In his excellent book Go Put Your Strengths to Work, Marcus Buckingham introdbicepuced what he describes as 3 critical myths regarding strengths. Whether you agree with his premises or not, they are certainly worth considering.

Ready? Here they are:

Myth #1: As you grow, your personality changes. Individuals certainly make adjustments, have new experiences, mature, acquire new skills and knowledge, etc., but the core of the person stays pretty much the same. You should become intimate with what I like to call “Your Best Stuff,” because that’s where you will be the most accomplished and satisfied. This is why I chose the name “Gift of Self Career Services” to describe what I do. What you do should be who you are!

Myth #2: You will grow the most in your areas of greatest weakness. I can remember naively uttering the statement, “It’s not a weakness, it’s an opportunity for development.” True, to some degree, but it’s still a weakness! Spending an inordinate amount of time seeking to cobble a weakness into an ability that is barely adequate cannot begin to match the contribution when one is using their strengths to contribute to the organization. This does not mean, by the way, that you get a pass on your weak areas, just that most time should be spent on growing “Your Best Stuff.”

Myth #3: A good team member does whatever it takes to help the team. If this means finding the areas in the task, project, assignment, etc. where each team member’s strengths can contribute the most, this is a true statement. If, however, it means that individuals who are less talented in certain areas should step into these tasks, both the team and the individuals suffer. A good team member will help the entire team to identify and assign duties to match the strengths of each member for the task before them. That’s when the true ROI (Return On Investment) can take place!

Interesting take on strengths and weaknesses, is it not?

As the holiday season bears down on us all, the pressing questions for the job hunter/careerist are: Should I take a break? Is anything really going to happen in the job market snowmanbefore the New Year? Don’t I deserve a respite from this brutal process and relax by the fire with eggnog?

Well, YES and NO. To be sure, taking some time during the holidays to enjoy the delights of the season and appreciate those around you is an excellent idea. This is certainly NOT the time to pull out the plastic and run up a tab with the retail industry, but having a sensible, enjoyable holiday time with family and friends is something you DO deserve.

That being said, please allow me to make a case for maintaining a certain level of activity between now and the waning din of the noisemakers on the first day of the New Year.

  1. There is no better time to network.

The holidays represent an extraordinary number of opportunities to see and be seen by family, friends and folks from all over. It would be foolish to not consider all of this “face time” as a resource to increase your “Positive Visibility.” Please understand the importance of your attitude and approach, however. Nothing can put the damper on a festive gathering more quickly than someone who is pumping the crowd for job leads, or who has the “deer in the headlights” look of someone whose career is stalled! Be sure to focus your contact with others in a positive manner, seeking information, advice and referral to investigate and consider alternatives. Remember that most individuals truly would like to help, but are at a loss on how to be of assistance. Allow them the luxury of simply giving advice rather than 1) feeling pressed to deliver that killer contact for you or 2) staring through you to someone, anyone at the other side of the room. My experience has been that, in such cases, most people will choose Door Number 2!

An additional word of warning: be sure that your solicitation of “next step” options and advice is not the first question on your list, nor is it the only item of conversation. Ease into these topics. Ask how they are doing, what is new in their lives. Show honest, genuine interest and concern for them as people, not as networking contacts. Also, help them realize that you are in the investigation mode, not desperate for a pay stub or a lead to that next great promotion.

  1. Many decision makers are at home, not on the road.

One of the challenges of job search and networking is navigating through the maze of individuals who need to participate in any decisions being made. In mid-August, for example, it is often difficult to get the right people in the same room (or even in the same state) long enough to give their opinions, since Smitty is at Myrtle Beach and Ms. Jones just left for New England. This is not as true during the holidays!

Indeed, many people will be staying nearer to home, traveling less and becoming more accessible. Although staffing issues may not be at the top of the holiday list, there are still decisions being made, perhaps even more quickly due to the availability of decision-makers. In addition, the end of the year is often the time when budgets are being reviewed and finalized, and new business plans are starting to take shape. Remember: The best time to get connected is always the present!

