Mar 202012

To read the blogosphere, it would seem everyone should quit their job immediately to pursue their passion, live simply, start their own businesses and work at home, imparting their wisdom to the working drones of the corporate world. Perhaps it is just where I hang out, but a good portion of the blogs I read all tell me until I work for myself, I can’t truly be happy. I am one of those “drones” and until recently, was buying into the whole concept that I couldn’t be happy until I quit working for corporate America. Life, however, is never quite that simple.

Last Sunday, a reader story posted on Get Rich Slowly caught my eye. The writer who calls him/herself Knot Theory, wrote about having their job of passion: teaching high school. Unfortunately, bureaucracy got the best of things and the author decided to quit and go back to school, rather than let the job eat them up. After working at a big box retail, eating ramen and peanut butter, the author completed a masters degree in accounting. Not having the same passion for accounting as teaching, Knot Theory now diverts passion to other activities, not allowing career to overshadow everything else.

Good advice. I enjoy being a manager. Helping people reach their peak performance is my passion. That is pretty hard to be done from home in a company of one. I need to be in a team and unless I had my own midsize company, I wouldn’t have enough employees to exercise on that skill. So, I work for someone else. That doesn’t necessarily make me better or worse than those to do work for themselves. It’s just different and different can be just as good. Someday I may have my own company or I may spend the rest of my career in a large organization as I am now. It doesn’t really matter.

What does matter? I think it is important to use and develop the skills we have. There are many ways to advance our skills without employing them to provide our daily bread. In fact, I think if we only use our skills in our career, we have missed the point and may not ever find happiness. There are so many ways we can employ skills. I attended the caucuses last week. While I didn’t volunteer or run for any office, there are needs in the precinct where I can develop my skills. My neighbor, who is already overloaded with work, found herself elected to be the precinct secretary. She is going to need some help. Local churches always need talent and time to bless the lives of others. Hobbies are natural sources of passionate expression and let’s not forget the world’s most important job of all: parenting.

While this doesn’t mean I will not continue pursuing activities that at some point may turn a profit, it has allowed me mental separation between happiness and self-employment. I can enjoy life and still work for someone else. While others feel the drive to be their own boss, it is okay for me to enjoy the rough and tumble conflict that comes with a corporate job. Both the entrepreneur and the corporate drone have their place and even need each other for survival. We are more than our careers. Now get out and find the passion. Just don’t limit the search to the job.

Mar 122012

(c) Disney

Every day I come across something that someone does well. It may be something as small as keeping my water glass full at a restaurant or a teacher going out of their way to help my child understand a difficult concept. I have been trying to remember to thank people for the good things they do. I was reminded how important this is after reading a blog post by Michael Smith on not waiting for a eulogy to say nice things.

I am often too quick to criticize  and slow to praise, when it should be the reverse. As a manager of a team at work, this has rested heavily on my mind lately. My responsibility is to make sure everyone is operating at peak effectiveness and all the blocks to their success are removed. Sometimes these blocks can be simply not feeling appreciated or understood.

I am a big believer in the Manager Tools method of giving feedback. It is the Manager Tools’ team belief (and mine as well) one of the biggest reasons people are unhappy in their work is due to not get enough feedback, negative AND positive. We all just want to know how we are doing. The challenge for managers is to make sure everyone hears almost daily on the good things they do or how to correct the little things needing improvement.

Feedback doesn’t have to be difficult or grandiose. A couple simple sentences is all it takes. Describe the behavior and its impact. That’s all. “When you make sure the paper gets to my front porch instead of the front walk, I find it easier to get it and enjoy reading the news at breakfast instead of later in the day, if at all. Keep it up! Thank you.” When I received this simple praise as a paperboy years ago, I made sure the paper was where my customer could get it without having to walk more than a couple steps out the front door.

Taking a few seconds to compliment someone for good work is so easy. Don’t take it for granted they will always be there another time. A few simple words can change a whole day. Too often, we are isolated in our own worlds and wonder if anyone notices at all. A few encouraging words can change more than we could ever imagine.

We need to take time to thank people for the good job they do. In the Disney movie, “Bambi”, Thumper’s mother reminds him “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” The reverse is true as well. If you can say something nice, say it immediately. See what happens.

Jun 062011

Layoff is one of the most feared words in the English language. Through no fault of their own, the job has disappeared. Layoffs are usually unexpected, traumatic and devastating to both the family and individual being let go. No one wants to be laid off.

I was laid off from the small software company I worked for back in 2004. Perhaps I was nuts, but I actually volunteered. The company was laying off 40% and I didn’t believe for a minute that would be the end of it. As a manager, I knew it was coming and had a view of the future most didn’t. I knew our parent was planning to sell the company. The severance package being offered was not likely to get better with the next round, so I decided to take it.

Starting in mid-January, I became unemployed. I took a vacation with the family and a little time for myself. On the surface, this may have looked foolish, but we had the money from the weeks and weeks of unused vacation time I had accrued. Since I hadn’t taken the time with the family earlier, they deserved it. We had a wonderful time and it was very relaxing, especially knowing nothing was piling up back at the office. Yes, I had that nagging concern of not having a job to go back to, but the severance package went a long way to keeping those feelings at bay. I had a year’s cash in the bank.

In March, I began investigating franchises, thinking I wanted to start my own company.Over the next few months, I looked at several, but couldn’t bring myself to pull the trigger on any of them. I came very close to one, literally a day away from signing. However, I developed second thoughts and backed out. I decided owning a franchise wasn’t for me. It was time to find a job.

It quickly became apparent that I hadn’t developed a network over the years. I had to start from scratch. With the help of a great coach, Paulette Esposito, I began networking in earnest. Through the summer of 1994, I met with over 125 fascinating people in all walks of life, position and places. It was an education in people and I had a front row seat.

In October, I finally got the break I had been hoping for. Through a networking contact, a job was created for me, where I was the only applicant. Those are the odds I was praying for. Corporate America being what it is, it still took until the following February for all the paperwork to come through and actually start the job. I worked a temp job while waiting, but I remember the wonderful feeling of getting back to the status of “full time employee.”

So why tell this long story? The pivot point for me was that long year out of work. Being unemployed is not something I would wish on anyone. However, the experience is not something I would trade, either. I learned so much about myself through that year. That learning has changed the way I look at myself, my career and my skills completely.

I discovered I love meeting people. I thrive on it. I have said more than once if I could find a way to make networking pay, I would do it full time. Learning stories and making connections to solve problems is the most gratifying work I have ever done.

What was really exciting was when I could start helping others by connecting them with people I had already met. This happened a few times, most notably when I was able to connect a woman in the Department of Education to a man in the Board of Education, who had told me the week before he had solved the exact problem she was facing. The relief on her face was priceless.

I also learned one of my strengths is mentoring and helping people. I recognized it through my meeting with people and telling my story. When asked for their advice, they would parrot back to me this skill I hadn’t recognized as valuable. I thought every manager grew the people they led, advised them on their careers and coached them to greater productivity. As they told me it wasn’t the norm, I discovered those were the skills I most wanted to use. These conversations gave me confidence and trust in myself that set me up for success when the opportunity did come along.

Odd as it may sound, I treasure the year I was out of work. I learned more about myself during those months than I thought possible. While the time was stressful for both me and my family, the introspection set me up for greater success later. This is one pivot I will appreciate forever.