Clarifying Your Career Path: Breaking Destructive Career Patterns


Patterns, not problems, will ruin your business. . . “Problems aren’t the issue. Problems are the work.” 

            --Dr. Henry Cloud

As I've been thinking and writing about career resilience, one of the main points I've been emphasizing is that resilience is about the patterns we build into our lives.

We tend to think of our careers as being very event-based, but in reality, the events we experience are a product of the patterns we've created in our careers. When we have positive patterns, we are more likely to experience positive career events. When our patterns are negative, then we will have problems.

This post from Dan Rockwell on breaking destructive business/leadership patterns go me thinking more about the issue of career resilience as a series of patterns. The quote above, from Henry Cloud, is from Dan's post and I think it applies equally to our careers.

Here's what I know for sure:

It's not the individual problems in our careers that will break us. It's the patterns we've set up in our lives that will be our undoing. 

Three Typical Destructive Career Patterns

In my work with people, I continuously see three persistent patterns of destructive behavior:  

  • Having no career goals beyond those set for us by our current job. This creates a pattern of dependency on our company and supervisors that can make us stale and irrelevant when the world shifts. We focus on becoming really good at the job we have today, only to find that it's no longer needed and no one else wants someone with those skills. 
  • Living in a career silo. All of our connections are in one industry. Any reading or professional development we engage in is related to our narrow industry and occupation. To the extent that we become aware of things happening in other industries or occupations, we automatically tell ourselves "well this won't impact me or my field." Career siloes keeps us blind to the developments happening in other areas that eventually will impact our own work. They also put a career straitjacket on us, limiting our options when change eventually comes. 
  • Crisis-managing our careers. There are two times when I'm most likely to hear from someone about their career development--when they are so crushingly unhappy with their jobs that they can't take another day and when they've been laid off or fired. I rarely (if ever) hear from people when their careers are going reasonably well. Yet one thing I've learned in therapy (which applies in most other parts of life too) is that crisis management doesn't work. It just makes us lurch from crisis to crisis. We do our best work  when things are relatively stable and we aren't feeling afraid or anxious. 

These three patterns are not the patterns of career resilience. They are patterns that lead to career rigidity. And career rigidity is the last thing you need in today's economy. Inflexible people and inflexible careers are a recipe for disaster when the landscape changes so quickly.

Breaking Your Destructive Patterns

So how to break destructive patterns?

First, you have to be aware that patterns are in play. Look at your career thus far and ask yourself if you are managing it according to one or more of these destructive patterns. Specifically, ask yourself:

  • What are my career goals? To what extent are these goals tied up with my current job and/or my current company? If I lost my job tomorrow, how would those goals change? 
  • How siloed is my career? Am I connected to people in other industries/occupations? Do I read and learn broadly? Do I try to expose myself to many experiences and communities? 
  • When am I most likely to think about my career and do things to actively manage it? Do I do this all the time or is it only when "big" things happen, like when I'm unhappy or I'm worried that I'll lose my job? 

Spend some time really considering these questions, looking at previous career experiences and how these patterns might have contributed to their creation. Try using the Career Stepping Stones activity in conjunction with these questions. 

Once you have a clear picture of the extent to which you've been engaging in these more destructive patterns, start looking for ways to change your habits and bring in new, more positive patterns. In particular, look at how you can find ways to incorporate the patterns of career resilience into your work and life. How can you focus on Clarifying, Connecting, Creating and Coping on a regular basis? 

Your final step is to actually implement new behaviors in support of these more positive patterns.  Don't just think about what you could do differently. Actually DO things differently. Awareness is not enough. Planning is not enough. Change only comes when you act on what you're thinking. 

As part of this implementation phase, it's important to connect with other people who are working on the same sorts of changes. Often it's the people we are currently connected to who will hold us back from changing our patterns. They worked as connections for us in our old ways of being, but they may no longer be our best companions for this new career work we want to do. We need support and encouragement to persist and that often comes from connecting with new groups of people. This will have the added benefit of building one of your resilience patterns--Connecting. 

Here's what I've found as I work to build my own career resilience. You cannot control all of the career events you will experience in your life, but you can create patterns that will minimize destructive events and the impact of those events on your career.

Remember, it's not the problems that will kill you. It's the patterns you've created that lead to those problems that will be your undoing. 

Career Resilience for Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur Camp Houston 2009


Regular readers know that I'm a strong proponent of working for yourself. Even if you have a day-job, I think you should always be looking for ways to diversify your income streams as the next lay-off could be right around the corner, despite your best efforts. 

Yesterday's post on career resilience in action got me thinking about how the 4 patterns of resilience apply to those who run their own business(es). These patterns are not just for people who work for someone else. They're patterns that support successful self-employment too. 


