While being very compatible (and happily married for over 30-something years), my mother and father are also just about as different as two human beings can be. Professionally, they have nearly nothing in common. But they’ve both provided solid career advice throughout my life, and the two different perspectives have served me well.
So, without further ado, I give you the career lessons I learned from my father.
Fight your fear.
First, let me brag a little bit: My father has a pretty amazing professional background. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he spent the early part of his career in military service. Probably the most impressive fun fact is that he was in the real-life Top Gun (Navy Fighter Weapons School), meaning he’s had some pretty crazy training. But the real kicker is that he spent a portion of his career as a test pilot, which is (as I understand it) about as challenging and risky a role you can have in peacetime. Think about it: You’re role as a test pilot is to TEST AIRCRAFT. Failure is not a viable option for the pilot. You have to remain calm and levelheaded under extreme pressure. And you have to be able to face your fear head-on, over and over again.
Most of us are fortunate enough not to have a career path that could possibly endanger our lives. But we still encounter fear, don’t we? A lot of it, in fact! Here’s what I learned from my father about facing fear: You just need to do it, plain and simple. When you let fear stop you, you open the door to regret. You have to trust and believe in your own capabilities. That doesn’t mean taking stupid risks, of course. But recognize that fear is an inevitable consequence of learning and growth, and without it, you’re doomed to stand still.
Some of you may remember a blog post I wrote a while back where I spoke of a situation where fear almost got the best of me. During that time, right when I was ready to let fear hold me back from my career dreams, I got an email from my dad. It was short and straightforward. It basically said something like this: Don’t give in to fear. You’ll regret it.
I didn’t ever respond back to that email because, truth be told, I was emotional at the time and those tough words were hard to swallow. But in the end, I followed his advice and I’m glad I did. I know I can always trust my dad to tell me things I don’t necessarily want to hear, but need to hear.
My father retired as a Lieutenant Colonel after 20 years of active duty. And ya know what? That was only the beginning of his career. After that, he spent 18 years as a commercial airline pilot and retired as a Boeing 737 Captain.
And so we move on to our next lesson…
When you’re at work, be at work. When you’re at home, be at home.
Being a commercial airline pilot meant my dad was away from home a lot. However, looking back at my childhood and teenage years, I never felt deprived by his absence. We used to say that his being gone made his time at home even more special. It’s really all about being present. It’s not a matter of time on the clock; it’s what you do with the time you have. When you’re at home, are you really “there”?
My father was lucky in that his work wasn’t the kind that followed him home. Not all of us are so fortunate. But we can take a lesson from this all the same. Don’t stress about the time you have or don’t have. When you’re at work, give it everything you’ve got. Likewise, when you’re at home, really BE at home. Don’t drag your workplace worries into your family time.
Make the time you have, however much that is, matter—even in small ways. As a child, a trip to Costco with my dad was just about as good as life could get. Quality time can be found anywhere, anytime.
Create an identity for yourself outside of work.
Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea here. My father’s an impressive fellow but he’s also seen his fair share of struggles. This one is a lesson he learned the hard way. You see, Dad was and will always be a pilot. That’s an identity that becomes a part of you and it’s hard to let go of after so many years.
So you can imagine that retirement created a little bit of a stir for my father. He was suddenly faced with the question of, “Who am I now?” and he had some exploration to do.
We are all at risk of identifying perhaps a little too deeply with our work. Yes, work is what we do and it’s part of who we are. But it’s only one part. We are so much more than our career path. Life offers so much more and we should be taking advantage of it.
I know I’m guilty of this. My business sometimes feels like my baby—a physical extension of my being. If I’m not careful, I can dedicate every waking minute to this project. But that’s not healthy. I have to remind myself that I need to hone my “outside of work” identity too…My identity as a friend, a mentor, a girlfriend, a poet, a lover of travel, a yoga enthusiast, a dog owner, a budding fiction writer, a lover of food, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a student, an avid reader, and so much more.
My father has discovered new worlds of adventure in his retirement and, I believe, new aspects of his personality as well. He’ll always be a pilot. But these days, he doesn’t fly. He’s way to busy for that!!!
Take your work seriously and be good at it.
The last line of my father’s professional bio reads: “He has attained over 15,000 hours operating high performance jets in over 35 years of accident/incident free flying.”
