Archive | Career Advice

A Butterfly Theory of Personal Development

chrysalis

chrysalisI got an email not long ago from a reader of this blog. She shared a poem that she’d seen posted elsewhere on the internet which used the metaphor of the butterfly’s chrysalis to understand those periods when we need to go inside ourselves in order to grow.

The word chrysalis has two meanings in British English: “the hard-shelled pupa of a moth or butterfly” – the one it adopts just before morphing into the adult phase of its life cycle – and “anything in the process of developing.”

I knew precisely why she’d sent it to me. I’ve been in a crysalis-like state since late July when I was laid off from my previous job.

What do I mean by this?

Checking Out with Others To Check In With Yourself

First, that I’ve been avoiding people, for the most part. That’s the pupa part of what I’m doing – I’ve formed a hardened shell around my exterior in order to protect myself from outside forces until I’m ready to emerge, fully formed. (And yes, you may thank me for this brisk walk through your sixth grade biology class.)

And that’s because I’ve been trying to decide what my next professional move is, and that requires a great deal of reflection.

While it is both helpful and essential to talk to other people when you’re trying to make a major career shift, one thing I’ve learned over the years is not to talk to them too early on, before your own vision has taken shape.

Otherwise, you’ll find that they get you thinking about how and where, rather than why. And the why is terribly important.

In short, you may find that in order to properly check in with yourself  – whether that means taking an inventory of your interests, figuring out how your assorted, transferrable skills can serve your ambitions, and/or what your “elevator pitch” is going to be – you need to check out with others.

Constructing a New Narrative

But I am also in a stage of growth, which is the second definition of chrysalis. I’ve been keeping a journal and writing a book. I’ve been experimenting with my own creativity.  I’ve (very quietly) taken up a post as a visiting research fellow at a local university. I’m even taking an improvisation class!

I’ve also been spending a lot more time at home doing things I like, such as cooking, watching the 1981 television mini-series of Brideshead Revisited (for the 3rd time) and reading assorted books by John Le Carré, all while nursing the occasional low-alcohol pale ale.

All of these disparate activities are about helping me to construct a new narrative for myself, one that feels more authentic and true to who I am for whatever comes next.

Busy: Back Soon

Someday soon, I am hoping that – like the butterfly – I will shed my protective layer and fly. But that process is never overnight.

It reminds me of the time in one of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories when Christopher Robin hangs a note on his door that reads “Gone Out. Backson. Bizy.”

Yes, I have been busy, but I will be back soon.

Image: Nymphalidae -Danaus Plexippus Chrysalis via Wikipedia Commons

 

Listen To This Surprising Advice From Your Future 90-Year-Old Self

old man

old manI was having lunch with a friend the other day and we got to talking about my next career move. I’m at that stage – once again – where I’m thinking about what’s next for me professionally – so I laid out the three options I’m currently mulling over.

“What do you want me to say?” she asked, when I finished my short speech.

“I want you to tell me which one of those I should pursue!”

She paused and considered my directive for a moment. “What would your 90 year old self advise you to do?”

It was a great question.

Regret exerts a powerful pull on us in adulthood. And she was basically counselling me not to reach the ripe old age of 90 and ask myself, “What might have been?”

But I felt that she was also exhorting me to get in touch with my authentic self. I have a very well developed analytic side to my brain.  If it goes unchecked, I can easily spend my life thinking my way through dilemmas. She was basically saying to me: Don’t think, Feel. Ask yourself what you really want right now, not what you ought to want. In other words, no more shoulds.

Which in turn reminded me of one of my favorite self-help books, about which I’ve evangelized before: Elle Luna’s amazing, The Crossroads of Should and Must. In this book – which is all about uncovering your authentic self – giving up the “shoulds” (what we think we ought to do) for the “musts” (our true passions) – the author has you do a series of exercises designed to elicit your “must.”

One of them which I found particularly effective was to write my own obituary – actually to write two of them. The first is how you *think* your obituary will read when you die and the second is how you’d like it to read. This doesn’t necessarily need to be an exercise about career change, but it’s perfectly designed to explore that realm of life.

