your time. It will tell you a lot about what you REALLY value. You may be surprised at what you discover. 

Curing "Good Enough" Syndrome

super hero

In yesterday's post I described "good enough" syndrome. This is where we find that  we're settling for many things in our lives that are OK, but not great. We are essentially making compromises in areas of our lives where we should be shooting for the stars.  Today I'm going to share how you can start moving out of "good enough" into "great."

Moving to Great
How do you move from good enough to great? You have to start by looking at the different facets of your life and identifying those things that are OK, but are not the stuff of your dreams. Look at:

  • Your career
  • Relationships--partners, family, friends
  • Hobbies and Leisure Time (assuming you've made room for those things, as so many people have not)
  • Your own personal growth and development (again, assuming that you've made room) 

Write down those areas where you feel like you're settling. Describe as completely as you can what it is about these areas that makes you feel like they're only "good enough." Then think about how these areas of your life would change if they were great. Describe as completely as you can how they would improve and what you would do differently.

One point I want to make here--You can explore these ideas in writing, but you might also want to use pictures. One of the best ways I've found to do this is through the VisualsSpeak Image Center, which I use with many of my classes and clients.

You can also try going through magazines with a particular question in mind (like "What would my ideal career look like?") and pulling out the images that seem to fit in with your ideas about that question. Then create a collage with those images. Visuals are a great way to bypass the "rational" brain, which always does an AWESOME job of keeping you in "good enough" mode. In fact, that's its purpose!

Once you have a good picture of how things would look if they were great, rather than just good enough, start thinking about a plan to deal with these areas. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What do I need to get rid of altogether because it's really NOT OK to have this in my life? What will I do to get rid of that element?
  • Where do I need to make some changes so that I can make room for great? For example, you may not be able to quit your job, but you might be able to start backing off on your responsibilities a little to make room in your life for other things that will lead you to "great," like learning new things or having a chance to develop your creativity.
  • What parts of my life that are OK just need to be tweaked to be great? It may be that it's time to take something in your life to the next level. Maybe you've been doing some side projects that, if you devoted more time and energy to them, could become full-time work. 

Once you have your plan together, it's of course time to put it into action. It may be daunting to deal with several different elements at once, so you may want to shoot initially for those one or two things that are either causing you the most pain or that will move you the furthest in your road to greatness. Once you've set those things in motion, then you can come back and deal with everything else. 

Rinse and Repeat
Something that's always important to remember about "good enough" syndrome is that it seems to be ingrained in most of us and can easily creep back into our lives. You'll need to be vigilant, at least for awhile, in monitoring yourself so that you don't begin settling again for those things that just aren't great. There's no point in clearing out all the junk in your life only to bring more home!

You'll also have to get comfortable with the spaces you clear out. You'll be tempted to fill them in immediately with something else, even if they're just another form of settling. Try to be OK with having some openings in your life and give yourself time to find the "great." Often I find that just giving myself the space seems to bring in new opportunities. 

Finally, when new "great" options start coming your way, be sure to say yes to them! One of the biggest obstacles to greatness is our own fear. We think that maybe we aren't "ready" for the great or that we won't have what it takes to make it happen. We have to learn to ignore that fear and just say "yes" to any greatness that comes our way. 

So how have you moved from "good enough" to "great"? What has worked for you? 

Do You Have "Good Enough" Syndrome?

Little Stones

In my experience, most people are GREAT at settling for things in their lives and careers that are "good enough"  Not terrible, but not great, either. The problem is, if your life is filled with all sorts of "good enough" things, there's no room left over for "great."

Picture your life as a vase filled with stones. Each stone represents something about your life--your work, your relationships, your family, your hobbies and interests, etc. If you're like most people, that vase is full, probably up to the top with no room for additional stones. But if each of these stones represents something that is only OK, then how  are you going to make room for "great" when it comes along?

Recognizing Good Enough
How do you know if you're settling for "good enough"? This article on the 5 Signs that You Have Settled has some good clues:

  • You wish the time away
  • You find it hard to wake up and get going in the morning
  • You dream of a completely different life
  • You often feel jealous
  • You constantly feel the need to escape

I also believe that if you sit back and reflect on the different aspects of your life, you often know in your heart where you're settling for less than what you need or want. The trick is being willing to admit it.

Why Do We Settle? 
That's a good question. I've heard many people give different answers to this question, including: 

  • What if there isn't anything better out there, so I'm left with nothing?
  • You're dreaming if you think that everything in your life can be great. Life is about having to make compromises. You can't have it all.
  • I don't even know what "great" would look like!

