Posts in Professionalism
Four Signs That You're Full of Yourself
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There's no better example of a person who is full of himself than Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, in House of Cards.  The Netflix series, now in its fifth season, details a man (Underwood) obsessed with himself and his desire for power.  

It's bad enough that Underwood is consumed by a thirst for political office.  What's worse is that he has no compass for anything else in his life- no friendships, no hobbies, no religion, etc.  This makes for a very unhappy man.

I've been thinking of Underwood (yes, in part because I've been binge-watching the newest season of House of Cards) and the times when I might be full of myself.

No, not to the extent that he is but still, let's be honest: each of us has a bit of selfishness inside of us.  

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How can you spot a person who is really full of it?  I suggest four signs:

  1. They refer to themselves in the third person.  This is typically reserved for pro-athletes who almost always are full of themselves.  
  2. They are easily offended.  This is a character flaw and to be avoided at all costs.  Readers would do well to pick up a copy of Grit by Angela Duckworth. 
  3. They over-promise and under-deliver.  This leads to broken commitments and failed projects. 
  4. They publish every thought.  The filter just isn't there for people who are full of themselves.  They love to pontificate.

Take note this week of your vocabulary.  That will often give you clues of your pride-to-humility ratio.

A Boston priest, Fr. Thomas Judge (early 20th century) famously said, "Humility is truth".  I think what he was getting at is that life is full of imperfections and blessings.  It's good to appreciate both and not take yourself too seriously.  

How to Love Your Work

Deep down, each of us wants a job that plays to our strengths.  We want to make a difference and feel valued by the organization.  We seek connections with our coworkers.  We desire to feel good about our work and about contributions to the "greater good".

Still... most of us find it hard to check off all of the boxes just mentioned.  

I've been thinking a lot lately about the phrase "love your work".  That's not easy to do, depending on the work you have in front of you but I think we are called to do just that.

Some how, some way, we are called to love our work.

Dan Pink puts it this way, “Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives.” (Source)

When we love our work, we embrace both challenges and opportunities.  In addition:

  • We find the inherent dignity of employment.  
  • We make deep connections with our colleagues.  
  • We practice grit when it would be easier to just quit.  
  • We choose to be positive when others get cynical.  
  • We are surprised by small things that make us smile.

Don't misunderstand me- there are times when it's impossible to love our work.  That's when you know you're ready for a change.  

But if you can stay, here are six things that can be helpful, easing you into greater appreciation of your work:

  1. You have a job.  Many do not.  This most basic truth is powerful to be reminded of.
  2. Your work allows other things to happen.  Health care, new contact lenses and braces for your kids are all possible because of your job.
  3. You are getting clearer as to your strengths and weaknesses.  Work polishes the stone of each of our gifts.
  4. You are being prepared for your next job.  Strange as it sounds, work gets you ready to work- next week, next year, next month.
  5. You have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  This pushes back on depression, health issues and anxiety.
  6. You have others around you that you can invest in and cherish.

There's one other thing that contributes to us loving what we do and that is often called "mastery".  Again, to quote Pink, “Why reach for something you can never fully attain? But it’s also a source of allure. Why not reach for it? The joy is in the pursuit more than the realization. In the end, mastery attracts precisely because mastery eludes.” 

Mastery is the idea of getting better and better at something.  This rarely comes through hobby.  It can come through employment and practice.  Work, when seen this way, becomes the vehicle for personal improvement.  

You can actually become an expert by virtue of your job- that's awesome.

Work isn't always fun.  It's not meant to be 100% birthday cakes and balloons.  With that said, it can be thoroughly stimulating and can make you a better human being.  

What delight can you find in your work today?

7 Signs That Your Workplace is Broken

Just recently, another article was published touting the negative consequences of the famed "open door" policy at work. One feels sort of nostalgic reading this piece as the author defends the return of the traditional door at the entrance to traditional offices.  

Imagine that!

Cal Newport surely believes in the concept of a closed door office as it is more likely a contributor to focused work.  In his book Deep Work, Newport states, 

Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.
— Cal Newport

All of this is to defend the commodity of clear thinking and focused labor.  Safe to say, most of us have forgotten how luxurious those states can be since much of the modern workplace is broken. 

There, I said it- broken as in busted and messed up.

I should know and I'm partly guilty of promoting a broken workplace.  Until recently, I spent much of my career in schedules that were chopped up into bits of time that no human could actually enjoy.  The meetings alone were enough to make you insane.  The open spaces?  Mostly a distraction.

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Open spaces don't promote more collaboration.  They promote a lack of focus and more small talk than you can shake a stick at.  

