How to Think Through a Career Change

“I’m in the wrong career and I want to know what the right one would be.” Jason had a winning smile, bright penetrating eyes, and a capable, confident, easy-going manner. As a graduate of Harvard Law School, I could also assume that he was intelligent and hard working. His large law firm had probably been delighted to recruit him not only because of his attractive personality, but because minority hires with his outstanding academic credentials were highly desirable and not always that easy to find. “I’ve been a commercial litigator for three years,” he went on, “and I hate almost everything about my job. In fact, I never liked studying law in school. I am not interested in the subject matter and I don’t feel I fit in with the people I work with.”

Jason had chosen law as his career for many of the same reasons that others do. In high school he had been told that he communicated well and held up his end in an argument. Jason was an excellent student from a tough inner-city high school where he was the school president his senior year. He excelled at basketball and loved to play the game. Jason went to Amherst college and, after an initial adjustment, he did well there. Jason’s teachers as well as his parents encouraged him to consider the field of law because it would be a secure and lucrative profession.

The first inkling of trouble came in law school. Jason did well in law school because he worked hard, but he had no interest in the legal concepts he was learning. He persevered because many people told him that the practice of law was not like law school. Maybe he would enjoy practicing law.

In his first and second summers during law school he interned at the law firm that eventually hired him when he graduated. This large firm had a reasonably good reputation for quality of life. Jason worked in the litigation practice group. He described the practice group leader as a “decent guy” and the others in the group were “kind of boring but okay,” according to Jason. As time went on, however, it became clearer and clearer to Jason that for him the work wasn’t what he wanted to spend his time doing, and the legal issues were uninteresting to him.

Jason was, he said, a “real people person” who liked to be “physically active”. He looked at the partners at his firm and realized that he did not want their jobs or their lifestyles. Ever. Big money did not motivate him. Jason felt that he was wasting his time as a lawyer at a large firm. Other people might think that his life was “cool” or “prestigious” but nothing could convince him of that. He hated going to work and couldn’t wait to leave at the end of the day. Every Sunday he got depressed.

What did he want from his work-life? Jason described his ideal job. He would look forward to going to work. The workplace would be “active” and involve a team with a mission that excited him. He would interact with a lot of people during the day. He would feel good about the mission and the goals. He would be involved in a work world that brought out the best in him. When we went through his work history, the job that he loved above all others was the job he had had coaching the women’s basketball team in college. He enjoyed the activity, the counseling and coaching. He loved the thrill of the games and the administrative work did not bother him because it was part of the effort needed to make the team successful. He liked everything about that job. On a scale of 1 to 10 that job had been a 10.

What set Jason apart from some dissatisfied professionals I work with was the knowledge he already had about his career dissatisfaction. Jason was certain that his job and probably his career was wrong for him. He knew that he needed a roadmap to help him find a career that was better for him. He had already given a lot of thought to what would make him happier.

Some of my clients begin our first session with a tangle of undefined depression and weariness.

After trying for years to unravel the cause of their unhappiness by themselves or with the help of books or spouses or friends who are tired of hearing their complaints, they meet with me to help them solve the mystery of their dissatisfaction. All they can say is that they are unhappy, but they do not know why.

No matter how confusing or mixed up the initial ball of complaints may seem, it is usually possible to untangle it by identifying four elements and using these elements as a device for sorting out the dissatisfactions and needs that must be met. This, along with a work history helps us understand the basic building blocks for a successful career.

These four elements we discuss are: aptitude, interest, lifestyle, and self- actualization. They form the acronym AILS. Each person needs to have a differing amount of these four elements in his or her career, but everyone needs to get these four elements to experience career satisfaction. If you are unhappy ask yourself “What AILS me?” by thinking through how well or how poorly your current career is satisfying these elements for you.

Aptitude

Aptitude is what you do well. You want to have a career where you get to play to your natural strengths and your natural talents. Others may describe you as “terrific” or “excellent” at these activities.

Usually aptitudes are not speculative by the time you graduate from college. By then most people have experienced, recognized and have evidence of their talents and gifts. Other people such as your parents, teachers, and friends have pointed them out to you. “Wow, you sure are good at public speaking,” or “I can’t believe how well you understand people and you are so good at helping them feel better,” or “You just always seem to understand math. How do you do it?” Often you will be able to tell that comparatively and objectively you do well at these activities. You are the person who is asked to take a leadership role. You are the person that everyone seems to trust to tell their secrets. You are a stand-out in your science class. In short, you do the task or activity well and you are naturally good at it.