The Clarifying pattern when you work for yourself is something you must constantly be working on.

  • What is going on with your customers and the industries you are working in? 
  • How do your strengths and assets intersect with these trends? 
  • What are the most important priorities for you and your business? 
  • How do you want your business to reflect your values and the values of your customers?  

Clarity of purpose, clarity of assets and clarity of goals are all critical to the healthy functioning of your business.

As a small business owner myself, I find that I must be intentional about integrating patterns for finding clarity into my work life. It's easy to be so caught up in projects and business administration that I forget the need to periodically take a step back and get clear about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. This is where rituals and reflective practice become important.

Clarity can also be found in making the right kinds of connections and creating mastermind groups for support and accountability. 


Clearly the Connecting pattern is critical to small business owners--this is how we find our customers and connecting to others to market our products and services is like breathing for most successful entrepreneurs. We do it without thinking. 

What may happen less often, but be equally important, is using the pattern of connecting to support other aspects of our work. 

As small business people, particularly if we are solo entrepreneurs, we need to make connections that can reinforce our personal and professional growth and that feed our need for social contact. We need to find mentors, communities of practice and mastermind groups who can challenge our thinking and hold us accountable for achieving our goals.

We also need connections that can help us cooperate to compete--people who may offer complementary (or even competitive) products and services with whom we can build new offerings that benefit both their businesses and our own. 

Connections from diverse industries and occupations are also important. They feed us new information, new ideas and new possibilities. But we must seek them out because they won't necessarily come naturally to us. 

We can use our clarifying activities to help us get clearer about where we need to build and strengthen our connections. Then we can be intentional about growing those connections as my friend is doing through her own career resilience work. This is an example of the next pattern we need to work on--Creating. 


Most successful small business people I know are pretty good at the Creating pattern. After all, without creating, you have nothing to sell. 

But Creation is more than just daily doing and activity. It's also about risk-taking and experimenting.

  • How are we stretching ourselves in the creative process to bring something truly great into the world? 
  • How are we using what we learn through Clarifying and Connecting to create a business that plays to our strengths and that achieves the goals we've set for ourselves? 
  • How are we dealing with and learning from failure? 

The Creating pattern is also about making sure that we've put into place for ourselves the right structures and supports for getting our work done.

  • Are we constantly putting out fires or do we have an infrastructure in place that allows us to be more deliberative and intentional in accomplishing our work? 
  • Are things falling through the cracks and are we missing opportunities or have we created processes that allow the work to flow?

Our patterns of creating should be structured around inspiration and purpose, not just around our daily to-do lists. For this to happen, though, we must be intentional in developing patterns that allow us to create from a place of inspiration, not desperation. 


In my dealings with other small business people, as well as in looking at my own life, I see that developing patterns for Coping is probably the area where we entrepreneurs can have the most holes. 

There is a cult of entrepreneurship that drives us to believe that working for yourself means working 24/7, which makes taking care of your emotional, physical and spiritual needs a very low priority. This is true particularly when our businesses are new or if we've failed to put into place the right structures for Creating, Clarifying and Connecting. 

But creating healthy Coping patterns is critical if we hope to run our businesses for the long-term. Making sure that we nurture and sustain those non-work parts of ourselves will prevent burnout. And healthy coping patterns also feed our capacity to engage with the other 3 patterns of resilience. 

In particular I've found that healthy Coping mechanisms are about what I call "following the energy,"--that is, paying attention to how we're feeling throughout the day so that can see which activities and people feed and nurture us and which of these are a drain. Emotions are a powerful indicator of what is and isn't working, but we need to pay attention to them in order to address what they are telling us. 

Coping is also about paying attention to our mental frames--the stories we are telling ourselves about our business and ourselves. Resilient business people need to focus on developing frames that support our business plans, while weeding out those thinking and behavior patterns that hinder us. 

I find that as an entrepreneur myself, I'm constantly having to look at the 4 patterns of resilience and how I'm using/developing them in support of my business. When things don't seem to be going as smoothly, by examining what's happening with these patterns I can quickly see where I need to do some work. 

Resilience is something we all need to develop, but for entrepreneurs, this is probably job one.

How are you, as an entrepreneur developing your career and business resilience? Which areas of resilience are easy for you and which are harder for you to develop? 

Career Resilience in Action

Becoming Dandelion Daughters!


A few weeks ago I had lunch with a friend who started a solo business last year. I was sharing with her my thinking about career resilience and the 4 patterns of success, describing each in more detail. 

When we got to Connecting, she grew thoughtful. "I don't think I've been doing a lot with the Connecting pattern," she told me. "I've been focused on Clarifying and Creating and have let some of my connecting fall by the wayside."

