It was cabin fever, the need for a broader view of world than the one of the bird feeder outside my office window, that gave me the idea of going away for few days.
The snow began the afternoon I arrived, and by the next day, over a foot and half had fallen on Salem, with layers of ice and freezing rain for good measure, in effect closing down the town. The new snow fell on top of an already substantial buildup from earlier storms, causing unexpected problems, such as what to do with all the additional "white stuff" (it’s against the law to dump it in the harbor) and roofs that collapsed from excess weight.
Watching people laboring to shovel a path between snow banks almost as tall as they were, or improvising a solution by hanging out a window to clear off a porch roof with a rake, it struck me that their efforts had a lot in common with long-term unemployment. The work is arduous and all too familiar; "caving in," i.e., giving up, is a real danger; and it feels like spring will never come.
With his usual talent for organization and clarity, Daniel Pink, the author of Drive, offers the following tweet-sized summary of the book: "Carrot and stick are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery and purpose."
In these challenging economic times, it may seem strange to suggest that people are not primarily motivated by external rewards, but Pink makes a compelling case for the fact that internal motivation is what is really driving us, once basic living needs are met.
If you don't believe this can produce something of real value, he is saying, just consider the many open-source Internet initiatives, e.g., OpenOffice.org, Mozilla Firefox, Wordpress, Linux, etc., with new ones cropping up almost every day, run by volunteers who have chosen to put their energy where their authenticity lies.
Summertime and the living is easy—but not for a Mini-Mart cashier at a rest stop on the Mass Pike.
That was the assumption I made when I stopped there for an iced coffee on a hot, sunny Saturday last month on my way to visit family in Connecticut.
The store was packed. A long line of customers in a hurry to be somewhere else snaked its way around the junk food displays, inching slowly toward the older woman on the other side of the counter.
"What an awfully hard job," I thought, as I watched her selling lottery tickets and sodas.
The weather outside is beautiful, and you're stuck inside. You're on your feet all day, under constant pressure from impatient, sometimes rude people. You're exhausted at the end of your shift and you don't have much of in the way of material reward to show for it.
But even as I was creating this scenario in my head, I still was able to take in the attentive cheerfulness with which she waited on those who preceded me.
The US government reports two different unemployment statistics. The one we are most familiar with is the one most talked about in the news media, something called the "U-3 unemployment rate." It currently hovers just under 10%.
There is also the less well-known "U-6" rate, which is now over 17%. It includes what the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls "involuntary part time, underemployed workers" and "discouraged" workers who have stopped looking.
For people struggling to stay positive after a year or more of unemployment, I'm sure that even the higher number must seem too low.
Yet there are many who know what discouragement feels like and have chosen not to give up.
A 2005 article in the London Evening Standard about overwhelmed working women advised them “not to struggle into work when ill but to stay at home and rest.” Likewise, the November 2009 issue of Working Women magazine cautioned readers against “dragging [their] fever-ridden [bodies] into the office.”
Under ordinary circumstances, this would be simply a matter of common sense, but the economic slowdown we are experiencing has eroded our sense of work security and had the effect of making people fearful that their absence from work, even for a day or two, could have disastrous consequences. In a new context, this simple advice deserves a closer look.
In Crazy Busy, author and physician Edward Hallowell talks about having to go to work regardless of your physical condition as if it were something that belongs to the past, like the experience of the lower classes as described in Dickens’s novels. But is it?
In response to growing concerns about financial survival, the news media is full of information about ways to save money, conserve energy, etc., but very little is being said about people's biggest worry—secure employment!
Work, either through job-employment or self-employment, is the levee that protects us, and as long as it holds, we can weather the storm of uncertainty. But what if the traditional approaches to sustaining and finding work can't stand up to the current surge of events?
Hard times require more vigilance in taking care of your professional future—or as I said to one of my clients recently, "Being wishy-washy or needy isn't going to cut it!"
"The rest of your life is an eight o'clock class," a colleague of mine likes to say to the new graduates he counsels. It's a delightful metaphor, but I think that makes it sound too easy. It suggests that, in your professional future, just signing up and showing up will be enough.
As you've no doubt learned during the last four years, it's possible to take a course, pass it, even get a good grade in it, without being fully engaged. This behavior will not work for you in today's workplace. Anyone who takes a passive stance puts their job status at risk.
Back in the days when recruitment out of college led to a progressive career track with the same company (IBM, GE, AT&T, etc.) it was valid, but in the competitive, global marketplace you are entering today, it is not.
My husband and I were taking Amtrak to Virginia, and in Trenton, a stylishly dressed mature woman boarded the train and took the seat behind us. She dozed until Wilmington in an erect posture with her back against the window. Then she awoke and called her son.
I know this because it's impossible not to overhear a cell phone conversation on a train, and because her opening remark, intended to capture her son's full attention, also got mine.
"God invented cell phones," she said, "so that mothers could call their sons to see if they will be picking them up at the station or if they will be left on the curb like a discarded piece of luggage."
I immediately envisioned a middle-aged attorney or executive cringing in his office. Now I know this was speculation, but given the birthday gift bag on the seat beside her, and her highly organized manner, it was hard to believe that there had been no prior conversations about her arrival and the logistics connected with it. Yet the intensity of her tone made it clear she did not trust the arrangements would be carried out.
I was once invited to speak to a class of MBA students, and I started my presentation by asking them how much time they devoted to their jobs. The responses ranged between 40 and 50 hours a week. I asked how much time they gave to their studies, and they answered 10 to 20 hours a week. Then I asked how much time they spent managing their careers, and at first there was silence, then nervous laugher. Finally someone said, "Not much."
This was a group of busy, committed professionals who were adding graduate studies to already crowded schedules in the hope of advancing their careers. But they were not doing the spadework necessary to make real progress possible. Even worse, most of the questions they asked me were about relatively minor concerns such as what color stationery was best for resumes!
It's unfortunate that the only thing most people know how to do to take care of themselves professionally is to put together a resume. A resume is a necessary evil, but by itself it won't get you the job you want. It is only a starting point. Its real value is to you, not a prospective employer; in creating a resume you go through the exercise of articulating your selling points, which becomes the cornerstone of everything you do to claim the work you want to do.
Notice that I said, "claim the work you want to do," not "find your next job." This important distinction points out the reason for seeking out career assistance.
Small business owners and managers may not have the six-figure incomes, paneled offices and private jets of corporate executives but they have the same responsibility—leadership.
Top managers do not spring into existence out of nowhere.They are selected because they are suited for the job, and they are carefully groomed through extensive training and a highly structured career path. They don't just wake up one morning and find themselves in charge.
Small business owners, on the other hand, often do, and many of them are ill-equipped for it.
It is critical that a person who is thinking about starting a business find out how well she fits the leadership role she will have to assume. Corporations use tools to evaluate candidates for management, and small business owners should do the same.