Archive | Work

Introducing: She The People

Hello everybody and Happy New Year!

I’m just back from Argentina, where I failed to learn the Tango and consumed far too much Malbec and red meat than could possibly be healthy for one person. Stand by for updates on all manner of things personal and political.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some really great news. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for some time will remember that not so long ago, I used to write for a women’s blog on www.PoliticsDaily.com called Woman Up. It was a fabulous experience professionally, intellectually and socially and when it ended, there was a huge void in my life.

I’m therefore delighted to announce that as of this week, many of those same writers – myself included – will now be writing for a new women’s blog on The Washington Post, entitled She The People, where we explore “the world as women see it.”

I’ll be chiming in later today and tomorrow with a couple of my maiden posts on She The People, which will henceforth form part of my regular repertoire here on RealDelia.

But for now, please do stop by and check us out. I couldn’t be more excited to be writing with this talented group of women.

We rock. We really and truly do.

 

Image: We The People by Rishi Menon via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five New Trends In Work

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Lately, I’ve been struck by how much the nature of work seems to be changing right now.

Not just because of the seemingly endless recession that’s sapping all of our jobs and igniting political and social change across the globe.

But also because the very definition of work – what it means and how it’s carried out – seems to be in so much flux.

To wit, here are five new trends in the way we conduct work:

1. Offices are a thing of the past. These days, it’s all about the virtual company. Abolishing most – if not all – of a company’s physical space saves a ton of money. It’s also ecologically friendly, productivity-enhancing (no commute!) and tends to make workers happier. As this fascinating case study of Inc. magazine details, there are some hurdles companies need to overcome as they transition to the virtual office (i.e. how to maintain a vibrant organizational culture.) And you definitely don’t want to do it if you have children or other dependents at home while you’re trying to work. But at least for certain jobs, telecommuting  is emerging as an efficient business model, according to the latest research.

2. If you need to set up an office, shared work space is where it’s at. With independent workers now comprising a full 30% of the workforce in the United States, shared office spaces – the term of art is coffice – are proliferating around the globe. (Why do I love this term so much? I think it’s because it reminds me of coffee.) Apparently, coffices have become particularly attractive for female entrepreneurs, as a space in which to network and share ideas.

3. Think in terms of income streams, not jobs. This comes from career coach Ford R. Myers, author of Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring. Some 6.9 million Americans, or 4.8 percent of the U.S. workforce, hold multiple jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But Myers says that this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of these people are working a double shift just to pay the bills. Rather, they are more likely doing part-time contract work, running a side business, or teaching a course – in short, building flexibility into their work life – by thinking in terms of multiple income streams, rather than multiple jobs. Or, as blogger and business communications guru Chris Brogan puts it, work will be more modular in natureSounds good to me.

4. Working fewer hours can make you more productive. Yeah, yeah. I know. We’ve heard it all before. The Four Hour Work Week and all that good stuff. But it turns out that it might be true. According to a recent study in published in Psychological Review, the key to great success is working harder in short bursts of time. Researchers found that across professions, productivity is enhanced when you work in short, highly-focused bursts with no distractions, rather than across long periods of time. As someone who’s always put in long days, this is music to my ears.

5. Internships aren’t just for college kids anymore. Rather, unpaid adult internships are the new normal. This is either exciting vis à vis the whole concept of “second acts.” Or just a horrifying sign of the dire economic straits in which we find ourselves. But it’s a reality. In a country with an unemployment rate hovering steadily just below 10%, more and more college graduates and even middle-aged professionals are willing to work for free in hopes that it will help them land a paying gig. Yikes.

Image: Day 308/365  – Rough Day At The Office by Kevin H. via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Facts About Networking

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I was invited to a coffee morning yesterday with some other parents at my son’s school. Although several weeks earlier, I’d told the person organizing it that I would definitely be there, on the day – as so often happens – I wondered whether I really should bother. After all, I had an exercise class to go to right afterwards. And several job applications to fill out with looming deadlines. And. And. And.

