Category Archives: career development

Going All In

I am about to embark on a 6-month coaching engagement with the Handel Group. There is quite a bit of homework due before the first session which is next Wednesday, and I am both excited and a little scared.

My coach assures me this is a good place to be. We are going to get truthful about some areas in my life where I want to make change, and it will require a commitment to doing the work, and taking action. I will be writing up a biography and evaluating 12 areas of my life, and also dreaming big about where I want things to be.

When I talked with my husband about this endeavor, I explained what it was, and why I wanted to commit some resources to it. I told him that I believe this can get me “unstuck” about where I am now, and that it is great timing because of the changes I plan to make in the next 6 months career-wise. He was understanding, and he said he thought it would be a good use of time and money, but only if I am “all in.”

As someone who likes to do a lot of personal development reading, experiments, habit change and self-help types of efforts, this is my jam. The challenge can come when I am pursuing a few too many different types of efforts, and dabbling a little in each. Then my efforts get diluted over a number of challenges, and no one effort gets real traction.

I recognize that my a.d.d. can contribute to this tendency to bounce around, doing a little of this, a little of that, but never fully committing to one or two BIG projects, or BIG change efforts. Why is this? I am trying to be honest with myself about why I find that hard, but also want to give myself the challenge of being ALL IN with this one.

One of my fears that I have had since being young is that of being bored. I was the kid who *always* had a book on hand, just in case I was stuck somewhere, having to wait and having nothing to do. Whether it was long road trips with the family, or having to spend time in a waiting room, I never wanted to feel like I had nothing to do.

In fact I almost never leave the house without a journal to write in or a book to read, in case I am caught in a place where I will have time with nothing to do. Now that I meditate every day, I do not worry as much about having nothing to do. In fact, I look for opportunities to practice mindfulness, in airports, in grocery stores (though that one is still harder for me).

But I still like to “toggle” in my life, between several different projects, in case I get stuck in one of them and then can switch to another one. That in itself is not bad. In fact, I think it is one reason I have thrived in my current department: we are always juggling a lot of different projects, and while it would overwhelm most people, I enjoyed it for many years, knowing I was sure never to get bored.

But there is a kind of Deep Work (Cal Newport writes about this) that I am missing right now in my work and life. When I have so many different “windows” open, like a computer running a lot of different applications at once, it exhausts me after a while. Sure, I never get bored. There is always something new coming my way. But it seems I sometimes use that to distract me from bigger, more important goals that deserve deeper and more consistent focus.

Do you ever struggle with that problem?

I think this tendency may be endemic to the distraction-filled lives we live today. With technology providing these many gateways to rich content: books, classes, podcasts, blogs, social media sites, YouTube videos and the like, we have a plethora of choices.

Some of it can be nourishing for the brain and the psyche, and I love learning. But that can be a distraction from practicing skills, and really truly embracing change efforts in our lives. I recognize that I am sometimes so intent to fill my brain with concepts, that I do not always put things into practice. At least as a clinical researcher, I have a skeptical eye about claims in books. I tend not to believe things unless I have tried them, or I have some good data to back up what the author claims.

So this time around, I am going all in on this coaching process. The investment is not insignificant, but it fits into my budget. I commit to doing the homework, and maybe even to share some of what I learn on this blog. At the very least, it will help me figure out my next move career-wise. But I think it has the potential to change and improve many other areas of my life also. I am ALL IN.

Happy weekend, friends.

 

 

 

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“I Choose To” vs “I Have To”

Almost everything you do in a typical day is optional. Except breathing, that one is required. Even eating is optional. Humans have survived during millennia in periods when they have not had enough to eat, and had to spend multiple days (sometimes weeks, months) fasting. Not that I am advocating this, but if you wanted to skip a meal now and then, you could choose to do so without dire consequences, unless you have a medical condition.

Going to work is not optional, you might be saying right now. You “have to” pay your bills and you “have to” earn money to buy food, gas and all the associated necessities that allow us to live our lives. You probably have people depending on you, and this can add to the feeling of “I must” go to work.

There is a subtle change in energy when we realize that we choose to go to work every day, because there are consequences if we do not, versus “having” to go to work, as though we are slaves. We choose work and earn income because it gives us choices in our lives, and allows us to do things we want to do. True, maybe we do not all do work that feeds our souls, and we may deal with some annoyances or people that drain us.