Try it. It’s excruciatingly painful and yet incredibly elucidating.

If you’re like me, what you’ll discover is that you could end your professional days with a perfectly respectable career doing X, Y, or Z. Perhaps you’re on a few boards and maybe you’ve even won some accolades.

But while your “likely” obituary might recount a professional journey you won’t be ashamed of, that doesn’t mean that it’s really “you.” And if that’s the case, you might end up closing out your days feeling cheated.

I, for one, don’t want that to happen to me.

Which is why that lunch was a great wake up call to check back in with myself about what I really want to get out of the second half of life. I went back to those dueling obituaries, re-read them, and realized that I was still in danger of having the “wrong obituary” if I wasn’t incredibly mindful about how I approach this whole process of career change.

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Image: Jack Shaller by Chris Bentley via Flickr

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You Need To Change Jobs

mask

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I ran into a former colleague at a party recently. He told me that despite having a prestigious and well-paying job in the private sector, he felt that he needed to move on from his current job because he’s been wearing a “costume” to work for the past two years.

I could completely relate. At various points in my professional life, I have felt that I had to don a costume every day when I went to work because my job was not an authentic reflection of who I was or wanted to be.

One of the great things about the “new old age” is that we’re all living longer, offering us many more opportunities to envision mid-life as a time of self-realization, productivity and growth. So if you’re wrestling with whether or not it might be time for you to shift gears, here are five tell-tale signs you might want to act on that instinct:

You feel like you’re wearing a costume to work. See above. Note that this doesn’t mean that you have to hate your job. The first time I experienced the “costume” syndrome – back when I was an academic – there were aspects of my job I loved, including the amazingly talented and intelligent colleagues I worked with on a daily basis. But if it feels increasingly like you are pretending to be someone you aren’t at work – and the energy from that performance is exhausting you – then you need to think about how to channel that energy into a job search that can bring greater meaning and fulfillment.

You envy other people’s jobs. My husband and I have an expression for that feeling you get when you order something at a restaurant and then immediately regret it as soon as your dinner partner’s plate arrives. We call it “order envy.” Order Envy applies in the work world as well. I once ran into a friend who told me that he couldn’t wait for “Monday to start,” because there was so much to look forward to in his work week. At the time, I was experiencing something more like “Sunday Dread” about the five days that were to follow, so his cheerful enthusiasm felt like a knife through my soul. If you feel envy right now rather than relief that you don’t have that “Monday feeling,” you know that you are ready to look for a new job.

You feel suffocated when you get a promotion. A younger friend with whom I used to work invited me to coffee recently. She said that she needed some urgent career advice. Turns out, she’d just been given a promotion. “But isn’t that a good thing?,” I asked, naively. “No, it’s awful. I feel absolutely suffocated. Like because they’ve offered me more money and a better title, I can never leave now.” I, too, have experienced the “golden handcuffs” syndrome at points in my life. It was beautifully rendered in an episode of Friends where Chandler gets a promotion because he’s so good at his job and they want to give him an inducement to stay in the team. But instead of being thrilled, all he wants to do is to run for the door. Pay attention to those feelings; don’t ignore them. It’s a huge sign that you feel stuck in your job and need to emancipate yourself.

You look at job listings, even though you just started your job. Another dead give away. Of course, it’s possible that you only took your current job as a temporary measure. But if you’ve recently started a job that you convinced yourself was right for you, then you should be investing 100% in learning everything you can about that new job: how the company is structured…what’s actually required of your post…getting to know your new colleagues…the technology that’s used…the organizational culture, etc. etc. If, instead, you find yourself still out there wondering “What if?”, you’re doing the wrong thing.

