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Sunday, January 30, 2005

 

The Office Cinderella

I've had this blog idea floating in my head for a few months. Not sure how it will come out so bear with me. Any help in refining (or telling me it's full of crap) is greatly appreciated.

This is not a fairy tale. Unfortunately, it happens far more than we would care to believe.

The first time I heard the story, it was told to me by my younger sister. She worked for a small non-profit and did pretty much anything her bosses asked her to do (she had two of them). She answered phones, stuffed envelopes, helped with administration duties, and so on. She saw it as a way to get into meeting planning, which is what she wanted to do most of all. All the other stuff was just a part of getting her to where she wanted to go.

However, her bosses sensed her eagerness to do whatever they asked and took full advantage. They asked her to frequently work late into the night and on weekends, they asked her to redo other employees's "substandard" work, they asked her to cover for employees who didn't show up for work. She realized that it wasn't fair, but perhaps if she did just a little more, they would give her more meeting planning assignments.

When an ideal assignment opened, she felt sure that she would get it. Except, she didn't; it went to someone with far less experience. She asked her bosses why she didn't get the assignment since they knew how important it was to her. They replied that she was far too valuable in other areas of the office. Crushed and dejected, she vowed to leave the job and find a better opportunity. She scheduled a meeting with her bosses, ready to hand in her resignation. Only they begged and pleaded that they needed her. They promised to give her more meeting planning experience if she would stay.

Satisfied with their insistence, she agreed to continue working with the non-profit. And so, the cycle of doing whatever the bosses needed began again. Except...now my sister's enthusiasm was diminishing and her disgruntlement was growing. Interpreting it all as disloyalty, the bosses became more critical of her work, more harsh in how they communicated with her. It culminated with a performance review session where the bosses told her that she would never be a good meeting planner. Angrily, my sister replied that they should just fire her if they were so unhappy with her work. In a surprising twist, they said they still needed her too much and wanted her to stay.

Eventually, after nearly three years, she realized that her health and mental well-being were more important and left the non-profit.

I thought her experience was reserved only for young professionals who were trying to establish their careers. Why did she choose to stay in a job that involves so much toxicity? There were other organizations out there where she could go. Confused, I decided to stop sympathizing and began empathizing; and then I started to understand.

It is so easy to downplay our own strengths and capabilities, particularly when we have help from our managers. Because they occupy a place of organizational power and authority, we tend to give them the ability to judge us as professionals. This is institutionalized through the performance review process. So, when we're told that our performance is "below expectations" or only "meets expectations," it might come as a blow to our own sense of professional self-worth.

What I noticed in my sister's case is that her bosses did a very good job of undermining her confidence just enough to where she believed that no one else would want her. She was better off staying. I'm not sure that was the conscious process behind her bosses's motives, but there was enough behavior to suggest a pattern. I would almost call it a form of emotional blackmail.

However, as I tell this story to others, I notice I get a lot of head nodding. I discover that it is not just a problem for younger professionals, but occurs even to those at mid-career. And then I read Kathy Sierra's post this morning detailing her experience. Take a peek and see if you don't find yourself getting pissed off by her management's processes and attitudes. But, before you go and blame the organization for their own behavior, consider this perspective from Hugh Macleod at gapingvoid:
Why does management abuse you? Because they can. Somewhere down the line you bought into their value system - you took their money, you welcomed the status the position afforded you, etc.
In other words, allow yourself to be paid, but never allow yourself to be bought.

Feel free to add your thoughts. There is so much here to explore (for better or for worse) and I have a feeling I'll be returning to add more to this issue.


Categories: c.Careers; c.Management; c.Organizations

Saturday, January 29, 2005

 

Being Fully Present in Our Work and Life

I found an interesting article in the The Olympian Online about fathers facing the challenge of integrating their desire to be great parents with their commitment to do great work. I liked the ideas they offered at the end of the article (Even if you're not a dad or parent, the most of the ideas are relevant for cultivating a whole life):
  1. Don't feel guilty for needing time to yourself. Work out. Get in a round of golf. Watch a football game.

