You Always Have a Choice

Negativity or Opportunity?
Sketched by me and edited with Picsart.

It was a Sunday afternoon and my husband and I were driving home from visiting friends in Philadelphia for the weekend. Normally the chatty Cathy on long trips (or really, any situation), he was uncharacteristically quiet.

After some prodding, he confessed that he was stressed about work.

He explained that it had been a particularly stressful few weeks due to a client who was unhappy for reasons that were both in- and out- of his control. While the situation seemed heavily weighted by factors he could do nothing about, he seemed to be shouldering 95% of the blame for the client’s discontent.

He was starting to question his ability to effectively lead his team. He said he felt like a fraud.

What’s the Problem?

Google, “hypothesis,” and this is what you’ll find:

A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.

Saying or thinking you’re a fraud based on one experience is nothing more than a hypothesis—an unproven statement based on limited evidence.

Our conversation made me think about how many times I’ve had the same thoughts and doubts myself, usually in relation to one event or one particular experience—a kind of cognitive bias that limits our perception to the most recent events without accounting for past experiences.

One crappy, frustrating and challenging experience doesn’t negate all of your prior accomplishments. What it does is present an opportunity to learn something about yourself.

Reflect, Empathize and Listen

Start with past experiences. Recount the times that you did something really well or did something that made you proud. I’m not suggesting that you become a relentless optimist, but when your inner critic won’t seem to let up, it helps get your head back on a more positive plane.

Take a minute to reflect. How much of what you’re feeling is rooted in truth and what’s fiction? Now that you’re in a more positive headspace, it’s a better time to revisit the problem and determine what parts of it you own and what you could have done better. Try to approach this phase without judgement and without dwelling on any one factor; just make some observations and move on.

Empathize. If you’re really challenged to be objective about a situation or experience, try to put yourself in the other parties’ shoes. Current case in point—if you were the client, what would need to happen to turn the situation around for you? Even if the answer isn’t realistic or doable, understanding someone else’s needs and emotions can help you approach them from a sympathetic versus adversarial stance.

Seek genuine feedback and don’t get butt-hurt (yes, I went there) if you hear something you don’t agree with. It’s not a personal attack, it’s an opportunity for growth (they’re called “growing pains” for a reason). And don’t choose people who you know will tell you what you want to hear or who will be too timid to be forthcoming with you. Ask someone you trust, who will be honest (and direct), and who has both your best interest and their own at heart.

Everything Is a Choice

How you respond to setbacks and obstacles is your choice. You can allow them to cripple you and create an internal bias about your own abilities. Or, you can take a step back and look at them through an objective lens. Maybe that means you find a weakness within yourself, but you can’t fix what you don’t know to be broken.

Failure, like success, is a choice. Whether you give up or put your head down and dig your heels in is up to you.

If You Know Your Worth, Why Do You Discount It?

Know Your Worth

I was recently concluding a phone interview when the interviewer asked, “before I let you go, can I ask what your desired salary range is?”

First, let me just say that while common, asking for someone’s salary range right off the bat is a major pet peeve of mine. She immediately apologized before I could answer, explaining that she realized it’s a sensitive topic with some people but the company doesn’t want to waste time pursuing someone only to find out that they can’t meet the candidate’s salary requirements.

I’ve heard this excuse before and it has never made complete sense to me. It’s understandable, sure, but if you’re so concerned about investing too much time in someone you can’t afford, why not include the range you are comfortable with paying when you post the position?

To me, the hiring process is a lot like playing Texas Hold’em—there’s a lot bluffing, holding cards close to the chest, and looking for “tells” or weaknesses that you can exploit in your opponent. I think the reason companies aren’t transparent about what they would potentially pay someone for a specific role is that there’s a chance the ideal candidate would be willing to work for much less.

Which brings me to my response—the figure I tossed out before really thinking about what I was saying was $5-$10k less than I currently (or most recently) made. After which I went on to add, “of course that range is negotiable depending upon the overall benefits package available.” As soon as it left my mouth, I regretted it.

The interviewer sounded pleasantly surprised. “That’s exactly where we’re looking to go with this position. To be honest, I’ve had people throw figures at me that were 3x that amount.”