You immediately apply for a short-term assignment outside your department. I work at a large, global organization that invests heavily in its employees’ professional development. Part of this is achieved through what’s called an “attachment scheme,” which is basically a way to enable people from different parts of the organization to work elsewhere on a short-term basis in order to learn new skills or deepen others. It’s a wonderful scheme – and really does facilitate life-long learning inside the workplace. (Other companies do something similar through short-term international assignments.) But I’ve noticed that some of the people who try and take advantage of the attachment scheme in my company have barely been there long enough to learn the job they were hired for in the first place. To me, that is a sign that they really need to change jobs.

How about you? What things have you experienced or observed over the years that told you that it was time to move on?

Image: Mask Carnival Venice Italy by Skeeze via Pixabay

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Self-Help Books That Changed My Life

self helpOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve never been much for self-help books.

As a general rule, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. And for a long time I think I was a bit of a snob where self-help books were concerned, thinking they were somehow low brow.

I was wrong. In the past few months, I’ve had occasion to read a couple of self-help books that have had a profound impact on how I want to move forward with my life. And in reflecting back, I realize that there have been a few others along the way that also left their mark.

So today I’m going to share five self help books that changed my life – organized by theme – in the hope that one of these might motivate you to change some aspect of your life that you’re not entirely satisfied with either.

Before I begin, If I can offer one piece of (self-help) of on my own, it would be that you not “dabble” in these books. While it’s fine to start and stop and/or to read them alongside something else, be sure that you read each one start to finish, because each one has its own internal logic which builds, chapter by chapter.

Above all: do the exercises. They are there to force you to confront tough questions about yourself and you won’t progress if you don’t use these tools to identify your strengths – as well as whatever it is that’s holding you back.

Finally, be patient:  some of these books are deceptively short. You might spend an entire month on one page before moving on to the next chapter. That’s just fine.

To wit, five self-help books that changed my life:

1. Happiness. Gretchen Rubin’s happiness franchise needs no introduction. She has a popular blog, several books and a podcast, all geared towards how to be happier in life. Gretchen’s basic philosophy is that through better self-understanding, most of us can make even tiny changes in our daily life that would make us happier, regardless of our baseline. So it’s not necessarily about rushing out and buying a new espresso machine or embarking upon an extreme sport vacation. Rather, small things like figuring out if you’re a chronic under-buyer or over-buyer and shopping accordingly or adopting a personal motif to inspire your creativity can improve your mood on a daily basis. Personally, I found her advice about singing in the morning to work wonders.

2. Career Change. I’m a huge fan of one of the most well-known guides to career change ever written: What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles. This book is so famous it has almost become a cliché. But when I left academia to go into journalism, I locked myself in a café several hours a day for several months and did nothing but follow this book’s script. The book’s basic premise is that to make a meaningful career change, you need to zero in on two variables: what you like and what you’re good at, and where these overlap (harder than it sounds). Six months later, I had a great job as a producer with Chicago Public Radio. I still recommend this book every time someone asks me if I have any advice on how to change careers without spending more than $15.

3. Creativity. I’m shouting to anyone who will listen about Elle Luna’s amazing The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion. Like “Parachute,” this book is also partly about how to finding meaningful work and/or embark upon a career change. But it’s so much more. It’s about going to the very core of who you are and figuring out how to be authentic to that self – what Luna calls our “must.” It isn’t an easy or comfortable journey. (Try the “write your own obituary” exercise and you may well end up in tears.)  But the book is utterly inspiring because Luna believes so firmly that each of us really does have an amazing gift inside. We just need to figure out how to unlock that creativity and release it into the world. Bonus: because the author is a visual artist, the layout and design of this book are worth the shelf price in and of themselves.

4. Decluttering. Yeah, yeah I know. The whole decluttering thing is soooo…now. But Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever is another deceptively short and simple book that’s loaded with so much more. Kondo’s essential message is that most of us are living with untold amounts of clutter in our lives that simply doesn’t “spark joy.” Sure, as one of the friends I recommended this book to put it: “Your socks need to ‘relax’? Has it crossed your mind that this lady might be a teensy bit OCD?” (If you google her video on how to fold the perfect underwear drawer, you might find yourself agreeing…) But by the last chapter you will forgive her everything because what she’s really trying to do is to use tidying as a vehicle for achieving clarity in our lives (e.g., change careers/get a divorce/take up windsurfing/etc.) If we can get rid of all our excess stuff, and pare down to the things that we really love, we’ll not only see our lives more clearly, we’ll be happier and more relaxed.

