Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Career Heroes

A client asked me yesterday [in my professional capacity as a career coach], “Have you ever struggled with career decisions or had moments of crisis or doubt?”. I replied, “All of the time.”

That was when he laughed.

Actually, we both laughed because it reminded us of past ‘experts’ who showed no weakness in themselves. Those super-men and wonder-women [with brightly coloured capes and underpants worn outside of their tights] who made us feel a little embarrassed for needing their help.

It really is a super-power that super-heroes can make us feel self-conscious when it's them who dress so badly :)

[Bay Bridge Sunset - see more at Saundra's Flickr Photostream here]

A career coach admitting to career issues might sound like a fundamental flaw. Like a seasick sailor, a cowboy with a horse-allergy or an entomologist scared by creepy-crawlies. Sometimes, our career-heroes appear to have a flawless history but appearances can hide a great deal. Sometimes neat packaging is nothing more than that.

In my client’s position, I’d want the truth because it would help me to use better judgement and make better decisions. Much of my work together with this client focused on doubts and testing beliefs. Our relevant personal and professional experiences on both sides could only help.

So what's your opinion?

 Of all the pleasure boats in the harbour you might still choose the one with the sickly looking Captain. [He is telling you the sea might be rough. If you decide the trip is still worth it, grab a sick-bag and get on board!]

 She might have bloodshot eyes and a runny nose but would you ride home the cattle with anyone else?

 Your comments [particularly if you are a successful entomologist with arachnophobia] are welcome!

All the best for now,


Friday, 22 May 2009

Me, We

“Me, We.” might just be the world’s shortest poem.

The story of its origins are legend but most attribute this poem to Muhammad Ali. Testimony as to when and where he said it varies but there is agreement it was spoken at a public event and that it was Ali’s response to a question regarding the shortest poem or verse in history.

Muhammad Ali was a boxer but he was also a great wit with a live, febrile mind and a poet with a compelling, powerful voice. The evidence may vary but the legend fits. It doesn’t take much imagination to hear Ali speaking these words and saying them with meaning.

[Apparently that is "laser" engraving. Does Buck Rogers work for Steve Jobs?]

This poem has followed me around since I first read it. It came up again last week in a question about the way most of us think about our careers. The question was:

“Can our individual career thinking be changed from Me to We?”

The questioner's premise was that our careers are never isolated, they are in fact always connected. Your career joins you to your work, your employer, your colleagues, your intentions, your life outside of work, the list goes on.

So if there are hundreds of touch-points, convergences and connections between ourselves, our careers and the outside world, why do we default to 'Me' when we think about careers?

Is there necessity around 'Me' thinking in careers or is it just history and habit?

Thinking about your career was traditionally a lonesome activity. The number of people going to their boss to admit 'thoughts about leaving' is growing but is still a minority. We take career advice from third parties (our friends, relatives, HR & career professionals even) but this advice is too often based around individualistic thinking alone: “What should I do?”, "What do I want?", "Where is my career going", etc.

It is still essential to resolve individual career questions but the Me to We shift behind career management is inevitable and has already begun. Your career may be yours but for it to be successful, for you to experience your career in full, for your career to deliver genuine satisfaction and fulfilment, it must be understood holistically too.

Although it wasn't always so clear, work/life balance is Me, work/life fusion is We.

Of course there is much more to learn (your opinion is welcomed for a start!) but - going back to Ali's poem - sometimes we need a simple and memorable expression to get us started. Besides, it wouldn't be the first time in history a poet has figured something out first.

Have a great weekend wherever you are!

All the best


Monday, 18 May 2009

On Preparation & Your Career

My good friend Saundra has been supplying images on work/life fusion for a little while now.

Usually, I write a blog post then we choose an image together. This time around Saundra's image came before the post.

I always found Saundra's work inspiring, I suppose today is proof! :)

[Lone Surfer - see more at Saundra's Flickr Photostream here]

What do you see when you look at this picture?

I looked at the surfer first. Is he plucking up the courage to jump in or is he looking on the sea after a good day at the office?

Then I looked at the sea. There are waves but on the whole the sea looks pretty calm. And that's when the Saundra-inspired-light-bulb appeared above my head...

A surfer can't make the waves. He just has to prepare and be there at the beach when the conditions are right. Hours of practice learning to ride, reading the weather, finding the best beaches and the best breaks; these are the things that make a surfer ready for the day he's at the beach and the waves are there for him.

The parallels with our careers are endless. Career management can only prepare us for the right conditions, the right set of circumstances, the right opportunities.

Sometimes, even when you have done everything right, you will still have to wait.

But the time will come when you have done everything right and the conditions are perfect too. That's when the surfer gets the waves he wants. That's when you get the break in your career you have worked so hard for.

So that's what I saw in this picture. Do you see something different?

All the best for now,


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Manifesto for a Career Coach

A career coach should...

✪ Focus on the career journey 'You' want to make
✪ Enable & encourage long-term self-leadership
✪ Provide effective support to thought & deed [theory & practice]
✪ Support career decision-making with confidence & conviction
✪ Know the difference between a job and a vocation
✪ Protect & safeguard the career interests of all their clients
✪ Make a lasting contribution that goes beyond immediate career issues

What would you want from a career coach? What would you like to see added to the list?