But in the end, I did go. And I’m really glad that I did. Because not only was it enjoyable, it also proved to be an excellent networking opportunity. I ended up chatting with two mums whom I barely knew, and told them that I was looking for a job. Turns out, one of them has a friend who volunteers at an organization where I’m applying to work, and another used to work at a different organization where I’d also love an “in.” Both women offered to help me out, and set the connections in motion immediately.

I network all the time – whether it’s with the odd mix of friends and strangers who populate my Twitter, Linked In and Facebook accounts – or in the old-fashioned way, through coffee mornings and the like. I use my networks for things as diverse as researching stories, locating family-friendly hotels in Vienna, helping friends find babysitters or determining the best place to buy a duvet cover in London.

Here are five facts about networking, old-school and new:

1. Networking is increasingly about ideas, not people. I’d love to claim credit for this pithy kernel of wisdom, but it actually comes via communications consultant extraordinaire Chris Brogan. Brogan points out that in the old days, because it required your physical presence, networking depended heavily on “genetics, geography and our job.” In a Web 2.0 world, however, we can network with anyone on the planet. As a result, he argues, our new networks are based “more about thinking, mindsets…passions, and future visions. Our past is there, but it’s not often the focal point. Rather, it’s our ideas and our ideals that drive things forward.” As I go about job hunting in an Online world – locating cool websites like Escape The City which seeks to match job seekers with employers based as much on their world view as on their skill sets – I see just how very right he is.

2. Social networking is highest among boomers. We tend to think of things like Facebook and Twitter as the province of the young. While it’s true that younger demographics continue to be the heaviest users of social networks, older users are joining such services at a much more rapid rate. According to a survey taken by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in 2010, social networking has almost doubled among those over 50 — growing from 22 percent to 42 percent over the previous year. While boomers and seniors are usually introduced to social networking by their children, they tend to stay for more traditional “networking” reasons: to start a second career, to re-connect with old friends as they approach retirement and/or to consult with their cohort over health-related matters.

3. Women trust Online women’s networks more than other sites. Women are by far the biggest users of social media. But new research also finds that women are more likely to trust and value information found in Online women’s communities than other social networks or websites. In a survey of over 2,000 adult women, respondents said they valued time spent in women’s communities three times more than social networks (45% vs. 15%) and almost twice as much as portals like Yahoo and AOL. They are also more trusting of product information or advice when it comes from other women Online, according to the research. Having spent quite a bit of time hanging out in places like the Brit Mums Blog, I can readily see why.

4. But women don’t network as successfully as men at work. According to a recent study by an anthropologist at the University of Indiana, women do just as much networking as men do in the work place and are connected to just as many people, but their style of networking does not yield the same results. Specifically, they do not end up connected to as many people higher up in the organization and even when they do make those connections, the higher ups tend to favor men.  Hmmmm. Perhaps this explains that pervasive glass ceiling we keep hearing about?

5. Human relationships still matter. As my coffee morning example above demonstrates, you can be as socially networked as you like, but at the end of the day, human relationships still matter. My favorite example of this comes from blogger and entrepreneur Ben Casnocha, who has a great story about serendipity and randomness on the internet, all grounded in real life.

 

Image: network by hikingartist via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You’re Ready To Return To Work

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

So as I told you on Monday, I’m currently looking for a full-time job. While I built up to this decision gradually over the past year or so, this summer I began to experience all the tell-tale signs that it was time to take the plunge.

If you’re wavering over whether or not to get back into the work force, here are five signs that you might be ready:

1. You feel wistful when you watch others go to work. I ran into a friend the other morning just before school drop-off who was dressed to the nines. “Where are you headed?” I asked, still clad in some variation on my pajamas. “Work!” she exclaimed with a big smile on her face. “It’s my first day!” And though I was happy for her, my heart also sank. Because I, too, wanted to be darting out the door to somewhere important. Instead, I’d be heading upstairs to my home office, where I can at best manage a saunter from my bathroom to the computer.