When you accept that there are not really many things you HAVE TO do, you may realize that much of your internal dialogue is actually a lie. This dialogue with yourself causes anxiety, and it does not serve you. It was kind of eye-opening when I realized this for myself. I realized I was whining and complaining about my job and feeling sorry for myself about it.

It was probably while reading a book called The Four-Day Win by Martha Beck  about identifying thoughts that we have (or had) before we find ourselves eating too much or eating food that is unhealthy. When we get really mindful about those impulses we may find ourselves trying to avoid thoughts that are painful, like “I have to go to this event” or “I don’t want to make this phone call.”

Those of us who have struggled with emotional overeating in the past have used food to distract ourselves from some emotion or procrastinate some thing we do not really want to face. We live out of integrity with ourselves because we have a mental dialogue that is a lie (“I have to” rather than “I choose to”) and we find it difficult to face reality and our own emotions.

Sometimes we feel lonely or disconnected, and it is harder for us to admit this and reach out to a friend for companionship than it is to eat a cookie and milk. Perhaps that was the pattern we learned as children when we felt sad, or what our parents might have done to cheer us up. As a temporary measure, maybe the ice cream made you “feel better” – the hit of dopamine and sugar in the brain certainly had an immediate effect. The longer-term impact of the insulin released in the body did not give us healthy results, however.

We may not have learned to process our feelings completely, if we were consoled or soothed with food rather than taught that are feelings are valid, and it is okay to feel them instead of eating them. We may not have understood that our thoughts influence our feelings, and so by exploring what thoughts led to those emotions, we could question those thoughts to see if they are really true.

Do I really “have to” go to that family event? Or do I choose to go to the event because I love these people and want to show my support for them? Do I “have to” write all those holiday cards to a huge list of people? Or do I choose to write some holiday cards because I would like to stay in touch with loved ones?

Though it is a subtle change in language, changing these internal messages to ourselves helps free us from a victim mentality. It empowers us to realize that we have the ability to choose. Sure, maybe some people will not like it if we skip an event. But we are not responsible for others’ feelings, only our own.

My favorite meditation mantra which helps me live in my integrity while avoiding the lie that “I have to much to do” (which is one of my ego’s favorites) is:

“I have time for everything I need to do today.” 

It is true. All I must do today is breathe. Everything else is optional, and a choice I make. Realizing this truth sets me free in so many ways. I hope it does for you too.

 

 

 

 

Costumes

Yesterday afternoon I wrote a post in advance, then “scheduled” it so I could read it in the morning, edit and publish. Apparently WordPress ate the 700 word post. Oops. I have no idea how that happened. But spending a lot of time trying to recover a lost document is a waste. It’s best just to get started on the next one without a lot of drama or delay.

This morning I will meet with a VP for our Corporate Science and Technology division at work, my director’s boss. He has been a career mentor for me, and my director has encouraged me to meet with him once a quarter as I figure out my next move.

I am typically anxious about what to wear to such meetings.

My work “costume” has been evolving a lot in the past year or two. I already wrote about “grown up clothes” in a previous post. I had always read that you should dress for the  position to which you aspire, or at least a level up, not necessarily the position you have. In corporate leadership functions at my company, that typically means for women dresses and heels.

As someone more comfortable in jeans and t-shirt, that was a transition for me. But I embraced my feminine side and realized that dresses are actually more comfortable than pants most of the time. A friend of mine likes to say they as comfy as pajamas but people actually think you look nice! She’s right about that, except during Minnesota winter, when they just seem stupid when your legs and feet are cold for the sake of fashion.

Work clothing can be a kind of “armor” we put on in the morning, to convey a sense of authority or power. As long as we feel comfortable with what we wear, and it does not “clash” with our sense of ourselves, I think it can enhance our confidence. Fake it until you become it, as Amy Cuddy says in her Ted Talk. A few wonder woman poses before a big event will not hurt either. Your body language may speak even more highly than your clothing, so it is worth being mindful of how comfortable you feel and what you project.

Clem in chaps - Canada

My hubby in chaps during our trip July 2017. This was taken in Canada.

I realize that what I project at work does not really capture authentically who I am, and I am trying to figure out if I can bridge that gap. My husband bought me riding chaps last year before our summer motorcycle trip around Lake Superior. A friend teased me about it because he thought of chaps as a sex fetish thing. But hubby likes to say “dress for the slide, not the ride.” I know that my work colleagues would probably be shocked to see me dressed in jeans, chaps, and a black motorcycle jacket. It definitely does not alight with my work costume or the image I have sought to project at work.