As we talked further, what became clear was while she'd been doing some connecting, she'd been missing a crucial group--people who are still in the trenches of the field where she is working. And she was missing their practical, day-to-day experiences in terms of challenges, aspirations, etc. This is important to her business as well as to her own personal/professional development. 

From there, as the resilient busineess owner she is, she moved into what to do about it. 

She decided that she was going to come up with a plan to reach out to some people and invite them for coffee, just to pick their brains and share ideas. A few days later, she sent me the draft of an email she wanted to send out and she has begun putting her plan into action. 

My friend is a great example of how to work with the patterns of career resilience. She looked at the 4 patterns and how she was applying them in her work life. She saw that there was an area where she needed to do more work  and then came up with a plan to address it.

If you look closely, you see that she was actually using the patterns of resilience to come up with a resilience action plan. She used Clarifying to identify where she needed to make some changes and then Creating to develop the plan to make the changes. 

Another critical element of this story is that she followed up. The Creating pattern with its focus on action and follow-up is one of the most important patterns we can strengthen in developing our resilience. I see so many people (myself included) who recognize a need to take action, but who let that action fall by the wayside as other, competing priorities take precedence. But it's only in the Creating that we truly see change. 

Career resilience is a process. It is not a once and done thing, but an ongoing strategy for approaching our career and professional development. My friend's experience with looking at how the patterns were playing out in her life currently clearly demonstrates how this works. 

You can see as well that the patterns apply not only to employees and job seekers, they also apply to business owners. They too must develop and strengthen their resilience patterns in order to keep their businesses on track. 

For me, it was gratifying to see how my friend worked with the patterns of resilience. She's someone I admire for her ongoing committment to development and it was interesting to see how the resilience framework gave her another way to think about what she needed to do for herself. 

How are you applying the 4 patterns of resilience in your life? Which pattern do you need to work on some more? 

Do You Network to Build Your Career Resilience or to Get Your Work Done?

Design by connection

I'm currently facilitating an 8-month long leadership course that meets monthly. Yesterday's topic was networking and connecting. As part of our work, I had them go through some exercises to look at their networks and diagnose where they had gaps and needed to do some more work. 

What started to emerge as we went throught the exercise was how many of the participants network and connect on behalf of their companies, but they pay little attention to building connections that support their own career resilience and professional development plans. Connecting, for them, is about connecting to benefit their companies, which may or may not actually benefit them. 

When we think about building our networks, clearly we need to pay attention to developing the connections that allow us to be successful in our jobs. We need to connect with customers and clients and people in our industries so that we're able to be effective in our work. 

However, we need to understand that the connections that we make on behalf of our companies or organizations are not necessarily the connections we need to make to increase our own career resilience. We should never confuse what our company needs us to do with with we need to do for ourselves. 

Connecting to build your resilience means developing connections that energize, nurture and challenge you, connections that help you grow personally and professionally, regardless of whether or not those connections get your company more business.  You need mentors, communities of practice, and "way-showers"--people who can be role-models and supporters of your career and personal growth. 

So here's your challenge for today. Go through your contacts and ask yourself if the people you're connected to are basically connections who benefit your company or organization, or are they connections that also help you grow and adapt to change? 

Career Resilience Requires Persistence



Last week I wrote about career resilience and the need for us to develop four patterns in our work lives:

  • Clarifying
  • Connecting
  • Creating
  • Coping

One thing that I've observed about resilient people is that they persist. Even when things are at their worst or it seems like they are going nowhere, resilient people are persistent people. As Steve Pavlina puts it, "they press on, even when they feel like quitting."

Persistence is one of the major Coping patterns we need to develop in our lives if we ever hope to be truly resilient. Without persistence, we won't be able to work on any of the other patterns we need to grow in ourselves, because honestly, developing career resilience isn't always easy work. 

The problem with persistence is that it's not terribly sexy. It's the daily, weekly, monthly grind of self-discipline, of slogging through mud when we feel like just giving up. Believe me, I struggle with persistence all the time, so I know it's not an easy thing to do. 

But resilience requires persistence. It takes diligence to forge new habits and self discipline to bring our vision into reality. The essence of reslience is not giving up. Persistence is what makes sure that we don't. 

Where do we need to show persistence? I think in two ways--persistence of vision and persistence of action. 

Persistence of vision is having a clear image of where we want to go--direction, not necessarily destination. Persistence of vision is what drives us to create, to the actions that we need to take to move forward. 

Persistence of action is even more important, though, because this is often where we fall down. We may have a persistent vision of where we want to go, but we fail to take the steps to actually get there.---especially if we encounter obstacles or challenges along the way that make us want to give up. 

