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Archive for November 2010

20 Inconvenient Career Truths

This post was inspired by Charlie Gilkey’s recent (genius) post 20 Inconvenient Business Truths. I read it and realized that, in career coaching, I share inconvenient truths with my clients on a regular basis. I know it’s sometimes hard to hear these things but, in the end, they make you stronger.

  1. Almost everyone starts at the bottom. Regardless of what you think you deserve, you probably will to.
  2. There are no “right” answers for finding career fulfillment. Every path is different; every destination unique.
  3. It’s not enough to be good at what you do. Talent and skill will only take you so far.
  4. Work is not separate from the rest of your life. Compartmentalization is a myth.
  5. Professional growth requires discomfort.
  6. If you’re unhappy with your career, it’s up to you to change it. No one else controls your situation.
  7. Almost every job has a tradeoff. You’ll probably never get everything you want in one place.
  8. Achieving long-term career goals requires sustained effort and deliberate action. It’s no accident or coincidence.
  9. Your career is about YOU.
  10. A successful job search should take anywhere from three to six months. It’s not something that happens overnight.
  11. If you hate your job, it probably won’t get better with time. Sticking around because you’re afraid will only dig you deeper into the rut.
  12. Just as any successful business owner has a business plan, every successful professional should have a career plan.
  13. Money may be the reason you have to work but it’s not the true motivation. People who wake up with joy each day are working for entirely different reasons. Money is simply a byproduct.
  14. Bad career advice is everywhere. If it sounds too simple to be true, it probably is.
  15. If you find yourself job-hopping and nothing ever satisfies you for any period of time, it’s time to look at yourself. Most likely, you’re part of the problem.
  16. Every company has that person who gets away with slacking off, takes all the credit, earns more than she deserves, etc. The good news is that she’s not your problem. Let it go.
  17. If you’re not willing to invest in your career, why would any company be willing to invest in you?
  18. Most people change careers 3 to 7 times in their lives. That doesn’t mean you will.
  19. Layoffs happen. You may get fired. You may be “forced out” for reasons beyond your control. You’ll survive. And you’ll be stronger for it.
  20. No one achieves career success alone. The most successful professionals nurture their networks, show support and give more than they expect to get.

Do you have any to add? Please share in the comments!

Photo Credit: julesreyes (Flickr)

Mindful Minutes: A Simple, Effective Way to Manage Stress at Work (or Anywhere)

Having written an entire workbook teaching people how to reduce the “frazzle” of life, it always surprises me when I stumble on a new stress management technique that actually works. Sure, there’s always some new fangled idea floating around. Unfortunately, more often than not, I find such ideas are full of promise but lack the substance to really make them worthwhile.

This is why I’m so excited to share my latest discovery and how it came about. Here’s the story:

I caught a radio interview with Goldie Hawn the other day. Yes, she’s the stunningly beautiful blond actress who appears to be aging backwards in a Benjamin Button kind of way. But she wasn’t sharing beauty tips. Instead, she was talking about a new children’s education program her foundation is supporting called Mind Up.

This program seeks to incorporate mindfulness strategies into traditional classroom education. The research of positive psychology shows that teaching children strategies for focusing their attention and monitoring experience without immediately reacting has the potential to impact brain function as well as improve social and emotional well-being and balance.

During the interview, the actress-turned-advocate discussed one aspect of the program that particularly caught my interest. Among other activities, children in the Mind Up program enjoy “Mindful Minutes,” where they simply sit quietly and reflect. This gives them a few short meditative breaks during the otherwise chaotic school day in which they are given the space and freedom to decompress and wind down. They’re finding that children in the program are experiencing less stress, have better concentration, and feel more optimistic in general.

So, this got me thinking. What if we all took Mindful Minutes throughout the day? What if, every few hours, we just shut the door or stepped away from the computer for just five minutes and let silence wash over us? How would that impact our stress throughout the workday?

I’ve been trying out the technique for the past few weeks since I heard this interview. And, though it’s been somewhat difficult to get into the rhythm, I’ve definitely noticed a significant impact on days when I make Mindful Minutes a priority.

My final verdict? Mindful Minutes are a great addition to any stress management program.

Here’s why:

Strength of Body and Mind

It only takes a few minutes to re-energize your body and mind. Energy levels stay remarkably higher when you aren’t camped out at your desk all day. Mindful Minutes will force you to get up and step away from your groove. If possible, go outside and enjoy a little sunshine and fresh air in the process. Physically, you’ll feel less tense and mentally, you’ll be more alert when you return.

Improved Creativity and Enthusiasm

Even if you’re totally absorbed in a project, breaking your stride is actually a really GOOD thing. It gives you a chance to take a step back, shift your perspective and gain clarity. Sometimes, we get so deeply focused on the details; we lose sight of the bigger goals. A few minutes to reflect and mentally reorganize can do wonders for creativity and enthusiasm.

