Saturday, January 24, 2009

Are Your Friends and Family Inspiring You? Or Retiring You?

I must be on a real cleaning jag. Last week I did the dishes. And just now I spent a couple of hours in the garage, cleaning out one side of it, channeling Peter Walsh. While pushing broom and trying not to breathe in mouse dust (don’t judge, I live in the desert), I listened to the audio version of Change or Die by Alan Deutschman. This is the book in which he uses very inspiring examples to illustrate his formula of igniting lasting change.

One of his essential keys is the importance of being surrounded by role models – people who are not so different from you that they seem to have come from a different planet, but people just like you who personify the changes you want to make. In his own personal situation, he uses the example of Claudia Berman, a San Francisco-based trainer who inspired him to finally jettison 40 pounds.

At first I started thinking of a friend of mine who is still having the devil of a time finding and keeping a job with an organization who treats her with the respect she deserves. On a particularly low evening a few months ago, she told me that it’s hopeless to find a job in a respectful organization. That all businesses are hell holes and that I’m unrealistic to constantly be banging the gong in favor of emotionally healthy workplaces where people are happy and businesses are profitable.

It’s all a lie, she said. Of course she’s right, she says, referencing a good friend of hers and acquaintance of mine who told her so. And I’m just being delusional. Okay then. I guess that gives her all the permission she needs to stop trying. In the ensuing months, she’s had three jobs, and quit two of them. Yesterday I found out that she was fired by the third. So she must be right. Right?

I’m not blaming my friend for her terrible luck, but it sure isn’t helping her prospects any to be hanging out with people who will spend perfectly good social time complaining about the nature of work. And agreeing with each other about how lousy their bosses are, etc.

And then I started thinking about myself. And how I’ve been surrounded by people who would far rather talk about how awful things are than brainstorm about ways to make them better. Or just focus on elevating aspects of life in general. I remember a time about 10 years ago in Annapolis, I was sitting in the livingroom of some friends who spent the entire time complaining about their boss. Sitting there just listening to these coworkers, the thought struck me, “this is the most boring conversation I’ve ever heard.” So much to talk about: politics (we lived only 45 minutes away from Washington); art; music; literature; navel lint. But no, we indulged in the hurts-so-good outrages of a narcissistic control fiend (which, I grant you, she most certainly was, but who wants to talk about that on a Saturday night?).

I don’t know who said it, but you’ve probably also heard the truism that “we see things not as they are but as we are.” (Somebody please write in and tell me who said it!) And that is consistent with what Deutschman was saying about “frames.” We see and believe things according to elements we already believe to be legitimate truths in life.

So. If you think all workplaces are Dickensian workhouses, that’s probably all you’re going to find, because you don’t have the faith, vision, or expectation of finding anything better for yourself. And if you are surrounded by friends who firmly believe the same, you’re at a huge disadvantage even if you do aspire for better for yourself. You’re going to be constantly surrounded by debilitating messages that your dreams for something better are pointless. So, from their perspective, you might as well take what you get and suck it up. That’s reality, sweetie. Deal with it. Really? I beg to differ.

It’s not just friends telling you discouraging things about the world. It could be family members telling you discouraging things about yourself. This is especially common in families with neglectful, abusive, substance-abusing parents. Children of these households very commonly take on unconsciously assigned roles like the Scapegoat, the Troublemaker, the Over-Achiever, the Good One. If that’s the case with you, and you’re trying to thrive in a world of your own making, hoping for a better life in a healthier world, you could be upsetting the rest of the family. You’re breaking the rules, getting a little “full of yourself,” or “too big for your britches.” And someone is going to want to remind you – often forcefully – that it’s futile to aspire for anything better. And heaven help you if you actually reach for a way to love yourself.

Sometimes, as Mark Twain would have said, you just have to light out for the territories. Breaking away from the old ways is going to upset people who don’t want to try that for themselves – consequently having a vested interest in holding you back as well. So you may have to break away from people as well. Maybe not forever, but at least until you've gained solid footing on the new world that is closer to your vision of what is happily and healthily possible.

If you truly want a happier life, with a better job, working for and with people who respect and value you, go for it. It’s out there for you. The name of the game is to find people who agree with your vision of life as it can be, and who model for you every day the choices and behaviors that make that dream come true.

Find those people who see things the way they are – hopeful, empowered, mutually kind, respectful, high performing, rewarding, positive. You’ll get there faster that way.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Don't Get Sad, Get Bad

All morning long, while doing the semi-annual dishes (Question: What’s the difference between Martha Finney and Martha Stewart? Answer: Just look in the kitchen.), I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember who told me about Timothy Ferriss’s fantastic book, The 4-Hour Work Week. I was down to the lasagna pan when I remembered: It was “Anna,” one of the “voices of experience” I interviewed for Rebound. Ah yes, now that I’ve read the Ferriss book on her recommendation, I can see how it all fits.

Ferriss is one bad boy. I like him. While I don’t necessarily approve of all of his tactics (some of them are a little duplicitous for my taste), I love his attitude. Which is basically: Your life is your own and you have every right (in fact, responsibility) to lead it exactly as you want to. And…by the way…you can. You just have to be bad enough to break out of the box that someone else shoved you in. Which totally fits with what Anna was telling me about her experience. So let me tell you about her first.

The brief version of the whole story, which you can read in Rebound, is this: She was a hugely successful salesperson in one of the top ranking companies in her industry. She helped the founders grow it to the point that it could be sold to a public company and walk away millionaires many times over. She’s glad for them. They deserved the rewards of their hard work, she says. So far so good.

But then she watches the new owners run the company into the ground partying like it was 1999. And she’s getting both angry and worried. What to do? Management tells her: Nothing! Everything is groovy, no worries. Her plan was to move to California – a more happening market for her merchandise – but that would require buying a hugely expensive house in an insane market. So she double-checks with her manager. Are you sure it’s a wise personal risk for me to take right now? Absolutely! Go for it! Enjoy the beach, he says.

Within days of her closing on her house, the word comes down that the new owners were shutting the company down. Why wasn’t this the absolute worst news ever? Anna had been a very “bad” girl. She had chosen not to fully believe her boss and had seized control of her own life and future. So, by the time the news hit her, she already had two job offers in her back pocket – offers from her employer’s direct competitors, no less. She seamlessly went from one company to the next, taking her value with her.

