Saturday, February 28, 2009

Don't Turn Your Back on Love

Anyone who knows me well enough to be invited into my house will tell you I have a lot of (I mean, too much, of) several things: towering stacks of aging New York Times that seem to share in my delusion that I really will get around to reading them all, magazines that have bought into the same lie (Coastal Livings get read, Harvard Business Reviews never see the outside of their poly-bags, I’m sorry to say), and books. (There are some who might say that I have too many cats, but I don’t let those people in.)

Some of the books are cynical (like Working, by Studs Terkel). Some are silly (like Your Cat’s Just Not That Into You, by Richard Smith and David Sipress). Some are cherished, like Airman's Odyssey by Antoine de Saint Exupery (you know, of Little Prince fame?).

But the one that brings today’s post to mind is Marsha Sinetar’s book, Do What You Live and the Money Will Follow. I’m so glad to see that just one week short of its 20th birthday, it’s still going strong. Especially these days.

My worry for “these days” is that people are going to be tempted to give up on pursuing their passions, turning a deaf ear to that still small voice, in favor of pursuing some kind of career alternative that is “smart.” Smart or quixotic, we have all been leveled by the same economic scythe. And there will be some of us who might be tempted to put aside our yearning, burning passions to go after retraining in some field that the business magazines have identified as the top careers of the next decade (give, take).

Well, given the state of the journalism career path these days, my question is this: If it’s so smart to go after those jobs, how come the business journalists themselves haven’t dropped their press creds like poisoned pen letters and gone chasing after those gigs themselves? Answer: When your calling is in your blood, there’s just no ignoring it.

You still have to find work that you can love. It has to do more than paying the bills. In fact, if you have found a life’s work that falls just short of paying all the bills, don’t change the job, reduce the bills. Here’s why:

You will like what you see in the mirror. We are not our jobs. And we certainly are not our income. But we are definitely made up of how we spend our working hours. Are you proud of what you do and who you do it for? I sure hope so. That kind of pride is cheap to acquire and excruciatingly expensive to lose. Either way, it’s precious.

You will like whom you work with and for. When you are doing what you love, people who choose to enter into a transaction with you already have something in common with you. There’s a parallel universe of mutual respect that you two immediately engage on. And that just gets any conversation off on the right foot – especially a business one.

You become a much more valuable (read: indispensable) employee. Passion-driven projects ignite your imagination. And when your imagination is sparked, so is your capacity for innovation. And when that happens, boy-howdy! Companies see you as the ticket to their market dominance (at least the smart ones do, and you only want to work for the companies that get it). Which isn’t to say that you won’t ever get laid off again. But if it happens to you under those circumstances, you will rightly recognize it as a loss of a job, not of your livelihood. Big difference.

You’ll love your life 10 years later. Yesterday I reconnected with a friend I had met through work a little over 10 years ago. We haven’t seen each other in a decade but we threw our arms around each other and hugged long and hard (the kind of hug that you get when you’re not thinking to yourself, “okay, was this long enough?”).

I met Evelyn about the same time I discovered my own life’s calling and passion – which is, oddly enough, to study joy in the American workplace. The minute I discovered the kind of work I would love forever, I discovered a new part of myself to love. And when that happened, I discovered a whole new way to reach out to the world and connect with people I will love for the rest of my life. It’s quite a satisfying sequence, let me tell you.

So good times/bad times will come and go. And the jury is out as to how long this particular spate of bad times will persist. So while we’re sitting this one out (to whatever extent we’re sitting it out), let’s learn about love and how we can express it through the work we do and the people we meet along the way.

Not a bad gig, if you ask me.

Special free offer (really, no catch): If you would like a free PDF copy of my first book, Find Your Calling, Love Your Life, email me at and I'll send it to you right away.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Make Up Your Mind to Change Your Life in 2009: Part 2

Much to everyone’s surprise, it gets really cold here in New Mexico in the winter – frozen-solid-birdbath-water cold. Consequently I’m never in a hurry to slipper-shuffle down the long drive to the newspaper box – not when the flannel and down on my bed are so warm. And so my first news fix happens even before my first cup of coffee. Courtesy of CNN and my remote control.

This morning there was a segment about how seasoned executives are competing with 14-year-olds for summer jobs with theme parks. One former executive/current job candidate is quoted as saying how this is her chance to do what she’s always wanted to do, which is work with animals and people. To which I thought: Yeah right.

And then I thought: Uh oh. Here comes a whole new Recession-era story line: It’s gotten so bad out there that seasoned executives are competing head to head (in a manner of speaking) with youngsters who can barely be trusted to upsell by simply saying, “You want fries with that?” And then quickly on the heels of that dread scenario will be the executive applicants’ frustrated conclusion that “I am such a loser, I can’t even compete with a pimply pre-pube.”

