Close-up Of A Tired Businessman

While misery on the job can seem insurmountable at times, breaking down what you can control — and therefore change — can go a long way toward improving your happiness at work before it gets worse.

“The biggest problem comes from disengagement,” said Anne Marie Segal, founder of Segal Coaching in Stamford, Connecticut. “Employees will feel unsatisfied and start to separate their goals from the company’s, and then start to ask, ‘Why am I here?'”

– By Sarah O’Brien, special reporter for CNBC’s personal finance team

To read more at CNBC.com, click here.

Image above: Adobe Stock.

 

Woman working at home

Working On Your Career vs. In Your Career – What is the Difference?

If you have ever spent time in an entrepreneurial role, you have likely heard the phrase “working on your business” (versus “working in your business”). Working on your business means investing time in activities that will build the business over the long term,  such as marketing, streamlining of activities and professional development. While these activities may serve your immediate clients, they also are critical to assure that your business is headed in the direction that you determine will best position you for growth. In fact, a crucial part of working on your business is figuring out where the future growth lies, aside from how to achieve it.

Employees at companies, as well as new graduates, often do not have the lens of working on their careers as well as in them. In fact, a large part of my work with my own clients is helping them understand the importance of also lifting their heads up, rather than always keeping their heads down. To rise to the higher-level (and more interesting) roles, you need to lift your head above the fray of everyday life and activities to see the bigger picture. We know this intuitively, but we are often too busy to stop and do it.

In addition, it is only the fortunate few who are encouraged to think beyond the box. In a minority of workplaces (and sometimes only for a minority of employees in them), leadership is expected and part of one’s contributions is to develop that presence and state of mind, which can only be achieved when there is time and space to work on developing that goal rather than letting the days go by consumed by urgent deadlines and ill-defined projects whose benefits have not been fully vetted.

Instead, we are often taught in school and tacitly (or openly) encouraged in jobs to keep plugging along, rather than being strategic about where to place our efforts. We move from academia where assignments are determined by a professor or instructor to the workplace where tasks are doled out by bosses or leadership teams.

Due to this constant source of new projects from above, it is not hard to understand why many people go through their careers expecting the decisions to be made for them, rather than seeking out leadership and decision-making opportunities themselves. I often call this “gotta make the donuts” after a commercial by Dunkin’ Donuts in which an beleaguered store employee kept running back to the store every few hours so that his customers (you and me) could have fresh donuts to eat. How different are many of us in our jobs, running from task to task, so harried and hurried that we almost forget why we are doing what we are doing?

Beautiful young woman working in her office.

A large part of my work with clients is helping them lift their heads up, rather than always keeping them down.

In yesterday’s post, I shared that there are 10 weeks until year end. I encourage you to spend a meaningful amount of uninterrupted time – and at least one or two hours – this week or next thinking about how you will spend them.

In the rush of holiday parties and vacations, it is tempting to go on autopilot, with the chief goal of just getting there, making it to year end, rather than actually achieving something meaningful in the time until the calendar turns over to the next January 1. You may have a rush of New Year’s resolutions, but don’t let this time be lost time. There’s a lot you can achieve even before 2017. Here are some ideas:

  • Set up 3-4 networking events or activities in the months of November and December
  • Write an article on a current topic in your field
  • Line up a public speaking event or, better yet, give one
  • Finish ONE project that has been nagging you all year
  • Start ONE project that you can (and will) complete by year end
  • Take the first step in a project that can complete by mid-year 2017
  • Attend a conference that is meaningful to your future
  • Learn a new skill that you need now or to grow in the future
  • Update your resume
  • Find a new mentor or sponsor who can help propel your career
  • Strengthen an existing relationship by a few acts of giving and kindness
  • Help mentor a younger person in whom you see great potential

When working on your career, it is not enough to just do something. Choose the best idea based on what will bring the most benefits to your career. If you don’t know what that would be, you have just identified your greatest area of need – figuring out what will benefit you based on where you want to take your career next (and, possibly, determine where exactly that is). Can you do that, or make significant progress toward that goal, by year end? Yes, but only if you work on it!

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership coach, author and resume writer for attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. Her book on job interviews, Master the Interview, is available on Amazon.com. Her website is at www.annemariesegal.com.

Images above from Adobe Images.

 

January 1 Sunday

Psst… January 1 is almost here!

Did you accomplish everything you wanted to achieve in 2016?

