Blog Archive - February 2010
[On Sundays, Career Calling takes a break from jobs and callings to think about how we work and how work shapes our lives.]
A few days ago, I was listening to 950 AM, The Avenue, a radio station in Chicago that plays a style of music called “timeless cool.” Most of its song mix is vocal jazz and jazz-influenced pop and rock acts like Norah Jones and Steely Dan. One of the station’s favorite singers is Van Morrison. Almost everyone knows Morrison’s biggest hits like “Brown-eyed Girl” and “Domino.” But on this night, The Avenue snuck in “Cleaning Windows,” a song that did not crack Casey Kasem’s Top 40. It’s about work and joy.
Kids want to grow up to be President, ball players, singers, astronauts, and doctors. Who grows up wanting to wash windows? I really didn’t think much about window washers until I opened a business that has a sign – in a window. I thought about cleaning my office windows myself, the equipment would have been cheap and it would take a few minutes once a month. Then I realized that I knew someone who cleaned windows, the young man who always smiled and said hello to me when I passed him on the street.
Abe Quigley was my first window washer, and he had several clients up and down the Andersonville business strip on Clark Street. On the hottest summer afternoons and snowy, cold winter mornings, Abe had the same smile and words of friendly welcome. That was a big part of the reason I hired him. He also did great work that left me more time to do the kind of work I’m good at and like doing.
A few years ago, Abe left the company to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician. He was replaced by Omar Misal, who is a foot shorter than Abe, but just as skilled in his craft. Where Abe could reach high points or do so with one pole, Omar will use several poles linked together or climb on a ledge to reach higher. Both men shared a love for their work that was obvious in the final product – no dirt – no streaks.
The window cleaner, like other craftsman, has the reward of doing work where the result is obvious. It can be seen. They don’t manage a “complex sales cycle” or a “multi-phase project.” The do not deal in “intangible outcomes.” Such work lets the working person stand back and appreciate the result of her labor. Van Morrison caught this feeling in his song:
What’s my line
I’m happy cleaning windows
Take my time
I’ll see you when my love grows
Baby, don’t let it slide
I’m a working man in my prime
Cleaning windows . . .
Sadly YouTube does not have a video of Van the Man singing this song, but it does have a funky, jazzy version by Jason Wilson Band with Pee Wee Ellis. Click here to listen.
To hear Abe Quigley’s music and learn more about him follow this link.
Seth Godin has an interesting post on how it is easier to teach compliance than initiative. Success in life, however, requires initiative. This is especially true in career management and the job search. A smart job seeker will make the effort to find new ways to push her career forward. Others will follow simple advice and wait for the phone to ring. My money is with Seth Godin – bet on initiative.
To read Seth’s post, click here.
Today’s Sun-Times reports that Chicago Public Schools is facing a $975 million deficit. The article lists several reasons for this shortcoming. The solution is something we have seen again and again over the past few months – make the workers pay, especially if they belong to unions.
Why is union protection important? School management has already cut the jobs of 500 non-teaching employees and is making non-union workers take three weeks of furlough days. Three weeks breaks down to almost 6% of annual income. School Chief Ron Huberman claims that it would be a “worst case scenario” if teachers don’t make concessions. Huberman was head of the city’s transit agency when it start crying “doomsday” every time it wanted to cut employees, raise fares, and wring more money from the state legislature. Before we focus on teachers (who have a contract) maybe the people of Chicago should look at Mr. Huberman’s skill as a manager.
Sadly the Sun-Times does not look at the man leading, only the easy target, unionized workers. The newspaper’s editorial headline declares, “No Way Around CPS Teacher Pay Freeze.” It concludes, “No one wants to deny hard-working teachers a raise. But we see no other way. Without union concessions – one of CPS’ only guaranteed ways to save money – CPS is looking at devastating cuts in every corner of the school system.”
Beware when someone in power declares there is only one solution. Could there be a short-term tax increase to solve this problem (a fast-food tax? A tax on tickets to movies and sporting events?). Could Mayor Daley dip into his TIF fund pool that diverts money from the schools? Could we use some of the money from privatizing parking meters or the Skyway? What could be done other than making working people pay?
That’s the question.
Whether you are looking for a job, planning to go back to school, or trying to achieve any objective, start with a piece of paper – write it down. State your goal simply and clearly. Follow up with a plan to achieve the goal that includes a timeline and, if possible, a deadline.
Some quests do not have easy paths to an end. Some of my clients have gotten jobs in a few weeks or months. Others have struggled for a longer time. There is no easy or average path to finding a job. The person looking for a job does not control the final outcome. However, she does control how she looks for work and approaches potential employers.
To borrow from Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), it is important to be proactive and “begin with the end in mind,” which are Covey’s first two habits. People who know where they want to end up and work hard toward that goal are more likely to get there than those who wait for success to find them.
