I love this quotation from Henry Ford: "Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal."
Great advice. As long as we're really focused on our goals, fear shouldn't be a problem. In fact, fear is the negative power that distracts us and keeps us from achieving our goals. Two of my favorite writers Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield have called this the "resistance" that keeps us from "delivering." I frequently tell clients who are wrapping themselves in paralyzing blankets of fear to do something very different: Practice talking about your strengths. What makes you good at what you do? How will you be an asset to an employer or company? If you can answer those questions, the obstacles and fears will be manageable.
I was taken aback by a large headline on Huffington Post: “1 in 4 Americans Open to Secession.” Could a quarter of American really feel this way? That’s a question driven by fear. In reality, the news isn’t that shocking. About 30% of Americans are conservatives who are not fans of big government. Put in that context, it’s surprising that even more Americans aren’t open to secession.
We saw similar frightening statistics when the American job market bled jobs in 2008 and 2009. Many people I talked to were paralyzed by what they heard on the news. Now many people are getting cocky because statistics say the job market is improving. As I noted in my last post, these statistics are true in that there are more jobs available now than there were four years ago. However, the problem on every level of the career ladder is pay. Many new jobs are low wage jobs. Many people have gotten small raises or no raises at all over the last five years. We need to look behind the statistics and get past the fear and the optimism.
I recently spoke to a group of college students recently. I asked what their concerns were about find work. One said that some students had problems finding jobs in their major. For some, this might be a problem. For others, however, it can be a career advantage. Many of my most successful clients work in fields that have little to do with their major. For them, a change in career goals was not a limitation, but a type of freedom.
At least half of my clients who were trained as lawyers work in fields outside of the law. Some are managers or consultants. Others work in communications or media. Training in the law provides a wide range of skills that are applicable beyond the court room. In a similar sense, people who major in the humanities rarely work in their majors. Instead, they use broad skills in thinking and communication to adapt to all types of professional fields. They are often the people best fit to move across careers because they haven’t committed themselves to a field like accounting or engineering. That said, some of my clients who are accountants and engineers have made exciting career changes that have brought them new opportunities and increased income.
Don’t limit yourself. As Seth Godin says, “Draw your own map.” Too often a person who wants to make a change convinces herself that she can’t do it. At that point, one thing is certain – failure. Some people try to change careers and fail, but they have taken the first step and have a chance to try again. They have given themselves that freedom.
One of my favorite writers is the marketer and blogger Seth Godin, author of The Dip, Poke the Box, and several other books. Godin frequently urges his readers to “ship,” to do their work and get it out to customers. Similarly, Jason Fried, Co-Founder of 37Signals, wrote an essay in Inc. about the importance of knowing when to stop “tweaking”a product and put it out on the market.
I’ve seen similar issue with a few clients. People pay me to rewrite their resume, and then they rewrite what I’ve written. I ask why. The response is always some form of “It’s not ready. It’s not right.” The problem here isn’t the resume. It’s the problem of being perfect, which is really an excuse we use to avoid doing what we fear. When we begin to network and post for jobs, we know there will be rejection. It’s easier to say my resume or cover letter isn’t ready.
What’s the solution? When Jason Fried and his colleagues were blocked in their first release, he called an adviser, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who broke the problem down to simple questions: What the biggest missing piece? What’s the next biggest problem? Fried and his team identified one problem, which they fixed. It was time to ship. It’s that easy. Find the problem. Fix it and ship.
[On Sundays, Career Calling looks away from careers to other aspects of life and work.]
Scary Things – Good & Bad
Boo! It’s Halloween, and children are dressed as ghosts, goblins, and superheroes. The weather is getting colder, but that doesn’t detract from the happy squeals of young people chasing candy and other goodies. Adults celebrate this holiday more and more each year. I was out with friends yesterday, and we saw many interesting costumes, including men dressed as a nurse and Wonder Woman. Halloween is funny – scary fun.
We’ve seen a different kind of scary work over the past few months – political commercials. It seems that all politicians from both main parties can do is try to tear each other down. We as voters have the great responsibility of hiring our leaders. How is that possible when all we get are attempts to scare us that the other “guy” (or gal) is a monster. I think of this in the context of what I do every day as a career coach and resume writer. My job is to discover and sell my clients’ strongest talents and skills. Our politicians today do the opposite to their opponent. Tear the other guy down, and hope the employer will pick me. What employer would hire such a person?
