Job and Career Success: Why it's CRUCIAL to Do What You Love

It's not often that I disagree with Alan Sklover. He's the brilliant and dedicated attorney who helps employees level the playing field with employers in his legal practice and through his excellent and comprehensive website, Sklover Working Wisdom.

Today, however, I disagree heartily with him. Or at least with the Wall Street Journal article by Carl McCoy that he posted and supported on his blog.

The gist of the Mr. McCoy's message is that graduates shouldn't be told by commencement speakers to "do what you love." Instead, he offers this:
Maybe there’s another way to encourage new college graduates to think about their careers. Maybe all those commencement speakers would send more young people into the world likelier to be happy in their jobs if the speakers talked about love as a consequence of meaningful work instead of as the motivation for it.
No. He's wrong - and Alan is wrong for supporting Mr. McCoy's thinking.

No matter where you are in your career arc - from new graduate just entering the job market to long-time employee looking at years yet to go before retiring - it is absolutely crucial that you do what you love. After all, you're spending at least a third of your time doing it - year in and year out. And when you're not actually doing it, you may very well be either thinking or talking about it.

Which means that you're spending too great a portion of your life to be doing something that has no meaning to you.

That's not the "meaningful work" that Mr. McCoy cites. Sure, it's great if you can find that. But "doing what you love" isn't about what your job title or career category is. It isn't even about the industry in which you work.

It's about finding a job that allows you to access and utilize your skills to do the things that bring you the most satisfaction. Personal satisfaction.

Doing what you love, as Mr. McCoy as a "starving artist" attests, doesn't necessarily net you a big income. But it does ensure that the vast majority of the time that you sit at your desk or walk a retail floor or work with manufacturing robots, you're always interested in:
  • What you do
  • How you do it
  • What the outcomes are
  • Why what you're doing is important to the person who receives it - whether internal to the organization, out to the supply chain or into a customer's hands and, most important of all
  • How you can do it better.
Job satisfaction comes from engaging yourself. Management won't do it - no matter at what level. That's because no one knows better than you what you're capable of - which, sad to say in most jobs, is far more than is being asked of you.

Doing what you love means taking away the limitations that organizations place on you and fulfilling your definition of yourself.

That's why, when I'm mentoring anyone from graduates to executives and Board members, my message is always the same:
  1. Do what you love in a place that allows you to do it or
  2. Find another place.
The biggest problem that every employee at every level has is the belief that he or she is stuck. That there are no options. That you won't find another job or the ever-popular "better the devil you know" way of thinking.

Free yourself from that thinking and you'll free yourself in your current job. Then, start doing what you love. All the time. When you do, if the organization's management is scared or simply isn't smart and they try to stop you...find someplace else.

Don't waste the most important commodity you have - time - limiting yourself to someone else's definition of you and your capabilities. It's a waste of your life - and you don't have to take it.

Because there really are smart organizations out there that know that having people who do what they love is the only way their enterprise can or will succeed.

Leaning In: Who's Sitting at the Table With You?

I'm all for Sheryl Sandberg's first tenet in her wonderful book, Lean In. That's where she says that women should Sit at the Table.

She's absolutely correct. Too often women are given opportunities - or are being kept from opportunities - as a result of that one behavior. If you don't sit at the table, you're not a player. You don't get the chance to shine. You're - in old fashioned terms - a wallflower.

But when you do sit at the table, be very, very aware of who's sitting there with you - because it's not always pretty. And even after all these years (given that I've been sitting at that table for decades) I'm still surprised by the backward, demeaning behaviors of too many of the men who sit there, too.

Here's just one example of how I know.

I had been invited by a Board member who knew me to meet the CEO of a new technology company on whose Board he was sitting. The Board member's thinking was that - even though the CEO already had a consultant with whom he was working - if the CEO and I "hit it off" I would give the organization's leader guidance that he wouldn't find elsewhere.

Frankly, that isn't quite the way I like to do business - but I like the Board member, he's a seriously good guy and, knowing how he felt about the company, I figured if I could help, I would.

That wasn't what the CEO wanted, however. And it quickly became clear he especially didn't want guidance from a woman.

How did I know the bit about a woman? He compared me to his wife.

This is a dead giveaway for when men aren't happy with what you're saying - or, possibly, your existence in their lives. Suddenly, they put you in the same category as their wives when they're not happy with them - as if you've created a "Honey Do" list for them to complete, rather than providing them with good guidance and input for them to consider.