There are also aptitude tests that can be helpful for people who want to be sure about their strengths or gifts and avoid missing a hidden aptitude that might influence career path choice. Aptitude tests are especially helpful for people deciding on their initial career path. Once you have invested significant time and energy in a professional career and have developed a skillset that is marketable in that industry, it may be less useful for you to be told that you should have been an architect or a doctor, for example. At that point in your life, the energy and/or cost it would take to recredential in a field that demands years of study and internship or other hurdles, may be impractical, too expensive or too time-consuming for you.

On the other hand, there are often related fields that will allow many professionals to enter with little or no re-credentialing. For example, many attorneys are able find niches in the legal profession that play to their strengths, eliminating the need to re-credential. Or they might find a career that relates to the field of law or serves the field of law where the legal background acts as leverage and gives them an advantage- these are called JD Advantage jobs. Some examples are professional development for law firms, sales of technology services for law firms, career services in a law school, public relations for the legal field or legal recruiting. There are many others. If you transition your career into the new field you will no longer practice law, but your legal experience makes you more valuable because you understand the legal work world and you serve or support some aspect of the legal field. From that strategic move, you can sometimes move further into the new field. You can go from legal recruiting to executive recruiting, or career services for the law school to another role in the administration of a university. Other professions have the same kind of potential for people who want to leave the direct delivery of services in that field but can deliver valuable services to the industry in a different role. An example would be changing careers from being an environmental consultant doing field work to the role of strategic communications director for a renewable energy company. There are many other similar transitions that can work for people who are trying to retool their careers to play to their strengths and interests.

In Jason’s situation he seemed to have an aptitude for the law that would have sustained him had he been interested in the law, but he was not interested.

Interest

Interests do not always match up with aptitudes. You can have an aptitude for math but be uninterested in a career where you use any of your math skills. Your “interests” are important because they provide the energy or motivation powering your work-life. You like to think about the kinds of things or ideas or engage in the kinds of activities that are typical for this field. When you choose a well-matched career the feeling is “What!? They pay me to do this work? I’d do it for free! It’s fascinating.” You enjoy the mental life you experience when you do this work. You are excited about the work and look forward to getting better at the same or similar activities.

Some people tell me they have no strong interests. Those people tend to have a strong interest they have not identified. They usually care about having a life that works with friends and family and good experiences. This can be a strong interest too!

When you are really interested in something, the whole world falls away. It’s as if you are in another world because you are so focused, so “into” whatever it is you are doing. This is referred to as “flow”. In career work I strive to find out where there is a high level of interest to help my clients who want or need to re-purpose or re-tool their careers in a better direction. Of course, we also need to factor in other elements as well including the amount of money someone needs to make, work-life balance, market forces, and whether the person must return to school for more education if that is needed to gain the skills to land a job in the new field. I worked with a young man who was sent by his parents because he had “no interest in anything.” All he wanted to do was play video games. He was terrific at these games. After working together, we both agreed his passion and dream was to be able to create videogame content. He was excited to go to school to learn how to create video games. This career path allowed him to follow his strong interest.

For Jason, strong interest in the law was missing. He reported a sense of monumental boredom with not only his practice area and the work he did at his firm, but he had also disliked law school. The content of his law school classes was not engaging for him. He had gritted his way through law school, and he was gritting his way through as a lawyer. When he looked at the people who were partners at his firm and imagined himself doing what they were doing he felt uninspired and depressed. That vision of a future life was not something he wanted.

When the “interest” factor is present, the person enjoys learning, reading and doing the activities that lead to greater expertise. Because Jason had only been in one job for his entire legal career, we thought it might be premature to think that the field of law was uninteresting to him. We considered other practice areas. Jason did informational interviews to see if other practice areas might appeal to him. He found lawyers in different practice areas through his law school career services center and either met in person or talked with them over the phone to find out about their experiences to see if he could imagine himself doing the work they were doing.

In Jason’s case, it seemed possible that his interest in sports and his background in law might fuse to create an interest in sports law. But after doing informational interviews with people in the niche practice area of sports law, Jason rejected that idea. He did not want to do legal work for athletes, which he learned would mainly mean contract negotiation and drafting. Jason also considered and rejected being a scout or an agent for athletes after doing some informational interviews with lawyers who had transitioned to that kind of work. Jason did not find any legal practice area that held his interest. If anything, after talking with other lawyers he was more determined than ever to leave the field of law. His lack of interest in the law was undeniable.

Life Style

Life style is a composite of factors. Some people really need to have these factors in their work-lives to be successful. Some do not. These factors differ in terms of importance depending upon the person. Some of these factors include but are not limited to:

  • How much money you want or need to earn to feel secure
  • Work/ life balance
  • Typical hours (time for family and friends or activities outside of work)
  • Flexibility and ability to work remotely
  • Travel schedule
  • Flexibility of place- being physically active during the day

These and other factors have varying degrees of importance for people. For some, there are items on this list that are crucial and other items that would need to be added. There are other people who would not put any of these items on their personal radar screen for lifestyle.