Make no mistake. All is not totally hunky dory. She still grieves the destruction of the company that she helped raise from its infancy, not to mention the anguish of her former colleagues, who she keeps track of on Yahoo blogs. But she is in a job she loves, with people who are smart, cutting edge, and totally committed to the smart, ego-free management of the business. (No champagne-saturated helicopter rides for this executive team, nosireebob.) Her former coworkers, who had been "good" and obeyed their management's instructions to be loyal and faithful, are out of work en masse, now competing with each other in a dwindling job market.

When I say “bad,” I’m talking about an internal shift toward the direction of self-respect and self-sovereignty. I don’t mean that you should consider doing anything that will result in a regrettable firing or even a court case. I don’t want to find myself on Nancy Grace trying to explain your “Martha told me to do it” defense. This is about arriving to the realization that you are 100% responsible and in control of your career and life. And if something in your company isn’t passing the smell test, don’t be “good” and believe everything that’s being handed to you. Be “bad” and take action on your own behalf, for the sake of your own future.

If you think that one of the best ways to keep your job may be to be eager to please, you could actually be taking the front spot in the bye-bye line. When the executive team is sitting around the table thinking about who to lay off and who to keep, no one is going to say, “Well, you know, James is always so good about taking his lunch leftovers home on Friday nights. Let’s keep him.”

You know how annoying some over-pleasing, obsequious people are. You don’t know what they have to offer you and your life. All you know is that just being around them makes you really peevish for some reason. They’re the first ones you want out of your life.

So what do I mean about being bad? That all depends on how your particular brand of being good is screwing you up.

Are you inclined to believe management when it’s telling you that you’re safe, even though people are disappearing right and left? Does blindly believing management feel like you’re being “good” like you were when you were blindly believing the parents? And that you will somehow be rewarded for your loyalty? Time to get bad.

Does taking action on your own behalf feel oddly disloyal or disobedient? Time to get bad.

Do you find yourself taking on really crappy assignments that no one else would be caught dead with? And that you wouldn’t do either if you weren’t afraid of getting fired? Time to get bad.

Are people all around you getting promoted, even though you are doing the lion’s share of the work? Time to get bad.

Are people taking credit for your work? Time to get bad.

Do you suspect that people are just looking for an excuse to fire you? Time to get bad.

Have you been the object of an ambush? Time to get bad.

Do you feel that normal actions that reflect self-respect are being received as insubordination? Time to get bad.

I wish I knew how to help you specifically get bad. All I know is how to tell when you’re on the right track. You’re acting reasonably, responsibly, like the adult with healthy self-esteem. And then someone (some, uh, jerk) says to you, “Hey! Who the hell do you think you are?”

And you can mentally respond with, “My own bad self.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How to Get Your Foot in the Door Part 3: You May Be Interviewing For A Job Without Even Knowing It

If you had an especially caring (or controlling) mom, she probably told you that you should never forget that you're being watched, and maybe even judged, all the time. Her initial purpose for telling you this was probably something about making sure your hair is combed and that there's no spinach in your teeth (not to mention never forgetting "please" and "thank you"). And her advice might have been tinged with a bit of warning around it. As in: Keep your nose clean of cave bats, someone's noticing.

But this is also good nose, I mean news. When you're shining and performing at your best, someone may be noticing. And, while it may not be today, tomorrow, or next month, they just might offer you a job.

Last week I interviewed Scott Seaton, who works for SRI (a little known research firm in Palo Alto, CA, that invented things we use every day, like the mouse and the desktop computer). I asked him how he got his job. And he said that when he was in the Navy, he was stationed as a special electronics projects officer in Iceland (brrrrrr). And he was in charge of some visiting scientists from SRI. He was so impressed by how mission-driven and committed these people were -- so willing to tromp across the tundra in all hours of day/night, to work on some kind of whiz bang antennae. Why? Because they loved their work!

And they were obviously impressed with him! So when Scott decided that it was time for him to leave the Navy and rejoin the civilian world, he grabbed a transport from Iceland to California (how's that for a climate change?), interviewed with the folks at SRI and was offered a job.

You just never know when you're going to meet your future. You may be standing on top of the world on an ice floe. And some guy in mukluks emerges from the mist. "Hello, I'm from your future. And guess what? That future has palm trees."

So. Keep your hair combed, your teeth spinach-free and your nose clean! Someone may be noticing, taking mental notes and smiling to themselves as they think about what a great fit you would be for their organization.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Most Important Thing to Do When You're Laid Off

Getting laid off is a crappy happening in so many ways, it’s hard to pick just one. But I will anyway. Not to discount all the other ways you’re taking it on the chin, today I’m focusing on the hit your self-esteem is taking. And what you can do about it.

When you’re laid off, you’re out of work. That’s bad enough. But, precisely because you’re out of work you have all this time to worry about. And brood about it. And obsess about it. And on top of that, you have to do it all by yourself. Why? Because everyone you know is busy at work. Or, if they’re not, they’re probably laid off too. And you really don’t want to be around worrying, brooding, obsessing people – especially when they’re negatively focused on the same thing you are.

Okay, granted, you have your career to be worrying about – not to mention such incidentals as mortgage, health insurance, kids’ education, etc. But you also have something else much more close to home than that you need to ferociously protect right now – your confidence, self-respect, your faith in yourself and your future. In other words – self-esteem.

Self-esteem protection has got to be Job #1 right now, even outclassing the job of finding a job. The good news here is that this is one aspect of your life you have complete control over (although it may not seem to be the case at the moment). So I’ve outlined a few steps you can take to create a cone of esteem protection around your head and heart as you move proudly toward an uncertain future.

Give yourself the time you need to grieve and then recover. You wouldn’t take a cast off before a broken bone was healed, would you? You wouldn’t force a child with a 104 degree fever to go to school, would you? (The correct answer is: No.) Don’t rush yourself to “get over” the emotions around your feelings of betrayal, shock, even rage. Even if you have to get a new job instantaneously, don’t think you “should be over this by now.” You’ll be over it when you’re over it.

Be a rainmaker for other people. Wealth comes in so many forms, and your network is one of them. While you may be thinking that your set of personal contacts is completely useless in helping you find your new job (you’re probably wrong, by the way), you can open up your address book to help your friends find the job of their dreams. It is beyond words how rewarding it is to be able to make a real difference in someone else’s life, especially when you’re spending your days trying to renegotiate interest rates and minimum payments.

