Be A Beacon Of Hope

“When faith gives way to fear
When motivation disappears
All is lost if one abandons Hope”

These are the final 3 lines of lyrics from the 1977 song called, “Hope” by a Canadian band called Klaatu. Lovely song and you might like a listen.

These lyrics come into my head often in the course of my work; meeting with and interacting with people who are either unemployed or dissatisfied with their current job or career.

For many, that period of adrenaline and excitement at the prospect of breaking away from a job or employer they want to leave behind has past, That initial optimism that came with having made a decision to land a job and the belief that it wouldn’t take too long has ebbed and been replaced with doubt and worry. Those of us who work as Employment Counsellors and Coaches know intrinsically that this is often the point we interact with such folks; their belief or faith in their ability to find meaningful work is giving way to the fear that they won’t.

When we meet for the first time and walk awhile together, each on our own career journey, it’s hope more than anything else riding on this relationship. And thus, it is critical for us to remind ourselves of this because it’s far too easy to get distracted and caught up in the files and job boards that need updating, the academic courses we’re undertaking or the break we’re overdue for. In other words, tuning in to the person before us and empathizing with them is critically important. In these moments, we have a caseload of one person; the person before us. We are their hope.

Now for me personally – and I’m only going to speak for myself here – I do my best to offer the support and partnership to others that I’d benefit from the most if the tables were turned and it were I seeking help to find meaningful work. One of the biggest mistakes I believe we can make in this occupation is failing to appreciate that those seeking our help are intelligent enough to tell when we’re not focused on them. Whether a person has a grade 8 education and is after an entry-level job or they hold a Master’s degree and are hunting a senior position in a multi-national organization, people know when you’re distracted or zeroed in.

There’s a cartoon that just came to mind which has two employees under a customer service sign facing a long line of shoppers. The one says to the other, “This job wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the people.” Hmmm….

Ah but we’re human aren’t we? We have things on our minds such as the struggles our children are going through, the housework that’s waiting for us when we get home, the groceries that have to be bought and the parents we have to visit when we finally do get a chance. We are entitled to be concerned and think about these and the many other things going on in our own lives because yes, we are humans too. And because we’re human, sometimes these ‘things’ enter our minds at the most inopportune times. We don’t consciously seek out things to distract us, they just come calling. So we have to work harder to focus.

But back to that bit about giving the level of service we’d like and expect were it us on the receiving end. I know you can recall times when you’ve felt like someone’s lower priority. Customer service is promoted all the time as a key qualification in so many jobs but it doesn’t always translate into the experience received by customers and clients.

One tip I have found that serves me well is turning away from my computer keyboard and facing the person seeking help head on. Giving them 100% of my body language communicates that they have my full attention and I’m listening. This isn’t symbolic. I know I can hear the words they speak even if I look away, but I need their facial cues, their posture, their eye contact (or lack thereof) etc. in order to fully take in the complete message they are communicating. This avoids miscommunication and encourages them to share what they otherwise might not.

The short of it is by investing in the conversation, I invest in the person. When this is done, they feel hopeful in the depth of the relationship being established, because here is a person who is listening – really listening. Although that story they’re telling has been heard by me before, I’ve never heard it told by THIS person.

And then it clicks into place; hope. When it’s time to turn back to a computer screen, the job seeker feels fully heard and understood, feeling they are my priority.

If you’re considering joining us in the employment coaching or counselling field, I sure hope you appreciate that you’ll be someone’s beacon of hope; many if you’re good. We need empathic, caring and compassionate people, focused on serving others in partnership as we walk for awhile together on our career journeys. You’ll be enriched, you’ll be challenged and you’ll fail sometimes by the way. If you don’t fail every so often, you’re playing it safe.

Be a lighthouse shining a beacon of hope for those you serve today!


Turn Your Passion Into A Job? Not Always.

You’ve probably heard some people who give career advice suggest that you take something you love and then see if you can find a way to get paid for doing it. There is some merit in this as the work you would be doing on a daily basis would be something you’d enjoying doing and to get paid for doing it would seemingly give you endless days of pleasure, giving you the seemingly the perfect job. I beg to differ.

This past weekend in Canada where I reside, we had a 3 day weekend owing to the fact it was Victoria Day. Where I live, each of the three days was warmer than the day before it, and while the first two days were a nice mixture of sun and cloud, the third was sunny and a scorcher. Here we haven’t hit summer yet, and the May 24th weekend is the signpost that we use to do much of our garden plantings as all danger of frost is usually over with.