When I work with clients, we do a thorough work history. Clients write up the work history with a pro and con list of everything they liked and did not like in their past work experiences, past school experiences, past jobs and current job. We also talk about their family of origin and their experiences growing up. A work history and personal history illuminate themes that reveal lifestyle needs as well as aptitudes and strong interests. A thorough and penetrating discussion of these recurrent themes is the key to identifying elements that people need and need to avoid in their work-lives. Important elements recur, and “pop out” in the work history.

For example, Jason identified a need to be physically active. “I feel pent up at work all day,” he said. “I used to like being able to move around and go from place to place in college. My classes were in different parts of the campus. I really liked that walk.” “I look at the partners at my firm and wonder when they ever get the chance to exercise.” To feel okay, Jason needed physical activity in his daily life. When he played basketball, which was something he did well growing up and in high school, he felt that he was in his element. His favorite job had been assistant coach for the girl’s basketball team. Doing that job, he got to be physically active and he was also coaching, teaching, advising and training- all activities he enjoyed very much. The mission of helping the next generation was very motivating for him. Working with the team was absorbing and gave him a sense of flow.

For many dissatisfied professionals, voicing complaints and unhappiness has been a recurrent topic of conversation with colleagues, friends and spouses; enough to wear them out sometimes. Unfortunately, complaining does not usually get you closer to a solution. But the exercise of articulating likes and dislikes in a work history ferrets out these major themes and needs that people have and that can in turn lead to a better understanding of the right career direction for success.

Jason and I learned about his needs and allergies through his work history. We came up with a master list unique to Jason as I do with hundreds of other clients who work with me to identify their career direction. I highly recommend doing a work-history where you identify pros and cons of your past jobs, paid or unpaid, if you are trying to figure out the right career direction for success.

Self-Actualization

The fourth element is self-actualization, self-growth and/or personal development. It is the hallmark of being human that we are each unique and that we usually feel good if we are working towards personally resonant goals in our lives.

Just as plants need the right kind of soil, amount of sun, and nutrients, people have internal psychological needs that relate to their potential for growth. If you put a person in the wrong work context that person will not grow as well and will not feel satisfied or be successful in that career. There are also toxic workplaces with bosses that denigrate workers, screamers, yellers and micromanagers. Some workplaces are not good for anyone! In some cases, the person in a toxic workplace will feel depressed and use alcohol, drugs, or other self-medication to try to deal with the problem. Some people will blame themselves for their unhappiness at work. In my work with many clients, if the workplace is the problem, moving to a better workplace with a better environment is the cure. In addition, if the personal mission matches up well enough with the career, many people experience a sense of relief and greater contentment as well as personal growth. Given the variety of workplaces out there in the world, it is usually possible to find a better fit to match your needs.

Our careers should help us to grow and to develop in ways that we want and need to evolve as people. To do that we want to put ourselves into career contexts that promote those parts of ourselves that we want to develop. The young woman or man who was shy in high school and college or grew up in a household with an overbearing parent, might yearn to develop his or her ability to stand up, have a voice and speak out. Conquering an ancient fear can be a powerful force for personal growth as well as a motivator creating long term interest in in a field because it satisfies a profound personal need. A person raised in a household where the oldest son was allowed to bully his younger siblings may feel actualized by a legal career in which s/he can take the role of the avenger (i.e. prosecutor, public defender, personal injury attorney). The context of the workplace should support and nurture the positive personal mission of the individual.

Careers come in many different varieties when it comes to these self-actualization needs. For example, a person who blossoms when he or she can assume leadership roles and an opportunity to assume responsibility might find good opportunities in many fields as long as the work settings permit or foster that kind of growth. But let’s say a person has a strong need to have a calm and supportive team environment, with people who ask how you are feeling, appreciate you, thank you and work collaboratively. A person with that kind of self-actualization need will be less likely to find many satisfying workplaces where the firm or company has a high intensity, competitive culture. Searching for and finding the right match between workplace culture and your personal needs is very important. I teach my clients how to do this and I have written two books that help people to find their way to the right workplaces.