5. Platforms. This one is for all you aspiring writers out there who think you have a book in you. I’m currently reading Christina Katz’ Get Known Before The Book Deal. It’s the second time I’ve read this book and I’m finding it much more useful this time around, possibly because I have a much clearer idea for a non-fiction book proposal now than I did when I picked this up several years ago and was vaguely thinking about writing a novel. This book is written for all those aspiring non-fiction writers who want to be an “expert” in something but haven’t yet created their platform. It shows you how to do this, step by step. I found the chapters on identifying your target audience to be particularly useful.

How about you. What self-help book would you recommend?

Image: Self Help Books by Angie via flickr.

Tips For Adulthood: Join A Board

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Amid the many changes in my life of late, I’ve recently joined the advisory board of a company.

It’s a small company in the education/journalism field, one that I came across during my job hunt. And although they didn’t have a job for me, I really got on with the Director and stayed in touch with him after we met. Then one day, when I told him about my new job, he invited me to be on the advisory board of his outfit.

I went to my first board meeting a few weeks ago and it immediately struck me what a great move – professionally and personally – it is to join the board of an organization you believe in. Here’s why:

1. You give  back. Most of us want to give something back to the community in which we live. (OK, having just seen Inside Job, I suppose some of us don’t.) So let me qualify that statement: many of us want to give something back. But as you get older and busier, spending all day Saturday at the local soup kitchen is no longer a viable option. Joining a board is one way to give back. The whole purpose of setting up an advisory/governance board of a company or non-profit is to pool together a diverse group of people who can give you input and connections from their respective industries. In my case, I will be helping out this particular company with its social media strategy. But as we went around the table, people sitting there were offering help in all manner of areas: from networking with teachers to helping set out a “moral purpose” for the company’s mission. And it struck me what a wonderful opportunity it was – for all of us – to feel that we were contributing to something larger than our pocketbooks.

2. You learn something. As we age, it’s vital that we continue to learn. Joining the board of an organization immerses you not only in what that company is doing, but in the broader sector in which it sits. And so you begin to learn about a new field. It’s likely one that you already knew something about (or you wouldn’t be there in the first place.) But it’s also likely that you are now thinking about that field from a new perspective, as you help the company navigate its own place in that space.In my case, I know a fair bit about journalism and I know something about the British education system, having done some teaching last year. But I don’t know anything about how those two things join up in the National Curriculum and I’m finding it absolutely fascinating to learn.

3. You network. It goes without saying that joining a board represents a great opportunity to network, both with people inside your field and with those way outside it. There is a bottom line aspect to such networking:  you might actually land yourself a job. But there’s also a purely social aspect: it’s fun to meet new people! I’m now fast-friends on Twitter with a gentleman I met through this Board who, late in life, has decided to master social media and re-purpose himself as an educational consultant. He’s a great guy with lots of energy and ideas and it’s been a real pleasure to get to know him Online and in real life.

4. It looks good. If having fun, meeting people and expanding your professional connections aren’t reason enough to join a board, then do it for this very simple reason:  it looks good. Being on a board lends a certain gravitas to your CV. It is also a potential signaling device when/as/if you end up on the job market because you never know who else might know other people who work at this company (or serve on the board!) and will use this in evaluating you. So if you’re on a professional social networking site like Linked In (and if you aren’t, why aren’t you?) by all means, be sure to flag your board membership.

5. It will feed into your day job. In addition to learning more about a substantive area of interest (#2), being on a board will also give you ideas about your own job and professional sector. And that’s because when you sit down and analyze closely how another organization staffs itself, allocates its resources, makes decisions etc., it will invariably get you thinking about your own workplace and the pros/cons of its own internal structure/process. You might get new ideas for how to fund-raise. Or what to call a position you are currently recruiting for. Or how to streamline decision-making. Whatever it is, you will be learning. And I guarantee that you’ll take that with you to your own job.