Can you see where I’m going? I love gardening. On any given weekend I look forward to waking up and getting out and about the property to see what’s sprouting up, what needs weeding, fertilizing, watering or cutting. Some days I know exactly what I want to accomplish by days end, and other days I find myself looking back on a day where I got things done I had no idea of working on until I got taken with some inspiration along the way. Yes, I really do enjoy spending time gardening.

As late afternoon Monday rolled around; it being the last of the three days off, I found myself showered from the dirt and grime of the garden beds and sitting back looking out at the backyard with my wife. We counted ourselves fortunate that we live where we do, have our health and the serenity that comes from having a nice place to come home to each day where we can relax and enjoy the peace and tranquility of our little piece of the world. What I could not do on my own in this space was haul the massive armour stones that frame our waterfall, nor do I have the equipment to dig down deep and eventually lay out our back two patios which have a lot of curves and required some fine stone cutting.

From time-to-time I’ve thought about landscaping and property maintenance as a career. I know when I create a garden from what was a plot of grass, I feel good inside looking at the finished product and knowing how much improved the space looks. Over time I’ve learned quite a bit about what plants to grow and how to group them so they are attractive to the eye, which bees, birds or butterflies will be drawn in with the choices I make etc.

So a career in gardening, landscaping, property maintenance etc. might on the surface be a good choice for me. Alas my friends, it is not so. For starters, I’m not at the right time in my life to entertain such a career even if I were looking for a change (which I’m not by the way. I love my current job). While I don’t have the heavy equipment needed for some jobs, I know I could rent these things as needed and keep my costs down. I know too that on a small-scale, I’ve got some of the basic tools of the trade; the lawn mower, shovels, rototillers, wheelbarrow, edger, hoe, weed-puller and a pick axe. Pick axe you say? Yep, a pick axe is a great tool for skimming off grass and breaking up hard soil or removing rocks from the ground. Tools therefore would not be an obstacle to getting started.

What I wouldn’t like about the job is that; well…it would become a job. Right now this hobby of mine is mine to do as I please. It’s a little too hot, I stop. It’s a little too chilly or wet, I don’t start. My choice you see; my time. However, if I was to be employed as a Landscaper, I’d feel that very real sense of duty and commitment. It would possibly turn this activity I find so rewarding into a source of income but I’d be disappointed if somewhere along the way this turned into something I had to do rather than loved to do.

Now sure I’ve offered and volunteered my time and knowledge to help with enhancing friends and neighbours properties. This I think is what being a good friend and neighbour is all about; lending a hand.

In my case at any rate, I want to separate my paid employment from one of my hobbies that brings me joy. Were I to go back in time and choose a different occupation I may well have done very well to choose Horticulture and launch a career in that field, (no pun intended) but back then I didn’t even think of this and wouldn’t have known how to go about getting started if I had.  The ironic drawback might be that I’d be so busy improving other people’s properties that my own might be neglected as I wouldn’t have the drive to landscape from 8 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and then come home to work on my own.

What are your thoughts on doing what you love for a living? Is this always a good idea?

Telling It Like It Is

Sorry if it sounds rather blunt, but there are certain jobs in this world you just aren’t cut out for. This statement is I’m guessing coming as no big surprise. Together, you and I can probably come up with many jobs that are way beyond what you’re qualified to do; an Astronaut, Nuclear Technician, Rocket Scientist, Head of the United Nations. No problem agreeing these jobs are way beyond your ability to obtain. Am I right?

However, where you might take an issue with me and/or with other professionals in your community that are in a position to give you employment coaching advice,  is that there are other kinds of jobs you’re likely never to get either; jobs closer to home; jobs you think you have a shot at. I’m here to tell you…you don’t.

“Now hang on a second”, you say. “Aren’t you supposed to be encouraging me? Be positive? Tell me I can be anything I put my mind to?” Well, that may be what mom and dad told you years ago; might even be what you’re hearing from people who want you to like them now. The blunt truth however is that there are some jobs you think you’ve got a good shot at that you, uh, well…don’t. It’s never going to happen. The odds are so stacked against you and you’re deluding yourself if you think you’ve got a legitimate shot at getting these jobs. Sorry, but there it is.

