A Final Post For 2013

All over this planet, people will be welcoming in the new year with high hopes for 2014 and what it might bring. And during that time, some will reflect back on the passing year – in this case 2013 – what was good and bad, made them happy or sad, what’s been accomplished and what’s as yet incomplete.

There may have been milestones such as in my own case for example, when my daughter got married on January 5th – almost a full year ago now. Definitely a positive highlight, as was my own 30th wedding anniversary with my wife Janine. Funny to think that in talking with friends and co-workers, 30 years of marriage ranks us as unusually long, even with people of our own age. For others, second marriages or living together for periods of time before marrying, etc. all seem to have made our 30 years together something to savour.

And I can say I close off 2013 with good health, having had nothing worse than a brief cold and a singular weekend with a stiff back after having got the house ready for winter at the near end of the Fall. Like many others, I could do to lose a few pounds I admit, and to acknowledge my own shortcomings, I’ve felt that way the last few years without seemingly done much about it. I suppose that makes me normal in a way, as we often have goals we want to reach that go unmet.

Does it not come down then to determining what is it we wish to achieve and how motivated we truly are to realize those goals and make progress towards achieving the desired results? Be it a loss of weight, a new job, the purchase of a home or proposing marriage to someone we love; it comes down to how bad we want it. Surely if we want something bad enough, we should be motivated then to take the necessary steps to make a plan that will result in a goal realized.

So let’s look at you then, and let’s look at things from the view of the employment picture. Are you working at present in a job that you do well, love and are paid well for? These three components tend to be most often cited when people talk of job satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment. To repeat, a job or career you perform well in, truly love doing, and are well compensated for doing. Many people have only one or two of these things; love what they do and do it well but the pay is poor for example. Or perhaps dislike what they do but do it extremely well and aren’t paid well.

If it’s important to you, (and this is the critical question) you will either take steps to correct the situation, (which is necessary to change the outcome), or you will do nothing and your situation will perpetuate long into 2014 and beyond. What would your future self prefer you do here as you stand on the very edge of 2014?

Are you entirely unemployed? If you are out of work, I run the risk of simplifying things but are you happy not working or do you want to be working? There are many who really are happiest not working. Maybe taking a year or two prior to official retirement to just coast into that period. Maybe the unemployment has been for an extended period and you’ve got used to living below what you once thought you saw as not possible. Some do find unemployment liberating. For others, unemployment means no boss to answer to, no schedule to have to bow to, no deadlines and pressures that go with them.

But if working is important to you, this is a singular time of year to sponge away the past, recapture your enthusiasm for a structured job search, and update your skills and become more marketable. Depending upon your own situation of course, you may have a large unemployment gap or a small one, out-of-date or current references, know what you want to do or not and have or need the education and skills to compete.

One good thing for your self-esteem is to realize that there isn’t a single person on the entire planet who has training and education in 2014 on their resume. Any course you take or certificate you obtain early in 2014 will help you stand out from others who have 2013 or earlier on their resume. In other words, we’re all lined up at the same starting line and no one has the inside track. The longer you wait to take training and get going, the further behind you’ll be, and the more ground you’ll have to make up in the Summer or Fall of 2014.

Make appointments with people who can help you out. See your Doctor and get a checkup, a Career Advisor to help determine some direction, a Financial Planner to get your future stabilized financially so you can do the things you want without regret. See an Employment Counsellor to get your resume up-to-date and marketing you at your best. Talk with previous co-workers, employers and friends, being sure to get their titles and contact information so you have references ready when needed. Put some effort into the man or woman in the mirror – be it clothing or grooming.

“2014 is MY year. I will make this year count for something. I not only WANT to work, I NEED to work. I owe it to MYSELF to treat myself better!”

You Are What You Think

Have you ever found it frustrating and downright unbelievable when someone says something to you like, “Well if you want it bad enough it will happen?” And all the time all you can think about is how dumb that sounds to you because so much of what you want depends on other people to make it possible.

Take a job for instance. You find a posting for some job you think you’d really do well in and the pay is pretty good too. Not only would you do well in the job, but it’s something you’d really enjoy doing. But once you fire off the resume, you feel it’s totally out of your hands, and your fate now rests in the hands of someone at that company who will or won’t call you for an interview. And furthermore, even if you get an interview and feel you aced it, it’s out of your control again as to whether or not they actually hire you because you can’t control how other people think and the decisions they make.

So when someone tells you, “You are what you think”, and you’re thinking how unfair the job market is, and how your starting to think you’re a failure, it can seem like a slap in the face and the dumb advice. After all, if you start thinking you are going to get a certain job, that doesn’t automatically guarantee success does it? So why do people say that and what do they really mean when you figure they are really thinking they are being helpful?

