If you’re wondering “what’s next?”

Ready for a career shift?

Read Kerry Hannon’s tips.

 Are you thinking about a launching a new career, but don’t know where to start?  Then here’s good news.  Acclaimed journalist Kerry Hannon has just released a revised paperback edition of her book, What’s Next? – Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties, and Beyond.”

 Since 2006, Hannon has been writing in leading publications about “Second Acts,” the new careers that many of us are launching in our later years.  Hannon knows as much about this trend as anyone around. And, while she certainly understands the data on jobs trends, she developed much of her understanding firsthand, through hundreds of interviews with people, aged 40 to 70+, who have made big shifts in their work lives.

In “What Next?” Hannon offers portraits of 17 people who have chosen new paths.  For example, there’s Ken Rynne, a Washington energy lawyer who decided to live his dream and become a professional performer.  He launched Planet Washington, a rollicking musical act featuring timely political satire.  And there’s a clinical nurse who opened a knitting store, an AT&T executive who became an Episcopal priest, and a former IT specialist who is now a licensed acupuncture therapist specializing in fertility issues

Kerry Hannon with Zena

Kerry Hannon with Zena.

 The individual profiles are both inspiring and instructional, but the book is made even richer by Hannon’s insights, lists of resources, and specific advice about how to change your career.  And, while the book’s personal stories tend to involve people who are reinventing their work lives to pursue new passions or long-held dreams, the book is a useful guide for anybody considering a significant job shift.

 While Hannon touches upon everything from the value of volunteering to the ABCs of franchising, one theme she emphasizes is the power of networking.  She points out that the years you’ve spent years building up a circle of contacts can translate into a rich opportunity.

 I also particularly like Hannon’s suggestion that you prepare for your transition with a three-part fitness program:

  •  Get financially fit, by charting a budget, socking away an emergency fund, boosting your credit rating and downsizing your lifestyle.
  •  Get physically fit, because being in shape and energetic matters in the work world.
  •  Get spiritually fit, by finding a space – perhaps through meditation — where you can get away from the stress and fears that go hand in hand with making changes in your life.

I asked Hannon what was in her mind, while she edited the 2010 version of “What’s Next?” to bring it up to date.  She said when she was interviewing people before the Great Recession, she was fascinated by how many were forging an encore career because they wanted to get excited about work again and to make a difference in the world.  Today, however, it seems that a higher percentage of second actors are motivated at least in part by economic necessity.  They are planning on working well past their expected retirement age, perhaps part time, because they need the money.

 People decide to shift gears for many reasons.  Maybe you’re tired of working for a big organization and itching to try something entrepreneurial.  Or you want to re-deploy your business skills to make a contribution in the non-profit sector. Regardless of your motivation, if you’re contemplating a mid-life reboot, “What’s Next?” can offer you a handy road map for getting started.

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Posted in Career management, career transitions, encore careers, Uncategorized

Bored at work? Then do something!

Boredom isn’t productive.

So make some changes!

As I waited in a Post Office line, I watched the clerk.  She looked to be so deep into the doldrums that she could barely hear her customers. It seemed that, when she finally took in a request, she’d move in slow motion, lethargically searching through stacks of paper with her eyes half closed and her mouth half open.

As the minutes ticked on, I became annoyed.  Then I thought, “Oh, I’d hate to have her job.”  So I was feeling more empathetic when it was finally my turn.  By then, nobody was behind me in line, so I engaged her in conversation. 

I said I needed to mail my passport for renewal, and led her into a discussion about the safest way to send it.  I made a big deal about my worries, and soon she was lending me a pen and making gentle fun of my concerns.  And we were laughing together. 

The clerk may have been overwhelmed by the monotony of her job.  But she seemed to wake up when she connected with, and focused on the needs of, another person.  Shifting your attention to somebody else’s problems is a classic way to beat back boredom.

Photo of boards, by JMcreation_Fotolia.com

Photo of boards, by JMcreation_Fotolia.com

You know what it’s like to feel bored, don’t you?  When nothing seems challenging, and gradually you feel less and less creative?  When you’re bored, you might be keeping busy, and yet you’re not getting enough stimulation to stay interested.

On the job, unproductive boredom seems to be the opposite of what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has called “flow.” You’re in flow when your work is so absorbing you lose track of time. It’s like you are playing a game that is so much fun you forget about everything else.

Csikszentmihalyi, who has been studying the satisfying flow state for decades, describes it as a time when “action follows upon action according to an internal logic that seems to need no conscious intervention by the actor.”

You are more likely to find yourself in flow, and not bored, when:

  • Your skills match the level of the challenges you face. Tasks that are too easy are boring, while those that are too difficult may lead to anxiety.  
  • Something about the work is intrinsically rewarding.
  • Your have clear goals. And
  • You have some sense of control over the situation and the outcome.