What recruiter in his or her right mind would even consider a seasoned, middle-career executive for a job that a teenager can – and, by the way, should – do? There’s the over-qualified issue, of course. But even more to the point, these people are totally non-applicable. If we’re going to see more of this kind of behavior, we should add a third category to the problems of being qualified. You’ve got over-qualified (which is often code for being, well, you know). You’ve got under-qualified. And you’ve got N/A qualified. That’s where these people land.

Recruiters know that as much as these people might want the gig now, if they are handed a six-figure job offer in July, they’re going to ditch their summer job in a twinkling. They also know that the supervisors are going to be barely post-pubescents themselves. And who wants that kind of power issue going on? And, perhaps most compelling of all, if you’re talking customer service, just think of all those parents taking their kids to these parks for a jolly holiday and, perhaps, an escape from their own woes. Do they really want to hand their money over to someone just like them? Do they want to be reminded on their day of escape, “Don’t judge, you could be me before too long”? I’m thinking probably not.

N/A stands for non-applicable. It also stands for non-appropriate. And it just isn’t appropriate to crawl down your career ladder just for the sake of a job – even if you need one so badly that first paycheck is all that stands between you and Snidely Whiplash. Plus it’s insulting to everyone involved: you, the hiring company, all those kids who really deserve to take their spot on the first rung of their own career ladder. Entry-level does not mean easy-entry.

Which brings me to Step Two of my conversation with certified executive and life coach, and licensed mental health counselor Meredith Kaplan. (Click here for Step One: Acknowledge Your Feelings) Merry (that's her pretty picture at the top of this blog posting) says that if you want to change your life in 2009, Know Your Core Genius is the essential second step. If it’s counting correct change, filling bags of popcorn, and filing customers onto whirl-and-hurl rides, great! Knock yourself out. But I’m thinking you’re capable of more than that. It’s largely a matter of remembering what those things are and holding on to them for dear life.

“You owe it to yourself to figure out what your core genius is,” she says. “If you do it by yourself, brainstorm the answers to such questions as:

‘Where have I had peak experiences?’
‘What have I done that no one else can do quite like I can?’
‘What is it that attracts people to me in terms of my work-related skills?’
‘What is it that attracts people to me in terms of who I am as a person?’
‘What is it that I have or can do that is unique from other people?’

“These are the traits, skills and passions that can take you further in your career,” she says.

If you come up with a big, fat, “nuthin” when you ask yourself those questions, it could be that your self-esteem has been so hammered by your rough patch that you can’t see yourself as clearly as your friends can. So, says Merry, go to your friends for the feedback you need to get that clear picture of who you really are and what you can really do.

“Seek out people who really know you, people you can really be yourself with, and ask them straightforwardly, ‘What do you think my strengths are?’” she says. Those are the things you want to expand on and use to position yourself in the career marketplace.

Keep in mind all the elements that make up your core genius and you won’t be so tempted to give into the siren song of “gimme a job, any job will do.” First of all, you won’t get it. Secondly, be glad. Just imagine how silly you would feel if you encountered on Saturday the guy who interviewed you for an executive job on Friday. Only now you’re wearing a silly hat and counting change.

(To contact Merry directly, email her at

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Children Are Watching

Looking back on my own career of 30 some-odd years, I would say that the single most important event in my professional life didn’t even happen to me. It happened to my dad. He got laid off just five months before I graduated from college.

I’ve mentioned him before in this column, but in case you’re new here, let me give you a little detail. Well, as much detail as I know myself, which isn’t much. See, he was a covert case officer for the CIA. In street lingo, that means he was a spy. But technically speaking he wasn’t. His job was to recruit spies. We were stationed in places, oh, like Miami, Berlin, Mexico City, Madrid, Munich, Vienna, and, of course, he was in Saigon for a while where he wore a flak jacket over his nerdy 1968 business suit. Students of the Cold War would see this list of cities and go, “check, check, check.” And then rightly conclude: “Wasn’t home much, was he?” Nope. He went on a lot of “business trips.”

Anyway, I’m telling you all this not to brag (well, maybe just a little bit) but to set the stage for why I’m so passionate about the topic of children and work. I learned two things by watching my father through the years. It’s completely unacceptable to do anything you’re not totally passionate about. And, then finally, there is no security in job security. I think the only reason why I’ve never been laid off myself is because I laid my own self off the moment I heard that my dad lost his job – via a callous pink slip that was handed to him while he was on assignment in Mexico City, right in front of a classroom full of baby spies he was teaching that day.

Children of divorced parents, who then see their standard of living plummet when the parents split, learn very early that poverty is just one decision away. And children of laid-off parents learn the same thing. No matter how passionate, brilliant and dedicated you are to your profession, unemployment is one decision away.