At the same time, the motorcycle gear “costume” expresses my desire for freedom and for being engaged with the world in a different way. In a very practical sense, it is safety gear. And it is also represents a different part of my identity that is not something I feel comfortable bringing to work.

As I write this, I also know that the mask I wear as part of my work costume is getting a little old and tired as well. Having to feign enthusiasm for a job that is “over and done” for me in a fundamental way takes a lot of energy. It is not something I can do for much longer.

I believe that when we bring our whole, authentic selves to work we excel and produce our best work. Maybe there is room for that in my corporation, and maybe not. It is worth speaking up about my real feelings and thoughts to see if this is met with acceptance or with rejection. Either way, I will know whether I might find some other place in the organization or whether I need to move on.

Costume change, please!

 

 

 

 

Outgrowing your boss

When you have a boss who has been very supportive of your career growth and has helped you take the next steps in terms of your leadership, it can be hard to move on. But when you come to a point at which your boss is no longer helping you grow, and seems to have “checked out” a bit from the work, it is time to consider what is next.

They say people do not leave organizations, they leave managers. Even if you work in a highly dysfunctional company, having a good boss can be a beacon. Even one of my favorite books on Wellbeing by Tom Rath and Jim Harter begin with Career Wellbeing as a foundation to our overall wellbeing. Having a boss who cares personally about you and engages with your efforts in a meaningful way can have a very positive influence on your life. This is one reason I take my work as a manager very seriously and I am very intentional about how I work with each member of my team.

However, at some point you may realize that you and your boss may have different goals for the organization or a different outlook on the future. By necessity they have a view of the organization that may not be the same as yours. They have access to different networks and information. They may empathize with your position but not be able to connect their decisions with the operational reality of your work.

It is important to have open dialogues about your perspective and to be as direct as possible about your position. Your boss may not agree and this is not fatal to the relationship in itself. But your boss may make decisions that compromise the execution or the quality of your team’s ability to deliver, or the credibility of your organization. It is probably not intentional. It may reflect their relationships in industry, or fears that saying no will limit future possibilities.

bird rising watercolor

This watercolor reminds me of the song “I’ll Fly Away.”

I have so much gratitude for the opportunities that my director has given me over the past 4 years while I have reported directly to him. At the same time, he is making decisions that compromise the ability of our team to deliver. There is political pressure for these decisions, and I realize that higher up, the forces are different. But I can no longer support a department that puts what I view as undue stress on its employees.

I enjoy being creative and finding ways to be efficient in our work. It is an area where we have grown into a team that is known for going the extra mile. But now we have a situation where we are below “critical mass” in terms of our ability to execute. Dumping more responsibilities on top of an already over-committed team will not work. 

And yet, he continues to add, despite the promise that we would only do this with more resources. I realize he may define resources in terms of dollars, while I define resources in terms of people. But I find myself unwilling to swamp my team yet again when we have barely recovered from the last restructure.

So in a way, I have outgrown my boss. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had for personal and professional growth in the past few years. And I am ready to move on. This is something I have had to grieve at some level. I believe my boss cares personally about people on the team. It has what has kept me here so far. But it is not what will help me grow to the next level in my career.

Goodbyes are hard. And it will be especially difficult to say goodbye to my team. They are wonderful people. But they may have outgrown me as well, who knows? My soul is leading me toward a big leap of some kind. I am ready to listen, look and leap when the next step becomes clear. It is almost less important to me WHAT that move is, than the fact that I will go. That’s how I know I have outgrown my boss.

Exercising my writing muscles

There are benefits to exercising our writing muscles!

On Friday I worked on a first draft of a 2-page case study proposal for an application to the “Entrepreneur-in-Residence” program in my company’s business incubator division. I am totally jazzed about the opportunity, 2-3 positions open for this 12-18 month commitment. It is a chance to work with teams using human-centered design in order to solve health care problems in under-served and under-resourced areas of the world.

This gig is designed as a program manager role that will eventually continue with a project at the end of the period if it has potential for commercial development, or move onto another leadership role within the company upon completion. With the networks and contacts I would have following such an opportunity, even though there are no guarantees, I am all in!

When opportunities like this have come along in the past, I typically read the materials and then spent weeks agonizing about what to write, putting it off until only a few days before the due date. This time around, I took a couple of hours without distractions and just banged out a first draft of my thoughts. Yep, I put down some “B minus work” to get my initial thoughts out of my head.

