Get Past A Tarzan Resume

Okay I’m dating myself with this post but I don’t mind. Ever heard of Johnny Weissmuller? After reading this post, you should use your favourite search engine and look up “Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller”. Watch a video or two and you’ll see the best Tarzan on the screen in my opinion. And if you’re scratching your head saying, “Whose Tarzan?”, it will be an education.

Famously mocked as having a weak vocabulary, many who spoof this character resort to, “Me Tarzan, you Jane.” All those years being raised in the deep jungle by the animals after being separated from his parents left the fellow with an amazing ability to communicate with the animals, but a poor grasp of the English language. The result was that while he could get along with his elephant friend Tantar and chimpanzee friend Cheeta, he’d often be viewed as a simpleton by those humans he came into contact with.

Now that first impression would often prove to be the undoing of those planning on making trouble in the jungle, and only later did people change their views. That’s a great general plot line of the movies from long ago. But in 2014, would you be surprised if I told you that many people still make a similar first impression with their resumes and CV’s on employers? Yes you can learn from those early movies and improve your own chances of getting ahead if you read on.

All too often I look over a resume someone has made, and in about 3 seconds, I not only am not impressed with the resume, but it tells me a great deal about the person whose name is on the top line, especially if they seem happy with it. The paper itself suggests the person has a weak vocabulary, a poor education, poor grammar skills and then the next leap in assumptions is that the person wouldn’t be a good person to ask to an interview because if this is the very best they can do on their resume, what they might produce in a job would be worse.

So here’s what I’m talking about. Let’s say the resume is that of someone who previously worked as a cleaner in a factory. When they are in the area where they are telling the reader what they did in the job, they say:

* Mopped and cleaned floors
* Cleaned washrooms
* Emptied garbage

The words are just plunked down on the page. I’ll ask the person this question in some of these situations. “Why did you mop and clean the floors?” They then usually say, “Because it was my job.” If I get this answer, I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed. So I next ask, “Why do you think they want someone to do this job?” Then they look at me like I’m dense, and say, “I dunno”.

Following this kind of inquiry I keep plugging away asking more questions to make the person think and discover for themselves the real reason behind why the company pays someone to clean and mop the floors, empty the garbage and clean the washrooms. With some patience, they usually get around to what I’m driving at, and if they can’t I fill in the blanks. What we end up with is something like this:

* Cleaned and mopped floors to ensure work areas were safe for employees to work in
* Cleaned and sanitized washroom areas to eliminate the spread of germs and met Ministry of Health standards
* Removed debris from waste bins off work floor in a timely manner, coordinating with municipal waste pick up schedules

In the above, you can see the difference between the words just plunked down that don’t really say much, and the second revised version that not only states what the person did, but gives me the reader the knowledge that the person knows WHY they did what they did. This shows they get the big picture and how their job fits in with the whole organization. If the washrooms are disgusting, the workers complain. If they complain, they’ll stop being productive and grumble to management. Management then has to stop working too and find the cleaner to solve the problem. If the cleaner has to repeat the cleaning job, that’s a redundancy that can’t be affordable, and the cleaner will be replaced.

By demonstrating your understanding of your role, the employer thinks, “This person gets it and stands out from every other person who just cleans because they are told to without any real enthusiasm for the job. If they did this for that other employer, they’ll be able to do it here and soon understand how they are valued and therefore do a better job”. Bingo! You’ve got an interview coming up.

Now the other thing is that any revision of a job description should use words that you fully understand and can explain if asked about. If it looks too fancy for you, it could be obvious that you didn’t write the resume and therefore may come across as deceptive. So make sure if you get help re-writing your resume that you can understand all the language used and if not, ask for other words that essentially say the same thing. Better to change it now and be a little embarrassed then wait until you’re in a stressful interview and they ask about something you don’t understand.

Now go look up Johnny Weissmuller and hear the jungle cry of Tarzan!

Taking My Own Advice

In the past blogs I have penned, (or rather keyed I suppose would be more accurate), I have from time-to-time spoke of balancing work and personal life, having things to look forward to that keep one capable of giving back and staying energized.

It is with great enthusiasm therefore that I look forward to Friday as a day when I embark on a mini-vacation with my wife for an extended weekend, planning a three-day trip to Montreal Canada. Not just any trip mind, but a trip to celebrate thirty years of marriage by returning to the city where we celebrated our honeymoon all those years ago.

So what on earth has this got to do with a blog about giving people job advice? Well indulge me for the few minutes you need to read it and it will become clear. In short however for the impatient, it is critical to know the value of work, and the value of work is not always for the sake of doing the work itself, but in some way large or small, to gain from the work the very things in life that bring us joy outside of the work we do. Work does supply one with an income, and it is that income that allows us opportunities to fulfill dreams, bring us happiness and spend time with those we love best.

