Why Monica Lewinsky’s New TED Talk Is Important for Your Career

Monica Lewinsky has a new TED talk that I hope you will view.

Monica Lewinsky TED TalkIn it she tells us about her experiences as the first cyberbullied person in the new age of Internet communications. Her nightmare was driven by a culture that not only permits bullying, but makes money from it. Advertisers benefit from every click you make to view the story about a shamed person online. Monica makes an articulate and compelling case for compassion as the way to counteract our cultural blood-sport of online shaming and bullying.

She is right about the need for compassion. If we could all live by the simple commandment: Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You, the world would be immediately transformed and it would be a far better place. Yet, even though compassion is a central premise for mature and ethical interpersonal interaction, there is also a need for accountability. If the Internet were not anonymous, for example, there would be fewer vicious tweets and comments. As soon as people are held accountable for their public opinions, they are far more careful about bullying others.

Bullying occurs in workplaces as well. I have written articles about the boss from hell and the response to those articles from readers has been passionate and personal. I wrote an article that was published in Illinois Legal Times describing a horrible partner at a law firm and I described the effect his bullying had on the young woman who worked with him. After the article was published, I received many responses from other traumatized associates who were certain I was writing about their workplaces even though none of them actually practiced at the workplace I wrote about. The problem is widespread.

In my counseling practice I hear about bosses who yell, scream, belittle, shame, or bully the people who work for them. Once I heard about an impossible partner who yelled at his associates even threw things at them and then, remarkably, that same partner came to work with me for career counseling. I had the opportunity to understand why he had become the boss from hell. He was having a very difficult time in his life and was taking it out on others. Bullies need help too. Often they are really hurting. That same compassion that Monica Lewinsky is talking about is important for nearly everyone. I was able to work with this partner to help him understand how his behavior affected the people around him in his work place and also help him move on to a job that did not trigger his anxiety and temper.

Sometimes people who are termed bullies feel they are being unfairly labeled themselves. It is true that there are overly sensitive people who can and do overreact to comments made by their bosses. Some people can feel bullied when what they are reacting to may be well-intentioned but poorly delivered criticism. However, even if there are overly sensitive workers or understandable reasons why a boss becomes a screamer, there are, nonetheless, some basic but as yet unwritten rights that workplaces should enforce when it comes to workplace culture.

You have a right to work without being yelled at, screamed at, shamed, or bullied. Everyone knows who the bullies are, but people are afraid to speak up. People quit their jobs rather than confront this problem even when a highly dysfunctional boss creates a toxic work environment affecting nearly everyone and negatively impacting productivity. People are afraid to lose their jobs or become whistle blowers for good reason. It can be dangerous for one person to speak out alone. Consequently, there can be a culture of silence surrounding the bully. Management has a duty to act to get the bullying boss, manager or partner some help and put a stop to the behavior. Others at a workplace could also band together to speak up if they witness consistent bullying. If people band together they have more power. Silence is assent. Failing to step up, speak up, and open up about workplace bullying allows the workplace to be infected by an insidious and damaging culture.

If we all insist on a standard of fairness and accountability and if we do not tolerate a culture of bullying at work or online, the world we live and work in will be a much better experience for everyone.

Lean In or Lean Back? What’s a Woman To Do?

“Should I lean in or should I lean back?” My 25 year old daughter had just heard two talks about how women succeed in the business world. “I’m confused,” she confessed.

balance scalesOn the one hand, she had listened to an inspiring talk about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and thought that the speaker made a convincing case that women should push themselves to participate more, join the men at the table, and speak up. If women could do that, they would accelerate their own careers and professional development, help businesses to be more successful, and discover that their contributions and their voices are valued and valuable. The audience was excited and clapped appreciatively at these stirring words of empowerment. Excellent advice!

