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November 2011

Is Your Job a Prison or a Home Base?

Prison

I was talking with someone the other night who is considering a career change. It's a job she knows well, has done for awhile and is very talented at doing. This is part of what is making her itch for change--she's ready for new challenges, to take some risks. 

As we talked, it became clear that she was feeling the weight of her work. It has become something she needs to escape, the sooner the better. 

This sense that work is an anchor or a prison is common when we start thinking about new ventures. It's part of what drives us to begin our journey to something else. At the same time, this thinking can become a trap in itself. 

When we want to escape something, we will do anything to get away. We aren't focusing on what we're running TOWARDS. Instead, we are just focused on getting the hell out of there. Anywhere seems better than where we're at right now. 

When our job is a prison, all of our thinking is geared toward escaping that prison. Other options look better to us than they might otherwise simply because they are not the prison we are currently in. We find ourselves in fear and anxiety mode, acting from desperation, not inspiration

To reach our real career goals, though, we need to shift our viewpoint. Rather than seeing our current job as a prison, we need to regard it as a home base. It is something we can do for now that can give us space to explore other possibilities. The fear and anxiety we feel when work is a prison dissipates, freeing us to form a vision of what we want to run TOWARDS, rather than what we are fleeing. 

Often when we've been in a job for awhile, we have more flexibility. We are able to plan our time better and can give ourselves the opportunities to explore. We may have to get over our mean boss syndrome, but when we do, we find that our current jobs can be the constant we need. 

If you find yourself thinking of a career transition because you want to escape the prison of your job, see what happens if you shift your thinking to viewing your current work as home base. Look at it as a circumstance that helps you develop and test your career vision, rather than as something you need to escape. You'll be amazed at what happens then. 


FREE "Exploring the Vision For Your Work" Webinars

Picture 3

 

One of the best ways to explore your career vision is by using visual tools. Many of us have tried writing or thinking our way to something new, with limited results. That's because our "verbal" brain is our "logical" brain--the side of us that is both visioning and criticizing that vision at the same time. 

I wrote last week about compromising your vision. Your left brain excels at compromise. It is the "get real" part of your brain that is saying that you shouldn't expect to really get what you're visioning. 

Your right brain--your more visual, intuitive brain--isn't limited by these notions. It just knows what it wants. It can go beyond words, which is what you need at the visioning stage. 

Free Exploring Your Vision for Your Work Webinars

For those of you who may be interested in trying out a visual tool for exploring your work vision, I'm going to be running two free online sessions on November 15 and November 29 from 8-9 p.m. (EST). Through the webinar, you'll have an opportunity to debrief on your career vision and talk about next steps. You'll also be eligible to receive a special discount on my upcoming events. 

 Here's how it will work. 

1. Go to the VisualsSpeak Image Center and sign up to do the free "Exploring Your Vision for Work" Image session. You can do this anytime before the call-in session.  Note--you must be using the Firefox, Chrome or Safari browsers. You can download Firefox here and Chrome here--both for free. You can download a handout on using the Image Center here (PDF). Let me know if you run into problems. 

2. Do the Image session, per the instructions you will receive once you sign up.  

3. Print out your Image. 

4. Register for one the webinar sessions:    

5. Join us for the webinar on the appropriate date/time. Be sure to have your printed image, paper and pen and any questions you may want to ask! 

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Sign up for my newsletter! You'll get priority registration for events, discounts and other special "Members Only" stuff. 


Are You Your Own Worst Boss?

My Mean Face

I have a friend who often talks to me about my "mean boss." She's appalled at how my boss is so demanding, pushing me to perfection, nitpicking and second-guessing me all the time.

I make a decision, begin to implement, and my boss is ON me, reminding me constantly of all the little ways that I've screwed up in the past and will most likely fail in the future. As my friend points out, my boss never shuts up and, is frankly, a little maniacal and sadistic. 

But here's the thing. I work for myself. My terrible boss is my own ego. 

What's amazing is that behavior I would never accept from a real boss seems perfectly acceptable to me when it comes from inside my own head. Frankly, much of the time I take my inner boss's monologue for granted, accepting her unending stream of criticism as some sort of gospel. 

I've talked with a lot of people whose inner boss wields way too much power in their lives. What's interesting is that many times when people are complaining about their real bosses, it turns out that it's their inner boss whose really controlling what they do. 

It's their inner boss whose constantly criticizing and second-guessing. It's their inner boss who tells them that they must be perfect or else. Their inner boss doesn't want them to take a day off or to unplug from their computers and cell phones. It's their inner boss who is driving them into the ground. 