Now our anniversary was actually back in August on the 23rd to be specific. And it was at that time that our only daughter surprised us both with an offer to give us a night’s accommodation in Montreal at a hotel and two tickets to see the Montreal Canadiens play hockey on their home ice. You’d have to know that on our honeymoon we chose to go for to Montreal, and thought while we were there one of the things we would do is take in a sporting event, and while the Canadiens don’t play hockey in August, at that time the Montreal Expos did. So we went to a game and saw Andre Dawson hit the winning run over the right field fence.

And being fans of the hockey club, we have never actually seen them play live in Montreal, so while it might seem puzzling to some, for us it’s very thoughtful and something to look forward to. We’ll head out on Friday, and plan to have a nice dinner out on Saturday night following a rare afternoon hockey game. A little shopping and being with each other round out a getaway that we are looking forward to. For me personally, I’ve been a loyal fan of the team – the winningest franchise in the North American professional hockey league circuit, and going there is like going to Mecca or the Vatican; for being a fan of this team is almost religious, and their home ice is like the shrine.

Now having something to look forward to outside of work, (I told you I’d get on to tying it back in) really does provide you with more focus at work itself ironically. If all you do is live and breathe your job and you never get out to do much else, you really can only give so much. Different experiences, variety and new sources of stimulation help keep us well-rounded, give us interesting things to share, create memories and remind us that our work however important should never consume us but fulfill us. No matter how successful and engaged we are, there should always be room for those around us and with whom we share our journey of life.

My wife and I don’t take trips south, don’t go on cruises, have been on planes less than five times in total between us, holiday by car and camp, choosing a more frugal lifestyle. While popping off to another city for a three-day weekend might seem rather mundane and not worth the hoopla, like anything else, it’s the significance to the people involved that really counts. Some couples love to plan the big trips and jet here and there, always on the hunt for the next big trip to take in but that’s not us. Good for them mind, just not our thing.

When we celebrated our honeymoon, I had a new job to start the following week. A weekend was all the time we could afford, and here we are again on a weekend journey. Mind, it was shorts, t-shirts, and carriage rides in old Quebec back in 1983. In 2014 it will be sloshing about on snowy streets, steering clear of the puddles and hoping there’s no snowstorm. Instead of sunning ourselves watching baseball players, we’ll be sporting our colours in an enclosed noisy arena, taking part live in all those great chants only those there can really appreciate.

At work this week, the days are flying by. I’ve got an extra bounce in my step, more of a grin on my face, and it’s because I’ve got the anticipation for something beyond work. But I’m focused while at work, energized and contributing as always, but with a difference. This is what external events in one’s personal life contribute to your work life.

I sure hope that for our sake, the final score favours the Montreal hockey team. If you only ever get to see a team play that you and your spouse follow with a passion, it sure would be nice to leave that event with a win to keep as a memory!

“It Is With Regret…

That we must inform you that you have not been selected for the job you applied to”.

Ever had one of these letters end up in your mailbox? It happens less often than it used to, but it’s still done. More frequently these days in comes in the form of an email. This letter, or ones akin to it go in the wonderfully appropriate category of ‘rejection letters’. Not only is the content of the letter annoying, but so is the name of the category. What’s even more frustrating is that usually when you realize you’ve been rejected, it was only seconds prior to it that your hopes were raised, your excitement building as you carefully opened the sealed envelope it arrived in.

Notes of rejection hurt because of course it’s a statement a company is making that you are not what they are looking for. To them of course, they’d say, “Don’t take it personally, we send out hundreds of those over a year”. But when it lands in your mailbox, and it’s got your name on it, of course it’s personal. But to the company, it’s not, and the reason is that they haven’t got to know you very much if at all, and so it can’t be personally if they would pass you by on the street and not even recognize you.

Now here’s the thing about these letters and some action you can take. Resist the urge to crumple it up, toss it in the trash and move on. Just about everyone else who gets one of these letters will do exactly that. What I recommend is a different course of action. Think first about how much you wanted the job you’ve just be rejected for. Did you want it bad or was it just one of many jobs you applied to and you really don’t care whether you got it or not?

If you answered that you really wanted it bad, why give up? Sit yourself down and think about things first. As frustrating as it is, mentally review how the interview went. Your resume was good enough to grant you the interview, so that’s not an issue. Did you answer the questions intelligently and with confidence or where there any questions you failed to properly answer? If you can identify where you stumbled, you’ve got a clue as to where to avoid stumbling in future interviews. Maybe you picked up on a raised eyebrow, a puzzled look, or a point in the interview where things clearly went badly and things started wrapping up. Or maybe everything went great.

