Monday, February 10, 2014

What Will You Do With That?

When I was in college, I was asked this question more times than I can count. I majored in comparative religion, and believe it or not, it has been a practical major for every job I have had since then.

I got my first newspaper reporter job out of college because I had a religion degree. The newspaper's consumer base became wildly diverse in the span of a few years because the meat-packing plants with decent salaries and the low price of housing attracted immigrants to the area. They wanted to expand their religion page from a listing of church events to something that would appeal to the Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and other religious people now part of the community.

In exchange for my knowledge base, they trained me in crime reporting, copy editing, feature writing... It was a dream job!

But liberal arts is taking a hit lately from all directions, even the President.

So, what do you do with a liberal arts degree these days?

Compete in the Winter Olympics. This small school has 23 athletes in Sochi right now!

Don't wait until senior year to go to your university career center. Learn career skills early. Interviewing, networking, resume development and cover letter writing are all skills you can start learning the moment you enter college. If you need help with these skills, there's still hope! I specialize in helping liberal arts majors with this.

Work for this company. I love the idea of liberal arts folks marketing themselves as positive and curious.

And if people keep bugging you about your salary out of school, send them this article. Research shows you'll earn more money in your peak earning years than other types of students.

If you're a liberal arts major interested in working with me, I'm offering a 50 percent off discount this month. Contact me at

Monday, February 3, 2014

Back to the Mall

Every morning this week when I woke, I saw the red sweater hanging on the closet door. It was too big, and the easiest way to get my money back was to head to my local mall, except my local mall is the Columbia, Md. mall where the fatal shooting occurred last Saturday.

Let me start by saying how sorry I am for the families involved. I think somehow our society has failed all of them, and that's all I can think of saying about that for now.

That day I'd considered returning the sweater that day, but I didn't, mostly because I was lazy and my son wanted to read some train books, and I wanted another cup of coffee, and like many people I know who could have been there but weren't, I'm terribly relieved.

All week I debated when to go back to the mall, if at all. Maybe I would just use UPS. Suddenly a decision that normally was a half-second of my time became something I ruminated about all week. If I went to the mall, would something else happen? If I didn't, would that make me a coward? I dithered, struggled, and it was exhausting. I finally went back this weekend and returned the damn shirt, but I still felt like a coward. I browsed the watch section of a department store (I don't often wear watches!), then fled out the door.

If violence makes small decisions like whether to go to the mall or not seem like a huge deal, what becomes of the decisions that are a huge deal: decisions about work, marriage, real estate, cars. Those decisions can paralyze us in a world where our small decisions can carry such weight.

So many people I work with feel like they should be able to make their career decisions quickly, act on them, and always be progressing toward a goal, but it's normal to hesitate in our world. Frankly, I think it's the most human reaction we can have.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Winter Blues Roundup

Sometimes I feel like I was a bear in past life. Come January, I just want to hibernate. It doesn't help that Downton Abbey and Sherlock were on last night, with three straight hours of British TV goodness. Somehow, my boss, my kids, and the rest of society don't really allow me to check out for the next few months.

This morning I dragged myself out of bed, put on my warmest thermal underwear, and got a short run in. It really did help to see the sunrise, somehow, and exercise always helps my mood. I'm going to try to stay away from the chocolate chip cookies today, and eat more protein.

The best advice may be to not expect too much of ourselves, however. It may not be the best time to write your novel, for instance, according to Norman Rosenthal, who literally wrote the book on Seasonal Affective Disorder. Recent research by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison shows that award winning writers have productive cycles that follow the seasons, with spring and fall being most productive. The darkest months of winter are not one of them.

Interesting, then, that we sometimes charge ourselves with huge life changes at this time of year, with New Years resolutions to lose weight, change jobs, and improve.

A few more spots to visit:

How to fight the winter blahs when working from home.

Some symptoms to check, in case you need a visit to your physician.

I think there's something to the idea that yoga can help us through the winter.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Where the Jobs Will Be: A Dose of Optimism

If I were starting out again and I wanted to choose my career by the numbers, I'd consider computers, and I'd head south.

