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Have no clue what you want to do? But know you want meaning?

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Then you’ve come to the right place!

Here we clear the “shoulds,” the too-many-options, the general confusion clutter to uncover meaningful work you want to be doing…that actually pays the bills!

Join us – and you’ll get my eBook “15 Ways to Make Your Job More Fulfilling Today” as a FREE bonus!

Is Fall Making You Think You Want Something You Don’t?

Hey everyone,

I know the blog has been silent lately. I’ll write with a full explanatory post soon, but the abbreviated tale is that I have been so embroiled in change – a huge new opportunity at my work, a career change for my husband, a physical move of our home – that I haven’t been able to process in words the way I normally do.

Which may resonate with exactly where you’re at yourself. I know my tale is not “unique” – but I hope that very fact will help me create universally-relevant posts in the near future, as the routine of a new school year sets in. (Please, please, please hope for me to find the time and mental space to start thinking and writing again. I miss that form of expression – and our interactions that result from that expression – more than I can say!)

In the meantime, I have resurrected a timely post and added it to Life After College today. If you weren’t reading this site regularly last September, then you need to check this post out. Especially if fall has you thinking that maybe, just maybe, grad school is calling to you…

<Check out “Longing for the Start of School…Sort Of” on Life After College>

More soon – I promise! Best wishes with all of your changes and developments until we meet again,

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The latest post in our Millennial Perspectives series comes to us from Debashish Das, author of the super-popular MP post you may remember, 7 Habits of Awesome Millennials:  A Guide to Understanding Gen Y.

Admit it. You don’t want to spend your best years caged in your office. Every day you wish you didn’t have to sit through the soul-sucking meetings. Every Sunday evening is spent dreading the monotony of the coming week.

You also want your work to make a positive impact on the world. You will settle for a smaller paycheck if it means you can live life on your own terms. You desire the freedom and the financial independence to take a vacation whenever and wherever you want.

You want to live “the dream,” but the only thing you do is dream about it. I have tried to escape from cubicle nation and have learned a little bit about how to start living with freedom, passion and meaning.

There’s More to Life Than Money

Last year I came to the realization that I didn’t need any more money than I was already earning. No, I couldn’t buy a Lamborghini. But I could afford most of the things I wanted to do. Like road trips on my motorcycle, scuba diving holidays, and the occasional party with my friends. What was missing was the freedom (time) to do it.

In the quest to become the master of my own time I decided to eliminate the most obvious obstacle in my way – my job. I was itching to say, “Screw you guys; I am going home”. But I am not impulsive by nature and a little bit of introspection helped me avoid going down that route.

I realized that quitting my job would leave me without any source of income and prevent me from doing things I would like to do after quitting (motorcycle maintenance isn’t exactly cheap). I shifted my priority to find other sources of income. But I knew I couldn’t just do it for the money. It also had to be true to my values of freedom and enjoyment.

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Are You Afraid of Loving Your Work?

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Most of us don’t want to like our work. We say we do, but we actually don’t.

Especially when we’re recent graduates.

Millennials switch jobs about every two years largely out of a search for meaning and purpose at work.

The goal is excellent:  we definitely lead a happier life when we have meaning than when we have scads of money.

The strategy for reaching that goal, though? Not so terrific.

Let me say this up front:  I’m not someone who believes in staying in a job or career path when it’s no longer leading us toward the impact we want (need!) to have on the world. Heck, I just coached my own husband out of a decade-long career in public education, financial risks be damned.

That said, I do believe that too often we take the easy route, walking away from jobs that still have a whole lot of untapped potential on the table.

<Continue reading on Life After College>

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How Does a Person Build a Fulfilling Life?

That’s the question that has haunted me for years. Decades even. I wondered it as I read Laura Ingalls Wilder books during my childhood, wondered it afresh as I wandered from college to grad school dropout to unemployed-but-I-know-where-I-want-to-live, and I wonder it still. Every day.

In fact, I’ve been contemplating “how does a person build a fulfilling life?” so much lately that I haven’t been able to write one word on the topic. Hence the recent radio silence on this blog (for the first time in 1.5 years!).

I’m currently being forced to put into practice everything I’ve spent years considering, writing about, and researching. My life is undergoing seismic shifts:  new career path for my husband, new work opportunities for me, moving to a new home [current status = our house is under contract to be sold and we can't find a house we want to buy...yikes]. It’s a lot like…hmmm….being 20something all over again. Even though I just hit my 36th birthday. Proof positive that life is all about cycles of change and stability, forever and always, until the day we die.