  1. Your competition may be reduced.

This is one of my personal favorites! Many of your fellow careerists may decide that this is simply not the time to think career at all (for all of the reasons we recounted earlier) and mothball their power suits until the New Year. As a result, there is high potential that your competition will dwindle. Why not take advantage of this “thinning of the field” to forge ahead? As others decide not to take any action until early next year, your well-placed voicemail, LinkedIn update, tweet or short e-mail may improve your standing. In addition, it’s much more effective to maintain a level of activity than attempting to ramp up again on January 2nd!

  1. Most individuals are more open to being helpful at this time.

Admittedly, this will not always be the case. Certainly I would not recommend an intense networking contact at the checkout counter on Christmas Eve! It is true, however, that many are more full of the “milk of human kindness,” more willing to share and provide honest insights and assistance to a well-placed question or request.

  1. Pace yourself!

Now that I’ve made my unassailable arguments for burning up the snow-covered pavement with your career development, I want to introduce the other side of the issue – we ARE in the Holidays! Be sure to take time to care for you and yours, to be thankful for what you do have, to count your blessings. And perhaps, even sip a flagon of eggnog at least once in front of a crackling fire! Sounds good, doesn’t it?!

Happy Holidays and best wishes to you and yours!

Optimism is a “gift that keeps on giving.” Not surprisingly, research has shown that optimistic people tend to be more well-adjusted, handle pressure better, tend to perform better, have less health issues, etc. We all know people like this, individuals who always see the opportunity, the up side of a situation, the glass as half full. I once heard a comedian say, “I don’t care if the glass is half empty or half full. I just want to know who is drinking it, and do I have to pay for all of it?!”

With all of the positives coming from an optimistic approach to life, the question remains: Can anyone, even those who are not predisposed to “look on the sunny side” become more optimistic?

According to Dr. Martin Seligman, the answer is a resounding “YES!” He started with early behavioral research that demonstrated the existence of “learned helplessness” – an attitude of giving up, taking no action out of the belief that nothing would improve anyway, so why bother? Rank pessimism is the result. Admittedly, some levels of pessimism can be useful (thinking through “worse case scenarios,” for example), but left unchecked it becomes a recipe for disaster.

Seligman shares his findings and his recommendations for reworking the individual’s “explanatory style” in his excellent book Learned Optimism. As helplessness can be learned (by and large, children often start out naturally optimistic and hopeful), so we can all “learn” optimism. His prescription for this change in approach can be addressed through a process characterized by the letters A-B-C-D-E:

  1. Identify the ADVERSE event or situation.
  2. Understand what your initial BELIEFS are about the event.
  3. Lay out the CONSEQUENCES of taking direct action as a result of these beliefs.
  4. DISPUTE these beliefs to challenge their accuracy. Or, DISTRACT yourself from focusing intently on these natural responses to avoid a “knee-jerk” response.
  5. ENERGIZE yourself to take positive action based on your new interpretation of the situation.

Over the course of time practicing these techniques, this Disputation and Energization towards a more positive response can become more rapid and effective, even becoming your “default” response.

At this point, Congratulations! You’ve LEARNED OPTIMISM!

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.

If 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.

Exclusive 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, both in your work and your life.

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? Are you practicing them? If not, take action to make it happen!

Sorry for YELLING in all caps, but I have heard this phrase too many times to ignore it. spider webHere are some corollaries:

“Do I HAVE to do it?”

“What if I don’t KNOW anyone!?”

“I HATE it! My experience should speak for itself!”

We constantly read about networking. It’s the secret to cracking into the “Hidden Job Market,” whatever that is. Yet most of us don’t have a clue how to do it. What’s more, the vast majority of us are likely to be either frightened or disgusted by the thought of “influence peddling” to get what we really want and deserve – an opportunity to do a good job, have a career for a fair wage.

Why do most of us find networking so awful? Is there a networking secret, a clandestine handshake that one can learn to open the door to Career Nirvana?

No, not really. There are, however, some significant misunderstandings and misapplications of this unfairly maligned process that need to be addressed before I move on to the how-to portion of our little discussion. I liket to call them Networking Myths.

Networking Myth #1

Networking is dead. People have been using it for so long that no one has time to talk to anyone anymore. They know you’re looking for a job or a killer lead and don’t have one for you. Go away!