Simply put, those that say things like, “You are what you think”, believe that thoughts lead to actions, and actions determine outcomes. So if you want a positive outcome, you have to perform the actions necessary to bring about the outcome, and the actions can’t be put in place unless the right thoughts are there that have to happen first. Think negatively and you’ll likely take short-cuts or put little effort into applying for a job. The result will be that because your thoughts were negative, your actions weak, the result will be no interview, or if granted an interview, you’ll be ruled out quickly.

On the other hand, if you find a job you want bad enough and really think this is what you’ve been waiting for, you may just start to do more because you believe in your mind, “THIS IS IT!” That initial thought has to be supported by a further thought that prompts you to take action; research the job and the company, write a cover letter introducing yourself and your value to the company, targeting a resume that specifically matches the requirements of the job to your own skills and experience. Then the job once applied to gets followed up with some enthusiasm. Phone calls to ensure they got it, a request for an interview, and at the interview, your anticipation and enthusiasm for the job shines through because you’re thinking all along how close you are to claiming this job as your own. And when the interview has concluded, you follow up the interview with a note of appreciation and provide more convincing documentation that you are the right person for the job.

Now contrast this with someone who is given a job posting which is something they are trained to do, and upon looking it over, they furrow their eyebrows, screw up their face, sigh and say, “What’s the point? I probably won’t get it anyhow, but I’ll apply.” That negative thought process will translate into an application sure; but the application will become a chore with little real enthusiasm for the work it will take to submit a dynamic and targeted application.

Now I’ve run into people who have terrible resume’s with spelling and grammar errors but they think they will get a job interview with all their hearts. You can’t only have a positive thought process but lack real skills necessary to compete with the best. You need that great winning attitude matched up with solid work skills and a polished, professional application.

I had a guy I was trying to explain this to once tell me that I was wrong. His example was that he doesn’t think he’ll win the lottery but he buys a ticket every week because he might, and no amount of thinking he’ll win improves his odds. In this example he’s absolutely right. Every ticket has an equal chance, and if interviewers just randomly picked a resume from a pile like they do lottery numbers, I’d be out of a job as an Employment Counsellor! But employers take time to review applications, sorting through each to see which matches best with their needs. They read not only matching skills and qualifications but also have people in to match up personality, enthusiasm for the work to be done, check out your potential influence – negative, neutral or positive on their existing workforce. Numbers in a lottery have no such luck.

If you want, look at 2014 as a chance to start with a fresh, winning attitude. Do your best to think positively and then take actions that support this thought process. Get help with your new mindset but sitting down with those who can help you stay positive and avoid folks who are negative and pull you down.

Stockings And Taking Stock

Well it’s December 24, 2013. Tomorrow is Christmas Day and for those who celebrate, it’s filled with hopes, expectations, anticipation and if we’re to believe all those Hallmark cards, we’ll be surrounded by friends and loved ones.

Tonight many people will hang their stockings by the fireplace, or perhaps just lay them on the couch or chair, and go to bed trusting dear old Santa, Father Christmas or St. Nicholas to fill them to the brim with treats and goodies. And as those stockings hang there overnight, many will go to bed with dreams of sugar plums dancing in their heads; or what time the turkey needs to go in the oven and whether there’s going to be enough carrots and mashed potatoes for everyone depending on one’s age!

And while these thoughts are swirling around, others will come and go, in and out of consciousness throughout the night, the next day and maybe up until the new year is upon us. Those other thoughts may include some kind of assessment of how the year has gone, what has been accomplished and what is left undone for yet another year. It’s like John Lennon sang in his classic song, Imagine when he said, “And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun”.

Funny how many of us can’t recall what we had for lunch six days ago, the name of someone we may have been introduced to at a party just a day or two ago, but somehow as the year draws to an end, many will recall resolutions they made almost a year ago. Was it to lose weight, be nicer, spend more time with family, get a job or promotion? Maybe you were going to be more charitable. So how have you done?

While taking stock is a great exercise when you have accomplished your goals, it can be depressing to look back and realize nothing has changed. You haven’t lost weight, you’re still single, maybe unemployed, still not talking to your mother, never did take that trip you promised, still haven’t started exercising… Now if you did accomplish your goals, I applaud you! Good for you! And if you didn’t, maybe more commitment and resolve is what is needed but don’t beat yourself up over things now.

It’s a good idea to look back if looking back will help you isolate and determine what errors you’ve made or situations you’ve found yourself in that kept you from reaching your goals. But once this is done, come back to the present instead of living in the past. The past is, well…past isn’t it? Nothing will change what’s been done, but you do have the power to change things in the here and now and the future and you can’t do that if you’re stuck in the past.