Be your own champion. Remember how I said that it’s your job to ferociously protect your self-esteem? Well, that begins with the kinds of thoughts you fill your mind with. If you’re prone to criticizing or second guessing or psychoanalyzing yourself (even a little bit), knock it off. You can always come back to that self-talk when you’re on steadier ground. Don’t worry, you’re in no danger of getting a “big head” in the meantime if you let up on yourself. Reality will keep you humble. Stay away from so-called friends who make you feel uncertain or bad about yourself. Even the ones who you think might be smarter than you about these things. You know in your heart what’s what. If someone else wants to castigate you for some perceived failings, just think to yourself, “projecting!” (like Jon Lovitz’s Master Thespian character announcing, “acting!”) and lose their contact information for awhile (I mean, forever).

Be someone else’s hero. Confession: I like Mariah Carey’s music. And I’ll never forget the time I first heard her song, “Hero.” I was on my way to the dentist to get a root canal. Talk about having something imprinted on your brain. I was especially receptive to the message of that song that morning. There is always something you can do to relieve the pain or restore the hope of someone else. It’s especially good if you’re able to use your professional skill set to make that happen. You need to remind your heart and brain that you still have a role in the marketplace – even if it’s volunteer for the moment. It won’t be for long. (Although it would be excellent if you continued to volunteer after you landed your next great job.)

Give yourself a success project. One of the messages your hammered self-esteem may be telling you right now is that you are powerless to make an impact. Give yourself real and current evidence to the contrary. Assign yourself a series of projects that you have total control over and can see to completion. Cleaning out the garage. Cutting out sugar. Taking the car in to get serviced. Little projects. Big projects. Whatever. Just make sure that you can see that light at the end of that project tunnel. And that you are in total control over a successful completion. (The down side of this advice, of course, is that if you fail you will have only yourself to blame. So. Don’t fail.)

Don’t believe everything you think. You’ve been wrong before. You know how it feels. You might have been one of those people who thought getting laid off would never happen to them. Surprise! Personally I’m big into believing everything I feel (I usually come to regret ignoring my intuition). But believing everything I think is another matter altogether. It’s really easy to get into the habit of drawing sweeping negative conclusions about the way of the world, and our personal success prospects, when nothing is going right. Just remember to constantly ask yourself, “where’s the evidence?” And if you see that you’re compiling a dangerous amount of evidence to support your negative assumptions, load up on those success projects.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What Will 2009 Mean to You in the Long Run? You Decide

You may not be able to control all the events of 2009 as they seem to be lining up just beyond the horizon – like storms in the Pacific, or planes lining up to land at SFO. But you have absolute control over what they will mean to you in big picture scheme of things. Will 2009 be remembered as the year of despair and anxiety? Or the year of absolute amazement, miracles and inspiration to last a lifetime? Same year. Same events. Two different interpretations. You get to choose which one will best carry you and your family into the future.

The other night I was listening to a lecture in which Jack Canfield was talking about how one year he and his wife decided to assign a theme to that year – in his case it was The Year of the Family. And so for those ensuing 12 months, the two of them took on specific projects to help them appreciate their children more and to more intentionally set their kids up for their own future.

The theme itself isn’t as important as the intentionality of focus that is assigned for that year. So that got me to thinking…the way we’re going right now as a nation (probably even the entire world) the year 2009 could be the Year of The Financial Fecal Matter Hitting The Proverbial Fan.

But that doesn’t have to be the theme of 2009 for you. However the financial events unfold, that train, as they’ve been saying on TV, has left the station. In the big picture scheme of things, we as individuals have no control over the macro-economic state of affairs -- or even the Madoff-economic state of affairs.

I recognize that most of us have lost a lot of money. And some of us have lost our jobs, or are having a harder time finding work. And I don’t mean to make light of very serious events in our lives right now. We’re all suffering to some degree.

But even though the financial aspect of the 2009 story may be out of our individual control, this is a great opportunity for us to remember that the story of our life is more than a financial, material, or even a professional one. Let other people assign financial dominance over the way the story of 2009 will be told. But we can choose a much better story to tell of who we will become as individuals during this time. That’s within our control.

Here are some ideas for 2009:

The Year of Relying on Our Own Judgment. Personally, I made some really stupid financial decisions over the last couple of years, because I listened to the wrong people. I figured that the experts knew more about these things than I did and I should just follow their lead. So I ignored what my heart was telling me and chose to do the “smart” thing. Well. That didn’t turn out so well, did it? A few years into my regrettable commitment I read something in an Oprah magazine that hit me between the eyes: “When in doubt, don’t.” That’s my new mantra from now on. Well, at least one of them.

The Year of Recreational Frugality. This past summer a client of mine took her family on vacation to the United Kingdom. Her teen-age daughter was appalled that a hamburger in a London McDonald’s was over $8 and challenged her mother to a game of, “let’s see how cheaply we can live while we’re here.” What could have been a fretting endurance trial of watching money slip through their fingers (totally spoiling a trip that should only have good memories), her daughter turned it into a fun game and source of pride. How inspiring! How cheaply can we live while the financial situation shakes itself out? It could be fun to find out. We can turn that into a game, if we wanted. And, in the end, it could be a great source of pride for everyone because this is a game in which no one loses.

The Year of Using What We Have. We all have stuff we don’t use. When it comes to books, I’m a huge snob. And over the years I have looked down my nose at poseurs who filled shelves with books they would never read. Somehow, “I bought it but haven’t read it,” didn’t translate in my mind as someone who was actually well-read. Well-bought, maybe, but not well-read. But over those same years I discovered that I was getting into the habit of saying the same thing. My problem: I’d buy a book that I discovered, regardless of whether I had the time to read it right then and there, because I didn’t want to forget about it later. Now I’ve got tons of great books in stacks, shelves and piles, all of which are squeaking, “read me!” I could actually go a whole year without buying another book (heaven forbid!), and still have plenty to read. What do you have that you don’t use to its full potential?

The Year of Turning What We Have into Cash. Everyone’s looking for a bargain these days, and those bargains often come in the form of used stuff. Where does that used stuff come from? Well, from us, of course. A friend of mine routinely makes as much as $600 holding periodic garage sales. I wonder if I can make so much selling some of my books – the ones I’ve read, of course.

The Year of Strengthening Our Faith in Whatever. God? Humanity? The Laws of Attraction? Karma? The Way the Cosmic Cookie Crumbles? Our own resourcefulness? I’m not so sure about the power of positive vibrations. But one thing I do know is that a negative mindset is completely self-destructive. It shuts you off from innovative thinking, appreciating the good things in life, connecting with other people, and seeing opportunities when they come flying at you. Personally I’m fond of deus ex machina stories – those stories of God coming out of nowhere and pulling my personal fat out of the fire, just in the nick of time. I’ve got tons of those. They make me feel better and strengthen my faith.

