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(This post was previously published in LinkedIn’s “Class of 2013: The Commencement Speeches You Wish You Heard”.)
(This post was previously published in LinkedIn’s “Class of 2013: The Commencement Speeches You Wish You Heard”.)
I’ve heard (and offered) my share of career advice over the years — and at this point in your lives, you are likely hearing more than your minimum daily requirement. I understand. Nearly everyone wants to offer a reflective opinion concerning how you should go forward, and leave your mark on the world. I realize that all of the chatter might feel a bit overwhelming — especially with all that is ahead of you — but rest assured, the advice is certainly well intentioned. However, one key point to remember as you leave this chapter behind, is to temper its application with the sound of your own voice. Listen openly to all the advice that is offered, as it it given with love and concern. However, be sure not to lose yourself within that conversation.
Much of the advice that I personally received about work and career, was really quite good. Some… well…not nearly as good (and memorable for very different reasons). I won’t offer the unabridged volume to you today — and I’ll keep the message brief. But, I would like to share some of the most memorable snippets with you. So, here is the best (and the worst of it) — offered to you, with an accompanying “hindsight is 20/20″ review.
“Find something you love to do. If you can eventually get someone to pay you for it, you’ve got it made.” I’ll have to say, this was the best of the lot. Looking back, I never would have have guessed that my dad (a family physician), had been privy to the “secret sauce” of work life happiness — but he did have the power of experience behind him. When he offered me this advice, employee engagement per se, was yet to be discussed. But his words resonated with me and I thought about his comment often. His words guided me at many a crossroad. My dad loved what he did everyday — and this was apparent. He worked long hours, took countless late night phone calls and never missed an opportunity to say hello to a patient outside of the office. When he passed away, I heard countless heartwarming stories from his patients explaining how he had touched their lives in a deep and meaningful way. It was amazing. I wish that kind of career for all of you — so search with great urgency for a role that you will love.
“Don’t stray from your core area of strength.” Wrong. Don’t sell yourself short. Learn as much as you possibly can, about as many core areas of an organization as possible — this will help you to transform into a seasoned contributor. As I entered the world of work, I’d spent years studying work behavior and the elements of organizations. But, what I desperately needed to see, first hand, was how all of the pieces coalesced in real time. When posed with a unique opportunity to write proposals for the broader organization, many let me know they thought it was misguided to leave my role in research. But, for some odd reason I didn’t listen. I’ve never regretted that choice, as I learned more about the business than I ever imagined. Building flexibility, while developing new strengths is always a good path. So even if those opportunities don’t present themselves, search for them. Create them. Ultimately, a career is a mufti-faceted quest, where unexpected twists and turns should be welcome – so don’t hesitate to travel “off-road” and explore once in a while.
“Leave your personal life at the door”. This was undoubtedly the worst (and the most perplexing) advice offered. When this was generously shared (from a very senior staffer, as a newly minted manager) I was absolutely speechless. All I could think of that moment was “How do I possibly accomplish that?”, and “How does anyone, for that matter?” As it turns out this advice wasn’t really a viable goal after all. We essentially bring “all that is us” to our work each day – for better or worse – as our lives outside of the office shape who we are as potential contributors. It would be nearly impossible to perform a dissection, and remove our home or personal life from our office life (or vice versa, for that matter). The irony of this, is how many of us now complete our work from our home offices. Funny how that turned out – as personal lives routinely intersect (and meld) with work life today. Going forward, encourage evolution in your work life, to make work, work for you.
In closing, I’d like to say that I envy the place where you find yourself today. I see a career as an exciting series of doors, leading to the chapters of your future. Open those doors with hope and respect — for yourself — and those that you will certainly meet along your journey.
Good luck to you – I wish you a happy and fulfilling career.
(What is the best or the worst, advice that you’ve received? I’d love to hear it.)
There are so many reasons to emphasize the power of listening in the workplace. From developing future leaders to teaming skills – the art of listening is a much needed skill set. Many leadership experts feel you simply cannot excel in business today without this skill, and I agree fully. Listening can not only make you more likeable – it can change the face of your career.
Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, aptly calls this skill set “strategic listening”. No matter what your role or organizational purpose he is adamant that listening is critical. Listening is about respect. It is about making a commitment to others. It is about commitment to progress and change.
What you might gain from tweaking your listening skills:
- You’ll grow as a contributor. Learning to put your own thoughts aside for just a moment, will help you process new ideas. Overall, you’ll be in a better position to absorb more of the knowledge that is around you.
- You’ll be better positioned to handle problems. When challenge occurs – effective listening skills can help you to understand dissenting opinions and varying points of view. As a result, you’ll have a far greater chance of finding needed solutions.
- You’ll discover hidden potential. In many situations, your most effective team members may not be the most highly vocal. Hang back and let them know you value their opinions – they’ll be more likely to come forward and contribute.
We can all improve our listening skills. For now, hold back and let others complete their thought. Then reflect on what you have learned. It’s a great place to start.
When my boys were grade schoolers I loved spending time in their classrooms. One year, I volunteered as the “Picture Parent” — where I was responsible for sharing the work of great artists. At other times, I attended classroom celebrations. The children were always such an energizing force. I would always try to start a conversation about their very early aspirations concerning work and career, “What do you want to be when you are older?” As you can imagine, their answers had no bounds; astronauts, doctors, teachers, to be like “Mom” or “Dad”.
One particular answer struck me as a little unusual. One 6 year-old boy let me know that he wanted to be two things — a lawyer as his parents were both practicing attorneys — or a “pancake flipper”. This caught me a little off guard, but I was very curious as to how this highly specific interest developed. (His mother confirmed his early passion for all things related to cooking.) So, I inquired as why he chose that particular role. He responded very quickly and with great passion, “Because I’m really good at it”.
All I could muster in response was, “That’s an excellent reason.” Which it certainly was.
In the minds of children, the career horizon is limitless. Any spark of talent has the possibility of being realized and any interest explored. But, with the passage of time, we often leave behind one or two of these “sparks”. This happens slowly, yet surely — as we place certain aspirations, skills and talents on the shelf and close the “virtual” door.
Life happens. Work happens. We modify our career aspirations to meet the opportunities which are presented. Moving forward as best we can.
However, there is a cost. I believe there exists much untapped potential within our workforce. Among us are hidden innovators, entrepreneurs, artists, leaders and mentors. Many with dreams and pockets of untapped talent — locked behind the “virtual” doors that have closed. I would like to think that we can weave them back into our work lives somehow. But first we must pause and acknowledge them.
A career has many doors — and it is up to us to open them.
Have you left a career dream behind and rediscovered it in some way? Share your story.
Can our bodies change our minds? According to the research the answer is yes – and “tiny tweeks can lead to Big Changes.”
You can read the research – or you might simply feel it in your gut. With some essential workplace issues, it really doesn’t matter how you discovered the concept – it’s opening the door and letting it in that matters. This seems to be the consensus on workplace positivity.
Maybe, it’s a sign of the times - realizing that we cannot do our best work if we feel undervalued or hopeless. Many of us simply would like to feel more positive about our daily work lives.
So how do we accomplish this?
Well, we have some interesting clues from a key group of researchers (Luthans, et al. 2006), who have been investigating the application of positivity to the workplace. They have discovered that we might need to focus on the strength of our “Psychological Capital” (PsyCap). Psychological capital, is a second-order construct, composed of 4 key “psychological resources” that we access to cope with the challenges of our work lives. (They are as follows – HERO for short.)
- Hope. A belief in the ability to persevere toward goals and find the methods or paths to reach them.
- Efficacy. The confidence that one can put forth the effort to affect outcomes.
- Resilience. The ability to bounce back in the face of adversity or failure.
- Optimism. A generally positive view of work and the potential of success.
You can read more about Psychological Capital in a recent LinkedIn post, “Why Positivity is So Essential in the Workplace.”
What do you think? Does positivity have a role in the workplace?