I know I haven’t yet. Although I did write a book (my first), there were many other goals I set for myself that remain undone. One of these was writing 50 posts for this blog in 2016. So far, I have written 21 posts, plus one guest blog and this post totaling 23. And I have only 10 weeks to go.

You may have your own goals that remain unmet….

Earlier in my career, I was obsessed with the smaller goals. Set a goal, and meet it. Set another one. It was textbook tunnel vision.

Over time, I learned that the TRUE GOALS are to live your best life and make the greatest contributions to your work (writ large) and the world. Sometimes our smaller goals, if we let them take precedence over our greater goals, obscure what is really important. Other times, when we are doing it right, our smaller goals support our greater goals.

When we are doing it right, our smaller goals support our greater goals.

So in the last 10 weeks of 2016, what now?

Now, you get to decide how to spend the rest of this calendar year, before you rip off the last page and turn to January 1, 2017. (Did you ever think we would be here?) No pressure. These are YOUR days to live. Make them count.

There are 10 more weeks until the end of the year, and less if you plan to take off for holidays or vacations between now and then. May I suggest you take an hour or two this week to plan your days for the rest of the year? You will be much further along in meeting your goals before we ring in the New Year.

Here’s the key: prioritize. 

Here’s the key: prioritize. Not every goal needs to be met. How much time do you actually have? What can you reasonably accomplish in the weeks and days that remain of this calendar year? Which goals are the ones that will bring the most results in the short-term and long-term? What do you want and need to do? How can you set yourself up for next year and beyond?

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership coach, author and resume writer for attorneys, executives and entrepreneurs. Her book on job interviews, Master the Interview, is available on Amazon.com.

Image above from Adobe Images.

 

Green Pants
I believe in the power of mistakes.

No one likes to make mistakes, of course. But that is where the learning happens. Bigger mistake, greater opportunity to learn.

What may have been my biggest career mistake happened very early on, while I was still finishing my undergraduate degree. I had my very first internship and was ready to conquer the world. Good so far. I also thought I knew exactly how to do it. Ha!

I was a lowly intern, feeling on top of the world that I had gotten “in” at a place that I very much wanted to work. The secretary in the department was very good to me, trying to help me out so I could make my way. But I didn’t take the cue.

Not only did I not yet understand that secretaries rule the roost (if not the world), but I did not appreciate that someone could make choices very different than mine and still have a lot to teach me.

Here’s the thing. This secretary (we’ll call her Nancy) wore lime green capri pants, corduroys and other outfits to work that in my naivety had judged as “not fit for the professional world”. I call myself naive not because I was wrong to recognize that Nancy would not move up the corporate ladder if she didn’t emulate the look of those at the top: dark-colored suits. She wouldn’t. Rather, I assumed that moving up within the organization was and should be Nancy and everyone else’s goal, without realizing that she had her own plan. One that was more carefully formulated than my 19-year-old point of view would allow.

Nancy wanted a place to work during the day (while she pursued her own interests on the side) that was forgiving enough so she could wear want she wanted and be whom she pleased. She was expected to conform to certain norms and left blissfully free to ignore other ones. She made calculated decisions to achieve the results she wanted. She knew exactly how to get where she wanted to go, but it wasn’t anywhere that I could have imagined.

So when Nancy pulled me aside one day to tell me that I should “follow the lead” of the head of the group (we’ll call him Troy), who wanted to talk about basketball and sailing a good part of the time, I ignored her advice. I wanted to ask Troy about things that interested me, and at the time these were not at the top of my list. While others joked and called him Captain Troy, I smiled through gritted teeth and pushed on for the certain set of experiences that I had expected out of the internship.

IMG_2489

After all, we were not on a yacht, we were in an office. I wanted to learn the ways of leadership and success, and they were not going to come from talking about sailing, I thought. At the time, I didn’t have a boat, or any family or friends with a boat. The one time I had taken an extended trip on a boat as a child, I had been seasick most of the week. I was bound to say something ill-informed, so wasn’t it better to steer the conversation back to what was comfortable to me?

I couldn’t look bad if I just avoided topics that were out of my league, right? Anyway, I reasoned, what did Nancy know, with her green pants and all? How could a chat about sailing be useful to me at all, other than to smile and humor my boss? Why would I encourage him to continue that conversation?

Turns out, Nancy knew a lot. In particular, she knew how to keep everyone happy while keeping herself happy. She kept these two goals in perfect balance, giving Troy and the group the support they needed while feeding her own needs. She intuitively understood that showing an interest in sailing was showing an interest in Troy. And that was the important part.