The Year of Recognizing When We’re Being Emotionally Hijacked. One of the books I haven’t read yet (but I’ve got!) is Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. But I think I understand his concept of emotional hijacking. That’s when someone else manipulates you (intentionally or not) into an emotional frenzy about something that really isn’t about you and then causes you to make choices and decisions that may not necessarily be in your best interest. When you think about TV and other vehicles of advertising and news delivery, that’s a model of emotional hijacking. We’re in a heightened state of anxiety by the time the commercials come on. That makes us more inclined to buy things we wouldn’t otherwise even consider. Or our friends give us well-intentioned, but emotionally charged, advice, causing us to go against our best judgment.

The Year of the Pleasant Conversation. I know things are pretty crappy right now, but there’s always something crappy to talk about…even in the so called “good days.” And it’s just not healthy to dwell on that stuff. As Nigella Lawson said when she was criticized for throwing lavish parties and hosting a silly cooking show while her husband was dying of throat cancer: “You just can’t live in that lane all the time.”

I know I’m not alone in the general yearning for “can’t we just talk about something pleasant for a change?” I’m not so much of a control freak as to try to dictate what gets talked about in social gatherings. But I have learned to keep my mouth shut more often than not.

Some friends of mine are throwing their annual gumbo party in a couple of weeks. And the hostess has said, “Yeah! Only pleasant talk this year!” I hope she’ll be able to pull it off!

The Year of Learning New Skills. Pleasant conversation, for one example, is a skill. How much easier it is to succumb to the gravitational pull of complaining and bad news. Learn a new language. Learn how to cook. Learn how to break 400 in Scrabble. Learn all the ins and outs of Microsoft Office. If we’re going to be stuck at home, we might as well make good use of that time.

The Year of Caring About Something That Has Absolutely Nothing to Do With Me. There is plenty in this world to get excited about that doesn’t affect our economic state or job status -- things we can actually do something about regardless of our political affiliations or financial security. Isn’t it true that we really appreciate our own situation when we roll up our sleeves and help someone else out in theirs? Which leads me to…

The Year of Helping Each Other Out Just Because We Can. We all have strengths, skills, networks, areas of expertise that ease the burden of life for our friends and neighbors. How rich it makes us feel to know that we can help someone in a really important way just by coming over, picking up the telephone, giving some advice (good advice), sending an email. It costs us nothing but it’s worth the world to the people we help. And, of course, vice versa.

Whether or not you will end up saying, “That was a very good year,” depends on the vision you make for 2009 right now. And that’s entirely within your control. You still hold the power in your life.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Freelancing Can Be a Great Option -- Especially When You're Between Jobs

(Do you know anyone who needs help, advice, inspiration, and hope after being laid off? Please send them to my new blog, Rebound Your Career! It's based on my new book entitled, amazingly enough: Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss, which will be available online and in bookstores everywhere on February 9! Hey! That's one month away! Yay!)

Have you given any thought to freelancing? Almost anything that can be done full-time can be translated into freelance gigs. And, according to's news crawl yesterday, more and more companies are turning to freelancers to get their work done project by project, instead of full-time job by full-time job.

Now, I know that most of us aren't cut out for freelancing as a lifelong career. So I'm not suggesting that everyone rush right out and hang out their shingles. But if you're not working right now anyway, it beats the heck out of sitting in your socks soaking up the soaps all afternoon. Believe me, I tried that. Freelancing is a much better way to go.

Here's what freelancing can do for you:

You keep your resume fresh with recent projects and accomplishments. Recruiters want to know what you've been doing "all this time." Taking on freelance assignments while you're looking for a new job gives you the chance to keep your resume up-to-the-minute with fascinating stories of achievement, learning, completion. Plus, you get to have a whole new set of people who will give you references.

It keeps you in touch with your former employers, who were really sorry to have to let you go, by the way. I have one friend who actually was able to hire back a fantastic employee as a freelancer after she was forced to shut down her department. And, she was able to pay him more money because she had a lavish freelance budget. Which is kind of weird, but there's no arguing with reality. (And, if CNN is right, more companies will have more money in their freelance budgets. So why not claim some of that for your own?)

Freelancing makes you the head cheese. As a freelancer you get to pick which assignments you're willing to take on. As an employee, you pretty much have to say yes to everything that crosses your desk. Of course, to be realistic, when wolves are beginning to gather at your door, you still have to say yes to most assignments that come your way. (Especially in the beginning when you're just building your practice.) But it's still very nice to know you can still say no...any time. Really. It's allowed.

You can actually fire clients! In fact, if you were feeling especially spiteful -- and your former employer completely deserves it -- you can turn right around and fire the guy who fired you! Just make sure you have plenty of money in the bank and a line of clamoring clients waiting for your attention, like the rope line outside of NY's most happening nightclub. Again, it's just nice to know you can.

You can write some really cool stuff off. See your tax guy about this. But, just so you know, I've been able to write off a scuba diving trip to Bonaire. My groovy new Mac? Deductible. That video camera I want to buy? Deductible. All that chocolate I eat when I'm writing under deadline? Not deductible. Can't have everything.

You can grow much faster as a freelancer. By which I don't mean chocolate-eating, although that is also a guaranteed growth strategy.

What I do mean is that as a freelancer, you can go after potential clients in companies you would love to work for. You learn about the latest, greatest developments in your field, and you can, if you so choose, hang out with the leaders and role models of your profession. One of my most favorite assignments was helping Intuit write a white paper about their employee engagement initiative. Of all the books I've written, the cool places I've traveled to, the amazing people I've interviewed, I have to say that spending a couple of months working with Intuit's director of workforce research taught me so much...and even made me want to leap back into the workaday world.Just for a minute, there.

You have the satisfaction of actually completing projects. You know that sense of "ah, done!" As a full-time employee, you don't always get to feel that feeling. But as a freelancer, you do, because there is a definite "done" time, and that's when you get paid the second half of your fee (the first half comes when you say yes to the assignment at the beginning of the project).

You get to meet a heckuvalot more people as a freelancer. If you're stuck in your cube all day, bent over the same keyboard, staring into the same screen, day in and day out, you know what that makes you? A full-time employee.