  2. Recognize you can't do it all.

  3. Realize your value as an employee and a parent. You can ask for some perks, too, like flex time or telecommuting.

  4. Remember, the company won't fall apart if you put off some work until tomorrow.

  5. Prioritize and set goals. (Examples: Try not to take work home on the weekends.)

  6. Ask to be connected to the office at home. If you need to do work after hours, at least you're still at home.

  7. Plan some alone time each week with the children.
In particular, #1 can often be difficult for busy parents. But giving all of our time to our kids, as well as our spouse and others can be a trap. It's so vital to take some time for ourselves. That way, we can be sure that we're fully present when we are with those we love. Same way with our work; when we have a chance to relax or do those things that recharge our batteries, we can be fully present in our work.

A few months ago, I blogged on the idea of the Oxygen Mask Principle, which is a great way to remember that we first have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. If you haven't read it, check it out and consider the question I leave at the end.


Categories: c.Careers; c.Living; c.Parenting

Thursday, January 27, 2005

 

Article: Are You A Tourist To Your Own Career?

As a part of my career and leadership coaching practice, I produce a monthly e-newsletter. The January issue features an article I recently wrote called Are You A Tourist To Your Own Career?

Here's a brief excerpt:
My mad tourist dash [through London] seems silly, yet how many times have we done the same thing in our careers. So many of us race from task to task, project to project, and job to job. Perhaps we do this so we can check them off our strategically created career plans. Or maybe we become seduced by the thought that the next thing ahead is better than what we have right now. Ultimately, we find ourselves trapped by the notion that the destination becomes far more important than the journey itself and we lose ourselves in the process.
The full article can be found here:

If you find the article enjoyable, consider subscribing to the e-newsletter.


Categories: c.Careers
 

Reflections on Courage and Play

The Creating Passionate Users blog has been a favorite destination for me this week. A couple of days ago, Kathy Sierra posted an entry called Be Brave or Go Home. She argues that when it comes to developing products and services, being provocative and taking risks is the key to success. Going safe is a vote for your own mediocrity.

I love how she ended the post:
Creating passionate users is NOT about finding ways to make everyone like you. It's about finding ways to use your own passion to inspire passion in others, and anything with that much power is bound to piss off plenty of status-quo/who-moved-my-cheese people. Bring it on.
If that doesn't get you excited to get out there and do something bold, not much else will. It kind of complements one of my past entries, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate. In this case, mediocrity and indifference are killers. So, who are you going to piss off today?

Then comes the next post, Creating Playful Users... Maybe its just because I'm visiting the right blogs and sites, but there seems to be growing momentum behind the idea that play is vital to our growth. And not just intellectually, but to our organizations, businesses, and other areas of our careers. Check out some of the ideas that Kathy proposes. In a world dominated by seriousness and cynicism, playfulness is truly a strategic advantage. What one idea for implementing playfulness in your career, organization, family, etc. do you have and can commit to in the next two weeks?


Categories: c.Creativity; c.Leadership; c.Play

Sunday, January 23, 2005

 

Thoughts of Spring in Mid-winter

I'm in the process of cleaning and organizing my home office. Today, I rediscovered a poem that I used to have posted to my wall a couple of jobs back. It was sent to me by my wife and expresses a romanticism and beauty that continues to haunt me.

Morning by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The mist has left the greening plain,
The dew-drops shine like fairy rain,
The coquette rose awakes again
Her lovely self adorning.
The Wind is hiding in the trees,
A sighing, soothing, laughing tease,
Until the rose says, "Kiss me, please,"
'Tis morning, 'tis morning.

With staff in hand and careless-free
The wanderer fares right jauntily,
For towns and houses are, thinks he,
For scorning, for scorning.
My soul is swift upon the wing,
And in its deep a song I bring,
Come, love, and we together sing,
"'Tis morning, 'tis morning."