They don't want to hear it. They don't want to do it. They don't want you there.

The meeting continued - because I'm polite - but, even in being polite, I made clear to the CEO that his behavior was unacceptable. He tried to fob it off as if he was just kidding, but as soon as I called him on his behavior, he backed off. Then he tried again. And I called him on it again.

We went a third round of that behavior before he realized I wasn't going to take it. That I wasn't willing to demean myself by letting him demean me just to get his business.

I had far more respect for myself than that.

What's most important about this for you is the corollary to Sit at the Table. You have to decide whether you want to sit at that particular table.

Because sometimes you don't. The key is to remember:

You always have options. Learn to see them and act upon them.

In this case, I wasn't willing to sit at the table with that CEO - at least not in the position the Board member had suggested. That didn't mean, however, that I didn't want to sit at the table. I liked the company and what it was doing. I liked the Board member. I wanted them to succeed.

So, I found another place to sit: As advisor to the Non-Executive Board members.

This worked out just fine - even for the CEO. He knew he couldn't take his shots at me in front of the Board so, instead, he learned to listen to what I had to say. It didn't happen the first time out...nor the second. But he got there and the company thrived under the shared guidance of the CEO, his Board...and me.

So, when you sit at the table, make sure you know who's sitting there with you. You may - or may not - like the company you'll be keeping. And, if you don't, don't stay. It's really not worth it.
More on Leaning In:
   Leaning In: When You're Asked...Say Yes (llk)   Lean In Applied: The Secret for Your Success (llk)

Leaning In: When You're Asked...Say Yes

There's a story, dear readers, that I've wanted to tell for quite a while. Years, in fact - but to respect the people involved, I purposely let time go by. Well, enough of that. It's time to tell.

So sit back and join me while I tell you the true story of the woman who said, "No."

I had been approached by a friend who wanted to extend his business to include a new niche service opportunity he realized was just begging to be developed.

It was an intriguing idea and made a lot of sense for the population he wanted to serve. Most importantly, it had legs. It was one of those businesses that wouldn't be small for long - because while it would start within the niche he knew, the service was ubiquitous enough to cross industries.

An excellent idea all around...and he even had the "perfect" person in mind to lead it: a woman who worked for him that he was concerned was being underutilized and might leave unless offered a better opportunity.

So, he and I went to work designing the business, identifying all the options and opportunities..."doing the necessary" as he would say. (He's British). And all the time, he kept saying, "Kelly will love this! It's perfect for her!"

Now, on the one hand, having met Kelly, I could see why he was so excited about the prospect of her running the business. On the other, I continued to warn him that she might say, "No."

"How could she? This is the opportunity of a lifetime! She'll see it and go for it. I know her."

Well, dear readers, I knew her too - and I knew something that he wasn't willing to admit could be a factor in her decision-making: She was female. Moreover, she was relatively young (about 30), married and she, too, was British.

You're thinking: I get the female, young and married part. I've read Lean In. I know about how women put their gender, husband and existent or non-existent children ahead of their careers. But what's with the British bit?

That's a whole different problem - because, as I've been told too often by too many young, degreed, capable and smart British women, the job they most expect (because it's what's most often offered) is as a "PA or shop girl."

As a result, they've become used to expecting - and taking - the low road in their matter how qualified they are.

I told our business visionary this - but he remained convinced. Kelly would say, "Yes."

She didn't. She said, "No."

Not immediately, mind you. At the end of the meeting during which he presented all that he believed she could achieve, she thanked him for the opportunity and told him she'd like "a little bit of time to think about it."

That, I knew, was the death knell. It was just a matter of time before she gave the bad news.

It took a couple of weeks, but at the end of that time, she set up a meeting and started by saying that she greatly appreciated the offer and his faith in her. She also thought it was a wonderful idea and perfect for its time.

At that point, she very gently told him that she wasn't going to accept because:

  • She wasn't sure she would be able to fulfill his expectations and
  • She didn't want to disappoint him, so 
  • It didn't matter that he believed her capable. She wasn't willing to try. She'd rather keep her current job.
What was that job? She was a PA.

There's a lesson here. In fact, there are a lot of them. But, for our purposes, it's this:

When you're asked to sit at the table, do it. Take your seat. Then show them why they made the right decision extending the invitation.