As a freelancer, you get to wake up exactly when you want to (in my case, it's 3:30 no slug-a-bed visions of sloth, please, thank you very much). You get to pad around the house in your jammies until you're ready to put on shoes to go out and get the newspaper. Then you get to decide whether or not you want to haul on go-to-meeting clothes and attend a top-notch, cutting-edge lunch meeting with the leaders of your community and industry. You get to sit in big round tables, asking "is this your bread plate or mine?," of people whose business cards represent the best of the best in your profession. You get to make friends with these people. Why? Because you're the head cheese of your own operation. You're not buried deep inside a corporate org chart, which, by the way, is just about to be thrown up into the air like pick-up-sticks. The reorg will be announced next week, time to tidy up your desk.

Now, if you were a freelancer, first of all you wouldn't be worried about being laid off. Secondly, you'd have all these fab business cards of people you've met in business/social functions who will help you. The successful freelancer's network is something to envy, that's for sure.

You get to learn new skills and even heal old self-esteem wounds. First of all the new skills: Marketing yourself (by which I mean, "marketing your brains out"); new technical skills that will expand your marketability and competitiveness; negotiation skills; productivity skills; time management skills; public speaking skills; making new friends skills; getting-out-of-the-house skills.

As for the self-esteem healing part: I just find that people who are self-employed have a greater sense of purpose and potential than they did when they had a full-time job (and when I say "people," I mean "me"). When you are a freelancer, companies don't care whether you are too fat (heck! it's not their health insurance rates at risk here; but really, just stay away from the fridge at home) or too old. They just want to know if you can do the job, and what will it cost them. And how your talents and skills will help them achieve their own objectives.

Which brings me to the next self-esteem sticking point. You discover very quickly how closely linked your self-esteem is to the money you make. You build a lot of confidence landing gigs, successfully completing them to the point where you're like the Lone Ranger and your clients want to know when they're going to see you again. And pretty soon you can start asking for more money. And then more money. And then more, as your value goes up and your name gets around. It's really good for your self-esteem, let me tell you.

Freelancing isn't easy. But it sure can be fun. And, if you've been laid off, you're not doing much right now anyway, except banging your head against the wall, perhaps looking for jobs that may or may not be there (but the work still needs to get done!). Present yourself as a freelancer, and it's quite possible the more doors will swing open for you.

At least, that's what said yesterday. And that's what I've been saying for the last 20 years.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wouldn't It Be Great to Be Able to Look Under Your Prospective Boss's Hood?

Okay, so I have a quick question for you. Are you a nut? If I gave you this cup right here, would you be able to confidently take it into the bathroom, knowing that the results wouldn’t hurt your chances of a job? How do you blow off steam when you’re tense? If you found a wallet on the sidewalk, what would you do with it? If I called one of those background checkers on you right now, what would they find on you? Do you have multiple cats and have a tendency to leave newspapers all over the floor and dishes in the sink? (No, wait, that’s me.) Are you the kind of person who promises only one question but really asks, let’s see, one, two, three, four, five, six questions?

Prospective employers want to know these things about you (except, probably, not so much the thing about the cats; they would probably prefer not to know about the cats). And they have ways of finding these things out: experts in background checks, personality tests, aptitude tests, the cup in the bathroom deal. They can really peer under your hood and find out all sorts of things about you, maybe even stuff that you didn’t know yourself. Surprise!

It sure would be nice to have the same advantages when you are considering prospective bosses, wouldn’t it? While you can’t exactly hand them a cup, nor get their social security number for your own rap sheet research, or ask them to fill out this quick personality screening test, it seems like it would only be fair play. I mean, you have every reason to need to predict whether these people will go all nut-bag on you, just as much as they need to know about you. You’d think that they had already passed those emotional-health gates by now. After all, they were once candidates for the jobs they have. But there sure are a lot of wackoids (that’s a clinical term) out there who are in charge of other peoples’ careers and peace of mind.

We’ve all heard of bully bosses, for example. And I’d venture a guess that most of us have personal experience with at least one or two people who were just flat-out not very nice. To put it mildly. As it turns out, it may not be that these people are mean to the bone. It could be that certain parts of their brains are over-active. And it sure would be nice to know which parts are on overdrive before we accept the job offer, wouldn’t it?

Over this past weekend I found myself lost in a fantastic book by Daniel Amen, MD, called Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. (On Saturday morning I promised myself just one chapter, but before I knew it the weekend was gone at precisely the moment I turned the last page of the book. I’m a slow reader, plus I underlined a lot.)

A blog posting is not the place to go into total details about the book. But let’s just say that he has a scientific process, much like an MRI, that can read what components of a person’s brain are bouncing off the proverbial wall (another clinical term). And this way he’s able to show why the person is behaving so badly. Negative thinking, procrastination, emotional control, rage, violence, ability to control anxiety, ability to organize, capacity for empathy, tendency to worry, tendency to hold grudges, etc., (perhaps even the proclivity to write long sentences) are all seated in certain parts of the brain: the deep limbic system; the basal ganglia; the prefrontal cortex; the cingulate system; and the temporal lobes.

All very interesting. But the thought that kept occurring to me (in what part of my brain I wonder) was this: Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just inject our interviewers with isotope, make them lie down on a drawer, and slide them under one of those thingamabobs to find out exactly what’s going on with their noodle? As Eliza Doolittle says in My Fair Lady: “Wouldn’t it be loverly?”

Since you can’t, you really have to play super-detective when you go into interviews. And you have to have the nerve to see things for exactly how they are and make the decision whether you actually would want to work there. Here are some ideas:

Take a look around the department and the office: It seems that nowadays offices all look alike. Modular, cubicle. That’s okay for some, but that would just suck the life out of me. (I mean, what’s a workspace without newspapers all over the floor? I ask you.) But that’s just me. What you want to be looking for is an indication of whether you would be comfortable there. If everything looks so tidy that it appears that the staff is under direct orders to hide all the evidence, someone might be a little controlling at the top. Or if things look so sterile that a phone swab wouldn’t register a single microbe, could you possibly have a latter-day Howard Hughes on your hands? Maybe, maybe not. Just take notes.

Or does the office look like a teenager works there? Gum wrappers strewn everywhere? Candy spilling out of the drawers? Bent, empty soft drink cans standing forgotten on any available surface? Posters of some gawd-awful rock band on the walls? Files on the floor? Any kind of evidence of hyper energy and perhaps attention deficit disorder? Does the staff look crazed and on edge? Welcome to your future. You might want to google “twinkie defense,” before saying yes to the job offer.