How do you know if your workplace is broken and in need of fixing?  Here are seven telltale signs: 

  1. The open door policy is king.  Getting work done should be king, not access to talk your ear off.  Yes, we should be cordial but most things don't require that you interrupt someone else.
  2. Meetings abound.  Meetings are necessary but probably fewer than most workplaces allow.  Most meetings can be substituted with an email, memo or brief Skype chat.
  3. People come in on the weekend because that's the only time when you can actually get things done.  You know what I'm talking about with this one and it's got to stop.
  4. The most common phrase is, "You got a minute?"  This implies that whatever you were doing is not as important as the conversation that's about to happen. Not a good sign.
  5. No one around reads your verbal cues that you need to get work done.  A closed door, a head bowed in concentration, a focused look on your face- each should tell someone else that you are trying to work.  Sadly, too many people do not read these important physical cues.
  6. Others walk in on you when you're on a call and expect that you talk to them, right then and there.  This may be the most egregious violation of them all.  
  7. People are tired all of the time.  This is where the real danger shows up as your physical health starts to deteriorate as a result of what may be a broken workplace.  This can't be an acceptable outcome of a distraction-rich environment.

This post is not meant to provide seven simple solutions to the signs listed above.  Rather, it's meant to help you take an inventory of what's around you.

Is your workplace totally broken?

Is it partially broken?

Do you have some colleagues who need to be reminded that you actually have work that needs to get done?

The good news is that you can change each of these signs.  In my experience, I was unable to change my entire workplace culture on my own.  I needed allies around me who bought into the idea of focused work.  Only when people got fed up with interruptions and senseless meetings did they realize that deep work was the holy grail of their productivity.

Five Non-Cheesy Ways to Thank Your Boss

It's the season of thanks. American culture ushers us into this period of time just after Halloween in late October.  I can remember as a kid in school, loving Thanksgiving as the final hurrah before exams and the mid-year blitz of gifts and parties.  It felt so good to enjoy the big meal and then watch football, even if the Lions were on TV.

I still love Thanksgiving even though I've left the exams behind.

Gratitude, as it turns out, never goes out of style.  Even better, a grateful person is often wonderful to work with and fun to be around.  

Many of us will rush through the season, hoping to survive and simply "make it" to December 25.  I think that most of us can get it, that gratitude is an appropriate posture as the calendar year ends.

What is often left out of the November-December time is expressing gratitude to our bosses.  At first, you might think, "Why would I do that?  They should be thanking me!"

You may be right but being a gracious employee is smart.  It reminds you that you have gainful employment.  It conveys gratitude to your boss and guess what?  Bosses love grateful employees!

I can count on one hand the number of former employees who actually said, "thanks".  All of the others were thankful but very few express that gratitude.  

So how do you show your boss you're grateful without being cheesy?  Here are five ridiculously simple suggestions:

1. Write a note.  It just needs to say "thank you for supporting me and for the work you allow me to do".  That's it.
2. Send an email.  Similar to #1 if you don't have the postage or the time to send a handwritten note.
3. Make a call.  You get the point.
4. Make a donation in the name of your boss.  Nothing says "thanks" like supporting a charitable cause.  Your boss will consider you to be a better person because you're giving not only to work but to other organizations.
5. Tell someone else about your boss.  (And actually say something nice about them.)  This is the old Steven Covey concept of being "loyal to the absent".

Be grateful for your work and then express that to the person who supervises you.  It's harder being a boss than you might think and although imperfect, he/she is probably doing the best they can.

A Better Way for Introverts to Promote Themselves
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"That's nonsense!  This is not a time for false humility!"

 

These words were said to me in 1996 by my advisor at the time, John McCarthy.  We were talking about an academic major and I was considering one path while he was clear on another. I suggested that the road I wanted to take was maybe "lesser" than what my friends decided.  He disagreed.  His point stuck with me- have confidence, be who you and stop being so falsely humble.

 

He didn't mean to be proud (often considered the opposite of humility).  Rather, he meant that, like Fr. Thomas Judge often said in the early 20th century, "humility is truth".

In other words...

-if you want to take this class, do it.  If you don't, that's ok.

-if you're smart, own it.

-if you are good at painting, be honest about that.

 

Be who you are- that's what it means to be humble.  Oh, and don't be a jerk along the way.  (My own interpretation.)

 

Fast forward to a conversation I had recently with a friend considering making a career change.  She was honest in admitting that she doesn't like to promote herself.  "I'm an introvert after all..." She argued as if that disqualified her from bragging about herself. 

 

That's when I go back to the wise words of Dr. McCarthy and say to my friend and anyone else of the introvert persuasion, "nonsense"!

 

Get over it.  I'm an introvert like you wouldn't believe.  I get it- the need for alone time.  The predictable rhythm of a weekly schedule.  Deep thinking... All of it I get and appreciate.  It's who I am and it may be who you are.