So if there’s an organization that intrigues you, approach them and see if they’d be willing to have you on their board. They’ll get something out of it…and so will you.

Try it!

Image: SBN board meeting by mlovitt via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Tips For Adulthood: Imagine Five Alternative Careers

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Over on See Jen Write, blogger Jennifer Taylor posted a list of jobs she’d have if she couldn’t be a writer. They included a forest ranger, a meteorologist, a TV news broadcaster, a librarian and a water slide tester. (Yup, that last one really does exist – go check out her link.)

Jen posted this list for fun, but my guess is that the reason her list ran such a gamut of professional opportunities is that each of these speaks to a different aspect of her personality.

It’s fun to try to imagine all the things you might do if you weren’t doing whatever it is that currently defines your profession/lifestyle, but it’s also really useful.

If you’re even vaguely contemplating a career change, you need to think really carefully about not only what you’re good at, but what you enjoy. Often, discovering a satisfying career is not so much about the job title itself, but the various tasks you do as you go about your day and which complement your skills and interests.

To that end, and since I’m engaged in a job search of my own, I thought I’d get the ball rolling by revealing my top five would-be careers. Then it’s your turn:

1. Toll Collector. When I was little, I thought that when you tossed your coins into the toll booth on the highway, someone sat at the bottom of the toll booth and sorted them into piles. Turns out, I was wrong, but I think the fact that I thought that I’d actually enjoy sitting in a cramped, dark space underground sorting out dimes, nickles and quarters into little piles says a lot about my love of order. Translation? I need to run projects.

2. Barrista. Fortunately, in addition to being a closet administrator, I’m also quite extroverted. Which has always made me fantasize about working in the service industry. There was a time in my 20’s when I thought that I should work in a juice bar. But then I realized that I don’t actually drink juice. Coffee, however? Yeah, baby, bring it on. And thanks to my husband, I’m quite expert at using espresso machines! Added bonus to this sort of social job? Multi-tasking. Love it.

3. Career Counselor. I’ve always been obsessed with people’s relationship to their work. I love learning about daily routines as well as why it is that people love – or hate – what they do for a living. Which is why I think that in another life, I’d help people figure out which line of work suits them and why. After all, personality tests are increasingly part of the recruitment and promotions process at top firms. Come to think of it, why don’t I just do this now?

4. War Correspondent. I’ve had the pleasure of working as a foreign correspondent but never as a war correspondent, which is an entirely different animal. It’s an incredibly dangerous job, as the recent deaths of Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin tragically attest. But it’s also a thrilling one, where you can feel that you are really making a difference as a journalist. If you doubt this, go watch The Killing Fields or pick up Deborah Copaken Kogan’s auto-biography, Shutterbabe. With a family in place, I think I’m too old (or too chicken) to pick up this career path right now. But boy, do I wish I’d done it when I was younger.

5. Professional Singer. I really don’t think this one requires too much explanation if you read this post, but suffice to say that I love to sing and I love to perform. And I have no doubt that were I truly talented at singing, I’d have hauled my ass to Broadway long ago. Tant pis!

Ok, over to you. What careers/jobs would you pick in an alternate universe?

 

Image: Toll Stop by planetschwa via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Tips For Job-Hunting

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

So I’m looking for a job. Happily, this isn’t the first time I’ve undergone this process. And so, as I go about all the endless networking and cover-letter writing that job-hunting demands, I realize that I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that have helped me execute my search efficiently.

To wit, here are five things to bear in mind as you job-hunt:

1. Cast a wide net. When people ask me for advice on changing careers, I always tell them to spend a lot of time thinking about what they want to do next before plunging into the job search. That said, you don’t want to be too narrow, especially in this economy. Rather, you want to have a fairly solid area of focus, with one or two related sub-fields. In my case, for example, I’m focusing mostly on non-profits that work with youth and journalism and/or creative writing. But I’m also looking at foundations, start-ups, media outfits, universities and consultancies, some of which focus on youth and/or writing and some of which don’t.