Now why would I or any other person in the employment coaching business tell you something that appears on the surface to be callous, hurtful and just plain mean? Believe it or not, it may just be to help you avoid putting in a lot of effort, time and money and ultimately being discouraged, frustrated and in debt. After all, if I encouraged you to go after a job for a couple of years with no success and then you came to the realization yourself that it wasn’t going to happen for you, the last thing you’d want me to then say is, “Yeah I’ve known all along you didn’t have a smidge of a chance but I decided to let you find that out for yourself.”

You see, were I to meet you and sit down for a few conversations with you, I’d start assessing you right from the moment I laid eyes on you. (You by the way would be doing exactly the same thing of me so don’t say you wouldn’t judge me like I’m judging you.) I’d be sizing up your first impression on me, listening to your language skills, determining your listening skills, check your written language skills. I’d inquire about your education level, aspirations, what you’ve done in the past, whether you had a licence to drive, a vehicle, criminal convictions. I look at your clothes, ask about your wardrobe, what you’re interested in, how much or little you’re prepared to work etc. And these are just for starters.

What I – and others like me – am really doing is listening to what you say you want in the future, contrasting it with your present reality, and then assessing the gulf between the two. How likely is it therefore that you who wants to work in some capacity with people is likely to be successful with your attitude, patience (or lack of it), listening skills and your commitment to go to school and get some formal education in the field you want to work in?

What I’d also want to learn is why you have failed in the past to achieve whatever goals you’ve had; assuming in the past you’ve had some goals for yourself at all. Here’s what might come as a shocker to you: The single biggest obstacle to realizing success (whatever that represents for you personally), isn’t the economy. Nor is it demanding employers, the time of year, the floundering dollar, or anything else you can point to, ‘out there’. The single biggest obstacle to realizing success is you. There; I’ve said it. Get all worked up and your nose out of joint if you want, but there it is…you.

Conversely, when you are successful in obtaining whatever job is in fact within your capability of getting, you alone are deserving of all the credit in doing so too. It’s a two-way street. So give me some credit for giving you the credit. Even if you work with an Employment Coach or Counsellor and they teach you all kinds of new things that you put into action and get a job because of it, you alone made the decision to accept that help, use those techniques, and you alone went to that interview and you alone impressed enough to get offered a job. A job I say, that is within your abilities.

Here’s an easy thing to ask and a hard thing to do. If you are working with a professional, ask them right at the start to be honest with you. Be prepared if you do, to hear things that you might otherwise take offence to or want to argue. Let their words sink in and reflect on their words for a day or two. They may or may not be right of course, but you still need to check out what it is about you that is giving off whatever impression they are receiving. All the best.

Isn’t It Time You Got Going?

I am confident that a number of you reading this have one or more things in your life that you know you should be doing, but you’ve been putting it off. In fact, some of you – some of us – have quite a few small things that have been relegated to the ‘someday I should get around to doing that’ file. The more little things you put off, the easier it is to put off the big things – the pattern being already established.

I was listening to a few people having a conversation recently, the topic centering on politics. There was a general agreement that politicians know what they should be doing but choose not to act, instead burying their heads and not making the tough decisions needed. That discussion had me wondering just how different; or how similar politicians are then to you and me. After all, don’t you put off making the tough decisions – the major ones, just saying what you need to say to others to satisfy them temporarily but taking no real action on some of the things you yourself know you should be doing?

Yes, I see this in myself and I see it in you, (you being the people I either speak to, observe or have online conversations with around the globe. People will either tell me they’ve putting off making real change in their lives for years when they know action was probably the one thing they needed to do but didn’t, or they tell me after they are well on their way that they knew they should have started sooner.

So why do we procrastinate? Isn’t it time you and I got going? For some it’s losing weight, finding a job, asking someone to marry us, starting that business, buying that first home etc. You can replace any of the above with whatever you’ve been putting off; making peace with your family, forgiving someone or applying for that promotion.

Here’s reality: your time is finite. No matter how many minutes, months, weeks or years you have left to live, whatever your life expectancy is, it’s becoming less with each passing day. So with each passing day, the time you have left to enjoy the benefits of whatever you’ve been putting off gets shorter, and the length of time you live wishing, wanting and regretting gets longer. Why live regretting when you could live celebrating?

So are you worth it? ‘It’ being the work it’s going to take of course. After all, if you’ve been putting off actually doing whatever it’s going to take to obtain your desired goal, it’s a safe assumption that the effort required is what’s been holding you back. Up to now you must have believed, (and maybe still do) that the goal while nice hasn’t been worth the effort and that your current circumstances are preferable to the effort it would take to change your life for the better.