When things are getting all shaken up, THAT’S when we need to be most intentional and present about building a life that we’ll find fulfilling and valuable. But what exactly does that entail? That’s a question we each have to answer for ourselves, and the question that has filled my mind much more than it has filled blank pages of late.

I trust that my “stability” period is coming down the pike and I’ll finally be able to process in words all that I’m currently experiencing. But that time is not yet, so this blog will remain quiet for a while longer. (Which may be just fine with you!!!)

If you would like a little something to read over, though, check out the terrific interview Cassie Paton at Witty Title Here recently conducted with me. We chat about all things creativity, entrepreneurship and – indeed – creating a fulfilling life. I’m grateful to her for getting me out of my head and down on a page for a few moments!

I don’t have the answers. No one does. We’re all just rubber balls bouncing around this nutty thing called life…and I’m really bouncing at the moment! If nothing else, we’ll have a lot of grounds for commiseration when I return because I know that if you’re reading this blog, you’re there, too.

May we all bounce to the right place for us.

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Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Finding a Mentor

Business man shows success abstract flow chart

What’s all this hype about having a mentor?

Today we’ll break it down, one question at a time.

Why Bother?

First, the obvious question:  is the “mentor search” worth the energy? In a word, yes.

People who have mentors tend to get salary increases and promotions faster than workers who don’t have mentors. Graduate students in psychology report that peers who have mentors meet more influential people, move faster through the program, have a better sense of direction, and present at national conferences more often.

Although men seem to benefit from mentorship more than women do, women are in greater need of mentors because they still occupy fewer high level positions. It’s a shame, then, that Levo League found 95% of Gen Y women have never looked for a mentor.

What Type of Person Isn’t a Good Mentor?

Overstretched people make the worst mentors.

They may seem like they have it all – family, career, local fame – and you want to know how they do it. Since they have so much going on, though, they probably don’t have the time to give you the mentoring relationship you need.

For instance, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, may seem like an interesting mentor given her high-profile career/family juggling, but with all she’s got going on, how much time for mentoring does she actually have?

Who Makes a Good Mentor?

<Continue reading on Life After College>

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4 Fear-Taming Techniques (Personally Tested, No Less!)

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What do you do when fear reaches out from our midsection and takes over your entire being?

If you’re anything like me, what you want to do is curl up in a ball, watch marathon sessions of New Girl, and not talk to a single soul. For days.

(Hence why this site has been so quiet this week…Putting my safe-haven of a house on the market is apparently not good for my writer’s soul.)

What we have to do, though, is tame the fear. And keep walking on.

As we’ve discussed in the past, there is no such thing as “conquering fear” or being “fearless.” Ha, if only.

In reality, people who look fearless simply live with the fears and act despite them…which means their fears are tame enough to allow them to function! (That “I can’t even think about what I want for dinner because scary thoughts are consuming me” feeling doesn’t cut it.)

So here’s what I do – and am very much currently doing – when fear and worry get the best of me. I call it the “EFWA strategy.” (Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it?!)

1.  Go EASY On Yourself – for a Day or Two

While the New Girl marathon may not be all that productive in the long haul, it’s important to quiet the drill sargeant within us the first couple of days after fear strikes.

Instead of berating ourselves – “What do you think you’re doing? You’re going to give up? Just like that? What kind of pansy are you?” – we need to take a different tack during our early days in Fear Central.

Think about it:  when we were kids and had scary things happening in our life – like getting on the school bus for the first time or going to our first sleepover – how did we want our parents to react?

Did we want them to immediately start telling us “get over yourself and just do it!” I sure didn’t.

What we wanted first was a hug and some affirmation that fear is normal in those situations.

We wanted to feel comforted first and foremost. THEN we could move on to bucking up and doing the activity despite the fear.

Bottomline:  Don’t shortchange the scared child that’s inside each of us. Give her or him the comfort deserved, while trusting that the will to move forward will follow closely behind.

2.  Put the FEARS In Writing

After we’ve felt comforted, it’s time to face the fear head on.