My husband and I have an expression for that feeling you get when you order something at a restaurant and then immediately regret it when your dinner partner’s plate arrives. We call it “order envy.” This applies in the work world as well. When you run into a friend who’s rushing to jump on the Tube or furiously tapping out a message on her Blackberry or leaving early from the PTA meeting because she’s got a conference call – and you actually feel envious rather than relief that you don’t have her life – you know that you’re ready to look for a job.

2. You put too much energy into projects that don’t require it.  I saw a friend of mine back in the States recently whose wife had just gone back to work after seven plus years at home with their kids. “Wow! That was fast!” I commented, as only months earlier she’d seemed completely ensconced in her domestic routine. “Yeah, well, she kept talking about re-doing the kitchen this summer and I finally turned to her and said: You need a job!” Partly, he wanted her to earn some income before they invested in major household renovations. But mostly, he told me, he felt that  – in her particular case – the energy she was going to pour into their kitchen could be more fruitfully deployed somewhere else. (Happily for their marriage, she agreed. I could easily imagine a less diplomatic response.) In my own case, lack of gainful employment tends to make me over-invest in my kids, which is unhealthy both for them and for me. So if you find yourself caring a wee bit too much about something that you wish occupied your attention less, get out that resumé and get cracking.

3. You finally buy a smart phone. Yeah, I know. I’m probably the Last of the Mohicans here, but until about three weeks ago, I’d gone five years with a generic, no-bells-and-whistles cell phone, even while iPhone mania raged all around me. This decision was partly driven by my husband’s (well-founded) fear that if I ever got my hands on a smart phone, the family would never see me again. But mostly it was driven by the fact that without a full-time, out-of-home job, I didn’t really feel that I needed one. In anticipation of the coming Tube rides and conference calls-on-the-go (see #1), however, I’m now the proud owner of an HTC Desire.

4. You get active on Linked In. If you’re not a member of the social networking giant, Linked In, I heartily recommend that you join. Linked In is a fabulous tool for building professional relationships of all sorts. As a journalist, I’ve often used it to solicit views/find sources for stories I write. But it’s also – perhaps even primarily – a great way to find a job. A freelance writer friend of mine here in London recently found full-time employment via Linked In. She swears by the (free!) webinar, LinkedInfluence. (You need to be a member to view.) As I write this, I just went and updated my profile. Yippee!

5. Coffee mornings no longer appeal to you. The flip-side of having “order envy” vis a vis your friends’ jobs is that you will also start to find coffee mornings tiresome. I love my friends and I love going for coffee. But lately, my desire to participate in purely social coffees – as opposed to networking coffees – has diminished considerably. And don’t think about asking me to a coffee where I don’t know anyone. One of the nadirs of my social life this past summer was attending the “welcome” coffee for the newly-renovated Giraffe café in Hampstead. It was basically me and ten other weirdos who clearly had nothing better to do on a Tuesday morning in August but chat with strangers over stale croissants and muffin baskets. Taxi?

How about you? Have you ever had a burning (non-economic) feeling that you needed to get a job? Or quit one?

 

Image: Inside the Tube by Wootang01 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

When Freelancing Isn’t Enough

As I believe I mentioned a few weeks back, I’m currently looking for a full-time job.

This is something I’ve been slowly working up to over the past year or so, a decision borne  partly of economic necessity and partly of personal choice.

I’ve worked as a freelancer writer for the past five years. And I have absolutely loved the flexibility it has afforded me vis a vis my family as well as the various projects I’ve pursued during that time (e.g., writing a novel, starting this blog, getting super-involved in the PTA).

At  the end of the day,  however, it is incredibly hard to make a living as a freelancer, especially during a recession.

That was OK, for a while. I didn’t really mind not making a ton of money, because I was investing in growing my platform and most importantly, I was having fun. But now that we are looking to purchase a home (and p.s., London housing prices would appear to be immune to the global economy), it has become clear that if we want to put our family of four into something larger than a bread box, we need to have a serious second income.