Now that’s someone who takes his work seriously and is damn good at what he does. Sure, there’s an element of luck in there too. Pilots who experience accidents and incidents aren’t necessarily “bad” at what they do. But this is someone who has dedicated a significant portion of his life to becoming a master at his craft.
Author Malcolm Gladwell posits that it takes 10,000 hours of practice at something to become an expert. My father is, without a doubt, an expert at flying planes. And he taught me that there is great joy to be had in this kind of discipline and focus. Taking your work seriously doesn’t mean it can’t be fun too. But you have to put in the time and energy needed to actually become good at it. That part isn’t always fun and it certainly isn’t always easy.
No matter what your job entails, take pride in what you do and how you do it. Hone your skills. Strive for excellence. Become a master at your craft.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share just a taste of the wisdom my mom has imparted on me over the years. Of course, I could fill an entire book (or series of books) on life lessons from mom, but in an effort to stay on topic, I’ve gathered a few of my favorite tidbits for you here and related them to the subject of career development. Enjoy!
Look for what’s right first.
My mother is the Queen of Optimism. She taught me that focusing on the negative doesn’t solve anything. When facing any situation in life, she is always quick to see what’s working, not what’s broken.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Her rose-colored glasses don’t blind her to reality. She knows there’s plenty of negative crap out there. But you choose the level of energy you give it. She believes it’s far more productive to put your energy into what’s right rather than what’s wrong, and when you do, the good stuff grows bigger and brighter.
Her theory is this: If you want to be happy, it doesn’t just happen. It takes work. You have to look for ways to be happy. You have to find opportunities to see the good in life.
I think anyone who is unhappy at work should heed this advice. That doesn’t mean you should stay somewhere that isn’t working for you or pretend that everything’s great when it’s not, but find something that IS working, even if it’s miniscule. Focus on the good that has come from this experience. Aim your energy toward something positive, no matter how small. You’ll feel better and the situation won’t seem so dark and overwhelming.
Take pride in a job well done.
If you want a job done right, give it to my mom. Whether crafting a lamb out of a stick of butter (yes, she really did that) for Easter brunch or proofreading my latest project, she never misses a detail. Meticulous is an understatement. And this goes for everything she invests her time and energy in—from crafting a beautiful piece of stained glass artwork to knitting a cozy sweater for her favorite grandpuppy (my dog, Ms. Mollie).
What’s even more amazing is that she (gasp!) even seems to enjoy herself!
So, why is she such a hard worker? It’s not for the recognition, I’ll tell you. None of us properly appreciated the time and effort that went into that butter lamb, I’m sure. And it’s not for the money either. She edits my work for free!! And she’s never once charged Mollie for a handmade outfit.
What motivates her to put such care and attention into every project? As far as I can tell, it’s for the pure enjoyment she gets out of doing a good job. That’s what’s called “internal motivation” and it’s the most sustainable energy source there is. When you’re compelled to work hard simply because you get satisfaction from doing so, you have unlimited drive that relies solely on YOU and no one else.
If you ever feel a lack of motivation in the workplace (ahem, everyone knows what I mean!), try to tap into your own internal motivation. Don’t look to others to amp you up. Take pride in the work you do. Focus on doing well simply because it feels good.
Make others feel special.
Southern charm is my mother’s specialty. Watch her work a room at a party and you’ll learn a lot about building rapport. My mom can make the most awkward person in the world feel comfortable, the ugliest person feel pretty, the most boring person feel witty. Charm is really about making the people around you feel good. When you delight in elevating others, people are drawn to you. And, in turn, you are lifted to new heights as well. Everyone wins.
It’s not about being fake or boosting people up at your own expense. It’s about easing the interaction. Putting others in a position to be their best. Helping those around you to feel comfortable in your presence. Making them feel special.
I know that personal relationships are very different from professional ones, but think about how this kind of charm could help you create stronger bonds with people at work. What if you spent a little time making your co-workers feel special? Whether or not you want to admit it, professional opportunities come to people who are likable. A little southern charm might be just what your career needs.
Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.
I don’t want to shine you on. My mother is definitely a kind, gentle and charming southern soul. But don’t let that exterior fool you. Underneath, she’s tough as nails. She’s been through a lot in her life, though she’s not one to whine about it. She knows how to fight and she’s not afraid to hit hard when it’s needed (metaphorically speaking of course; I don’t think she’s ever thrown a punch in her life).