Each of these beliefs of course limits our ability to either see where we're settling or, if we see it, to do something about it. But if we don't get rid of "good enough," then there really is no room for things that could be even better.

I can tell you from personal experience that getting rid of "good enough" definitely works. Over 10 years ago I quit a job that was OK to start working for myself. I had no job prospects or options at that point. I just knew that if I kept working in my current situation, I wasn't going to leave myself any room for anything better. Within 3 months I had work coming in and have been able to support myself as a freelancer ever since. There have been some scary times, certainly, but overall, getting rid of that "good enough" job was one of the best decisions of my life. It gave me the space to find "great" in my life.

Where are you settling for "good enough"? Where would you like to make room for "great"?  Tomorrow we'll take a look at what you can do to deal with "good enough" syndrome. 

The Cost of Compliance


Last week, Seth Godin published an insightful post on the original purpose for universal public education--to create compliant workers. One key line stood out for me, one that is worth each of us thinking about long and hard:

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it.

That "cheaper" alternative may be a person or a machine, but it will not be you.

Think carefully about the work you do--what does it involve? If it is ruled by "policy and procedure manuals," includes extensive "performance supports", has you following a "decision tree," and/or requires multiple layers of permission to accomplish anything, sooner or later that job is going to disappear-or pay wages so low you can't possibly survive. The more bureaucratic and rule-bound the work, the more you are expected to "comply" rather than to create, the greater the danger for your career. 

When you're trying on new identities, look for those experiences that ask not for your compliance or obedience, but for your creativity and ingenuity. Be wary of work that is circumscribed by policies and procedures and excessive rules. It's only a matter of time before you will need to find something else. Compliance has a cost and in this economy, you are the one who will pay the price. 

Learning from "The Bubble Boys"


An interesting article this weekend in NY Magazine on the "bubble boys"--Silicon Valley programmers-- and their ethos of development.

Silicon Valley, is the "last bastion of full employment," and I can't help feeling that this is partially because of how these companies and their entrepreneurial workers operate. I think that these ideas are instructive for us as individuals in our own professional development, as well as for organizations considering how to thrive in a new economy.

Some key ideas:

  • Fail fast--The emphasis is on movement, action, getting ideas out there and functional, not waiting until things are perfect. One entrepreneur noted that if you aren't embarrassed by your first effort, then you didn't act on it quickly enough. Mark Zuckerberg's motto is "Move fast and break things." 
  • Tinker with things--Coders often don't have an end goal in mind. They just want to play with the code to see what they can make it do. This habit of tinkering with things to see what you can create is one that not only can generate great ideas, it can also create great learning. 
  • Do what you love--"Coding isn’t about making money or scratching some OCD itch. It’s about doing what you love and, yes, changing the world. Engineers shopping their talents talk about impact; they say they want to work wherever their contribution will make the most people happiest." Passion is critical to the mix. Do work that you would do for free, just for the love of it. 
  • Use "abstraction"--Abstraction means finding ways to automate lower-level tasks so that you can focus on more value-add activities. Programmers are able to access vast libraries of free, open-source code that allow them to easily create things like buttons, scroll bars, etc., freeing them to focus more on the user experience and problem-solving. This idea of "abstracting" the low value activitites in your life is key. It frees you up to concentrate on what is most important. Get rid of what is non-essential so that you have the time and energy to focus on the core
  • Execution trumps ideas--The most powerful professional development idea that is developing for me is the idea that intentional, ongoing action is the key to growth. You can read and think all you want, but until you actually execute, until you actually DO something with those ideas, they are merely thoughts floating around in your head. They must change how you function for them to really be tools for growth. 
  • Power is in the hands of the doers, not the thinkers--Doing, executing is what counts. It's what gives you power in your career and professional development. As one coder in the NY Magazine article observed, “Successful people aren’t any different from you and me. They’re not inherently more brilliant. The difference is they had the wisdom to get their hands dirty and be part of the game instead of just observing it.

Growth is an active process. It's iterative, mashing up ideas and skills to create new combinations. Getting your hands dirty, playing with what you do, finding ways to experiment and tinker--these are critical activities for positive professional development. 

Questions to Compose Your Working Identity


Last week I posted on Herminia Ibarra's Working Identity, recommended to me by Catherine Lombardozzi. In her comment on that post, Catherine mentioned several questions that the book has raised for her that I think are fantastic food for thought in considering your ongoing professional development and possible career transitions, so I wanted to elevate those questions to a new post:

  • What are all the possible identities I might have (some of which may be part-time identities already)? 
  • How can I experiment more thoroughly with testing these possible identities out? For me, this may not mean wholesale career change, but rather subtle shifts that don’t require changing jobs but do entail shifting responsibilities (although that’s not easy either). 
  • Who can I identify as a possible role model for the kind of professional I want to be, and how do I engage that person in my explorations? What other communities do I want to join?
  • How can I get in the habit of crafting and re-crafting my own career story – using current events to reinterpret the past in order to make sense of my future?

