The Dream Big Coaching tagline is “Love Your Work”, which I realize sounds like a pretty tall order.
After all, work is called work for a reason, right? Work is labor, and labor is, well, laborious.
Last year we learned from Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report that seven out of ten employees are “not engaged” or are “actively disengaged” in their work. They are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces – not exactly feeling the love.
In its report Gallup makes a strong case that employee engagement cannot only be measured but improved, and that doing so not only is good for the employees and their customers but an organization’s bottom line as well.
While 70% of employees may be disengaged, 30% are engaged. Some organizations or teams within organizations are figuring out how to attract and retain the people who are a good fit. They’re hiring skillful managers, they’re developing employees’ strengths, and enhancing their general well-being.
Since 2003 I’ve been helping Dream Big Coaching clients become more engaged in their work. In other words, I help them love what they do. I help them define what they want in their professional lives and get that, whether at their current job, in a new job or in an entirely different career.
It’s a bold dream, to love your work. To dream this big, to want something this audacious, leaves us open to failure and loss. But I think it’s worth attempting and making whatever progress we can. For some of us, even moving from “absolutely detesting my job” to “hating it a little bit less” is a Herculean task and a big accomplishment.
I also believe that most any person in any kind of job can potentially improve their experience, if even by small degrees. I don’t claim that exploited workers in deplorable conditions have opportunities to move toward enjoying their work. But I believe that people in all kinds of work, whether it’s heart surgery, cleaning offices, writing code or helping customers potentially can get more of what they want at work.
Loving your work means different things to different people. But the people I’ve worked with over the years who love their work enjoy one or more of these things frequently:
What about you and your work? Are you loving it? Hating it? Somewhere in between?
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I used to be a human resources director, I've read approximately 58 gazillion resumes, I read articles about resume writing frequently, and still when it came time to update my own resume, I hired a certified professional resume writer rather than write it myself.
Your resume's critical job is to win you job interviews. There's a lot of competition for interviews, so you want your resume to be compelling and top-notch.
It's not easy to write a compelling, top-notch resume – especially your own.
My client, Megan, is in her late 40s and wants to change careers. The jobs Megan is considering to target are not easily found online. She's unsure of what are the most common job titles that are most relevant for her to pursue and how to tap into job openings (or whether there even are job openings).
I've said this before: changing careers is not for the faint of heart or the person who's in a big rush! Megan, however, is making very good headway because she's learning that developing new contacts is key to her success.
Here are some of the smart networking choices she's making that you can make as well:
Today I'm debuting a new "Ask the Career Coach" feature on life@work. If you have a question related to career change, career development or job search, just ask me!
Today's question was sent in by Steve, a 38 year-old massage therapist who is thinking about going back to school to become an RN. He writes:
"I know I need to be networking, and there's a lot I need to learn about the pros and cons of nursing school, the job market for RNs here, and just what exactly a day in the life of a hospice nurse (the area I'm most interested in) is like. What is the best way to contact somebody to ask for an informational interview? It seems so awkward and fake and I'm putting off doing it. What do I say?"
Informational interviews aren't just for college students and recent grads – they're still a fantastic way to research a field or a company. As long as you are just meeting to get information and aren't asking for a job, people are usually willing to say yes to a request if their schedule permits.
Here are my tips for setting up an informational interview:
In many industries, voice mail is rather quaint and email is the preferred method of communication. Choose the mode that you guess that person uses the most. Each has its pros and cons.
Unless you already know the person, don't send a text message. It's too familiar.
Do you have a mutual friend or colleague? Did you hear them speak at a conference? Did you read their blog? Let them know how you discovered them.
Whether you send an email or talk on the phone, say who you are and what you want in just a few sentences. Make it clear you're asking for information only, and suggest a meeting format (phone or coffee) and length (20 minutes is a good start).