My point is this: She’s no wilting lily. My mom is the person you want on your side when things get tough. She’ll hold you as you cry, but at the end of the day, she won’t let you back down.
My mother taught me that kindness is not synonymous with weakness. You don’t have to be a jerk to get your point across. You don’t have to wear your strength or your courage like some kind of monster mask. You can be both nice and tough, kind and strong. These are not mutually exclusive traits. In the workplace, it helps to embrace both.
Women really CAN do everything.
I have a retro 1950’s style wall hanging in my house that shows a young girl in a sailor’s hat. It says, “Gee, I wish I were a man. I’d join the navy!” It makes me laugh because, in my mind, I can’t imagine that world. It’s crazy to me that women were ever restricted from doing the same things as men.
When my mother was growing up, she had three options for her career: She could be a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary. Alternatively, she could be a mom. There’s nothing wrong with any of these options. But, for a long time, those were her only choices.
I’m sure there are many women reading this who felt the same way as children—limited and restricted. The beautiful thing about my mother and all of you is that you didn’t listen. You rejected the idea that you couldn’t do anything you set your mind to. And as a result, women in my generation can not only join the navy, we can serve as officers if we so desire. We can be astronauts, physicists, or brain surgeons. And yes, we can still be nurses, teachers and secretaries too. Our choices are limitless.
Sure, I know there are still a few glass ceilings yet to break (a female president in 2016 may shatter one…). And income inequality is still a problem we’re trying to solve. But let’s take mom’s advice and look for what’s right first. What’s right is that my mother and so many other women of her generation proved that women could do anything and everything just as well as men.
I’ve never felt limited in my career choices. My mother never discouraged me from any dream. At the same time, she never let me believe it would be handed over on a silver platter.
“You can do anything you put your mind and heart into.”
In terms of career advice, there are no sweeter words. Feeling empowered to create your own destiny is the greatest gift.
As many of you know, I talk a lot about professional passion. I believe it IS possible to love your job and really feel a fire in your belly when you think about the contribution you’re making at work everyday.
I’m always careful to note though that work passion is very different from passion passion…you know, the kind that gets you all hot and bothered…? Professional passion is NOT the same as romantic passion.
However, as odd as it sounds, the two actually do have a lot in common. Some things about passion are the same whether at the office or in the bedroom. Crazy? Nope.
To see what I mean, read on.
Work at It
Relationships are easy and fun in the beginning. The passion often comes quite naturally…for a while. But, as any of you who are married or in long-term relationships know, at some point, it becomes harder to keep that passion alive. You have to actually put some effort in. If you aren’t willing to exert some energy, the passion will eventually fizzle out.
The same is true for your relationship with work. At first, it’s exciting. The passion is there and you can’t imagine it ever going away. But then, the day-to-day routine sets in, and you slowly become complacent.
This kind of fizzle-out isn’t necessarily a given. It doesn’t have to happen. But passion doesn’t stick around on its own. You have to buy some sexy lingerie* every now and again. In work terms, you have to take some risks and try new things. Put yourself out there. Get out of your comfort zone and see what happens.
Don’t Rely on Your Partner to Make You Happy
Your romantic partner isn’t responsible for your happiness. YOU, and you alone, are the only one who controls how you feel about yourself and your life. Sure, it’s nice to hear that you’re pretty and loved, but your partner can’t give you confidence you don’t have. Others can influence you, but ultimately, your feelings are totally within your control.
The same is true about work. Having a great job that pays well and has endless opportunity is certainly helpful. But your employer doesn’t determine whether or not you’re happy doing what you do. You choose how you respond to the situations in your life. If you choose to stay at your job, choose to see the good in it and don’t dwell on the bad. If you choose to stay with your romantic partner, do the same.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t try to improve the things you don’t like (whether at home or in the office) and here’s what I mean by that…
Ask for What You Want
Your partner can’t read your mind and neither can your employer. If there’s something that isn’t working for you and it’s reasonable enough to change, ask for it. But be specific and 100% straightforward. If you try to be coy and beat around the bush, it’s easy for your signals to get crossed, and miscommunication is a sure-fire way to kill the passion.