Lately my inner boss has been getting a lot of pushback from me.  She's looking out for me, I know--her heart is in the right place--but she's killing me with her perfectionism and constant barrage of criticism.  

What I've realized is that my innner boss is acting out of fear. And like most fearful people, she's focusing on the negative and what can go wrong. She's particularly good at making her fears seem real. She is also excellent at distracting me from questioning her by keeping up the non-stop barrage of worry and criticism. 

But I've noticed her now. I see what she's doing and I'm asking a lot more questions. It also helps to picture her sitting in a chair in my office, nattering away. I know that I would never listen to a real person who kept up such a stream of negativity, so why should I listen to her all the time? Telling her to shut up has been tremendously satisfying. 

Part of the professional development process to me is paying attention to our inner boss and separating out what our inner boss is pushing us to do from what we're getting from our external environment. Many times I think we believe that it's our work that's driving us into the ground. But on closer examination, we discover that it's our own expectations and our inner tyrant who are really the culprits. 

So. . . are you your own worst boss? And what are you going to do about it?

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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!

 


Positive Professional Development Tool: The Question Log

Pointed question

Professional development isn't just about the answers. It's also about questions. You can learn a lot from the questions you ask. They can tell you about patterns in your work and in your thinking about your work. They can point you in new directions or show you where you may be feeling stagnant. Questions are what drive and motivate us. But we have to notice the questions to do anything with them. 

A Question Log can be a great way to begin your positive professional development journey. It is merely a log of the questions that occur to you during the day.

Noticing and Logging Your Questions

The first trick to keeping a Question Log is to get in the habit of noticing your questions. For many of us, questions zip through our brains without us even realizing them. Make it an intentional practice to notice the questions you are asking yourself. Or try stopping once an hour and reflecting on what questions occurred to you recently. Noticing your questions is a practice you may have to build. 

To record your questions, I suggest getting a small notebook or a series of index cards to carry with you at all times. As questions occur, jot them down, along with the date. 

Alternatively, you can use your Droid or iPhone. Send an email to yourself as questions come up. The question can go in the subject line and any additional notes or thoughts can go in the body of the email. You can organize these into a folder or Gmail label called "Questions." 

Working with Your Questions

Periodically (perhaps as one of your weekly rituals), review your questions. Look for patterns.

  • Are you asking questions about particular people or particular aspects of your work? 
  • Are they "negative questions," with a focus on problems, what isn't working and how you can get less of something in your life? Or are they positive questions that ask you to consider what is working and how you can get more of certain things
  • What do your questions tell you about your concerns and fears? 
  • What do they tell you about your hopes and dreams? 

I've learned a lot from working with my questions. They tell me when I'm down in the weeds of a problem and maybe need to take a step back. They show me when I'm too focused on worrying and need to spend some time on reframing to look for opportunities and lessons. My questions also let me know when I need to make some changes. Sometimes these are small course corrections, but sometimes they are bigger, meatier changes. 

I think we can get caught up in trying to find answers, so that we lose sight of how our questions can help us understand where we're at and what we need or want to do. The more we pay attention to our questions, the more comfortable we become with having them in our lives. In an uncertain world, this is a skill we need to cultivate. 


Learning to Lead: It's About the Questions

Labour Leadership Hustings 2010 - 21

Yesterday I had the honor of facilitating the first class in a 6-month Leadership Academy. We had 18 men and women from a variety of backgrounds. Some are in their late 50s, others in their 30s. Some work in not-for-profits, while others work in for-profit companies. Some are small business owners. Most have been in leadership roles for at least a few years. 

Our goal in this first class was to start talking about how we define leadership and what leadership goals people wanted to set for themselves. We used the VisualsSpeak Image sets to have some amazing conversations about what it means to be a leader. 

What emerged from the stories and conversations we shared were three big questions that I think every leader needs to ask him/herself:

Who am I as a leader? 

This, of course is a fundamental question. As we first began to define leadership, it became clear what it means to be a leader is shaped by our experiences, our industry and occupation, our corporate culture and our own personality. 

We  talked a lot about whether or not people perceived themselves as leaders--was it part of their identity? Sometimes we don't see ourselves as leaders because we have some idea of leadership that doesn't include the type of leader we may be. This is especially true for people who may be more facilitative, introverted or quiet in their leadership style. Figuring out the ways in which we lead and how these fit in with our identity is a foundational issue when we begin exploring ourselves as leaders. 

Am I the leader I think I am?