Some of my clients report that the career they have chosen is not working for them because they do not like the way they have to behave or act in order to be successful. They do not like the person they are becoming in order to do the job well. “I’m turning into a witch! I yell and scream at people!” one female litigator announced. “If I don’t leave the law, I will probably ruin my marriage I’ve become such a bitch.” Other lawyers have said, “I hate to pretend that I actually enjoy winning at any cost. I really don’t like the whole competitive thing. I do not want to have to act in a way that isn’t me.” Many others have said, “I think I am becoming a worrywort. I worry all the time. Did I do it right? Will the partner throw me work at the last moment on Friday when I am leaving for my friend’s wedding? Did I blow a deadline? I used to worry about things before I became a lawyer, but not like this!” Others say, “My partner finds fault with everything I write and re-writes it all in his style which makes me feel like a failure.” These and other problems bring people in to work with me.to figure out if they should transition to a new career or simply change their workplace to get a more compatible work environment.

Another aspect of being human is that in our families of origin, we also have experiences that set us up for allergies towards certain people and situations. Many of these allergies come from our childhood, the parenting we had, and the kinds of experiences we had growing up. Without question people also bring their personal baggage and allergies with them into their work lives. Even so, workplaces can increase a person’s problems and intensify psychological distress. The measure of the job’s fit with a person’s internal needs for self-actualization must be determined by that individual’s unique blend of requirements. That blend includes quirks and sensitivities.

One person may be allergic to the micromanager boss who is reminiscent of the over-involved mother that he or she could not wait to get away from. Ironically, he now has to deal with a boss who brings up the same feelings in him. Another person might be allergic to a situation in a work group where highly credentialed attorneys (prestigious schools) do better than attorneys with more experience (street smarts) by being given better assignments and greater responsibility. It isn’t fair. Anyone might be upset about that. But if the experience reminds you of a painful rivalry with a favored sibling, for example, that will intensify your allergy to the unfair work situation and make it unbearable for you.

Everyone has these sensitivities or allergies and carries them around as personal baggage. If your personal allergies are interfering with or even torpedoing career and personal success, and/or a sense of abiding satisfaction with life, relationships and work, then it pays to unpack the bags you carry and try to understand or even remodel yourself if you can. Some people are able to do that through individual or group therapy, CBT or DBT work, counseling, journaling, or talking with family or friends.

There is a way to figure out with reasonable accuracy if you have an embedded personal allergy that is hurting your career success. If the workplace problem is coming from your personal baggage, you will usually find this problem has cropped up in other past work settings and in interactions with friends and family. Often, the work history will reveal that the person has a history of similar reactions or feelings in multiple settings.

If you want to try to figure this out for yourself, write up your work history: every job you have had, paid or unpaid, and what you liked and did not like about it. Then read it for themes. A history laced with similar stories about “bad bosses” or “people who never get along with me” or “older supervisors who always criticize me” can be a big red flag to help you to identify your own psychological baggage or allergies. If you carry this baggage with you it will follow you in life. You might want to consider therapy or counseling to move beyond these recurring problems from childhood.

In many cases there is a mix or blend of elements that contribute to workplace dissatisfaction. The person has an allergy or sensitivity and the workplace exacerbates it. If that is the case, moving into a different workplace with fewer allergens present can be a highly effective cure for the problem. The person who is, for example, highly allergic to the micromanaging boss will do a lot better in a different work world or workplace with a boss who trusts him or her to do the work. Although the underlying personality problem is still there, the problem is less evident because it is not stirred up at work.

When it came to Jason, changing to another law firm, going in house or finding a government job was not going to be the solution to his career problem because he would still be practicing law. He did not have problems with the culture of his firm, his partners or his colleagues. Jason needed to transition his career out of the field of law. After doing some informational interviews to learn about sports administration, Jason applied for a masters in sports administration at Amherst and got into the master’s program. He learned that his law degree should help him to land a good job in that new field once he graduates. Jason was excited about this transition. We can predict that he will be successful in his new field because all four elements are very likely going to be met based on his informational interviewing- aptitude, interest, lifestyle, self- actualization.

Final Thoughts

Aptitude, interest, lifestyle and self-actualization are the building blocks for a successful career. If you understand this much about yourself and your needs, you will be able to identify career goals that play to your strengths and set you on a path to career success.

What Are the Most Effective Job Sites, and Are They Enough?

All job sites are definitely not created equal; some are much more effective than others. The information on these sites can help you find out who is hiring, what those companies are looking for and what their work environments are like. But they are just the beginning of the job search process. When you have a list of places and positions you’re interested in, the real fun begins! More on that in a bit.

Reviews.com

First, let’s take a look at a summary of a Reviews.com article that lists the best websites for job seekers. Then we’ll discuss what to do once you’ve found the jobs that interest you. Reviews.com is an independent research company that spent six weeks evaluating job sites to determine which ones are most effective for a productive job search. A summary follows; their free, in-depth review can be found here. And thanks to the folks at Reviews.com for sharing this information.