[Going Up or Down? - see more at Saundra's Flickr Photostream here]

Our list won't be anywhere near complete without your opinion!

All the best for now,


Monday, 11 May 2009

Alvin's Story - Career Perspective

Is Alvin alone facing this challenge?

Recently, Alvin became frustrated with his career because it felt to him like a series of false starts. To see if he could break out of this pattern, Alvin took the opportunity to look at his career as a whole.

So what did he find out?

Across all of his different work and jobs [and changes that ranged from the uniform he wore to the industry sectors he worked in] Alvin could find out what his experiences had in common. Studying his career as a whole, he could see what joined his experiences together and explore what was important to him, what his strengths were and what he found motivational.

[Hadleigh Castle in Essex. A wonderful example of open plan design]

In Alvin’s case, his work with people proved to be the biggest unifying factor. Usually when we say someone is a ‘people person’ we mean they are good with relationships. Good at solving problems or helping people out with issues or tricky situations. We might also mean they help other people to see the value in things they would otherwise overlook. In Alvin’s case this is all true but it’s only half of the story because he is also a gifted leader. People respect Alvin [They just can’t help it!]. They respect his experience and his opinion. They respect the care he takes answering questions and resolving their issues so patiently and positively.

From the traditional viewpoint Alvin always had of his career nothing of this leadership potential was visible to him. This was compounded by regular moves and changes which didn’t allow Alvin to understand the impact he had on people or see the improvements he left behind. Junior job titles and 'nitty-gritty' roles also meant that Alvin’s achievements were too easily swallowed up by a chain of command here or a non-meritocratic management structure there.

Alvin couldn’t see his determination, diligence, perseverance and intellectual rigour or the difference they made to people over time. He didn’t know that his humility and unyielding effort with people - especially those who would otherwise be left behind - was a hallmark of great leadership and of a leader with great future potential.

Before you start thinking this post should also be addressed to the Nobel Peace Prize people, you should also know that Alvin has a long way to go before his strengths and potential can be fully realised. Like most of us, Alvin isn't quite perfect!

Alvin has only just started to gather this insight for himself but for the first time, it gives him the opportunity to look forward and mould himself into the professional and the person he wants to be. For the first time in ages he has the motivation to gain the experiences and acquire the new skills that will broaden his leadership appeal and allow him to create new advantages for more people in the future.

The most important single thing however is this. Alvin’s career no longer needs to be started over or begun again because Alvin now knows his career is well and truly underway.

As for Alvin's future, in this impartial observer’s opinion anyway, it couldn’t be any brighter! :)

So, Do you think Alvin is alone? What might we all have in common with him? It would be great to hear your opinion!

All the best for now,


Friday, 8 May 2009

Your Career in One Sentence

You may have joined in the fun over at JJL last week but if you didn't here are a few examples of real careers, expressed in one sentence.

“I started out in recruitment, moved into people assessment & coaching; now I’m settled as a career coach, with the intention of remaining so until retirement!”

“My career began in industrial packaging, and after a quarter century took a 90 degree turn in the direction I love, enabling me to help people put words together in ways that make their companies flourish.”

"My career is all about using language to enhance life: teaching French to highschoolers, speech and language to the deaf, freelance writing, writing books on dreams, conflict resolution, addiction, and now coaching and writing about boredom-versus-interest as a key to satisfaction."

"My career emerged as a software tools developer and trainer and fully blossomed into showing anyone and everyone how to learn what they crave to know via the Internet."

"I started out wanting to do something in music, then proceeded to doing sports journalism, and ended with freelance writing and web copywriting, which aren't half bad."

If you are wondering why we did this or what the point was, check out the post that explains it all here.

If you want to join the fun (and feel the benefit too!) comment your one sentence career below.

[The sun sets on another week. Cue a random photograph from my distinctly average Flickr Photostream]

Have a great weekend wherever you are!

All the best,


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

What is career satisfaction?

I was asked this question the other day and I offered the following response:

"Sometimes, I think about career satisfaction as an outcome. At the end of my career, if I have good friends, good memories and the knowledge that I tried my best and did right by other people too, I will look back on my achievements with genuine pride."

Thinking about this some more, I still like my answer but I now think it is just that: My answer. Not yours or anyone else's. Just an answer that means something to me.

[Take a little 'me' time to reflect - see more at Saundra's Flickr Photostream here]

So where does that leave your answer?

Like me, you have to answer this question yourself. That doesn't mean you should do it alone (I certainly didn't!). It means that the answer is much more meaningful if it is your own and not someone else's.

Your answer may be similar to someone else's but no two answers have to be the same. They don't have to be different either. An answer just has to be yours.

You'll know when you have an answer that works because it will mean something to you. It will motivate you as you look forward, feel fulfilling as you enact it and be satisfying when you look back on it.

Your answer is as individual as your career!

You don't have to publish your answers here but it would be great if you did! I got more than I expected from giving this question some thought. Particularly when it comes to thinking about the judgement we will all have to make, looking back on our careers when we come to retire.

All the best for now,