If you want your partner to open the car door for you, tell him. If it really matters to you, I’m sure he’d rather know so he can do something about it. It’s easy enough! He might still forget to do it, of course, and at that point you can re-evaluate how much it really matters.
Likewise, if your employer can resolve some underlying irritation you have, in many cases (though admittedly not all), it’s worthwhile doing so. They’ve already invested in you so simple things—like a new office chair or a slight shift in schedule—might make sense if it keeps you happy and working hard. Again, it won’t always work, but at least you’ve made an honest effort. And, as I said before, you can re-evaluate at that point.
Stay Mentally Engaged
Presence isn’t just about physically being there—at work or at home. It’s about being truly mentally engaged. It’s about caring, inquiring, listening and connecting.
We’ve all seen those couples at restaurants who barely make eye contact and spend most of their time looking at their cell phones or gazing longingly at the couple on their first date next to them. They’re there, but not really. Part of them is somewhere else.
This same thing happens all the time in workplaces around the world. People are there, but not really.
When you’re at work, you have to be there 100%. Otherwise, it shows and you feel it. Time drags by. You leave the office wondering what the heck you just accomplished…if anything. You feel like a zombie walking through the week holding out hope that the weekend will bring some kind of excitement.
All you have to do is engage your brain and work will become exciting again. Believe me on this. Everyone enjoys feeling mentally stimulated, but again, you sometimes have to work at it. Find the challenge again. Seek out new information. Learn new skills.
Know When to Leave
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the passion just can’t be reignited. There’s no sense sticking around forever trying to fix something that’s irreparably broken. Get out while you can, but leave with dignity and grace. Remember that the time you shared together was, at least for a while, a good thing. It probably wasn’t perfect, but then, you probably weren’t either.
Bring Yourself to It
This last one might sound odd but here’s what I mean: YOU are in this relationship. Whether with work or with a romantic partner, YOU are half the equation. That means you have to share who you really are and what you’re really capable of. You can’t hide or pretend to be something you’re not. Authenticity is the most attractive quality in people, professionally and personally. Be real and you’ll have more to offer your employer and your partner.
That doesn’t mean you should toss all social decorum out the window though! If your “real” self wants to throw a temper tantrum, rein it in and consider whether that’s the right move for the relationship. Remember that it’s also about respect. Tact and diplomacy go a long way. Adapt to the needs of others from time to time and they’ll do the same for you.
I know you questioned my take on this topic when you first started reading this article…so what do you think? Do you see the correlation now between professional passion and personal passion? Or have I just been reading too many romance novels?
*Note: Sexy lingerie should not to be worn at work. Unless you have some kind of…”nontraditional”…workplace. In which case, good for you.
You know that person who always has something to whine about? Super annoying, right? Working with a constant complainer can be a challenge for a variety of reasons. And if you’re not careful, the situation could go from an irritation to a serious career killer. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad advice out there regarding this topic. My recommendations are a little different, but I think you’ll understand—and agree—after reading this article.
Avoid Mindless Agreement
What most complainers are looking for more than anything is agreement. They want someone to nod and sympathize and say, “Yes, me too.” Psychologists say they’re seeking validation. And while many will tell you that the fastest way to get them to stop is to simply give them what they want, this is dangerous territory in the workplace.
If they’re complaining about the bus being late, yes, the fastest way to get them to move on is to say something like, “Yeah, that would annoy me too.” And that’s probably pretty safe to do.
But this technique is not the way to go when the complaints are directly related to work. If they’re complaining about a person or a task for example, be extremely cautious. If you agree just to get them to shut them up, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. They’ll see you as an ally and, worst-case scenario, they’ll use you as an excuse for why they’re complaints are valid. Imagine them shouting to the rest of the office, “I’m not the only one that feels this way! [Insert your name] agrees with me!” Suddenly, you’re a complainer too. And you’ve just joined a battle you might not want to be a part of.
Hear It & Acknowledge It
Instead of just mindlessly agreeing, you can offer something slightly different. You can hear the complaint and acknowledge the person’s feelings without giving them a “me too”. Simple phrases to use include, “I see” or “Wow” or “Really” or “Interesting”.
Be careful about saying, “Yes” or “Yeah” though. While many of us use these words to acknowledge that we’ve heard someone, they can be misinterpreted as agreement.
