Yesterday afternoon, I happened by a small crowd that had gathered around this particular fellow, who is a performer at the Scotiabank Buskerfest in the St. Lawrence Market area of downtown Toronto. At the pinnacle of this particular element in his not-quite-death-defying routine, I captured the moment with the camera I had conveniently brought along. When I posted this image on Flickr.com this morning, Suzanne noted “Life certainly is about balance…nice shot”. Her comment intrigued me. My initial reaction yesterday was to his precarious position, but of course no physical harm would come to him should he lose his balance and slip. On the other hand, his financial situation likely is extremely precarious, unless I have underestimated how lucrative busking can be. I don’t see a Budweiser or Pepsi logo on his jacket. He earns his living by entertaining audiences. At the Port Credit buskerfest in Mississauga last weekend, a performer reminded the audience many times that he was not paid by the organizers of the event. His only income is voluntary donations from the audience. Continue reading
As a child, I heard stories of sadder-but-wiser bargain hunters who drove 100 miles to Toronto from our small town in response to newspaper ads offering new cars at huge savings. Sometimes the advertised vehicle wasn’t available, perhaps never existed. Or everything from the spare tire to the wheel covers was extra. Like the con man, the high-pressure salesperson fought vigorously to “cool out the mark” by redefining the situation. If that is done skillfully, the customer will purchase a vehicle from the same dealer that tricked him, even paying close to the same price as was offered by the dealer back home. Even worse, now he has to go to that dealer for service, with the big-city dealer’s sticker on the trunk lid.
My social worker friend spends 60% of his time satisfying ever-increasing requirements for documentation of the work he does is in the other 40%. It’s not just that he resents not getting to do more of the kind of social work that initially attracted him to the profession. It’s also that he, like many people whose passion for helping others and giftedness is suited to social work, strongly dislike the nature of the documentation duties and resent the emphasis those duties have in performance evaluation. It can feel like somebody did a “bait and switch”, when the nature of your daily duties differs radically from the expectations you had when you were first attracted to their profession. By the way, I realize that the load of paperwork is only one issue frustrating social workers today but it does feature prominently in the accompanying photo.
Did anyone really do a “bait and switch” by providing distorted or incomplete information about careers? Yes. Educational institutions at all levels have a vested interest in attracting top students to their programs and are now often partnered with professional organizations that need to add new members. Objective information can be difficult to find. The career risk is entirely borne by you. So it’s your job to manage it.
To be sure, you need to accept some of the blame for your conclusions. Most adults realize that no job is without unpleasant elements but without careful research that awareness remains vague. You can’t accurately assess how much those elements will bother you 5 or 15 years from now if they remain vague. Most of us don’t research our careers very carefully. The head of career services at a local university told my career counselling class that most students spend more time planning their spring break than choosing a career. Sometimes, like the car shopper, we fall in love with our mental image of the anticipated future and we don’t want dis-confirming evidence.
To manage this aspect of career risk, thoroughly investigate any line of work that requires extended preparation before you actually get to practice. To avoid “bait and switch”, arrange multiple information interviews with people in the field. Don’t just ask them for advice on how to become an accountant or social worker or nurse. Find out what aspects of the job other people really enjoy, what they really dislike and pay careful attention to those answers. Find examples of people in your chosen field whose temperaments similar to yours. If you can’t find any, that might be a red flag? (In job interviews, ask them to describe someone who was outstanding in the position and someone who really wasn’t cut out for the job. Make good notes of their answer! Ask yourself whether those less desirable aspects of the job will make your life miserable or even sabotage your performance. Most of us will have several careers over a working life. We need to become proficient at choosing our work, one key component of managing career risk, as well as performing our chosen work.
However, what I learned from Tilda Shalof is that we can be exactly in the profession where we belong but find aspects of our work that we don’t do particularly well and/or we strongly dislike. Those aspects can distract us, but they don’t have to if we choose otherwise.