We are a society more and more driven by fear. Some tales of fear (horror movies, vampire tales) are just entertainment. We suspend our disbelief and let go in a world of monsters and terror. However, that same emotion has taken over the way many adults view all aspects of reality. The mere mention of 9/11 sends many people back to the emotions they felt on a tragic day nearly 10 years ago. Their fears often twist into paranoid political arguments and shrill anger. In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein has shown how these emotions let cynical politicians make voters dance like puppets on a string.
In some ways, children are braver than adults. They go through the haunted house without being scarred. They’ll go back next year and enjoy the same dark rooms and ominous music. Too many adults have come to be paralyzed by fear. They accept a belief that gives them comfort, and then they refuse to test or challenge that belief. Juan Williams was fired from NPR for saying that he felt fear when he was on a plane with people in “Muslim garb.” That’s a Halloween problem with serious consequences (not for Williams, of course, because Fox gave him a $2 million a year contract extension). People wearing turbans (Sikhs, not Muslims) have been beaten because ignorant, fearful people think this is “Muslim garb.” As many of Williams’ detractors have pointed out, the terrorists on 9/11 were not dressed in any kind of ethnic clothing. They looked like every young male on the plane. However, that fact will not sway the fearful adult mind, especially in this political climate where ignorance rule. Fear trumps facts. Emotions overwhelm reason.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there are many legitimate factors causing Americans to be afraid: unemployment, foreclosures, wage cuts, and a broken political system. My problem is that we are not solving those problems the right way. Most historians point to Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt as two of our greatest presidents. Lincoln, facing a war that could split the country, called on his fellow citizens to live with “malice toward none, with charity for all.” FDR, at the height of the Depression, said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” They challenged the American people to be better, stronger. Too many of our leaders today (following the example of snake oil salesmen like Glen Beck) want only weakness and fear.
Tomorrow the Halloween decorations will start coming down. Happily, the next night the political commercials will stop running (except here in Chicago where we have a mayoral election in February). Children will start looking forward to Christmas. Ghosts will give way to Santa Claus. Their scary days will be gone for a year. Sadly, for too many adults, being scared is all they know any more. It’s all cynical politicians want them to know. Boo! Don’t vote for the other guy – he’s a monster (or a Kenyan, or a socialist). Fear-fueled insults and name-calling have become a type of political discourse. The grown ups need to take a hard look at the kids – and grow up.
One of my clients called this morning. Her voice was agitated. She had just learned that her company is closing effective today. Given the company’s debts, my client will receive no compensation or support. She’ll be lucky to get her last paycheck.
She needs a job fast, which is a problem in this economy. I went over her current job search goals and suggested a few alternative methods of looking for work. However, the point I emphasized to her was that she has to be realistic and keep a positive attitude. Fear and panic cloud our vision. We fail to plan or abandon our plan. We even quit looking for a job too soon because we think nothing’s working.
How do we deal with fear and panic? First, step back and look at the entire situation. For my client, this means being realistic about the time it takes to find a new job. The average time to find a new job is 4-6 months. Second, consider all options. Most people, including my client, will be eligible for unemployment. Over the next few months, there will be tens of thousands of part-time jobs related to the holiday season. They won’t last long, but they will provide income in the short term. Finally, face the fear and panic. Admit that it is real and that any person in your situation would have the same feeling. Talk to friends, relatives, or other people you trust. The worst thing you can do is keep your feelings bottled up. Be realistic, and stay active. Don’t let fear win.
The Chicago Tribune has conducted a poll that shows over 50% of Chicagoans fear losing their job. The poll claims that 86% of those who still have jobs are “somewhat” pleased with their jobs (Wonder why if over half the respondents fear job loss?).
I’m not saying workers, especially the unemployed, don’t have cause for fear. But there are degrees. Read Seth Godin’s wonderful, short post, “Every Monster has a Big Shadow.” Yes, the job market is difficult. The real unemployment rate is probably about 17%.
Turn it around. 8 of 10 Americans have jobs. Is the fear real? It is. But our crisis, scary monster media feeds on fear (Y2K, terrorism alerts, H1N1 flu – Why aren’t we all dead?). The only thing worse than the media are polls. Manage your career, and let the rest of the world manage theirs.
Or, as Seth would say, fear the monster, not its shadow.