The Daytona Beach area, 24 percent of companies plan to hire (compared to 13 percent nation-wide), according to a recent Manpower survey. Austin Texas and other areas of Florida and Texas are also looking good.

What types of jobs to consider? Computer work, health care work, and even a job in the gambling industry could be on the table. The Department of Labor and Statistics has released its 2016 projections for job growth in industries, and some of the numbers are enough to warm this career coach's heart

Although there are lists compiled for this year, we need years usually to train for a career. That's why I like to look at the Department of Labor projections for two years out.

All these numbers require a dose of reality. The numbers can be, well, weird, as The Atlantic does a good job pointing out.

While I don't think we should just abandon our interests and talents to follow whatever economic trends crop up, I do think we need a dose of realism to go with it. A job search without knowledge of these trends can quickly lead a job seeker to blame himself when the search drags on. If you know the reality in your area, you can avoid blaming yourself and redouble your efforts, or you can even consider keeping your human resources career afloat by targeting a computer services company on the rise.

To talk more about your career challenges, you can reach me at

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ways for At-Home Parents to Keep Skills Current

Being ambitious about working part-time and fitting another life (in my case, raising a family) is not easy, but I think technology is a key way of staying current and creating that life for ourselves.

Explore Online Training. I've got continuing ed credits to do each year to maintain my national certification as a counselor, and online training has become an easy way to tackle it. Common sources are your career's national and state associations, and private vendors recommended by those associations. Last year I did more than half of my credits online in evenings. But even if you don't have a continuing ed requirement, parents can keep a log and do the trainings on their own, so when they're headed back to work, they have documented proof of their up-to-date skills.

Can Skype serve you? I've mentioned a number of times that Skype is a way I fit work in to my days without dealing with a long commute. Now there are fitness classes by Skype. Lifehacker has more great tips on remote work and Skype.

Be a Groupie. I get mildly obsessed with certain leaders in my field who I believe are on the right track. It's my version of my own career advice to never forget your heroes. My longtime hero, John Krumboltz out of Stanford, recently released a book about failing, and I'm plowing through it during snack times. Set up Google to search automatically for your heroes in the news. Read what they have to say, and who they recommend. Follow them on Twitter, if they Tweet.

Protect Your Brain from Tech Overload. I think one of the biggest benefits of being home with my kids is all the free bandwidth my brain has. Yes, the early months of parenthood are tough, and I didn't do a lot of quality thinking on four hours of sleep a night. But if you're past that stage, a parent's day with small children can leave a lot of room for thought, room that working people don't have. The key, though, is avoiding the time-sinks of Facebook and other Web surfing. A journal is your friend here. One of those Moleskin books does it for me. The key is to capture your idea before it is drowned out by a screaming toddler, and then pursue it in the evening, when the kids are asleep. Don't worry about spacing out, it's proven to be good for your creativity!

By taking control of my career development, the panic about skill atrophy is easing up for me. I can plan for ways to develop my ideas, and who knows, I may end up someplace, professionally, I never thought I'd go.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Who Said I Wanted It All?

As I write this post, the Today Show is airing a piece on having it all, based on the Shriver Report on the subject. Balancing work and family is something we need to talk more about as a nation, so I'm looking forward to the conversation.

But I have to say this: I never wanted it all. I am not the most ambitious person, and it feels risky saying this, because I'm a career coach and I supposed to be tweeting and blogging all the time, giving inspiring speeches, wearing suits everyday. But that's not me and it never has been. I grew up suspicious of that life. I mostly work from home, through the tech miracle of Skype. My mom worked full time when I was growing up, and she was an amazing role model, but she was so..... tired. And she didn't look happy. Now she's retired and she's like a different person. It shouldn't be that way.

So like many Gen Xers, I decided to do something different when I had children, and now I'm mucking around, trying to do just that. I'm not into Leaning In. I'm not opting out. I'm just wandering around here in the middle, armed with a jogging stroller, a laptop, my to-go mug of coffee and some weird-tasting energy bars.

Here's where I think things get confused in the workplace. Ambition equals intelligence and ability for many people. If you work part time, or even if you work full-time but have to leave at 5:30 p.m. to get to the daycare center, you're seen as not quite as smart and worthy of kudos.