Now, after you’ve had about half an hour to digest the letter, and you should re-read it slowly and see if there is anything in it that you missed the first time you scanned it, sit down to write a reply. This reply to a rejection letter is to most people an utter waste of time and that’s why so few do it. After all, if a company and an interviewing panel have already rejected you, why go back for more of the same?

And here’s why it’s critical. In many situations, not everyone who is offered a job accepts. Of those that do, not all actually start the job as they may change their mind and take a better offer the employer was unaware of. Some who do start jobs don’t last beyond their probationary period, and a number don’t make it past the first few days as they realize what they are doing isn’t for them. And add to this mix the fact that while the person hired might work out just fine, there are other people in the company often performing the same job who surprise the employer and go on pregnancy leave, quit outright, ask for a prolonged leave of absence, or the company grows and needs more people than they anticipated.

Companies in the above situations now have a spot to fill and have a choice to make. Do they post a new job, advertise, receive resumes, set up interviews, assemble more panels of people that have to take time away from their jobs; all of which cost money OR do they just see who they almost hired? Sometimes it’s far less expensive and quicker to just go to back to someone who they could have easily hired but didn’t. Now imagine if you and one other person are in that situation. You’d stand out substantially if you had sent in a letter after the rejections went out expressing continued interest.

So what should you say? Something like this:

“Dear _________

Today I learned that I was not the successful candidate for the position of _____________. While disappointing, I want to express my continued interest and passion for the position and one day securing employment with ________________. Should a similar position present itself, please be advised that I am most eager to present myself as an enthusiastic candidate. If in the interim, there are any areas you can suggest I address to improve on my application, I would greatly appreciate your insight.

With enthusiasm,


Now think about it…what have you got to lose except an envelope and a postage stamp? You come across as professional, determined, and you really show you want it bad. Oh yeah, you’ll be the one they say, “Let’s call her back in shall we?”

One Way To Doom Your Jobsearch

In the middle of February, I will be facilitating yet another intensive job searching group for a couple of weeks. This is a group of twelve people; handpicked by my fellow Employment Counsellors, who have in the recent past demonstrated they are self-motivated to find employment. In addition, they must have some basic computer skills, know the kind of work they want, be prepared to come dressed professionally daily, and above all else, be open to receive constructive feedback on how to effectively improve their job searching skills.

Now in my own case, I decided at the outset of first designing this program that I wanted to invite these people via the phone to the program rather than have a clerk fire off a letter of invitation. My reasoning is that over the phone, I can check their voice message if I get a recording, I can hear if it rings forever otherwise, hear the tone of their voice, how they talk on the phone etc. Also I can gauge better their situation and determine if their situation has changed which would preclude their participation.

And in one gentlemen’s case, I have found a unique problem. Upon reviewing the file, the referring person indicated that he doesn’t always have phone access, so he should be contacted by email. Now if I were looking for work and applying for jobs I’d have an active telephone. If money was the problem and I had to rely on email, you can bet I’d have it on all day so I could hear the ‘ping’ whenever I received one, or I’d be checking it many times a day. How odd then that I emailed this fellow on Tuesday of last week and have yet to hear from him.

If this fellow should reply to me prior to the class being full and get accepted, the first of many things I would do is issue him funds to get his phone connected and active. You don’t have to be an Employment Counsellor to understand surely that if an employer finds it difficult to contact you as a potential interview candidate, they are going to move quickly on to others who are likewise qualified. This is after all, a competitive market with many qualified job seekers for almost every position advertised.

This is self-destructive behaviour which is likely to sabotage ones job search, and doom a job search to a very prolonged matter.

So let’s assume – for assumption is all we have – that this fellow has money issues and can’t afford to put money into his cell phone and has no landline. Okay, now with that premise agreed upon, it now becomes a situation that reveals a persons problem-solving skills or a lack thereof. So what would be other potential solutions if we brainstormed a bit?

Well for starters, one might borrow the money from family or friends. There’s also the option of him asking his Caseworker or Employment Counsellor for up to $30 per month in his case to restore his phone to service. Then there are phones in local resource centres and employment agencies which are free of charge. In our resource centre we even have a message service. How it works is a person puts this number on their resume, and when they come to the centre, they can ask if they’ve received calls, then call them back. No phone, no problem.

And there are other solutions too, like making the phone a priority and doing without something else even when funds are tight. Now before anyone starts to educate me on how someone on social assistance has so little funds in the first place and can’t afford to short change themselves in some other area, I know all to well how hard it is to get by on the little they receive. I am not insensitive to this situation.

But it does seem a huge waste of energy and time to send out even a single resume and apply for a job if in fact you close off the very form of contact which an employer might turn to in order to invite you in for an interview. Yes while it’s true more employers do correspond by email than in the past, some still want to make personal contact so they can quickly ascertain if you are interested, your availability, and hear any enthusiasm in your voice. Why make things harder on yourself?