So how to develop our persistence muscles? Probably the best advice I've seen on this comes from this post by Todd Warren (quoting Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich). We need to have:

1. "A definite purpose backed by burning desire for its fulfillment"

2. "A definite plan backed by continuous action." 

3.  "A mind closed tightly against all negative and discouraging influences, including negative suggestions of relatives, friends and acquaintances."

4.  "A friendly alliance with one or more persons who will encourage one to follow through with both plan and purpose."


A purpose, motivation to achieve that purpose, a plan that turns into action, a positive mind and supportive people--that's what we need to practice persistence. And these are the tools of career resilience, too. 

Career Resilience: The Four Patterns that Should Guide All Your Career Moves



I wrote a couple of long posts in February on the two major factors most job seekers are dealing with in this economy. The first was on the reality that there aren't enough jobs for everyone who wants one. The second was on the poor quality of many of the jobs that do exist

After writing these, though, I was left wondering what it is we can do to operate in this kind of environment. How do I advise people about career and professional development in a world that is so uncertain, risky and, frankly, negative? 

Yesterday it hit me. There is only one thing we can do if we want to be successful when change is happening so rapidly and when so much of our work life is about dealing with stress and curve balls. 

We have to develop our career resilience skills. 

That's it. That's all we can do. We have to develop our resilience skills and use that resilience to meet the challenges that have become a regular part of our work lives. 

Why Resilience?

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is your capacity to deal with stress, adversity and uncertainty. Resilience is about bouncing back, rolling with the punches, getting back up on the horse. It's our ability to take what life throws at us and use it to grow stronger. 

Our careers are no longer a matter of making a decision about what we want to do with the rest of our lives, getting an education and then following a straight-line career path to that dream job. Those days are long gone. 

Today's careers require us to be agile, flexible, and adaptable. To see opportunity in challenges and to develop our capacity to deal with constantly changing parameters and requirements. 

When you build your resilience, you are in a better position to adapt to ongoing changes. You accept change as a part of life and see change as an opportunity, not as a series of insurmountable obstacles. 

Resilience can also help you feel more in control. You're able to keep things in perspective and to see yourself as an actor in your life, rather than as a victim. High resilience also allows you to be more pro-active in responding to whatever gets thrown at you. 

Four Patterns of Career Resilience

In looking at resilience as it applies to our careers, I see four patterns we need to incorporate into our lives. I see these as patterns, because they are ongoing components of our behavior and thinking that we need to work on. Career resilience is not a once and done event. It is a way of being that you must focus on developing.

The four patterns I see are:

  • Patterns that support Clarifying
  • Patterns that support Connecting
  • Patterns that support Creating
  • Patterns that support Coping

Patterns for Clarifying

Resilience needs clarity. We need to understand who we are, what we want, and how we bring value to the work that we do. What are our signature strengths? What do we want more of in our lives

Clarity is also about knowing what's going on in the outside world. What occupational, industry and economic trends impact our careers? What is the likelihood that technology or outsourcing could eliminate or completely change our jobs? What credentials and skills are needed to be successful? 

Most importantly, what goals and plans do we need to develop for ourselves, based on our awareness of ourselves and the changes that we see going on in the world? Clarity gives us a sense of purpose and control because it allows us to know where we stand and to see where we can fit in as new opportunities and challenges come our way. 

Patterns for Connecting

Resilience thrives on connections. Resilient people have a core group of individuals they know are always in their corner. They look for who is available, who's trustworthy and who's helpful and they go toward the light of these connections.  They aren't afraid to ask for and receive help and they offer their own services in return. 

Connections and relationships are also at the heart of what it takes to be successful in a networked world. It is your relationships that bring you information, knowledge and opportunities. Your connections can help you bounce back and spring forward, even under the most adverse conditions. But connections don't just happen. We must be purposeful and intentional in developing those connections that will most support us in adapting to change. 



Patterns for Creating

Resilience is also about action. What steps are we taking to achieve our goals, to learn from our misakes, to engage in new experiences that can grow our skills and networks? Resilient people have a plan and they work that plan. 

We also have to ask ourselves what patterns do we have in place that provide the best structures for creating and experimenting? How do we spend our time? What rituals are part of our work lives? How do we move from insight into action

Flow needs a framework. If you want your career to flow more easily, you must create frameworks for that to happen. 

Patterns for Coping

Ultimately, resilience is about how we cope with life's ups and downs. How do we manage our emotional responses and maintain an optimistic outlook, even under dire circumstances? How do we nurture and take care of ourselves on a regular basis so that we can bring our best selves to our lives? What stories do we tell ourselves about our work, our strengths and weaknesses and about how people relate to us? How do these stories impact our ability to meet challenges head on? 

