Saturday, February 28, 2009

Don't Turn Your Back on Love

Anyone who knows me well enough to be invited into my house will tell you I have a lot of (I mean, too much, of) several things: towering stacks of aging New York Times that seem to share in my delusion that I really will get around to reading them all, magazines that have bought into the same lie (Coastal Livings get read, Harvard Business Reviews never see the outside of their poly-bags, I’m sorry to say), and books. (There are some who might say that I have too many cats, but I don’t let those people in.)

Some of the books are cynical (like Working, by Studs Terkel). Some are silly (like Your Cat’s Just Not That Into You, by Richard Smith and David Sipress). Some are cherished, like Airman's Odyssey by Antoine de Saint Exupery (you know, of Little Prince fame?).

But the one that brings today’s post to mind is Marsha Sinetar’s book, Do What You Live and the Money Will Follow. I’m so glad to see that just one week short of its 20th birthday, it’s still going strong. Especially these days.

My worry for “these days” is that people are going to be tempted to give up on pursuing their passions, turning a deaf ear to that still small voice, in favor of pursuing some kind of career alternative that is “smart.” Smart or quixotic, we have all been leveled by the same economic scythe. And there will be some of us who might be tempted to put aside our yearning, burning passions to go after retraining in some field that the business magazines have identified as the top careers of the next decade (give, take).

Well, given the state of the journalism career path these days, my question is this: If it’s so smart to go after those jobs, how come the business journalists themselves haven’t dropped their press creds like poisoned pen letters and gone chasing after those gigs themselves? Answer: When your calling is in your blood, there’s just no ignoring it.

You still have to find work that you can love. It has to do more than paying the bills. In fact, if you have found a life’s work that falls just short of paying all the bills, don’t change the job, reduce the bills. Here’s why:

You will like what you see in the mirror. We are not our jobs. And we certainly are not our income. But we are definitely made up of how we spend our working hours. Are you proud of what you do and who you do it for? I sure hope so. That kind of pride is cheap to acquire and excruciatingly expensive to lose. Either way, it’s precious.

You will like whom you work with and for. When you are doing what you love, people who choose to enter into a transaction with you already have something in common with you. There’s a parallel universe of mutual respect that you two immediately engage on. And that just gets any conversation off on the right foot – especially a business one.

You become a much more valuable (read: indispensable) employee. Passion-driven projects ignite your imagination. And when your imagination is sparked, so is your capacity for innovation. And when that happens, boy-howdy! Companies see you as the ticket to their market dominance (at least the smart ones do, and you only want to work for the companies that get it). Which isn’t to say that you won’t ever get laid off again. But if it happens to you under those circumstances, you will rightly recognize it as a loss of a job, not of your livelihood. Big difference.

You’ll love your life 10 years later. Yesterday I reconnected with a friend I had met through work a little over 10 years ago. We haven’t seen each other in a decade but we threw our arms around each other and hugged long and hard (the kind of hug that you get when you’re not thinking to yourself, “okay, was this long enough?”).

I met Evelyn about the same time I discovered my own life’s calling and passion – which is, oddly enough, to study joy in the American workplace. The minute I discovered the kind of work I would love forever, I discovered a new part of myself to love. And when that happened, I discovered a whole new way to reach out to the world and connect with people I will love for the rest of my life. It’s quite a satisfying sequence, let me tell you.

So good times/bad times will come and go. And the jury is out as to how long this particular spate of bad times will persist. So while we’re sitting this one out (to whatever extent we’re sitting it out), let’s learn about love and how we can express it through the work we do and the people we meet along the way.

Not a bad gig, if you ask me.

Special free offer (really, no catch): If you would like a free PDF copy of my first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life, email me at and I'll send it to you right away.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Make Up Your Mind to Change Your Life in 2009: Part 2

Much to everyone’s surprise, it gets really cold here in New Mexico in the winter – frozen-solid-birdbath-water cold. Consequently I’m never in a hurry to slipper-shuffle down the long drive to the newspaper box – not when the flannel and down on my bed are so warm. And so my first news fix happens even before my first cup of coffee. Courtesy of CNN and my remote control.