Are you finding your job to be tedious? If so, you don’t have to wait to be rescued. You can do something about it.  You can shake things up, in a good way, with anti-boredom strategies like these:

  • Create challenges.  If your work doesn’t feel stimulating, find ways to enrich it with new levels of complexity and challenge.  Try creating games as you pursue tedious tasks.  One study reported that long-distance truck drivers who played mental games, like counting passing objects, reported little boredom and were also safer drivers.  Sometimes you can pep things up by seeing how face you can race through dull activities.
  • Engage with others.  Particularly for extroverts, isolation can feel boring. Look for opportunities to broaden your circle.  And, wherever you are, take the time to really focus on the people around you. Csikszentmihalyi suggests,  that a retail clerk might make work more interesting, and at the same time improve service, by striking up genuine conversations with customers.
  • Vary your routines.  Make an effort to shift your habitual patterns.  Flow is associated with exploration, and even simple changes can make you feel more alive.  Try new ways of getting your tasks done, look for new tools or systems, and rearrange your schedule. If you don’t know what to do, just try something different.  Maybe it’s time to plan an adventure vacation?  Or at least a day off?
  • Learn something. Research suggests that being in flow helps us forge new neural connections.  And it works both ways. If you regularly learn new things, you are less likely to be bored.  So take a class or pick up a skill.  Even if you’re studying something not directly related to your job, it can help you become more alert and innovative.
  • Hang out with do-ers.  Boredom can be contagious, and if you spend time with passive, disengaged people you may start to feel the same way.  Look for opportunities to be with active people.   You’ll feel more stimulated if your life includes folks who pursue worthwhile, interesting activities.
  • Exercise.  Get up and move around at the office, walk as often as you can, and build regular exercise into your life. People who are physically active are less likely to bog down in ennui.
  • Journal.  You are more likely to feel bored if you lack self-awareness and tend to be out of touch with your own emotional state. Writing about your thoughts, observations and activities can help you to develop emotional intelligence.  The more you notice each day, the more interesting your life may become.

We all feel bored occasionally.  But we don’t have to stay that way.  

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Posted in professional growth, Uncategorized, workplace issues

Self-growth tips from a great American coach – Ben Franklin

Want to be better person?

Learn from Ben Franklin!

 I love sitting in a train compartment, sipping a glass of wine and glancing at the scenery as we read or chat.  So a while back I felt mellow, as my husband and I rode the Amtrak Capitol Limited from Washington to Chicago. 

 We sat reading in bed as the train traveled through Pennsylvania. Along the way, I was reminded that the Keystone State was the adopted home of one of our most intriguing Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

 Moving from Kindle to paper, I jumped around my reading stack, from a self-help book, to periodicals, to a novel.  In that brief time, I happened to come across three references to Franklin.   

Benjamin Franklin free image via Wikipedia.org

Benjamin Franklin free image via Wikipedia.org

For me, Franklin was an important influence, not so much for his great historic contributions but because of how he coached himself into living a successful life.  As a kid, I read his autobiography, where he described his youthful efforts to become a man who would do well by doing good.  Riding in the train, I recalled that book, and the “aha” moment when I realized we can shape ourselves into the kind of people we want to be.

One way Franklin helped form the national character was through that posthumously published memoir.  He said he wrote it to teach Americans how to grow into their full potential.  In his view, practice and a little help from our friends can make us better, more successful people.  Read more ›

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Posted in Ben Franklin, personal growth, self improvement

4 strategies for handling 9 types of annoying email

Want to get a better grip on

email that wears you down?

 emailIt’s not just that you’re getting too much email.  A bigger deal is the way it can ruin your mood, contribute to a toxic environment and change the structure of your work life.

 From so many coaching clients, I hear growing frustration about how other people’s poor email etiquette can drain your energy. Would your days be better without email abuses like these? Read more ›

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Is it time to strengthen your professional brand?

 What’s your brand at work?

And why does it matter? 

brandThere’s you, the essential person you are. 

 Obviously related, but not quite the same, is you — the professional who shows up on the job and makes a contribution.

 And then there’s your professional brand.

Originally a “brand” referred to a word or symbol indicating the owner or producer of a product.  Ranchers used hot irons to brand cattle.  And back when soap was usually just called “soap,” Pears Soap was named after the barber who invented a gentle cleaning bar.

As it’s used today, the term “brand” isn’t the same as a “brand name.”  In a branding effort, marketers try to distinguish a product, highlighting how its attributes differ from those of competitors. But a “brand” is an even broader concept than that, because it encompasses not just the qualities of a product but also how customers perceive those qualities.

