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Career Change from the Inside Out

Career Change from the Inside Out

Johnny Bunko panel
    Pamela Skilling’s Escape from Corporate America and Daniel H. Pink’s The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

    I just read something scary on Twitter. Jonathan Fields – entrepreneur extraordinaire (I interviewed him on Lifehack Live) – posted about a conversation he’d had with a friend who “didn’t get how I could live w/ ‘stress’ of being entrepreneur and not having someone else pay me.”

    It’s true: there are people in the world who will take an amazing amount of crap – layoffs, verbal abuse, boredom, office politics, and more – in exchange for the perceived security of having someone else write them a check every week.

    This isn’t a post about becoming an entrepreneur, it’s a post about doing something to deal with a job that drags you down. More specifically, it’s a post about two inspiring books I’ve recently read, both of which take on the subject of career change in interesting, creative, and very different ways.

    The first is Pamela Skillings’ Escape from Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams. Skillings was good enough to come on Lifehack Live recently to talk about her book, and I highly recommend people listen to what she has to say.

    The other book is Daniel H. Pink’s The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need, a guide to business life with a twist: it’s written as a manga, a Japanese-style comic book. Before you scoff, believe me when I tell you, this is not a book for kids!

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    Change Your Life, Change Your Career

    Let me quickly clear something up: neither of these books is about changing from one job to another. You’ll find no tips on building the perfect resume, no how-tos on dressing for an interview, and nothing about getting the most our of monster.com.

    Instead, these books are about changing your career – even if you stay in the same job. What that means is the focus is on you as a person, not the mechanics of your working life.

    Escape from Corporate American cover
      Escape from Corporate America is, as you’d probably imagine, the more straightforward of the two. The book begins with a look at what’s wrong with the typical American corporate job – the frustrating lack of control many workers feel, the soul-deadening demand for conformity, the feeling of “going through the paces” year in and year out – and in the end, having nothing you can point to that says “I made a difference”.

      Skillings points to recent surveys that show 50% of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs – and almost all American workers fantasize about leaving. Why do we do it? Why don’t we stick our heads into our boss’ office, scream “I’ve had all I can take and I’m not going to take it anymore!” and storm out?

      It’s tempting to say “fear”, and I’m sure that plays a part in it, but I think a more realistic answer is “inertia” – the tendency of objects (and people) in motion to remain moving along the same path until an outside force acts on them. Skillings’ book aims to be that “outside force”.

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      Skilling’s talked with hundreds of people – corporate workers as well as successful “corporate escape artists” – about their experiences in and out of the corporate world, and compiled their responses, along with her own experiences and the latest research, into a guide to career satisfaction. The second part of her book offers the pros and cons of a variety of alternatives: from going to work for a company that “gets it”, starting your own business, to becoming a teacher, fighting the good fight at a non-profit, or launching a creative career.

      But more importantly, she offers a set of exercises in self-exploration, walking you through the process not of finding a new job but of finding the real you – figuring out your strengths, your preferences, and your values and matching them to a career that will give you the room you need to grow as a person.

      20090625-bunko-cover
        The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is also about figuring out and playing to your strengths. Poor Johnny Bunko is Everyman (or Everywoman), trapped in a job that he neither enjoys nor is all that good at. Then he comes into possession of a set of magical chopsticks – stay with me here! – that, when opened, call forth a magical career advisor who offers a set of six lessons.

        It’s lighthearted and silly – but then again, the problem Pink is trying to help you deal with is the deadly seriousness that traps so many of us into dead-end jobs we don’t enjoy and don’t see how to get out of.

        It’s a short read, so I won’t rehearse all six lessons here, but let me focus on the first two by way of introduction. When we meet our hero, he’s a low-level accountant at a company that does… what, we don’t know. He is a practical man with a practical job at a practical company, following “The Plan” laid out for him by his father, his career counselors, his employers – and it’s killing him.

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        Lesson #1: There is no plan.

        Too many of us get stuck because we had it all worked out years ago – college, starter job, pay our dues, a couple of promotions, maybe a move to a bigger company, and, at some point, a comfortable perch in a corner office where the “good stuff” happens.

        It’s a good plan, from a project management perspective; not so good for life, though. It assumes, for one thing, that we will remain the same person, with the same drives and the same ambitions, forever. It also assumes that when the time comes, the opportunity will present itself.

        Those killer assumptions blind us to all the other opportunities that are constantly presenting themselves – as well as the ones we have to hunt out ourselves.

        And when we hit a snag, when The Plan fails to come to fruition, we turn inwards, looking for the things we can fix in ourselves to make us more promotable, more desirable as a job candidate, more well-suited to The Plan. We become entrapped in a never-ending cycle of rooting out weaknesses.

        Lesson #2: Think strengths, not weaknesses.

        For one reason or another, all of us are better at some things than others – and find more satisfaction in some things than others. A life spent ignoring our strengths so we can “better ourselves” by improving in those areas where we’re weakest is no life at all – it’s a one-way ticket to perpetual dissatisfaction with who we are.

