Tag Archives: comfort zone

Support Your Inner Careerist

“Nobody ever warns us about behavioural drift” .. Dr. Joshua C. Klapow

Every September I made the same vow. “This year will be different. I’ll be the ideal student, starting assignments the day they are assigned, ask for extra problems in Math, outlining “The Tempest” for English and practicing my Latin vocabulary. Long before Cal Newport wrote his first book for students, I had it all clear in my mind. If I acted on those plans, my high school career would have been stellar. But like many others with good intentions, I drifted and that fall ended pretty much the same way as the previous year did with a mix of Bs and Cs. Usually by early October I had abandoned the dream. It wasn’t until I was a university student that I learned the habits that deliver a consistently high GPA and ultimately earned an MBA.

For a label that describes my high-school pattern, I turn to Dr. Joshua C. Klapow, author of “Living SMART: Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever” Apparently, I was experiencing “behavioural drift, going back to my old patterns despite a genuine desire to make a substantial change”. Continue reading

Lesson 2: My camera taught me to be teachable

It was too easy at first. Jump out of bed, grab a quick shot of the beautiful sunrise, post it on Flickr.com and marinade in the compliments. Repeat daily. At first, Mother Nature provided enough variety to ensure that, like snowflakes, the sunrises weren’t exactly identical. But there got to be enough similarity that I needed to do something different. Anyway, I was shooting fish in a barrel. A 10 mile drive to Toronto lake shore changed the perspective and my viewer count surged temporarily. A suggestion from a regular visitor from Scotland jolted me out of my duffer rut. By letting the Toronto skyline remain out of focus, I achieved the result displayed at right. That photo reached 200 views in a couple of days, quadruple my previous high. My Scottish visitor was delighted that I welcomed his advice, apparently something that is rare in his experience. And that is the second lesson. Continue reading

Career Management Lesson 1: Don’t be a Duffer

When your manager asked you to present an important new project to the corporate budget committee, you suggested that she ask Freddie, your extrovert colleague in the next cubicle. You are hands-down more technically knowledgeable and Freddie isn’t actually even a great presenter but he is still better than you. Freddy probably didn’t even prepare but he delivered what was needed, won approval of the project and fended off the threat of layoffs. Everyone is grateful, and you know it could have been you. A couple of promotions are anticipated next quarter and Freddie now looks like a shoe-in and you don’t. So as you sit in your favorite leather chair at your favorite Starbucks nursing your favorite beverage, a Caramel Macchiato, you recognize decision time when you see it. Your presentations on a good day are “not so bad for an introvert” and that is costing you. So will you remain a “duffer” who improves at a glacial pace, even after company-sponsored training? Will you now initiate decisive action for quantum improvements or continue to cede the limelight and the payoffs to the extroverts? When the pain of watching while the Freddies land your dream job becomes sufficiently unbearable, you just might be willing to leave this career-limiting comfort zone. Continue reading

Do you work in your career or on it?

In his best-selling book “E-myth”, Michael Gerber offers advice to Sarah, an entrepreneur who is overwhelmed by the challenges of operating her small business. During one conversation, he advises her to work “on her business, not just in her business”. Sarah was told by everyone that she was so good at baking pies, she really must open a pie shop. Now she absolutely hates baking pies. Gerber says “she took the work she loved and turned it into a job.

While Sarah’s story and Gerber’s book are clearly oriented toward owners of small businesses, I’m sure Sarah’s lament resonates with employees. If you love golf and are good at it, the idea that you “should” be a golf coach can sound quite reasonable. If the photos that you post on Flickr.com are well received, others may express surprise that you don’t become a photographer. (neither of these describe me) However, the skills and temperament needed in addition to the technical competencies for success as a professional photographer, golf coach or baker of pies are not at all trivial to acquire, even if you work for someone else as an employee.

Those demands may explain why more employees don’t venture into self-employment. The need to market yourself constantly to ensure a continuous stream of income is one of those demands that many avoid.
However, it turns out that the demands of sustaining continuous employment are converging with those of entrepreneurship. In today’s employment marketplace, you need to “think like a CEO of your own career”, as William Bridges wrote 15 years ago in “Creating You & Co.”

Some of us find ourselves thrust unexpectedly into a situation where we need to market ourselves in ways that we never anticipated. We are suddenly on the job market and very much unprepared, with a very long list of “should haves”. But you can’t “should have”. It is harder to expand that list of accomplishments that is so essential for your resume when you don’t work there anymore. You need to do that before you leave.

Gerber says that when sometimes after an entrepreneur experiences significant initial growth, then scales back. In his words, a “business that got small again is a business reduced to the level of its owner’s personal resistance to change, to its owners Comfort Zone, in which the owner waits and works, works and waits, hoping for something positive to happen.” In the same way, we can continue to work “in” our career/job, hoping for a positive outcome. Working “on” our career means proactive initiatives that take us out of our Comfort Zone.

Career Success Without a Perfect Fit

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.