Balance is about choices, and it isn’t easy. Over at US News and World Report today, I talk how you can realistically achieve work-life balance. Read it here, and get honest. This is one of my favorite posts recently.
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Ever since we moved, I have been doing projects. A lot of them. Whereas other people will spend money on clothes and beer, I will spend money on molding, paint, and shelving. Part of my obsession is that I have a design background, but most of it is that I am an extreme nester. God help me when we decide to get pregnant.
Needless to say, it’s a problem.
Especially since I work from home. I can’t concentrate until everything is done and put in it’s place. Or mostly done. And then, without fail, with every project, there is a moment. A sense of dread. Total exasperation. Exhaustion.
This time around it was the paint. Well, it is always the paint. We didn’t paint our last place, thank God. It was already white. I like white walls. A lot. But we painted two places ago. Or rather I painted everything and twice. And we painted the place before that, and we painted this place.
Every time, it is a nuisance. You always forget how hard painting really is. How long it takes to put up the stupid blue tape, how annoying it is to do two coats, because you really thought it would take just one. Humans have evolved to intentionally forget such things.
I always look forward to painting, until I want to stab Ryan in the head with a brush and the color is completely off despite trying seven, eight, nine samples. I hate painting. Let this post allow me to never forget.
Ryan claims he never forgot, but he helps me anyway. And while I am freaking out that the white may be too white, Ryan is saying phrases like “Let’s let it dry,” and “We need to do a second coat,” and “Oh, I’m really starting to like it,” as fast as he can manage.
Then finally, we are done.
I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it. The next morning, it’s liveable. The next day, it’s growing on me. And in a few days, I’ve decided it’s the perfect color. How could I have ever thought otherwise? My heart swells I love it so much. (“Let’s paint the bedroom now,” I exclaim. Ryan hopes that I am kidding.)
Transition times are tough. When paint dries, you can literally see the color changing, your paint strokes disappearing, and your walls going from one state to another. In life, it’s not as cut and dry. Like when you get a promotion, and suddenly your slammed with more work than you can seemingly handle. Or when you start a side job, and you’re juggling multiple missions at once. Or when you get to know your boyfriend’s family and they drive you up the wall.
There will be that moment. The one where you have no idea what you were thinking. But give it time. Transitions need time. You have to settle in, find your new habits, define a different self. Your mental and physical memories, ingrained in your everyday, will push back. You’ll want things to stay the same. You’ll want to be the same person, do the same things. You’ll try to retreat. Change will seem much more of a nuisance than it’s worth.
But then the paint will dry. (I promise.) You’ll wake up the next day and life will be a little easier. And things will be a little easier the day after that. Until you couldn’t imagine anything different. And you’ll forget all the bad stuff until next time, thank God.
So if you’re in a transition, know that it will be difficult. Even when it’s not supposed to be. Even when it’s something good and exciting and amazing. It’s still going to be tough.
Just give it time. And maybe a second coat.
I have had a lot of side jobs, from blogging to consulting to working for my boyfriend’s company where my boss was on the Board. In every case, I cleared what I was doing on the side with the company that paid me a full-time salary. So, I know how nerve-wracking and potentially awkward the conversation can be. Over at US News and World Report today, I give five tips to help convince your boss that moonlighting is actually good for everyone involved. Read it here.
The emails I get most often are from recent college grads who are depressed about their job prospects. I always give them the same advice, and I’ve included some of those steps in my latest post on U.S. News and World Report today. You can read it here and then let me know what strategies you’ve used to successfully kick-start your career.
At some point, working on vacation came to be expected. Did you notice? Work goes on without you, however, and no one is so important that you can’t take two weeks off (if you are, you’re doing it wrong). Over at US News & World Report today, I discuss ten reasons why you shouldn’t work on vacation. Read it here and give yourself permission to take a break.
Finding your career purpose is tough. If you come up empty after journaling, quizzes and vision boards, it may be time to take real action. Over at US News and World Report today, I talk about the three steps you can take to gain immediate clarity around discovering your dream job. Read it here.