 

And guess what- very little of that will get you hired.  The system is just not built that way.  Instead, it favors the loud, proud and brightly adorned.  I wish I could change that but I just can't.  Schools do it.  Businesses too.  Our culture raises up those who can toot their own horn and introverts need to accept this.  This doesn't mean change who you are but it does mean an occasional season of career skill-sharpening.  

 

So what are you to do?  Do you become a phony and start acting like a celebrity or can you stay true to your own introversion?  Can you design an extraordinary career and maintain what's deeply good about your introversion?

 

Absolutely.  Good news- you can be both introverted and phenomenally successful at work. Did you know that Bill Gates considers himself an introvert?  Warren Buffet too.  They've done alright for themselves.  

 

I have three suggestions for how you can promote yourself without feeling like a phony. 

 

1. Keep your website fresh.  We talk about this all the time on the blog.  You have to have a good website to promote yourself.  It does the talking for you. Keep your website fresh, current and contemporary- it's a way to extend your voice.

2. In your interview (presuming you will have one that leads to a new job), practice your intro and closing lines.  You need to be clear about your narrative.  "I'm about to turn 30 and always wanted to do ... " or "Before my kids graduate from high school, I've made a commitment to ..."  You get the point. 

 

The close is also very important.  When an interview wraps up, they always ask you for your questions and you ought to have two in the can ready to roll.  Then, you can ask for a final thought. 

 

The script for the final thought is very simple and goes like this: "Mr. Jones (interviewer), can I say one final thing before we wrap up today?  I just want you and the group to know that

a) you'll never regret hiring me and

b) no one will work harder to accomplish the goals that you want for this position than me.  I know I can do a great job for you."

 

This works every time.  It projects confidence and moxy without being arrogant. 

 

3. Look for a place to work that values your introversion. You want a place where you can be yourself and really fly.  Most introverts will want to avoid open-office concepts such as cubicles, etc.  Too many distractions.  

 

With all of this said, introverts, while making up 30-40% of the workforce still need to practice being (occasionally) extroverted.  This will help you keep your career moving forward and keep you honoring your own introversion, which is a gift in an of itself.  

Why People In Their Forties Are Hungry for Change
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No less than five very successful men have approached me in the past two months, each looking for advice and counsel for their careers.

 

The conversations featured them telling me what they've accomplished in their careers (often, a lot!) followed by a description of the inner struggle of wanting something different.  One felt as if his expertise should be highlighted more online.  Another was willing to quit his job just because he was so unhappy at work.  Each man was the same- talented and discontented at work.

 

This is what is often called in the Ignatian tradition, "discernment".  It's a feeling out of options and an inventorying (if that's a word) of what truly makes us happy when we are working.

 

If my small sample size is any indication of wider realities, why are so many men (and surely women too) hungry for change whent it comes to work?

 

I suggest that the forties are a time when the "important things" of life really kick in.  We've climbed some amount of ladder in our careers and we've tasted success. Our relationships and life commitments are stable.  And, we realize that retirement is real and will be here sooner than later. 

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If all of that is true, then what might some advice for someone in their forties who is looking to possibly make a change at work?  I suggest three things:

 

1. Pay attention to your inner life.  You could keep running on the career-hampster-wheel.  Or, you could pay attention to the days that energize you most.  Write these down.  Talk about these with someone you trust.  Pay attention to these things...

2. Seek counsel. A wise spiritual director or mentor is worth his weight in gold.  Find someone you trust and establish a formal relationship of guidance with him or her.  There are professional mentors out there who are experts at helping you figure out your inner struggle.  There's no need to be sheepish about this. 

3. Consider your brand.  This is even more scary than the first two steps for many professionals.  Many will tell me that they

a) have no idea what their brand is and

b) are scared as heck to package their expertise into one brand.

Chances are, if you've been successful in your twenties and thirties, you're most likely "almost an expert" at something.  I say that the forties are the perfect time to put all of that wisdom to work in the shape of a blog, website or social media platform.  This serves two purposes.  First, it gives expression to what's in your head and heart.  Second, it will make finding your next job a lot easier.  I was at an interview once when it became apparent that the person interviewing me had studied my Twitter profile.  Funny and useful at the same time!

 

It can be scary when you consider a job or even a career change. I speak from personal experience on this one, trust me.  There will be naysayers.  You will doubt yourself.  It may feel like a mistake for a period of time.  All of that is normal.  

 

The key is to push through it, keep focused on what brings you peace, and follow what you think is God's will for your career.  Be smart.  Be wise.  Be brave. 

 

Can I help you with this process?  Just use the Contact Form to reach out.  I have a customized coaching program that is designed for seekers just like you.