The antebellum architecture of the South Carolina Low County around Beaufort ranges from the mansions of dignitaries and wealthy merchants to the three remaining praise houses of the Gullah people.
As much as I enjoyed looking at the former, it was my visit to a small white cabin, no bigger than a farm stand on the side of highway, that impressed me the most. Intended as places for slaves to worship, praise houses were intentionally kept small by plantation owners who feared the slaves might organize if allowed to congregate in large numbers.
There, as many as could fit on the benches of a 10x15 room would do the only thing they could do without asking permission, sing praises to a Christian God, while they beat out the rhythms of their West African homes with their hands, feet, walking sticks and dried gourds and created a unique culture by singing, stomping and shouting their own identity.
"If you are driving your professional life by an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper, you are not doing all you can."
The obsession with the resume means a work-seeker is putting all his eggs in one rather fragile basket and overlooking alternative ways of communicating his value.
Reading Robert Sullivan's, The Thoreau You Don't Know, recently inspired me to visit the Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts. The museum contains the furnishings from Thoreau's cabin on Walden Pond along with a replica of Emerson's study, and it is easy to imagine the two of them there engaged in lively conversation.
Thanks to the book and my visit I have been able to shape a much clearer mental picture of Thoreau than the one I had before, that of the naturalist loner, and I have come to appreciate how much time this "classically trained handyman" (Sullivan) spent looking for work in a tough economy.
Thoreau knew how to work with both his hands and his head. In the course of his relatively brief life, he taught school, farmed, mastered the craft of pencil making, fixed and built machines, surveyed land, and shoveled manure. In between he wrote A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Walden, The Maine Woods, Cape Cod, poems, essays, and a journal that runs to 47 volumes.
Of necessity (and I believe choice as well), Thoreau also knew how to attend to the practical realties of life, while at the same time pursuing a greater purpose. He often earned his keep by taking care of the daily needs of others, e.g. serving as a secretary and au pair for Emerson.
It was Emerson, who in 1843 arranged for Thoreau to go to New York City to tutor his brother William's son. Thoreau saw this opportunity as a means to an end—breaking into the publishing industry. His heart wasn't in the task of tutoring, but it provided room and board and access to editors and publishers in the city who might hire him.
Months ago, in the early stages of the economic downturn we're in now, I read a report in the New York Times that over half of working adults were worried about losing their job. My instincts tell me that this proportion has significantly risen since then. Let's face it—it's hard to rest easy when giants like GM are tumbling.
Since there is so much anxiety these days, I decided to take a closer look at it by reading Edward Hallowell's book, Worry.
According to Hallowell, worry actually has a valuable purpose. It's there to alert us to danger and prompt us to take protective action. Unfortunately, being human, we have a tendency to let our imagination run away with us and create perceptions of danger that are not real.
Which is why Samuel Johnson, a consummate worrier himself, said back in the 18th century, “Worry is the disease of the imagination.”
I am often asked to present at large business gatherings, the kind that offer ample opportunities for networking.
Recently at a particularly well attended event, I overheard a woman who was just leaving say with great excitement that she had had a great networking day.
She had come with a hundred business cards and was leaving without a single one!
When I heard this, I couldn't help thinking of all the times I've put my hand in my jacket pocket after one of these events and pulled out a handful of business cards without a clue who the people were or why I thought I'd ever want to talk with them again. They were just names to me.
On the other hand, whenever I've had a real conversation with someone and felt a genuine connection, I've always made a point to get their contact information, even if I had to jot it down on the back of a napkin or a receipt.
A few years ago, I did a full-day workshop on transition for a group of alumni of Bentley College. Right after we finished lunch, just before we started back again, someone expressed frustration with the inefficiency and wastefulness of traditional job-search practices, and I made the offhand remark, “If I had my way, we’d throw out resumes and stop networking.”
It was as if an electric charge went through the room. Thirty business professionals, all of them well-trained in the standard job-search methodologies, came alive. They knew instinctively there had to be a better way.
I’ve often wished I could have put aside the agenda I had planned for the afternoon to pursue the subject with them. What I suspect would have happened is that they would have told me they keep following the standard practices because they don’t know what else to do. The inability to answer the question, “What do I do instead?” is the reason people looking for work keep doing the same old things and expecting different, less frustrating results.
The saying, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got,” finds pathetic voice in Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream.
As she did in her previous book, Nickel and Dimed, this cultural critic formulates a theory about jobs in America and sets out to “prove” it by going undercover.
This time, instead of cleaning toilets, busing tables, and waiting on Wal-Mart customers for less than subsistence wage, sheposes as a job-beggar in corporate America. She endures an assortment of career charlatans, tweaks her resume endlessly, and sits through a series of demeaning networking experiences, all for the opportunity to sell insurance or cosmetics on straight commission with no benefits.
Like any other professional, as a career counselor, it's important for me to keep up with what's happening in my field. I do this by reading and studying and talking with thought leaders I respect.
I also periodically take a look at what the general public is reading by perusing the career shelves of bookstores.
I rarely buy these books because they tend to repeat things I already know and because, in the vast majority of cases, they present an approach I consider to be ineffective and outdated.