One of the greatest gifts we have as humans with brains and intelligence is that every single day we have 24 hours to do whatever we choose to do. And it is a life of choices. So instead of lamenting choices we’ve made, think about the 365 days of choices ahead of us that we have to set things right, start something anew, repair a relationship, extend a hand in aid, find a satisfying career.

But some of us detest choices. It seems preferable if someone else would make our decisions for us; find us a job, approach us to start dating, buy us a gym membership, etc. Usually the people who wish others would make decisions for them are the people who can look back easily and find lots of poor decisions they’ve made. And so the prospect of another year with many choices yet to be made doesn’t offer any comfort.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We all make decisions every day. Some of those are small decisions that don’t really matter too much in the end; such as choosing between two breakfast cereals. However, the big decisions (and they differ from person to person), these are the ones that cause us anxiety fearing the trouble that could come from choosing wrong. And doesn’t it seem that sometimes the fear of choosing is the greatest anxiety?

One good exercise to help out is this. Take stock of things now and decide in what area you want to see a difference a year from now. Write down on paper your two or three big things, two or three medium changes, and perhaps even five or six small things. Okay, now under each item, write down what has to occur to make the goal a reality. If you need to do some research – as in deciding on a career, then list where to go to do that research, who to talk to, and how to get the information you need. Then write down a deadline to do these things by so you allow enough time to check these things off which by doing moves you closer to your goal. Post this in a space you’ll see daily, like your fridge, and read them out loud once a day. Reinforce your goals, and the steps, and feel good about checking off your list.

Smaller goals will build momentum, and you need momentum and positive inner feelings to tackle bigger goals that take more time and effort. “And what have you done?” will be one line in the song, ‘Imagine’ that will hold special meaning to you next year when you hear it on the radio.

The Healing Sweater

I’m going to share with you a very special story that demonstrates a group of Educator’s going beyond their job description, the thoughtfulness of a child, and the lasting impact on a recipient of a gift carefully chosen.

Approximately 18 or 19 years ago now, my daughter was attending primary school in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. It’s a small community roughly 150 kilometres north-east of Toronto Canada if you’re wondering. One late fall day, she came home with a letter from the teachers in the school, and the letter asked parents to consider donating either new items they had around the house they didn’t want, or gently used items in excellent shape. These items were going to be all put on tables in the gymnasium, and class by class, students would get to go to the gym and for 25 cents an item, students would purchase and wrap a Christmas present for both mom and dad.

This always struck me in year’s since as such a fabulously touching idea. You see this way, neither parent would know what two gifts under the tree were; one for each of them. Every other year, I’d take my daughter out and together we’d pick out something for my wife from her, and then my wife took her out and bought something for me. Parental influence was evident both times. But in this case, it was truly entirely up to the child as to what they thought mom or dad would really want. So there was anticipation building to see what was going on in that precious little mind!

Although I’ve long forgot what the 25 cents per item was raised for, I have never forgot the idea, the generosity behind it, and the gift itself. When I opened my gift that Christmas morning so long ago now, it turned out to be a dark burgundy gable sweater. The arms were about 8 inches too long, and the overall length went to mid-thigh; clearly donated from a home where the man of the house was much bigger than I.

I loved the thing. I put it on and it was loose-fitting, really warm and light weight despite it’s size. Because it didn’t fit correctly I never wore it to work or out in public, but around the house it was comforting and great lounge wear. One day I can recall having the chills from a cold, and donning the sweater to ward off a long cold, I immediately felt snug and warm, like a big old hug. Hence, “The Healing Sweater” was born. I’d wear that sweater for years every time I was home ill, or just needed that comfort feeling people seek when they make comfort food on a cold winter’s day.

Ah but things don’t last. Eventually the sweater got stretched through use and the washing machine, holes appeared, and common sense told me it needed to go. To this day however, I’ve always got a sweat top or sweater that when lounging around on a Sunday in the winter at home, or feeling cold or ill, that I’ll put on and announce I’m wearing the healing sweater to ward off a lengthy illness.

So tying this story back to job advice, I often think about the person or group of people more likely, who thought of the idea in the first place up at Bobcaygeon Public School. Why did they do it? I mean sure the gifts were donated, and some parents donated wrapping paper, tags, bows and tape for each child to wrap their purchased gift. So it wouldn’t have cost the school anything at all to do the activity. And at 25 cents an item, I supposed they raised a few hundred dollars which may have gone toward school-related expenses of some sort. But it was never really about the fundraising.