Nope, networking isn’t dead. If it doesn’t work, it may be that you don’t understand the very nature of the networking process. To be sure, there are people out there who have abused the process, wasting others’ time and manipulating relationships to get what they want, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t network both effectively and professionally.

Networking Myth #2

Networking is telling everyone, everywhere, all the time, that you need a job or a new career. Don’t stop until someone gives in and hires you. The more people that know you are out of work or dissatisfied with your career, the higher the likelihood that someone will help you.

Wrong again! Telling everyone you need a new job is a good way to start a career as a hermit. Most people will not be aware of opportunities right away and are likely to feel that they are “put upon” to help you. What is more, they may actually feel that they can “catch” your unhappy (un)employment status. It’s much more effective (and positive) to seek information and advice instead of job leads.

Networking Myth #3

Networking is pretending to be interested in people until they like you, then going for the vocational jugular. Ask them for a job while you have them warmed up.

Oh, please – people are smarter than that! Individuals who try to practice this mangled type of networking will soon be “blacklisted” by every potential networkee out there. A genuine desire to learn from others is the only way to make networking work for you.

Networking Myth #4

Networking is the ultimate answer. It’s not what you know, it’s WHOM you know.

Wrong again! Although extraordinarily effective, networking is only a part of the employment search process. It’s a very important part, to be sure, and something that should command a large percentage of your time. The what / who you know issue is an important one. If you have nothing to offer, and know everyone out there, you are likely to remain dead in the water. Conversely, if you are replete with knowledge and ability and are a complete unknown, you will also be vocationally adrift. Networking allows you to create the “positive visibility” you need to discover and identify opportunities.

Networking Myth #5

You need to have killer contacts, people in the corridors of power with whom you are on a first-name basis to be an effective networker.

Sorry, not true. My experience has shown that the most effective networking contacts are frequently NOT first generation contacts (the first person you talk to), but typically referrals from that contact or people that you you’ve not talked to in some time. My clients have also found that many of their best results come from people who would not appear to be at the top of the corporate ladder, people “in the trenches.” This is not to say that networking with movers and shakers is a waste of time, but that effective networking with all sizes and shapes of people from diverse walks of life has the potential to yield extraordinary results.

Networking Myth #6

Networking is a means to an end. Once you have a job, you can cut out all of this networking nonsense.

Try again! Networking, the exchange of ideas and opinions, the give and take of sharing perspectives, should be a lifelong endeavor. Developing and growing your network throughout your work and life (networking does not have to relate only to employment) will continue to enrich you personally and professionally, while providing opportunities for you to help others.

The Key to Effective Networking

Give and take. Listen and talk. Any networking session you leave without offering something in return is not a good one. Phone calls and e-mails also count, by the way. Building relationships through constantly cultivating and expanding your network not only allows you to stay plugged into the world of work and beyond, it provides opportunities for you to give back to your networkees (and others) in appreciation for all of the help that you’ve received.

So, GET NETWORKING! (Yes, I AM yelling again!)

“Forget Your Troubles” was written by Ted Koehler in 1950 and memorialized by Judy Garland. In the Imagecontext of career development and personal growth, this seems easier said than done. Job Search, Career Advancement, Life, etc. is full of discouragement, rejection and an abundance of “No’s”.

“Get happy” just doesn’t cut it.

Actually, however, it is pretty good advice. Research by psychologist Martin Seligman (author of two books on my reading list in http://www.goodreads.com, Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness) has shown that “getting happy” can actually be done! As a new graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in the 60s, Seligman assisted in behavioral research using animals to determine how they learned to avoid unpleasant situations. Without going into the details (don’t worry, the subjects weren’t hurt!), conditions were created where the animals were unable to avoid a stressful situation. In other words, regardless of what they did, they experienced an unpleasant response. It reached the point where they would do absolutely nothing, since what they did changed nothing! This was described as “learned helplessness” – in humans, something we may call “pessimism.” Seligman eventually started to wonder that, if we can “learn” to be pessimistic, maybe we can learn to be optimistic, too (enter his first book, Learned Optimism).