Kelly was an idiot. She let her fears drive her. Worse, because she was so used to - and comfortable with - being deferential to her "betters" (yes, she used that word, too), she killed her own opportunities. She took away her own future.

Big or small, when an opportunity presents itself, make sure you only have one answer ready: Yes.

It doesn't matter whether you believe you can do it or not. Suspend your disbelief. Whoever is asking knows what they're doing - otherwise they wouldn't have asked. After all, it's not like they're some kind of benevolent society willing to put their own reputation on the line.

They ask because they know you have something to offer. Something that will make them look good. They're not doing you any favors. It's all about them.

So, go ahead. Sit at the table. It's time. Your time.

Mindfulness in Business: The Complexity of Simple Choice

This post is written by Jonathan Wright, our Leadership Quantified Expert in Social Media, Online Business Development and Micro-Business - and so much more. One of my great joys in working with him is our discussions on mindfulness and defining our lives as more than our jobs or by outside criteria. Instead, what we both agree is that it's how you live your life that matters. It's that simple - which means getting the complexity out. This post goes to the heart of that challenge. I think you'll enjoy it. I know it will resonate in everyone's life.
Life, much like time, is a series of choices. Every second we're making choices: Say this or that. Wear this or that. Eat this or that.

Yet the most important choices are usually made as a reaction as opposed to an action. We're so busy with the tasks that fill our days we forget about our goals. 
  • Where do I want to be in five years? 
  • If I retire in ten years, will I be financially stable? 
  • What and who do I want to be when I grow up? (Side note: I'm 47 and still haven’t answered that question.)
... and the saddest question, because we shouldn’t ever have to ask ourselves:
  • Am I happy? 
  • If not, how do I change it? 
Don’t get me wrong. I'm the original "live by the seat of your pants" guy. Until very recently I never stayed in the same zip code more than a year and rarely in the same city or country for much longer. 

My view of life is that we live in a HUGE world offering a smorgasbord of experiences and places to be or want to be.  If you're not happy where you are, pack a duffle bag, relocate and start over….

Okay, I already hear it:
  • "I have responsibilities!”
  • “How would I live?” 
  • “Well that’s nice for you but I have kids and a spouse and while my job may not be my dream job it pays the bills and in this economy that’s golden.”
  • “I'm too scared of….”
The list just keeps getting longer and the reasons all seem so legit because you're sure you're being reasonable and responsible. 

Ironically, we're more miserable feeling trapped by our bills, families, social structures, corporate structures and all the rest. So here's the one question you should ask:

How’s that working out for you?

Decades of studies have shown that humans spend most of our waking hours in stressful reactionary mode to try to control the onslaught of consequences from earlier poor choices made too quickly and with no focus. We wake up suddenly one day realizing we're getting older and have little to show for all our years of labor and strife. We keep playing catch up...yet never do. We begin to believe that we can never have the "Happy Life" we used to daydream about. We become afraid it’s already too late. We lie to ourselves and convince ourselves that we'll get started tomorrow...tomorrow there's always another tomorrow. 

In a final act of desperation - and staying on the path of least effort - we reach out to books, coaches, motivational speakers to try to reignite our passions. Sometimes we need to rediscover them.

Ready for more irony? All the books and coaches and speakers tell us the same thing: 

Be quiet, be still and listen for that little voice that is our soul to whisper our purpose. 

So simple, right?!? Nope. 

In a world of instant information and gratification we become impatient and want our enlightenment NOW.  We think maybe another book or coach or speaker will make that "voice" a little louder and clearer. 

OR, you think

"Maybe I can pay someone to listen to my voice for me and tell me what it’s trying to tell me….channel my inner voice." 

Ummm…okay….If that works for you fine. I'm all for whatever makes that light snap on.

But all it really takes is some quiet, some privacy and some reflection. Here's what you do:
  • Turn off your phone, close the door, get out some paper and a pen and slowly begin to reflect on your current job. 
  • What parts of it do you love? List those….
  • Now think about your last three positions and list what you loved about them… 
  • Now list 5 to 10 things you love to do….anything… 
  • Now write a paragraph describing your dream job... 
  • Now review. See the similarities….
  • Take it one step further: Take out your computer and in the search bar enter all the words you listed, minus the dream job paragraph….
  • Hit Search. 
My guess is the results will point you right to your dream job.