If this fellow has a computer with internet access, there are more options like Skype which can put him in contact with others, and if there is no internet access or he has no computer or smartphone, he is at yet another disadvantage. Unfortunately, until such time as he initiates a response to me via email, or should happen to make contact with another staff member of the organization, I am at a loss to be able to communicate with him and sort out the nature of the problem and offer a solution.

In you own situation, may I suggest that in this age of multi-communication media, you do your very best to make yourself widely available to being contacted. If you are going to list a phone number, ensure it can receive calls and that you don’t get it so filled with messages you are unable to receive more. If you list an email, check it and respond. Be accessible!

Keep These Handy At Work

Yesterday I was removing my lunch from the microwave at work when a small bit of mariana sauce shot out from the container and landed on my pant leg. I went to the kitchen and was in the act of dabbing it with a wet paper towel when one of the clerks came in and said, “You should see if one of the staff has one of those spot removing pens”.

I decided against walking around the office and asking if anyone had one however, and made my way back to my desk, with only the slightest stain the size of a dime showing. But it got me wishing that perhaps I did have one of those handy. And that got me thinking again of the things I do have in my office that are hygiene and grooming products. Some of them I use daily, and some just every so often, but I thought it might be of interest to others to think about getting your own gear together to deal with any unexpected issues that come up.

If you have additional items that you keep around, add them to the comments and include the why and when.

First on the list is the toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss. Having these three things close at hand will ensure you don’t get pre-occupied with food stuck in your teeth, will help keep your breath fresh, and will prevent cavities and decay. An item of importance closely linked to these three is a bottle of mouthwash. Whether it’s because you had onions and hot peppers at lunch, or you just need an extra boost of self-confidence heading into a meeting, a quick swish and rinse of this can give you one less thing to stress about.

A stick of deodorant also helps reduce stress and anxiety you may feel, especially if you go out for a run at noon and come back to the office on a hot day and don’t want to worry about body odour. Small enough to conceal in a pocket for the time it takes to walk to the washroom, it’s an inexpensive item that can make the difference between raising your hand to actively participate in a meeting or keeping your arms down and being self-consumed with hiding your sweat stains.

A mug for you and a couple of extra mugs for guests is never a bad idea. First of all you will encourage yourself to drink more fluids on the job if you have one, and you’ll be cutting down on environmental waste if you avoid the Styrofoam altogether. Some restaurants will even use your mug to fill your drink order, but think about a lid to contain the fluid as you make your way back to the work area. If you have people in for meetings, you’ll also never be caught rudely drinking in front of them and not be able to at least offer them a water etc.

Speaking of water, keep some in your fridge at work. Whether it’s your own container or a shared jug of water, cold water refreshes and doesn’t add calories. Be the good co-worker and remember to fill it up when the water inside is getting low.

A comb or hairbrush is a must too, especially if you work in areas that are humid, or you visit the gym at lunch. And most of us want to brush or comb our hair and know that the finished look is what we are hoping for, so a small mirror is useful. If you can conceal one on the inside of an upper cabinet etc. then you save the agonizing walk to the washroom to check yourself out and feeling like everyone in the office is looking at you and you alone.

Another item that can be useful is a healthy snack that is small in size, easy to prepare and ward off hunger pangs. For some it might mean individual packets of hot cereal that boiling water poured over instantly releases a warm comforting smell, and fills you up enough to tide you over to the next meal. The beauty of these is they keep well, and don’t consume a lot of room.

How are you going to eat that cereal without a small bowl? A bowl and plate, even if bought at a dollar store with four or five pieces of cutlery are useful, especially when you’d rather eat off a plate than a plastic frozen entre dish. It’s a little classier than only being one step away from feeling like you’re eating out of the dogs bowl, and for some obscure reason, food seems to taste better too. And don’t you just look classier!

Consider too having a brush you can use to wipe off your shoes should you get salt stains from a winter walk, or scuff marks you want to eliminate. These usually activate themselves, but some need a dab of water. Chemical sprays that add colour like on suede’s and nubucks may do the trick, but the odour may hang in the air for hours and offend your co-workers and clients who have reactions so best to avoid these.

If you are one to wear makeup, you’ll want this too, and lastly a small sewing kit that you hope you’ll never use.

If you really get lucky, you’ll have room in your cabinet for your work things too!

Commit Yourself To A Moment Daily

Think about your job or your job search as the case may be. Did you just experience an immediate jolt or tinge of stress, heightened alertness etc.? Now think about a prolonged job search with all the ups and downs, or a job that generates little personal satisfaction. Got it? Okay that’s good. Read on.