More Rational Decision-making

When emotions are running high or you’re feeling anxious and stressed, it can be tempting to make snap decisions. This is especially dangerous in the workplace. A few minutes spent relaxing in a quiet environment can help put things back in perspective and inspire you to handle frustration in a more rational, professional way.

How to Use Mindful Minutes

If you’re interested in using the Mindful Minutes technique, here’s what I would recommend:

  • Make a schedule and follow it. Every two to three hours worked well for me, but you might want to play around with it. Just don’t let yourself do it “whenever you feel like it” because, chances are, you’ll get distracted and won’t follow through. Plus, part of the impact comes from the routine. When you don’t think you need to do it, you often have the most powerful experiences.
  • Keep the breaks short. Don’t dawdle and waste time. This isn’t a real “break”. It’s a brain break. Five minutes is really ideal.
  • Have an established place to go where it’s quiet and you won’t be bothered. If possible, go outside and stand in a ray of sunshine.
  • Don’t DO anything. This isn’t a break to run an errand, pick up lunch or chat with a coworker. Resist the urge to multi-task. Your only responsibility for these five minutes is to yourself.

I know how hard it is to manage stress, whether at work, at home or on the road. Even with all the research I’ve done and all the techniques I’ve used, I still have trouble on some days. I know that regularly incorporating the Mindful Minutes strategy into my regular routine will have a profound effect. I hope you’ll try it as well and report back.

Photo Credit: Imperatricks (Flickr)

Bad Career Advice: Never Give Up

This post is part of my Bad Career Advice series in which I expose outdated, clichéd, and counterproductive advice for exactly what it is.

I understand the sentiment behind this piece of advice and clearly, its intent is to push you past your own perceived limits. While its heart is in the right place, I believe the advice to “never give up” also ignores the blatant reality of life and instills the idea that quitting for any reason is an unacceptable act of defeat.

The truth is, we often have to give up in order to move forward. And there’s no shame in this. Life is full of beginnings and endings. If you refuse to give up when things clearly aren’t working or ignore signals that a natural phase of completion has been reached, you only end up wasting your time and energy.

It’s Not You…No, Really. It Isn’t.

All too often, people blame themselves for giving up. It’s seen as a sign of failure. Instead, quitting (at times) can and should be viewed as an empowering act of triumph. There’s honor in recognizing that one course has reached its conclusion, just as there’s strength in allowing another to begin.

When we try too hard to hold on to what WAS, we’re unable to see what COULD BE and embrace what IS.

W.C. Fields put it best: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no use being a damn fool about it.”

It is indeed foolish to continue devoting resources to activities that no longer serve you—or, activities that you no longer serve. While it’s hard to admit, we all have strengths and weaknesses. To expect that we are capable of succeeding in all activities equally is inefficient and unrealistic. There are times when we must put our hands in the air, surrender and allow others to take over. We have to be humble, accept that we are perfectly imperfect, and relinquish control in order to collaboratively take the next step forward. Giving up, in this sense, is often the most productive path towards achieving a goal.

Though it may strike you as harsh or uncaring, we must also give up on people at times. We’ve all experienced relationships that have grown counterproductive. There comes a point at which the pain of giving up is worth it when compared to the pain of pushing forward. And it’s only by letting go that we begin the process of healing.

Likewise, we must let others move on when the time is right.

In closing, let me also say that this is not intended to encourage you, my dear reader, to simply “give up” on everything the moment you encounter an obstacle. It’s just an option. Don’t deny yourself that freedom. Use your time, energy and resources wisely. Refusing to give up on something or someone that holds you stagnant is not an efficient use of your capabilities. Look at the true potential reward of sticking it out and weigh it against the risk of giving up. Be analytical. And be willing to admit that yesterday’s opportunity of a lifetime may no longer be worth the sacrifice today.

Life and everything we experience is fluid. It’s a perpetual cycle of birth and death and rebirth. Dreams change, people change; the world and everything in it is constantly evolving. Be willing to release the past and embrace your future. Give yourself the power to give up.

Photo Credit: katiew (Flickr)

Bask in Your Glory

This past weekend, I attended a three-day training for becoming a certified life coach. It was the first class in this series (which is quite intense and will take more than a year to complete) and, when I first walked in the door, I wasn’t at all sure that the training would resonate with me. However, by the end of the very first day, I knew I had stumbled upon a great life calling.

But this post isn’t about the start of my new journey (you’ll hear enough about that in the future, I’m sure!). It’s actually about an exceptionally powerful exercise that took place on the very last day of class.

Now, let me preface this by explaining that a training class like this can be very intense. You end up sharing a lot about yourself and getting to know others quickly. The environment was respectful and nonjudgmental, and though we started off as complete strangers, we formed tight bonds in a matter of hours thanks to the work we were doing.

The exercise itself involved everyone in the group sitting in a circle and focusing on one person. This alone can be very awkward, even for someone like me who normally likes being in the spotlight. Then, everyone just starts sharing the qualities they’ve seen in you over the past three days. And you can’t respond. You just have to sit there and take it. You absorb the compliments, the things that surprise you, the things that feel untrue. You allow them to simply sit out there without arguing or waving them off.