Here's an example of how to get started:
"Hi, I'm Steve Jackson and Karen Smith suggested I contact you. I'm a massage therapist and am looking into becoming a hospice nurse. As part of my research I'm contacting some friends of friends who are nurses and asking them questions about how they chose the field and what their work environment is like. I'm wondering if you would be willing to talk with me sometime for about 20 minutes about your experience as a hospice nurse."
Remember that people are busy, so you should allow them plenty of time (for example, two weeks) to get back to you. Don't take it personally if you don't hear from them! There are all kinds of reasons why they are not returning your call or email, and they probably have nothing to do with you.
Use your discretion about how persistent you want to be in following up. If you follow up and then don't hear back and they are a "warm" lead, perhaps your mutual contact can help you connect. If you are contacting them cold, assume they don't have the time and/or are not interested, and move on to someone else.
What other suggestions do you have for Steve on what to say when requesting an informational interview?
If so, most of us can relate. We humans are supremely adept at remembering, noticing and imagining everything negative. The good stuff? It flashes brightly for a moment and then is gone.
Our positive experiences leave a weaker imprint on our minds than negative. We're also wired to recognize danger immediately. So no wonder it's daunting to attempt to change something big (like our job for example) – a lot of us are focusing on our shortcomings and on everything that could go wrong.
But if you want to sell someone else on your outstanding capabilities, relevant experience and general awesomeness, the first person you need to genuinely impress is yourself.
Most of us not only downplay our successes in our minds but also don't receive direct, helpful and timely feedback on our successes from our managers. So it becomes doubly hard to counter our tendency to forget our past accomplishments and acknowledge how competent we are.
To start recovering from success amnesia, go to your computer or grab a piece of paper and give these exercises a try:
Take some time to remember specific situations you've handled. What action did you take and what were the results? No problem is too small. Record ten examples or so from the last five years.
Again, think about specific examples going back at least five years. What part did you play? What were the results?
Examples of qualities include intelligence, compassion, creativity, diligence, thoroughness, trustworthiness, and persistence.
Examples of skills include persuade, direct, delegate, analyze, motivate, budget, program, organize, lead, maintain and negotiate.
To come up with examples of knowledge that you have, think about the kinds of information you rely on to do your job, whether that be rocket science, accounting principles, how to market consumer products, the intricacies of the emergency services world, and so on.
Write down the problems you've solved, your major accomplishments from the last five years, and what it took to succeed. You want to remind yourself of your competence in all areas of your life.
If this feels too strange, then pretend to be your best friend, your manager, your former co-worker, or whoever would be on your list to ask. What are you known for? If it's hard for you to toot your own horn, see if you can let in the positive views that others have of you.
Writing down what you do well (and then looking at your list every once in a while) helps you avoid success amnesia. Use Evernote or just keep a paper file – whatever works.
Savoring goodness has been shown in studies to boost positivity. When something good is happening, notice it! Think about it in a way that makes it last. Appreciate the feeling that it gives you, and talk about it with someone else.
What seems easy or basic to you may seem incredible to someone else. You're used to being able to do what you do, so it's easy to forget that to some other people your skills are quite valuable. Keep this in mind when you think about signing up for a big new project or looking for a new job.
When you notice and savor your successes, you feel more confident, have a stronger resume and LinkedIn profile and perform better in job interviews. Worth doing!
What other tips do you have for remembering and recording successes?
Work negativity can take many forms, and they all feel pretty terrible. When you're feeling blah, angry or afraid much of the time, your job performance suffers and so does the overall quality of your life.
You may be tempted to jump right into a job search, but often it's possible to give your current job some CPR and revive it.
Here are some ideas of what you can think about and do, depending on what form your negativity is taking when you're:
If you're not interested in your work anymore (assuming you once were!) you might be able to get back some of what's missing or you might need to think about a new way you could make your work more interesting.
What project could you take on that would be more interesting?
Who could you delegate an uninteresting part of your job to (who might find it interesting)?
How could you change your approach that would breathe new life into part of your job? (For example, can you enlist others to work with you, can you learn something new, could you revise the way you do it, or how about reminding yourself about the value of the work?)
