I recall a conversation with a young lady near completion of her undergraduate degree in a general business subject. I asked her what her next steps were. “Graduate school,” was her prompt reply. “What will you major in?” – I inquired. “I don’t know,” was her immediate response.

Perhaps as a parent myself, my head was spinning as I thought of the time, money and energy that had been expended to reach the response “I don’t know.” The cost of education continues to spiral upward and the number of career options before our young ones is growing exponentially.

What is a parent, grandparent, guardian, mentor, etc. to do? Education should be an investment in one’s future, not a repository for disposable income (if indeed any of us have it anymore!).

Here are some suggestions as to how to help those under your charge to consider what they want to be “when they grow up.”

Pay attention

Even at the earliest ages there are often hints as to natural gifts and talents. I have a son who, at an early age, was constantly taking things apart (and sometimes putting them back together). A non-traditional student, he ended up with a successful career as an automobile technician, learning and doing things that are well beyond my meager mechanical skills. Those “hints” were so present at a young age that my father used to call him “Fingers.” Watch what fascinates and engages your young ones, looking for clues as to their natural aptitudes, fascinations and skills. To quote the great philosopher Yogi Berra, “You can see a lot by just looking.”

Expose them

All of us are constantly surrounded by people doing a litany of occupations, from delivery drivers and store clerks to banking professionals and business owners. Reading books, watching television, enjoying popcorn at the movies, browsing on the Internet, etc., all provide opportunities to identify and discuss potential careers. When Henry Ford built his first automobile, you could choose only one color: black. Careers in the new millennium are a virtual rainbow of opportunities. Do your best to introduce them to the vibrant colors that make up the new vocational landscape.

Consider Expert Guidance

Although there is no assessment instrument out there to tell any of us what we should be “when we grow up,” the judicious, professional use of sound assessments can provide excellent insights regarding your child’s interests, skill confidences and values and how they relate to occupations and careers. This information is best used to investigate alternatives using my next suggestion: “Get Feedback from the Street.”

Get Feedback from the Street

I am constantly amazed how people spend so much time and energy in “due diligence” as they shop for cars, homes, technology, etc., yet they decide to become accountants simply because they are good at math (no disrespect meant to accountants, by the way, I need them desperately)! Use your network of contacts to find people in fields of interest to your kids and let them “shadow” them for the day (if possible), ask questions (I have an excellent list I can share with you), learn what it’s really like to be a _____________. No one knows better than someone who has been there.

Keep Options Open

Even as your young one moves ahead in their career decisions and vocational tracks, be sure to help them keep an eye on the shifting landscape that is part of the new career model. I am now reading that, rather than changing jobs 3-5 times in a lifetime, our kids may be changing careers as many times. This presents an excellent argument for helping them understand themselves and how what I like to call their “best stuff” relates to the vocational opportunities before them.

By the way, this works for “grownups” as well!

What’s that? You say your Latin is a bit rusty? This extraordinary phrase comes from two of my Saturday morning heroes – Tom and Ray Magliozzi (a.k.a. “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” from Car Talk). If this does not connect with any of you, I urge you to tune in a PBS radio station in your area at 10 AM on the afore-mentioned day for their car advice (AND raucous Cambridge laughter). An absolute delight, they even include good automotive information at times!

This Latin phrase is one of their deeply held credos. When asked how they are able to respond to call-in gty_car_talk_Tom_and_Ray_Magliozzi_jt_120609_wgquestions as quickly as they do, their response (translated into Latin for the more erudite among us) was “We’re ‘unencumbered by the thought process.’”

I’ve shamelessly adopted this as one of my mantras, to the point of once having it emblazoned over the door to my office (to challenge myself as well as my clients. I even donated to my local PBS station to score the coffee mug!). Why? One of MY deeply held credos is as follows: “We should think less and act more.” In Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind, the author Guy Claxon notes how “thinking less can make you more intelligent.” We often spend so much time thinking through options and potential outcomes that action never ensues. This impacts opportunities for all, since failure to act on something virtually guarantees failure to achieve much of anything.

To be sure, we need to engage what Hercule Poirot called “the little grey cells” as we move ahead in our work and lives, but I would humbly suggest that you include this Latin phrase in your “career toolbox” as well.

Don’t be so encumbered by the thought process! Think a little less and act more!

In his excellent tome “The Passion Plan,” Richard Chang writes of making decisions regarding your life and work from two sources: your Head or your Heart.

IHeart vs. Headf your decisions move from your Head to your Heart (based solely on rational thought, logic, what “makes sense,” etc. and then considering your subjective side), you will ultimately experience Regret“I wonder what might have happened if I had done this or that…?” Or, according to Chang, if you stay with Head decisions, you’re likely experience Sadness, as you realize that you failed to consider your deeper needs and desires before taking action.

Heart decisions can have their pitfalls as well. As Chang notes, if you start from your Heart and stay with your Heart, you are likely to make Risky, totally impractical decisions, placing your future in danger as you never tempered your Heart ideas with logical considerations from your Head.

The best process, he suggests, is the Heart-Head journey. Identify and clarify your Passions, those deeply held beliefs and drives that make you the extraordinary person you are and then evaluate alternatives and drive your actions through your Head to seek out the best path(s) to achieve your Passions.

According to Chang, this Heart-Head process is the ultimate way to achieve what he calls “capital P Profit,” Profit that feeds the soul as well as the body! In the introduction to his book he quotes Benjamin Disraeli- “Man is only truly great when he acts from the passions.”