And just as children of divorced parents grow up reluctant to throw heart, body and soul into an intimate, romantic relationship, children of laid-off parents get very early that you can’t really trust what your employer says about job security.

In my heart of hearts, I’ve always been “self-employed” because of that hard understanding that there’s no such thing as job security. And while this might be a moderately healthy attitude for an individual to take, it’s really too bad for employers who might have benefited from my talents, skills and dedication to their organization’s mission.

During this time of laying people off, we’re almost in an anorexic thrall. The compulsion to trim and slim seems to have taken on a life of its own – or at least a momentum that is going to be extremely hard to stop. But it will stop one of these days, and you’re going to need to start hiring again.

Where will you get your talent? If this current economic situation lasts as long as the doomsayers predict, you may be drawing your most new hires from the generation that is today’s kids – those kids who are right at this very moment finding out that mom and/or dad are suddenly – and through no fault of their own – without a job.

Assuming you’re still in HR when that time comes, you may look back on this time and think, “Oo, maybe we should have given more thought to the kids.” Remember, it was only 10 months ago or so when we were obsessing about the impending hiring crisis as Baby Boomers retire and their replacements fall short of both numbers and knowledge. That crisis is still coming toward us (even though maybe some of the Baby Boomers won’t be retiring quite so soon).

So how can HR keep the faith with future generations of workers when so many companies (not yours certainly) are breaking faith with their current employees? Here are some ideas, and I sure would welcome more as they occur to you:

Assume the leadership that is rightfully HR’s to govern the lay-off process in your organization. Make your process absolutely top-notch, humane and as generous as you can and drive it from the top. Don’t passively allow individual departments, divisions, businesses, leaders decide who they’ll run it as independent fiefdoms. That’s when stupid management tricks begin to take over.

Make humane the guiding principle of all your lay-off procedures and practices. Tell people what to expect as soon as you know. Maybe some essential talent will ditch the ship before you want them to, but you’re also going to see that the bulk of your people will stick around and help you turn off the lights – if that is indeed your new mission.

Give your people every reason to go home and say good things about your company. Offer them lavish advance notice that their jobs will be eliminated; give them the flexibility they need to search for new jobs while on their current job; pay for training that they need; offer them developmental assignments that will give them essential experience that they can talk about in upcoming interviews. If you have to furlough them only temporarily and you really want them to still be available to you, pay them a reduced salary if they dedicate their free time to community volunteer work. If you have to lay them off completely, remember that you still need to get their work done. So implement new contract-worker programs to keep them onboard as freelancers.

Make sure that coaches and child/family therapists are available to your employees as a resource. Your people may be so thrown by the shock of losing their jobs that they don’t realize how what they say at home will affect the motivation and dreams their children will have about the future. Families in the throes of this stress, shock and even despair shouldn’t be surprised to see school performance suffer and grades plummet during this time. No parent wants to see their children fail, either now in school or later in life. So this is a crucial time in their own children’s development. Help them out with this.

There are all sorts of basic, human decency reasons why employers should support the entire family through a lay-off crisis. But this is business, right? So here’s the business reason to remember that children are watching: One of these days you’re going to want to turn the lights back on again. There’s a whole generation out there who you’re going to count on to throw the switch. Whether they will or won’t tomorrow depends completely on how you treat their parents today.

Do You Know Anyone Who Needs Hope and Encouragement After Being Laid Off?

My new book, Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss, hits the bookstores this week! Get it online by clicking the link (which sends you to Amazon) or visit your local bookstore. Barnes & Noble has been a special friend to Rebound, so I bet you'll be able to find plenty of copies there!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Make Up Your Mind to Change Your Life in 2009: Part 1

If you're a magazine nerd like I am, you might remember when Self magazine was first published. I loved that magazine, especially the feature that always appeared in the back, called Fresh Start. It was always just a one-pager, featuring the story of how one young woman changed her life in a really significant way. Oh how I missed that department when they canceled it. I just loved stories of people who were given the chance to begin again.

Well, here's the deal now. With hundreds of thousands of people being laid off and many more facing the prospect of losing their jobs in upcoming months, we're all being given the chance to begin again. Woo-pee! Right? Yeah. I didn't think so. But, like it or not, change is being handed to us, if not actually being shoved down our respective throats. So we have a choice: we can change our lives intentionally, or have them changed for us. I pick the first choice. Which would you pick?

But, you know as well as I do that no life change can actually stick unless we make the change from the inside. And we have to make that choice happily and hopefully (not in the context of dread and punishment). So, to get the best possible advice for all of us, I went to one of my favorite sources for mental health counseling and positive thinking -- Meredith (the very aptly nicknamed "Merry") Kaplan. (That's her pretty picture at the top of this posting)

(I also interviewed her for my chapter on handling rage in Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss.)

