Generally Speaking, Here’s THE Problem


It’s not failing to market yourself in a job interview, writing a poor cover letter that fails to grab their attention, fear of initiating a meeting with someone in the role you want or even agonizing over your career path that is the biggest problem for most people. Interestingly however, all these are tied to the fundamental one thing which holds back being successful. That one thing? Positive self-esteem.

Again and again I interact with people who question themselves, who see their abilities and skills as needing improvement. They often show their lack of self-esteem in the words they speak and write, often without even knowing that their choice of words reveals more about them then they realize. Their non-verbal communication also gives away their lack of belief in their abilities. Yes, “Believe In Yourself” is one of the best pieces of advice a person can be given. However, it’s one thing to know you should believe in yourself and quite another to actually do it.

Take the person who, upon sitting down in an interview, starts off by saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m really nervous, I’m going to try my best but…” Or the cover letter that says, “I believe I can do the job”, and not, “I know I can do the job”. Then the body language people use, often folding into themselves in trying to become invisible, or the doubt they reflect on their face as they speak, the weak handshakes, the lack of eye contact etc.

Poor or low self-esteem is robbing employer’s of great employees, and robbing people of wonderful opportunities in the workforce. It keeps people in entry-level jobs when they do get them, and can keep people from taking chances because their fear of failure outweighs their desire for success. It’s sad. It’s more than just sad actually and it’s got to change.

Now if you feel your self-esteem is low, it’s likely you’re not to blame. If you seldom got praised or supported as a child growing up – be it from parents, extended family and teachers etc., it naturally follows that these key authority figures in your early life did you a major disservice which now as an adult has you instinctively doubtful of yourself. Now as an adult, you might not believe others when they say you’re beautiful; being overly critical of minor flaws. You might not have the courage to stand up and tell your parents – even as an adult – that what you really want to do in life is ….

Here’s the good news. Just as years and years of never being complimented, encouraged and supported can do a great deal of damage to your self-esteem, the same can be said of the reverse. In other words, you can in fact improve your self-esteem. This is not something however that’s going to correct itself overnight. Just telling yourself that you’re going to believe in yourself isn’t going to undo decades of damage. Damage by the way might seem like a strong word to use, but honestly, if you’ve been put down or never even had words of encouragement from your parents and significant people in your life, they have in fact damaged you whether it was intentional or not.

Building your self-esteem and self-respect back up is something you can do however. When someone gives you a compliment, do yourself a favour and accept their assessment instead of automatically downplaying or disagreeing with their words. What someone has recognized in you as good and worthy of noting is a good thing. The choice is yours to say a simple thank you or deflect those words with your automatic, “What? This old thing?” or “I don’t see myself that way.”

The person you are now is a product of your past, and it’s equally true that the person you become in the future will be a product of both your present and your future. Yes, it takes time, but time alone won’t change things much. You really need a combination of time, surrounding yourself with positive people who recognize and voice the good in you, and a willingness on your part to be open to seeing yourself differently; a change in your attitude.

You deserve a positive future. You are worthy of the good things in life; the very things you want such as a good job, supportive and positive relationships, feeling good about who you are as a person and seeing yourself as a person of worth.

One thing you can consider is removing yourself from the constant influence of negative people; the one’s who tell you that you’ll never amount to much; that you should just settle in life and you’ll always be flawed. You’re so much better than how they see you! When these people happen to be in your family, you might consider telling them how hurtful their words are, and that they’ve got to get behind you or get out of your way. The person you’ve been is not the person you’re going to be.

Build on small successes. Sure it starts with being open to the, “Believe in Yourself” philosophy. When others say good things about you, accept that they see something in you that you yourself may not; and they just might be right, especially if you’ve heard this from others.

Self-esteem can be rebuilt and when it does, it’s a beautifully powerful thing.

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When Sharing A Skill


Whether you’re a newbie or a long-time, seasoned veteran, you could be guilty of making a rookie mistake; sharing a skill and assuming the other person can do it without actually observing them try it on their own.

Now it’s not that you’re smarter than the people you’re sharing what you know with. No, it’s more than that. It’s that you’ve had practice over time and have come to master or improve what you once found new and they haven’t. If you make the assumption that someone who is nodding their head in the affirmative can do for themselves what you are instructing them on, you’ll be surprised to find they often can’t. The danger here is that when you do discover they can’t perform up to your – or their – expectations, you might actually even set them back further than when you started, as they wrestle with a drop in self-esteem and question their abilities.

Case in point, the dreaded resume. I know, I know, why that! Ah but it’s true my readers. Yes, as an Employment Counsellor I help many people daily and one of the most common things I’m passing on to those I help is how to craft a winning resume. This is something many people think is pretty simple to put together; they believe anybody can make one. On the one hand, this belief is absolutely true; however, not many can make an effective one, and that’s the difference. I regularly see people genuinely show they understand the suggestions I’m passing on, and most importantly, the reason behind those suggestions. Yet, if they sit down on their own to implement those ideas and suggestions, there’s often a gulf between what they understand and what they produce.

So may I suggest that when passing on a skill, do more than just tell someone how. Perhaps for the auditory learner; those who just need to be told how to do something, this might work. However, the majority of learners I’ve found need to not only hear what you’re passing on, they need to also see it done and then have the opportunity to try it themselves under some watchful guidance.

Again, it’s not that the learner is inferior to the teacher but rather, the teacher has had more experience learning a new skill, practicing it repeatedly and mastering the subject. A new learner has neither the practice doing what you’re passing on, or the time to have mastered what you impart.

