Monday, March 16, 2009

If Tiger Woods Can Learn to Play Ping Pong, Why Can't You?


The thought of Tiger Woods not playing golf is enough to cause many fans and amateur golfers to hyperventilate. But what if one day no one wanted to pay to watch golf, and all the sponsors said they would rather start supporting ping pong? Would you advise Tiger to switch to ping pong? It would seem wrong to many who have watched Tiger's talent over the years. But then again, if there's not a living to be made in golf, why stick with it?

But what in the world will Tiger do? He's been playing for so many years and has so many contacts within the golfing world, can he make the transition to ping pong? Well, some ping pong coaches might say that Tiger is too old to learn a new skill. At the same time, there might be doubt that his age is beginning to take a toll, as evidenced by his recent surgery and rehab. But those who know Tiger might just say that he's got plenty of juice left, and he can learn a new skill and be great at it. Even ping pong.

That's the case for many facing career transitions today. Maybe they aren't pro golfers, but they have been good -- great -- at their jobs. Auto workers, mortgage brokers and even journalists are having to take a hard look at what else they can do, but believe they could be great at something else.

But for many of them, this mid-career job switch is daunting, if not outright paralyzing.

Recently I interviewed Alan Brown, a DHL pilot for 20 years. He agreed that many of those more experienced workers facing layoffs are not facing up to the harsh reality of today's economy.

“I’m 52. I’m a realist and a survivor. But it’s not realistic to think I can keep being a pilot, not with all the layoffs and the thousands of pilots that are already out of work,” Brown says. “I have to find another career.”

But Brown doesn’t hear of similar conversations among co-workers.

“I gotta tell you I’ve been flabbergasted that people (at work) are just sitting around waiting for the shoe to drop,” Brown says. “I think they’re in panic mode. They’re not doing anything right now. “

That’s a scenario familiar to Walter Akana, an Atlanta career coach who specializes in mid-career changes.

“I see a lot of people who are like deer caught in the headlights,” Akana says. “There’s a lot of fear about not knowing what to do, especially for the people who are mid-career. They’re a very hard group to motivate, but they probably need it the most.”

Brown, of Goshen, Ohio, says that he decided when things turned bad for his company to pursue a second love: computers. He says that he is “excited” about the possibilities of becoming a web designer, and has been taking classes through lynda.com, an online training and education site, and his local vocational technical school. He soon hopes to achieve his certified Internet web (CIW) professional certification.

“I’m not a techno-genius, and I’m not a computer engineer,” he says. “But I think with my life experiences and my maturity, I think I’m being realistic when I say I know I can make a new career in this field. I’m determined.”

Still, letting go of a career he loved for decades has not been easy for Brown, who admits that he has tough “moments” when he considers how his life has changed.

“It has been a sour pill to swallow,” he says. “But I believe we each have to discover and decide, realistically, what our purpose, talents and abilities are. Then it is up to each of us on how to act on those discoveries and become what we can.”

Akana says many laid off mid-career workers need to have the heart-to-heart talk with themselves that Brown has had, and to realistically examine how they can go about changing careers.

“I think this age group is more scared than any other,” Akana says. “So many of them are in a state of denial.”

Akana says that there are solid steps any mid-career worker can take to not only help ease them into the idea of changing careers, but to discover what other jobs they are capable of doing. He suggests:

1. Determining what has driven success. “Do a real thorough career evaluation and look at your personal branding,” he says. For example, ask yourself:. What are your values? What has made you successful to this point? What are your achievements? What are you good at? What are you most proud of? What did you do to reach your success?
2. Assess your strength. “Where do your skills and your passion and your values overlap? For example, if you sell insurance, it’s not about selling insurance. It’s about your ability to build relationships,” he says. “That’s what you’re good at and you like doing.”
3. If you could solve one problem, what would it be? While Akana calls this the “Miss America question” he says it’s designed to make people look beyond the obvious answer such as of “bringing world peace” and instead think about what one lesson they would like to teach the world. While admitedly a difficult part of the mid-career exercise, Akana says that finding the vision for your life helps you find the job that is right for you.
4. Avoid dead-ends. If you’re in the mortgage industry, then you know trying to find another job in that field isn’t a viable choice. But you can tranfer those skills – attention to detail, working well with people, negotiation, etc., into other growing fields. For example, Brown says that while he can dig a ditch or drive a tractor or even fix a leaky faucet, he found that his love of technology and the other skills he used as a pilot have helped him make a smooth transition into learning to be a web designer. (Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to see where industry growth and jobs are expected.)
5. Be open. Akana says it’s a smart strategy to use personal passions and hobbies to transition into new careers, and also advises volunteering in a field that interests you as a way to gain insight and experience – and contacts – for a new career.

Brown says he’s excited about the new possibilities in his life. “I keep telling myself and others that losing my job and, or career, could possibly be one of the best things that ever happened to me, or us,” he says.