Conduct a little behavioral-interviewing of your own: Personally, I think there’s nothing worse than being on the hotseat and having an interviewer ask me a question that starts with “Tell me about a time when….” I even draw a blank when someone asks me, “Do you have any questions for us?” My eyes roll back and all I can squeak out is “hummuna hummuna hummana.” Not very professional, is it? And I talk to people for a living. So if your interviewer is asking you to tell stories, ask a few back – most especially if the interviewer is your prospective boss.

The questions I really like are: “How do you like to work under pressure? Can you tell me of a time when you and your team pulled together under a really hard deadline? How did you rally the troops? What was the secret to your team success? How did you celebrate afterwards?” (Notice the positive orientation here?)

Another one: “What signs do you look for in a new employee’s performance that tell you that this is a successful hire?” Here you look like you’re gathering data on what the boss considers to be successful work habits. But what you’re actually getting is a solid idea as to whether the boss is a positive-thinker who has tons of stories of how much he or she appreciates the staff. Positive thinkers always have great anecdotes at their fingertips about how wonderful their people are. Word to wise: If you hear, “our people are our most valuable assets,” make a note of that and circle it in red. Danger! Danger!

Ask your prospective boss about the person who previously had the job. Why is it now vacated? Hopefully because the person was promoted from within or has gone on to a stellar career elsewhere. How long did the person have the job? What did he or she like best about it? What was it about that person that the boss especially appreciated? Listen for how the boss talks about your predecessor. Is he or she happy for that person’s ongoing success? Or resentful that that person has moved on? I actually heard one boss call a departed employee a bad word that is brought to you by the letters A and H. Hmmm. An unresolved issue there, I’d say.

Is the prospective boss polite to you? If you’re a candidate, you’re in the category of “guest,” not “slave begging for work.” So you should be treated like a guest. The interview should be on time. And if out-of-control circumstances make the boss late, someone should let you know. If the tardiness is more than a half hour, you should be given the opportunity to reschedule if you want to.

You may be actually be the one who was there first, with a new boss coming in to take over the department. How does that person treat the new staff? With humility and receptivity as befits a newbie? Or someone who is over-compensating for his or her discomfort? What language does that person use?

I was at a client’s office once when a new department head passed by me at the soft drink machine. While I had worked for the client for many years, both as a staffer and then as a consultant, this guy was totally new. When he saw me, he said, “Skulking around here, trying to scrounge up work?” Huh. That was weird. But everyone is a little weird when they start a new job. So I gave it a pass.

But then he hired a new direct report, who said to me, “If you intend to keep working for us, just know that I’m going to hold your feet to the fire.” Alrighty then. Given the choice (not to mention self-respect), I regretfully scratched that client off my list. That was that. The end of a great run.

I recognize that in these tough times, it’s hard to be too choosy when it comes to landing a great job with a mentally healthy boss. I mean, everyone is just a little bit nuts. But go into these interviews with your eyes, ears and intuition on full receptivity mode. The realities of food-in-mouth, roof-over-head may force you to accept the job as it’s offered to you.

But you will know that, with that peek under your boss’s hood, you should probably keep your resume current and in circulation. You’ll also know not to take any weirdness personally. It’s just them and that hot spot firing off in their brain.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to Land the Leadership Job of Your Dreams

With the jobs picture swinging away from your favor, we know that there are more qualified and talented people competing for fewer jobs. So once you and your fellow candidates are matched for skills and number of years of experience, you have to find other ways to set yourself apart and shine brighter than your competition. You can compete by being the cheapest to hire – but that would be a bummer. (And who wants to work for a cheapskate company anyway?)

Here’s a better way to stand out and get paid what you deserve: Show your interviewer that you have the heart and smarts to hire, inspire, lead and keep great people…in a way that’s consistent with the company’s culture. Think of it as a management version of plug-and-play.

Employee engagement and company values and culture are still important to corporate life – at least to the companies that are good enough for you. Regardless of what the economy is doing, first-rate companies haven’t forgotten that creating and sustaining an engaged workforce continues to be the secret to their competitive edge. And they want managers who will help them make that happen.

And for good reason. Top-drawer employees throughout the ranks are expensive to hire. They’re expensive to lose, and even more expensive to replace. Passionate people volunteer their discretionary efforts and genius above and beyond the call of duty. They say good things about their company and the company’s products. They recommend their company as a great place to work. And they’re more likely to stick around, even if someone else offers them brand, spanking new jobs, even at better pay.

Who makes these golden employees feel all these warm and fuzzy feelings? Why, their bosses do, of course. And that would mean you. You’ve probably heard this principle before: People don’t quit their companies, they quit their bosses. (Which, unless you were laid off, could be a reason why you are on the job market yourself, come to think of it.) Top-notch employers have been recognizing this fact for years now, which is why millions of dollars are spent every year measuring an employee’s engagement factor on the job. The results of these surveys are usually interpreted mainly as, “Okay, how’s the boss treating you?” If you’re the boss, and you’ve been treating your people shabbily, it’s going to show up as low engagement scores. If you have been treating your people brilliantly, that’s going to show up as high engagement scores for you as well. And you should be able to leverage that happy track record in your own search for a new job.

So, how can you use this in your job search? Simple: Recognize the fact that if you’re interviewing for a leadership position, companies want to know more than whether you can do the job. They want to know that you can inspire your team to do their jobs as well…and not leave a trail of offended and bruised feelings in your path. It’s a scary thing for companies to hire managers from without. They know that managers come to them with many habits already set – carved, most likely, by the culture of their previous employers.

Bear in mind that while recruiters and interview panels are considering your resume, they are also silently pleading with you, “We’re tempted to hire you because you’re obviously a star in your field…but please oh please oh please don’t screw up our culture!”

The way to land the leadership job of your dreams is to be sensitive to the fact that a culture- and values-driven company is hiring you to do more than just carry out your responsibilities. It is also entrusting you with the thing it cherishes most – the trust and good will of its employees. So while all those other candidates are yammering on and on and on about their technical skills and years of experience, set yourself apart by talking a little bit about your journey to becoming an engaging manager.

Here are some of the questions you should be prepared to answer:

* What would you say are the characteristics of leader who keeps his/her team motivated and focused on the goal?
* As a manager, what do you consider to be your primary responsibility?
* Tell me about a time when you led your team through an extraordinary project or accomplishment.
* If you’ve been a manager before, talk about a time when you saved an otherwise great employee whose recent performance put him in danger of losing his job?
* What characteristics do you look for when interviewing people for jobs?
* What do you do when you see a high-potential employee’s performance begin to fail?
* What are your opinions about annual performance reviews?
* Let’s say you have to implement a major change inside your department. What steps would you take to get your team to help you make that change?
* Tell me about a time when you learned something about yourself when dealing with a challenging employee situation.
* Who was your most influential boss so far and what did you learn from that person?
* How did you grow as a result of your last job?

