Friday, October 30, 2009

Really Crappy Advice -- And How to Keep It From Killing You

In recent weeks I’ve been watching events unfold in Sedona — that whole James Arthur Ray thing and how people died in an ersatz sweat lodge. I suppose for many people, a terrible event such as this (where people paid $9,000 for the privilege of dying a horrible death, surrounded in the gloom by their vomiting and fainting companions) is so exotic that most people might think, “that could never happen to me.” And that would probably be true.

However, this whole clutch of motivation and self-help teachers has been bugging me over recent years. Most of them are pretty small potatoes. But they promise big, and encourage people to take risks with their money, relationships, future, and careers that they might not otherwise take. The cumulative effect of little damages everywhere can be very destructive indeed. I’m worried that the general public might be even more at risk as the economy continues its stagger, stagger, crawl mode. These are emotional frontiers we’re in, folks, and the woods are lousy with snake oil salesmen – people who promise to give you a breakthrough secret to life in a week or a weekend, for the price of a semester of college or a small car.

I have had in my bookshelf for a couple of years now the book, SHAM, by Stephen Salerno. And I’ve been really reluctant to read it. Primarily because I knew he would blow the lid off of the mechanics behind self-help gurus and their business models. And at the time I was also reading Martin Seligman (the very legitimate founder of the very legitimate positive psychology movement), and I was also dabbling in more than a little Jack Canfield, Tony Robbins, Marianne Williamson and even Joel Osteen. And, frankly, I still like the way their messages make me feel. And while I certainly didn’t buy The Secret’s promises hook, link and sucker (I mean, sinker), having grown up in a family whose mantra was mainly, “ain’t it awful, ain’t it tragic,” I knew there is definitely something to be said for willfully focusing on the positive side of things. A positive attitude is more conducive to creative thinking and endurance during a time where everything seems to be hitting the fan. At least it makes the ride a little more tolerable.

But I also know a manipulative head-game when I see one. (At least I hope I do.) I certainly learned to recognize the signs when I bought into one, much to my ever-lasting regret pretty quickly thereafter. So, I thought I’d lay out a list of danger signs for you – with the hopes of helping you keep your money in your pocket. (I get the fact that this could mean that I might miss out on a few sales of my own books – but at the end of this post I’m actually going to offer you my first book for free. I won’t even ask you for your email address as one of those cheesy quid pro quo gambits.)

Avoid any course with titles containing such words as “breakthrough,” “success,” “transform,” “dream,” “vortex”and whose tuition includes a comma. Speaking from personal experience here. These kinds of courses are mostly warmed over material drawn directly from the texts of books that you can purchase for $20 to $30. There will be much playing of John Denver and hugging of total strangers — most who look like they either haven’t been hugged in decades or they’re really really really looking forward to hugging you. The break times are dedicated to urging you to sign up for the advanced course at twice the price (but today – and only today – slashed to the same amount you just paid for the basic course). My memories of those break times involve softly trance-inducing singing from the stage and a certain zombie-ness of the people moving to the back of the room where tables are conveniently set up, where staffers cheerfully accepted credit cards. Did I get anything of value from that basic week? Yes…my mastermind group is still intact after almost five years. We meet on the phone every other week and have become supportive friends. But have our circumstances changed significantly since we met that that “breakthrough” week? Nope. (As you can imagine, I’m usually the cranky one on our phone calls.)

If you go to any course with a title that includes the words “spirit,” “warrior,” “vision quest,” make sure there is an EMT on call at all times before laying your money down. Most spiritual quests are flat-out scary. Who are these people to say they know the way, and will lead us there through a regimen of fasting, meditation and bodily deprivation? The way people refer to spirituality as Spirit, as if Spirit is their next door neighbor with handy cable piracy skills, is revolting. And the way white Americans romanticize the mysteries of Native American life and traditions is deeply hypocritical or willfully shallow. If they’re so enchanted by the Native American way, how about coming out to the Southwest, don’t stop at the spas or casinos, and spend that week teaching Native American children to say no to crystal meth addiction and alcoholism? Share the inspiring benefits of your own education, skills and privilege, rather than trying to siphon off a few sips of mysticism from authentic traditions that you will never get anyway?

If someone wants to teach you how to be rich (for whatever price), first find out how he got rich himself. Look at the frequent fliers of this particular line of work, and you’ll find out that most of them got rich by sticking their hands into pockets of people just like you (and me). And they’re getting richer. Did he ever grow a company, other than the staff of eager minions he has working for him now? Did he turn around a major corporation? Did he emerge from his own family of alcoholics and desperados to blaze his own trail by making something or contributing something useful to society (that is other than an ultra-expensive retreat)? Is he an unimpeachable researcher who has the gift of translating esoteric, hard-to-understand information into immediately useful ideas that anyone can have for the price of a book? That might be someone worth paying some attention to.

When someone tells you that you’re nowhere without his secrets or gift, laugh and walk away. Need I say more? Okay, I will. I know of one so-called Buddhist guru (she’s American) who actually replaced the words “Higher Power” in the 12 Step Program with her own name. That’s amazing. But what’s even more amazing is that hundreds of otherwise intelligent people said, “Duh, okay.”