But then she heard another talk with a different speaker who had a different perspective. This speaker said she had taken Sheryl Sandberg’s advice. She had jumped in and joined professional organizations and taken a leadership role, participated at work, gotten engaged and contributed, and the result was that she went crazy trying to keep up with all of the commitments. Soon she felt like a gerbil in a cage running on an exercise wheel, racing to keep up as the wheel turned round and round. “Is this what I want for my life?” she asked. “No! Life is too short! Don’t lean in, lean back!” The audience laughed and clapped in appreciation. Excellent advice!

If it is a good idea to lean in and a good idea to lean back, what should you do to both succeed in the work world and also have a life filled with the good times that come from down time – time doing nothing much at all, time with friends and family, time to recover from the stressful world of work?

Are these two postures mutually exclusive?

The answer is both simple and complex. The straightforward answer is this: “Know yourself.” If you do understand yourself well you should be able to create an equation of leaning in and leaning back that is a compromise, it’s true, but workable and uniquely yours. To implement it, you have to push yourself in at times and step back at times because it is your uniquely personal goals that are your compass and your road map.

How do you figure out this right-sized equation? You think about your priorities and goals. Write down what you have to have in your work life and what you need to avoid. Some people really do want to lean in. Often they have a strong desire to take control and they aspire to be leaders. They want to contribute at the highest levels of the enterprise. They want to affect outcomes and create change. They were the students who sat at the front of the lecture hall and raised their hands to answer the professor’s questions. For them success needs to include being a player and being heard. But not everyone wants that. Some people, men and women both, do not have that drive or passion. For them, their highest value may well be a deep desire for time away from work, doing “nothing,” not being insanely productive, reading a book, taking a walk, talking with friends and family. If you understand who you are, you can right-size your level of engagement.

Although the simple answer is to understand yourself, changing circumstances add to the complexity of the equation and might call for a shift in your personal equation. If you take that new job that offers greater challenge, a higher salary, and an opportunity to excel in your industry but requires travel every week, will that career move disrupt the equilibrium of your equation? Should you ask for a part-time work option and possibly damage your hard-won image as a leaning in, fully committed team player now that you have a newborn?

Changes in your circumstances can make once-clear answers less certain. Priorities can and do shift over time in most careers, and when they do, it is good to rework and adjust your lean in/lean back equation based on new needs and altered values, priorities, and goals.

There is no right answer and no wrong answer, just your unique answer – the one you forge based on your evolving knowledge of yourself and the changing circumstances of your life.

How to Transition to a New Career

Even if you know you have what it takes to do a job in a field that is not your current field, potential employers need to see some evidence that you have the hard and soft skills they want. Some new hires can come in as total newbies and get trained on the job, of course, depending on the job, but even with minimal requirements to be hired, an employer usually wants to know that you have something useful to bring to the table. Summer jobs and internships are helpful to establish a track record of interest and skills development. It is important to be able to articulate why you are interested in the position and base that on tangibles. “I know that I enjoy working in event planning because for the past three summers I have interned with an event planning company and helped put together a series of events that were very successful. I would hope you would talk with my supervisor there because she has a lot of great things to say about my work.” Internships can be a wonderful way to develop experiences that support a shift in career direction and can jumpstart entry into a new industry.

volunteer-652383_1280In the past two blog posts I have been talking about Sara, who started out in the field of public relations and then realized that that career direction was wrong for her. She needed to reboot her career. Our assessment work clearly indicated the not-for-profit sector. The challenge was how to convince the right not-for-profit that she would be a good hire for a paid position as a program assistant, developer, coordinator, or fund raiser, for example, when her background in those areas was limited. Most employers really like to hire people who can hit the ground running and do not need a lot of training.

However, prior volunteer work should not be underestimated. Unpaid volunteer work can be valuable experience, especially if you were entrusted with responsibility and took charge of an event or project, for example. You can mine that experience for wonderful stories to talk about what you learned and gained from your volunteer work. In fact some jobs that are paid positions are less valuable in terms of the skills that were developed or experience gained. Do not discount your unpaid work.

Sometimes the best way to transition to another field is to find or try to create unpaid work or modestly paid internships and take the economic hit so that you can do the necessary retooling for your career. Some people cannot afford to do it, but if you can make it work even for a brief period of time, the benefit can be very great.