Resilient people have a generally positive outlook on life and have learned to persevere in the face of challenges. They feel their emotions, but they don't allow their emotions to overwhelm their ability to act. Effective coping mechanisms are a critical component of developing career resilience. 

 Additional Thoughts on Resilience

I see the four patterns of career resilience working together synergistically, each connected to and reinforcing the others. All of them are critically important, although at different times we may find ourselves more focused on a particular pattern. When we're confused or uncertain about where to go next, we may pay more attention to Clarifying. When we're overly stressed and anxious, we may need to spend time on our Coping patterns. If we're trying to expand into something new, we'd be well-served to focus on the Connecting and Creating patterns. And if we've lost our jobs, we need to spend time working on all four patterns. 

There are two things that feel most important to me about developing career resilience. The first is that resilience should be our goal. We cannot control the people and events that surround us, but we can control our capacity to meet the challenges that inevitably arise at work. By focusing on resilience as our goal, rather than on trying to control what is uncontrollable, we put ourselves into a much healthier position for moving forward. 

I also see the idea of patterns of behavior being critically important. Resilience is not something we summon at will. It is something we must build and work on every day. Believe me, we know it when we haven't paid attention to one or more of the career resilience patterns in our lives. I see this all the time when I'm working with people who lose their jobs. They've done little to develop these patterns in their lives, so they are less equipped to move on to their next opportunity. 

For me, working on career resilience is a worthy goal. It's a way to respond to all that is negative and challenging at work and to focus our attention where it's most needed--on our capacity to creatively and effectively respond to a new normal. 

What are your thoughts on this? Does the idea of career resilience resonate with you? What do you do to build your own career reslience? 

Career Resolutions as a Key to Career Thriving

A few weeks ago I read Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project, which chronicles Gretchen's year of personal experiments to increase her happiness--her version of the 30-Day trial! .

One section on goals vs. resolutions really struck a chord with me. This is what she writes on her blog about it: 

You hit a goal, you achieve a goal. You keep a resolution.

I think that some objectives are better characterized as resolutions, others, as goals.

“Run in a marathon” or “Become fluent in Spanish” is a good goal. It’s specific. It’s easy to tell when it has been achieved. Once you’ve done it, you’ve done it!

“Eat more vegetables” or “Stop gossiping,” or “Exercise” is better cast as a resolution. You won’t wake up one morning and find that you’ve achieved it. It’s something that you have to resolve to do, every day, forever. You’ll never be done with it.

. . . it can be easy to get discouraged when you’re trying to hit a goal. What if it takes longer than you expected? What if it’s harder than you expected? And what happens once you’ve reached your goal? Say you’ve run the marathon. What now – do you stop exercising? Do you set a new goal?

With resolutions, the expectations are different. Each day, I try to live up to my resolutions. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, but every day is a clean slate and a fresh opportunity. I never expect to be done with my resolutions, so I don’t get discouraged when they stay challenging. Which they do. 


This idea of goals vs. resolutions really resonated for me in regard to the work we do in our careers because I think that ongoing professional development is largely about keeping resolutions. While having goals can be helpful, they also require us to have some sense of the destination--where it is we want to end up. 

But so many of us work in a world where the destination is often unclear, or we are in the midst of transition, so we are working on direction, not destination. In those cases, resolutions seem far more appropriate for what we want to do. They are a way to keep moving forward, to keep developing. 

Career resolutions are really the habits we create for ourselves that we do on a regular basis. How do we spend that first hour of work? What rituals have we created for ourselves daily, weekly, monthly? 

Goals give us a sense of destination, while resolutions are the habits that can take us there. And even when our goals feel unclear, we can still keep our resolutions as a strategy for continuing to develop even if we feel stuck or lost. 

What do you think of this idea of career resolutions vs. career goals? Does the concept of career resolutions resonate for you? 


Do you have a creative dream you want to bring to fruition? Join me on November 9-11 for the Dream It/Do It Retreat--two days of solid dreaming and work time to move your career or creative project forward. You'll be surrounded by a supportive group of kindred spirits, plus great food and access to a fully-stocked art studio!


Letting Go

Let Go

Last week Allison Jones pointed to an excellent post from Amber Nusland on letting go of the things you're not good at. In it she says:

Part of why people struggle in their careers is our collective insistence that they do things that they aren’t really good at. Almost every bit of business literature you read these days (don’t even get me started on some of it) talks about how successful business leaders are great mentors, or great team leaders, or great strategists, or great marketers. And I just don’t think it’s that simple.

