Nov 16

Make Yourself Great Again

2 Comments / Featured, Personal Growth

Trying times are times for trying

I would like to avoid a political argument while also telling you that I was very excited to vote for Hilary Clinton. We’ll see in the comments if that’s possible. Before I went home on election night, I bounced through the grocery store, filling my basket with celebratory treats as I patted myself on the back for electing our first female president. What an exciting time!

But when I got home and turned on the news, I binged on sushi and sorbet in stress instead of celebration. Configuring the remaining paths to victory with each state that went to Trump, I made some bad choices: I judged people I did not know based on their decision to vote for someone I disagreed with. I blamed them and their poor judgement for the story that was unfolding on my television screen.

I and many others spent a few emotional days wondering how we could have been so wrong. I realized that this issue was deeper than being right could ever fix.

We reduced people down to their candidate of choice, stereotyped them based on that candidate’s flaws, justified hatred (verbal or otherwise) and fear based on those stereotypes, and segregated ourselves more deeply than ever based on those emotions. As a country, we decided that we wanted change, and we were going to get it by doing nothing  almost half of the country didn’t even vote  or by tearing others down. The election brought out the worst in us.

Actually, to put it that way makes us sound like a bunch of victims, which is far from accurate. The election did not happen to us. Even if you did not vote, you most likely participated in the ruthless dialogue, fed into the clickbait culture that drives media to publish pandering articles, or practiced a deep denial about your ability to make a difference.

Here is what I think hasn’t been said enough: You have a choice that’s even more important than the ones on your ballot. You have to choose what kind of person you are going to be and how you are going to treat the people around you.

I could blame any number of people for the insanity that has swept over the course of the election cycle, but:

  • Blaming is a choice.
  • Closing your mind to another viewpoint is a choice.
  • Hating is a choice.
  • Doing nothing is a choice.

This election brought out the worst in us because we let it. We are capable of making better choices.

Gandhi wisely said, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” but I highly doubt that these choices reflect the world we want to live in. And if we believe the president can change the world, then so can each and every individual. For that reason, I want to use this moment in our nation’s history to help me better represent my values and vision for change. So, here are the lessons I’ll be taking with me into the next four years and beyond. It’s not an exhaustive list for becoming a better person, but it does represent the biggest changes I will be making as a result of recent events.

Three Credos for Making Yourself Great Again

 

1. You can only change the world if you participate in it.

Opinions are cheap and plentiful; they shouldn’t be the only currency we offer. When I watched my candidate lose, I felt an unexpected sense of personal responsibility in that. I voted and had some conversations with my loved ones, but that was the very least I could do to participate in democracy.

Many people have expressed the desire to change the process of elections in the U.S., but I don’t believe that can truly happen until more citizens are actively engaged in that process themselves. To that end, I will be actively seeking opportunities to volunteer for candidates I believe in. When elections aren’t going on, I will support the causes that I matter most to me.

If you’d also like to be a more active citizen, learn about volunteer opportunities with the government  or other organizations in your area.

2. To make better decisions, ask better questions.

I’m not trying to make excuses for a candidate when I say that if you look hard enough, you can usually find a reason not to like someone. This is especially true in the Information Age, when the Internet is big enough for anyone to publish anything, and our demand for information is more voracious than ever. We want it in 140-character tweets, photo galleries, hour-long news shows, and memes full of so much venom we’re too poisoned by groupthink to fact check. But irrelevant, biased, or incorrect information does not improve your skill at making important decisions.

We have to accept that journalistic integrity isn’t dead, but it’s sure not mandatory. The media doesn’t just exist to provide you with inarguable facts. They cater to their audience, and maybe even more to their advertisers. They optimize their content based on what will get your attention. It’s your job to decide what you believe, and you’re selling yourself short if you don’t do a little research. Statistics can be manipulated, scientific studies can be paid for, and quotes can be taken out of context. No one is likely to have a universally right answer, but if we ask better questions we can make better decisions.

When I find data that resonates with me, I will do a better job of vetting it. I will encourage others to do the same. I hope you will too.

3. Move forward with vision, not division.

When you take a stand  any stand  there will always be someone who opposes it. Their reasons aren’t always logical or fair, either.

Some people hate Hillary Clinton. Some people hate Donald Trump. Weirdly, our election became an argument about who we hate less. Just as often as we weighed their approach to policy, we critiqued their appearance and mocked them for things that ultimately had little to do with their ability to run the country. But they both persevered through our most malicious election to date. There’s something to be said for that.