A good example of what not to do (or only do) is job posting. If a job seeker just posts her resume on job boards and waits, she is not being proactive. Do some people find jobs this way? Sure. Some people win the lottery too. A good job search means that you keep finding new ways to open doors. Network. Respond to job postings. Target specific companies. Apply for temp-full time positions. Volunteer for an organization that needs your professional skills. While your ultimate goal is to find a job, your short term goals are to find new ways to contact employers and generate interest in you as a candidate.
Goals motivate us to succeed. They offer an end point, which lets us draw a map that will guide us to the end. We have to do the work to get what we want.
While President Obama and the congress try to fight unemployment with tax cuts, the economist Dean Baker offers a 10% solution in Yes! Magazine. Baker suggests that everyone currently employed work ten percent less without losing any of their current salary. How would Baker pay for this – a tax cut that would let employers give current employees time off and use the money they save to hire new workers.
Would this system work? I don’t know. I’m pretty sure President Obama’s tax cuts won’t work any better than President Bush’s. All these old fixes do is push money up to the people who make the most and work the least.
We need to try something new. Instead of furlough days and pay cuts, Baker suggests giving some workers more time and some unemployed people new jobs. It makes sense, which means it has no chance in our current political world.
To read Baker’s article, click here.
Over the past two days, I’ve gotten email from clients describing unexpected good news in their job search. In one case, a client who was pursuing jobs with the Federal government in Washington D.C. has found position with a Federal agency in Los Angeles. Another client who wants to work in the gaming industry has begun interviewing with a casino in Hammond, Indiana. He had been focusing on casinos in St. Louis.
These clients made a decision about how to manage their careers. They decided to focus on specific industries or employers who promised more security or a better career path. However, to find the job they wanted they had to be prepared to move. They also had to adapt quickly to unexpected circumstances. Being flexible is an important quality in a competitive job market. Sometimes, that means being ready to move.
In today’s Chicago Tribune, Ann Meyer writes about a business, Warmly Yours in Long Grove, Illinois, that set a noble goal for this recession: Lay off no workers. The company owner and her workers banded together and found new customers for their product (radiant heaters). The owner Julia Billen cut her pay, but did not cut her workers’ salaries, which is a very unusual story in this Great Recession.
What can we as job seekers and career managers take from this story? First, try something new and don’t expect it to be easy. Second, have a goal. Finally, as Billen put it, “I kept chanting ‘Keep pushing and no fear’ until I believed it.” You have to believe, and then work some more, and never stop believing. That’s a good model for a business or a career.
To read the story, click here.
Click here for the Warmly Yours website.
Time to Relax
The Preacher tells us:
“A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
What gain has the worker from this toil?” (Ecclesiastes 3:7-9)
We work so hard in so many different ways that it is often impossible to get off the hamster’s wheel that is modern life. Even when we’re away from our jobs, there is always another errand or another party or a promise to help a friend with some task. We go to sleep thinking about all the things we have to do the next day or the next week.
Our grandparents and their grandparents going back for generations knew something we have forgotten: Take time – make time – to relax. For many cultures, Sabbath is the heart of this time, a religious duty to move away from business (busy-ness) and reflect on things much bigger than puny human concerns. Whether or not one is religious (I am not), it is a great tradition to explore again and embrace.
What keeps us so busy? We do. Don’t blame your boss or anyone else. Each of us has the power to turn off the cell phone, turn off the TV, and find a quiet place to let ourselves get away from all “responsibilities” of daily life. I can hear some of my friends who have children telling me that it’s easy for me to say. I don’t have a four year old and a six year old bouncing off the walls. My advice to my friends would be that it’s a great time to teach your children while you are teaching yourself how to relax.
In the end, it’s not about relaxing – it’s all about time. We need to set aside some time to shut off the busy world and embrace quiet and peace. Just sit with your eyes closed and listen to yourself breathe. Whatever is happening in your life – good or bad – forget it and listen to yourself inhale and exhale. Concentrate on that alone. Sometimes it might take five minutes to feel the release, sometimes longer. Don’t put yourself on the clock. Let your mind and body tell you when to stop.
Some people follow this kind of relaxation through meditation or yoga, and that’s great. My point is that a few minutes, even once a week, can help free us from the stress – often self-induced – that plagues too many people in our hyper-connected, 24/7/365 lives. Take the time to relax with a free mind. Work at it, and you will feel the benefits. Happy Sabbath.
Click here to find the Byrds singing Turn, Turn, Turn on the Ed Sullivan show.
I often warn against getting caught up in headlines about negative numbers. At the same time, it is important to think about the factors affecting the job market and job creation. Today’s Sun-Times has an informative and thoughtful article about what is causing the job market to stall. The politics is easy to understand – the Senate is broken. There are, however, other economic factors to consider.
The experts cited in the article say that it will take the job market five years to recover. The last sentence of the article undercuts this claim when one of the experts says that all forecasts are wrong. The only question is how wrong they will be. That’s good advice to remember when reading the scary headlines.
Click here to read the article.