Just say no to any product marketed to you via email by someone you’ve never heard of but endorsed by someone you have. These people exchange mailing lists, knowing full well that purchasers of self-help products are the most likely to come back for more and more. The cynicism is mind-blowing.

Avoid self-help books that were Number 1 on Amazon for, like, three hours one day. Again, it’s the lists at work. These people know how to game the system and they use each others’ lists to snag that coveted spot, even for an instant. This way they can call themselves “bestselling authors.” Big whup.

Don’t give up your own dreams. Life is full of true mysteries. My personal favorite one is the mystery of synchronicity. I’m a total sucker for those stories, and I have true, first-hand stories of my own that would curl your hair. But I wouldn’t bet the ranch on a synchronicity that I perceive to be an omen. (Even though, in my heart of hearts, I kind of hope it is.)

We all need fresh infusions of inspiration now and then. And personal growth does involve keeping your mind open and venturing into uncomfortable zones now and then. But no breakthrough experience should involve group puking or even close bodily contact with strangers to the strains of “Sunshine On My Shoulders.”

Keep your wallet in your pants. Or purse.

(Now for the free offer: I will give you a free copy of my very first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life. For absolutely nothing. Not even your email address. Just click the green button on the home page of Unlock the Hidden Job Market, and it will lead you to free downloads. You can also have a free sample chapter of our new book, Unlock the Hidden Job Market. Naturally, Duncan and I would love it if you also purchased that book. But you know what? You don’t have to.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Confidential to "I'm Not Shy"

The other night I received an email from a reader who had this to say:

"What if I'm not shy? What if I'm just not good at the art of shameless self-promotion and have difficulty identifying my value proposition? Then what?"

Hmmmm. Hate networking as shameless self-promotion? AND you're having trouble identifying your value proposition? If you had one of those two problems, I'd take you at face value. But put the two of them together, and I'm hearing code for "shy." But, whatever, call it what you want.

I think you might have missed one of the core points of my earlier post on networking shyness. To wit: Even though you're networking to find and land a good job, if you hate networking, don't make it about yourself. Make it about discovering how you can contribute your gifts, skills and energy out there in the big wide world.

You can set the tone of how your networking activities come off. Networking is not about shameless self-promotion (unless you're a shameless self-promoting kinda guy, which evidently you're not). If you want a real, authentic, interaction with a full calendar of people who you hope will ultimately lead you to your next job, have a real, authentic interaction. You're out there trying to figure out how and where you fit in. If anyone criticizes you for that, well, that's their problem. Move along to the next appointment on your calendar.

Moving to your next issue about not knowing what your value proposition is, that's not an issue to take lightly. It goes straight to one of the main pieces of your place in the world. And with the marketplace changing as rapidly as it is, it's practically impossible to keep up with how your place in the world changes in relation to the world itself. I think three generations of working adults are going through a mid-life crisis at the same time, right now.

The good news here, for you especially, is that if you're struggling with "who am I" questions, you're going to come off authentically humble in networking meetings. So instead of worrying about "shamelessly" promoting a self when you don't even know who that self is (at least vis a vis your working life), approach your networking from the point of view of gathering data about how you might fit into the changed world now.

Use your early networking meetings to ask questions. And be sincerely interested in the answers. Then ask more questions. And be sincerely interested in those answers. (Remember, we're talking questions about work, not "how're the kids?") Eventually you'll start seeing how you fit into the world as you're coming to understand it because of those questions. And your value proposition will make itself known to you.

It's about questioning, not crowing.

(There are a lot of books out there that help you discover what your value proposition is. If you'd like to read a collection of inspiring stories of people on that journey, email me and I'll send you a free copy of my book Find Your Calling, Love Your Life.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Are You Too Shy to Network?

My friend Patricia is probably the only person I would call a natural networker. Her worldly possessions have been in storage for most of the last 10 years as she goes where her heart tells her to (always beautiful places: Hawaii; Aspen; Naples, FL; San Diego; hey! Why not?). Jobs and projects fall into her lap no matter where she goes (and right now she’s in Austria after having spent a couple of weeks in Spain). She always has friends to stay with or a house to borrow. I would say she’s female version of Tim Ferris. But she’s her own self. And she makes her way in the world through relationships she builds along the way.

You ever have one of those right-words-at-the-right-time moments that blasts all your illusions away? Patricia gave me the right words at the right time and showed me the way to think about networking. It was a few years ago while she was visiting me on Cape Cod. I was feeling rudderless, pitiful, unnecessary, unwanted, all those un’s that make it such a drag to get up in the morning. Patricia and I were sitting in the livingroom wrapped in blankets and drinking coffee (well, she was drinking herbal tea, of course). I was saying that I just couldn’t bring myself to knocking on Cape Cod businesses begging for a job. And she gently said this:

“It’s not about what you need, it’s about what you can contribute.”