By contrast, I was being immature, overly serious and even selfish – holding on to the world as I knew it – by expecting to direct the line of conversation. And I was missing out on the chance to learn, bond, grow and have fun.

So, my biggest career mistake was actually a set of related mistakes:

Mistake #1: Discounting the message of an unexpected messenger.

Mistake #2: Closing myself off from new experiences.

Mistake #3: Making it all about me.

As I found out later, the green pants were a statement on Nancy’s part, a line in the sand that she was in a bridge job and had no pretense of “moving up” to a management position within that organization. She had her eyes on another prize – her own set of professional goals – but she also made sure to be so good at her job (orienting herself to the situation, as needed) that there was no way she would risk losing it over something as simple as wardrobe choices. In fact, as a highly creative person, she literally wore her authenticity on her sleeve. And she was respected for that by others in the group, including (in the months and years following my internship) by me.

I often think back to Nancy, the unexpected messenger, with whom I have lost touch in the over 20 years since I had that internship. I am indebted to her wisdom. I wonder if she has started her own company, maybe even a fashion line.

Nancy could have changed her style of dress any day. Changing my attitude took a lot longer.

From my biggest mistake, I learned my greatest lesson. It is not all about fitting in, it is also about being a fit.

woman boardroom

The board of directors of a company addresses high-level business objectives, with voting authority and fiduciary obligations. A board of advisors is more informal, providing non-binding strategic advice that can benefit a start-up or smaller company by giving it third-party insights, encouragement, market knowledge, accountability, connections and other resources. Savvy individuals have come to realize that, especially in the new economy, we are each our own business to a greater or lesser degree, whether or not we officially operate as one. Does that mean we each need our own board of advisors?

Many successful professionals intuitively create a loose association of advisors without formalizing the relationships. They have mentors and occasional professional advisors that function in an ad hoc way to support short-term projects or “put out fires” in their business lives. This approach is a great first step, and formalizing this core group frames your trajectory in a foundational way and keeps you on the path to success.

Clearly, you do not need to hold meetings in a fancy boardroom with leather chairs or even get all of your advisors in a room together. While it may help focus the conversation, it can also prove a distraction if it is not a place or assembled group that feels comfortable enough to relax and creatively brainstorm and troubleshoot according to your needs. In fact, your respective advisors do not even need to know each other, since you are not a company for whom they are collectively setting policy but rather an individual seeking guidance, support, grounding and the oh-so-important reality checks. I do suggest, however, that you take more than an occasional, eccentric approach to incorporating one or more boards of advisors into your significant life and professional decisions. Have the infrastructure already in place for the moment of truth when you really, truly need it, so you can call on your advisors without triangulating their whereabouts or struggling to identify whom these angels should be.

I use the word “framing” above very deliberately. With my coaching clients, I often discuss reframing an experience to take ownership in a new way. For example, sales becomes less scary (and ceases to feel inauthentic) if you believe passionately in the service you are providing. A board of advisors becomes less of a foreign concept as an individual if you believe passionately in your own success and wish to give others the opportunity to share in that experience, with a willingness to offer your own help in advance or give back in return. Your passion fuels their willingness to be involved.

In my own life, I have found greater success in those periods that I had a “board”, whether it was a formal group of colleagues meeting on a regular basis or roster of individual mentors and professional advisors that I turned to regularly. Much earlier in my career, I was nervous or fearful that I was taking too much time from people who already had busy careers. At the same time, I failed to invest in myself, financially or otherwise, to get the professional insights that would have made a decisive impact on my advancement.

Why? I thought putting my head down and cranking out whatever was asked of me in the moment showed my “worth” more than cultivating relationships. My accomplishments would speak for themselves, I thought, not realizing the entire world that I was shutting out while I repeatedly closed my door to do some “real work”. I also failed to understand the value I would create by involving others in my experiences and sharing my insight for theirs in return. Value for all, not only for me.

Electing the right mix to your board of advisors and tapping into them is not  an exercise in taking – which is a dead end – but rather in creating value through meaningful personal interactions. In short, you are tapping into the electrifying power of collaboration in a formal way. By electing these mentors, colleagues and advisors to your “team”, you are fostering buy-in for your success. If you are respectful and show gratitude for their investment in your future, your newly-formed board can provide a critical backbone and sounding board to help you frame, keep sight of and reach your goals.

In a future post, I will discuss how you can assemble the right board for you.