Job Site Reviews

Glassdoor

With an average of 22 new posts per day, Glassdoor is by far the most active website for job seekers. However, Glassdoor is much more than a recruitment website; it allows companies to establish profiles containing detailed information about salaries as well as reviews from past and current employees.

Users don’t need to create an account to search for jobs, but the benefits of signing up are well worth a few seconds of your time. Many employer profiles contain a “Why Work for Us?” section, which lets companies upload photos and videos that showcase their work environment. Glassdoor also has a handy mobile app containing all of the same features found on the website.

Indeed

Sometimes less is more, which is the philosophy behind Indeed’s bare-bones approach to job hunting. The website is simply a search engine for jobs, but it is the most comprehensive of its kind. Indeed is second only to Glassdoor in terms of frequency of postings. Employers appreciate Indeed because posting jobs doesn’t cost anything.

One advantage Indeed offers that Glassdoor doesn’t is a wealth of search filters. You can sort through opportunities based on industry, salary, experience requirements, and more. Indeed also features a salary calculator that uses data collected from previous employees. This can be extremely helpful when it comes to negotiating a salary.

LinkedIn

While LinkedIn isn’t known for having an abundance of job postings, the professional networking website is where most recruiters now look to find qualified candidates. A 2015 survey found that more than half of employers use social media profiles as part of their screening process, which is why you should be careful about what you post online.

Don’t think of your LinkedIn profile as an online resume; customize it to sell yourself as a professional. Participate in discussion forums and take advantage of the messaging feature to make contacts who might eventually help you get your foot in the door.

Honorable Mentions

In addition to recommending niche job sites for individual industries, Reviews.com found the following services to be helpful for some job seekers.

JobisJob: For those looking for jobs all around the globe, JobisJob features a geographic hot spot tool that identifies regions where job markets are thriving.

Dice: For those looking for STEM jobs, specifically in the industries of technology, financial services, and health care.

MediaBistro: Useful for freelancer writers and other professionals looking for work in journalism, advertising, marketing, or PR.

Snagajob: Useful for individuals seeking part-time work and hourly jobs.

Next, the Real Fun Begins: Using Rapid Relationship and Trust Building to Land the Job You Want

Submitting applications through job sites is a great way to start. But if that’s all you do, you may as well be tossing your resume into the void. Studies have revealed that most employers spend only a few seconds looking at resumes when they have hundreds of applicants before them. Submitting your application and just waiting to hear back is a recipe for failure. “For every one person hired through an online job application program, 12 are hired by an internal referral,” claims Steve Dalton, program director for Daytime Career Services at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. He adds, “The literal information you find in online job postings is not that helpful, but the information that the postings suggest is very helpful.”

The best approach for maximizing your job search is to begin with job sites and then move into what I call rapid relationship and trust building to gain traction in the field you target. In my book Job Quest: How to Become the Insider Who Gets Hired, I spell out how to create the connections that give you a tremendous advantage when it comes to landing jobs. I explain how to create personal relationships with those known and trusted by the workplace, and how that can open the doors.

In my book, I break the process down into a series of concrete, easy-to-follow steps using a game approach and an analogy to a medieval quest to help you understand what to look for and how to move forward in your search. I explain what luck has to do with it (and how to create your own), how to prepare for the quest, how to get around the resume-blocking gatekeepers (the dragons who guard the hiring managers), how to find key people to connect with (your knights and wizards), what to say once you connect with them, how to continue building your connections, how to interview, when to start using the word “job,” when to go for the close, and how to give back to your connections.

Feel free to read more about this process here, and read an excerpt of the first chapter, The Insider Advantage, here.

Handling the Shock of the Presidential Election

As a career counselor, I don’t normally write about politics, but these are unusual times, and I felt that it was important to share my thoughts. I know that my views won’t align with those of some of my clients, but I wanted to write this precisely because so many of my other clients are very upset and anxious about what this election may mean to them personally and to the country.

This presidential election has left many of us shocked, upset, and worried.

Trump

Psychiatrists and psychologists are seeing an upsurge in depression in the wake of this election. Part of the shock is the result of polls that were so wrong. In the span of a few hours as the returns came in, the Trump effect melted away Clinton’s hopes and the hopes of most Democrats for the further development of a progressive agenda in our country. But it is more than that.

In my office building, riding on the elevator, there have been a number of occasions where fellow passengers, seeing the Hillary Clinton pin on my coat, started a conversation about how upset they are, how they cannot sleep at night, and how they are fearful of what is going to happen in this country.

Tammy Duckworth, our newly elected junior Senator from Illinois, reported that the day after the election she was out in the city of Chicago to thank her voters and many of them came up to her crying and asking her for reassurance and a hug. They expressed their fear to her about what Trump would do as president.