(Likely) Reasons You Discount Your Worth:

If you knowingly accept less than you think you deserve or know in your gut that you’ve misrepresented your value, it is a pretty crappy feeling. And what’s worse is that once it happens it is often difficult to recover any lost ground. Using my experience as a “teachable moment,” I’ve been considering some of the reasons why I and people in general tend to discount their worth to avoid making the mistake again.

 1) You Lack Confidence

If you’re approaching a new experience or opportunity and feel uncertain about it, is it a nervous uncertainty or an excited one?

Lacking confidence in your ability to succeed at something that you’ve never attempted before is to be expected. If every goal, job, task, or project felt like a total layup, then what’s the point?

This is a situation where I believe the saying, “fake it until you make it,” applies. You might have three quarters of the skill and experience to tackle the assignment, but there’s that remaining quarter that presents an unknown risk.

It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you never attempt new experiences for fear of failure, you start to believe that you are incapable of those things because you have no evidence to show otherwise. If you fail at least you learned something in the process—either that it wasn’t meant for you or you need to approach it differently next time.

 2) You’re Afraid of Scaring Someone or Something Away

If you feel compelled to discount your self-worth to keep from scaring a person (i.e. a relationship) or a potential job offer away, that should be a sign that it’s not a relationship worth pursuing. If a person or an employer isn’t willing to recognize your value, it will be very difficult to maintain your self-respect, let alone any mutual respect.

When I worked in marketing for an architecture and engineering firm, the practice of intentionally low bidding to win work was rampant. In an extremely competitive industry, clients expected the best of both worlds—highly competent and qualified firms at the lowest price possible. There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t hear someone complain that the industry had become commoditized, but who was to blame for that? If you consistently discount your worth it makes it extremely difficult to eventually ask for full value when you’re already doing the work for fraction of what your services actually cost.

 3) You Don’t Think You Deserve It

This one is pretty simple—if you don’t think you deserve something, how can you convince anyone else that you do?  I’m not trying to sound flippant but you have no place feeling undervalued if you can’t define what your value is or how to demonstrate it to others.

I once received a job offer where the salary was so low, I was literally rendered speechless. Instead of immediately rejecting their offer (like my gut had wanted me to), I responded a few days later with a counter offer that described the experience and skills that I could bring to the position and what I thought was a more appropriate level of compensation for them to consider. I hit “send” on that email knowing that I could very likely get a “no” in response and I was OK with that, because I knew I would never be OK with working for nothing.

I chalked my most recent experience up to not wanting to scare a potential employer away if my number didn’t match what they had in mind. Thinking back on it, I wish I had the courage I’ve had in the past to be forthcoming about what I want and not be afraid to ask for it.

If you’ve made this mistake before, how did you recover from it? What did you take away from the experience?

 

 

Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Personality

Direction Map - Heart or Head

When you’re in the gap that exists between jobs (whether that was by your choice or your employer’s), you have one of two goals—to find whatever employment that will have you, or use this precious time to find something that will help you avoid being in this unpleasant situation again.

The week I left my job I think I was still navigating the shock of having actually gone through with it. I was also overwhelmed with all of the tasks I wanted to accomplish and figuring out a logical order for where to begin proved more difficult than I had anticipated. First and foremost, I knew that if I wanted to be successful in my job search, I needed to define my ideal position. Telling myself that I just wanted something that didn’t make me miserable wasn’t going to help me find that.

A logical first step in this process was taking the time to consider all of the elements of my previous jobs that I enjoyed and did not enjoy. This provided some clarity, but not as much as I had hoped. I knew I wanted something that provided more autonomy, opportunities for growth, and a sense of meaning. These are all great qualities to look for in a company or organization, but they’re pretty generic and don’t help with identifying a particular role.

Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose

All of this reflection led to thinking about motivation and a class I had in graduate school. During one particular Organizational Behavior class, we watched this video of Daniel Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, explaining how mastery, autonomy and purpose were key factors of intrinsic motivation.