Okay, so now what? Now you formulate a plan on how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Too much trouble? Hmmmm…

Look around you. If you're happy in your current state then stop reading and move on. If you're not happy - and in fact if you find yourself irritated by this exercise or the results - you need to push past that irritation and get a plan in place so you're not looking back in ten years with a head full of regrets and a monotonous life.

It’s really so simple: Once you know your starting and ending points, you build the path, step-by-step, to get to your destination. Those steps become a checklist to get you where you want to be - with every step making you more brave, more confident and closer to your goal. 

Maybe you need more education - enroll in one or two night classes. Maybe you need to practice your skill set - volunteer for some pro bono work to hone your skills. Maybe you want a whole new profession - so you start out part-time and build your success into a full-time passion.  

You'll find you become so engrossed in the journey that all of a sudden you look up one day and you're there.

I know this sounds too easy and, yes, there are many challenges along the way -  but that’s also part of the vetting process. There's something to be said for keeping your head down and following that path you set...because before you know it you’re there.

If you keep taking time to Be Quiet, Be Still and Listen, you'll stay on your path and time will seem to bend and move you even faster toward your goals. Start with 5 minutes a day, and then add more. You'll find you're reluctant to come out of the quiet.

I learned this using my trial and error life as a map and realized there's a much easier way.  But since you don’t know me - and these days we need to see a step-by-step example by someone we recognize as successful - I highly suggest you get a copy of the book The Architecture of All Abundance written by Lenedra Carroll. 

Sound familiar? Maybe her daughter will: Singer-Songwriter Jewel.  

The book is a personal and professional diary of the journey Lenedra and Jewel took together to create the superstar that is Jewel - as well as multiple for-profit and non-profit companies with worldwide reach and millions and millions of dollars.  

From the solitude of the wilds of Alaska to living in vans and on the wind to private jets and music moguls' offices, Lenedra weaves us through her journey in a practical, spiritual but not too airy-fairy, often humorous voice...peppered with one "Ah-hah" moment after another. There's plenty of vivid recounting of those moments of solitude that I'm talking about and the clarity of purpose they bring, with numerous examples of those moments, before and during high powered meetings or in a quiet secluded cabin. 

Alongside the spiritual moments and real life examples are sound business and personal development advice: 
  • Silence brings clarity.
  • Clarity brings focus.  
  • Focus helps eliminate the distractions that keep you from moving forward.  
We humans have a way of complicating the simplest things. You don't have to anymore.

Teachers, Mentors, Guides: Who Changed Your Career?

Early in my career, I realized that I was not going to be one of those people who had "mentors" or "sponsors." I was too risky a proposition on a number of different levels, so mine was a corporate - and even consulting - career that had more than its fair share of people putting obstacles in my way.

That made those who represented turning points in my career - and particularly in my way of thinking - all the more important and valuable. They, knowingly and unknowingly, expanded my perspective - which led to a broader world view, career opportunities and life experiences I never thought would be mine.

Interestingly, it's been within the last two years - since starting Leadership Quantified - that a new person has been added to the list. The first woman.

For me, the four people are:
  1. Dr. W. Edwards Deming - who taught me that underlying management theory is a humanism that, when incorporated as part of everything from strategic thinking to operational execution, really can lead to joy and motivation and a goodness that workplaces are rarely - or never - known for.
  2. Takeo Minomiya - who taught me that strategy, at its best, turns the world on its head and that, only when you look at things from what would be considered impossible perspectives and proceed without fear can you - or your organization - succeed.
  3. Dr. Leon Lessinger - who taught me that accountability is the highest form of personal and professional respect you can pay yourself, your colleagues and society as a whole - and that, as such, it's both a choice and a measure of integrity.
  4. Sheryl Sandberg - who taught me that the ways women unknowingly undermine themselves - as well as the many ways women unforgivably undermine other women - are not only identifiable, but reversible and that the hope of the women who trailblazed my career can - and will - be achieved in the generations of women now and to come.
That's my crew of career- and life- changers - and I'm grateful to them all.

Now think about those who have played or are playing that role in your life and career - then ask yourself:
  • Which teacher, mentor or guide has helped me see more - and be more?
  • How has what they taught or showed me changed my life? My world view?
  • How have I acted upon what I learned?
  • How am I continuing their teaching by guiding others - whether in conversation, formal mentoring or, simply, in how I lead my life?
Then, if you get the chance, make sure you find a way to say, "Thank you." Not only will they appreciate it, they deserve it.