2. Organizations matter more than jobs. In keeping with #1, I also believe that if you find an organization whose mission you really endorse and a job there that more or less fits the bill, go for it. If you really like what they’re doing, and you can get your foot in the door, you can always work your way up to the job that you really want. This is a no-brainer for young people who have nothing to lose. It’s a bit trickier when you get older and money and seniority start to matter more. (See below.) But assuming that a given job is at a reasonable level of seniority for your age and experience, by all means take a pay or status cut if it means going somewhere you can believe in and imagine yourself staying. Long-term happiness is worth more than a few bucks.

3. Colleagues matter too. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years, and one that’s also backed up by research. You can have the best, most seemingly-perfect job in the world. But if you  find yourself eating your tuna-fish sandwich alone at your desk every day for lunch, it won’t matter one bit. In my own case, one of the driest jobs I ever had in terms of substance – (we sat around evaluating lending documents all day long) – was also one of the most fun. We constantly held office parties, played practical jokes on one another and basically laughed ourselves silly through each and every day. It almost didn’t matter what we were doing. I was reminded of this the other night around 11 p.m. when I was staring at a job application that was due in one hour’s time, debating whether or not I should bother to apply. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, and I was leaning against, until I clicked onto the “bio” page of the staff members – and found myself not only impressed by their credentials, but actually smiling at the way they presented themselves. And the more I looked at the website, the more I thought to myself, “Gosh, it would be fun to work here.” Whenever you get that feeling, hit send.

4. Money isn’t irrelevant. OK. So I just said that money doesn’t matter as much as finding a place that matters. And that’s true, within reason. But you also have to factor in other things…like life. I’m in a mode, as I’ve said before, where I really want to give back. The problem with jobs that “give back” (in case you haven’t gotten that memo) is that they generally pay pretty poorly. Oh yeah. And we’re also trying to buy a flat. In London. (Insert laugh track.) So I can’t afford to take a job that pays peanuts. Which doesn’t mean that I feel like I need to march down to The City (London’s version of Wall St.) and take the next available position at Barclay’s. But I can’t entirely ignore economics either. As a wise friend of mine counseled me recently when I told her that jobs in one sector I was looking at paid double what jobs in another sector did: “Take the higher paying job. You’ll feel better about yourself. Trust me.” I’ve been pondering this ever since.

5. Don’t forget politics. The very first time I ever looked for a job I was 23-years old. I had just returned from a year traveling and studying in Central America, and was living in Washington, D.C. I was hoping to get a job with a think tank working on Latin American politics. The first place that called me in for an informational interview was a Center-right research policy research center where I knew someone who knew someone. After plying me with questions, their senior Latin Americanist  sat back in her chair and looked me squarely in the eyes. “Look, don’t take this the wrong way. But you seem like a nice person and I’m going to give you a piece of advice. In this town,” she said, gesturing with both hands to indicate the sweep of the Capitol city. “It’s important to feel comfortable. So wherever you end up working, just be sure you feel comfortable.” Pause. “Ideologically.” I never saw that lady again. But I’ve never forgotten those words. Nor should you.

 

Industry Insider Series – Information Technology Events, Vancouver by Lucien Savluc via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

When Looking For A Job, Trust Your Gut

I’m in full-on job hunt mode.

I’m pouring over listings, sending out cover letters and networking wildly (in person and Online).

As I mentioned last week, I love looking for work. So I find this process energizing rather than enervating. But even as a veteran of two career changes (with a possible third in the works), I still find myself making rookie mistakes.

I realized this the other night when I was out for drinks with a group of parents from my daughter’s class. I got to chatting with one of the Dads, a journalist who works for a financial news outlet. I told him that I was looking for work and asked him to keep an eye out for any positions that might open up at his company.

“Do you like finance?” he asked.

“Not really,” I said. “But I know something about it and could definitely do it.”