If you're criticizing everything and everyone you're hurting yourself and helping to create a toxic environment for others. Even if you're justified in your complaints, the more you tell yourself how awful it is and allow your anger and hositility to build, the worse you're going to feel. Doing something to alleviate your distress is your best option.
Strategize about what you can do that's in your control. Can you "manage up" more effectively? If you feel critical because everyone around you is critical, how can you stop taking in their complaints? What problem that's driving you crazy could you help solve? If there's someone on your team whom you can't stand, how can you change your thinking so they don't get under your skin quite so much?
Focus on anything that's going well. We often overfocus on the negative and forget to notice the positive (we're hardwired to do so!)
Amp up your networking. Talk to people on the outside and remind yourself that there is an outside. Don't wait until you've decided to leave a job to begin networking. It starts with email or coffee dates to reconnect with people you don't see often.
Fear spreds through an organization like a virus and has been especially prevalent in the last few years. Reorgs, new management, layoffs – they all feed the grapevine and cause a lot of drama. No wonder you're stressed and panicky. Here are a few suggestions:
Dispute catastrophic thinking. Notice when you're brooding about worst case scenarios and dispute those thoughts on paper. Is it really true that you're this close to losing your house? Be honest about what worries are unlikely to happen.
Focus on what's in your control. Is there a way you can sock more money away and increase (or start) your rainy day fund? Who can you reconnect with to touch base about what's happening elsewhere in your field? What's a way you can contribute even more value to your organization?
Small changes can lead to big results. Try some of the above ideas, but if you're still negative most of the time then explore opportunities outside your team or organization before you become completely burned out.
How have you been able to breathe new life into a job you've had?
I get it. Even though the idea of working somewhere else doing something else is really exciting, the process of getting there is, well, not so fun. Setting up informational interviews? Reconnecting with old co-workers? Searching online for salary data? I know you'd rather be watching Modern Family or unplugging the fridge, pulling it out and vacumming behind it. (A task completed only by people in job transition, by the way).
Since you may already be working full-time and have other things going on in your life, like family, friends, sports and onerous cleaning tasks, it can be hard to fit in the job change tasks. You might be tempted to set a few vague goals and hope you get to them.
You may be a "go with the flow" type person who keeps a fluid (or non-existent) calendar and task list. But if you want to get any traction with changing jobs, you need to get energized, get organized and set specific deadlines for yourself.
I've coached people through job and career changes for the last nine years, and I can honestly say that every single person who was successful were able to:
It's time to be honest and acknowledge that changing jobs is going to take a concerted effort on your part. You don't necessarily have to devote 40 hours a week to it, but you need to commit energy and time, possibly over many months.
Basically you need to have a pep rally for yourself and get into the mindset of "Yeah, I'm gonna do this!" There's a lot of work ahead so take the time to get very clear about why you want a change, how changing jobs will make your life much, much better, and then decide to become active and assertive about accomplishing it.
Finding a new job is a multi-step process involving research, networking, and possibly a resume overhaul. Becoming organized will help you make the most efficient use of your limited time. You'll want to decide on your top priorities, create an action plan and decide on a system for capturing and tracking information.
You'll also want to decide when you're going to work on job change tasks. Will it work best for you to spend an hour every night on it after work, or five hours over the weekend, or what? Set appointments with yourself and put them on your calendar.
Even if you wing it in most other areas of your life, commit to an organized job transition plan! You're much more likely to stick with the process when you are focused and directed.
Especially if you're employed right now, it's hard to stay motivated to do what it takes to change jobs if you don't feel a certain sense of urgency. For many people, deadlines are critical to them getting things done.
Also, it's easy to stay in analysis and research mode for a long time and put off doing some of the more intimidating job change tasks. This is really when deadlines become essential.
First decide when you want to start your new job or career. Even though you aren't in control of many of the parts of the process, setting a goal start date will help you stay focused. Do you want to start your new gig in three months? Two years? Decide now.