But it’s not just about the money. I think that even if I were a gazillionaire, I’d probably be looking for a full-time job right now. For better or for worse, I was born to work. Call it an excess of energy. Call it an identity crisis. Or call it tired of doing pick-up every day after school. Whatever the cause, I’m at a point in my life where I really want to put my heart and soul into something outside of my family – and my own mind – and get paid for it.

I’ve always been a firm believer that – to the extent that one has a choice (which most women don’t) – decisions about work/life balance should come down to your gut. When I moved to London five years ago, what felt right was working part-time and investing a lot of time and energy into the kinds of things – like writing – that I simply didn’t have time for when I produced a daily talk show for public radio with two small kids at home.

But life is pendulum and now it’s swung the other way. My gut is telling me that it’s time to go back into the work force, if not full time, then very close to it. (Wednesday’s post will explain how I came to that conclusion.)

So these days, I’m busy hanging out my shingle wherever and whenever I can. The good news is that I may be one of the few people out there who actually enjoys looking for work. Part of that is my love of change. But I’m also one of those weird people who actually *likes* looking for jobs. I love the way writing a cover letter forces you to think about how your particular background and skill set make you suited to one job or another. Re-imagining yourself in this way also gives you more self-confidence going forward.

So off I go. I’m sure I’ll have loads more to say about this journey as it kicks into high gear. For now, I just try to start every day with a healthy round of that 80’s classic, Nine To Five

 

Image: Dolly Parton, Hollywood Bowl July 23, 2011 by MargaretNapier via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

Tips For Adulthood: Seven Secrets To Giving A Good Talk

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m getting ready to teach another journalism workshop next week. When you teach, it’s tempting to try and cram every last bit of information you know on a given topic into your lecture (plus some extra for good measure).

Even though – as I’ve noted before, less really is more when it comes to teaching–  part of my own creative process requires me to sift through the 6,000 pieces of information I’ve amassed for a given talk before painstakingly reducing them to the optimal set of bullet points. It’s just the way I work.

Which is why it was so enormously helpful to me that Colleen Wainwright’s monthly newsletter landed in my inbox today just as I was sitting down to write my first lecture. If you don’t know Colleen, she pens the fabulous Communicatrix blog which I link to quite regularly on RealDelia and is one of my absolute faves.

In her newsletter, Colleen offers tips on how to improve your communication skills (written/oral/whatever) and I can’t recommend it highly enough. (Bonus – It’s free!) This month’s topic was nominally about how to prepare a talk when you have very little time. But if you read through her suggestions, they’re really all about how to give a good talk regardless of how much time you have to prepare it.

So this week’s tips list is going to be cribbed from Colleen. Instead of offering my own tips for giving a good talk, I’m going to link to Colleen’s list, because I found it so inspiring and so *exactly* what I needed to hear this morning as I put the proverbial rubber to the road.

There are lots of gems in here, but the most valuable one for me was #7 – which is that when you invariably hit that “Oh God! What have I done? How can I possibly pull this off?” moment in the midst of your preparation, you need to remember that this isn’t about you, it’s about whoever is coming to listen to you speak. It’s about asking yourself ” What can I do for these people? How can I help them out? How can I make them feel?” And if you reorient your talk around that idea, everything else will flow.

So without further ado, let me turn you over to Colleen and her seven secrets to giving a good talk.

(And yes, I’m cheating. But I prefer to think of it as a serendipitous guest blog post by one of the best self-development gurus out there.)

We will resume our normal tips list next week.

Enjoy!

 

Image: 50/365 – School by foreverdigital via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: How To Get Ready For A Presentation

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m teaching a journalism workshop tomorrow morning for secondary school (high school) students in London. I couldn’t be more excited about this, as I’ve long wanted to add teaching writing to my freelance repertoire.

But I’m also very nervous. Which is odd. Because teaching isn’t new to me. Back in the Pleistocene era, I used to be a college professor.