Your professional brand is a reflection not only of you and what you do, but also of others’ assessment of your expertise, your work product and your character. Your brand can greatly impact your career opportunities and satisfaction.  And yet it might be quite different from either the real you or the high achiever you strive to be when you are on the job. 

In other words, even if you are a good person, and you work really hard, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a strong brand that differentiates you from the competition and brings you the career success you deserve.  So smart professionals manage their brands, using strategies like these: Read more ›

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Posted in branding, Career management, personal branding, professional growth

Are you focusing your attention on what matters most?

Focused on success?

Now focus your attention.

focusOne time that successful professionals turn to executive coaching is when they feel overwhelmed by a relentless barrage of “to-do” items.  For example, a client I’ll call “Jane” had just received a bonus and been recommended for promotion.  But despite a flow of kudos from her bosses, she felt like she was barely holding things together.

 I asked Jane to set up a log and keep notes about how she was using her time in the office.  After a couple of weeks she noticed two trends.  She was attending too many meetings not relevant to her top objectives.  And while she was at her desk she seldom worked on a single project for more than 10 or 15 minutes before she was interrupted by a call, email or visit from a colleague.

 Jane decided to stop saying “yes” to every request, and to exercise more control over how she spends her time and energy. One way she stays more focused on critical goals and values is that every morning she identifies a significant task, like a segment of a large project, to accomplish by day’s end.  And on her calendar she has a 60 to 90-minute work period for the key task of the day. When that time block starts, she shuts her door, takes a few deep breaths, and starts working on the day’s top task, mostly ignoring phones and email.

 When we start treating our attention as a valuable resource, it can change not only how we work but also how we live.  In his most recent book, “Focus – The Hidden Driver of Excellence,influential psychologist and prolific writer Daniel Goleman says leaders, and all the rest of us, must learn to better direct our attention if we want to get things done and live full lives. Read more ›

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Posted in Career management, leadership

Have goals? Measuring progress gets you there faster!

 Step 1: Set clear goals.

Step 2: Choose metrics.

 measureDo you have professional and other goals in mind for the year?  For the future? So what’s your plan?

 It can be motivating to have a broad, enticing vision, but it can also be daunting.  Sometimes people put off their biggest objectives and most exciting projects because they don’t even know where to begin.

 To get started and keep moving toward your goals, think about ways to establish specific benchmarks and measure your progress.  For example, if you propose to write a book, you might commit to writing a certain number of words each week or month.

Maybe you are one of those folks who have heard about the power of measurable goals more times than you can count. But you’re still not convinced.  Maybe metrics strike you as time-consuming or boring, or you think some values can’t be quantified?  Before you give up on the idea of making your goals measurable, consider these points: Read more ›

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Posted in managing progress, professional growth, reaching goals

Thriving when change is the new normal at work

 How to stay steady in

a changing workplace

 A longtime client I’ll call “Betty” asked me to give a talk about how to survive in an organization that’s going through a multi-year transition.

I was pleased to speak at the company where Betty is a manager.  But when she told me the topic, I was surprised. That’s because I can’t think of anybody more adept than Betty at navigating a rewarding career through an industry experiencing prolonged restructuring.   She has survived multiple mergers, division liquidations and realignments.  And she’s been adept at jumping ship and making a great landing at the perfect time.

Then I realized that Betty was concerned about her colleagues. She saw some of them worrying and whining, instead of coming up with her kind of survival strategies.  So without mentioning Betty’s name, I used her as a model as I developed a list of tips for surviving in the midst of transition. 

If you work in an organization going through widespread change, try these tips for steering a steady career course even when it gets stormy: 

  • Know it’s not about you.  Institutional change is like stormy weather. It’s pouring everywhere, not just on you. Complaining won’t help and bitterness can make your situation worse.  It’s vital to survival that you look at the big picture and let go of any anger at finding yourself in a game you didn’t sign up for.
  • Understand your industry and its environment.  One reason Betty keeps landing on her feet is that she puts in the time to understand her company’s business.  She knows a lot about its competitors, she’s alert to the needs and interests of its customers, and she’s well informed about broader regulatory and economic developments.  By thinking like a CEO, she can spot the trends and be ready when the next wave hits.
  • Know your bosses’ goals.  Your longtime supervisor may fondly recall your contributions from a few years back, but that may not be enough to save you when the going gets tough.  Your most valued colleagues are the ones solving today’s problems and contributing to the achievement of tomorrow’s goals.  If you want to do well this year, be sure you understand your bosses’ big objectives. Ask yourself: what do they need in order to be successful?  And are there more ways I can help them succeed?
  • Network! Network! Network!  One reason Betty does so well is because she is so widely connected. Whether you are looking for a new job or a new idea, your position will be stronger if you have a wide circle of professional acquaintances.  Join groups, volunteer for projects and find other ways to get to know people throughout your organization and beyond it.
  • Find stability in other places.  Some folks are less at ease with uncertainty than others.  If the constant state of change at work is getting you down, find people and communities to rely upon in other aspects of your life. Although she can be a bit of a workaholic, Betty is smart about building a balanced life.  She is active in her church, she works hard to stay connected with many friends, and she finds the time to visit family members scattered across the country. Betty has created structures in her life that give her a place to rest when everything at work seems crazy.
  • Be in great shape.  Let’s face it: change can be exhausting.  When the world seems to be shifting it takes extra energy just to get through the basics.  So, while working around the clock might be the answer in an emergency, it’s a shortsighted strategy when transition is the new normal.  You need sustained energy for the long haul. Betty is not an athlete, but she has learned that a regular fitness routine and enough sleep are critical to strong performance during difficult times.
  • Reduce financial pressures.  One thing that has helped Betty keep her jobs is that she has never become desperate at the thought of losing one.  Betty dreamed of buying a larger home, but instead she kept the small one and invested her savings in rental properties.  When times are uncertain, do what it takes to build up your rainy day fund or alternative income sources.