Merry ( is a licensed mental health counselor and an executive and life coach with a national clientele (but she herself is based in Palm Beach Gardens, FL). And she gave me this six-step process to align your thinking around change and to organize the way you manage your life from here on out.

We've broken this interview down into seven parts. Use this process and see what your life is like by 2010! We're thinking that this action process will prove to you through real experience that you do have the power to make your life exactly what you want it to be.'s Step One:

Step One: Acknowledge Your Feelings

Merry says, "It's so important to acknowledge your feelings because if you don't you are in denial. And your denial will hinder the process of setting a new course for yourself. Once we are in denial and we are not accepting, we limit ourselves from opportunities for success, opportunities to visualize what it is that we want from our future. Also by acknowledging your feelings, you are able to share them with those near and dear to you. When you are able to verbalize how you feel, you are able to get the support from the people who are in the best position to help you emotionally. They'll be able to understand how you're feeling and respect the journey that you're on. Even if all they can do for you is be a circle of good listeners, that's a very important part of your toolkit for change."

Merry says that even though there might be social pressure to put on a happy face and hide your true feelings, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, you really need to be fully and expressively authentic with both yourself and your closest friends.

"Because of our socialization, it's much easier for women to express their feelings and have their friends and female relatives acknowledge those feelings and be empathetic. It's more difficult for men to express their feelings, especially to other men. When they do have someone in their lives that they really can share those feelings with, it certainly lightens the burden. They can actually reduce the possibility of psychosomatic illness that comes when they internalize toxic feelings. That's when they develop all sorts of stress-related medical problems. So it's extremely beneficial for both men and women to acknowledge their feelings to both themselves and to confidants whom they know and trust."

So Rebound Readers: Here's your assignment for the day...Make a list of all the emotions that are swirling around you right now. Get them down on paper. And then make another list of your closest confidants -- your spouse, your golf buddy, your walking partner, and resolve to set aside some time to share with them those feelings that you might be trying to ignore away, feelings that maybe you think might put you in a bad light. Take that risk.

You know you would want your friends to do the same with you, if they were wrestling with a life change challenge. You would want to be there for them. And, I'm willing to bet, once you show them how to open up, they just might give you that chance themselves!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Do You Know Anyone Who Needs Hope and Encouragement After Being Laid Off?


Hi everyone:

Sorry for the commercial, but I'm so excited to see that Rebound is now available online and in bookstores! I just had to tell you!

For those of you who have been following me over the last couple of years, and then wondered why I disappeared in November, this is the reason why! I was busy writing the book I hope will give a lot of comfort and perspective to people who are facing the prospect of being laid off.

I write about career, legal, financial, family, personal emotional issues. And there are three aspects I'm especially proud of in this book:

1. I interviewed the top experts in their fields to bring the absolute best possible advice together in one volume.

2. Rebound features a collection of first-person stories of people who have been laid off, the lessons they learned along the way, and how they landed happily in their new careers.

3. Each chapter concludes with three quick action items: The best thing you can do; the worst thing you can do; and the first thing you should do.

I hope you and the people you love aren't facing this crisis right now. But who doesn't know someone who is going through a layoff? Here's hoping that Rebound will give them what they need to come out the other side stronger than before!

(By the way, at the moment Amazon is temporarily sold out -- they sold out within an hour of the book being available! But Barnes & Noble's online store has copies still. And Amazon will get a fresh supply any day now!)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Confidential to HR and Other Execs Who Have to Lay People Off: Great Idea!

(Do you know anyone who needs help, advice, inspiration, and hope after being laid off? Please send them to my new blog, Rebound Your Career! It's based on my new book entitled, amazingly enough: Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss, which will be available online and in bookstores everywhere on February 9! Hey! Just around the corner! Yay!)

Check out Preoccupations column in today's NY Times.

The title: "Handing Out the Pink Slips Can Hurt Too," which is eerily close to the title of chapter 12 of my new book, Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss (It's available on Amazon tomorrow!!!!!)

In my chapter I help the readers understand the HR perspective on this terrible time. This way they get at least some comfort in understanding what it's like to be you these days. Not so much fun, is it? I didn't think so.

Embedded in the NY Times article is such a fantastic idea, I wish I'd thought of it. But I'm really glad someone did...and much better that this guy did because the NY Times is better at spreading the word. Here it is:

When you have to lay off really cherished high performing employees, write a recommendation for them on their LinkedIn pages.

Laying people off, especially people you love and you know your company really needs, is excruciating. It's a terrible time for you. So helping them get their new future off on the right foot is essential to both of you!

Don't forget to look for ways to hire them back -- even if it's only on a contract or freelance basis. You still need to get the work done. And they still need the work.