This morning there was a segment about how seasoned executives are competing with 14-year-olds for summer jobs with theme parks. One former executive/current job candidate is quoted as saying how this is her chance to do what she’s always wanted to do, which is work with animals and people. To which I thought: Yeah right.

And then I thought: Uh oh. Here comes a whole new Recession-era story line: It’s gotten so bad out there that seasoned executives are competing head to head (in a manner of speaking) with youngsters who can barely be trusted to upsell by simply saying, “You want fries with that?” And then quickly on the heels of that dread scenario will be the executive applicants’ frustrated conclusion that “I am such a loser, I can’t even compete with a pimply pre-pube.”

What recruiter in his or her right mind would even consider a seasoned, middle-career executive for a job that a teenager can – and, by the way, should – do? There’s the over-qualified issue, of course. But even more to the point, these people are totally non-applicable. If we’re going to see more of this kind of behavior, we should add a third category to the problems of being qualified. You’ve got over-qualified (which is often code for being, well, you know). You’ve got under-qualified. And you’ve got N/A qualified. That’s where these people land.

Recruiters know that as much as these people might want the gig now, if they are handed a six-figure job offer in July, they’re going to ditch their summer job in a twinkling. They also know that the supervisors are going to be barely post-pubescents themselves. And who wants that kind of power issue going on? And, perhaps most compelling of all, if you’re talking customer service, just think of all those parents taking their kids to these parks for a jolly holiday and, perhaps, an escape from their own woes. Do they really want to hand their money over to someone just like them? Do they want to be reminded on their day of escape, “Don’t judge, you could be me before too long”? I’m thinking probably not.

N/A stands for non-applicable. It also stands for non-appropriate. And it just isn’t appropriate to crawl down your career ladder just for the sake of a job – even if you need one so badly that first paycheck is all that stands between you and Snidely Whiplash. Plus it’s insulting to everyone involved: you, the hiring company, all those kids who really deserve to take their spot on the first rung of their own career ladder. Entry-level does not mean easy-entry.

Which brings me to Step Two of my conversation with certified executive and life coach, and licensed mental health counselor Meredith Kaplan. (Click here for Step One: Acknowledge Your Feelings) Merry (that's her pretty picture at the top of this blog posting) says that if you want to change your life in 2009, Know Your Core Genius is the essential second step. If it’s counting correct change, filling bags of popcorn, and filing customers onto whirl-and-hurl rides, great! Knock yourself out. But I’m thinking you’re capable of more than that. It’s largely a matter of remembering what those things are and holding on to them for dear life.

“You owe it to yourself to figure out what your core genius is,” she says. “If you do it by yourself, brainstorm the answers to such questions as:

‘Where have I had peak experiences?’
‘What have I done that no one else can do quite like I can?’
‘What is it that attracts people to me in terms of my work-related skills?’
‘What is it that attracts people to me in terms of who I am as a person?’
‘What is it that I have or can do that is unique from other people?’

“These are the traits, skills and passions that can take you further in your career,” she says.

If you come up with a big, fat, “nuthin” when you ask yourself those questions, it could be that your self-esteem has been so hammered by your rough patch that you can’t see yourself as clearly as your friends can. So, says Merry, go to your friends for the feedback you need to get that clear picture of who you really are and what you can really do.

“Seek out people who really know you, people you can really be yourself with, and ask them straightforwardly, ‘What do you think my strengths are?’” she says. Those are the things you want to expand on and use to position yourself in the career marketplace.

Keep in mind all the elements that make up your core genius and you won’t be so tempted to give into the siren song of “gimme a job, any job will do.” First of all, you won’t get it. Secondly, be glad. Just imagine how silly you would feel if you encountered on Saturday the guy who interviewed you for an executive job on Friday. Only now you’re wearing a silly hat and counting change.

(To contact Merry directly, email her at

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wouldn't it be great if you could look under your prospective boss's hood?

We get so wrapped up in trying to impress our potential boss that we forget to look for warning signs that this person might have some serious issues of his or her own. This article describes some of the indications that your potential boss might be a nightmare to work for. It begins after this brief introduction to my new book, Rebound.