Categories: c.Creativity; c.Living; c.Play

Saturday, January 22, 2005

 

Less Can Be More

I'm a big fan of the work performed by the Center for Creative Leadership. This month's Leading Effectively e-newsletter focuses on balance. While I'm not the biggest proponent of the concept of balance, I found one of the articles offered some good ideas for reclaiming effectiveness in our work.

Enjoy!

Less Can Be More

Don't assume that putting in fewer hours on the job will cause your work to suffer. In fact, time and energy spent off-the-job can enhance your productivity and your capacity to deal with work challenges. Shifting the mix of work and non-work hours can teach you:

Strength in vulnerability. Recognize that you can't do everything and learn to ask for help. Leaders who successfully balance competing demands in all aspects of their lives freely admit their vulnerabilities and frequently are admired and respected for doing so. It makes them seem more human and more approachable.

The upside of limits. When facing a tough challenge or a huge to-do list, human nature urges you to push harder and work more hours. While it may seem counterintuitive to stop, ease back or even shift focus, that's exactly what you may need to do. If you're working late at the office - fourteen hours a day, day in and day out - you are tricked into thinking that your efficiency is being maximized by your intense work efforts. In fact, leaving early a few nights a week or delegating more may be the better solution. By setting limits, you are better able to distinguish when you really do need to push and when to step back and regroup.

The benefit of recharging. Our capacity to work is not boundless, although we sometimes appear to believe otherwise. Building in enough time to relax and recharge as we work is critical for clear and creative thinking, strong relationships and good health.

Here's the Full article


Categories: c.Careers; c.Living

Friday, January 21, 2005

 

Your Life As A Variety Show

The idea of creating balance in our lives is a popular one, but for the most part, I think it is unsustainable and unrealistic. It's not a balancing act between just two variables of "work" and "life" - it's far more complex than that. Rather than a teeter-totter image, think about a circus performer who tries to balance themselves on top of a giant ball. The ball can go in any direction and it takes an immense amount of concentration and energy to remain centered on top.

But, there are other models for us to consider.

It used to be that TV had solid lineups of variety shows. Remember Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, and Jack Benny? What about Sonny and Cher and the Muppets? What made them great and interesting was that you always had a wide selection of entertainment. There was usually some singing, some comedy, and some stunts (like guys jugggling chainsaws on fire) in each episode. The different acts kept the show engaging and viewers wondering what would come next.

What would happen if we think of our lives as a variety show with each of our roles as different acts? Each day's episode can contain...

professional acts - ladies and gentlemen, look as he puts out fires with his bare hands

parent acts - watch as he solves multiple interpersonal conflicts with the greatest of ease

friend acts - observe as he enjoys a dinner with people he loves

and the possibilities are endless...

Don't be afraid to add variety to your life. If your day is dominated by professional acts, think about ways to squeeze in some other acts. Watching the same act over and over gets boring not only to the folks around you, but to you, as well.


Categories: c.Creativity; c.Careers; c.Living; c.Play

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

 

When Your Creative Partner is a Duck

(From Ross and Strategize) I found this idea to be an interesting way to brainstorm and work through problems.

You see, I'm a notorious "self-talker." We're the folks you walk by and notice we're passionately carrying on a conversation with ourselves. In dull, conformist environments, this is perceived as a mental difficulty worthy of a few chuckles. But for us self-talkers, its our way of processing information, trying on ideas, working through all the variables.

Now the question is: Is it weirder to talk to yourself or an inanimate object? For me, the answer is: WHO CARES! Better to be the eccentric guy or gal who keeps coming up with incredible and creative ideas. And who knows...it might actually catch on. Imagine everyone in the organization having conversations with life-sized cardboard cutouts of Darth Vader (so Darth, what do you think we should do about that new marketing plan?) or Homer Simpson (so Homer, what should I call the next version of our software?). Now that I think about it, I'm on my way out the door right now to find myself a cutout of Jennifer Garner.