I think looking back, it was a small school doing something to connect the children and their families to each other. No one complained about this being a Christian celebration that I know of, and the town did have at that time families from other cultures and faiths. It was a shining example of a group of teachers in this case who came up with an idea that got unwanted items out of homes and into the hands of others who would use them, built anticipation both for the children to see the reaction from their parents, and for the parents to see what their children purchased and wrapped for them. It was just such a win-win on so many levels.

And there’s an example of some people in a workplace who collectively put forth the effort to go above and beyond. The labour involved to get all those items displayed on tables in a gym, parade all the classes down, collect the money, help the child wrap all those presents and label them, then take the classes down again for other people in the family when there were still items left; that was a lot of work.

Does your workplace do anything on a social basis perhaps that gives back to the community? Some staff yesterday at my workplace exchanged gifts with a twist. Each gift had to be what you imagine they might have wanted as a child. After being unwrapped, all gifts were collected and donated to a toy drive for Christmas. No one went home with any gift, but everybody received so much more.

And Then Mike Walked In And Dumped On Me

Yesterday at my place of employment, I was scheduled not to do any workshop, but rather to staff our drop-in Resource Centre. This Centre is exclusively for two groups of people; those on Disability and those on Ontario Works (Welfare, Social Assistance). Essentially it’s a room with 20 computers, 2 fax machines, 2 photocopiers, 4 telephones, literature and 1 staff person to monitor and help anyone who needs it.

In addition to clients using the Resource Centre itself, there are 2 workshop rooms off of the main area I’ve just described, and people in those rooms must pass through the Resource Centre both going into their sessions, and upon leaving for the day, breaks and lunch. So depending on many factors such as the weather, it can be a busy place. Some use our facilities for the purposes they are designed for; job and housing searches, calling Caseworkers and Landlords, photocopying and faxing things to employers and Caseworkers etc. And there are some who use the Centre more as a social hub, where they can get in out of the cold, make some human contact and feel included and welcomed rather than stereotyped and unwanted.

So to set the scene it was a busy morning, and just after returning from a break, I was informed that Mike was looking for me and had just stepped out for a minute. No last name…just Mike with the cane…Kelly would know me when he saw me. Turns out, as soon as Mike did walk in with his cane, he was right and I did know him.

Mike’s brain is sharp as a whistle, but his right leg will never be the same, and he’s had numerous operations over the years to fix it without success. Now on Disability assistance, he no longer is compelled to look for work, and at 56 he could just play out the rest of his life hobbling and shuffling around collecting a monthly cheque to pay rent and buy food, but his brain still functions and he wants to feel useful and do something. Problem is Mike’s back is all messed up too, and he can’t sit for periods without pain, and even riding in a taxi or bus is extremely painful every time a pothole is hit, the vehicle turns or there’s quick starts and stops.

So there were Mike and I seated and obviously he had something on his mind. Not a good day to chat privately and leisurely however. Mike had no sooner started chatting when people started needing various things. Some needed information about them off the computer I could access in front of me, one needed a bus ticket to get home, another needed help at their computer station, ‘just for a sec’. I felt bad I couldn’t give Mike my full attention, and show my concern for whatever he was really on about. You see not everybody walks up and lays things out. Mike is a story-teller, an avoider; he’ll eventually get around to what is really on his mind, but in the interim, I’ve learned to be patient. But this approach means I’ve got to rely on my ability to read between the lines, listen for clues, zero in on what’s important and what is filler. Hard to do though yesterday and have him feel validated.

But Mike was patient. Once we got past his four jokes, the lines of concern appeared on his brow and because I was watching for this, I could see he was moving from fluff to substance. Turns out his living situation for the last six months has been that when the tenant upstairs runs a shower – which would be daily, Mikes kitchen sink would fill up with sewage streaming down from the ceiling. Telling the landlord apparently got him nowhere, and only recently after the problem started anew in his living room area did the landlord take action.

Four different contractors hired by the landlord came in, exposed the ceiling back to the framing and then packed up their tools and left. The problems were so extensive, the wiring so poor, that they didn’t want their names to be associated with all the violations that they saw and the landlord just wanted them to slap on a false ceiling rather than address the problems as it would cost too much. For six months Mike has lived this way, with sewage raining down daily, the stench coming with it, the ceiling in two rooms open, and the in and out of traffic but no progress. And all the while of course, rent is being demanded at full price.

“You can’t live there Mike. You’ve got to get out for your physical and mental health”, I said. But you see Mike thought he was dealing originally with a decent landlord. The first few months he bought in to the landlords tale of making progress and having things done soon. But now the landlord wants Mike out and is threatening eviction. The reason is that for November and December, Mike has refused to pay his rent whatsoever in protest. Apparently he’s been taking photos and writing down the violations he’s learned of.