When it was my turn, I was surprised to find myself crying almost from the very beginning.

These people had seen so much in me in such a short period of time. It felt strange to be so…seen. In our everyday lives, it’s easy to feel invisible, to blend in to the background and remain hidden. It’s a safe place to be. We end up creating an idea of how others see us, and it’s not always accurate or flattering. When people really see you, it can be surprising and overwhelming and unbelievably empowering.

I realized that, in order truly be seen, you have to allow others in. You can’t stay in the shadows. No matter how hard or how scary it feels to share who you are, be willing to go there. And, when you’re lucky enough to get a glimpse at how others perceive you, just sit there. Absorb it. Bask in it.

When they see the real you, it’s a glorious feeling. Because you, my friend, are a glorious creature.

Photo Credit: tassie.sim (Flickr)

How to Find Your Voice at Work

I know so many amazing professionals who often tell me that speaking up at work is a challenge. It’s not that they don’t have opinions—the certainly do! And it’s not because they don’t have the smarts—these folks are the best and the brightest. But they still have an incredibly difficult time expressing themselves in the workplace. So today’s post is all about finding your voice at work and overcoming those internal demons that have been keeping you quiet.

Before we get started though, let’s address those demons. What stifles your voice in the workplace?

Here are a few of the common answers:

  • I feel intimated by others.
  • I don’t feel respected.
  • I’m afraid of rejection.
  • I’m afraid of confrontation or “rocking the boat.”
  • I want to blend in and not draw attention to myself.
  • I’m afraid of looking stupid.
  • No one will listen anyway.

Any of these sound familiar?

Now, we should also address why having a voice at work is important. Here are just a few of the reasons:

  • You deserve it!
  • Sharing your thoughts will show others you’re engaged.
  • You’ll get noticed (in a positive way)
  • You’ll earn more respect.
  • You’ll contribute more value.
  • You’ll be more involved (which makes work more stimulating)
  • You’ll learn more.

I truly believe that voicing your opinions, objections, and questions is an important part of being a valuable employee. But it also has an enormous impact on the fulfillment you get from your work. Feeling stifled and unheard is frustrating, no matter how much you tell yourself you “don’t care.” You’re not a robot. You have a brain and valuable experience and knowledge to share. You weren’t hired to just go through the motions. You deserve a voice and, once you start using it, others will come to respect you more for it.

So, how exactly does one start to find their voice at work? Try the following:

Listen First

There’s nothing worse than someone who speaks without first listening to what others are saying. If you’re not quite sure that you fully understand the situation, don’t jump right in. Listen, absorb and make sure that your contribution will be helpful and not distracting or off-topic.

Be Selective

Keep in mind that if you have an opinion on everything, eventually people will stop listening. When you have something important to say that you believe adds value, that’s the time to speak up. Don’t just talk because you feel like you should, or you don’t want to be left out or simply because you haven’t heard your own beautiful voice in a while.

Time and Place

There are appropriate times and places for speaking up just as there are inappropriate ones. Be aware of what’s going on around you and be receptive to the environment. If tensions are high, you may want to stay quiet for the time being. If you have a topic to discuss that may be uncomfortable or awkward, take note of the people in the room. You may want to have a private conversation instead. If you need to confront a delicate situation with someone who’s particularly stressed out, choose your timing wisely. You may want to wait until things slow down. You always want to find the best environment in which to be heard.

Tact and Diplomacy

Approach any business conversation with a professional tone and keep your language neutral and non-judgmental. When people feel attacked, they stop listening and go into “defensive mode”. Don’t be too vocal when your emotions are high; take time to gather yourself and then approach delicate situations with the appropriate level of caution. Be sensitive to the feelings of others and use all of your senses to gauge the environment. If you feel others shifting away from you, getting nervous or antsy, or simply not paying attention, tune into yourself and make adjustments as needed.

Be Polite

Basic social etiquette applies in the workplace. Don’t interrupt others, raise your voice or use confrontational language. While you want to demonstrate assertiveness, you need to balance it with respect. If done wrong, it may come off as aggressive, which can have an incredibly counterproductive impact on the conversation.

Back It Up

Look, it would be great if everyone just listened to you because you’re YOU and you deserve to be heard. But most people, especially in the workplace, want some proof that you know what you’re talking about. So, before you jump in with your opinions and brilliant insights, collect your supporting data. What makes you think this way? What do you know that perhaps they don’t? What facts brought you to these conclusions? Don’t just rely on your gut feeling. No one else trusts your gut the way you do.

Zip It

Learn how to speak concisely. Long-winded, rambling monologues are easily tuned out. Give voice to your thoughts and then zip it. Let others reflect on it, question it, and mull it over. Your job isn’t to defend what you’ve said. Respond when needed but don’t expect that you’ll convince everyone to agree with you. That’s not what this is about. Having a voice is the important part. Whether or not it’s the final authority on the topic is immaterial.

Photo Credit: ganaronic (Flickr)

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