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        This doesn’t mean that if you’re a slob, say, everyone around you should just get used to it so you can focus on refining your brilliant wit. What it means is that you pay attention to those things only inasmuch as they affect your ability to function, while focusing on expanding the scope and strength of the things you’re best at. It means spending your time and energy to improve in those area where improvement itself is satisfying, where the return on your investment will be greatest, and where you are most likely to be able to make a mark in the world.

        Why waste your efforts on improving your weakest skills only to achieve mediocrity?

        Stop What You’re Doing and Read These Books

        Given the statistics, chances are you need to hear what Skillings and Pink have to say. Even if you’re satisfied with where you’re at right now, read them for tomorrow – you never know when you’re going to hit a wall and find yourself floundering.

        Neither of these books are very expensive: I picked up both in paperback for about $10 US each from Amazon. Escape from Corporate America is slightly better-suited for professionals, people with several years of experience in the corporate world under their belt (although my corporate years are almost a decade behind me and I still found a lot of value in the book). The Adventures of Johnny Bunko might appeal slightly more to younger people in more creative fields – or who wish they were in more creative fields. But both have a lot to offer to anyone, regardless of your age or current career.

        Get them and read them, and let your mind absorb what they have to say. You don’t have to run out and change careers tomorrow – in fact, Skillings is pretty adamant that the only way to fly is with careful planning – but the change in perspective will do you a world of good. And once that ball starts rolling, once that outside force changes your path, there’s no going back – the next steps will come to you, inevitably.

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        Last Updated on October 18, 2018

        10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

        10 Key Characteristics of a Highly Successful Entrepreneur

        When it comes to starting your own business and pursuing your dream of becoming an entrepreneur, it can be advantageous to go all in and embrace the flexibility of finally quitting your day job.

        Keep in mind, though, that it takes a special kind of person to take the business world by storm: a person who has cultivated the key characteristics of entrepreneurial success.

        People with these characteristics are likely to succeed, whereas people without them have difficulty moving forward with even the most brilliant business ideas.

        These characteristics of an entrepreneur are so important that I’ve decided to cover all 10 of them in detail so that you can start your business with your best foot forward.

        1. Successful Entrepreneurs Practice Discipline

        Plenty of business experts claim that you can’t get anywhere as an entrepreneur without vision or creativity, but that’s simply not the truth. Instead, the one quality that no entrepreneur can be successful without is discipline.

        To build an idea into a business, you have to have the discipline to spend time slogging through the least fun parts of running a business (like the bookkeeping), rather than taking that time to do something fun.

        Andrew Carnegie, one of the most financially successful Americans of all time, grew up working dull and difficult jobs in factories. Despite going to bed hungry some nights, he continued doing his best work. He was eventually hired by a railroad company and continued to move up the ladder until starting his own successful businesses. Carnegie is a fine example of an entrepreneur dedicated to discipline and hard work. He truly earned his dreams of prosperity and success.

        When you’re the boss, there’s no one to keep you at work except yourself — and there’s no short-term consequences for skipping out early.

        Sure, if an entrepreneur plays hooky enough he knows that the business just won’t happen, but it’s very hard to convince someone that ‘just this once’ won’t hurt (and to keep ‘just this once’ from becoming a daily occurrence).

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        2. Successful Entrepreneurs Keep Calm

        Things go wrong when you run your own business.

        Most entrepreneurs go through crises with their businesses — and more than a few wind up with outright failures on their hands. But when you’re responsible for a business, you have to be able to keep calm in any situation. Any other reaction — whether you lose your temper or get flustered — compounds the problem.

        Instead, a good entrepreneur must have the ability to keep his cool in an emergency or crisis. It may not make the problem easier to solve, but it certainly won’t make it harder.

        Honestly, losing your calm is a quick path to becoming the kind of person who gives up in the face of adversity. Instead giving in to frustration, remember classic entrepreneur Benjamin Franklin.

        Franklin kept his calm as he experimented and tweaked his inventions again and again in pursuit of success. He didn’t give up during his many failures – he chose to innovate. You can choose innovation, too.

        If an entrepreneur can handle failure without frustration or anger, s/he can move past it to find success.

        3. Successful Entrepreneurs Pay Attention to Details

        Restricting your attention to the big picture can be even more problematic than ‘sweating the small stuff.’

        As an entrepreneur, unless venture capital has magically dropped out of the sky, a small expense can be a killer. It’s attention to detail that can make a small business successful when it has competition and it’s attention to detail that can keep costs down.

        Attention to detail can be difficult to maintain — going over ledgers can be tedious even when you aren’t trying to pay close attention — but keeping your eye on a long-term vision is just asking for a problem to sneak in under a radar.

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        After a business grows, an entrepreneur might be able to hire someone to worry about the details. In the beginning, though, only one person can take responsibility for the details.

        Skeptical about the importance of details? Look no further than Howard Schultz, who grew a small coffee shop called Starbucks into one of the most globally successful coffee businesses in the world through his extreme attention to detail.

        He is famous for taking all aspects of growing a business into account, paying attention not only to financially smart business decisions, but also focusing on socially responsible business decisions. Details can take you far.