Mike didn’t actually ask for anything except my time, and he got a smattering of that. At the end of the conversation, we stood and he shook my hand which I grabbed with both of mine. He wished me a merry Christmas and left. He already knows his legal options but yesterday just needed to vent and know somebody was listening. And sometimes it’s not critical to have any of the answers, just be in the seat when someone wants to talk.

A 3:30 a.m. Headache On A Work Day

I’ve been awake for an hour now due to one of those dull but pounding headaches. When I first awoke, I decided to nip this thing in the bud and got up to take some pain medication – just the off the counter stuff. Then after returning unsuccessfully to bed, I was up five minutes later and out making a cup of tea.

Trying to sleep on the couch, the next thing I knew my wife is excitedly calling to me to come and see the bunny outside in our backyard – yes it was only 4:15 a.m. at that point. You see my headache and the decision to get up and get some medication woke her up unexpectedly and she couldn’t return to sleep either. Aren’t we a pair? So here I am writing a blog now at 4:45 a.m. and next to me is my wife, studying her notes for an exam she’s writing later today. And we both have a workday ahead of us.

Now my predicament is not unique, and I’m not seeking sympathy either. I just want the pain to go away, and figure that by trying to concentrate on something – in this case collecting my thoughts as I write – my headache will subside and go away. Now I’m setting myself up for a long day at work, and I’ve got some training right at the end of the day I’ve got to attend too. Not like I can call it a day early and scoot home if I wanted. I’m hoping and believe however that this shall pass, and I’m visualizing myself at work with a smile on my face, and this headache just a passing phase. That’s optimism.

But when in this situation, we have a choice don’t we? We can instinctively decide to call in sick and spend the day at home, or we can do what we can to prepare for work and make a last-minute decision whether to go in or not. Sometimes just having that shower and having that warm or hot water cascade over my head just seems to wash a headache down the drain. If I make the decision to stay home, I put off the shower and lounge around fighting a headache that wins in the end.

Now yes I know that some people have medical complications and issues that can’t be overcome with willpower and positive visualization. If you are sick, you are sick. And sometimes you are best advised to stay at home not only for your own recovery, but to eliminate the possibility of infecting those around you. I’m referring more to those iffy days when you’re not 100% and it would be seemingly easier to just call in ill and let your co-workers cover for you. These are the days and the moments that only we know what’s going on in our bodies and can weigh the options of to work or not to work.

And doesn’t it sometimes depend on what you have planned for the day? Are you indispensable and the only one at your workplace who can do something like perhaps meet a client, solve a problem, make a presentation? Or do you feel like one of a thousand drones who if away, wouldn’t be missed except by the payroll department when it comes time to issue the next pay cheque for one day’s missed work? Maybe you’d argue that it shouldn’t even matter what you have planned for the day; if you’re sick you’re sick after all.

It comes down I think, to your personal work ethic, your tolerance for pain, and your priorities. Some folks have a low pain threshold and don’t go to work unless they are 100% everyday. Others drag themselves in even when they are at 30%; sniffling, coughing, moving at half-speed, spreading their colds and misery with every breath they take, as if some award were being handed out at year-end for the person voted most dedicated with the best attendance record.

As for work ethic, there are those – and I bet you recognize them – who you can almost guess with a high degree of accuracy will be off on snowy days, Fridays and Mondays, who one day talk a bit about feeling something coming on and you just know they’ll call in ill the next day. Doesn’t it irk you when they come back two days from now and then casually mention that they recovered enough during their sick day to go to the spa or the mall? Oh yeah.

Personally I think if I’m really truly ill I stay home. If I’m under the weather just a little and not at my best, it’s a judgement call. And I’ve learned over the years that if I’m very ill, stay home and use those sick days that have been put in place to allow me to heal faster and infect fewer of my valued co-workers. If I didn’t have those sick days, I’d be forced perhaps to work if money was scarce so I’m glad I’ve got them.

Do your best to be dependable and reliable; it’s a good characteristic to have and quality to be defined as having. As for my personal update, it’s now 5:10 a.m. and that headache is receding but not entirely gone. I’m going in. And so I’ll accumulate a few more hours of sick time to be taken if and when I really need it – which apparently today I do not. Whew!

More On That LinkedIn Photo

I was sitting down yesterday with a client in what was in truth a one hour LinkedIn introduction. Like so many other people, she had set up a LinkedIn profile quite some time ago with the barest of information and after an initial set up, just walked away. So there it was, for all the world to see; a half-hearted, weak profile telling anyone who looked at her page that this was the best she could do.

The problem with setting up any profile online and after putting in a mediocre effort, is that all the people who view your page are left with only scant information upon that first viewing to form an impression, and that first may be your last.