And yet it *feels* new. That’s partly because I’m teaching a different population (high school vs. university.) And it’s partly because I’ll be teaching a very different subject matter (political science vs. journalism.)

Plus, the last time I taught a class I was pregnant, so my memories of teaching are clouded by feelings of nausea and exhaustion. (“And that’s different from normal teaching, how exactly?” quipped a male colleague at the time.)

All of which is to say that this week I’ve been even more hypo-manic and rhesus-monkey like than my baseline self, which is – let’s be honest – not exactly relaxed.

So I’ve been trying to think of ways to reduce my anxiety, short of that old chestnut that when you give a talk, you can immediately calm yourself down by imagining everyone in the audience in their underwear.

Here are five ways to get ready for a presentation:

1. Know your audience. This is key. If you have a good sense of who you’re talking to – how many people, how old they are, and where their interests, expertise and needs lie – that will go a long way towards diminishing your stress. (Ironically, my talk tomorrow is on audience in journalistic writing.) Ahem.

2. Seek out advice. Especially if you’re addressing a group you’ve never spoken to before, be sure to seek out advice from those who have. In my case, I feel very comfortable giving a lecture  to university students. But that’s quite different than doing a hands-on writing lesson with secondary school students. So I’ve had coffee with several friends over the past few weeks who’ve worked with this age group to generate some ideas for teaching techniques.

3. Imagine the worst thing that could happen to you. I once fainted when teaching. No kidding. So I kind of already know the very worst possible thing that could happen if I flub tomorrow. And that’s a huge relief. Because once you’ve actually lived out your worst-case scenario, everything else looks better by comparison.

4. Less is more. If you’re like me, you try to imagine all the 65,000 different topics you could possibly include in your talk/paper/blog post/fill in the blank before whittling them down to the most important ones. That’s fine if it’s part of your creative process. But just remember that when you’re actually up there, there will *always* be less time than you think there is. People ask questions…technical glitches arise…you spend extra time on a difficult topic, etc. etc. Foresee that this will happen and reduce your content accordingly. You can always expand to fill time. Or do a soft shoe routine.

5. Have fun. I just got an email from a teaching friend reminding me to have fun tomorrow. It’s easy to get caught up in writing the best presentation possible, especially if you’re, um, a bit of a perfectionist. But the main thing you want to convey in a talk is that you’re enjoying yourself. Because that – above all else – is what inspires people to listen.

OK, time to go run through my talk. Wish me luck.

As the Spartans would say, I promise to come back with my shield…or on it.

 

Image: Hurtado-Classroom by EngComm via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

A Virtual Toast To My Community Of Women Writers

Apologies if you’ve been trying to access the blog and had trouble. The blog is shortly to undergo a re-design and we have hit a few speed bumps along the way. Thanks for your patience. Stay tuned for RealDelia 2.0, coming soon to a theatre near you!

Yesterday I posted on the changes afoot over at Politics Daily and their practical implications for freelance writers like myself in forcing us to be more enterprising.

Today I wanted to address the emotional side of that equation.

As I think I’ve mentioned at several points over the past couple of years, I’ve had an absolute blast working at Politics Daily. When I started there, I’d taken a few years off from journalism to write a novel and launch this blog. So it felt great to roll up my sleeves and dive back into the brainstorming, research and reporting that goes into being a journalist. It was also a lot of fun to return to the sorts of international topics that I once taught and wrote about as a scholar.

And because the website was starting from scratch as a player in Online political journalism, I got to learn by doing about this thing we call ” new journalism” and all of the social media tools and 24/7 news frenzy that goes with it.

In short, it has been – and continues to be – a great learning and growth experience for me professionally.

Above all, however, the main reason that I have loved working at Politics Daily has been the community that grew up around it. It’s true of the publication as a whole and its top-notch columnists and editors. What a super crew. And it’s especially true of my little corner of the world there: Woman Up.

You’ve seen a lot of the work I’ve done for them over the past two years on this very page:  stories about the economics of abortion and the reality of socialized medicine as well as why I think it’s time to life the Cuba embargo and the connection between universities and terrorism.

