Thursday 8 September 2011

Job Feed My Soul

For many, many years I was despondent at the complete and utter lack of meaning in my career. And I mean despondent. The expectations of others seem to cloud my judgement. In retrospect, I recognise that I was tetchy, arrogant, unfulfilled and in a constant state of unrest.

As my own story goes I lost my dream job at the age of 32 and slammed into the buffers. I became a resident of ‘Skid Row’ and found myself in an utter and complete tailspin. There were one or two occasions where I questioned whether I could even go on. Life was bleak and the day-to-day outlook did not seem to be improving. I was in a rented bedsit, on the dole, on the breadline, living on baked beans and struggling to cope with being what I regarded at the time as ‘down-and-out’. How damaging we can be to ourselves.

In the depths of my despair someone I had previously regarded as a friend for life, a person I held in hugely positive regard, asked me what felt like being a failure. I thought I’d hit rock-bottom, but I soon found out I was wrong. This kick in the teeth knocked me even further down. I saw my ‘friend’ through a different lens. That was December 1994. I remember it well because I lost my job, reputation and roof-over-my-head on 4th December.

I’ve written about it at length elsewhere, but in the interim period I received my first bona fide career guidance interview with an inspirational Adult Career Adviser called Mike, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude to this day. His guidance compared to that of an alchemist as he took me from the depths of despair and skilfully guided me towards my renaissance.

By the end of the first week in January 1995 my life started to show green shoots like the snowdrops hale the end of dark winter months. That metaphor still works for me all these years later as I watch for the early Spring. The same way my heart skips a beat when I see the first swallow arrive on my horizon. It is these uplifts that feed our soul. Somewhat ironically, I had been accepted onto a postgraduate diploma in Career Guidance and started the rebuild process and germination of the person I knew, deep down, I had the potential to be.

As my friends who knew me before my transformation will tell you, finding my ‘calling’ changed me deeply. And I emphasise that I use the word ‘calling’ in a completely non-Lutheran sense. (I’m no longer a conditioned Christian, as regard myself far more a Holist in my outlook.) What I mean when I say calling is that I tapped into the innate vocation that lives within each and every one of us. My life transformed because every faculty I possess, every life experience, every career attribute, is drawn-upon and channelled daily in my job and repays me the dividend of meaning and fulfilment.

Having done my year’s postgrad I went on to my Probationary Year as a Careers Adviser, relocating to Surrey and working in three mainstream secondary schools and one special needs school. I tapped into a new-found self belief as young people were mirroring my enthusiasm for my job in some form of virtuous circle that spread the dividend outward.

Gradually, the traction came back into my life. In truth, the traction probably entered my life for the first time! As now I had a vocation my identity and self esteem became more strongly anchored. I found where previously people might have regarded as arrogant and argumentative; I became increasingly comfortable in my own skin, peaceable and contented. No longer feeling hunted and forever in pursuit of fulfilling my potential in some far-flung fantasy. I had tapped into my innate strength and it was feeding me.

Nowadays, I see no greater pleasure in my life than guiding others towards tapping into their inner vocation and uncovering the career attributes that can feed their soul. You can see the ‘before and after’ in their eyes. I know what the experience felt like in my own life; like the dark in a cave and the beach on a summer’s day – total contrast! With and without.

I see the eyes of meaning-filled people sparkle with a perpetual intensity that is infectiously charismatic and nurturing; especially craftspeople building tangible products with their hands. These are especially wholesome jobs – the epitome of ‘Career Sustainability’ – career identities that will last for the long haul of a lifetime.

Whereas, people in dead-end, meaningless jobs, and those unfortunate people not to have any work in their lives, can seem soulless and empty; with tapping into the affirming powers of meaningful work instilling that all-important sense of purpose and virtue being the remedy to our quest for the meaning of life.

Working with what you’ve got within in you is invigorating on every level. It truly uplifts the soul and builds the life. The toughest part is placing one’s trust in others to help decode what your calling is because part of being human is that we’re not always very skilled in recognising what we’re best at. Our filters don’t work this way .

Only the weak and faithless perpetuate their lot by never seeking help. The process of reaching out and connecting builds stronger bonds in stronger communities; the more meaning in the community, the more peace everyone enjoys. Life goes on, sustainably.
Feed your soul and others’ today – tap into your career attributes – help others tap into theirs - purpose feeds all of us and lifts our souls.

Saturday 3 September 2011

Career Action Plan

If you're seriously into self preservation and avoiding unnecessary risk, then why haven't you invested time in your Career Action Plan lately? Not having one is akin to going on vacation without travel insurance, risky and potentially downright irresponsible.