As a seasoned manager, or someone who is ready for that next step, you should be ready to have answers to these questions. Even if you haven’t been a manager yet, you should be thinking about these things now.

Don’t wait to be asked those questions…it could be that your interviewer may not be savvy enough to ask. But, if you volunteer a few well-thought out comments that demonstrate that you’re a sensitive, thoughtful, wise people leader – one who is also humble enough to know you have lots to learn from your own direct reports – you will send the hiring company the signal that there’s just something about you that they must have on their team.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Amazing Stories: Get Your Foot in the Door Part 2

A few months ago, a brand new client of mine was flying me to their Connecticut HQ from Albuquerque. On the ABQ to DFW leg of the trip, I sit next a guy who is flipping through the pictures in his digital camera. And being a chatty kinda gal who also happens to live in one of the nation’s top vacation destinations, I ask him, “Going home after a vacation to Santa Fe?” Nope. Wrongo. Come to find out his wife and children live in Albuquerque but he works in Tennessee. “Oh? Doing what?” He gives me one of those highly technical, exotic foreign answers that would make anyone say blankly, “ohhhhh, how nice for you…say where is that beverage cart anyway?”

Turns out, it wasn’t so nice for him. Every time he went home for a visit, it meant that he would have to wrench himself away from his family, and his heart would be going crack, crack, crack, all the way back to his dismal bachelor life back in Tennessee. He was leaving Albuquerque this time freshly determined to find a job within a pillow’s throw of his cherished wife and two adoring sons. And so he told me all about it.

Now remember: His expertise is highly specialized, highly technical, and to make matters worse, highly manufacturing. The kind of job that would make elicit the response, “Well, good luck with that.” But not me, codependent me. Oh no. I said, “Send me your resume and I’ll see what I can do.” Not like I know anything or anyone in manufacturing. But, hey, you never know, right?

Long to short: He started his new job in Albuquerque three weeks later. And now his two sons quite rightly think: “Dad has the coolest job in town.” And he really does. And it’s in town!

Here’s a quick summary of what happened between then and tomorrow: That night I got to my hotel room in Stamford. And there was his resume emailed to me. I was a) tired; b) on major chocolate withdrawal and c) thinking, “what are the chances of anything coming this? What’s on tv?” But that darn inner voice chimed in, “Larry King can wait. You promised, now get cracking.” Yeah, but I promised then. This is now. I’m tired. And besides what are the odds that anything could come of this?

Now there were only two companies that came to mind as possible employers for this guy. But really, what could possibly be the chances that they would have an opening that would exactly fit his skills? I looked up the first company, and discovered that they are hiring out of San Carlos, CA, and looking for a svp/hr. So I figured they probably wouldn’t be hiring someone like this guy right now. I totally didn’t even bother with them.

Then I looked at the other company, found the svp/hr, figured out what her email address would probably be, and sent her an email saying, “You don’t know me but there’s this guy I met on the plane today who….” I attached his resume, detaching myself from any residual interest in the outcome. And then went about scaring up some chocolate and finding CNN on the tube. I spent the next several days working with this new client and thinking only about myself.

Back in New Mexico, this lovely svp/hr took the time to open an email from a stranger, opened the attachment, and discovered a possible match for a position long open and needing attention pretty darn quick. (I just love email, don’t you?)

Next thing I hear: The guy comes back to Albuquerque upon their invitation, surprises his sons by picking them up unexpectedly at school, goes to a series of interviews at this company the next day, is offered the job of his dreams before he even gets home. (I just love cell phones, don’t you?)

Life is full of happenstance matches that make for happy career stories. So for me, it’s a nifty story that makes me smile.

It is actually his doing that makes this a story with a happy ending. He was willing to talk to a stranger. So there’s a tip for you: Talk to strangers; tell anyone who will listen who you are and what you want.

It will improve the odds.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Could You Be Shooting Yourself in the Foot? 5 Super Easy Things For You to Fix Right Now

Finding a new job is terribly daunting. I get that. So much is on the line, that’s for sure. Your financial security. Your self-esteem. The health and happiness of your family. The roof over your head. Your dignity. Your faith in the basic law of life that if you behave yourself, you won’t be punished. Yet, here you are: Looking for a new job. Maybe because you were laid off. And how hard is it to project a “can do” attitude when the last thing you heard from your employer was “we don’t want you anymore?” Still. You gotta get out there, slap on that confident smile, thrust your hand forward to shake, and say to the umpteenth interviewer, “pleased to meetcha.” Puh-leeze. It gets pretty old after a while, doesn’t it?

It could be that you might be making it harder on yourself than is necessary. (Not laying any blame here, I’m just saying.) As I’ve been researching Rebound, and dealing with emails that my blog readers send me, I’m noticing some super easy fixes you can make right this very minute that will open up roads and doors for you that might otherwise be closed. Want to know what they are? Here goes:

Watch your grammar and spelling. I can hear you now: “What, that again?” In a word: Yes. Some of the emails I get are so bad that they make my eyes cross. I can only assume that they come from people whose first language is not English (again, no judgment here, I’m just saying). If that’s the case, good for you! If you think that the United States is still the land of opportunity, welcome aboard. But have a native English speaker (one who is, by the way, uh, smart) double-check your writing, typing and spelling for you. I’m not one of those people who believe that students deserve to have professional editors help them with term papers. But I do believe that now you’re an adult and out there in the big wide world, if you can get help getting your authentic, sincere message across, get it.

Don’t get too familiar. I know there are some who believe that it’s acceptable to be sloppy in emails. And maybe it is with emails between friends. There was one email I sent just a couple of days ago via my PDA that was all lower-case because I was just too darn lazy, and frankly too peevish, to care about my capital letters. And I was writing to a friend (at least I hope he’s still my friend). Similarly, I’ve made my share of mistakes with text messages. We won’t go into that.

My point here is that when you’re writing to strangers, especially strangers who are in the position to hire you or help you, pay attention to the simple fundamentals of good English. I received an email a couple of weeks ago that broke almost every rule I can think of. Starting with addressing me by name. What’s wrong with that? He used a lower-case “m.” Uh. Hello? Isn’t that just a little bit insulting? If you don’t care enough about demonstrating your respect for me to go the slightest effort of pressing the shift key while typing “m,” why should I take my valuable time to give you supremely valuable advice?