The acronym MAP (mastery, autonomy, purpose) has stayed with me for the three years since I sat in that classroom and has served as a measuring stick for my career satisfaction. Every time I reflect upon what was missing from a particular job, it has always related to a lack of mastery, autonomy, or purpose. If you don’t have time to watch the video, the takeaway is that motivating people with financial rewards doesn’t work and science has repeatedly proven it. As Pink so eloquently notes, “humans are not smaller, better smelling horses.” So it only makes sense that we shouldn’t be motivated in the same ways.

Once I had figured out how I’m intrinsically motivated, I needed to determine where to direct my energy.

Passion Versus Skills

This TED Talk by Benjamin Todd, co-creator of 80,000 hours, suggests that following your passion in selecting a career path is a huge mistake—and it makes A LOT of sense. If I followed my passion from when I was five, fifteen or even twenty years old, I would either be She-Ra, a tattoo artist, or an illustrator. Instead of passion, Todd suggests considering what your best skills are and where you can use them to provide the most value. 

After getting to the heart of things like motivation and fulfillment, I still needed to refine what I wanted from a job in terms of environment, work-life balance, organizational role and culture fit. For these factors, I looked to the commonly-used personality assessment, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and a lesser known assessment called the Innermetrix DISC Index.

Assess Yourself Before Your Wreck Yourself

I recalled taking the Myers Briggs assessment years ago and getting one of the “introverted” personality types as a result, but I recently re-took a free version of the MBTI test since I had long forgotten which of the 16 personality types I was assigned. The Innermetrix DISC Index is also free through Tony Robbins site, but full disclosure, you will need to provide your email to get your results.

To be honest, I have never really put much stock in these types of assessments because they always seemed so rigid and black-and-white, where most people would agree that personality involves many shades of grey.

Regardless of my opinion, thousands of employers use these tests to evaluate candidates and their fit for a role or within an organization, so I decided to put my preconceived notions aside and try to extract some meaning from my results.

And I’m glad I’m not quite as stubborn to new ideas as my INFJ personality type would suggest. Combing through the results of my assessments, I found myself going through a mental checklist of qualities I know I possess but thinking about them in ways I never had before.

The Good News and the Bad News (about being an INFJ)

Some traits of my INFJ personality type that I recognize include:

  • A tendency to avoid office politics and gossip (as well as confrontation)
  • Dedicated, thorough and conscientious
  • Diplomatic
  • Modest
  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • Avoids risk and uncertainty (anyone who’s played poker with me can confirm this)
  • Craves order, independence, and autonomy
  • Not motivated by financial gain
  • Prefers to work independently or in small groups versus large teams

The flip-side of these traits, both good are bad, are:

  • I can be perceived as aloof and guarded.
  • People tend to dump work on me because they know I’m dedicated to getting the work done.
  • I am really good at doling out praise for others, but not so great at communicating my own accomplishments.
  • My perfectionist tendencies mean that I can sometimes hold others to impossibly high standards.
  • Waiting for 100% of the information can lead to delayed progress and a perceived lack of urgency by others.
  • I don’t get hung up on titles. I am happy in both supporting roles and assuming leadership positions when needed.
  • A private workspace can be hard to come by when so many companies institute open offices and combined workspaces.

TL;DR (Takeaways)

If you’re reading this and you’re completely satisfied with your job and your career path, I envy you, but more importantly, I recommend considering the aspects of your job, company, coworkers, and industry that you find fulfilling.

My first job was incredibly fulfilling for many years, but then leadership changed and so did my department structure and I suddenly found myself in a situation I had never been in before.

Even if you don’t experience a similar scenario, continuously working on being more self-aware can only benefit you throughout your life. In my pursuit of being more self-aware, I have learned how to be a better employee, partner, friend and all around human being.

Aside from personality tests or performance reviews, how do you assess yourself and your level of personal awareness?

 

 

Why I Quit My Job After Two Weeks

Why I Quit My Job After Two Weeks

Yesterday marks one month from the day that I did something I have feared for the last few months. I left a new job that I started just two weeks prior, which I’m sure sounds crazy (and/or stupid), but let me explain. I just came off the heels of another position that I was in for just over a year. That job felt wrong from day 1, but I thought it was premature to pass judgment and decided that I should try to give it a year and then go from there. It never got better. In fact, it robbed me of my self esteem, my energy, and made me question my choices and abilities.