The picture on her page was a nice head shot, but because she had cropped others out of the photo at some baby shower, the picture was smaller than it would be otherwise, and therefore harder to really get a good look. The background of the picture was odd too, and hard to make out the setting in which it was taken. She plans to work in an office setting doing administrative tasks, and so I suggested she get a picture of her sitting in an office, with just enough in the background of the picture so that it appears she is sitting at her workstation. In other words, it is easy for an employer to visualize this person working for them when they can see her seated in that environment.

This is a good tip for you if you choose to use it, and are struggling with what photo to include. Now in this women’s case, I offered to take the picture for her, but first suggested she return another day in order to prepare for it. How you ask? Well, change into a blouse that she might wear to work, put on a little foundation to smooth out the skin tones, and do her hair. In other words, the way she’d dress at work should be reflected in the photo.

One of the things the two of us did was to look at a variety of LinkedIn photos people are currently using on their profile pages. I started with the non-photo outline of a body picture and asked her what she thought. Thankfully, like me, she said she didn’t feel anything as there was nothing to go on, to which I agreed. Without some physical image to forge a connection, there is no emotional attachment or engagement and therefore no prompt to connect or look into.

We then looked at a picture which was a woman standing on a street in Paris, with its famous landmark tower in the background. In order to get the tower and the woman in the picture, the photographer had zoomed so far out, the person had diminished in size so much they were almost indistinguishable. A great photo to prove you were there and share with family who recognize you perhaps, but as a profile picture marketing the person, extremely poor choice.

Looking at some further profile pictures, she remarked that the ones that she liked best were essentially clear images of people’s faces. It appeared that pictures from the bust or chest up to the top of the head were the dominant ones that we both preferred, and the images needed to be well-lit and in focus. We did find some really good shots we both liked of people seated where the entire person was visible and easily recognizable.

Some photos people included had broad smiles, and that seemed to make the person come across as warm, inviting, personable, and the overall impression was that they seemed nice. The photo had not only depicted the person well, but now suggested all kinds of traits, personality and attitude. Choosing the right setting, thinking about the facial gesture (smile, neutral, frown, laugh, etc.) could elicit a reaction by those viewing it. And by thinking ahead of time about the message you want to convey, you can influence or perhaps control the viewers response to your image.

Branding and marketing are what the above process is really about. Any product when being introduced to the public, should have thought put into this entire process so the ‘packaging’ attracts the right audience, and communicates the message the originator wants to send. The same is true for the individual who designs a profile of which a picture plays such an important role.

Now we spent just over an hour not only looking at the photo, but talking about the various sections LinkedIn offers as choices to its members to complete. With every word you choose to use, every section you complete, you market and brand yourself to anyone viewing your profile. Use bullets rather than sentences and your profile might resemble a cut-and-paste resume, which LinkedIn is definitely not designed for.

If I were introducing LinkedIn to students, I’d repeat the process I did with this young lady for the entire class before ever picking up a camera to take a photo, or scouring past photos. Think about the impression you want to create first and why. Think about how the background can add to or detract from the message you are trying to send and who you hope your target audience is.

Understanding the “Why?” in Suicide

There are thankfully, fewer and fewer subjects that are still taboo. Suicide is one of those dark subjects that seems to be okay to think and talk about openly as long as it’s not you personally that’s had to deal with one in the immediate family. Is this what you believe? Or do you think that this was how people thought long ago and now things have changed to the point where people talk more openly about things?

So then let me ask you this: If you were next to someone who was talking about someone who committed suicide, how comfortable would you be joining in? Worse yet and far more personal, if someone told you directly they couldn’t take life anymore and were going to end it all, would you have the slightest idea what to say?

When I’ve been close enough to have someone open up about contemplating suicide, a number of triggers immediately get set into motion. One of the first things I think about is trying to discern how real the possibility of suicide actually is, how imminent or is it just a thought in passing quickly dismissed. What if I think it’s not imminent and this is the last attempt at reaching out for help? And I take someone talking to me about the subject as possibly a person who needs help without asking. Are they looking for reasons to live? Crying out for intervention or hope? Are they seeking attention or are things so utterly hopeless that it is the release that they seek?

And sooner or later, whether it’s at this stage of the conversation or hearing about it long after, the inevitable question of, “Why?” arises. For some people the question can eventually be answered and for others, the question will go unanswered for all time, and the pursuit of a rational answer to explain it can never be found. And accompanying the question of, “Why?” is the question, “Is there something I could have done to prevent it?”

Such detailed examination of the past is usually not all that productive. “Was it something I said?” “I should have seen the signs.” “If only I had been there he or she would have listened to me!” Don’t beat yourself up. You are entitled to your life and to live it in joy, happiness and to find fulfillment. Unfortunately, while every other person has the same entitlement, there have been and will continue to be some who will never experience the happiness and contentment and cannot deal with the demons that assail them.

