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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 February 20, 2019

        How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

        How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

        Are you stuck in the same position for too long and don’t really know how to get promoted and advance your career?

        Feeling stuck could be caused by a variety of things:

        • Taking a job for the money
        • Staying with an employer that no longer aligns with your values
        • Realizing that you landed yourself in the wrong career
        • Not feeling valued or feeling underutilized
        • Staying in a role too long out of fear
        • Taking a position without a full understanding of the role

        There are many, many other reasons why you may be feeling this way but let’s focus instead on getting unstuck.

        As in – getting promoted.

        So how to get promoted?

        I’m of the opinion that the best way to get promoted is by showing how you add value to your organization.

        Did you make money, save money, improve a process, or some other amazing thing? How else might you demonstrated added value?

        Let’s dive right in how to get promoted when you feel stuck in your current position:

        1. Be a Mentor

        When I supervised students, I used to warm them – tongue in cheek, of course – about getting really good at their job.

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        “Be careful not to get too good at this, or you’ll never get to do anything else?”

        This was my way of pestering them to take on additional challenges or think outside the box, but there is definitely some reality in doing something so well that your manager doesn’t trust anyone else to do it.

        This can get you stuck.

        Jo Miller of Be Leaderly shares this insight on when your boss thinks you’re too valuable in your current job:[1]

        “Think back to a time when you really enjoyed your current role. I bet there was a time when this job was a stretch for you, and you stepped up to the challenge and performed like a rock star. You became known for doing your job so well that you built up some strong “personal brand” equity, and people know you as the go-to-person for this particular job. That’s what we call “a good problem to have”: you did a really good job of building a positive perception about your suitability for the role, but you may have done “too” good of a job!”

        With this in mind, how do you prove to your employer that you can add value by being promoted?

        In Miller’s insight, she talks about building your personal brand and becoming known for doing a particular job well. So how can you link that work with a position or project that will earn you a promotion?

        Consider leveraging your strengths and skills.

        Let’s say that project you do so well is hiring and training new entry level employees. You have to post the job listing, read and review resumes, schedule interviews, making hiring decisions, and create the training schedules. These tasks require skills such as employee relations, onboarding, human resources software, performance management, teamwork, collaboration, customer service, and project management. That’s a serious amount of skills!

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        Is there anyone else on your team who can perform these skills? Try delegating and training some of your staff or colleagues to learn your job. There are a number of reasons why this is a good idea:

        1. Cross-training helps in any situation in the event that there’s an extended illness and the main performer of a certain task is out for a while.
        2. In becoming a mentor to a supervisee or colleague, you empower then to increase their job skills.
        3. You are already beginning to demonstrate that added value to your employer by encouraging your team or peers to learn your job.

        Now that you’ve trained others to do that work for which you have been so valued, you can see about re-requesting that promotion. Be ready to explain how you have saved the company money, encouraged employees to increase their skills, or reinvented that project of yours.

        2. Work on Your Mindset

        Another reason you may feel stuck in a position is well explained by Ashley Stahl in her Forbes article. Shahl talks about mindset, and says:[2]

        “If you feel stuck at a job you used to love, it’s normally you–not the job–who needs to change. The position you got hired for is probably the exact same one you have now. But if you start to dread the work routine, you’re going to focus on the negatives.”

        In this situation, you should pursue a conversation with your supervisor and share your thoughts and feelings. You can probably get some advice on how to rediscover the aspects of that job you enjoyed, and negotiate either some additional duties or a chance to move up.

        Don’t express frustration. Express a desire for more.

        Share with your supervisor that you want to be challenged and you want to move up. You are seeking more responsibility in order to continue moving the company forward. Focus on how you can do that with the skills you have and will develop with some additional projects and coaching.

        3. Improve Your Soft Skills

        When was the last time you put focus and effort into upping your game with those soft skills? I’m talking about those seemingly intangible things that make you the experienced professional in your specific job skills:

        An article on Levo.com suggests that more than 60 percent of employers look at soft skills when making a hiring decision.[3]

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        You can bone up on these skills and increase your chances of promotion by taking courses or seminars.

        And you don’t necessarily need to request funding from your supervisor, either. There are dozens of online courses being presented by entrepreneurs and authors about these very subjects. Udemy and Creative Live both feature online courses at very reasonable prices. And some come with completion certificates for your portfolio!

        Another way to improve your soft skills is by connecting with an employee at your organization who has the position you are seeking.

        Express your desire to move up in the organization, and ask to shadow that person or see if you can sit in on some of her meetings. Offer to take that individual out for coffee and ask what her secret is! Take copious notes and then immerse yourself in the learning.

        The key here is not to copy your new mentor (think Jennifer Jason Leigh in “Single White Female.” Just kidding). Rather, you want to observe, learn and then adapt according to your strengths. And don’t forget to thank that person for their time.

        4. Develop Your Strategy

        Do you even know specifically WHY you want to be promoted anyway? Do you see a future at this company? Do you have a one year, five year, or ten year plan? How often do you consider your “why” and insure that it aligns with your “what?”

        Sit down and do an old-fashioned Pro and Con list. Two columns:

        Pro’s on one side, Con’s on the other.

        Write down every positive aspect of your current job and then every negative one. Which list is longer? Are there any themes present?

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        Look at your lists and choose the most exciting Pro’s and the most frustrating Con’s. Do those two Pro’s make the Con’s worth it? If you can’t answer that question with a “yes” then getting promoted at your current organization may not be what you really want.

        The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. –Mark Twain

        Mel Carson writes about this on Goalcast that many other authors and speakers have written about finding your professional purpose.[4]

        Here are some questions to ask yourself:

        • Why is it that you do what you do?
        • What thrills you about your current job role or career?
        • What does a great day look like?
        • What does success look like beyond the paycheck?
        • What does real success feel like for you?
        • How do you want to feel about your impact on the world when you retire?

        These questions would be great to reflect on in a journal or with your supervisor in your next one-on-one meeting. Or, bring it up with one of your Vital Work Friends over coffee.

        See, what you might find is that being stuck is your choice. And you can set yourself on the path of moving up where you are, or moving on to something different.

        Because sometimes the real promotion is finding your life’s purpose. And like Mastercard says, that’s Priceless.

        More Resources About Career Advancement

        Featured photo credit: Razvan Chisu via unsplash.com

        Reference

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