Primal scream, anyone? Yes? All together now (Mine has a Charlie Brown-just-missed-the-football flavor). AAAaaarrrrrrrghhhh.

And if one more person tells me to put my oxygen mask on first, I'm going to find one and strangle them with it. Single moms working full time are not avoiding self-care. They don't have a single minute to do anything but put out fires sometimes. Can we just reject the plunging plane scenario altogether? I want to be on a plane to Maui. I've got a fruity drink, and my kids have sippy cups of pineapple juice.

Okay, I'm getting off track. Bottom line? I dream of a day when there are tons of part-time jobs with benefits in every field that PAY WELL, and the people in those jobs are there for all kinds of reasons: someone likes to go heli-skiing in the winter, someone else has an aging parent they care for, a person down that row of cubicles over there is training for an Iron Man. Etc.

How do we get there? It's not going to be handed to us. We're going to need to be very ambitious about not being ambitious, if that makes any sense. Here are some people who have said all this better than me, like this and this.

The people who aren't CEOs need to start speaking up, and telling lawmakers what we need. We need reasonable maternity leave, we need more types of work options, we need on-ramps and off-ramps. We need to stop saying it's all about women, too. It's a human issue.

End rant. Hope you have a good Monday, and you're able to catch some of the conversation on this!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Getting Personal

I've been thinking about what I want this blog to be this year. Last year, I used it to track my thoughts and resources on career transition. I love finding the best resources for my clients, and blogging is a good way to force myself to be more structured with my reading.

But this year I'd like to try something different. I've been playing with the idea of getting more specific, and talking more about the career problems I'm tackling for myself personally. I hate getting personal on blogs, but lately my reading has drifted toward memoir, either in book form or on blogs, and I find I get so much from it personally. I'd like to experiment with that kind of writing myself.

So, I hope my 2.5 readers (hi guys!) can bear with me while I try something new.

I just finished Stacy London's The Truth About Style. I love this book, and recommend it completely. I picked it up because I've been reading fashion blogs in my spare time. It's a guilty pleasure, and I was curious about what drew me to it.  I've always been a What Not to Wear fan. I loved Stacy's look, but more importantly, I love her combination of toughness and caring.

London put into words what I was struggling to figure out. "Style is there for you to use, to constantly reevaluate: to see yourself differently and to feel differently. It isn't superficial and it is never just about the clothes... It represents how to gain a sense of control. With style, you can see change quickly and feel it viscerally and the belief in your own power translates into other areas of your life."

Taking control of my image is something I struggle with. I made the choice to have children, then I decided to stay home with my kids as babies, and now I've reentering the workforce part-time while my kids are still young, and people have all kinds of things to say about that. I especially struggled when I was home full-time. It truly was the most intense time of my life.

Now I contract with a firm that allows me to use Skype to work with clients, which is amazing, perfect for this stage of my life, but sometimes it's lonely too.

Recently we moved to a suburb and I've been having trouble settling in. It has been hard making friends here. I've been shut out of a clique of moms who always wear the right casual, but not too casual, sporty but not too sporty clothes. I show up at the bus stop in sweats, but not the right kind of sweats. 

Ugh, I feel so high school just admitting that. But there it is. I shouldn't care, but I do.

I recently hit an after-Christmas sale and bought a green top in a jewel tone that practically glows, and when I wear it I feel like I'm a stronger version of myself. I'm kind of fascinated by that. After all, how can I ask my clients to go into the world and take risks if I'm cowering at the bus stop while the cool parents talk about how they hang out at each others' house. 

I sometimes feel adrift. And while I don't recommend trying to shop your way to happiness, I do think that, since we have to get dressed anyway, for work, for home, we can use it as a way to strengthen ourselves when we aren't feeling all that courageous. Sometimes I want to feel emerald green.

Speaking of feeling adrift.... Another amazing read, about a fisherman who fell off his boat in the night and how he survived. Ironically, he was saved in part because his boots were not the kind of boots all the other fishermen wear. A fashion decision saved his life!

So there's my first experiment. Feel free to leave comments here, my 2.5 readers! I'd love to hear your thoughts, get conversations going in the new year.