He frowned. Only moments earlier, I’d confessed to the entire group that I’d almost stayed home that night to watch the first episode of the season on Glee. And as we all know, that’s normally the sort of thing I leave social engagements to do.

“You should write about musical theatre,” he observed. “It’s always best to do what you love.”

How right he was. In fact, it’s precisely the same advice I always give to others when they consult me on career change: figure out what you like and what you’re good at and where those intersect. Harder than it sounds, but well worth the effort.

While I don’t think a career as a West End musical critic is in the cards for me right now (much as I would adore it), this fellow did remind me that it’s really important to keep my eye on the prize: not the jobs – like financial journalism – that I *should* apply to because I’m qualified for them. But the jobs that I want to apply to because I’m passionate about them.

In other words, as with so many things in life, beware the dreaded SHOULDs.

How fortuitous then, that the following video popped into my Inbox this morning (sent to me by the very same journalist-friend in question.) It’s from a new company based here in London called Escape The City, a self-described community of “talented professionals who ‘want to do something different.'”

On its About page, Escape The City features a motivational video called Start Something You Love. I must have watched it about three times this morning and sent it on to a few friends as well. (You gotta love the guy who dumped his job as a hedge fund manager in London to become a Galudo Beach Lodge manager in Mozambique.)

Sounds great but how do you start? If you’re one of the millions of people out there who’s having trouble figuring out what it is that you really want to do with your life, here are four tips for determining your dream job, courtesy of Susan Cain over on Quiet: The Power of Introverts. I’d seen some variation on the first three ideas before. But I’d never seen the last one – which is to pay attention to what makes you cry.

I’ve been thinking about it all morning.

Sniff.

 

Image: vacancy by digitalpimp via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Update Your Website

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

January is a good time to capitalize on all that New Year energy floating around and make changes to your life that you’ve been meaning to enact for quite some time but haven’t quite gotten around to.

In this spirit, I recently made a beeline to the very bottom of my “long” To Do list and pulled something off of there that’s been chipping away at the outer edges of mind for ages: my website.

I’m a writer, you see, so having a reasonably attractive, fully-functional website that succinctly showcases both my background and my current projects is crucial for – well – staying employed.

A writer’s website doesn’t have to be anything fancy – and indeed, mine isn’t. (You can check it out here.) But it does need to look grown up and professional and be user-friendly.

Which my old one just wasn’t.

So this week’s tip list goes out to all writers, near and far, though the lessons should hopefully prove useful to anyone who has a resume that they haven’t looked at in a while.

Here are five reasons to update your website:

1. You update your links. Subscribe to just about any blog about freelance writing and one of the first posts you’ll come across is one that reminds you to always, always, always create PDFs of everything you write Online. And that’s because while it’s generally true that things live forever on the internet, plenty of publications will  – without warning – decide to yank your URLs and not link to them anymore. While I’m sure there’s some way to retrieve them if you know someone on staff, if you don’t, you’re SOL. When I started building my new website, I was amazed at how many of my links no longer went to the original articles. And that’s just not O.K. if the whole point of having a website is to showcase your writing. As a friend of mine once said about his application to law school, “Given that I pretty much wrote it in crayon, I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t accept me.” My old website was not written in crayon, but it did lack a certain gravitas. And having links that went nowhere was part of the problem.

2. You stop procrastinating. In addition to the relief that flowed after completing this large task that had been bothering me for – oh, about two yearsrevamping my website also forced me to stop procrastinating on some of the smaller side-projects that flowed from the re-design. To wit: linking to my audio files. I used to work in radio, you see, but for reasons that still elude me, I couldn’t upload all of my audio files to my old website. So I just ignored them, and buried them on my hard drive in places I knew I wouldn’t encounter. But once I confronted the beast and re-did the website, I finally got around to linking to the audio. So now you can listen, for example, to why I *really* embrace such a green lifestyle here in London.

3. You learn new skills. Commensurate with #2, I now know how to update audio files to WordPress.com. O.K., O.K., that’s admittedly not as impressive as blogging in Mandarin or learning to write code, but for the technologically challenged amongst us, I feel like I’ve stepped up my game.