Are you, like me, still working on 2014 Resolutions?   Want to make a plan to  thrive in times of change? You might be interested in this post on New Year’s Resolutions that actually work.

And here’s a piece in Forbes on building career resilience.

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Posted in Career management, career resilience, professional growth, workplace issues

Start 2014 with resolutions that work

 New Year’s Resolutions

 can create real change!

I like to start each year with a list of New Year’s Resolutions, and some years my list has been more successful than in others.  But even when I abandoned my commitments before Spring, the process was worthwhile.  There were periods in my life when I didn’t devote much time to self-reflection, so starting out a year by taking a close look at myself was a good thing.

As I often do in December, in recent weeks I asked some of my coaching clients about what they’d like the next year to bring.  What will success look like in 2014?  Where do they want to focus their energy this year?

When I ask clients about their goals or intentions for the coming year, I generally don’t frame my questions in terms of “Resolutions.”  The concept of “Resolutions” sounds dated, and it makes some people feel defensive.  They have so many responsibilities to juggle already that the idea of taking on new rules or promises may feel like an unnecessary burden.

But for me, the process of resolving to do better in the coming year often leads to progress, even when my energy doesn’t last for the whole 12 months.  So today I’m working on my annual slate of Resolutions, and coming up with action plans to get things moving.  Care to join me?

If you want New Year’s Resolutions that make a difference, try these tips: Read more ›

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Posted in Career management, career success, New Year's Resolutions

How to leave your job like a polished professional

 Changing jobs?

How you leave 

does matter!

Most savvy careerists understand the importance of getting off to a great start in a new job.  But many don’t take full advantage of that other opportunity in a transition: the chance to tie up loose ends in the old job and turn your experience into a substantial building block for the future.

A young lawyer I’ll call “Bill” was let go from a law firm after the leaders of his energy practice group left the partnership, taking their clients with them. Bill started his week as an associate with a bright future but by Friday he was ushered out of the office with a small severance payment and a cardboard carton of personal items.

Bill was stunned, and then angry.  But, on the advice of a mentor, he controlled his emotion and quickly launched a plan that paid off later.  Bill saw that the firm’s lawyers were furious with the departing energy group, and associated him with the traitors, even though he wasn’t invited to join their new enterprise.  And he recognized he’d been unwise during his time at the firm in not making an effort to get to know colleagues outside the busy energy practice. Most worrisome, he feared that lawyers who weren’t his friends would talk about him as not competent enough to either stay in the firm or be invited to join the departing unit.

Bill launched a process that not only led to a new job but also changed the way his former colleagues regarded him.   In the days after his departure, he methodically contacted the law firm leaders and staff and found ways to thank each of them for something.  Even though it often felt like a reach, he wrote notes expressing appreciation for the collegial atmosphere, the training in managing client accounts – for any kindness or strength he could describe without feeling positively silly.  And as a few years went by he stayed in touch, even referring a little business to his old firm.

What Bill did was reframe his law firm experience in the minds of his colleaguesRead more ›

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Posted in Career management, career transitions

Beverly E. Jones

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Links to occasional colleagues

ECCA - Website
ThreeJoy - Website
Kerry Hannon - Website
Ohio University's Voinovich School - Website
Senior Entrepreneurship Works - Website
Congressional Management Foundation - Website
WOUB - Website
ShadowComm LLC - Website

Books with Bev’s Tips

Bev’s tips on career change are featured in the books and other writing of leading journalist Kerry Hannon. If you’re thinking about a career transition, try:

“What’s Next – Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job”

“Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy and Pays the Bills”

Bev at Ohio University,
where she is a visiting
executive with the
Voinovich School of
Leadership & Public Affairs

Bev's garden at Buckeye Farm