I’d been thinking about networking all wrong! It wasn’t about what a pitiful needy, loser, user I was. It was about letting the world know that I was here to help. Patricia certainly isn’t a needy, loser, user. She moves through the world like a queen (in a good way), and people take their cue from her – treating her accordingly. And she benefits a lot of lives as she goes. She may not have a permanent address (other than her Naples PO box). But she has real friends who love her, and she earns an honest living (thanks to laptops and cell phones), growing spiritually, emotionally and professionally along the way.

You may not want to live the life that Patricia has (although, for me, every time she breezes through Santa Fe, where I live right now, ever fiber of my being screams ROAD TRIP!). And you may not have the flexibility of treating the entire planet as your own personal marketplace.

But then again, maybe you do. At the very least the marketplace that you most naturally belong to needs you! But it may not know you’re there. If your resistance to networking is keeping you shy, I don’t blame you. So maybe the thing to do is examine your beliefs around networking. And maybe change your mind just a little.

Networking is a waste of time. It could be, depending on what you expect from your networking activities. If you want a job right this very minute (of course you do, just bear with me here for a minute), you’re probably going to think that networking activities are a waste of time because what are the chances that any given networking encounter will result in a job offer? To be honest – practically zero.

Yes, I get that you need a job – right this very minute. And networking will eventually bring you that job. But it’s a cumulative effect kind of thing. One person leads to another who leads to another who leads to five others. As my coauthor for Unlock the Hidden Job Market, Duncan Mathison, says: Networking is about planting seeds. Lots and lots of them. Some will sprout. But the more networking you do, the more of those seedlings will sprout. And some – not to drive a metaphor in the ground or anything – will bear fruit.

Still not convinced? What are the chances that staying at home will result in a job offer? Guaranteed: Zeeee-roe.

Most of the people I meet at networking events are people who are out of work themselves. That's probably true. Those networking events are the worst. They suck the life right out of you. They waste your time. And feed your growing sense of despair and overwhelm. So. Stop going to them.

Networking is not about going to networking events. It’s meeting people one-on-one, showing sincere interest in what they do, your shared industry or profession, your community, future trends, ideas, etc.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t network with other people who are out of jobs. But still make those one-on-one events, high-quality conversations where both of you end up with a growing list of ideas, connections, phone numbers, companies, introductions.

People don’t want to meet me. How do you know? Somewhere someone needs you. And that will only happen if you get the heck out of the house.

Just because you don’t have a job, that doesn’t mean you don’t have value and that you have nothing to contribute. People need you. To use Patricia’s philosophy: Get out and find out who they are. Under other conditions would you let negative self-talk prevent you from lending a hand where your unique strengths and gifts can really make life easier for someone? Of course not. So why let the inner gremlins have the power now?

People only want to hire to people who already have jobs. That’s a myth. If you’re unemployed right now, you actually have some advantages working for you. You’re available now. You’re not coming in with that entitled “what can you do for me” attitude. You won’t be taking their offer back to your current boss to try to snag a sweeter offer. Everyone knows that really great talent is on the loose right now because of the massive trend of lay-offs. The fact that you’re between jobs right now is not a black mark on your record. It’s just one of those things.

There’s no point in starting now, since the holidays are around the corner. Wrong. This is absolutely a terrific time to look for a job. Budgets are being formulated for Q1. So while you might not start until January 1, you’d be making great use of your holidays by networking your brains out. And just think, if everyone else thinks that there’s no point in job hunting right now, you are out there with very little competition.

For a great article on this subject, check out: T’is The Season To Follow the Money.

I look like hell. That might be true. If you’ve been stuck at home all day, not having seen the business end of a razor in weeks, it might be time to put on your go-to-meetin’ clothes (assuming they still fit) and see if your car will start.

Not judging here. In recent months I’ve been stuck at home writing books. Yoga pants and t-shirts have been my friends. My business clothes have been on the floor, serving as bedding for the cats. And just yesterday I spotted a coyote sauntering past my windows. And, while I was admiring its glossy coat and bushy tail, the thought came to me that it is better groomed that I am. I picked up the phone and made an appointment. For tomorrow. Can’t wait.

If you look like hell, you know what to do. You probably won’t look like Heidi Klum, once you’ve spruced up. But you won’t look like Tom Hanks in Castaway either.

People will know that I’m only networking because I need a job. So what? You’re not the only one looking for a job. The question is: are you the person they’re looking for? It’s up to you how they’ll regard you. They’ll take their cues from you. If you act ashamed or frustrated, they’ll pick up shame and frustration and treat you like you have a contagious disease. Figure out what it will take to behave with confidence, calm and professionalism. And do that.

Focus your conversation not on what you need but on what they need, what they think, who they might introduce you to, who you might introduce them to, etc. Remember: It’s about contribution, not need.

I’ve already done everything I can think of to get my resume into circulation. No you haven’t. Networking is not about bugging your family, friends, the Rotor Rooter man. A reader actually wrote to me saying that she gave her resume to her mail carrier.

Networking is about expanding your circles of contacts, acquaintances, colleagues. It’s about making lists of people and their phone numbers. Then picking up the phone and calling those folks. It’s difficult, I know, especially for people who don’t enjoy calling strangers. But remember, you’re calling colleagues and peers…people you have something or someone in common with.

These are people you might be able to help.

And that’s what it’s all about.