A full-time job or job search is 7 or 8 hours minimum a day. Add to this the time you prepare to go to work, travel to and from work, think about work before and after hours, maybe working from home etc. Think about the constant strain of the job search and when not actually job searching constantly being on the alert for new leads, budgeting what you can spend money on at the grocery store, what you need to sacrifice etc. That’s a huge block of time spent worrying, investing serious thought and emotional energy. Because a serious job search or a full-time job is such a large chunk of our daily lives, it naturally follows that if this block of time isn’t all that positive, it becomes all the more critical that you find some time to do things that you derive pleasure in.

Time is a commodity like anything else, and you can’t add more time to a day or detract from it. What you have the full power to do however is consciously decide HOW you will spend the time you have, each of those 24 hours. Think for a few moments about what it is that is enjoyable for you to do, that you could add in to your daily routine. Because you’re adding this to your daily routine, this is going to be something that’s easily accessible, low-cost, and of course something you derive pleasure from.

Some examples to get you going might be to read, blog, paint, sketch, write, scrapbook, knit, spend time with the family pet. What would have to happen for you to build in a 45 minute to one hour block of time in which you were free to pursue this activity? In my own case, I don’t have to get moving into my pre-work routine until 6:00 a.m. each weekday. So I have found that the 5:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m. hour is a beautiful time slot to do things I enjoy. My routine is to generally get up, make a cup of tea, then write a daily blog – the one you are reading now. The fire is one this morning, and the house is in complete silence other than the tick tick tick of the clock which is magnified in the silence.

When you set aside and commit to a block of time that’s entirely yours to do with what YOU want, you look forward to it. When you’re in those moments, you become pre-occupied with nothing more than what you are doing usually. That book truly does whisk you away to wherever it takes place, the sketching is more rewarding because you get immersed in it and start to feel the flow of the illustration clearer and deeper. And as these thoughts come into your head and occupy your thoughts, the stresses of the job search or work ebb out for a while.

Like anything else, the more you do commit to this time period, the better you become at getting to your happy place faster. You could find initially that dedicating yourself to a time slot that’s yours and yours alone might seem weird to others in the house. For those 45 minutes or 1 whole hour a day, you’re all about you. You’re unavailable except in a crisis; and a crisis isn’t a plaintive call from your teenager saying, “There’s nothing to eat!”

I know of one woman who gets up much like myself and cooks. The kitchen is far enough removed from bedrooms that the noises she makes are not disturbing, and instead of feeling rushed and HAVING to cook when hungry people cry out for dinner, she derives more enjoyment from WANTING to cook. That early morning time is when she can experiment, check recipes in a cookbook, freeze items for the future, put the evening meal in a slow cooker, etc. And not only does she enjoy this time, it pays dividends again later in the day when she is on the way home and not stressing about what to prepare, especially if the day was taxing and she’s tired. So mealtime is more about getting together and enjoying the mealtime than an act of labour.

What you do and when you do it is entirely up to you. You not only deserve this time on a daily basis, I’d argue you need it. Everyone needs to recharge, refocus and balance all the must-do’s in a day with some want-to-do’s. It’s much healthier for starters on both a physical and mental level. I bet you may not be aware how much of a physical strain it can be to constantly be only responding all day instead of initiating. When your day is spent doing what you have to without a little bit of what you want to, you feel less in control. Take back some control; like a gift you give yourself.

If you set aside this time, others may find you more pleasant, happier, less prone to be on edge. So do them but more importantly yourself a favour and commit yourself to some ‘me’ time each day.

Internal Validation

I’ve had three extremely thought-provoking conversations in the last two days, and all three were with co-workers I admire. Each conversation turned quickly to a discussion about the utilization of our skills, talents and abilities, and how and where we might best wish to use them moving forward.

At some point in each of the three, it was interesting how we complimented each other, and freely provided positive feedback. This feedback came in statements of what we admire in each other, the impact of the person on our shared clients we have witnessed, and in all three, things turned to what we surmised motivated each other, and that we might possibly be more in the future than we are in the present.

These conversations were most pleasant to be a part of because they got past the everyday conversations about the weather, how people are doing, what’s in the news etc. and got deeper into meaningful conversations each was ready and willing to engage in. And while these conversations provided external credibility and validation, I want to turn to internal validation in this post.

Internal validation with respect to employment, comes when you know you are in the right job. Whether you are at the top of the organization or on the front-line dealing directly with the customer, you are positioned in a career or occupation that makes maximum use of your talents, education and cumulative experience. In addition to this, you have pride in the work you do and what you accomplish. In short, you’re good and you know it. But this isn’t conceit, and that is critical to understand.