In Sara’s case, she knew that she wanted to move into the not-for-profit world but her prior volunteer work was in high school and college and it was mostly with Big Brother/ Big Sister or similar organizations. She had had a summer job at an organization that helped inner city kids develop skills in a variety of sports, but that was limited to a few months of low level assistance. Sara wanted to get more experience that would make her appealing to a potential not-for-profit employer. To handle the economic hit of this transition, she took a paid research position for six months and used some of her savings, which was just enough to live on, while she looked for a not-for-profit that would allow her to jump in and help out.

She networked for information, and learned that there was a well-regarded not-for-profit which had a program she really liked that was just developing a branch in New York City where she lived. She connected with that group and started going to their planning meetings at their office in the Financial District. At one of the meetings she learned about a project that had been funded by the city of New York, but the group did not have enough manpower to implement it. The project called for people from their group to pitch and then develop a sports program for children who lived in the shelter system of New York based on the model used by the not-for-profit.

Sara volunteered to help with the program. She jumped right in and became very helpful, developing materials and participating in meetings with shelter staff and then standing up in front of the families at the Chinatown shelter and pitching the program. When the families expressed interest, she developed the program and took a leadership role. That experience was priceless. For example, she learned about the materials used by the not-for-profit, how to be a coach, how to talk about the program and pitch it, how to raise money, and much more. She worked at the job as if she had been hired for a paid position. When Hurricane Sandy hit and the Financial District was flooded she and another volunteer found a way to get to the office and rescue materials for an expo for the charity athlete team that was going to raise money for the group by running in the marathon that was coming up. Even though the elevator was close to inoperable and the building was essentially shut down, the two of them were successful at salvaging the materials for the charity athletes and lugging them down from the 18th floor. Her efforts were definitely noticed. The New York group was working on creating a funded position for her with their program when the Chicago branch of this not-for-profit needed to hire an assistant for a program coordinator and reached out to all the programs across the country to see if there was anyone who should be interviewed for that job. Sara’s name came up. She was invited to interview for the job. She interviewed for the position and she landed it, beating out extensive competition. The fact that Sara had clearly set her sights on this particular group and had worked on a project for them and done well, put her at the top of the applicant pile. After that, her strong interview sealed the deal. She was eager, knew why she wanted this job, why she wanted to work for this particular not-for-profit, why she had left public relations, what she needed from her career, and could articulate her goals.

She is glad that she made that transition almost two years ago now and has found that her assessment work, informational work and research was very valuable. She is getting what she wanted from her job at this point: collaborative, supportive co-workers, a mission she believes in, a job that plays to her strengths, and a future in a field that will help her to become the person she wants to be.

Finding Your New Career Path

In earlier blogs I have been writing about figuring out the right career path using two simple assessment tools. The first is AIMS and the second is AILS. The AIMS assessment helps you to find the sweet spot for your career and get you heading in the right career direction. The AILS assessment is very useful if you are dissatisfied with your job/career or you want to try to assess whether you are likely to be unhappy with a future job/career. In this post I want to talk about how to match your unique personality and needs with the right career. How do you dig down and find that career direction with the potential to be successful and satisfying for you?   All of this work is based on some degree of self-knowledge. It really helps if you know what you like and do not like, what gets you excited, and what you cannot stand.

Building BlocksIn the last blog I talked about Sara who was in the field of public relations and how she was deeply dissatisfied with her job. After assessing her AILS (Aptitude, Interest, Lifestyle, Self-actualization), it was clear that she needed to find another job and perhaps another field altogether. How should she figure out that next career move? A very useful tool is something I call Essential Elements. It is an assessment of what you personally need. These are your building blocks for a satisfying career. Everyone has a slightly different set of needs. It may be that most people want to work with collaborative and collegial people, but some need that much more than others, for example. It may be that many people want to be mentored, but some people need a boss to pro-actively teach them while others would experience a very engaged boss as a micromanager. Different strokes for different folks.