It’s hard out there for a career. If only you had more challenge, more money, more responsibility. While you can and should ask for all of these things (going direct seldom fails), it’s not always that easy.
Here are three ways to build your self-confidence on the road to being one of those annoyingly awesome people who light up when they talk about what they do.
1. Get a side job. If you’re not ready to quit your job that sucks, get a side job consulting or freelancing. More cash means you’re able to create financial padding if and when you do decide to leave. But more importantly, getting distance between you and your current job is essential for creativity. When you stretch your muscles, your new job will stimulate ideas for your old job, and vice versa. Everybody wins.
(Sidebar: Should you tell your boss? Yes. No need to get fired over something silly. And no need to make it a big deal either. Just say you’re doing work for a company/friend/non-profit on the side, and of course, you will put your current position first. If there are any concerns whatsoever, you’re happy to address them. Easy peasy. And if it freaks you out to even think about another job, try blogging, volunteering, or taking a class. Don’t cop-out.)
2. Try being nice. If you’re not too happy, chances are it shows at your desk. When we start to feel like we’re “owed” a better position, resentment builds. Let it go. Be extra nice to your co-workers and boss. Get an attitude adjustment and move on. Being the bigger person isn’t easy, but no one is noticing you huff and puff anyway (and if they are, they don’t enjoy it), but they will notice a bit of extra sunshine.
Making other people’s jobs easier will not only make you feel good, but it is also the quickest way to advance your career. Being likeable is relationships is everything.
3. Reject another job offer. There’s nothing more powerful than rejecting a job offer. This works because it reminds you that you have a choice. Especially in today’s economy, we’re being conditioned to believe you should be grateful for whatever job you have. But who wants to be unhappy? Rejecting an offer lets your brain and heart know that you still have a choice. Your skills are in demand. If something were to happen at your current position, you’d be okay.
Of course, you may discover you’re stoked about a new opportunity and move on. That’s okay too. The point is to get some grease under your behind and start moving. It’s easier to show potential employers you’re amazing when you don’t need a job tomorrow.
Each of these ideas are designed to help you realize, how you choose to spend your time, how you make your money, how you give value to the world – those are all up to you. It’s up to you to love what you do.
Do you love your job? Tell me in the comments whether or not you enjoy your current position, and why.
I recently met a young woman who wanted to start a blog from a teacher’s perspective that revealed a teacher’s real and true thoughts. Like how bratty the kids are. How she cusses at them in her head and makes fun of how they dress.
She wasn’t alone; a whole group of her teacher friends were planning to anonymously co-author the venomous expose together. I felt sorry for her students. So very deeply sorry and guilty, but Ryan had left my side and I didn’t know anyone else at the party and I was stuck and uncomfortable and anxious for the future of kids I didn’t know and would never meet.
So we kept talking, and she told me more of what she wanted to do: Get into education administration, lobby reform to politicians, overthrow outdated lesson plans, revolutionize school requirements, change the whole entire educational system.
Turns out? Not so jaded. Just so desperately and achingly unsatisfied.
“Worker satisfaction in the United States is at an all-time low,” reports the New York Times. “Only 45 percent of workers are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61 percent in 1987. The findings show that the decline goes well beyond concerns about job security. Employees are unhappy about the design of their jobs, the health of their organizations and the quality of their managers.”
And it’s not just those people that have settled and resigned their dreams to the attic who are so unhappy, but a large percentage of what the Harvard Business Review calls “high-potentials” – those young rising stars that have the ability to have an enormous impact on how we work and live.
“One in three emerging stars report feeling disengaged from his or her company, and admits not putting all of his effort into his job,” the HBR study reports. These highly disengaged high performers have more than doubled from 8% in 2008 to 21% in 2009. And one-quarter of these highest-potential people intend to jump ship within the year despite the recession.
High-performance workers are being consistently and abhorrently under-utilized. Companies and managers must give motivated and ambitious young employees the ability to perform or risk irrelevance.
“When emerging talent is never truly developed and tested, the firm finds itself with a sizable cadre of middle and senior managers who can’t shoulder the demands of the company’s most challenging (and promising) opportunities,” the researchers warn.