Now some of us seem to be naturally optimistic, able to see the glass as half full. I’ve always liked the comment of the comedian, “I don’t care if the glass is half empty or half full, I just want to know who was drinking it and do I have to pay for all of it!” Quite honestly, these cheerful types tend to annoy me somewhat. Aren’t they paying attention to what’s happening? I naturally fall on the side of the pessimists – that seems more realistic to me. Then, when things happen, I’m either absolutely right (“I knew it wouldn’t work!”) or pleasantly surprised (“Wow! I didn’t expect this!”).

This mindset is not very successful, however. (I speak from personal experience.) Seligman did research on pessimism and came up with three distinct dimensions for pessimism: permanence, pervasiveness and personalization. Here is how they work:

Permanence means when something goes wrong, it will stay wrong, never to correct itself. Learn to live with it, because it’s here to stay. When you fail at something, the results of this experience will affect you for the rest of your life. Deal with it.

Pervasiveness means when something goes wrong, it’s only the beginning. There is more to come, so you better get used to it. When one company does not return your calls, no one will. You may as well give up. To quote a song by a favorite bluesman of mine, Buddy Guy: “I wonder where the next one’s coming from?!”

Personalization means that when something goes wrong, you deserved it because of what you didi or who you are. Don’t expect anything nice to happen to you because you are not worthy of such an experience. You didn’t get that promotion because you are a rotten human being, lucky to be employed at all.

These statements sound over the top, don’t they? Yet many of us practice them regularly. By the way, if you register with Dr. Seligman’s website, http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu, you can complete an assessment to identify your scores on these factors, along with all sorts of other measures.

I don’t want to stop here, however. Seligman, a major contributor to what he calls “Positive Psychology,” offers a step-by-step approach to retooling your thinking (removing what Stuart Smalley (a.k.a. Al Franken) of Saturday Night Live™ calls “stinkin’ thinkin’”). To do this process justice, you really should read his books, but here is the process in abbreviated form. The five steps follow the alphabet – ABCDE.

A – Adversity: This is the offending event. I was just turned down for the promotion I was counting on.

B – Belief: My natural response, what this situation makes me think. I’m not a good candidate, I’ll probably end up being a greeter at a large retail establishment. I may as well get fitted for an apron now.

C – Consequences: How my beliefs translate into actions. Since I’m obviously not a serious candidate for any quality position, I might as well give up and take a paper route.

D – Disputation: Here is where the magic can start. I challenge B and C. Am I really a waste of space, with no real options? Seligman says that we need to learn to argue with ourselves. His Learned Optimism book gives some very practical guidance on how to do this.

E – Energization: This is where you turn the “argument” with yourself into renewed action. I am not a waste of space. Although I regret not getting this opportunity I’ll find out why, improve my performance and redouble my efforts until I’m successful.

There will be days when you just don’t feel like it. That’s normal, especially if you are a pessimist like me. Do it anyway. “Fake it until you make it.” You can make a habit of practicing your new optimistic outlook, even if it isn’t your natural style. I have! You’re likely to be very pleased with the results.

Ready to increase your vocabulary (as in Readers’ Digest’s “Increase Your Word Power”)? Here’s a great addition to your career “toolbox: – COUNTERFACTUAL (n): a conditional statement the first clause of which expresses something contrary to fact, as “If I had known.”.

In his excellent book If Only: How to Turn Regret into Opportunity, Neil Roese describes the two directions wFail Hashtaghich counterfactual thinking can take, explaining why the Bronze Medal Winner at the Olympics is happier than the Silver Medal recipient. Even though Silver is #2 in the world in their sport, they focus up to missing the Gold while the Bronze recipient focuses downward to see what they have accomplished (“I almost didn’t medal!”).

Here’s the Career Application: this “downward” thinking causes the “Bronze Medal careerists” to be better equipped to learn, to develop insights, to challenge themselves to greater accomplishments, while the “Silver Medalist” (without the benefit of downward counterfactual thinking) may find themselves in a self-defeating “woulda, coulda, shoulda” spiral.

Let’s close with a few timely quotes on Failure:

“There are defeats that carry with them the radiant promise of coming victory.” – F.W. Boreham

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

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

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

So, the next time you “fail,” think downward!