There is no bragging, no ‘look at me I’m Mr. Wonderful” (Miss, Ms. or Mrs. Wonderful works too!) Acknowledging that you are really good at what you do to yourself is such an empowering thing to do, but we so often shy away from denying ourselves this wonderful feeling. Think about it… We all strive to find daily work that pays well and brings us happiness. We are most happy when doing things that challenge us but that we do with competence and achieve positive results. So it’s odd if we finally achieve this goal and then deny ourselves the right to own it and say, “I know I’m good at what I do.”

So internal validation comes when we say to ourselves that we are good at what we do and we actually are on an objective level at the same time. The objective level means that there’s an external accountability that backs up how we feel, which keeps things from be fanciful and delusional. So for example if I thought I was an outstanding Goalkeeper on a sports team, but I constantly give up many goals, the objective information is there that proves I’m not as good as I think I am, and I’m deluding myself to think otherwise.

Now external validation is when those around us provide us with the feedback which reinforces the success we achieve. Comments like, “Good job on that assignment”, “Boy you really handled that problem well” or, “You really have a way with people” are examples of others (the external sources) identifying our successes and providing positive acknowledgement of what we have achieved or done. If you are getting multiple compliments over time for certain abilities, that leads to a reputation, and a reputation becomes your brand as in, “Let’s get Alice in on this, she’s our best option to tackle this situation”.

But here’s an oddity that I find. There are many people around me in my own workplace who deflect praise and external validation. Yet the same people go out of their way to praise, compliment and external validate others they work with. When they receive a compliment from me for example, they deflect it away, and instead of us talking about them, I find in seconds we’re talking about me, or some other person. I’ve actually pointed this out and said, “Hang on a minute, you’re deflecting my compliment. I’m talking about you and what you’ve done.” Then at that point they say, “Oh I’m sorry, you’re right, I should just say thank you.” That’s because of course they are being modest and don’t wish to appear to be self-centered or seeking praise, but that’s another issue altogether and not what’s really happening.

I’m very fortunate in that I feel I’m good at what I do. I’m far from perfect, and I’ve got a great deal more to learn; in fact, I hope I’ve got more to learn than I currently know. What I’ve yet to learn may be easy, difficult, trying, painful, joyful, exhilarating or befuddling. But learn I will and hopefully I’ll not only be better for it, but those whom I serve and whom I work with will also benefit from that learning. And I hope the same is true for you who find yourselves reading this blog.

It would be wonderful if everyone felt internally validated in the work that they do, and this is one of main reasons,the unemployed feel great stress because they want and NEED to feel this same validation. When we work to our strengths, perform our work with enthusiasm and joy, we achieve happiness.

May you find great happiness in what you do, and likewise feel internally validated as you go about your work.

Sharing Your Troubles

How do you find the right person when it comes to sharing the load?

As humans, we are blessed with having so many individual strengths and characteristics that differentiate us from one another. Where some of us are skilled in certain areas to the point where we are specialists in our fields, others are more generalists, or perhaps a complete novice. Consider plumbing or investing; two occupations where there are clearly specialists who have training and education, and probably a large number of people who tackle leaking pipes or playing the stock market with more bravado and optimism than perhaps they should.

But when it comes to looking for someone to share our troubles and problems with, it is all too common that we assume everyone has the time, the skill, the interest and the ability to listen to us. Unfortunately, like the once-a-year Plummer and the weekend Investor, not everyone has the refined skills it requires to actively listen and give the necessary time to someone who is unburdening themselves.

Now I can guess that you might be thinking that the simple act of listening doesn’t really require any special skill. Boil the kettle, let the tea steep, get out the biscuits and sit back and pay attention while you nibble on your biscuits and sip your tea. What could be easier?

Strange then that we aren’t all experts at listening. But we aren’t. I listen to people every single day without exaggeration who tell me of their disappointments, frustrations, accomplishments and tragedies; but I’d make a poor professional Mental Health Counsellor. I’m too quick to see solutions, want to interject possible steps to resolve conflicts, and want too much for clients to just do what to me is obvious and I want to fix things. Real counselling is more about listening, allowing someone to pour themselves out, express their feelings, guiding and exploring, encouraging and supporting. Some of this I do absolutely, but I’m not qualified to be an Individual or Family Counsellor and recognize that.

And yet, having said all of this, it’s not surprising that many people will nonetheless say that one of their strengths is their ability to listen to others. “I’m the one people come to when they want someone to listen to their problems and get advice”, I often hear. Part of me is glad that whomever these ‘people’ are, they have someone to unburden themselves with. That means the person in front of me is acting like a vent in a teapot, giving some outlet for the person to blow off steam.
But I do wonder about the second skill they say they have; the ability to give advice.