So let’s look at a career or a job as an example. If you have a job or career that you believe would be satisfying and improve your current circumstances, sit and imagine yourself in that role. Do it now for a moment. See yourself in that job, and see yourself successful. See yourself accomplishing things; making others lives better, bringing in profits, improving your own life, whatever you wish. As you imagine this job or life, do you find yourself picturing yourself with a smile and being happy? Now are you generally smiling and happy in your present life as you are?

We do have the power to change our circumstances. It is knowing we have this power to choose and act on our choices that causes us to regret action not taken, while others are thankful they did.

The argument for getting moving is pretty simple. If you didn’t really want something, you wouldn’t be thinking of it constantly and it wouldn’t be causing you any worry or longing. You also wouldn’t be experiencing that mental conflict; wanting it but doing little or nothing every day to make ‘it’ happen, whatever ‘it’ is. If you acted and took steps to achieve this goal, the mental conflict and turmoil would diminish and some pride in doing something about your longing would replace it. Feeling good is better than feeling bad, and you’d feel good moving towards your goal and waking up each day knowing you were closer to it than yesterday.

What you want takes work and you’re going to have to motivate yourself to get going and keep going if what you really want is going to come about. No one is just going to show up at your home without some effort on your part and hand you your Degree, make 40 pounds disappear, hand you shiny house keys or give you an employment contract to sign without work on your part.

It boils down to this: you can choose the status quo and live your life as it is being content (which you aren’t) regretting not having done something. Or you can make a decision to shake off inactivity and DO THE THINGS that move you in the direction of what you want. You make a choice each day and while you get the chance each morning you rise to choose between the two, no one knows how many mornings you have left!

Isn’t it time to get going?

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Career Research Activity To Try

In my work as an Employment Counsellor, I’m called upon to help others explore career options from time-to-time, and most often this activity is preceded by an examination of the person’s skills, interests, assets, age, values, beliefs, strengths and liabilities etc. Some of the people I work with are after a career, some are after a job, and well, quite frankly some don’t even know the difference between the two so they don’t know what they want.

However that aside for the moment, there is a very simple but useful exercise that I do when facilitating a workshop on career exploration that gets a lot of laughs, and is fun to do. If you think that this is an activity that your class or group might find useful, you have my blessings to likewise try it out and maybe even morph it into an activity with your own twist.

For starters you’ll need two envelopes, (11 x 14) for each person in the group. In each envelope I insert a picture off the internet of an occupation with the career or job title prominently typed below the picture. Now in my case I have taken the time to make 40 pictures printed off a colour printer, and then I have laminated the pictures so I can use them again and again with numerous groups. Some of the pictures depict jobs people see everyday like a Cashier, Caretaker, Parking Lot Attendant. Other pictures include a Soldier, Dog Walker, Writer, Arborist, Pharmaceutical Technician, Crossing Guard etc. In other words, some pictures are representative of occupations that my clients may see on a daily basis, some are entry-level, some are high-risk, some peculiar, some just plain not even obvious from the name or the picture as to what they do.

Two days before I plan to use the envelopes, I have the class walk in to the room only to find all 40 envelopes on the walls around the room. Some are just off the floor, some near the ceiling, some clustered in groups, some all by themselves, some near where people sit, others far away. All I tell the group is not to look in any of the envelopes. I let the curiosity build until the day I want to use them. So when the time comes, I ask them one at a time to pick an envelope off the wall. Then the person opens their envelope, pulls out the picture and shows their new job to the group. Get a ‘Rock Star’ and you might be cool, pick a ‘Street Cleaner’ and maybe not so much, but pick the Pest Exterminator depicted by a guy in an attic with large dead rats and you’ll get a reaction!

When everyone has picked their new career or job, I distribute one page with some questions on it for each person to complete. Some of the questions are:

What skills would this job require? What would be your annual salary? What would you both like and not enjoy about this job? What education would this job require? What would be the benefits of this job? What’s the worst thing that could go wrong in this job? What personality traits or attributes might you share with someone in this job? Why is this job important?