After one particularly rough week in October, I talked to my husband and said, “This is it. If I do not find something by February, I’m leaving this job.” We came up with a plan to save three months worth of living expenses and by February, I had interviewed and received an offer from a nonprofit that I have long admired and felt very connected to its mission and values. The biggest deterrent to accepting the position was that the salary was extremely low (like less than my first entry level position) in comparison to what I was currently making. Desperate to leave my current situation, I accepted the offer and figured that trading money for a more fulfilling job would be worthwhile. By the end of the first week, I knew I had made a bad choice. Not only was the role far more administrative that I had imagined, I still felt like I had no autonomy. I retraced the hiring process in my mind: what did I miss, what went wrong, what could I have done better? From what I surmised, I should have asked what their expectations were for the role within the first 90 days, which I almost always do, but did not with this position (there’s an important lesson here—desperation clouds your judgment). When I asked what those priorities were during my first week, I realized that their expectations for the position were not realistic. I also knew that the job felt like five steps back at a time when I needed to move forward.

I spoke honestly with my manager about my concerns, assumed some of the blame for not inquiring more during the hiring process, but reiterated that I felt it wasn’t a good fit. She said she understood and that she hoped there was more they could do, but the responsibilities of the job were what they were.
Driving home that day, I felt a mix of relief, anxiety and fear, but more importantly, I had felt like a weight had been lifted.

Since then it’s been a bit of a roller coaster ride. Depending on the day, I may be feeling awesome, other days I’m questioning my life choices. I think I’ve read every career site article, Reddit thread, and Quora post about people thinking about leaving a new job, who have done it themselves, or advice for those considering it. Most of the testimonials I have found have described it as being an overall positive (although somewhat stressful and scary) experience, but none have spoken from the perspective of currently being in it. You know what they say about hindsight being 20/20…

As someone who is living with the decision right now, my number one piece of advice for anyone considering this is to think long and hard about the priority you place upon people’s opinions. If you’re of the firm belief that what others think of you doesn’t matter, try walking down the busiest street in town without pants and let me know how far you get. Because telling people you quit your job (new or old) without another one secured is going to elicit: a) similar looks of concern, b) praise or c) unsolicited scolding and criticism. And you’ve got to be ready to either accept it constructively or let it roll off your back.

I am not saying these things to discourage anyone who’s considering leaving a job because they feel beat down, used up or just miserable. I just wish I had been prepared for what I would be feeling once the initial shine wore off. And make no mistake, it was not a decision that I made lightly. I am completely aware that to some people this choice may seem immature, selfish and foolhardy. But after two years of feeling like I hadn’t listened to my gut, I couldn’t continue to ignore it anymore.

So, Where Am I Right Now?

In the last month, I’ve been on one interview and I have another lined up next week. The old me would have been stressed about those figures, but the old me also would have papered employers within a 25-mile radius with resumes. That spray-and-pray strategy led to making poor decisions before, so I’m not investing it in anymore.

I’m also focused on using this time (really, this gift) as an opportunity to reconfigure what my vision for the future looks like. This includes prioritizing professional development. I renewed my Google Analytics certificate and earned the Adwords Search certificate both in the matter of a week, since I had the time to concentrate on the study materials unfettered. I’ve also signed up for a slew of Udemy courses on topics I have long wanted to learn more about. Additionally, I’m taking this time to consider what type of work environment and organization will be the most beneficial overall (more on that in my next post). I have also volunteered to help out with a local charity run and fundraising event that my husband and his coworkers organize each year with promotion and soliciting sponsors.

And I’ve started writing again. Whenever I’ve asked myself what I really want to be doing, the answer has always come quickly and simply—write. Whether that’s a full time job or a side hustle, I don’t ever want to fall away from it again. Writing brings me to the closest state of what Hungarian psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as “flow,” that I have experienced. So, right now I’m focused on finding that flow again and the person I felt I lost two years ago. I’m hoping that when I do, I can look back on this experience just as others have and say, “God, I’m glad I had the opportunity to do that.”

How about you? Where are you right now, or, where would you like to be?