So maybe it’s time to stop making young people pay dues. And stop assigning fluff projects. And maybe managers could stop putting the kind of hold on workers that is so tight that they’ll pop right out of their slippery control.
We are your sick, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free of the industrial age molds that keep us shackled in our desks from nine to five. Your greatest challenges are our greatest thrills. Let us execute, and then execute again. Let us fail, let us win. Let us do. Let us work.
“True leadership development takes place under conditions of real stress – indeed, the very best programs place emerging leaders in ‘live fire’ roles where new capabilities can – or more accurately, must – be acquired,” the researchers report.
Yes, let us work. Stimulating and meaningful work that leads to compelling career paths and the chance to prosper if you do.
We’ll hide the red tape in the breakroom.
John Besmer confirms our meeting with “Word,” and signs off with, “Yup!” like he’s in the middle of a Jay-Z video. At the corner of corporate and hipster, I arrive to his office to discover him in a plaid button-down shirt, designer-rimmed glasses and a whole lot of Midwestern charm.
I first saw Besmer in a similar uniform on stage. Ten designers shared twenty inspiration slides for twenty seconds each, but Besmer’s stood out; he was the only person to play electric guitar, read from a book and live-tweet during his – he later told me – “horribly lashed-together” presentation.
Besmer, Principal and Creative Director of Planet Propaganda, is one of the creatives that has been paving the way for design to take a front-seat in how we approach everything, from education to careers to business. His client list includes long-standing relationships with big-timers like Jimmy John’s sandwiches and MTV to the young and hip Trek bikes and Red Wing shoes.
“Design is becoming more relevant because things are becoming more complicated” Besmer tells me. And with that, a relative army of people are now claiming the term designer of one sort or another.
Should you need a speedy determination as to whether you’re business or creative-minded, take my test. Ask yourself, what time do I rise and fall? Scoring: Businessmen get up early. Creatives stay up late.
What links designers today “is their belief that everything today is ripe for reinvention and ‘smart recombination’” Warren Berger reports in Glimmer. And such foundational values are the backbone of innovation and business. Here’s how to take advantage:
1. Reframe your job, your tasks, your day-to-day. The concept of job titles are horribly outdated. Accept whatever title you’re given, but expand and burst the borders into far-away corners. Do as designers do and switch up “a familiar problem or challenge [like your job] in an unconventional way…. often the way a problem is framed will determine the solution,” Berger suggests.
Most successful people do this automatically. I know a young lawyer that was just recruited as partner at a prestigious law firm – this, at a time when lawyers are hurting badly – and it’s because he never saw himself as just a lawyer. He was always a leader first, the contracts and depositions came second.
So reframe your career in a new way. Ask stupid questions: Where should I really be living? Could I work from home? If I ate tuna for lunch every day, would that increase my productivity? What makes me happy?
2. Problem-solve to success. “I’m here to help my clients sell stuff,” Besmer tells me, but later admits that problem-solving is what really drives him. When you solve a problem, you get more responsibility, more challenge, new problems to solve. And that is what’s so exciting about successful careers. You solve lots of problems one after the other. It’s the difference between working hard and working smart, between an empty job and a fulfilling one.
Designers are extra good at this since it’s their explicit job description, but problem-solving is really the function of every job, of un-sticking yourself, of true creativity, regardless of the field you’re in – administrative to professional to creative.
3. Gain momentum by doing more and more. Berger reports this is the “’upward spiral’ of solving problems, wherein the more you do it, the more you can do it.” Solving problems, after all, is actually quite daunting and it can be paralyzing to jump in to such high pressure and stress. But once you’re guaranteed the win, it’s just as assuredly guaranteed that you’ll want another one.
“Through constant acts of creative [problem-solving], you also re-create yourself,” Berger continues. “You help propel your own growth spiral, feeding off the energy of creation. That’s not just a feeling, it’s a fact: Being in that state of “design flow’ raises the levels of neurotransmitters in you brain, such as endorphins and dopamine and that keeps you focused and energized.”