Each person then completes the sheet and we discuss some of the answers. Maybe someone picked a career they have no idea about whatsoever. Then a discussion ensues about how you would go about finding the information you need. There are lots of jobs and careers that initially people know nothing about, and they have to complete some research to find out – just like in real life. So why put the envelopes all over the room? First ask the class why they chose the envelope they did. Some will choose one really close to their chair so they don’t draw attention to themselves, others will choose that one they really had to reach high for (and don’t we have to stretch ourselves to obtain some careers?). Others choose ones at the far end of the room, (some occupations do seem rather far away) and some want that one you put all by itself (because maybe it is special?). Why and how they made their decision of can be related back to how people really go about picking jobs in their world.

After discussion has run its course, I take back all the pictures and envelopes and tell some of the group that they have been laid off. Others I tell got a promotion, others wanted a career change, and some are going through a mid-life crisis. Bottom line is everybody ‘loses’ their job and has to pick a second one and repeat the exercise with a new sheet to complete on the second career. It’s random, and shouldn’t be done more than twice or it gets boring and the point is made. The point being that there are many careers and jobs out there that may be appealing and possible if you look beyond your initial reaction and where you see that job on a value scale. In other words, is the Dog Washer any less fulfilling or valued than the Radio Announcer? Is the Fire Fighter more prestigious than the Butcher? If so, why?

Get thinking; get talking; get going.

Deciding On Career/Job Direction

I know one guy who 7 years ago told me he wanted to be a dentist. Go to school I said and start learning. “Ah but it’s so expensive and it takes about 7 years” he said. Today he’d be graduating. He isn’t of course and he hasn’t signed up for school and he’ll never be a Dentist but he keeps telling everyone that’s what he wants to be.

Some people don’t move forward with what they really want to do. So what is YOUR reason for not doing something up to now that you really want to do? Is it money? Perhaps time required to go to school? Age? Responsibilities to others? Indecision? The economy? To be helpful, I have to be blunt. You’ve really got a few choices to make:

  • Make a decision to get the education/training to do what you really want. This is like going back a step or two in order to take a leap forward – and in the direction you want later.
  • Modify or change your dream because it will never happen if you don’t do something right now and stop kidding yourself otherwise.
  •  Realize that maybe you have other goals and dreams and that by passing on one, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure; you have other dreams that can still be realized and bring you happiness.

Try this. Put your name in the middle of a sheet of paper. Put today’s date under your name. Equidistant from your name, put several rectangular boxes and in each box put some career or job you’d be happy doing. The number of boxes will vary from person to person. If you can, put a number above each box that represents your first choice, 2nd choice etc. Draw an arrow from your name to your first choice. Along that arrow, draw some lines that represent steps you would have to take in order to achieve that career or job. Some steps might be: Research, tuition, apply for school, attend school, get a criminal check, maybe get a pardon, etc. At each step note approximately the length of time the step takes. For example maybe applying for school is a 2 day step but attending school is a 3 year step. If there is a step (or barrier) that you are not willing to take, like going to school for 3 years, then I suggest you MUST move on to your 2nd career and do the same exercise and see if the steps you need to take are more agreeable to you. To continue wanting your 1st choice without being willing to overcome the barriers along the way isn’t much point is it? That would really just be a lot of wasted energy and time to start down a path you know only leads so far until you reach a brick wall and have to turn around.

The problem that people have with this exercise is the anxiety of moving in ANY one direction at the expense of some other. So if your first choice is a Carpenter, your second choice a Mechanic and your third choice is a Bartender, by making a decision to learn carpentry and become a Carpenter they have immediate regrets at not being a Mechanic. The result for some is not moving forward in any direction and then other barriers begin to emerge that they didn’t have before such as depression, anger, frustration, aging, gaps in employment etc.

This exercise is useful because it gets things on paper and visually shows someone the necessary steps to take to achieve their goals, and with others it can explain why they never feel they are getting ahead. If you do this exercise, you may need some help plotting out the steps to take along the path to your 1st choice job/career. It is up to YOU to do something here and now though to get out and contact some Career Advisor or Job Coach to help you figure it out. Admitting what you want but not knowing the steps to take is a sign of strength, actually asking for help is a sign of wisdom.

Contact a Community College or University, see a Career Counsellor, start with an Employment Agency, maybe a High School Guidance Counsellor etc. Even if you have to pay for their time, (and many are free), that money is a small investment in getting on track. The benefit is that when you are moving in the direction you really want and can see your progress in black and white as you check off those steps you need to take, your anxiety shrinks, your confidence grows, your future is brighter and you walk taller.

Hope this helps you out, and even more so I hope it gets you moving!