This is not a normal response to an election. If any other Republican had won, people would not be this fearful and disturbed.

Trump has used extremely divisive and harsh rhetoric that has ignited the alt-right and KKK. Based on his picks for cabinet posts, he has made a deal with right wing Republicans. He will enact their agenda despite his populist rhetoric on the campaign trail, while they will look the other way when it comes to his ethics violations, and even perhaps, his collaboration with Russia to win the election by hacking the Democrats and disseminating false news, fake news, and WikiLeaks dumps to excite and distract the media.

Trump’s win has shaken our values and beliefs to the core. His actions and words go against so much of what we teach our children about how to behave to succeed at work and at home. We tell our children not to insult, cheat, or lie, and to follow the rules and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Trump does not follow the rules. He insults, he cheats, he lies, he refuses to release his taxes, and he is unwilling to divest himself of his business interests. This is a clear violation of the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution which forbids the acceptance of gifts to a president from a foreign government. The remedy is impeachment. He doesn’t care.

Trump admires Putin and other dictators and demagogues. There are serious questions and concerns about how much the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Russians, a hostile foreign government, to win this election. What was Trump appointee, General Michael Flynn, doing on the phone talking with operatives in Moscow the day before Obama sanctioned the Russians? What are his financial ties or debts to Russian oligarchs? He refuses to reveal his taxes to the American people. What is he hiding?

John Lewis has decided not to go to the inauguration and has said he does not believe that Trump’s election is legitimate. President Obama has urged us to take the long view. He says that we should give Trump a chance, because if he succeeds then we all succeed. While it is good to be open-minded, we should not be naïve. Trump is poised to become the first leader of our country who could alter our government by changing it into what is termed an illiberal democracy. Democracy relies on cultural norms of compromise and civility and many of these norms have been weakened by strident rhetoric as well as a refusal to play by the rules as evidenced by some congressional Republicans. For example, Republicans broke with tradition and norms by refusing to give Obama’s eminently qualified Supreme Court pick, Judge Merrick Garland, so much as a hearing.

In illiberal democracies there is a so-called popular vote to elect the leader but it is usually a sham because it is accompanied by the loss of freedoms and rights that are the hallmarks of a true democracy, including the loss of free speech, the right to assemble and dissent, and the loss of other freedoms we have enjoyed in our country since it was created.

The free press is usually the first casualty. News becomes mere propaganda rather than accurate and informative. That could happen here because Trump uses Twitter to avoid exposing himself to the press and their penetrating and uncomfortable questions. He tells his followers not to believe the mainstream media, and demands that everyone accept his version of reality. He has chosen to install Steve Bannon in the White House, a notorious purveyor of slanted news and misinformation. He surrounds himself with surrogates who apologize for his every move even if his action or statement is patently ill-advised. His many trolls on Twitter act like a mob, defending him whenever he is criticized. In a true democracy, the President is always criticized. It is a First Amendment right that our press should exercise. But Trump is very thin-skinned, and he retaliates against people who say negative things about him. We will need to support journalists and newspapers that are reliable sources of information so that they are not compromised or shut down. And there is more we can do.

One of the best ways to deal with worry or concern is to get active and “become the change we need.” Rise up! Join Indivisible, a group that is planning to push back against the Trump agenda using the very effective tactics developed by the Tea Party. Join and get active with local groups online and in your own community. Write letters and make calls to Congressmen and women, both Republicans and Democrats, to insist on decency and fairness and initiatives that help all Americans. A public outcry can make a difference.

This election has been a wake-up call. For some of us it feels more like we woke up in the middle of a nightmare and can’t get back to reality. Cherished institutions and beliefs, including civility and honesty, ethics, fair treatment, and truthfulness that are the hallmark and bedrock of our democracy and our workplaces, will be tested by this incoming administration.

Stay vigilant. And reach out, across our divided country to listen and care about other Americans no matter who they voted for. Those folks who think Trump will bring back their jobs in coal country and the rust belt are in for a big disappointment. It looks like they, along with millions of other Americans, could also lose their health insurance as Republicans rush to dismantle the Affordable Care Act without a viable replacement. People who voted for Trump thinking he was their populist hero are going to have a very tough time once Trump and the Republicans implement their likely agenda which rewards the 1% and removes supports and the way forward for everyone else. We are all going to have a difficult time of it if Trump’s many cabinet picks deconstruct the departments they are supposed to oversee, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Treasury, Education, and many others. In Hamilton the musical there is a line that is relevant for this moment in history: “Oceans rise. Empires fall.” Change is happening in our country. We really might fall. We stand to lose a lot with the Trump administration. But it is not a foregone conclusion that we will. It is possible that Trump will surprise many of us and rise to the occasion as our 45th President by preserving and protecting our democracy. If not, “We the People” can do what has to be done in a vital, thriving democracy: namely participate and get engaged to preserve and protect the values and norms that make our nation the envy of every other nation on Earth.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

What Can Trevor Noah Tell You About How To Find a Good Career Path?