Source of photo: http://i.fra.bz/1vq0
She knew she wanted to be a nurse since the age of 6 when she served as the primary caregiver for her ill mother. She considers herself a born nurse but struggled to achieve her career goal and would have abandoned the journey long before if she had listened to the advice of others. The dean at the University of Toronto shook her head in frustration as Tilda Shalof walked across the podium to receive her nursing degree. She was undoubtedly born to be a nurse but that did not mean that her career was one uninterrupted series of remarkably successful steps. It took hard work and an unrelenting commitment but 25 years later Tilda has written 4 books about her experiences as a nurse and speaks regularly about serious problems in healthcare that we otherwise would never hear about.
My first acquaintance with Tilda’s story was when Carolyn Weaver interviewed her on Bio Library. She had completed The Making of A Nurse, the second of her four books, following The Nurse’s Story. She told Carolyn about her realization one day that there were many skills and qualities that she would need to acquire if she was to become an excellent ICU nurse. She was the only university-trained nurse in the unit, surrounded by experienced, competent nurses whose training was hands-on, not theories from a textbook. Additionally, her supervisors and colleagues doubted that she had the right temperament for success as an ICU nurse. Tilda could have transferred to a less demanding unit in the hospital. There was a severe shortage of nurses, it would have been easy, but she stuck it out. She was determined to become that excellent nurse and she certainly did.
I had never before that day heard anyone articulate that simple idea so clearly. Tilda’s statement confronted my preconceptions that if you identified your calling, you could achieve excellence in that area with easy-to-moderate struggle. It wasn’t so much that she refused to accept that she didn’t fit. We all know people who aren’t particularly good at what they do. The Peter Principle said that was actually normal. It was that Tilda took personal responsibility for addressing her deficiencies. In her mind, staying with ICU nursing implicitly meant a commitment to becoming an excellent nurse, because that was the only way she could provide excellent patient care. Read her books and then tell me that you are not grateful that she stuck with ICU nursing!
I am reminded of Tilda Shalof every time I meet someone with a dream who is surrounded by others who want them to be more “realistic” and choose an easier path. Maybe when we ask whether we are a fit for the career of our dreams we are asking the wrong question. Maybe the better question is whether we are willing to do what is needed to become fit for that career! A number of writers now tell us that we can achieve above average competence in most skills with deliberate practice. As to our temperaments, we can learn to moderate our natural tendencies. More about that later.
Savvy employers have always looked for reliable short-hand methods for identifying a “poser” – the one who talks a good story but doesn’t really know how to do the job.
In the early 50s, my father worked as a carpenter on construction projects in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Unemployment was high and would-be carpenters approached the foreman virtually every morning. He didn’t ask for a resume, he just asked ask to see what was in that toolbox that each one brought to the job site, hoping to work that day. Anyone with a toolbox full of shiny new tools was summarily dismissed as an obvious “poser”. Brilliant! The tools of an experienced carpenter are well worn.
Here are a few lessons we can learn from this simple story:
- Know the typical indicators that hiring managers in your field use to screen applicants. Conduct information interviews with people already working in similar organizations, the one you’re applying to if possible. Don’t just guess. Be sure.
- Once you know “well-worn hammer” for your field, demonstrate it. Today’s hiring manager may have had more formal training in modern interview techniques, but is just as busy as that foreman. That places employs simple “rules of thumb” to eliminate unsuitable candidates at a premium.
- Prepare thoroughly to avoid elimination. If they don’t like to see shiny new briefcases, borrow one that has seen a little use. If they care more about attitude than grades, practice that smile!
- Build a portfolio of completed projects as evidence that you really do know how to use a hammer and bring it with you to the interview.
- You may dislike some of the decision rules that you encounter. You might think they’re unfair or arbitrary, even idiosyncratic! That’s OK. When you have their job, you’ll get to have your own arbitrary policies!
In his new ebook, “’Headhunter’ Hiring Secrets”, Skip Freeman advises jobseekers that today’s employers are looking for reasons to exclude you from consideration, not to include you. Hoping that a kindly foreman will overlook your shiny tools ensures that you stay excluded.
Photo from phidauex on Flickr.com