There’s probably something that you don’t know much about, or that you aren’t really good at, but that you’ve felt compelled to do anyway because it was considered a prerequisite of a promotion or a different step in your career that you wanted to take. You probably struggled with it, felt guilty that you weren’t good at it, hesitated to talk to your boss about it because if you admitted that it wasn’t your strong suit, you’d probably limit your career development opportunities.

I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment! While we all have things that we have to do that are just part of the job, many times I find that people become unhappy or are less succesful in their careers than they could be because they are playing to their weaknesses instead of to their strengths. They begin to doubt themselves instead of realizing that they are trapped in a cycle of spending so much time trying to fix their weaknesses that they have no time to build on their strengths. 

Letting go of your weaknesses is one area where "letting go" is good for your career. But this got me to thinking about other things we need to let go of in order to focus on our positive professional development. Some other things to let go of:

  • Bad situations that aren't going to change--They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. When you find yourself in the same scenario again and again, it's time to move on from it. Change your reactions or change your situtation, but don't stick with what doesn't work. 
  • The wrong crowd--Are you surrounded by complainers, work-obssessed people, or overly competitive folks? Do you find that you're drained after your interactions with certain people? Whether we realize it or not, the wrong people can contribute in a major way to our career unhappiness. Sometimes we have to let go of the people who sap our energy or suck us into their negative ways of viewing the world.  
  • Outmoded ways of thinking--I meet many people who cling to old paradigms when all around them has changed. They are fighting against a tide that will eventually beat them down. I also see many people who have old beliefs about themselves--their capabilities, their options, and so forth. It's helpful to step back sometimes and look at how our thinking may need to change and adapt to the circumstances we are now in. Often it is our own thinking patterns that may be holding us back. 
  • Our clutter--Periodically I will look around my office and realize that I've allowed piles of paper, books, files, etc. to build up around me. Simultaneously I will notice that my focus and energy has evaporated. Simply cleaning up and clearing out opens up new space for me to think and create. 
  • "Good enough"--Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are "good enough," but somehow they still sap our energy. We can't put our finger on it, but we know that it's not where we want to be. In these cases, we do well to consider if letting go of good enough might not make way for "great" to find us. 

Although we may tend to think that our careers are based on what we build with, they are also based on what we release. We have to let go of the old and what isn't working to make space for the new. This can require a leap of faith, but it's faith well-placed.

What do you need to let go? 


Do you have a creative dream you want to bring to fruition? Join me on November 9-11 for the Dream It/Do It Retreat--two days of solid dreaming and work time to move your career or your creative project forward. You'll be surrounded by a supportive group of kindred spirits, plus great food and access to a fully-stocked art studio!

Reflections on Career Journaling for Professional Development

One of the best tools I've found for my own ongoing professional development is a career journal.

I began journaling for professional purposes about 7 years ago when I bought an artist's sketchbook to maintain all of my ideas related to a particular project I was working on. Since then, my journaling practices have evolved and in this post I want to explore the different ways you can use a career journal to support your positive professional development. 

Career Journals as Collections

In their most basic iterations, career journals are a place to collect things--ideas, quotes, articles, images, lists, notes, etc. I have journals that are devoted to specific projects as well as more general journals and in each, I'm collecting those snippets of ideas and information that feed my thinking processes.

When I read, I jot down quotes in my journal. When I find an article I will print it out and glue it into my journal. I also use it to collect random Post-It notes, images I find in magazines that may convey an idea or experience I want to capture, and examples of work that others do that I admire or think may have connections to my own work. 

Career Journals to Process

Another way I use my career journals is to process information. I'm someone who often writes her way to understanding, so my journals are filled with entries where I've re-worked ideas, thought through connections, reflected on experiences and applied my understanding of concepts from other fields to the work that I do. There are also tons of mindmaps and VisualsSpeak collages I've used to process my ideas. 

Often when I'm stuck, I will use my career journal to work through an idea or concept as a way to get it out of my head and on to paper. 

CareerJournal 2

Career Journals to Document

Another way to use a career journal is to document. To me, this is separate from collecting items and ideas in your journal. Documenting information carries more intent. I'm writing things down for a purpose, rather than to collect it for some future use. 

Mostly I document plans and "to do lists" in my journals. Often I will see the evolution of a project this way, how it morphs from one iteration to another. But you could also use your journal to document achievements , experiments like the 30 Day Trial, your One Sentence Journal responses or to keep your question log

Ways I Haven't Used My Journals. . . But Could

In looking through my journals to write this post, I also noticed how I typically do NOT use my journal, but really could. 

For reflections on my daily work habits--I know that I'm not as productive and effective as I could be and that if I made more of an effort to use my journal to log and experiment with daily career habits, I think that could be very helpful. I recently finished Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project and was struck with how successful she was in using her Resolution charts to reach her happiness goals. I think it's an idea that could carry over to careers and to working with in my career journal.  