I’ve never been one to mince words about workplace topics. I’ll admit this may cause a bit of momentary stress for some of my clients. However, our work lives are far too important to take lightly or “baby”. (For some reason, “walking on eggshells” almost certainly leads to more problems and fewer solutions.) By and large, it is simply more advantageous to lay the cards on the table, than to “bluff”.
Which leads me to the topic of development – that often nebulous career goal that we all seem to seek. We all want to improve and progress career-wise. The problem is that we often sit back and wait for others to craft that path and send us an invitation. Why wait? I am giving you permission to take responsibility for your own development.
Some things to consider:
- Master competition. Get a hold of yourself. Just because your colleague was recognized – doesn’t mean that you are doomed. Becoming effective in today’s workplace requires being able to process the ever-present notion of competition. (You can read “7 Ways to Deal with Workplace Competition” here.)
- Reflect on your failures. Yes, I said it – dwell on your failures. Whether the failure was an overlooked opportunity to collaborate, or a missed client deadline – go back and re-visit them. It might be uncomfortable, but it will be time well spent. You’ll likely learn something that you can apply toward the future.
- Think big. Think of your industry carefully and name the 5 skills or traits that anyone would need to succeed going forward. Imagine you are speaking to an intern in your profession – and that your guidance is the only career advice they will ever hear. What would you tell them that they will need to succeed? Then take your own advice.
- Pinpoint obstacles. The only real expert of you, is you – so get to know your career “self”. I find that utilizing exercises to reveal hidden issues (and talent) is a great option to explore. Try the one explained here, by renowned coach Marshall Goldsmith. Who knows what you’ll uncover?
What role have you played in your own career development? Tell us your story.
On certain days, 5:00 PM rolls around and I haven’t accomplished a single task on my “to do” list. I’m doing things – but arguably not the “right” things. Days such as this make me fully aware that it is advisable to take a quick look, every so often, at how we are utilizing our time.
The level of distraction in our work lives has never been greater – on-line, off-line, mobile. Meetings, e-mails, travel. With all of the elements competing for our attention – it’s hard to know if we are making wise “time” choices. A few signs to be aware of:
- You don’t seem to have the time to complete your “best” work.
- You don’t have time to recharge or re-energize.
- You have little time to explore new contacts or projects.
So, I pose this question: Are you an effective time-user? That’s a difficult question to answer. However, I am sure we can all agree that time is a valuable commodity, that commands respect.
Here are a few posts that can help you get on the right path:
- SXSW: Here’s Why You’re Not Productive, Franseca Levy, LinkedIn
- The Ugly Truth About Time Management, The Office Blend.
- How Busy People Find Time to Think Deeply, Ben Casnocha, Linkedin.
- You Should Work From Home Before You Go to Work, Caterina Fake, LinkedIn
- Make Time for Time, Anthony K. Tjan, HBR
- 7 Must- Have ( Free) Mobile Apps to Do Your Job Better, Ryan Holmes, LinkedIn.
What are your time “challenges”? Fill us in.
It’s an occupational hazard – I want to know more about people and their work. When meeting someone at a conference or gathering, career related topics always flood my mind. I tend to ask a fair amount of questions – but in these situations that most often consists of the more “garden” variety queries; How long have you been with your organization? Do you travel much?
These are not the questions that I’d really like to pose. I’d like to know much more about you and hear the “unabridged” story. The successes, the failures, the wrong turns, the U-turns – all of the highs and lows. They all meld to form a meaningful career.
Most of us become so busy with our everyday work lives, that we fail to carve out a moment of pause to reflect on our careers. That process would take time and the right frame of mind – but I encourage you to do so.
So, here are the questions that I would really like to ask you:
- How did you choose your line of work (be completely honest)?
- Would you make that same choice today?
- When you think about work, do you feel energized?
- If you could create your dream role, what would that be?
- Who was your most challenging boss and why?
- Who was your most aggravating co-worker and why?
- Are you most creative alone or on a team?
- What kind of work spaces motivate you?
- What is your most memorable failure?
- What single thing would you change (if you could) to improve your work life?
I’d love to hear some of your answers and what you might do with the information. Feel free to share that here.