But what you don’t see is the lovely and supportive community of women that’s grown up behind that space along the way. Most of us didn’t know each other before Woman Up began. Now we chat constantly with each other On line. We share story ideas. We laugh. We argue. We write.

I wrote a  post a few weeks back on this blog about the importance of making real-life friends. Woman Up has by in large been a virtual community of friends for me (although I did have the enormous pleasure of meeting many of the ladies in person at a cocktail party in Washington, D.C. over the holidays.) But even as a virtual coffee clutch, it’s been a vital part of my social and intellectual life for the past few years.

This virtual cocktail party (did you notice how I just seamlessly escalated us from coffee to vodka?) may now come to an end, at least in its present incarnation. We’ll know for sure soon. But even if it carries on under a different banner, it will likely be different.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like change, after all. And the only thing that’s constant in life is change, so they say. But regardless of how things shape up in the future, I’m incredibly grateful to have been a part of this fine group of female journalists.

As I live in London, we  normally “raise a glass” on occasions like this and say “Cheers.”

But my Irish grandmother always said it in Gaelic: “Slainte.”

So Slainte, ladies. It’s been a great ride.

May it continue.

Image: Laura at Computer by panguy100 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Be Enterprising As A Freelancer

Apologies if you’ve been trying to access the blog and had trouble. The blog is shortly to undergo a re-design and we have hit a few speed bumps along the way. Thanks for your patience. Stay tuned for RealDelia 2.0, coming soon to a theatre near you!

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

On her inspiring e-zine, The Prosperous Writer, Christina Katz has a great post this week about the need for writers to be enterprising. Christina defines enterprising as “ready to undertake projects of importance or difficulty or characterized by great imagination or initiative.”

For her, it’s about undertaking projects that will change you and cause you to grow. It’s about getting inspired. And it’s definitely not about being passive, timid or cautious.

Christina’s exhortation is well-timed. If you’ve been following the news this week, you probably know that shortly after midnight on February 7th, AOL announced that it had purchased The Huffington Post and the two companies will now merge into one media behemoth.

AOL is the parent company of Politics Daily, where I’ve been freelancing for the past two years along with a slew of other journalists. At the moment, the future of our publication is somewhat uncertain.

As that process sorts itself out, both practical and emotional factors come into play. I’ll have more to say about the emotional side of things some other time. On the practical end, however, the sudden, overnight upheaval at Politics Daily is a fresh reminder that freelancing is an inherently unstable endeavor, especially in the current economy.

Which means that in order to survive, you really need to be…well, enterprising. Here are five ways freelancers can be enterprising in their careers:

1. Diversify Your Projects. There are lots of reasons to take on different kinds of projects as a freelancer. It keeps you fresh. You learn new skills. You increase your chances of getting more work. But in today’s economy, it’s also a necessity. Relying on a steady gig is great…until it’s no longer there. So by all means get out there and expand your portfolio. It hedges against risk…and you might just discover something new that you love.

2. Exploit Your Network. One way to diversify your skill set is to draw on contacts you have in other parts of your life to drum up new business ideas. Through a casual acquaintance at my daughter’s school, I landed a gig last week writing about home improvement for a magazine targeted at retired people. What did I know about the Small Office Home Office (that’s SOHO to me and you) before I started? Zip. But I learned. And now they’ll likely ask me to do more. In a similar vein, the other day I was working in the cafe attached to my yoga studio when I struck up a conversation with the owner. Afterwards, it occurred to me that he might be interested in advertising on my new blog once it’s up and running. And so on…

3. Experiment. And while you’re at it, try something completely new. Career guru Marci Alboher recommends taking an inventory of your skills and talents to devise a list of potential paths you might pursue. If you teach, write or consult. If you write, teach. Etc., etc. I’ve recently signed on to teach a series of journalism workshops to secondary school (high school) students around London. That in turn led to an offer to teach adults in a continuing education program. A freelance consultant friend of mine who normally analyzes political risk for a living is working with a programmer to launch a new company. Experimentation is crucial to growth. And it will also sharpen your core skills.

