Blog Archive - January 2010

Posted: January 31, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[Sabbath is Career Calling’s Sunday feature that looks at work and life beyond the job.]

Happiness at Work

In 2003, his Holiness the Dali Lama teamed with Psychiatrist Howard Cutler to write The Art of Happiness at Work.  The book is a series of dialogues between the two men.  They explore how our life centers on work in both personal and professional settings.

The Dali Lama defines good work through the Buddhist concept of “right livelihood.”  In this philosophy, a beggar can be as satisfied with her work as a CEO so long as she is “free of clinging.”  Satisfaction is not measured in salary or a title, but in a sense of pride in work done well or an accomplishment shared with people we like and respect.

What should be avoided if we want to be happy at our work?  The Dali Lama identifies two major problems: stubbornness and an agitated mind.  When we are stubborn, it is impossible to understand ourselves or others.  We are not open to new possibilities or points of view.  Similarly, when our mind is agitated, we cannot focus on our work or the needs of others.  We are scattered. 

One topic in this book that is especially relevant today is the Dali Lama’s views on unemployment.  He understands that people will be angry and hurt when they lose a job.  However, he says that our challenge is to control our emotions in how we respond to this situation.  We should never confuse what we do with who we are.  Our lives offer us more than that.  He urges us to find work that lets us be fully human:  “If your life becomes only a medium of production, then many of the good human values and characteristics will be lost – then you will not, you cannot, become a complete person” (146).

Real work, productive work – at home or an office or a factory – involves a sense of serving others.  We take pride in such work and know it has meaning.  The Dali Lama points out to Cutler at several times in the book that there is no formula for happiness in life or at work.  What satisfies a man might make his twin brother miserable.  A type of work that we find satisfying for ten or twenty years may becoming boring.  We need to stay focused on our individual thoughts and feelings without becoming trapped by them. 

Throughout the book, Cutler wrestles with a riddle.  At one point, he asks the Dali Lama to describe what he does, and the holy man replies: “I do nothing.”  This answer makes no sense to Culter.  Finally, he puts the answer together.  The Dali Lama does not recognize work as a separate part of life.  “He had no pretense of acting a certain way in public. . . and another way in private, and could just be himself wherever he went.  This made his work seem effortless” (204).  That’s the magic when work and life are integrated – we can take joy in all of it.

Posted: January 31, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

According to a report in today’s Sun-Times, the union representing bus drivers has offered to take furlough days and a deferred wage increase in 2011 to avoid service cuts.  The union is making this offer to avoid 1,100 lost jobs, an alternative to what the report calls “sweeping concessions.”

What’s going on here?  I’ve lived in Chicago since 1986.  In that time, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has raised fares several times, cut bus lines, and seen a major increase in riders as more people choose to live in the city.  Any other business that raises its prices, cuts costs, and increases customers would be making money.  There must be something magical going on at CTA that the agency can’t make money.

I understand why the unions are making concessions.  We live in a time when people will do anything to save jobs.  But where is the responsibility of management in all of this?  Over the last few years, CTA has gone to state government in Springfield crying that they are facing “doomsday.”  Are they too big too fail – like a Wall Street bank?

More importantly, when are workers and unions going to stop making concessions and start holding employers responsible?  The Chicago Tribune (the media company which owns the paper and several other media outlets) filed for bankruptcy some months ago.  It laid off several employees in all levels of the organization.  Even though it is still in bankruptcy, a judge has ruled that management can pay itself bonuses.  I do not understand the rules of this game.

The unions representing CTA workers have an alternative: strike.  In Europe, where there are still strong unions that will walk off the job, workers are paid better and their jobs are more secure.  Employers and politicians respect their power.  In the U.S. workers are seen as a drag on companies.  Labor is blamed for every problem a company has, especially if that company’s workers belong to a union.

At some point, workers in America – whatever their political beliefs – need to take a hard look at what has happened over the last 30-40 years.  What job is secure?  Now, with furlough days and salary cuts, what salary is secure?  Meanwhile, those at the top of the ladder get more and more, even when they run their businesses into bankruptcy.  Something has to change.

Click here to read the article that inspired this rant.

Posted: January 30, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

A feature on Yahoo “Hot Jobs” caught my eye.  It examines the following “low profile” jobs:  Occupational Therapists, Video Game Designers, Cybercrime Investigators, User Experience Designers, and Curriculum Designers as jobs of the future.  This list strikes me as arbitrary and rather strange.  Several schools in Chicago are offering programs in video game design, and I’m sure others are doing the same around the country and probably the world.  How long will it take for this “promising” field to be glutted?  How many cybercrime investigators, experience designers and curriculum designers will be needed in the future?  Will people hold these titles?  Yes.  Will they be paid well?  Probably.  But are these areas of long term job growth?  I’m not convinced. 

Occupational therapy could see growth, as the article claims, because life spans are getting longer.  It could  be an option for people seeking hands-on work in health care.

My advice is to beware of articles and blog posts (even mine) that offer simple answers like “recession proof jobs” or “jobs for tomorrow.”  Finding work is never easy.  It is even harder to build and manage a good career.  If it were easy, most of the people you know would be happy with their jobs or be able to change jobs easily.  Be realistic.  Don’t buy the easy answer candy.

If you want to read the article, click here.

Posted: January 29, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

In today’s Sun-Times, Francine Knowles profiles workers who are using the challenge of unemployment to explore new career opportunities.  While I cheer this attitude, it is important to note a key word in the middle of article:  accountability.  Career change is always difficult, more so in a time of unemployment when the market is flooded with experienced workers who are willing to work cheap.  As the experts cited in the article suggest, it is important to be part of a job group (like the ones at Career Transitions Center).  Career changers need to stay focused and responsible to their goals.