Do you know anyone who has been laid off -- or thinks a lay-off might be coming? Please tell them about Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss! To read more about it, click on the title, which will take you to the description.

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, February 10, 2009

How to Raise Successful Kids When You're Between Jobs

These are different times, certainly. But you and I have both seen enough catastrophizing parallels with the Great Depression to wonder if maybe there are some personal lessons we can draw from our parents or grandparents who lived through tougher times than these. It’s certainly hard to feel in control during an economic storm. But how we react to this time will affect future generations who are watching us and taking their own lessons from our example. This article is about what to do with the kids so they continue to grow up hopeful, ambitious, confident, and optimistic.

There has been a lot of recent research into what creates a flourishing life founded on an emotionally empowered outlook. Positive psychology. Happiness. Learned optimism. Emotional intelligence. I think it’s very interesting that right before the proverbial matter hit the proverbial fan, there was an upsurge in research around these topics. It was almost as though our antennae were up for the wintery days ahead of us. Now it’s time for us to put that research to good use – especially for the sake of the children.

Watch how you talk about being laid off. First of all, don’t lie to the kids. They already know something is up – little pitchers have big radars these days. So if you lie to them, they’re going to come to their own conclusions or grow up learning not to trust their intuition. Both. Bad. In an age-appropriate way, tell them that you might be home more than before while you look for your next wonderful opportunity. In the meantime, everyone has to watch their pennies more carefully. And that means them, too.

In a related matter, be mindful of the vocabulary you use around the topic of money. In a recent TV news segment advising parents on how to talk to their children about money, a mother said, “I told my daughter it’s my job to worry about money.” Worry about money? Oh my gosh! Like a dog who only hears the words “Rover” and “food,” a child immediately parses out the words “worry” and “money.” And puts those two together for the rest of her life.

Money is not something to worry about. It’s a resource that we can control. We can make it when we need it (or want it), it helps us live the lives we want to live and if we take care of it, it will take care of us when we’re older. Money is a good thing.

Tell empowering stories. Whether the stories are from your past, your day, or the daily newspaper, talk about times when good things happened -- especially as a result of someone taking initiative or acted in a generous way. Talk about the meaning behind the work you do (or did) in an upbeat way that shows children how their efforts really can result in making the world a better place. And how somehow it all works out in the end.

Give the kids an appropriate role in the current situation. Right now the culture message out there is that everything is out of our control. Even when we think we’re being prudent and have millions in the bank, suddenly we don’t. Where’s the control? Where’s the payoff in self-restraint? Answer: In the little moments of every day when we go out of our way to help others, show kindnesses, taken on a project and see it from start to finish. Whether it’s picking up the toys, doing the dishes or helping with a Habitat for Humanity house project, there’s something that every children can do to make the world a better place and see immediate results.

Have a good time! It’s so important to remember that a parent’s job is to teach their children to be joyful. And joy isn’t job-dependent! It’s as free as an afternoon in the park. And there’s huge ROI associated with joy. Harvard researchers have shown that people are much more creative and innovative the day after playing than they were keeping their nose to the grindstone. So, in case you’re so Type A that you need this little extra rationale: Fun is good for the career.

Keep those dreams coming. It’s tempting to focus only on the terrible headlines, how one more friend is out of work, another house in foreclosure, etc. And, yes, it’s also important to share the realities of real life (in an age appropriate way, of course). At the same time, dreaming of a happy future is an essential survival skill, especially when you brainstorm with your children about how to put feet to those dreams and actually achieve milestones toward making them happen. It costs nothing to dream. And maybe as you brainstorm as a family about what practical steps to take to make dreams come true, everyone (even you) will be more and more inspired to greet the future with a hopeful heart.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Make Up Your Mind to Change Your Life in 2009: Part 1

If you're a magazine nerd like I am, you might remember when Self magazine was first published. I loved that magazine, especially the feature that always appeared in the back, called Fresh Start. It was always just a one-pager, featuring the story of how one young woman changed her life in a really significant way. Oh how I missed that department when they canceled it. I just loved stories of people who were given the chance to begin again.