How about you? Do you know where your passions lie? If not, take action to discover them.

True GritI was introduced to this extraordinary word while listening to an interview with Dan Pink on his manga masterpiece The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. As Dan was recounting the key lessons learned by Johnny through that winsome sprite Diana (no spoilers here, you need to get and read this book!), he introduce me to Rule #4 – Persistence Trumps Talent. Dan went on to describe how the world was littered with competent, talented people who never realized their potential because they simply gave up, while others pressed on (perhaps even with less ability) to excellence.

Enter Angela Duckworth, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and her research on a personality trait she calls “grit.” She describes grit as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” In one paper, she noted that “the gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.”

Her research showed that the West Point cadet’s grit score was the best predictor of success in the rigorous summer training program known as “Beast Barracks.” It eclipsed more obvious traits such as intelligence, leadership ability or even physical fitness. In another example, the grittiest contestants at the Scripps National Spelling Bee were mostly likely to advance at least in part because they studied longer, not because they were smarter or even were better spellers!

As a marathon runner, this reminds me the anonymous paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 9:11 – The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.

How about you? Do you, like Marshall Rooster Cogburn, possess “True Grit?!”

“We failed, but in the good providence of God apparent failure often proves a blessing. “ – Robert E. Lee

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky

“Failure is always an option.” – Adam Savage, Mythbuster

“Make excellent mistakes.” – Dan Pink (via Johnny Bunko)

“Oops! I didn’t know THAT would happen!” Have you ever spoken those words after attempting something that “crashed and burned” before your eyes? I know I have.

Here’s another question: Did you learn anything from it? (Hint: The correct answer should always be “Yes.” Some of our best lessons emerge from dismal failure. We all know the story of Edison who supposedly said of his lack of success along way to developing the incandescent light, “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Every “failure” is an opportunity for significant insight, if we will only pay attention.

Please allow me to quote the sprite Diana from Dan Pink’s The Adventures of Johnny Bunko (if you have not read this excellent little tome, you should, it takes only about 15 minutes!!): “the most successful people make spectacular mistakes – huge, honking screwups! …each time they make a mistake, they get a little better and move a little closer to excellence.”

So, get out there and make a mistake! You could LEARN something!

I owe this phrase (and the name of my organization) tImageo an excellent little book by Marsha Sinetar, To Build the Life You Want, Create the Work You Love. In this helpful tome, the author applies the ubiquitous Hierarchy of Needs developed by Abraham Maslow in 1954 (Air, Water, Food, etc. up to Self-actualization) to career development. Her version of Maslow’s pyramid describes the apex as “vocational integration,” a rather abstract appellation to be sure, but she also describes it this way: “Work as Gift of Self.”

I must confess to some professional jealousy. I wish I had coined this rich statement. “Work as Gift of Self” means that, as you describe what are doing, you are not merely recounting a bullet list of tasks and responsibilities that are known as your Job Description. You are describing yourself, your God-given passions, interests, values and most cherished skills. I have added the phrase (OK, this one is mine) “What you do should be who you are” to enhance this brilliant concept.

Does this mean that everything we do must cause us to be deliriously happy, enraptured by our duties, fully consumed in the joy of the responsibilities before us? Oh, please, cut me a break! I have always said that every activity, even those that we cherish most, will often include some of what I have termed “Grown Up Stuff” – duties that are necessary even though we would drop them in a New York minute. But, if most of what you are doing can be categorized as “Grown Up Stuff,” I would respectfully suggest that you should be doing something else!

So as you approach your daily “To Do List”, are you “giving of yourself” or just crossing off items to get to the end of the work day?

In applying to jobs or aspiring to a new position in our organization, we scrutinize the job posting carefully, noting every time we can place a check mark (Hurrah! I’ve got that one!) beside a qualification and every time we have to cross it out (Darn! Missed that one!).

The Perfect Employee will end up with a resume or work history replete with check marks and nothing crossed out, right? So, if you come up short, don’t waste your time. In this competitive job market, they will always be able to get exactly what they want and you aren’t it! Wake up and smell the java!

Without putting too fine a point on this, can I just say “Balderdash!”? (A great word, look it up if you have to). Stated simply, the Imagepanoply (another great word) of qualifications listed is, indeed, the ideal candidate, but it’s not fixed in stone. If you are able to match a significant number of the qualifications and don’t come up short on any of the “Deal Breakers” (like a holding a CDL, legal certification, own your own X-ray machine, etc.), my counsel is to “Go for it!”

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by throwing your hat in the candidate ring. I once challenged a group of HR types on a panel I moderated: “Do you really need all of the qualifications cited in your ad and, if you don’t, why are they there?” The answer I received was the one I expected. As HR representatives (a noble and challenging profession, to my way of thinking), they are tasked with the responsibility of finding the best candidate they can for their organization. This list of skills, experiences, aptitudes, etc. is designed to seek out the best possible fit between the person and the position. They may or may not get all they want, but they must ask!

Presenting yourself as a qualified applicant who meets a number of the qualifications (even though you may not knock it out of the ballpark) allows them to consider you, something they cannot do if you don’t apply!

So, to revisit my question – “How do you become the perfect employee?” – I must respectfully respond, “I’m not sure you can!”

I am sure, however, that you may become an excellent candidate when you make your strongest case for getting the job done!


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