If you are passionate about your goals, let that drive you forward. Not everyone will like you, and not everyone will be mature enough to separate that from their professional relationship with you. If you continue to think bigger than petty personal disputes, you’re likely to rise above them much faster.

This is something that causes me hardship. I want to be liked. I’m sure everyone does. But when I am unable to communicate with someone, I tend to take it as a personal failure. I want to work harder on practicing grace when facing resistance. The first step is reframing my perception to focus on the goal instead of the tension I may experience while reaching it. Often, I want the same things as the people sitting on the opposite side of the table. Keeping our shared mission in mind will probably get me a lot farther in the long run.

 

I hope that we can all take a look in ourselves and grow from this very divisive experience. A president alone will not determine the fate of our country. We must all take responsibility for our role in ensuring a bright future and living up to our potential.

Has this election helped you grow as a person? Tell your story in the comments.

 

Aug 28

Why I’m Proud to Be Unemployed

2 Comments / Career, Featured

You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life. Oh, I know it doesn't feel like that. You feel like a big fat failure now. But you're not. You are marching into the unknown armed with ... nothing. - Birdie Conrad, "You've Got Mail"

I have watched enough episodes of “Project Runway” to know that playing it safe isn’t the best strategy for fulfillment or success, but safe is definitely the way I’ve played my cards in life. I saved my money, I got perfect grades, and I took every responsibility I could get my hands on. But these protective measures never brought me happiness, probably because I mistook them for guarantees. In fact, the compulsive pursuit of safety fed my anxiety and sense of entitlement.

I unflinchingly believed that if I did everything right, my merits would be rewarded with jobs and promotions. But after being dropped into the working world mid-recession, I quickly realized that the hard work I put into building a ladder wouldn’t necessarily mean I’d get to climb it.

I stayed in jobs, relationships and situations much longer than I should have. I was biding my time, stocking away money and experience like nuts for winter, uncertain if my next step would be forward or down from where I stood. It took me years to see that when I did this, I was actually betting on disaster instead of myself. I was betting that I wasn’t enough. The disappointment I felt made me question if the safe way really was the right way.

I felt smart for making conservative choices, but I felt my best when I was taking a leap. When I left lackluster relationships, I discovered a greater sense of self. When I listened to my gut and changed majors in school, I was energized and motivated. When I finally moved to Seattle, it felt like I was coming home for the first time. In every instance, letting go was more of a gain than a loss.

Knowing this, I still made a lot of excuses for not taking the same initiative in my career. I was still waiting for some mentor to find me, or for some recruiter to reach out. I was waiting for someone to do the heavy lifting because I didn’t believe in my talents enough to do it myself. Until now.

I’m done betting on disaster. Bank account be damned. Everything be damned.

I left my stable job of five years, not because I hated it, but because my next leap forward is way overdue. It’s time for me to believe in myself professionally. I am my mentor. I am my recruiter. I am my cheerleader.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect: This weekend is my 10-year high school reunion. Although I won’t be in attendance, it’s an interesting time to publicly announce that I’m proudly unemployed! I don’t think many people would be as happy as I am to say it, but I wear it like a badge of honor. “Unemployed” isn’t a dirty word, just like “single” isn’t a dirty word. It doesn’t mean I’m unwanted or unremarkable. It’s a state of freedom and opportunity. I get to play the field and find a position that’s right for me.

As a 17-year-old sitting on the auditorium stage for my high school graduation, I had no idea what my future might look like. I never thought that I’d be 27, sitting on the couch writing a blog post about my unemployment in the middle of the afternoon on a Friday. But I never thought I’d get to sing at Carnegie Hall, move to Seattle, or be the editor of a magazine, either.

By letting go of my job, I’m daring to believe that there is something better waiting for me in the vast unknown. I’m proud of that. I still have no idea what the future holds, but I’m not so afraid anymore. I know that my dreams are an option in all that uncertainty. I know that whatever happens, that option is still out there.

I have spoken to too many people who have let security infringe on their confidence. Many of you have messaged me about your careers because you’re feeling stuck. If my story resonates with you, maybe it’s time for you to take a leap! You don’t have to quit your job, necessarily. Find someone with your dream job and get coffee with them. Get an informational meeting with a recruiter from your dream company. Throw yourself into a networking group. Invest in that certification you’ve been eyeing. Whether your leap is akin to base-jumping or hopping over a puddle, your strides made a difference.