Sure anyone can give advice, but can anyone give quality advice? Say if you were homeless, out-of-work and penniless without a friend or family. The person I’d first want to seek out for advice would probably not be someone who is employed behind some desk, but rather someone in my situation whose been at it for longer than me. So some fellow in a soup kitchen might be willing to tell me the location of food banks, where to flop for a night and get in out of the cold, who to avoid, who to trust, which service providers actually help vs. those that say they will but don’t. In short, I want to get advice from the experienced specialist.

A word of caution I’d give to those looking for someone to share their burdens with is to find out how much the person doing the listening can actually bear. Dumping one’s troubles on someone who is themselves overloaded with their own problems and issues and that of others besides, can mean that their capacity to receive information and process it may be limited or non-existent.

Sometimes we are so overwhelmed with our own burdens that the idea of taking on more is impossible. The consequence of this is that the whole time someone is talking, you may find yourself nodding at the appropriate moments but all the while really thinking about your own issues and devising possible solutions to their resolvement. That’s not doing the person in front of you justice, and insults them especially when they believe they are getting your full attention.

And that brings us to active listening. Active listening by definition is setting aside all else and focusing on the person completely. Hearing what is said, clarifying to ensure what you think you hear is in fact what the person is saying, and having both your ears and your body language communicate to the person that they have your full attention.

In deciding whom to share deeply personal issues, it is usually suggested that you consider the services of a trained and experienced professional. They may be in a Counselling practice, perhaps specialized as in the case of an Addicitons Counsellor, or they may be skilled most dealing with issues such as poverty, child protection, law, depression, bereavement etc. What is important is to know that the person you share with treats your disclosure with confidentiality, you yourself with respect and compassion.

Sharing ones troubles is healthy; a sign of wisdom rather than weakness, and a shortcut to regaining a healthy balance so necessary to moving forward. If you’ve got someone in your life you can trust to listen to you when you need it most, then you are most fortunate. If not, look up ‘Counselling Services’ in your area.

Admiration For The Long-Term Caregiver

One of the most valued and yet at the same time unappreciated jobs has to be the Caregivers in society. When someone in your own family has mental and/or physical health issues of a long-term nature, I can only imagine how stressful that conversation must be of whether or not it’s time to enlist the services of a paid Caregiver.

Some Caregivers work round the clock and live-in with their charges, expected to be energized, well-rested and providing quality care throughout the day, but also to be light sleepers and at the ready in the dead of night should their clients call out. And in addition to their human capacity to nurture, care and empathize with their clients, they are also expected to research all they can about the condition of their patient in particular, and their illness in general.

Many of these Caregivers are required to take their clients outside daily; to the market, around the block, to the parks, bowling, social events, and more. They may have to provide their own cars or vans, navigating the streets with the rest of us while all the while chatting with and dealing with distractions from within their vehicles. Or it could be that public transit is used, and while it becomes less stressful in some ways such as not being responsible for driving, stress has to rise as they deal with all kinds of gawkers, on-lookers, well-wishers, busy-bodies and taunting juveniles too young to know the role they play.

It’s not hard to understand why people need to enlist the services of such people. A good Caregiver can reduce the daily stress of a person caring for an elderly parent. Many people might want to take time off to care for their own family members, but bills still have to be paid, mortgages kept up, and thus faced with the difficult choices of providing for oneself and providing for a parent, enter in the discussion of enlisting a Caregiver.

Here in Canada, statistics tell us that we have a very large population of older people, and in the coming 3 – 8 years that large group is going to swell to a huge number as all the baby-boom generation shift into the retiring categories, and many of them needing care. The services of Personal Support Workers, Caregivers and Companions is going to exhaust the current number of those available, and the good ones will have no problem finding employment. In fact, if you have a car and licence in good standing, and are in good physical health yourself with a propensity to enjoy providing care for others, you may be in high demand if you are a Caregiver for years to come.

And it’s not only the old and feeble that people care for. No, it may be middle-aged people with mental and physical health issues. Even younger people are out there in need of care, but the stereotype is the older client.

And I admire the Caregivers for many reasons. They take charge of cleaning patients up who have had urinated or worse in bed and need fresh linens and clothing. They deal with patients who may not be fully or even slightly in charge of their mental faculties and may not even know who they are whatsoever, thinking one day they are a child of their own, or someone out to rob them when they sleep. They can be verbally abused in this way, treated poorly and unappreciated by their charges, underpaid by their employers, questioned thoroughly if something goes missing, expected to render medications but first suspected if medications cause problems.

Caregivers are also angels among us. They allow people to carry on with their jobs, providing income for their own families. They provide respite for frazzled people who need a mental break themselves, who are overwhelmed and laden with guilt from not being where they think they need to be in order to be where they have to be. They endure all the slander mentioned above, they are expected to bond and enjoy the company of the irritable, and quickly endear themselves to their clients so that the search for a Caregiver is concluded to everyone’s satisfaction.