I have penned thoughts on suicide before in this blog, and were you to read back issues of this blog, you might find those words. So why go through this topic again? Time and audience is the answer. Time because you the reader may know someone intimately who is contemplating bringing about their own death in the near future and may have come to this blog only recently. And audience because as my audience grows there will be some for whom these words resonate that have not the knowledge that they’ve been here before. And if a life; one life only, is saved until death comes naturally in the future, then I am happy to address this again.

And now the connection between unemployment and suicide. Understand that anyone who is out of work should be monitored closely by those closest to them, and that it is our responsibility – yours and mine – to ensure that we don’t presume someone else will keep connected to them and check in on them. I’ve been out of work in my past, and few things are worse than the immediate and poignant silence that comes about when friends retreat and go into silence. When people fail to talk to us because they are afraid they don’t know what to say. It doesn’t matter you see. No, just carrying on conversations, conversations about the news of the day, the weather, sports, politics, etc. – the normal stuff – keeps people feeling normalized.

You don’t have to be a Counsellor and deal with preserving someone’s mental health. You don’t have to be a compassionate Social Worker and know all the community agencies. You don’t have to be a trained Medical Practitioner and ‘fix’ their physical health. What you can be is available. “Hey want to meet for a coffee?” “Interested in coming over and watching a movie?” “I’m heading out to watch the kids play hockey. Want to come?” Simple everyday stuff, no training required.

If you act now and keep friends and family connected and involved, you’ll never question what you could have done to prevent a suicide. And to be entirely blunt and sincere, when listening to someone who has had a close friend or family member commit suicide, I don’t put much effort caring for the person whose gone – because they are gone. I invest the time and care in compassionately being concerned about the person talking – are they are risk of depression or worse?

Do what you can now, let go of the pain and the recrimination. You have a life to live and that’s a precious thing not to be fully lived.

Why Is Flexibility So Valued By Employers?

In some form or other, you’ll see if you know how to look for it, that flexibility is one of the key skills that employers are looking for; and if you can demonstrate a positive attitude while being flexible, you’re well on your way to being viewed as favourable.

Many times when I look at job postings, employers will note that the job requires a person to be willing to work evenings, weekends, weekdays, and a variety of shifts during any of those periods. What they are really saying therefore is that they require a person with the flexibility to work any or all of those shifts. Too often – far too often – someone nods their head and says they are more than willing to do just that, but when they get the job, they grumble and complain about the days and times they are required to work.

And flexibility isn’t just for those seeking work. Even when you have a position, you may be asked quite often to adjust your work schedule, switch priorities and work on other assignments, change teams, departments, even work locations if the company has pressing needs in another area you could fill.

And here is the heart of the matter; when you are faced with a situation where you are being asked or told to do something different from you might have expected, how quickly or willingly do you embrace the change? Few bosses or supervisors really relish the idea of throwing someone off what they expected to do if they can avoid it. However, the skills, availability, talent and cooperative attitude of an employee can really make giving this kind of news less stressful for them, and will be valued and remembered, thus increasing your value to them.

Dealing with change usually means you are provided with a choice; not a choice necessarily to keep doing what you expected or something unexpected, but the choice on how to respond. Now I myself used to react poorly to change when impacted personally. I generally would prepare in advance my schedule, get materials ready I’d require and lay out my day in a very systemic way. This high degree of organization was threatened when faced with change requiring me to do something else.

However, what I learned is that by agreeing to change early, the anxiety of being in flux or the energy fighting for things to remain constant was wasted energy. Time is usually critical, and the faster I accepted the change, the more time I gained to re-think and re-program my day, change my expectations, and get going on the new task or job to be done. Then I found that once I did this periodically, and embraced change more often, my ability to adapt and be flexible became a strength. In short, I added to my skill set, and my personal value.

And flexibility once acquired, spreads in unexpected ways. Job interviews for one are where as an applicant, you usually try to anticipate the questions that might arise based on the company and job you are applying to. Sometimes employers will throw curveballs and ask questions you could not have anticipated in order to see how flexible you are, how you deal with change, how spontaneous you are. There are even interviewers that don’t care so much about the content of an answer as much as they zero in on your physical reaction to change.

So they read your face; your raised eyebrows, the furtive glance that betrays anxiety, the tapping fingers, the cracking knuckles, the beads of sweat, the shifting legs and rolling eyes or stumbling words. If you are used to being flexible, new information in an interview beyond what you might expect becomes just one more thing to challenge your flexibility and deal with.