There are a few things that stand out for me in Catherine's questions:

  • Like Ibarra's book, the emphasis is on action, experimentation and connecting with new people--how do these things help craft a new identity? 
  • Although there's a temptation for those of us considering career transitions to chuck it all and do something drastic, it's the smaller steps that may offer greater opportunities for lasting change. As Catherine points out, a whole new career may not be the answer--instead it may be about shifting responsibilities and emphasis within an existing career. 
  • Catherine's last question is particularly important--how to get in the habit of crafting and re-crafting your story on an ongoing basis so you can see how current events and activities help you make sense of the past and make new decisions about the future? It's this habit of integrating current experiences so that you use them to explore new opportunities that's so important to develop. 

Asking the right questions is how we move to different answers that work for us. Try some of these to see if they help you find movement in your own career. 

Working Identity: The Messy Process of Career Transition



I am halfway through a book recommended to me by Catherine Lombardozzi called  Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career, by Herminia Ibarra and it is really helping me recognize the role that experimentation and action plays in exploring new career roles and identities. It is also reminding me of how messy the process can be. 

Ibarra's premise is that while there's a place for self-assesment and understanding of one's self, too much assessment and reflection (as recommended by many career counselors) can paralyze us and tend to limit our options. Our assessments are based on what we already know about ourselves, rather than on what we know about who we could be. This ties in with my post earlier this week on getting caught in the reflection cycle of Acting/Reflecting. 

Ibarra deconstructs the career change stories of a variety of mid-career professionals, showing how they "tried on" various new identities over a period of time, exploring different options while still holding on to their former work selves. From these stories, she extrapolates some key points about the career transition process that I think are critical.


When I was 13, I had to take "Confirmation classes," which taught me all about what it meant to be Catholic, prior to going through the Confirmation ceremony to commit myself to being Catholic for the rest of my life. I found this interesting, since I'd spent the previous 13 years going to nothing but Catholic churches, so how did I know that some other religion wasn't better for me? It seemed to me that prior to Confirmation, we should have spent a year visiting other churches so we could make a more informed choice. Needless to say, this did not go over well with either the priests or my parents. 

At any rate, I bring this up to illustrate one of Ibarra's main points--that in order for us to decide where we want to go next in our careers, we need to begin experimenting with the new potential options. Thinking about our strengths, skills, past experiences, etc. is only going to take us so far. And in fact it may keep us in a spiral of confusion for some time.

It is the act of enaging in experimentation and trying out new possibilities that gives us the information we need to begin evaluating and honing our choices. And this process of experimentation can take many forms and last anywhere from a few months to a few years. 

Expand and Change Your Networks

Another key point in Ibarra's book is the idea that as we begin to consider other career options for ourselves, we start to look at ways to make new connections. Our current networks will tend to hold us in the same place. New networks expose us to new ideas, new thinking and new people. Ibarra points out that many of the people she features in her book found their way to new opportunities on the strength of weak ties--by making connections to people on the peripherary of their networks, not those who held a central place. 

Just as career changers need to experiment with new activities, they also need to form new connections and partnerships. These can help them change and hone their thinking and expand beyond their current sense of what's possible. It can also provide them with new opportunities for experimentation and learning. 

 Accept that the Process is Messy

This may, in fact, be one of the most important take-aways from Working Identity--that the process of moving from one work identity to another is a messy, challenging process. It is not a simple matter of identifying some interests and skills, neatly matching them to occupations and then following a straight line to your next experience. It is a process that is much deeper and more chaotic. 

So much of who we are is tied up in who we are at work. When we make changes to this persona, it necessarily changes many other things--our relationships, our experiences, how we see ourselves and how our values and work lives intersect. Working through the process of serious career transition will challenge us at all levels because it is truly asking us to shift our sense of who we are, which can cause ripple effects that further complicate our lives. 

Although ultimately rewarding, this process can generate a lot of anxiety and confusion. But it's through taking the next step and then the next and reflecting all along the way on our experiences that we ultimately make our way through this forest. 

Anyone who is currently going through a career transition or who is beginning to feel the first stirrings of dissatisfaction would benefit from reading Ibarra's book. Lots of great information and stories to help inspire and move you along the path.