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Why We’re More Productive When We Have Less Time

Q:  What’s your take on laziness?  Is it an epidemic or what?  I once had a discussion with my friend about how we are less productive when we are less busy, if that makes sense.  For example, when we have a full schedule with deadlines, requests to fulfill, appointments, assignments, etc., we find ways to make it all happen.  Then, when we finally get “free time” to accomplish all the things we’ve been wanting to do for ourselves, like go to yoga, workout, clean, blog, etc., we don’t end up doing much of those things at all!  There is no one but ourselves to hold us accountable for those things, which makes it all the more difficult to get it done with any urgency. – Isabel Gomez, @izzygomez

A: You’re definitely onto something with your observation, Isabel. You should see my low productivity in the summertime when I’m not teaching – I often fail to even make it to the grocery store!

Why would less time make us more productive? Because it stresses us out – in a good way.

We need good stress (eustress) to perform optimally, according to the Yerkes-Dodson law. Not enough stress and we’re like sacks of potatoes on the couch. Too much and we’re a bundle of ulcer symptoms.

But I think there’s more to the “laziness epidemic” than a lack of stress. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It all comes down to an improper understanding our “Optimal Time Crunch Zone.” (It’s not as scary as it sounds – promise!)

Get Your Time Crunch On

Before we dig into the laziness issue, let’s get clear on our Optimal Time Crunch Zone by extending the Yerkes-Dodson law to “Time Crunch Status,” as shown in this image I created.

Optimal_Time_Crunch_ZoneIt demonstrates that we need to be somewhat time crunched to be optimally productive.

Too much time on our hands is a recipe for getting nothing done – and too little time is exactly the same!

The big question is, how much time crunch is “too much” and how much is “not enough”?

How to Find Your Optimal Time Crunch Zone

What feels like a ton of free time to me (a whole HOUR today?!?) may feel like nothing to you – or vice versa. So we have to do some trial-and-error to find what amount of free time works best for each of us.

We can do that totally randomly. Or, if you’re a dork like me, you can be a bit more strategic about the process, say, like this:

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The Dark Side of Pursuing Meaningful Work: Welcome to Sacrifice City

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I’m a rather upbeat person. A glance at virtually anything I’ve authored tells that story.

That said, I’m also a firm believer in truth, and sometimes “upbeat” and “truth” conflict.

Today is one of those days.

Welcome to your personal tour of Sacrifice City.

A Lifestyle Choice

First, a clarification:  when I encourage the pursuit of meaningful work on this site, I am, in essence, endorsing a lifestyle choice.

The search for and retention of a life filled with purpose and deep life satisfaction isn’t some fad diet we pick up and try for 10 days to see if it’ll fit. On the contrary, such a life arises from consistent and committed choices made over the course of hard-fought decades.

I wouldn’t support this lifestyle if I didn’t deeply believe it is worth having. Every single piece of data I can get my hands on – including my summated first person experiences – indicates it’s the way to go:

But anything worth having comes with sacrifice.

And right now, I’m feeling it.

Benefits, Meet Cost

Staying true to my upbeat nature, though, let’s first consider the benefits I’ve gained through a commitment to meaningful working – and living. Benefits I believe any of us can reap, if we want to badly enough.

  • Freedom
    • The following questions make me pause long and hard whenever they’re answered:
      • Who’s your boss?
      • What are your work hours?
      • How many sick and vacation days do you get a year?
      • What’s your work phone number? (I honestly have no clue – who the heck uses the phone these days?)
    • Not being able to readily provide a straight answer to those questions = freedom (to me, at least)
  • Autonomy
    • Related to freedom, autonomy goes one step further, into the moment-by-moment decisions of my day. I pick what I want to do when. Some tasks are non-negotiable – like, say, grading papers and exams – but precisely when they get done on a given day is up for grabs.
  • Purpose-driven sense of mission
    • In contrast to the work-structure questions I can’t answer, there is one question I can answer without pause:  “Why?”  Ask me why I’m doing just about anything in my life and I have an answer. A personally meaningful, deep-seated answer. That’s not for nothing.
  • Concentrated time with my family
    • Researchers find that 100% of respondents say “relationships” create meaning in their lives. 100%! In a society where we can’t agree whether we prefer the cookie or the cream in an Oreo, that finding seems pretty compelling. So my husband and I have both made conscious decisions to maximize family time, including taking jobs that give us summers off (and thereby foregoing the many better-paying and potentially satisfying jobs that don’t meet this requirement) and choosing to turn down freelance and coaching gigs (athletic for him, career for me) to have late afternoons together year-round.