And it can be something as simple as expecting to be driving the forklift at work all day and finding out you have been reassigned to being a driver’s helper for the day unloading and loading cargo on a route. Not what you expected, but how flexible are you going to be or are you going to dig in your heels and run for the Union Steward? Same pay, same hours, different job. Willing or unwilling? Accepting or resistant?

As I’ve said in other blogs before, one of the key things you should always bear in mind is the skills that are needed in the job; and I’m not talking about the job you are currently doing, but skills required in the job you might want to apply for next. Your current job may be one very long interview process if you look at it that way. When opportunities come up to transfer to your dream team, or to more senior position with added responsibility, those who have been supervising you might well discuss how your performance has been in the job you now hold. Your flexibility may very well be one of the key things they discuss because you will now be one of their peers.

Flexibility is valued because it demonstrates your overall value to the company. You can do multiple things and do them well, do them with a positive attitude and be an example for others.

The Human Spirit As A Resource

Think for a moment about something you want very much. Maybe it’s having a child with the person you love. Maybe it’s a log cabin nestled in some woods next to a clear blue lake with a view of orange and mauve sunsets nightly. Perhaps it’s the approval and love of a parent that’s never given you credit and respect, and always viewed you as a disappointment. If you have to pause for a few moments to think of what it is you want desperately, take a moment to do so before reading further.

Great. Got it now? Okay, and I suspect if you want it bad enough, it came to your mind rather quickly anyhow. Now, imagine if it were possible, that someone could look into your future and then told you flat-out that whatever it is you want very much right now will sadly never come to be. Would you shrug your shoulders and say, “Really? Okay, well I guess I’ll try for something else then.” Or do you suppose you might say, “Really? I may not get it in the end but I’m going to keep trying anyhow and see what happens.”

The second response is what I absolutely love about the human spirit. Our capacity – YOUR capacity – to want something so passionately that we will often strive against tremendous odds to obtain something of value when others would encourage us to give up on what it is we seek and strive for something they believe is more attainable.

And it is this journey we undertake that shapes us and defines us both to others and more importantly to ourselves. You see along any journey, there are problems to be overcome, challenges that test our resolve and force us to use our skills to bypass or work through. Sometimes those challenges are ones we can handle alone, and others would be best resolved when we draw upon the aid of those in our lives at the time.

Let’s move out of the theoretical and into the real world so this becomes clearer. As my piece began, I asked you to think consciously about something you wanted very much. Remember? I know you do. Okay so without feeling badly about how unsuccessful you’ve been so far, or beating yourself up for maybe having done very little to make it a reality, I want you now to close your eyes in a moment and just quietly visualize yourself having reached that goal and be in possession of whatever it is that you want. Think about what joy you feel, the pride of accomplishment, and the impact of having whatever it is on your future life. Close your eyes and visualize that for a moment or two now.

How did obtaining that goal feel? Pretty good I imagine. That quick little exercise if done once a day and at moments when you feel most vulnerable and tempted to give up has the power to kick-start your persistence, and if it’s important enough to you in the first place, encourage you to go on knowing that what you want is greater than the frustration of setbacks you are experiencing at the time.

In fact every setback, roadblock, challenge and problem to overcome becomes a building block that you’ll need later on when the challenges become bigger and appear too complex to handle. You see if you could fast-forward your life to facing the biggest hurdle you’re ever going to have to tackle right now, you may overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with the scope of the challenge. You’re not ready yet, your skills not well enough developed. That is the purpose of working through the smaller, more manageable problems you’re undergoing right now today. If you can’t solve the things you have to deal with now, the problems further along your journey will never even come up because earlier challenges stopped you cold.

But the human spirit often finds ways for everyday people like you and me to overcome things at one time we may have not believed we were capable of overcoming. So if you want the approval of a parent whose never given you credit, and a successful career of financial independence is what it will take to do that, you have the ability to make it happen and you’ve got to believe that. Asking for help and direction, support and ideas from Counsellors and Employment Advisors is how you learn the skills necessary to remove the barriers in your journey. Learning skills from others is what the wisest of us do, and do it frequently.

Now, that vision of what you want so desperately; imagine and sketch out on paper what hurdles had to be overcome shortly before you reached your goal. Then repeat this process based on what you can imagine, making educated guesses about what has to be obtained or overcome WORKING BACKWARDS. Perhaps it means a degree or diploma, before that going to school, registering before going to school, researching colleges, night schools or universities before registering. Okay so start now by researching them and move forward. This process gives you starting places so you can move forward with clear direction and chart your progress on the journey.

How strong or how badly you sincerely want your end goal; how much it really means to you, will determine your ability to tackle the challenges when things get tough. I suspect your human spirit will carry you through.