Look at the action plan you created and identify the first small step. Decide when you'll get that step done and plan the time on your calendar. Create priorities for the upcoming week and then commit to looking at your plan and your calendar each week until you're in your new job.
You won't know all your action steps yet, and that's OK. You just need to know the first few and then depending on what you discover through those steps you'll be able to determine the next few.
Don't worry if you need to adjust your deadlines – the key is to always have them and be working towards them. If there's no deadline, there's no urgency, and if you don't feel urgency, you won't take action.
Also I encourage you to team up with at least one other person and check in weekly with your (or each other's) plans and progress. Reporting in to someone helps you stick with your plan.
For many people, changing jobs is a doable goal that's within reach. There's a lot to do, but when you're focused and organized you can make it happen.
What else do you think is important for job-changers to do to stay motivated and focused?
But we'll have more success and will feel overwhelmed less often if we adopt a more easy partnership with the job search process and agree to hang out with it for the longer haul.
A continuous improvement, or kaizen, approach to your job search ensures you build momentum without burning out. You make continuous adjustments to your job search strategy along the way as you discover what's working and what's not.
The idea is simple – take very small, incremental steps toward your goal every single day. Focus on the daily small steps.
The reason that I especially recommend a kaizen approach to job seekers is that searching for a job is a fearful experience, and a kaizen approach does a lot to reduce your fear.
When you are just focusing on thinking about your very next tiny step and are implementing it, your mind is distracted away from the bigger picture, "Oh my God, what if I never get a new job," thoughts and fears.
Also kaizen is the antidote to entropy, a state that job seekers do not want to find themselves in. Says Ingrid E. Cummings, author of The Vigorous Mind: Cross-Train Your Brain to Break Through Mental, Emotional and Professional Boundaries, "Nothing can ever defeat entropy, but keeping it at bay via small incremental steps consistently taken – that's cookin' with gas; that's the strike zone."
Our culture emphasizes big, dramatic change and swift action to enact it. But really, most significant changes are the results of days or weeks or months of taking consistent, small, incremental steps. And focusing on the small steps keeps you more flexible and able to adapt to changes and setbacks along the way.
Don't worry about planning the next 50 small, incremental changes you want to do, either – just plan the next few and then see where you are and plan the next few, and so on.
I'd love to hear: How will you take a more kaizen approach to your job search?
Most of us crave meaningful feedback at work. It's natural to want validation and acknowledgment for our accomplishments, and many of us wish we could hear constructive criticism more often to help us learn and grow.
Yet the tool that organizations give managers, the dreaded performance review, is pretty universally loathed. Most managers aren't well-trained on how to give effective feedback. They forget the importance of direct, positive acknowledgment. They shy away from direct confrontation when they have a criticism (or go the opposite route and criticize far more often than is useful).
My number one tip for effectively reviewing performance is to do it frequently and informally. Nip problems in the bud. Catch people doing things right and say so directly. Be specific and be timely.
But you still need to give an official performance review using the process and form that your employer has selected. Here are my golden rules for giving effective reviews:
1. No surprises
Don't store up all of your grievances for review time. Address performance issues as they come up instead of waiting for the annual review. The best performance reviews document what you and your employee already know.
2. Make goals and revisit progress throughout the year
Don't set goals in January and then ignore them until the next January. Make goals relevant, adjust them as necessary throughout the year, and touch base about progress regularly.
3. Be specific
Provide a context and situation for your praise and criticism. For example, how is your employee a good communicator? What examples do you have to support your comments?
4. Don't just make your employee write it
Self assessments are a fine part of the process, but to make the review effective, you need to add your two cents. Spend some time and show a little care here.
5. Be on time
Haven't we all had our own reviews delayed by weeks or months (or years?) It's not exactly a recipe for feeling appreciated or motivated. The value of a review decreases rapidly every month it's overdue.
For more tips on how to give effective reviews, check out this article on WikiHow.