Categories: c.Creativity

Monday, January 17, 2005

 

More Than A Dream: MLK's Call to Action

More than just a U.S. Federal holiday or a day off from work, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an opportunity for us to deeply consider critical social and political issues. What's disturbing is how Dr. King's words still describe the world we live in today, even though they were written and spoken nearly 40 years ago. For instance, consider his sermon titled "Beyond Vietnam," delivered on April 4, 1967, in New York City's Riverside Church:
The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
Yet, more than just considering these words, our challenge is to choose our path carefully and take action. What change do you want to see? Start in your home and move outward: "Think Globally, Act Locally."

For more excerpts from Dr. King's speeches, visit: MLK Jr. In His Own Words


Categories: c.Leadership; c.Living

Saturday, January 15, 2005

 

Allowing for Serendipity

It's funny how events sometimes happen in our lives, almost as if they have been planned and directed by someone else. Sort of like being in our own Truman Show. For instance: You sit down for a cup of coffee at Starbucks expecting to just be with yourself, but joyfully, you're pulled into an amazing set of conversations that entertain, inform, even alter your worldview. It's serendipity and when you're open to all that the universe has to offer, it can lead to really great stuff.

As an aside, when I looked up the word serendipity at dictionary.com to make sure my spelling was accurate, I discovered the word's origin:
We are indebted to the English author Horace Walpole for the word serendipity, which he coined in one of the 3,000 or more letters on which his literary reputation primarily rests. In a letter of January 28, 1754, Walpole says that “this discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word.” Walpole formed the word on an old name for Sri Lanka, Serendip. He explained that this name was part of the title of “a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of....”
I like that...making unexpected discoveries through accident and sagacity. Here's an idea for allowing serendipity into your life:

Ditch the script. Some of us have an easier time living spontaneously than others. That's okay; we're all made up differently. But, we all have the capacity to be spontaneous. If you find surprises and the unexpected scary, find the place where you are comfortable and hang out there. Notice what it's like, what you are feeling and sensing. Then take a step toward discomfort (sort of like that first step into a cold pool of water). Again, be aware of what's going on inside you and what's going on outside. Take your time, but resist the urge to immediately go back to comfort. True growth occurs in places of discomfort.

What else has worked for you? Where else have you experienced a moment of serendipity in your life? Here's hoping you make another accidental discovery today.


Categories: c.Creativity; c.Learning; c.Living; c.Movies/TV

Friday, January 14, 2005

 

My Oldest Baby Turns Six Today

I've been looking over past entries and realize I don't mention too much about my girls. I also realize that I don't really open up about my personal life in this space, either. This is rather silly considering that I have recently argued in other blogs for the need to integrate all facets of life and not compartmentalize. I'll do a better job of bringing all of myself to my writing here.

My oldest daughter, Leah, turns six today. As a human being, she amazes me at times with her intelligence, humor, warmth, imagination, (oh, how I could go on...). I had a meeting early this morning and couldn't be there when she woke up so I called when I finished, which was around 10:30am. I wished her a big happy birthday and then told her where the two of us were at that time six years ago. It's so distinct in my mind: I was giving Leah her first bath. We were in a room with a warm lamp (kind of like the ones they use to keep the fries warm at McDonalds) and I was gently washing off the birthing stuff. I remember how I didn't know whether to weep or laugh so I did a little of both. It was one of those unbelievable moments where life takes a bit of a curve. Being a new dad changed me and continues to take me to extraordinary places.

So tonight is the party complete with a sleepover for four other little girls. I'm not sure what my wife and I were thinking in going for the slumber party route, but it should be an interesting experience. Not as soul-affirming as that first bath, but hopefully something memorable. Wish us luck.


Categories: c.Living; c.Parenting

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

 

A Thin Line Between Love And Hate

During a conversation with a friend of mine, she said, "The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference." That made me pause and reflect for a moment.

Loving or hating something, such as your work, means you care about it. You have feelings that are yours and can fuel your actions. If you love the work that you do, perhaps it's because it fulfills you, gives you sense of purpose, or connects you to others. Whatever it is, you are passionate about it in a positive way. On the other hand, if you find you hate your work, it could be because you're disappointed that it doesn't honor your values or makes you feel like you're less than you can really be. Again, whatever it is, you are passionate about it in a negative way.