To document emotional reactions to career experiences--I tend to save my emotions for my personal journaling, but think that if I did more to document where I feel energized or inspired by plans, there might be some value in that. I'm trying to live a more integrated life, where I'm not keeping my emotions out of my work, but my journals don't reflect this. 

To reflect on what I'm learning about myself and how I like to work--Periodically I will feel stuck or run up against a need to re-invent myself and my journals often reflect this in terms of the projects I pursue and document there. But it might be helpful if I did something that was more ongoing--even weekly or monthly check-ins with myself about how I'm developing. Keeping track of how I'm developing could show me sooner when I'm starting to get restless or dissatisfied. 

Debriefing on what did/didn't work with a particular activity--This is a habit I want to make more regular in terms of actually documenting my after action reviews. I tend to do these mentally, but not actually write anything down, which could be helpful for later review. Occasionally I've done that type of reflection here on my blog, but it's not included in my journals. 

Benefits of Career Journaling

As I was going through my journals, I started thinking more about what I've found beneficial in using them:

  • Great method for helping me process learning--I learn by talking to people and by writing. So writing my ideas, thoughts, concepts,  etc. in my career journals has given me a lot of insight and understanding. It's also helped me find clarity on the projects I'm working on. I have a quote over my desk that says "Our job is not to control our idea. Our job is to figure out what our idea is (and wants to be) and then bring it into being." My journals help me do that. 
  • An archive of ideas to return to when I need inspiration--Sometimes I have ideas that I write in my journals and then other parts of my life get in the way. When I need inspiration, I can go back through my books and find nuggets that suggest new things I could do or new twists on what I've been doing. Very helpful. 
  • I can see trends over time--As I go through my journals, I see ideas that I keep returning to and questions I keep wrestling with. Recognizing one of these trends led me to write a paper with a colleague at Rutgers University. Another trend was in-person retreats, which led me to plan for Dream It/Do It. I don't always act on my ideas immediatly. But when I see that I'm returning to something again and again, I start looking for ways to bring it into being. 

Some Career Journaling Resources

If you're interested in starting your own career journal, here are some resources to get you going:

I'd love to hear from you if you keep a career journal. How do you use it? How has it helped you in your career? 


Do you have a creative dream you want to bring to fruition? Join me on November 9-11 for the Dream It/Do It Retreat

Learning from Experience: Jay Cross Discusses His "New Muse"

Jay Cross, one of my favorite learning experts, announced on his blog last week that he has a "new muse": 

For the better part of forty years, my work has focused on adult learning. I’ve strived to make learning at work more effective, relevant, enjoyable, and cost-effective.

Today I am shifting direction. My new muse is well-being.

I'm intrigued by how and why people make the career transitions that they do, so I asked Jay to do a blog interview with me about his new direction. Here it is.

Can you give us some background on your career to date?

Upon graduating from college with a degree in sociology, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. I became a mainframe computer salesman.

After a couple of years, I became an Army officer and managed computer operating in Germany. Returned to the U.S. and earned an MBA. Had a miserable time as a market researcher. Developed curriculum for an educational start-up that eventually became the University of Phoenix; refused to move to Phoenix.

Joined a start-up that trained bankers how to make decisions; spent fifteen years selling, managing sales, and directing marketing to very large banks. Tried my hand in a medical software start-up, a wholesale financial service start-up, and a tracking software start-up. A dozen years ago, I went on my own -- Internet Time Group -- to champion first eLearning and later, informal learning.

You are well-known in adult learning, with 40 years of experience and accomplishments to go with it. What is it like to go from being an "expert" in your field to doing something where you are more of a novice? 

As of yet, I don’t have much experience in my new field, well-being, so you may want to take my temperature on this one a few months from now. Thus far, I am thoroughly enjoying “beginner’s mind.” It is liberating. “In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few,” wrote Sunryku Suzuki.

I am painting on an immense, blank canvas. I get to set my objectives anew. I am free to think big thoughts. I can ask any questions I want. I can mash up everything I know from other fields to spark innovation. Who are the best people to talk with? What are the top things to read? How big a dream can I take on? This is much more fun that pontificating on topics I already know about. (If anyone reading this has pointers for me, get in touch via

Can you tell me about the process that led up to you deciding to move in this new direction? 

My first significant paper on informal learning came out in May 2003. Since then I think I’ve said most of what I have to say on the topic. I can answer most question on auto-pilot. Informal learning was getting old. I want to learn new things and make new discoveries.