At the same time, in this economy, I would always recommend a Plan B.  What if the career change doesn’t happen as quickly as it is planned?  What if the new career means a lower salary, at least in the beginning?  It is important to have a fall back plan, which could mean a part-time job in the old career path or some other area that will ease the transition.  The job market is very competitive.  It is important to be agile.

To read the Sun-Times article, click here.

Posted: January 27, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

On a very local level, the great neighborhood blog Uptown Update reports that tests for jobs with the U.S. Census will be held tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday (January 28-30).

To learn more about this story, testing sites, and times, click here.

Posted: January 26, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

The man who gave us the “Dip,” Seth Godin blogs in today’s Huffington Post to introduce his new concept:  “Linchpin.”  The old world, the world of kings and factories, depends on control.  Now, we live in a world of ideas.  Seth writes,

“Control might be the goal of a typical politician, but the future belongs to linchpins, individuals with leverage, people willing to make a difference and do work that matters.

The linchpin doesn't yearn for the days when she used to be able to exert control. She doesn't run around wildly trying to assemble new tools and new rules to assert control once again. Instead, the linchpin sees that leadership can work without formal control, that flexible networks actually deliver more leverage, not less.”

On an intellectual level, I agree with Seth and cheer a less controlled world.  But when I look at China, Burma, Sudan, and “democratic” Russia, I fear that we will never be free of Big Brother.  On a more local level, most of my clients who work for small small businesses (5-10 employees) have horror stories about fascist bosses who think they own their employees as well as the business.  In the world of ideas, however, linchpins may rule.  Hopefully, their influence will grow.

As you might have guessed, linchpin will be the subject of Seth Godin’s next book, which I look forward to reading.

Click here to check out the post in today’s Huffington Post.

P.S. I just found an interview that one of my favorite writers Steven Pressfield (The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire) conducts with Seth Godin -- Click here to enjoy two creative people talking about the process.

Posted: January 25, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Seth Godin has a very perceptive post about competition.  Whether we are talking about blogs or job seekers, the market is full of choices.  Seth’s advice: “You don't have to like competition in order to understand that it exists. Your fair share isn't going to be yours unless you give the public a reason to pick you.”

Several of the examples in the post remind us that getting hired is a competition.  Sometimes it pays to know the right person.  Sometimes it means going to six interviews over four months.  Sometimes it means struggling over several months.  It always means that you have to be the winner.  But keep things in perspective.  If you’ve gotten a job at any time in your life, you have won.  It’s time to play again and win.  You don’t have a choice.  To win the job game, you have to compete -- and win.

To read Seth’s full post, click here.

Make this blog a daily read, click here for the URL.

Posted: January 25, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

The Sun-Times reports that Ford will hire 1,200 employees in Chicago.  The news does not mean happy days are here again.  It does beat seeing another headline about layoffs.

To read the story, click here.

If you want more details on this story, click here for the Tribune’s take.

The Tribune reports that the Census Bureau will hire 60,000 in Illinois.  These job will be temporary, but they will give some of our neighbors a little income.

To read this story, click here.

Posted: January 24, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[on Sundays, Sabbath explores the intersections of work and life]

Getting Away

A good friend and his partner are spending this weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which makes me a little jealous since I’m stuck in cold, wet, gray Chicago.  It also makes me consider something we forget about when we think and talk about work – getting away from it.

The best vacations take our minds and spirits to happy places and good times.  A few years ago I went to Hawaii.  Wow.  Just thinking back on what I saw and enjoyed still makes me feel good.  We need to find little spaces of life that free us from our professional and personal responsibilities.  Even good, loving parents need time away from their children.  The most dedicated sales representative needs a day when she’s not checking the phone and email.

Too often, for too many people, the opposite is true.  We take work home and even on vacation.  The technology that promised freedom and leisure really gave us new ways to carry the office with us.  Last week one of my clients told me that he was working at home until 1 a.m. on his wife’s birthday.  To his good credit, he took the next afternoon off to spend time with her. However, he is successful to the point where he can do this.  What about workers who have to pull two or three part-time jobs to pay the bills.  They can’t time off.  Or can they?

Some of us will be lucky enough to take vacations.  But all of us can steal moments and appreciate small things that refresh the spirit.  A few weeks ago, I stopped on my way home and looked a full moon.  It made whatever problems I had disappear.  Small things – reading a short story, going to a movie, watching a rerun of your favorite TV show – we need to stop and take some pleasure from life.  We owe ourselves that little bit.

Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” captures this experience.  A traveler simply stops to watch the snow and enjoy nature.  He says his horse does not understand and shakes bells on its bridle as if to say, “Let’s go.”  The traveler ignores the practical-minded animal and simply listens – to the silence – and looks at snow covering a forest:

                                                 The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

                                                But I have promises to keep,

                                                And miles to go before I sleep,

                                                And miles to go before I sleep.

He is quickly back on the road, going home or maybe making deliveries.  Responsibility takes charge.  But for a moment, looking at the snow fill a forest, listening to peaceful sounds, his spirit is refreshed.  That’s getting away.  Make it a habit.

Click here to read the full text of Frost’s poem or listen to the poem read by its author.

Posted: January 24, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Chicago Tribune has a great story about Dena Lockwood, a mother who was fired for taking time off to care for a sick child.  Rather than sue the company, an expensive proposition, Lockwood appealed to the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.  They awarded her compensation of $213,000 (which included $87,000 in lawyers’ fees).

To read this story in full, click here.