Now that I’m a full-time job seeker, I’ll have more time to share what I’ve learned on the upward spiral. I’m so excited to help you make those scary, amazing leaps into the life you have been dreaming of.

If you’ve made a leap in your life recently, share it in the comments below!

 

May 11

Results Aren’t Everything

1 Comment / Career, Featured, Personal Growth

The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried. - Stephen McCranie

Common sense is a funny thing. You hear the same trite sayings for your entire life, and they never quite sink in until some situation smacks you around and uncovers the deeper wisdom. I can’t tell you how many times I rolled my eyes when someone wrote off a situation with some hand-me-down proverb. My personal favorite was when someone tried to remind me that winning isn’t everything. I couldn’t scoff loud enough.

I worked hard in school to get straight A’s; I practiced tirelessly to be first-chair clarinet. I came out of school as one of the best in my class and my department, and I was praised for those results. In the instances when I failed along the way, it wasn’t met with a “nice try” attitude, so I didn’t see the importance of the process — just the results. Winning was everything.

As a music student, this had a crippling effect. I didn’t want anyone to hear me make mistakes, so I would go out of my way to visit the practice rooms late at night or I would merely finger along to the music without making sound. I was unequipped to handle the criticism during the process, because I only wanted people to see me as the winner who got it right. As a writer, I cringed at the thought of anyone reading my work because I never felt like it was finished. It could always be better, and as long as I felt that way, my work wasn’t ready to be seen.

I labored under the fallacy that my progress didn’t matter if I didn’t get things right. 

It wasn’t until a friend shared her story on Facebook that I had my revelation:

During a session at the gym, my friend was approached by a woman she did not know, who simply said she was inspirational. My friend was almost offended. Feeling far from inspirational, she figured there had to be some kind of backhanded compliment in her comment. Of course she realized she was probably being hard on herself, but that internal dialogue was still happening. She was doing something great by making the choice to work on her fitness, but because she hadn’t crossed her own personal finish line, she didn’t feel like she had the right to inspire anyone.

Seeing it as an outsider, I was suddenly so aware of how I had been convincing myself of the same thing for years — it was exhausting, not to mention hypocritical.

I sympathize with that girl in the gym: It is anonymous, everyday people who inspire me most. I admire the people working hard in the gym. I admire the people who spend extra time attending networking events and seminars. I admire the people on the street who perform selfless acts of kindness. I admire the musicians, writers and artists who committ to practicing their craft every day. I admire people who try, mostly because they do more than imagine; they take action. Oddly enough, I am even motivated when people stumble along the path, because I see myself in them. We are all imperfect, and we are all just trying.

I do not write this blog because I think I am the best, or because I have the answers. This and every post I write is my personal attempt to pursue a better life. Maybe someone will see me as the equivalent of my friend on the treadmill, working tirelessly toward her goals, inspiring a stranger who is looking for a little support. The truth is that we don’t have to be perfect to inspire someone. We don’t have to be the best, or even good. We just have to keep putting our whole selves into what we believe.

I believe that I can be better. Not all of my attempts will end in success, but I will achieve so much less in life if I wait until I’m “ready.”

If you have been dreaming about something, start figuring out how to make it happen. Get on the metaphorical treadmil. Try, and don’t be afraid to show people what you’re up to. You never know when someone will be able to help you, or when someone will be inspired by what you’re doing. Even the most brilliant minds in history have failed, but we know about them today because they didn’t allow that failure to mark the end of their efforts.

Apr 3

Give Your Career an Annual Checkup

4 Comments / Career, Featured

carl-bard-quote

In healthy relationships, you don’t wait around for someone else to validate or complete you. Likewise, a healthy career can blossom once you accept that your employer is not solely responsible for your professional development. Cultivating your knowledge and talent is a DIY pursuit that you should take on yourself if you want to get ahead.

I know that when I first entered the working world, eager but naive, I believed that if I simply did my job well, someone would notice, and there would be some opportunity to work my way upward. Over the course of a few years, I was bored, underutilized, and disappointed that no one had bothered to challenge me or encourage me to develop a new skillset. It wasn’t until I started freelancing that I felt the sense of empowerment to decide what I wanted to do, then find a way to start doing it. Without the confines of a company, I could explore without asking permission.