My friend Besmer is a testament to such endorphins and energy, and as we wrap up our conversation, he tells me the story of how he moved to a new house a few years ago. He relates that on each moving box, he would write what that box contained. “I’d write ‘old photos, clothes,’ and whatever was actually in the box… then I’d add ‘glass eyes’ just to keep it interesting for the movers. I thought, why not make it interesting for those guys?”
Why not, indeed.
So, how do you make it interesting? Do you work only within the confines of your job title? Are you creative or business-minded?
Alexandra Levit has just published the book, New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career, which is a great resource if you’re looking for a job or trying to find more happiness in your career. And it got me thinking, one of the myths I see over and over is that job-seekers or those looking to switch careers don’t think they have the skills or experience they need.
What a cop-out.
Of course, any career has a set of knowledge specific to that field. As an architect you probably have some technical knowledge about the size of a door jamb as well as general education about your specialization, like hospitals. But now that you’re ready to move to a new field, you don’t feel you have the gutzpah (experience, skills, knowledge) to apply to that journalism position or get into business development.
Very few employers are actually looking for someone with high level of expertise in a topic, but rather someone who can gain results. This is especially true the higher up the ladder you get. Look at the CEO of Yahoo Carol Bartz who originally came from the AutoCAD industry (architecture and design software).
As an unintentional job-hopper, the next job never hired me because of my body of field knowledge, but my track record of results which is a skill-set suitcase that travels with me and increases (one day, I hope it’s bursting open) to any job.
Those transferable skills are what’s most useful to employers: problem-solving skills, project management, marketing skills, business development, staff management, training and development; communication skills, etc. – and those are what should show up on your resume, how you should talk about yourself when networking, and what to include when writing your cover letter.
Could you have any job you want? If not, what’s hindering you or holding you back? Do you have a skill-set suitcase? How do you define it?
Quick, which is more difficult – work or life?
Up until a year ago, both competed for my attention, each piling weight onto the seesaw to rise towards the favored position. A year ago, however, I started working at Alice and Ryan and I started hitting our stride (both of which were not without challenges, however… many, many challenges).
While working for a start-up demands hours, it demands more in mental energy, in spikes of time about as predictable as a bingo game, where the only invariable is that you know work will be stop and go. This means it’s often difficult to separate work and life, especially in the statuesque pursuit of balance, but while I used to recognize and promote blur, I’m now mindful of the distinct delineation between the two.
Smart people don’t balance two sides of the same coin – your work and life are, after all, inseparable from the backbone of your binding. You can’t push one to one side and one to the other and hope equilibrium presents itself because the entities are glued to each other and to you.
What I mean, for example, is that I cannot see Ryan and refrain from discussing at length our work. I have long agreed that behind every good man is a good woman, and likewise, the same holds true for Ryan and I on both sides. While he is the one that shows up to Brazen headquarters each day, my ideas fill his head. While I’m the one who walks into Alice each morning, Ryan’s sense and advice follows me.
More to the point, I guess, is that there is a mutual respect for what we choose to do with the majority of our day and into the night, and sometimes into our sleep and into dreams. Although when we do relate to each other our dreams from the night before, it’s not very likely to include the mention of a spreadsheet.
Right now, Ryan is across the street from me working. His offices are located diagonal from my condo, but I have yet to see him this week except for when he dropped me off from our weekend in Philly together on Sunday. I was working on a Wall Street Journal exclusive early this week, and he’s working on big plans for Brazen later this week. We also have friends, family, a basketball league, dance classes, books, blogs, grocery shopping, the gym, bill-paying and other magnitudes and minutiae of daily life competing for our attention.
Oh, and the new season of Chuck just started.
When I walk into work, much of that has to go away. I imagine this is natural for most people who enjoy their jobs, but particularly at start-ups you have to be ready to do whatever is put in front of you that day. Everything planned for the day will get eaten up by new priorities, larger plans and whether or not the toucan (our CEO) monopolizes all the time with the dolphin (our President and my direct boss). This can be best described as acting as a pivot, keeping your center, but spinning to each new person and project that appears.