A useful way to find the building blocks you need is through a work history in which you identify every job you have ever had, paid or unpaid, and include your experience in school as if it were a job. For each job or position you list everything you liked and disliked in great detail. What emerges are recurrent themes. These are the elemental building blocks of your career: what you need to have and need to avoid in your work world.

In Sara’s case, the work history showed the following strong themes:

  1. She liked jobs where people had a shared mission that made the world better
  2. She wanted a place where people worked collaboratively to fulfill a common goal
  3. The work pace was relatively easy going
  4. Making a lot of money was not a motivator for her but she wanted to make enough to be secure and have a decent apartment in a safe neighborhood
  5. The work she would be doing should play to her strengths – communication, social skills, creating connections between people, writing, advising, and teaching
  6. The workplace should foster those skills she wanted to develop – leadership, speaking, having a voice in meetings
  7. Her boss would foster those skills by encouraging rather than criticizing
  8. The content of the work should be interesting to her and involve an activity or topic she cared about
  9. Sara could develop an active social life because the demands of the workplace would not spill over too much into her life outside of work
  10. She wanted to respect her co-workers for their ethics and fairness
  11. Sara wanted to be able to move ahead in the field and become an expert some day

On the list of things she hated and wanted to avoid, Sara identified the following:

  • Bad bosses – screamers and micromanagers
  • Arguing and fighting as part of the job
  • Weekend work that damaged her social life/life outside of work

How did we find a match up? We started with her interests. Sara had been on the track team in high school and her events were the 400 meter and high jump. She loved running and she had done work with a not-for-profit that supported young girls who were interested in running. She had also been involved with Big Brother/Big Sister. The mission of the not-for-profit world was very interesting to her. When she talked about doing that work she lit up. She also liked the students she had met who got involved in the not-for-profit sector. They seemed down to earth with good values and a sense of purpose she admired. When she imagined getting up in the morning to go to work for a not-for-profit, she liked that idea.

She found job postings on Indeed.com that resonated with her. She did not apply immediately, but used them to gauge her interest in the jobs being described. Most of them were in the not-for-profit sector. She wanted these jobs and could imagine doing this work and enjoying it.

She did informational interviews with people from her college who were working in the not-for-profit sector post-graduate to be sure that what she was looking for could be found in that sector. What she learned in part was that the particular workplace mattered a lot but that the jobs she heard about appealed to her a lot. In addition these jobs and workplaces were matching well with her template of elements.

When it came to the things to avoid, such as bad bosses, she learned that because not-for-profit workplaces were generally less intense, and had no billable hour requirements, there was less overt pressure on the manager, boss, or staff, which meant that they were generally more relaxed places. The stress came from deadlines for projects but that could usually be managed by staying well organized.

Sara decided to move into the not-for-profit world and that set the stage for a transition from public relations to not-for-profit where program development and project management were the skills she needed to showcase to land opportunities in this sector. In the next blog we will talk about how she was able to make that transition and how to transition your own career if you ever need to do so.

What AILS You?

“I am in the wrong job and I want to figure out what the right one would be.” She had a great smile and capable manner but she was clearly upset. Sara was off to a good start in her understanding about her problem because at least she knew she was in the wrong job. Many people I work with start off our work by saying, “I am really unhappy but I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my job. Maybe it’s something else.” Often they have been trying to figure out this problem for years and have been wearing out their friends and family trying to solve the mystery.

Sara had a job in public relations in the health care sector. She had been excited about the field, and while in college she had worked hard to build skills that she had learned would be valued by employers in the field of PR. She took classes in communications, marketing, and writing, and wrote for the school paper.   She also created relationships and did summer jobs that positioned her for the field. She researched the leading companies and set her sights on one of the top global players in the industry. In her senior year she planned to attend a job fair in a nearby town that she heard would have a recruiter for the company she was interested in working for some day. Before meeting with the recruiter at the job fair, she learned about her through her LinkedIn profile and also talked with professors who helped her to locate someone who knew this recruiter and could put in a good word about her as well as mentioning that she would be at the job fair. The recruiter planned a short in-person meeting with her to take place at the job fair which was, in essence, an interview. In short, she did everything right to land a job with this very competitive company and it paid off. She landed a six month internship that was the on-ramp to a full time job with the company of her dreams. She excelled at the internship and out of a group of thirty, was one of only five to land a full-time job.