        4. Successful Entrepreneurs Embrace Risks

        No entrepreneur has a sure thing, no matter how much money s/he stands to earn on a given product. Even if a product tests well, the market can change, the warehouse can burn down and a whole slew of other misfortune can befall a small business.

        It’s absolutely risky to run a business of your own and while you can get some insurance, it’s not like most investment options. Even worse, if something does go wrong, it’s the entrepreneur’s responsibility — no matter the actual cause. In order to deal with all of that without developing an ulcer, you have to have a good tolerance for risk.

        You don’t need to channel your inner frat boy and take on absolutely stupid risks, but you need to know just how much you can afford to risk — and get a good idea of how likely you are to lose it. If the numbers make you uncomfortable, the risk is too great.

        Embracing risks is essential for growth and additional success, as well. Walt Disney, for example, could have stayed comfortable with his advances in the film and animation industries, but decided to expand his brand with a new dream: a theme park that soared above the competition. Without taking this risk, the incredibly successful Disney theme park empire would never have come about.

        An entrepreneur has to be willing to accept pretty big risks, with some level of comfort.

        5. Successful Entrepreneurs are Balanced

        You can take any characteristic too far. There’s a point at which attention to detail can become obsession or calm can become unemotional response.

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        As an entrepreneur, you have to be able to balance your characteristics, getting the most of them without going over the edge. But balance for an entrepreneur goes far beyond keeping your characteristics in check, though.

        Just as an entrepreneur doesn’t have a boss to keep them at work when necessary, they don’t have one to send them home when they’re done. If you are working for yourself, you have to decide how to balance your work and home life — and if you have a day job to add into the equation, balance just gets more complicated.

        Oprah Winfrey, one of the most successful and influential entrepreneurs out there, understands the importance of balance. Winfrey has a lot going on; she runs her own media kingdom, acts, produces films, publishes print, and more. In an interview with Fast Company,[1] she talks about her efforts to balance priorities and self care, saying that she must ask herself what is truly important in each limited day.

        You may or may not have as much on your plate as Oprah, but learning how to balance whatever you have going on in life will certainly help you farther along down the road as you learn to be a great entrepreneur.

        6. Successful Entrepreneurs are Passionate and Motivated

        In order to develop any of the above characteristics, you must have a foundation of passion. Staying disciplined day after day during the building of your business takes unrivaled motivation.

        Before you start any business, ask yourself if you can sustain true excitement about your idea during even the darkest days ahead of you. If the answer is yes, then good for you! Nurture your natural motivation by taking these action steps throughout your business journey:

        • Commit to making short and long-term goals. Check in with them often to stay on task.
        • Have a plan in place for the inevitable days when you feel discouraged. Make a list of things that will help keep you motivated and focused.
        • Share your ideas with trusted individuals who are just as excited as you are. They will help keep your enthusiasm rolling even when you are feeling down.

        By being prepared for apathetic days and holding fast to your authentic passion, you can actually enjoy your journey to success.

        7. Successful Entrepreneurs Adapt

        Remember this one word: flexibility. Seasoned entrepreneurs know that change is not only a part of life, but also a part of the business world. Expect change and choose to adapt.

        As a new entrepreneur, it will be tempting to cling to your original business plan with no exceptions, even if you notice it isn’t working. Good entrepreneurs know that it’s okay to make smart, informed changes in order to ensure efficiency.

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        8. Successful Entrepreneurs are Marketing and Sales Experts

        No matter what kind of business you are starting, a knowledge of marketing and sales will save you many headaches. A passion for creating a beautiful handmade lifestyle product is not enough to run a successful lifestyle brand; it is critical that you understand key business principles in addition to your natural skills or great product line.

        Not sure how to start? Taking business courses is a great idea, but you can also easily brush up on sales and marketing through free online resources. Check out these 10 Sales Skills Everyone Should Master To Be Successful to begin now.

        9. Successful Entrepreneurs Have Strong Money Management

        Along with sales and marketing skills, money management is a very useful tool in the box of the entrepreneur. Understanding how to best manage your money can be the difference between early success and early failure in the business world.

        If money management isn’t your strongest skill, prepare to hire a financial expert to help you with any tricky business that comes up. Financial guidance and knowledge is never a bad idea.

        10. Successful Entrepreneurs Ask Questions and Continually Improve

        Pride is a natural human quality, but it’s important to humbly conduct some constructive criticism every now and again on both yourself as a leader and your new business as a whole.

        Assess how things are going and be willing to make positive changes if necessary. Here’re 15 ways to cultivate lifelong learning.

        If you are always improving, then how can you ultimately fail?

        The Bottom Line

        Let me remind you of one important fact: the qualities of an entrepreneur listed here are not exclusively available to some people and elusive to others.

        Although some people may have natural strengths and weaknesses, these qualities can be learned by anyone interested in taking up the entrepreneurial challenge. It might not be easy to change old habits, but it is absolutely possible to cultivate these characteristics in yourself.

        Whether you’re a business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur, with hard work, you can train yourself to develop the qualities that truly determine the entrepreneurial spirit and future success.

        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

        Reference

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