What got me going with informal learning originally was the anomaly that most learning in organizations is informal yet training departments have nothing to do with it. I saw an opportunity to improve the way business is conducted by getting things into balance.

My new interest is the impact of well-being on business. Research suggests that happy people sell more, produce more, and come up with more creative ideas. Neuroscience tells us that people are driven by emotion, not logic. Yet “business-like” means without emotion. Most workers hate their jobs. There’s a giant opportunity to make people feel happy and fulfilled while simultaneously boosting profits. That’s noble cause.

I think well-being is going to be an easier sell than informal learning. Sixteen to twenty years in school has brainwashed people to the extent that they confuse schooling and learning. They argue that informal learning is out of control. They’re right. I think that’s good; the schoolers disagree.

I began the year at a meeting on a Swiss mountain top where an interdisciplinary group sought ways to reinvent management. I’m convinced that the goal of a business is to delight customers. How do you delight customers? By delighting employees. Happiness is contagious.

Marty Seligman’s latest book, Flourish, sets out five areas that contribute to well-being. One is having a purpose greater than oneself. I am getting on in years. I want to make my dent in the universe. If I can help at least 10,000 people lead happier, more fulfilling, and more productive lives, that accomplishment will make us all feel happier.

In June, five friends and I spent the weekend at Asilomar Conference Center, a wonderful retreat center on the coast between Monterey and Carmel, to talk about our lives and aspirations. I rated myself on the five things that lead to well-being that Marty had described. I lacked that “purpose larger than myself” and needed to work more closely with others. I determined that My calling is to create happier, more productive workplaces. 

What kinds of activities have you been engaging in to make the change? How are you learning about your new focus and how is it changing your daily work?

I believe in learning by doing, so I’m following routines to make me happier personally. (And they appear to be working). I’m setting up ways to curate what I find. I’m making lists of books to read and people to talk with. Soon I’ll begin hitting up my network for suggestions. I’m reading a lot and I have feeds plucking things from the internet for me.

I’m having fun setting up the processes I’ll use get to know the field.

Unlearning is going to be a challenge. When I see people making ridiculous claims about informal learning, I feel compelled to respond. I’ve got to stop that. There’s only so much time in the day. 

What are you most looking forward to with this new career identity? How are you going to be integrating it with your identity as an adult learning expert?

It’s a lot more enjoyable meeting new people. Well-being is more fun to talk about than learning.

I don’t really think of this as a new identity. I been saying for several years that my field is helping people work smarter. Well-being falls under that umbrella as well as learning.

My beliefs about learning are so deeply ingrained in my psyche that they will shape my ah-ha’s and discoveries. Well-being and informal learning are each related to freedom, autonomy, recognition of accomplishment, meaningful relationships with others, trust, and transparency. I expect my mash-up of the fields of well-being and adult learning to produce innovative approaches.

What advice do you have for others who may be thinking about moving from a very established career into something different? What has surprised you most or challenged you most in all of this?

Expertise is overrated. I am hopping into this new area with no fear.

Determine what you’re after. Marty Seligman’s Flourish was my touchstone.

Choose a role that lets you use your signature strengths. Take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths to identify what yours are.

A few things that stood out for me in Jay's interview that I think are applicable to a lot of people:

  • Having a "purpose larger than ourselves," is a big driver for Jay, as it is for most of us. I find that when people start to be dissatisfied with their current career trajectory, it's often because they start to become aware that they are not working on a larger purpose. 
  • The ideas for change have been percolating for awhile, but some events--the conference at the beginning of the year and the retreat in June--really moved him to take action.  I find that while reflection will get you so far, it's getting together with like-minded people who are also thinking about what they want that often pushes us forward. 
  • There's a process we go through in shifting our energy and attention away from our former career into the new one. Jay talks about "unlearning" as a challenge and needing to disengage from the conversations around his informal learning career interests because "there's only so much time in the day." Again, this is a common situation for people--we often are operating in the same networks of people, so we see the same conversations and have to discipline ourselves to not engage at all or to engage in ways that are tied to the new career focus we are developing. 
  • Jay talks about enjoying being in "beginner's mind," approaching a new subject area with fresh eyes. I've found that, especially for people who are life-long learners at heart, this process of getting to learn about a new field is what can make a career change even more compelling. It's an opportunity to explore something different and really immerse yourself in the learning process.  

Thanks to Jay for his willingness to share his thought process and experiences as he embarks on this new direction in his career. I think he offers us a lot of ideas for how we can pursue and think about our own ongoing career development. I also think he offers a terrific model for how to go about change as we pay attention to our shifting needs and interests in the career life-cycle. 


If you need time and support to plan for your own career transition, join me on November 9-11 for the Dream It/Do It Retreat