But I don’t think you need to be a freelancer to move forward in your career. After applying some of my freelancing lessons to my full-time job, I realized just how easy it is to be your own carreer coach. All you need is a web browser to complete a career audit that will show you a clear path between where you stand and the job of your dreams. Whether you’re on the job hunt or not, the career audit can help you stay current and keep your larger goals in sight. It can also be a great tool to help you realize which skills and knowledge you can leverage for a raise or promotion at your current place of work.

WHAT IS A CAREER AUDIT?

A career audit is like a competitive analysis that allows you to learn more about the job you have or want. It’s a tool designed to help you identify your areas of expertise and opportunities for growth. You’ll find out where you stand compared to experts in your area and the expectations of hiring companies.

Too often, people wait until they start job hunting to think about what companies want and need in a candidate. Taking advantage of this easy process on a regular basis can help you pursue those qualifications proactively, making you an ideal candidate once you’re ready to strike!

GET AHEAD OF YOURSELF

A career audit is a time to think about where you want to be in the long run. No one wants to put a ton of work into a lateral move, so dream big! You have nothing to lose! It’s easy to get stuck thinking about the little things that would make you better at the job you have now or bump you up to the next rung, but the purpose of a career audit is to identify your big picture goal and draw a path from it to where you are here and now.

If you already have the job you want, this might be a great opportunity to figure out how to position yourself as a leader in the field or move into a position with your dream employer.

For me, I had a general idea of the kind of work I was interested in, but I was pulled in too many directions to claim an interest in any one career path. When I did this audit, I finally found the exact jobs I wanted to work toward, and that alone has recalibrated all of my professional development efforts in a very specific direction.

7 STEPS TO A CLEARER PATH

At the end of your career audit, you’ll have three useful documents that you can reference throughout the course of your professional development efforts: an archive of related job openings in your area, a collection of LinkedIn profiles from successful professionals in your chosen field, and an organizer that connects the dots between what the strengths you already have and the things you need to work on. I recommend completing these steps at least once a year, but I search weekly for postings and profiles that give me new clues and ideas.

  1. Make a list of job titles you are interested in. Often, there are variations in how people refer to the same position. If you haven’t narrowed it down to specific titles, make a list of the key responsibilities you are looking for. As you search, take down the titles of jobs that fit these requirements.
  2. Visit job sites and search for your desired position. If you’re in the early stages of career discovery, general sites like Craigslist, Indeed or Monster will be useful since they will yield the largest number of results. Once you know what title you want, you might have better luck on industry-specific job boards, professional association websites, or LinkedIn.
  3. Take note of what companies are hiring in your area, what type and size company they are, and how many listings appear for this position.
  4. Copy relevant job listings into a document. The more listings, the better.
  5. Search for leaders in your field, especially local ones, and copy their LinkedIn profiles or other professional information into a document. Again, the more, the better.
  6. Using the organizer below, make lists of the skills, knowledge, experience and personal characteristics described in your archive of job listings and leader profiles.
  7. Highlight the most mentioned items and use those as the basis for your course of professional development.

View and Download the Career Audit Organizer Here

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

My hope is that the career audit will help you break down your career goal into more manageable steps. Or, if you aren’t sure what you want your dream job is, I hope this helps you gain some insight about how to leverage the skills you have into something new. Once you have filled out this chart and completed your audit, you’ll likely have a strong sense of what you need to work on next. With so many resources at your disposal — freelancing, online education, internships, books, schools, professional communities and mentors — there are more ways than ever to check any deficiencies right off your list.

Comment below to tell me about your dream job and what you learned from the career audit!

Jan 3

Building 2015

No Comments / Building Relationships, Career, Featured, Lifestyle & Health, Personal Growth

The Future Depends on What You Do Today

Last year around this time, I talked about setting intentional New Year’s resolutions. My goal was to explore in 2014, and it turned out to be a great point of focus. I have explored new relationships, many health and lifestyle changes, and found a new home in Seattle. I also found a better sense of direction for my career! It was a year full of friendship, beauty and change. Honestly, I can’t believe it’s over already.

The point of last year was to learn more about myself. A year of studying my spending habits, professional ambitions, relationships, and hang ups has helped me find some guide posts in the vastness of my own little universe. Finally, I feel ready to shift out of an idle, analytical mindset into fully strategized action.

2015 is the year of building.

Building requires a structured plan and a solid foundation, which I have spent the last year cultivating. Resolutions and habits stick best when there is a meaningful “why” behind them. My year of exploration deciphered the blueprint for action, so the next step is making it come to life. Even before laying a single brick in this plan, I feel deeply satisfied to have a clear direction. I’m also excited to see my resolutions play out like chapters in my life.