Trevor Noah Born a CrimeTrevor Noah, the host who replaced John Stewart on The Daily Show, has written an extraordinary book about his experiences growing up in South Africa. The title of the book is Trevor Noah: Born a Crime. I enthusiastically recommend it!

Trevor Noah was the offspring of a South African mother and a white man who was her friend but not her husband, at a time when in South Africa, relations between the two races was against the law. He was raised by his adventurous, rule-defying, and yet deeply religious, caring, and wise mother. She taught him not to believe in limits.

“My mother took me places black people never went. She refused to be bound by ridiculous ideas of what black people couldn’t or shouldn’t do. She’d take me to the ice rink to go skating. Johannesburg used to have this epic drive-in movie theater, Top Star Drive-In, on top of a massive mine dump outside the city. She’d take me to movies there; we’d get snacks, hang the speaker on our car window. Top Star had a 360-degree view of the city, the suburbs, Soweto. Up there I could see for miles in every direction. I felt like I was on top of the world. My Mom raised me as if there were no limitations on where I could go or what I could do.”

This wonderful image and great insight explains so much about how Trevor Noah could come from apartheid South Africa, where he was only able to make it as a local hustler in the ‘hood in his early adult life, to become the talented, creative and quick-witted host of The Daily Show.

Trevor Noah writes this:

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.”

This is true for so many people. When I work with clients to figure out a better career direction, one of the first things we do is to imagine a different future, one that plays to their strengths. I ask them to imagine a workplace they would want to go to every day. I ask them to think about a mission or missions that excite them. We talk about what they would do if they won the lottery. We talk about how they would fix their present job. We mine their pasts for information that will unearth strong interests and motivators, as well as aptitudes or natural talents that will help them rise to the top of their chosen field. This doesn’t always get them everything they want, but usually gets them a lot closer to a work life they will enjoy.

If you have not had the experience of imagining a different and better future for yourself, it can be very hard to dream of a career that goes beyond the norm you know in the corner of the world where you live and grow up. Ask yourself what you want to do in life and then stretch that idea further. If you can dream it, you can try to work your way toward it. Identify the goal, and then plan the steps you want to take and start out on that path. Even if you do not end up getting to the exact goal you set, you are on a new and challenging path, which is in itself more gratifying.

I counsel many people who, when looking forward to an alternative career will say, “I cannot imagine being able to achieve the goal I am setting.” But I also counsel many people who, looking back on their lives say, “I am amazed about what I have accomplished in my life. Who would have thought I would someday be the head of the Chicago Bar Association?” “Who would have thought that someday I would be able to run this company and have it be a success?” “Who would have thought that I could become a well-known broadcast journalist?” “Who would have believed I would be able to write blockbuster novels?”

I want to be clear. Just because you have an idea of what you want to accomplish in your career doesn’t mean that you will actually get there. But often the goal is less important than you might think, because the process itself is also gratifying.

In my own life, when I was in college, I watched some of the Chicago Seven Trial in federal court. After that, I got it in my head that I wanted to be an Assistant US Attorney. At that time being a prosecutor was not considered to be a viable career path for a woman. It was a goal that was beyond the range of what I thought was possible. But after seeing a few days of that federal trial, I was so excited, I didn’t care that it was not supposed to be a good career for a woman. I did not know I would actually be able to achieve my goal, but I took the necessary steps to try to get there by studying hard for and taking the LSAT, going to law school, landing a job as an Assistant State’s Attorney, and working in the Official Misconduct Unit because it was similar to the work done by federal prosecutors. I also networked in a creative way to meet key people who could help me interview at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I am happy to say I was able to achieve my goal, and it was a fulfilling job. But even if I had never become an Assistant US Attorney, I had decided on a path I believed in and felt challenged by, and that was gratifying in itself. If you believe in the road you are on, the journey is actually part of the reward.

As Trevor Noah says:

“… the highest rung of what’s possible is far beyond the world you can see.”

So dream beyond the highest rung! You might surprise yourself.

Five Steps to Reach Your Career Transition Goal

Last year I was diagnosed with cancer. It was caught early, but I had to go through an operation followed by six weeks of radiation. After that, I had to be on a medication that prevents the further microscopic spread of the cancer, and I have to take hormone suppressant pills for five years.

steps to career success

When I talked with my oncologist about how to stay healthy and active, he told me to increase my aerobic exercise to 30 minutes a day because research has shown that aerobic exercise for at least a half hour every day works almost as well as the medication to prevent a return of this kind of cancer. He also said that the medication makes most people feel tired, but the best way to deal with that is to exercise. “You will have more energy if you exercise,” he promised.