In some cases, you need to go further. If someone is constantly using you as a sounding board to voice their dislike for your boss, you can’t continue to sit idly by. They are putting you in a tough spot.
This is where I probably differ with the psychologists out there talking about this topic. My take comes from the fact that the workplace is a different dynamic. The complainer could be putting you in a position that could jeopardize your career.
Now, there’s friendly whining and then there’s something else. I don’t know quite how to define it but you’ll know when complaining goes too far. Here’s my suggestion.
Ask: “Do you want my opinion?”
Human nature makes most people inquisitive enough to say, “Yes” to this question. And then, the person has given permission. They’re in control of the conversation. They have asked to hear your thoughts on the subject.
At that point, let the person know that you have a different point of view, but don’t try to convince them. Make it short and sweet: “I hear what you’re saying but I see it differently.”
Remember, you can disagree without being disagreeable. So remain polite and professional. But hold firm. Don’t get into a debate on the matter.
Once this person sees that they don’t have an ally in you, they’ll move on and try to find someone who can give them what they need.
Is this uncomfortable? Yes. But, at times, it’s necessary.
I had to do this several years ago with a co-worker who was always complaining to me about something my boss was doing—something I felt was totally fine. She was, in my opinion, being childish. Of course, I didn’t say this to her. But I did let her know that she was putting me in an awkward position and I couldn’t continue to discuss it. I think she was annoyed by me, and she probably turned around and complained about me to someone else, but it fixed the problem. And eventually, she forgot it ever happened.
Manage Your Expectations
This person is who he (or she) is. While you can manage the situation (as in my story above), you probably can’t change this person’s victim mentality. He or she will always find something to complain about so don’t expect anything different. These people quickly gain a reputation. In the end, they won’t get very far with that kind of attitude. They’ll never take responsibility for it, but you’ll eventually pass them by. Take comfort in that.
Note: Please leave your answers to these questions in the comments below!
I don’t want to scare you but…brace yourself…we’re in the final stretch of 2012!
(Cue screams of horror and outrage)
It’s now officially “Q4″ and you know what that means: The holidays are just around the corner. And we all know that after Halloween, the days slip by like sand through our fingers until about a week after New Years. Yep. Before you know it, we’ll be writing 2013 on our checks.
Okay. Breathe. Don’t panic. You got this, man!
To help you feel a little more in control and ensure you get the most out of the final days of 2012, here are three questions to ask yourself:
1. What have I accomplished so far?
Go on, celebrate! You deserve it. We’re ten months in and I bet you’ve made some progress on those goals you set back in January. Pull out your list and make note of your victories. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
All too often, we focus solely on the future or the things that haven’t worked out. But take a few minutes to lovingly praise yourself for the recent past. Sure, you probably have a few things that could have gone a little better. But thankfully, you’re not perfect. (How boring you’d be if you were!). This exercise of celebrating your progress, no matter how big or small, will give you a nice boost of energy and motivation–two things that tend to dwindle this time of year.
2. If I had to choose just two priorities for the rest of the year (one personal and one professional), what would they be?
Now is the time to narrow things down. It’s easy to set monstrous goals in January as you look out at the long year ahead of you. But we’re getting down to the wire here. What really matters? What can wait? Scratch things off or postpone them. Focus on the two things that will make you look back on the year with a true sense of pride and accomplishment. Remember that priorities change naturally with time so don’t feel bad about adjusting your outlook for the year. Make these last three months count!
3. What intention do I want to set for the next three months?
Right now, you have the power to create a powerful and positive vision for the holiday season. What do you want it to be like? Stressful, financially draining and anxiety-ridden? Or peaceful, fun and productive? I’m guessing the latter sounds more appealing to most of you. Define what you want and what you can do (starting now!) to make it happen. Give yourself the tools you need to remain positive and energized for the rest of the year.
For me, this means I need to recommit to my yoga practice and focus on staying healthy even with all the travel I’m doing. My plan is to spend the month of December relaxing with family and working on my book (yes, a book!!). To do this, I need to wrap up a few big projects by the end of November and save a bit so I don’t feel anxious without money coming in.
See how easy it is? Just a few moments of thoughtful consideration can have a huge impact on how the next three months play out and how 2012 goes down in your personal history book.
Spend some time mulling over these questions and leave your answers in the comments below. Nothing helps create commitment like a little public accountability!