Looking at my last resolution in hindsight, I think I could have done a better job making sure that I spent my time in ways that served the idea of exploration. This year, I have a tool to help me do just that: The Passion Planner.

Due to the West Coast labor strike, the arrival of my Passion Planner has been delayed, but I am so excited to incorporate this amazing tool into my life! Creator Angelia Trinidad wanted to develop a planner that did more than help people organize their time — she wanted to empower them to organize their lives and live their dreams! The Passion Planner includes elements of life coaching, journaling, brainstorming and the traditional planner to help incorporate your dreams and passions  into your daily life. Finally, there’s a planner with an eye on the bigger picture.

What am I planning to build in 2015?

  • Financial Freedom: save for a trip to Europe in 2016, save to purchase property down the road, get debt-free
  • Professional Prowess: develop selected skills, join 2 professional networks, complete 20 hours of relevant volunteer work
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Run a 5k, go gluten and dairy free for 30 consecutive days, develop key cooking skills, complete 10 challenging hikes
  • Rewarding Relationships: develop new friendships, maintain a small and select social circle, embrace long distance friendships, create new traditions

I realize that I’m asking a lot of myself this year, but I believe that I can accomplish most of these things without too much strain. The biggest challenge will be singling out the core group of professional skills I’d like to focus on. When there are so many interesting things to learn, I think it would be easy for me to bob around the surface level of a lot of skills before diving in the way I want.

When I thought about the things I wanted to accomplish in 2015, finding the right word for my one-word resolution was easy. Now the hard work begins, breaking these many goals down in to monthly, weekly and daily actions that help me keep moving forward, inch by inch.

I can’t wait to share more details about how my resolution translates from lofty ideas into my daily life. I hope you are as energized as I am to make this year the best yet!

Nov 26

Are You Giving Your Thanks This Thanksgiving?

No Comments / Building Relationships

feeling-gratitude

2014 marks the first Thanksgiving that I will be away from my family. Every year before had been celebrated with the extended Laabs clan, clamoring around a table full of edible traditions. We’d watch the Detroit Lions lose before devouring our favorite treats, ending the night with the first Christmas carols in of the season. As kids, all of us cousins would pull out our instruments and arrange a little concert. Older now, our instruments of choice are our vocal cords, primed liberally with alcohol.

I consider myself very lucky for having those many years together, but the distance from my family is already giving me a new perspective on Thanksgiving. In those many years, I was so focused on shoving my face with my grandma’s pumpkin pie, so busy receiving that I forgot to give thanks.

I’m not talking about saying “thank you.” Gratitude and thanks are meant to be given to others, and if it’s truly sincere, it is an expression that comes with weight. The debt of gratitude is heavy.

On many blogs, I’ve seen it suggested to keep a gratitude journal, where you take a few moments out of your day to write down five things you’re grateful for. It seems like a good idea, but it never stuck with me. I couldn’t figure out why until I realized that writing it down wasn’t enough: Giving thanks is a social act.

Our words have power that shouldn’t be wasted in a private notebook. Instead of writing down a short list that you’ll forget by the end of the day, start a meaningful conversation with someone who has made your life better by being in it. Tell them what you notice about them, and why you are so grateful for it. Let them know that they have made a difference. The purpose of your gratitude isn’t to make you happy, it is to lift others up.

I realize that you’re probably not going to sit down on Thanksgiving Day and write a bunch of long letters to people, and that’s okay, because this isn’t meant to be a holiday-specific activity. I hope that Thanksgiving can serve as a realignment that helps us put giving back in the forefront of our lives.

When someone from the past pops into my head, I don’t just think about them or what they did or who they are, I reach out. I have been sending some rather lengthy messages to people, just communicating my gratitude for who they are and the influence they had on my life. I don’t want or expect anything in return, but the truth is that the expression of my gratitude has already repaid me with far more joy than I ever got from a journal.

Most of the time, we are completely unaware of the effect we have on others. I know that I have just gone on living my life, not realizing that someone else was motivated by my actions. When people in my life have shared their appreciation for something I did or said, their words were tremendously influential and empowering. We can all empower people by helping them see what we see. At the expense of a little time, we can change someone’s day or even their life by being that little ray of sunshine that cuts through lonelines or negative self-talk. Giving our thanks to others is free, but also priceless.

What a special gift to give! I hope that wherever you are this Thanksgiving, you remember to really give your thanks to those who deserve it.

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