Good stuff, right? Absolutely. I’d make the same decisions a thousand times over to gain what I’m so fortunate to currently have.

And yet.

Yet there comes the moment of reckoning when you have to look hard in the face at all you’ve sacrificed to get what you have.

We’re talking here, of course, about the ol’ four-letter word that always accompanies benefits:  cost.

Meaning or Money?

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Last week we discussed how to pursue creative passions while paying the bills. The best way to truly tackle this topic, though, is to hear from someone who is actively doing it. Enter today’s interview!

PaulDettmanP.C. Dettman is a thirtysomething UK-based fiction writer, software consultant and trainer, blogger, and owner of a business that invests in and advises entertainment industry experts. Not to mention a family man.

In other words, P.C. knows a thing or two about putting food on the table while staying in touch with the creative writing that “found him” when he was 9.

What were the biggest hurdles you had to overcome in your 20s? 

My 20s were a total nightmare, even though I had a good job [as a software consultant based in London] and all that sort of stuff ironed out early.

The nightmare came within a year of starting work, and it was simple really: I didn’t want any of this stuff. I mean that I wanted nothing of what had been planned out for me, and it hit me so suddenly, like within 6 months or so, that the whole consultancy model was basically evil, it was flawed, and it wasn’t right for me.

But the thing was, and the reason this was a total nightmare, is that I had already decided I was never going to do a standard office job. I worked my summers, and I seriously could only do 12 weeks of that before I was bored and demotivated and almost ill actually. It made me really quite low to think of doing 40 years of that.

So I hit the consultancy thing straight out of college, I have all the grades and friends and money and I’m in London and flying around the world every week and getting paid to do that, and I physically hated it. I really did. My body rejected the hours and the exhaustion, and my mind rejected the whole thing. And I had no idea how I could live another year, by which I mean I had no idea how to earn my living if not like that. I just felt there was nothing available to me that would pay the kind of salary that would impress my friends and family. Crazy!

So how are you paying the bills these days?

I’ve realised that there is no money in writing novels.

Even people I know who have ‘real’ book deals with ‘proper’ publishers can’t earn enough to do that full time. Realising this would be a hobby and not a job has taken lots of years. That industry is just so hard to get into, even if you put in the legwork and build up some contacts, that a rational person would not become a full-time author.

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Everything I Need to Know to Work Effectively I Learned in Preschool

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We can create fancy visions of the purposeful work we want to do, but if we can’t execute on a day to day basis, our big scheme is worthless.

Funny enough, we learned how to do our days right way back in preschool.

How do I know? Because my daughter, K, is there now, and her preschool parent-teacher conference occurred last week. As I read over her teacher’s notes (presented in a a beautiful portfolio, no less – call it the annual review for the Lollaloopsie set), I noticed a ton of parallels to what I was reading in Alexandra Levit’s book “A Twentysomething’s Guide to the Business World:  They Don’t Teach Corporate in College.

Levit might be correct that effective work skills are skipped in college…but they’re not missed in preschool! Here’s a refresher:

1. Express Yourself

In the fall, K’s teacher wrote the following goal in her portfolio:  “asserting needs and wants and begin to negotiate conflicts with peers.”

Who among us doesn’t need that written in our “annual goals” sheet?!

Those of us who are terrific at negotiating conflicts tend to be awful at the other end of the spectrum. Just call us the doormats.

And many of us are excellent at making our needs and wants known, but conflicts boil everywhere we go. i.e., The steamrollers.

Apparently millennials have a reputation as more the latter:

“One of the most common complaints I hear about twenty-something employees is that they think they know everything and don’t hesitate to convince others of this at every opportunity.” – Alexandra Levit

How to curb that? As K’s preschool teacher might say, listen first and then speak second. And when we speak, we should present our full and honest truth without accusing or judging someone else.

K is marked as “still practicing” that skill. How about you?

2. Know What Needs to Get Done

If there’s anything K is good at, it’s prioritizing.

Sorting plastic eggs into baskets repeatedly? Urgent and important. (Category 1)

Hanging out with her friend Clementine in the reading corner? Non-urgent and important. (Category 2)

Eating dinner because mom is on her back about it? Urgent and non-important. (Category 3)

Watching Thomas the Train? Non-urgent and non-important. (Category 4)

Levit suggests we get as clear as K about categorizing our daily tasks:

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