Here’s the kicker: He didn’t even call me “martha.” He called me “mary.” About seven times. Which brings me to another point, beside the obvious one. Don’t use the recipient’s name so often. It feels creepy and manipulative. You only want to use a name that frequently when you’re trying to convince a puppy what his new name is. (And maybe not even then, unless you don’t mind cleaning up puppy yak.) The other time: You’re trying to seduce a woman into ignoring her survival instincts. Really. The last time I saw a person’s name used so much within such a short conversation was when Scott Peterson was calling Amber Frey from Paris, I mean his murdered wife’s vigil in Modesto. Really, it’s a very creepy thing to do. It doesn’t feel good to see my name repeated so often, even when it’s “martha” and not “mary.” It makes the hairs on my neck stand up.

When I wrote back to the guy simply pointing out that my name is Martha (with, by the way, a capital M), his response was this: “You’re such a scholar.” If you demonstrate through your words and actions that you consider that taking the time to get a name right is a feat reserved only for the ivory-tower intelligentsia, knock yourself out. You’ll be saving recruiters a ton of time. But wasting yours. And I’m here for you, not them.

Don’t sound as though you’re taking dictation for Charles Dickens: It’s one thing to write a dignified email to a stranger asking for assistance (or even better, “help”). It’s another thing to sound so formal that you completely date yourself – which translates into “outdate” yourself. The era of formal business correspondence is pretty much over, except for legal correspondence – which, here let me save some time for you, uses all its flowery language to sweeten the threat of “if you don’t comply, we’re going to sue your ass.” Other than that, business has gone beyond formal, flowery language (except for maybe Spain, and I’m not even sure about that anymore).

Not sure where to draw the line between falling-down sloppy and stuffed-shirt stuffy? You want to sound friendly but not presumptuous. The best examples I can think of are the anchors on the local news or the network morning shows. They’re smart (relatively speaking), congenial (absolutely), conversational (essential). And they use eeny bitty teeny tiny words. Copy them. Pretend you’re one of them talking to one of their smart friends – their social equals. If you get too strangely formal in your language, you’re going to sound as pitiful as David Copperfield holding up his bowl. That packages you as workhouse material, not bright, shining career, oh-my-god-you’re-just-what-this-company-needs material.

Focus your message on your dreams, not your saga of frustration and woe: I know it really helps to vent. But people – especially strangers -- are inspired by dreamers, not by woe-is-me’ers. As I’ve said before, if anyone wants to hire you because they take pity on you, run. They want you for all the wrong reasons.

When you talk to people, especially strangers like me, talk about what you want to do, not the long road of hell you’ve just walked down. In the listener’s ear, there’s a very short cognitive distance between, “so what do you want to do,” and “how can you do what you want to do for me or people I know?”

I had a very interesting email today from someone in Tucson. And I’d love to help him out (even though I really, really, really, really don’t do individual counseling; I pass those requests on to others). But even after reading his message, I really don’t know what he wants to do for an actual job.

Make it easy for people to get back to you. So here’s what happened, which pretty much prompted this whole posting. I wrote back to the guy, posing a question for him to consider and then get back to me on. My email to him bounced back to me with a request from some sort of automated spam blocker to type into a little window an absurdly scrambled set of letters. You know, that’s just really annoying.

I get spam, and I know how irritating it is. So I understand. But when you’re in the job market, appealing to the kindness of strangers, as well as the earnest interest of potential employers, don’t treat them like deadbeats. If your email service provider can’t skim the crap off the top before delivering your email to you, switch email service providers. My service provider has something called “spam assassin,” which works about 92% of the time. A few nasty emails slip through, and a few precious emails get caught up in the net (which I can always recover in my spam folder). But at least I don’t have to worry about a respected (or cherished) correspondent being made to empty his pockets and take off his shoes before being allowed through my security checkpoint.

These are really very easy changes to make in your project of finding new work! They don’t ask you to change who you are, they’re designed to help you take the best of who you are and put that front and center.

Amazing Stories: Get Your Foot in the Door Part 1

I used to have a friend who was what anyone would call a late bloomer. Always brilliant, always smart and sensitive, blessed with a voracious curiosity, a killer sense of humor, he was also a child of the 60s. It wasn’t until he was in his 40s that he got around to finishing college. The academic discipline he chose required that he learn Chinese. And so at night he studied his brains out surrounded by the delightful demands of three adorable daughters ranging from newborn to 8-ish – each one with the same lively, curious, busy (read: demanding) intellect of their parents.

So here was my brilliant friend, fully and formally educated, and newly equipped with Chinese. Only problem: What the heck was he going to do with this liberal arts degree with so extraordinary an emphasis? It beat the heck out of all of us, including him. He knew what he didn’t want to do with this education, and that pretty much cut out all possibility of most of the obvious answers – like work for a company doing business in China.

One day, around about this time of year, he’s getting ready for his last round of finals, and we’re all still wondering how the heck is he going to cash in on his passion, brilliance and hard work. At just about then, he comes across a newspaper article about an organization that completely represented everything he cared deeply about. And so he wrote the executive director what can only be called a fan letter. Within a couple of days, the phone rings in his wife's kitchen: “Hello, is this where….lives?” Oh my gosh. It’s them!

He was employed before he had even reached out to accept his diploma among the thousands of others in his class in the gigantic auditorium. Fast forward 9 years: He’s still there, blissfully employed, deeply appreciated and that impressive noggin of his used to almost its capacity. It’s probably the only organization on the planet he would ever consider working for (or pretty much close to it), and this organization totally gets him.

So what’s the lesson here? Don’t be shy. Let the spirit of your passion move you. Write fan letters, true, sincere, well-composed, flattering (but not fawning), smart and specific.

Start building up a fluency in your own passion and possibilities. You don’t have to be PollyAnna, but just start building up a clipping file or data base of organizations that really turn you on for whatever reason. And start writing fan letters. Write a bunch of them, so there’s no pressure on any one of them to produce a job.

Get in the habit of kvelling (I’m not Jewish, but I sure do love that word, and I hope I spelled it right). Do it enough and soon the sheer weight of all that positivity is going to shift the luck balance in your direction. You’ll become more familiar with what brings you joy, what kinds of companies or organizations are most likely to be the right fit, and you’ll be able to speak their language.

And start hammering out those letters. Be sincere. Be specific. Be informed. Be enthusiastic...for reasons you can identify in your letter. Be personal -- make sure the letter is addressed to an individual, the higher up the better.

Then one of these days, your phone will ring.