Several participants indicated that they had a particular view of themselves as leaders, but it was a view that they hadn't examined in awhile--if ever. Several also realized that maybe their view of themselves wasn't the view that others held of them. Asking this question gets at both other people's perceptions, as well as our own perceptions of ourselves that may not have been examined in awhile. 

Am I the leader I want to be? 

This is a question that invites the potential for change. It asks us to be more intentional about the kind of leader we want to be and then to act in alignment with that vision. For several people in our group, this was a major question they want to explore. 

How would you answer these questions for yourself? What would your answers tell you about yourself as a leader? 


Your Career is in Perpetual Beta

Master in Computer Architecture, Network and Systems

"Beta" is the experimental, developmental stage of a software package. It's the time during which you are experimenting with what does and doesn't work, learning about the capacities of the software, tweaking it, getting input on how to make it better, faster, more effective, more efficient. During the beta phase, you're looking at how the package can bring value to customers, getting feedback on how well it works and how to improve it. 

There was a time when we could see our careers as a sort of "finished product." We could go into maintenance mode, resting on our laurels. At a minimum, we could be reasonably secure that if we kept doing what our companies asked us to do, we could count on some level of job security. Those days are gone. 

In a world where companies and organizations are asking on a regular basis about the value you bring, we all live in perpetual beta mode. Every day we have to ask ourselves, how are we tweaking what we do? How are we developing the skills and knowledge we bring to the table? How are we creating value?

Perpetual beta can be stressful, but it can also be exhilerating. 

What are you doing to manage a career that's in perpetual beta? 


Another Way to Stay Stuck--Compromise Your Vision

vision

Yesterday I talked about how we keep ourselves stuck in a rut by denying reality. Today I want to talk about another way we keep ourselves in the same patterns--compromising our vision of what could be. 

Robert Fritz, in his excellent book, The Path of Least Resistance, says that the energy for creation comes from the tension between our vision for what we want and the reality of our situation. When the tension between vision and reality is low, we do not have sufficient energy to create something new. When we deny reality, as I discussed yesterday, we are reducing the tension in the situation. But we also reduce tension and the energy for creation when we compromise our vision

I've found that co-workers, friends, family members, etc. are particularly good at helping us compromise our vision. They will tell us that we are not being "realistic," that our "expectations are too high," or that we need to learn to "compromise." Surrounded by this feedback, we will slowly whittle away at our creative vision for what we want in our careers or our personal lives. Eventually, it will be so close to the "reality" that we are denying, we will have lost all energy to make a change. And then we are stuck. 

To remove ourselves from this place, we need to be clear and unwavering in our vision for what we want to create in our lives. We need to ask ourselves, "What Results Do I Want to Create? and must be unstinting in describing those results. 

There are plenty of places we can compromise in our lives. Our vision for what we want to create is not one of those places. 


Want to Stay Stuck? Deny Reality

Reality

I've observed that when it comes to change of any kind--personal or professional--the impetus for action only comes when we are finally able to observe and accept the reality of our current situation. In fact, one of the ways we most consistently try to maintain the status quo is by denying reality, saying that things are better than we know they are. 

I've watched this dynamic at work in many situations. I've done it myself. Denying reality is one of my favorite ways to keep myself stuck. I will convince myself that work situations or relationships are "not that bad," which keeps me mired in a netherworld where I'm clearly unhappy, but feeling powerless to do much to change it. Sometimes I will allow myself a glimpse of reality, but then quickly I can talk myself out of it.

When you deny reality, though--when you refuse to accept a situation as it REALLY is--then you deprive yourself of the necessary creative energy to make changes. You will keep telling yourself that things are "good enough" or "not that bad" and then you will continue to stay stuck. 

One of the most important things you can do when you want to make a change is to take a scrupulous and honest inventory of your situation and of yourself in the situation. Paint a picture of reality that doesn't try to gloss over the painful or difficult parts. Be clear about what is and isn't working. The more honest you can be, the more you can clearly see reality, the more energy you will have to start making changes. 

Denying reality is one of the easiest and most reliable ways we use to stay stuck. When we're really ready for change, we need to give up this reliance on fairy tales and start taking a cold, hard look at what we're dealing with. 

 


7 Reasons Most Professionals Should Work for Themselves

freedom ... !

Lately I've found myself counseling a number of professionals I know to give up the "permanent full-time employment" option (a myth, anyway) in favor of working for themselves. Some of the reasons are pretty obvious, but some are less so.

Below are the reasons I've been sharing with people in favor of working for themselves:

1. You Diversify Your Funding Stream. 

Would you rely on a single company's stock for your retirement fund? Why, then, do you rely on a single organization for your salary? Particularly in this economy where cutting jobs is the first thing companies do in response to downturns. Strength and security is found in diversity, not homogeneity. 