Sit down and contemplate what your career attributes are: skills, strengths, vocational interests, experience, competencies, qualifications... how they piece together and how they dovetail into the World of Work. Plan your way ahead and instill purpose in your life. Develop your perfect interview script for your dream job. Don't give up until you have designed it.

Need encouragement? Why not do the sensible thing and hire a Career Development Professional. You service your car and pay a mechanic. Why not invest in servicing your career because introspection like this is one of the toughest tasks you will ever perform, but when the economy is spiralling downwards, having a preconsidered career strategy detailed in your Careers Action Plan is a key component in any contingency plan and perpetuating your income.

Don't think big companies spend millions a year on contingency plans if they're not important. Why not be prepared, sort your Career Action Plan out without any further delay.

Decision tangles aren't just for the young, everyone needs some guidance

I met two young guys this week who are deep in the throes of decision making dilemmas. One had managed to whittle his career decision making down to three options; whilst the other had become seriously ill after drowning under the weight of being blind to his significant career attributes, not knowing what he is equipped to achieve or what he is here to do.

Put mildly, the guy with 3 options is still looking at hugely diverse options from professional sport, a career in media technology and an entrepreneurial start-up; the other just incapable of deciphering a way forward and utterly waylaid by the not knowing.

MPs in England and many policy-makers seem to believe that as a society we equip our young people with the decision making powers necessary to tackle the hugely portentous choices that we inevitably bump into throughout the course of our lives.

Please feel free to correct me, but throughout the whole passage of my education I cannot recollect a single exercise in a classroom that went anywhere near teaching me how to evaluate my options and decide. Decision making is a critical life skill, a survival skill, that we seem to believe is learnt through some kind of osmosis.

In the harsh light of reality, this process of osmosis is what some people call 'The University of Hard Knocks' or 'The University of Life' when what we are really trying to say is that the only way to truly learn the skill of decision making is through repeated failure and the build-up of some helpful layers of scar tissue.

Fair enough, making mistakes is a fantastically effective way of learning what not to do in the future. I think this approach works quite well in the realms of learning to ride bicycles, but with a decision as impactful as a career path, why should we encourage young people to stake their psychological wellbeing on such an unpredictable, high risk strategy? We ought to remember how much of our identity is built upon what we choose to call ourselves in the workplace, how our career connects all of the dots between mortgage, grocery shopping, holidays, cars and pension plans. Without a well-considered career plan and the resilience to navigate change, who are we?

I've been there to help the 26,27,28 year-olds pick-up the pieces of shattered dreams and misspent years banging their heads off brick walls whilst the blood is trickling off the end of their noses. I've done it just this week and my heart really bled for this tremendously capable, kind and sincere young guy who had invested his all down the wrong track, only to have it explode in his face years later, just at the time when many of his peers are gaining real traction on their lives. Yet our Government officials seem to think our young people don’t need career guidance.

When you do talk to young people ahead of these pivotal decisions and/or just after the potentially misspent years, it seems to me the errors were caused by ill-fitting expectations. Parental pressure, peer pressure, societal pressure can heat up a decision just enough to distort reality. This is bad enough. But there is an equally sinister side to cocked-up dreams of fast cars, sun-kissed beaches and the good life, the incredibly exaggerated expectations of the young person.

Now that we have created a culture where every young person seems to believe the only viable route to the good life is to grab a degree, anything short of this lofty aspiration now smacks of failure. When in the harsh light of the economic reality - at the time of writing - a degree is possibly the last career option I would advocate unless the chooser is committed to expanding their education further along a very specific route with well-defined goals in mind.

More dangerous again in the league table of miss-matched expectations - and this is not going win me any popularity stakes - is that so many young people I meet want the big pay cheque, the fast car and all the trappings of wealth and responsibility without doing 'the filing', 'tea making', or any of ‘the grunt' required. It is as if they're on a fantastic snakes and ladders board and all of the throws of the career dice land them on ladders which take them very smoothly, effortlessly and swiftly to the loftiest heights of their chosen career trajectory. This na├»ve outlook really can cause damage, the pieces of which are very hard for anyone to pick up.

Being the possessor of great potential is a huge responsibility which requires fantastic decision making powers, deft management, total commitment, but above all, the patience to turn the potential energy into well-targeted kinetic energy. And this only really comes from the investment of time, the accrual of time-tested experience and hard-earned respect - self respect goes hand-in-hand with, and is dependent upon, the respect of others.

A life time of opportunity and fulfilment is a very difficult journey to short circuit. The extra time invested can only help hone our decision making capabilities in the long term. It seems it is only the weak and perpetually insecure who are afraid of asking for help.