But then, she started the job and almost immediately she was miserable. The work was stressful and intense with very long hours and very early mornings, late nights and weekends. Her boss was critical but had no time to mentor her and Sara could not find anyone else with the time or inclination to teach her. She made mistakes and ran into trouble with the client on one occasion not because she spoke up but because she did not speak up about something she was not aware was important to tell this client. When she looked at the jobs she could have in the future in the field of public relations, she did not want them. Sara was experiencing a personality mismatch with her chosen career.

Finding a way out of the woods is not always simple and clear. There are books and articles and blogs about careers and jobs but how can you tell what will work for you? A big part of the answer is that you have to know about yourself first. You need to know your personality enough to make educated guesses that you support with informational interviews to predict where you will find a personality match with your career.

To help my clients create a road map to a career that will be satisfying, we evaluate four key factors: Aptitude, Interest, Lifestyle and Self-Actualization. It helps if the person has already had some jobs in the past whether they were paid or unpaid. From that experience we can learn a lot about what is most likely to work well.

Aptitude means you are good at it. These skills and abilities come easily to you. You do not have to work too hard to “get it.” People often compliment you on your abilities in this area. For Sara, her strongest suit included people skills, communication skills, conveying information in written form, organization, focus, and emotional intelligence.

Interest means you love thinking or doing this activity. There is natural engagement. Spending time doing this job will not feel as much like work when you gravitate to this activity and enjoy it. This includes the content area or what you are spending time thinking about all day. Sara was strongly interested in a mission of helping people. She had hoped that helping companies tell their story would suffice, but it was not an underlying mission she liked at all once she began her job. In fact she began to feel upset about supporting a company that at times was trying to hide the truth from consumers or sugar coat the bad news about their latest drug with horrible side effects. She felt that instead of being part of the solution she was part of the problem. This was contributing to her intense dislike of her job.

Lifestyle refers to the way you want to live your life and how the job impedes or helps with that goal. Lifestyle encompasses such factors as compensation, hours, commute time, travel for work, work-pace, and stress. It includes work-life balance and quality of life outside of work. In Sara’s case she yearned for more time with friends and family, hated the long hours required of anyone doing this high powered job, and reacted poorly to the stress and pace. This was another serious mismatch for her. She was a type-B personality in a type-A personality job.

Self-Actualization refers to the way you are evolving and developing as a person. What is this job doing to you? Are you feeling fulfilled? Do you like the person you are becoming as well as the person you will need to be to do the job well and be successful? Our workplaces can help to grow us or stunt our personal growth. Can you be the person that you want to be if you stay with this job? Are you becoming someone you do not respect? Sara was constantly stressed out and nervous about her work product. She could see that she should be more driven and engaged than she was if she hoped to be successful at this career. But she did not feel excited about that and was instead losing sleep and needing to take anti-anxiety meds. She did not respect the gossipy nature of the people who gravitated to this workplace and was upset when co-workers claimed credit for the original ideas of others or talked in a negative way about the client; these activities were routine at this workplace. This workplace culture was not what she wanted.

A clear-eyed assessment of Sara’s job in public relations as it matched up with her needs revealed that three of the four AILS elements were not satisfied. She probably had the aptitude for this job but the interest, lifestyle and self-actualization elements were not there. We could see that Sara should look for another job and possibly for another career path. If you are dissatisfied with your job, check these four elements to determine what is missing. If you are missing any one of the four elements you should consider a career or job move. The next blog post will focus on how Sara uncovered a better career path that fit her unique needs and some ideas that could help you too.