4. Protect Your Assets. In what would now appear to be a particularly prescient post I wrote a few weeks back, I talked about the importance of backing up your files, especially if most of your work is 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. So yesterday – while monitoring the fate of Julian Assange – I went back and made PDFs of all of my Politics Daily articles…just in case.

5. Carry on. Change is distracting…and can be debilitating. So unless and until you know what’s coming next, the best thing you can do is to carry on with your work. In my case that means that all week long, I’ve kept pitching and I’ve kept writing. Because, to paraphrase a colleague, “We ain’t dead yet.” To wit?

Here’s my latest on the Berlusconi sex scandal.

Enjoy.

Image: My Online Business Card by Michael Kwan via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Concrete Steps Towards Career Change

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

“I don’t want to end my life,” a friend told me recently. “I just want to exit it. Sneak out the back door when no one’s looking.”

She was talking about her job – which she hates – and her career more generally, which she’s (clearly) ready to leave.

But undertaking a major career shift can be daunting…and terrifying. And many of us – faced with the sheer enormity of it all – opt to remain where we are, rather than to embark on a project of this magnitude.

If you’d like to shift gears professionally – but can’t quite summon the energy to begin that process – here are five concrete steps to launch that process:

1. Normalize it. LifeTwo, a leading career counseling organization, reports that their prior estimate of three careers in a lifetime is now in the process of increasing to as many as seven careers. Moreover, here are some additional statistics that should make you feel at home: According to a Gallup poll, over 60% of workers are not truly engaged in what they do, and the same percentage would change careers if they could. Finally, changing jobs frequently may even be an advantage. According to career blogger Penelope Trunk, it also keeps you fresh and passionate about your career.

2. Reconceptualize it. I got a holiday card from an old friend telling me about his new career as a psycho-therapist. Prior to that, he’d been in the arts as well as the construction industries. As he put it: “I am becoming increasingly comfortable with seeing my professional life as a series of explorations rather than Wall Street Journal-worthy profiles.” I’ve written before about the concept of kaleidoscope careers, a by-product both of the dot-com economy which threw traditional career trajectories out the window, as well as the reality of women returning to the workforce after having children. Under the kaleidoscope model, having a rich, diverse professional background may be a positive in today’s economy.

3. Read a Self-Help book. If you have the resources with which to consult a professional career counsellor, by all means, do it. But if you can’t afford that, I’m a big (converted!) believer in self-help books for career change. When I moved out of academia into journalism (and beyond), I read two books that were not just useful, but essential, for my professional reinvention. And the nice thing about those transitions was that they cost me less than 20 bucks-not bad, eh?

4. Apply For A Job. This may sound counter-intuitive as most people (myself included) would counsel you to first figure out what you like and what you’re good at before thinking concretely about career categories broadly defined, let alone jobs. But once you’ve given it some thought and have narrowed down your potential career trajectories to a handful of possibilities, take a whirl at applying for a job that sounds like it might be right for you. The chances are almost zero that you’ll get it. But in putting yourself down on paper – and providing a narrative of yourself for this particular job – you’ll gain some insight into who you are professionally. Re-imagining yourself in this way will also give you more self-confidence going forward.

5. Look at job boards. One way to spark your imagination about the kinds of things you might do with your particular skill set and area of substantive interest is to skim job boards in your chosen field. You should of course do this once you’re actually doing a proper “job hunt” (as opposed to a “career hunt.”) But it’s also useful to do this on occasion early on in the process. You’ll be amazed at the kinds of real-life jobs that pop up that you’ve never even thought about but which might suit you perfectly. Two sites I’m particularly fond of are Idealist (for the non-profit sector) and Journalism Jobs. But it’s a big, wide world out there and job boards abound in all sorts of professions.

Go get em’!

Image: Job seekers destination by Newton Free Library via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.