4. You see how far you’ve come. If you haven’t updated your resume or your website in a while, I’d encourage you to go and take a gander. You may be surprised by what you find. Among other things – and particularly if you’ve taken on a new job and/or career in recent years – you’ll see how far you’ve come from when you were just a newbie. In my case, while perusing my old website, I came across a menu called “Op Eds and Guest Blog Posts.” “What’s This?” I wondered to myself. And when I opened it, I happened upon the very first blog post I ever wrote – for The Urban Muse – about academic blogs. I wrote this back in February, 2008, a full year before I launched RealDelia. And I wrote it precisely because I wanted to test the waters and see what this whole “blogging thing” was all about…

5. You reconceptualize yourself. In a recent post on career change, I made the rather unconventional suggestion that you apply for a job before you’re really ready in order to practice re-imagining yourself doing something new. Updating your website offers a similar benefit. It forces you to provide a narrative of yourself – if not several – that gives you a language for presenting yourself professionally.

*****

For great tips on website re-design, I highly recommend Marci Alboher’s amazing book, One Person, Multiple Careers: A New Model For Work/Life Success.)

Image: Crayons by GenBug via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Continuing Education: The Importance of Experimentation

I went to a three-hour lesson on pod-casting on Sunday afternoon. It was the first in a two-part course I’m taking at London’s adult learning centre, CityLit. The course is designed to introduce beginners to the art of internet broadcasting.

I’m a big fan of taking classes in adulthood. Since moving to London four years ago, I’ve taken classes in fiction writing and acting. In Chicago, I took classes in freelance writing and memoir. And once, many moons ago, I took a class in beginning Hebrew (not to mention the continuing ed. class to end all continuing ed. classes: I’m Jewish, You’re Not.)

According to a report released jointly by the Penn State University Office of Outreach Marketing and Communications and University Continuing Education Association in 2006, up to 45 percent of colleges and university enrollment in the United States is from adult learners. Revenues for continuing education rose 67 percent at the institutions surveyed in this report from 2004.

People go back to school as grown-ups for lots of different reasons. Sometimes, it’s to pursue a hobby. You try something new (or return to something old.) You meet new people. You get out of your comfort zone. Above all, you have fun. (And yes, for the record, I’m still eyeing that course at CityLit entitled Actors Singing From West End to Broadway.)

Sometimes you go back to school because you need to re-tool professionally. From 2008 to 2018, the labor force is projected to grow more diverse and have more workers age 55 and older. Simultaneously, the highest-paying jobs – those that require at least a bachelor’s degree – are expected to increase at a rate faster than that of overall job growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. So it’s  a good bet that we’ll be seeing more Americans – particularly boomers – sharpening their pencils and buying new notebooks as they gear up for a second or third career.

But the main advantage of adult education is that it enables you to experiment. Chris Brogan – guru of all things social media – talked about this recently. Brogan thinks about experimentation in terms of labs. (He’s currently experimenting with a new travel site called Man On The Go.)

His main point is that experimentation is crucial to growth. Why? Because you test drive new ideas. You collaborate. You enjoy the fun of failure, as Gretchen Rubin likes to put it. Above all, you create ideas of your own, rather than just reporting on the ideas of others.

Which is why I’m learning how to podcast. I’m not yet sure exactly how I’ll incorporate podcasting into my life, and whether it will be more of a hobby or something that I use in work. But I have a few ideas. More importantly, I know that if I don’t start experimenting now – creating a lab, as it were – I’ll never find out.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll be the next Cezanne

*****

Apologies that my weekly tips for adulthood post did not appear yesterday. Due to the editing schedule over at www.PoliticsDaily.com, that particular post will come out next week.

*****

And speaking of Politics Daily, be sure to check out my post today on the new Pro-Islam ads running in London. It’s kind of the UK’s answer to the whole “What Would Jesus Do?” campaign. Except that it’s “What Would Mohammed Do?” Check it out…

Image: Podcasting by hawaii via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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