How do you think becoming better at giving reviews would benefit you? Please share in the comments below.
“Thank you for all of your great insight/guidance. It’s been a great experience working with you!”
L.N., Marketing Manager, Seattle
“Thank you so much for helping me set goals and move into a better creative space. It really helped me to have someone to check in with and to have help with clarifying the next step. As you can see I’m moving full steam ahead! I’m looking forward to seeing where all of this new stuff will take me.”
K.Y., Executive Assistant and Artist, Seattle
“Heather has a natural ability to key into exactly what is important to me. She is masterful at supporting me in being accountable to what I say is important to me. She helps me accomplish more in our 10 weeks, then I could have done on my own.”
T.T., Training Manager, Seattle
“It was a pleasure to speak with you and especially get your feedback surrounding my challenges. I am grateful for your insight, offers and recommendations. Your honest, professional evaluation of my obstacles were extremely helpful and provide me with direction to land that dream job!”
M.T., Customer Service Representative, Charlotte, NC
“Coaching is a challenging process, but Heather makes it rewarding and enjoyable. She provides a well-guided, humor-filled and affirming opportunity to challenge oneself and have fun doing it.”
S.H., Direct Marketing Manager, Seattle
“My first-choice firm in San Francisco recently hired me citing that they are really excited to work with me and really love my ‘ethos’. In fact, I have had several other offers too as my energy and confidence level has gone up. I just really, really want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your simple support and earnest advice has been priceless. I am moving to San Francisco next week.”
D.M., Urban Planner, New York City
“Thanks again for all your help during this process. It was invaluable to have that guidance, sounding board, and voice of reason to really help me recognize and address the struggles I was going through.”
D.R., Director of Engineering, Seattle
“I have my confidence back. I’ve been doubting everything I was doing and thanks to Heather and her expertise I feel motivated to keep job searching. I love how honest Heather was with me.”
N.C., PR Professional, Seattle
“Just thought I would let you know that I’m LOVING my new job. It’s such a great fit. Thanks for helping me get to this place!”
T.D., Interior Designer, Seattle
“I hired Heather to be a coach when I was at crossroads in my career. Although I saw a path forward, I still needed someone to help spur me forward. Heather was wonderful in this regard. I so appreciated how she listened, empathized, guided and validated my thinking when I was in a space of limbo and uncertainty.”
L.N., Regional Sales Service Manager, Seattle
“I’m excited and hopeful for the first time in awhile (networking at an unexpected local authors event tonight didn’t hurt!) so thank you, thank you, thank you.”
M.P., Human Resources Coordinator, Seattle
“I really appreciate how supportive, organized and thoughtful you are. I always feel like you are on top of all the details of what I am working on. I also like that you know how I function and are mindful of that when we discuss a plan for the future. My business is going well! I’m where I am today because of your guidance.”
K.C., Certified Personal Trainer, Massachusetts
“You consistently refocused my attention on what was working, small successes, etc. and helped me let go of temporary setbacks. You were able to notice thoughts I was expressing that were unrealistic and call those out. Now I have confidence that my strategy of networking is effective and will net me the results I want.”
B.J., Organizational Development Professional, Seattle
“In the time we worked together I learned a great deal about myself and my interests and career. With your help I was able to take more responsibility for my own life and shift forward in a number of different ways. I want to continue the holistic growing I am doing, while preparing for my next career move.”
J.B., Non-Profit Association Director, Connecticut
“I have accepted and have ‘inner peace’ about how to be an engaged mom while working full-time that resulted from this process. I also feel much more energized and inspired to look at other things in my life and consider new ways of doing things. I feel like a new woman! I can’t thank you enough for your help getting to this point, and in one short month! I never thought that was possible.”
K.P., Director, Consumer Data Products
“Thank you Heather! I got a lot out of the coaching and I will certainly recommend it to others. You had a big positive impact on my life in just a short time.”
P.S., Software Engineer, Seattle