Well, here's the deal now. With hundreds of thousands of people being laid off and many more facing the prospect of losing their jobs in upcoming months, we're all being given the chance to begin again. Woo-pee! Right? Yeah. I didn't think so. But, like it or not, change is being handed to us, if not actually being shoved down our respective throats. So we have a choice: we can change our lives intentionally, or have them changed for us. I pick the first choice. Which would you pick?

But, you know as well as I do that no life change can actually stick unless we make the change from the inside. And we have to make that choice happily and hopefully (not in the context of dread and punishment). So, to get the best possible advice for all of us, I went to one of my favorite sources for mental health counseling and positive thinking -- Meredith (the very aptly nicknamed "Merry") Kaplan. (That's her pretty picture at the top of this posting)

(I also interviewed her for my chapter on handling rage in Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss.)

Merry ( is a licensed mental health counselor and an executive and life coach with a national clientele (but she herself is based in Palm Beach Gardens, FL). And she gave me this six-step process to align your thinking around change and to organize the way you manage your life from here on out.

We've broken this interview down into seven parts. Use this process and see what your life is like by 2010! We're thinking that this action process will prove to you through real experience that you do have the power to make your life exactly what you want it to be.'s Step One:

Step One: Acknowledge Your Feelings

Merry says, "It's so important to acknowledge your feelings because if you don't you are in denial. And your denial will hinder the process of setting a new course for yourself. Once we are in denial and we are not accepting, we limit ourselves from opportunities for success, opportunities to visualize what it is that we want from our future. Also by acknowledging your feelings, you are able to share them with those near and dear to you. When you are able to verbalize how you feel, you are able to get the support from the people who are in the best position to help you emotionally. They'll be able to understand how you're feeling and respect the journey that you're on. Even if all they can do for you is be a circle of good listeners, that's a very important part of your toolkit for change."

Merry says that even though there might be social pressure to put on a happy face and hide your true feelings, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, you really need to be fully and expressively authentic with both yourself and your closest friends.

"Because of our socialization, it's much easier for women to express their feelings and have their friends and female relatives acknowledge those feelings and be empathetic. It's more difficult for men to express their feelings, especially to other men. When they do have someone in their lives that they really can share those feelings with, it certainly lightens the burden. They can actually reduce the possibility of psychosomatic illness that comes when they internalize toxic feelings. That's when they develop all sorts of stress-related medical problems. So it's extremely beneficial for both men and women to acknowledge their feelings to both themselves and to confidants whom they know and trust."

So Rebound Readers: Here's your assignment for the day...Make a list of all the emotions that are swirling around you right now. Get them down on paper. And then make another list of your closest confidants -- your spouse, your golf buddy, your walking partner, and resolve to set aside some time to share with them those feelings that you might be trying to ignore away, feelings that maybe you think might put you in a bad light. Take that risk.

You know you would want your friends to do the same with you, if they were wrestling with a life change challenge. You would want to be there for them. And, I'm willing to bet, once you show them how to open up, they just might give you that chance themselves!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rebound!!! The Book is Out!!!

Hi everyone:

I'm so excited to see that Rebound is now available online and in bookstores! I just had to tell you!

For those of you who have been following me over the last couple of years, and then wondered why I disappeared in November, this is the reason why! I was busy writing the book I hope will give a lot of comfort and perspective to people who are facing the prospect of being laid off.

I write about career, legal, financial, family, personal emotional issues. And there are three aspects I'm especially proud of in this book:

1. I interviewed the top experts in their fields to bring the absolute best possible advice together in one volume.

2. Rebound features a collection of first-person stories of people who have been laid off, the lessons they learned along the way, and how they landed happily in their new careers.

3. Each chapter concludes with three quick action items: The best thing you can do; the worst thing you can do; and the first thing you should do.

I hope you and the people you love aren't facing this crisis right now. But who doesn't know someone who is going through a layoff? Here's hoping that Rebound will give them what they need to come out the other side stronger than before!