2. You Can Tell The Truth More Often.

Many of the professionals I know just really want to do a great job without getting bogged down in company politics. This often means that they want to voice unpleasant truths their organizations are unable or unwilling to hear.

Oddly, companies and organizations seem much more open to constructive feedback when it comes from the outside. (The reasons why could take up an entire blog post of their own). They may not actually DO anything with this external advice, but at least you were able to stay true to your own sense of how the work could/should be done. 

3. You Can Focus on Work that Plays to Your Strengths

Most organizations aren't particularly good at knowing employee strengths and leveraging those strengths. They may THINK they're good at it, but most people know this isn't true. 

When you work for yourself, you can go after the projects that play to what you're good at. This has the added benefit of making you look like a superstar because you can become known for the areas in which you excel. 

When you work for someone else, it's likely that you'll end up in the dreaded "other duties as assigned" part of the job description that tends to play to your weaknesses. Some companies have a particular genius for this; they are the cause of the Peter Principle.  

4. You Will Be Valued More

It's crazy, but for some reason, many companies and organizations value advice and resources they get from the outside more than the knowledge that can be found on the inside. When you are an external contractor, that fact alone will add value to the work you do for many people. 

Combine that fact with Item 3 above on playing to your strengths, and you are definitely going to be feeling better about what you do.

5. You Can Have More Control Over Your Work Environment

When I worked for someone else, two things drove me crazy--people dropping into my office just to "chat," (I'm an introvert) and having to attend useless meetings. Both of these items have virtually disappeared from my life since I began working for myself. 

I also have the added benefit of being able to make my own schedule and decorate my office any way I want. No one cares what screensaver I use and no one blocks my access to social media! 

6. You Can Be on the Leading Edge of the Next Industrial Revolution

Freelancing is our "back to the future" industrial revolution of the 21st century. Those who are on the crest of that wave are most likely to benefit from it. 

7. You Get Variety Without Having to Change "Jobs"

Most of the professionals I'm connected to love to experiment and try new things. Generally it's easier to have this kind of variety in your work life as a contractor than it is when you work for someone else. You have control over the projects you will do and can choose those that give you a better mix of activities and opportunities. 

Of course, working for yourself may not be the best option for everyone. But more and more I believe that for those professionals that really care about what they do and want to have more control over how they do it, contract work may be the best choice. 

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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!


It's Not You. It's Your Dysfunctional Workplace.

Broken

As the child of alcoholics, I grew up intimately acquainted with dysfunctional family dynamics and their impacts on me. I've spent a lifetime trying to overcome these effects, as a matter of fact. 

The other day, I was talking with a friend about her dysfunctional workplace and for some reason I was reminded of how I felt in my family. It hit me how, even as adults, we can be pulled into the dysfunction of the workplace as surely as we may have felt it in our families. 

One of the most insidious features of family dysfunction is what I call "The Emperor Has No Clothes" syndrome. In my family, I was notorious for this. I would hear my parents say one thing, but see them doing another. When I called them out on this inconsistency, they would tell me that what I was seeing wasn't really true. In other words, they were denying reality. 

This goes on in workplaces all the time. We are told that a company values teamwork or learning or "creative thinking," but then all the policies, procedures, rewards, systems and interactions with colleagues belie this message. We are being told one thing, but being treated in an entirely different way. 

When you are raised in a family that consistently employs this kind of behavor, it distorts your own sense of reality. You begin to question what you see. 

This dynamic also keeps you questioning yourself. You learn that you can't rely on your own observations and intuition to tell you the "truth" of the matter. This does a number on your self-esteem that's hard to imagine, especially when you're in the middle of it. 

I've observed when the workplace distorts reality in this way, it can have the same impacts on us as family dysfunction. After all, we spend as much time at work as we do with our families. A huge amount of our identity is tied up in work and, if we really NEED that job, our sense of security is found through work as well. So it's not surprising that dysfunctional work would have similar impacts on us. 

Here's the thing.

When you are a truthteller in a system that insists on telling lies, they will always try to marginalize you.

 They will challenge your reality and try to make you feel as though there is something wrong with YOU, rather than with their system of doublespeak.

Do not let them win.

Hold fast to your truth because it is only by knowing reality that we can build something better.

We must know and tell the truth of our situation in order to move from that to a vision of something new. If we allow the system to deny what we know to be true, then we are colluding in our own oppression. This is not the way forward. 

Remember. It's not you. It's your dysfunctional workplace. . . 

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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!