I am sure when I go back in a couple of days to look at it, I will have different insight. I will likely revise quite a bit of the first draft. Plus I started in the afternoon and I am sharper in the morning, so I know I can rework and possibly re-organize the writing. Since I was not familiar with the disease state or the country where the issue was identified, I had to do some initial research on the web. Once I have a chance to fully explore the questions that I footnoted for myself, I am sure I will enhance the draft.

I am proud of myself, since I stepped outside my usual habit of obsession and worry, and just got down to work right away. I am sure there will be SOME obsessing and worrying as I complete the first application (I cannot simply be someone ELSE). But it is progress to me that I started early this time, so there is plenty of time to polish and reconsider in the next couple of weeks. I plan to turn this one in at least a week in advance and to ask a peer to read through the draft.

So this daily blog “exercise” is proving to help me in an unexpected way. I am getting used to getting the words down on paper first, so I can have adequate time also to “marinate” my thoughts while my subconscious goes to work in the background on creative approaches to the problem presented. Writing can always be revised. Indeed, for professional writing that is probably a good idea. Given past habits of procrastination on writing projects, this is good progress for me.

To me, that is worth celebrating. Hope you take action today on a project that has meaning for you! Cheers!

Courage to tell the truth

Sometimes telling the truth feels like a very brave and vulnerable act for me. Not everyone wants to hear the truth. Sometimes I do not like to even admit the truth to myself. I am getting better at it. But it takes practice. As I have started “unbuffering” my life, I realized I was trying not to see some truths that were bubbling up.

Truth seems straight-forward. Just be honest. Yeah, and risk offending people? Risk being banned from my tribe? Risk the job I have now, because my soul is telling me my time is limited there?

Today I will have my semi-annual career discussion with my director. At our company managers are required to have three annual discussions with staff: goal setting/planning, career development, and performance. I like it that managers are encouraged to work with employees on career development. It is actually my favorite part of being a manager because I love developing my team.

I told my director in our last career discussion back in August that I do not intend to stay in this position long-term, and that I intend to make a move outside of clinical research. A couple years back, he had thought I may be his successor when he retires, and he just turned 65 so I know he was not happy to hear this. But it is an emerging truth for me, and while I like the IDEA of a promotion to director, I know in my heart that I am done with this part of my career in clinical research.

There is a lot of dysfunction in the division where I work. Large companies (and we are too large now) have a lot of bureaucrazy (spelling choice deliberate) that can be aggravating. I am considering other positions within the company, because I think my networks and professional skills could contribute in other ways. I believe in the mission overall, and that is a big driver for me.

But I am not committed to staying at the company. In truth, I want to be self-employed rather than working for a very large (80,000+ employee) company. But I was recently reminded by my hospital visit that having good health insurance and good benefits cannot be taken for granted. Self-employment takes planning, some savings in case of “dry spells” between contracts, and a lot of self-discipline.

I was a self-employed consultant about 11-12 years ago and I really enjoyed it, until it became clear that I was great at bringing in the business, but not as great at executing it all by myself. Fortunately I knew other consultants and could work with them to get projects completed. Since I struggle with a.d.d., I have to be careful not to get distracted by too many separate projects. Ironically that is part of what makes me successful in my current job though – I am fairly good at juggling a lot of things and switching back and forth.

I take comfort in knowing that my meditation practice has helped me learn how to focus and be more intentional with my time and commitments. But I still have some fear about making the leap. I do not want to burn any bridges – actually there are a number of potential “clients” at my current company that could be a source of business.

Today my goal is to be as honest as I can with my boss, knowing that he may have some wisdom to share with me on the topic. He has told me in the past that the development work I do can be taken with me anywhere, at this company or my next endeavor. But he has spent 43 years at this company, and I know we disagree at where our division’s leadership has chosen to focus.

My real challenge is that I do not know EXACTLY what I want to do next. I have a lot of ideas, and things I am willing to try, but I do not have a clear idea of what that means for me. I have been toying with the idea of a side hustle for women’s leadership development, specifically working with Latina women. I also love the idea of teaching “Design Thinking” workshops while using the Medici Effect to recruit diverse cross-functional teams.

I love coaching and helping people with their career development and leadership development. If HR did that kind of thing at my company, I would definitely look in that area. Maybe what I need to do today is ask for some development coaching in order to discover this “next big thing” that I want to do. I am not sure if my boss would support that, but it is worth asking for, right? The worst that can happen is that he says no, but maybe he will offer an alternative.

If you have any advice on having these sorts of conversations, please weigh in. Otherwise, think good thoughts of courage and bravery in my direction today. Much appreciated!