One of the best parts of working at a start-up is that an idea spun in the morning has the potential to be fully realized by the afternoon. It can be that quick and magical and exhilarating. Also, the customers. When I worked for a non-profit in a trailer across from the food pantry that I was raising money for, I thought I wouldn’t again experience the rewards of being in such direct contact with the people I helped. But Alice has that.
One of the more challenging things is that blurring my work and my blog and my life to such an extent can make me very unhappy. Sometimes I feel like I’m always working which is frustrating, so I’ve tried to have clearer boundaries. I don’t really believe in work/life balance as an ideal, but no longer do I trust in work/life blur so much either.
As a generation, we’re always on. Is it okay to tweet during your workday? How often? What about talk to your significant other? Send personal emails? Do you work with your partner at night? Accept calls from the boss? Check your iPhone during a movie? Where is the line drawn and what is acceptable?
For Ryan and I, we have chosen to spend the majority of our day, not with each other, but with two different start-up companies. Our lives and relationship are more difficult and more enriched because of it. What about you? Work/life balance: truth or myth? Does it stand a chance?
Ryan and I recently celebrated one year of dating officially. What makes this more impressive is that we’re both extremely career-oriented. Even more extraordinary is the fact that we’re not married with babies.
There’s a lot of pressure to settle down, never mind the fact that I don’t feel anywhere near ready to have children. And while I can imagine my life with Ryan, I don’t see the rush. With previous boyfriends, things could have ended at any moment. Now I have time.
In the Midwest, however, I do not. Twenty-six years of age is starting to get old and the female role models to dispel such rumors are few and far between. I can’t, in fact, think of a single woman in Madison that I look up to and follow for her career. Perhaps because the women I know in leadership roles exemplify negative stereotypes, and perhaps because there are simply more men than women leading business here.
It’s difficult, yes. When I graduated college and entered the real world, I had no idea how difficult it would be. Even in the start-up world, women are barely a consideration. When it comes to founding successful companies, apparently old guys rule. Young guys have a shot too. But women aren’t even part of the equation.
And while I love my job and am lucky to have been given opportunities I wasn’t afforded in previous positions, the patterns, however unintentional, are still there. It’s predominately male in our office and women are predictably relegated to the customer service and marketing departments.
The same pattern is propagated throughout society. For instance, Nisha Chittal reports on a study from Media Matters for America that shows on average, Sunday Morning show guests are 80 percent male (on shows like Chris Matthews, Fox News Sunday, Face the Nation, and Meet the Press).
And yet women do seem to make great strides career-wise. Ernst & Young went so far as to say that the world needs more female bosses. “Investing in women to drive economic growth is not simply about morality or fairness. It’s about honing a competitive edge,” Ernst & Young chairman and CEO Lou Pagnutti said. “Women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or the new giants, China and India.”
But the Midwest seems to be particularly fond of holding onto the old formula of success for women: meet, marry, opt-out. This is purely anecdotal of course. The newest Census study shows it’s actually a myth that privileged, well-educated women are opting-out. Even when broken down by geographic location, the Midwest has drastically more married couples with children and both parents in the labor force, compared to say, California or New York (see page 15 in the report).
Which makes me think we’re not telling the right stories.
I recently broke down to Ryan, “I don’t want to be like the young couples we sit with at weddings or the rich ones we meet at events. Their eyes are so vacant. So disappointed. They’re stunned or seemingly regretful. It scares me.”
“Rebecca,” he replied, “do you think we’re anything like those couples?”
I sniffled and agreed, maybe he was right. But I need women to be stronger role models and more outspoken – whatever path they choose. I don’t want to be afraid of motherhood. And I don’t want to be afraid of missed opportunity either.
There are some enthralling stories about the beautiful complexity that is marriage and motherhood. But these stories just don’t exist about being a woman in the workplace. We need to start telling those. Now. Not just recognizing powerful career women, say on a list or with an award, but telling the stories that infuse society. I need to hear more stories with women that inform my consciousness each morning. And I need to hear them right here in Wisconsin.