When I heard my doctor say that exercise could prevent a recurrence and counteract the tiredness I already experienced on the medication, I was motivated to find a way to work out every day. But I also know how much I hate aerobic exercise! How could I get myself to work out at least 30 minutes a day and keep it going? I needed to figure out a way to set this goal and keep it.

Now, a year later, I can tell you about what worked, because it did work. And I can hope that these steps will work for you too if you are working on a career transition. Most people hate to network even though they know they need to if they want to transition to a new job or a new career. Here are five steps that helped me and that might help you too.

Step One: Identify a Motivator

If you are interested in or excited about something, use it as a motivator. When I dragged out my elliptical, which had been sitting in a corner of my exercise room getting dusty and generating guilt instead of sweat, I knew that if I set up a playlist of fast and slower music, I had a chance of carrying through a daily routine. The key was the music. I had to like the music and I had to have different tempos so that I would push myself to get my heart rate up but then give myself a break so I wasn’t too exhausted. I searched for good music and downloaded songs I loved. I set up a 30 minute playlist and started with slower beats at first. As time went on, I added faster tempos as I got more accustomed to the pace. I decided that my goal would be to get my heart rate up for the full 30 minutes in the range of 130 beats to 150 beats per minute depending on the song. I was interested to see if I could make that goal a reality.

Step Two: Envision the Activity

There have been many days when I have felt too tired to exercise. But I told myself I had to do it anyway. So I would envision myself on the elliptical and think about how I would move off the couch and get on the equipment. Envisioning myself moving from the couch to the machine and then doing the workout before I did it actually helped me to get going. The same thing is true for your career. When you imagine yourself doing something, if even it is something you do not enjoy, that active imagining can motivate you to get moving on your plan to reach your goal.

Step Three: Coach Yourself or Get a Coach

I would talk to myself and say something encouraging. “All you have to do is get on the elliptical and turn on the music. That is easy. You can do that.” While I was on the elliptical, there were times I was very tired. So my inner coach would say something like,” Look, you are saving your life by doing this! You are getting your heart in better shape so you can dance at your daughter’s wedding.” And sometimes, when I felt really tired, the only thing I could think of to say to myself was, “After you are done with this, you can fall on the floor and sleep. Just finish this and you can collapse.” The inner coach is a big part of your career success too. If you can encourage yourself instead of discouraging yourself, it makes a tremendous difference in your ability to grit it out. Do you need to go back to school to get a degree that makes you more marketable? Do you need to talk with a lot of people to find out the lay of the land and hear about opportunities that might work for you? Talk yourself into it. It is crucial that you have a positive inner voice to keep you going. Sometimes the inner voice might be yelling at you too. Most people need a mix of those two internal coaching voices. Some people get enough from their own positive self-talk. Others need another person to coach them. If you need to hire that help, though, do it. Making a career transition is not easy.

Step Four: Manage Failure

There were days I could not talk myself into exercising. I had to take a pass. I could call myself names because I failed to do what I said I would do, or I could think about it as a challenge for tomorrow and reaffirm my goal for the next day. I tried to make it into a challenge even though I didn’t always succeed in doing that. Managing failure in a career transition is important too. You may have hoped that after many years of working as a paralegal or doing document review, you could find a full time job working as an attorney, but every time you get an interview, it’s for another position doing the same thing you have done before. That can be discouraging. But if you reaffirm an achievable goal and keep at it, getting the additional skills that would help redefine you, or networking more effectively, you will be more likely to transition your career over time. Manage failure by reasserting your intention to get to your goal.

Step Five: Take Baby Steps

When I first began the 30 minute workouts on the elliptical, I started slowly because I wanted to be sure I did not get too discouraged. You use new muscles whenever you start something new. That’s true for your career transition too. If you keep your goal in mind and take small steps in that direction, you have a better chance of being successful. Doing something new uses a different set of skills that you can hone over time. Is it hard for you to have lunch meetings with people and ask them to brainstorm with you? Is it hard to feel comfortable asking for help by saying, “If you were me, who would you want to talk with, and would you be willing to introduce me by email or on LinkedIn so that I can talk with that person?” If that is very hard for you to do, then practice with friends and family before you talk with someone you have never met before. Small steps make it easier to make progress.

Identifying your motivators, envisioning yourself doing what you want to do, training your inner coach, managing failure, and taking small steps in the right direction can help you get to your goal. These strategies helped me get through a tough year and achieve my goal. I hope they help you too.