And, who knows, you might just love ping pong.


What are some other suggestions for mid-career job seekers?



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Monday, December 15, 2008

Can Losing a Job Save Your Life?


Would you do your job if you didn't get paid?

If you burst out laughing after reading this question, then this column is for you. If you've broken into tears at the question, this post is for you. If your stomach cramps and your vision starts to blur, this is definitely for you.

This post is for all of you who can't imagine who or what you'd be without your job, but you do know that the word "love" or "passion" has never entered your consciousness when you talk about what you do for a living.

It was much the same story for Kathy Caprino. As a corporate vice president with a high powered job, she thought she had it all: security, money, prestige. She had done what she was supposed to do, and achieved the desired status symbols of a nice office, people at her beck and call and a new home.

Then 9/11 happened and a week later, Caprino was laid off. While she did tell her husband the news, somehow the reality didn't connect with Caprino. For a week after her layoff, she arose each morning, put on her business suit, got in her car -- and drove around each day.

"It's so demoralizing to be laid off," she says. "You're stripped on any kind of self-esteem."

Finally, Caprino was forced to deal with her layoff, and she found herself in therapy "weeping."

"I hated who I had become," she says.

Who Caprino had become was someone who suffered chronic health problems, a stressed, desperately unhappy woman who felt trapped by her job and everything that went along with it. As a middle-aged woman who was the primary breadwinner, Caprino had never thought of doing anything else until she was forced into it with the layoff.

That, Caprino says, is when she discovered that even though she was middle-aged, she could "choose the next chapter."

It's that message that Caprino hopes many people -- especially mid-life professional women -- will hear during these tough times when they may lose their jobs.

"My prayer is that this (job loss) is a wake-up call. When something bad happens, it's time to assess whether you're really aligned with it," she says. "Don't make the mistake of glomming onto the first thing that comes along. Step back. Approach it from an empowered position."

Caprino, who went back to school and has become a therapist and executive coach, says that she has some words of advice (also available in her book, "Breakdown, Breakthrough") for those faced with job loss:

1. Believe you can move forward. Find someone -- a coach, therapist, etc. -- who won't feed your fears, but will help you believe that you can create a new place for yourself. Caprino does say that one coach, whom she paid $800, said that she was in the "perfect" job. "I wanted to stab myself in the eye," Caprino says. "But I recognized that he was as stuck (in his thinking) as I was. It was a friend who said to me: 'I love you dearly, but you're always unhappy.' That's when I knew I had to change."

2. Let go of the beliefs, actions and thoughts that keep you small. Just because you're not 20 anymore doesn't mean you don't have dreams and goals. Look deep inside yourself and think of what else you'd like to do. "Don't assume that a certain job is your role and nothing else. Don't over identify yourself with a job."

3. Say "yes" to honoring yourself. "Don't believe someone else has the power. You have the wherewithal to make your dreams come true."

Are there are other ways someone can find a job they love?


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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How to Get the Boss To Listen to You



Do you sometimes think you've become the invisible employee? Do you think the only way your boss might pay attention to you is if you were holding a phone and saying: "I've got Oprah on the line for you!"

You're not alone. Many people have felt ignored by their managers, but they are really beginning to fret more about it these days because they fear that "out of mind" may mean "out of a job" if layoffs hit their workplace.

Unfortunately, some employees go about getting attention in the wrong way. They begin to slack, believing that if the boss doesn't pay any attention to them, what does it matter what they do? Or, they may believe the boss's inattention gives them license to sort of "creatively" handle their job, which can mean anything from illegal acts to taking advantage of other workers.

I once interviewed James E. Lukaszewski, one of those super management gurus, and he had some great advice for finding a way to get yourself heard by the boss. In what called the "three-minute drill" he said that you had to really hone your message, to practice and to do your homework so that when you spoke to the boss, she listened just like you really did have Oprah on the line.

He suggested that you write out your three-minute pitch (or about 450 words) to the boss. It should go something like this:

* In 60 words, describe the nature of the issue, problem or situation that requires decision, action or study by the boss. What you're saying is: "Hey, boss, this situation requires your attention and we've got to talk about it right now."

* Lay out for the boss what it all means. Is it a threat from a competitor? Is it an opportunity to grow the business? Let the boss know WHY is all matters. Again, keep it to about 60 words.

* Say what needs to be done in 60 words.

* Give three options: do nothing, do something or do something more. Giving multiple options is what helps you keep the boss's attention, instead of her just tossing you out when she doesn't like your recommendation. This should be about 150 words.

* Once you give the options, then you need to be prepared to give your recommendation on which one to choose. Being prepared to give an immediate answer keeps her focused on you and your solutions. Hint: Give the one that has the least negative consequences. Total: 60 words.

* Forecast what you think will happen, both the positive and the negative, if any. The boss needs to understand -- in 60 words -- the consequences.

What are other strategies you can use to become more "visible" to the boss?

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