The real problem is when you notice you are disinterested in your work. In other words, there's no passion, enthusiasm, or hope. You're just grazing through your day. A statement I hear frequently is, "I just don't care about [my company, my work, my profession...] anymore." Sound familiar?

Take some time to really feel what it is that you are doing. Give in to the ambiguity that might arise as different emotions surface. Give yourself the freedom to feel both content and pissed off with your work. If you're only able to feel pissed off, get out and find something else. It's better than the soul-numbing alternative of disinterest.


Categories: c.Careers

Friday, January 07, 2005

 

We Are Not a Product

I find myself caught in a bit of dilemma. As a career coach growing his practice (while at the same time looking for new work within a company in organizational development), I have tried to follow the ideas behind The Brand Called You. It's about marketing all that is distinctive and noteworthy about ourselves. It's a way of getting ourselves out there, attracting possible clients and employers to us using many of the same ideas that companies use to sell their products.

Here's the problem: We are not PRODUCTS. We have allowed the commercial and the economic to infiltrate even how we view ourselves. We might think we control the identity of our brand, but that's unrealistic. When viewed in this light, the true valuators of our brand lie outside of us. No matter how much the folks at Coke try to build and rebuild their brand, it's the consumer who determines whether it has any worth. And by allowing others to view us as a brand, we give them the same power to determine our worth. In the end, we become more about projecting an image and less about living and working toward our true purpose. In The Answer to How is Yes, Peter Block writes:
We become products measured by market value. And soon our relationships, our dreams, and even deepest insights become a means to an end.
Okay, so what's the alternative? This is where I admit that I am still working on new ideas. Here's what I do know: it must include a commitment to pondering meaningful questions, engaging in self-awareness, and slowing down from the hectic pace the U.S. culture demands. These three actions are not easily or quickly rewarded, but I believe the results will be far more enduring.


Categories: c.Books; c.Careers

Thursday, January 06, 2005

 

Just to Be Enough

I'm now back to the point where I can blog again. I traveled with my family to my parent's home in West Virginia and then to Colorado to celebrate the end of 2004 with my wife's family. Part of my wanted to take my laptop with me, but a more urgent voice asked me to leave it at home. I'm glad I did. I spent more time relaxing, reading provocative works, and most importantly, spending time with my wife and girls. I also started to sketch again - a creative outlet that I left dormant for too long. The challenge will be to continue these new habits as I return to familiar settings.

Off on a tangent...I'm a member of Toastmasters International. Each meeting there is an inspirational opener and for last night's meeting a fellow coach read an excerpt from The Dance by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. The reading focused on the idea of "just being enough" and I was hit by some provocative questions and thoughts.

Our culture exalts the over-achiever, the individual who painstakingly achieves a high level of self-improvement, the person who rises from a log cabin to public greatness. Its our driving myth of accomplishment and its also a cult. Next time you're at Barnes and Noble (or better yet, find an independently owned bookstore), take a look at all the books devoted to Self-Improvement. There are so many self-help gurus out there telling us we can be more: more confident, more loving, more outgoing, more wealthy, more thin...well, you get the picture. It's all about more.

What if you and I are ENOUGH just as we are. Right now. We don't need to be MORE. How does this change our reality? We have enough love, enough money, enough self-worth. We can stop chasing after the illusion that MORE offers. Our wholesale buying into the ideals of ambition and upward mobility have not led to greater happiness. Unfortunately, for most of us, just the opposite. But like the mouse in the wheel, we keep running forward only to be stuck in the same place we started.

As I further listened to the reading, I quickly wrote a question: is improvement the same as learning? The answer I came to is no. It is possible to accept that we are enough and continue to learn at the same time. Learn more about who we are, not who we should be or who others want us to be. It's time to just grow to be enough.


Categories: c.Books; c.Learning; c.Living; c.Spirit

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