You might think these people would be handsomely paid for their services, but in truth the financial compensation they receive is limited. Their formal education and training may be limited to some basic first aid courses, sessions in how to deal with difficult people and a Certificate program in providing personal care. They could conceivably be on social assistance or seeking a career change, a registered nurse looking to branch out, a previously unemployed person taking this job thinking it’s a stop-gap measure while they look for what they call, ‘a real job’. They come with many different motivations and stories themselves.

Depending on a families needs, they may take time to find the right person, or they may just throw the cheapest person into the job if they don’t have the time, patience or interest in hiring the very best they can find.

If you are a Caregiver, I applaud your vocation and your choice. I for one certainly hope that you do your very best daily to provide high quality care, and that you are appreciated for your work by those who pay you, those in your care, those you meet and that it’s reflected in the compensation you receive.

The Optimistic Attitude

Ah the ever optimist.

I like to think that I’m counted in the group of people who are predominantly optimistic. When I wake up, I look forward to the day, to my 1 hour drive from a rural community to an urban area. I look forward to whatever is on my schedule at work for the day, to working alongside my co-workers, lending guidance and support to my clients. I look forward during the day to my trek back home, what I might see along the way, perhaps a good movie or series on the television. I’m thinking about what I’ve got to prepare for supper and looking forward to that, and to spending an evening with my wife and during the evening I even look forward to laying my head down on the pillow and drifting off to the land of sleepys.

Not overly infused with adventure, heart-pounding exercise, amazing highlights worthy of documenting, but days upon days of happy and content moments which multiplied over a period, amass a pretty good life. Sure there are ups and downs from time-to-time, and problems to deal with and things to overcome. It’s not all rosy and sublime, but throughout it all, it’s pretty safe for me to say that I think in the end it all works out, and that it’s good to remember that in the periods of unrest.

Have you ever noticed however that sometimes optimistic people such as me have a curious influence on people we come into contact with? Some genuinely smile just when I walk into their view, and I feel like Norm walking into the bar in Boston named Cheers. “Hey Norm!” everyone turns and then they carry on. Sometimes it’s like that when people look up, smile and say, “Your always in a good mood. Do you ever have a rough day?”

And on the other hand there are people who seem to wake up snarly and ugly, just spoiling for a fight and looking for the least thing to provoke them. Conversations with these people usually start innocently enough with a, “Hey good morning!” to be followed with their, “What’s good about it?” reply. Somehow they don’t appreciate it when I start telling them the many things that are good about it. Hmmm….

“Looks like we’re due for 3 or 4 centimetres of snow this afternoon. Should be a pretty drive home tonight. Be sure to drive safe everybody!” I’ll say as I’m walking into the area where I work during the day. “Really? I hate snow. I just wish we could get snow Christmas eve and Christmas day and then it would disappear for another year”. Ouch. The optimistic attitude rubs the people the wrong way yet again.

Yet overall, I’d say that people appreciate my positive outlook on things. We have a board up in one of the halls at our office called, ‘Keeping it Real’. Your name gets put up for a week with a few other employees and the rest of the staff can go to it and write a little post-it note stating what they like or appreciate about you. Then your name disappears and someone else’s takes your place and you have the chance to return the favour.

In my own case, several people said they liked my happy positive and optimistic attitude. One said they appreciated the fact that I never burdened anyone with my own personal problems – if I have any. And that got me thinking. While it’s true I don’t have major issues and problems regularly, and I’d be hard-pressed to come up with huge issues, I do have minor irritants every so often, but I’ve never felt walking around and sharing those with my co-workers to be appropriate. After all, those are usually personal issues, and I’ve got a partner at home that I work through those things with and it works. Why bring them to work?

But let me ask you a question. Haven’t you had the experience where someone comes in and starts liberally passing around their negativity? They drone on about catastrophes that in reality aren’t any big deal. Such as, “AHHHHHH! I couldn’t believe it! Do you know on the way in today I had four red lights! Four! It didn’t matter how fast I drove to the next light, it turned red just as I got near it! And then I stopped at a drive-thru to get a large coffee with milk and they gave it to me with sugar and milk! I had to stop and go back and say, Excuse me, do you know what I ordered here? This is not acceptable”.

I think I’d rather be seen as the person in the office whose upbeat and positive. It generally gets me surrounded by people on a regular basis who are likewise positive. That doesn’t mean we can’t share our frustrations, we just know they’ll work out and generally see them for what they are, not more than they are.

I’d go so far in this post to suggest that if your work requires you to work with other people, that you try to conduct yourself with more optimism and positivity. Not necessary to be at the extreme end and be phony, but if you’ve got to lean one way or the other, choose optimism. It does a mind and body good!