A trap you also want to avoid is feeling somewhat smug about your superior knowledge in whatever you’re teaching and then making the leap to feeling superior as a person overall. Whomever you’re sharing your skill with is without question the expert in other areas; certainly better skilled say in what they do for a living than you are at the moment. So a trained and experienced Office Administrative professional might not be able to market themselves in a résumé as well as you, but they may well have superior knowledge about keyboarding skills, shortcut keys, use of tabs etc.. if you’ve never had formal training in Office Administration and everything you know on a keyboard has been self-taught, they just might be able to share a few things with you!

As I say, the majority of people I’ve come into contact with as an Employment Counsellor, Trainer and Facilitator learn best by being given the opportunity to practice newly learned skills. A tremendously good thing to do during this learning period is to give encouragement and recognize the skill development so watch your words. If they hold you in high esteem and value your opinion, they’ll be greatly influenced by both your praise and your corrective criticism.

I have found that taking a few minutes while sharing what I know, to learn something from those I’m working with does us both a lot of good. First of all, I learn and appreciate what this person can do; a little insight into a job perhaps that I only have a basic understanding of. More importantly by far however, the person I’m helping feels good that I’m both interested enough to want to know, and they experience some measure of improved self-worth in knowing what I do not. We are after all, two people with skills in different areas, both having strengths and areas to improve upon. We just happen to be in a situation where my strengths are being showcased and drawn upon. This however, doesn’t make me better overall, or in any way superior.

It is also of critical importance to recognize just how much a person can take in during your time together. If you’re working together for 2 or 3 weeks, you can pass on much more than telling them everything you’d like them to know when you’ve only got 30 minutes together. Your expectations of what you can share and what they can grasp and retain must adjust to the circumstances.

So share what you know while checking both the learners comprehension and ability to do for themselves what you’re sharing. Share to the ability of the learner in a partnership model; working together to pass on a skill or series of skills and not the model where one is the, “Wise One” and the other an empty vessel to be instructed. See if this makes a difference.

Problems In Addition To Unemployment?


If you’re out of work its a pretty safe bet that the lack of a job isn’t the only problem you’re facing. Quite the opposite is likely the case; you’ve got a growing list of issues that would seem to be multiplying.

As these multiple issues arise, you’ve also likely come to doubt your ability to handle things effectively, and this is yet another thing that’s giving you reason for concern, because handling things effectively so they didn’t get out of hand used to be a strength of yours. Now though, well, you’re doubting yourself. And this self-doubt is happening more and more isn’t it?

Here’s the thing about problems; we all get them from time-to-time. For many people, the problems can be anticipated and quickly averted; say in the case of knowing you’ve got a bill to pay by the end of the month. The smart thing to do would be to pay the bill, avoiding any more charges for a late fee and then crossing this potential problem off your list. Seems easy enough.

The thing about mounting problems however is that when one problem comes along, it often brings several more. So not only is a particular bill due, there could be several due, and just as you’re thinking it’s going to be difficult to pay all the bills, this is precisely when the furnace acts up, the curling shingles on the house you didn’t repair or replace blow off completely, the dog has an untimely medical visit to the vet clinic and suddenly the washing machine is knocking so loud you can longer ignore it. Then your child innocently reminds you it’s hotdog day at school and they’ll need the permission form signed and $3.00 to cover a dog and a drink. That’s the last straw!

All that pressure and strain erupts like Mount Vesuvius, and you’re snapping at people one moment and apologizing the next. Great! Yet another thing you’ve got to worry about! You’re losing it! Sound familiar?

Thing is, the above scenario is more common than you’d like to think. It’s not just you experiencing these issues, it’s many of the people around you – even though on the outside, they – like you, are doing a really good job of appearing totally in control. Why, you’d never guess from looking at them that they’ve got a similar set of problems all their own.

There’s a certain irony you know in that when problems first arise, many people don’t mind sharing them with others, but as the problems mount and multiply, sharing with anybody all the problems we’ve got becomes less and less an option. You see, it’s in sharing our problems with others that we often find workable solutions. Perhaps what you’re dealing with now is a problem someone else has recently dealt with and put behind them. Even if you don’t get a ready-made solution from sharing your problem, just talking it out to a receptive ear is healthy; better for you than you might know.

Another good reason for talking through the things you’re dealing with – or rather finding hard to deal with – is that you’re usual good judgement isn’t what it was. This isn’t a long-term issue to worry over in addition to everything else – let me stress this. However, at this particular moment, right now, your decision-making skills are under pressure. The result? You think you’re making the best decisions possible but to outside, objective people looking in, those decisions are questionable at best and poor at worst.

So, what to do? First, do you have someone you can confide in with confidence? You know, someone who you can trust? If you do, ask for their ear and tell them how much you’d appreciate sharing some of your immediate challenges and worries. You may get some ideas and possible solutions, but even if they only listen, that’s a start. If you have someone, great. Remember, this person you’d like to confide in won’t judge you or tell you to keep your problems to yourself. If such a person isn’t easily found, seeing a Mental Health Counsellor through a local Mental Health organization might be an option. Often at no charge, you’ll get a confidential appointment, judgement-free and yes, maybe some strategies to deal with some of your current problems.

You’re smart enough to know that a problem ignored doesn’t usually resolve itself or just go away. A problem ignored usually escalates and becomes a bigger problem over time. Facing the problem head-on might not seem like something you can take on at the moment, but it may be exactly the thing to do. If it helps, start tackling a relatively minor problem and clear it from your mind. You’ll feel better! Don’t immediately worry about the big problems you’ve yet to deal with until you acknowledge your small start and give yourself credit for this success.

Could be that the income from a job will resolve many of your worries – especially the financial ones. However, would tackling some problems outside of getting a job be a better place to start? Perhaps. You see without tackling these other issues, you might not do as well as you need to be in a new job, and problems ignored could mean time off to deal with them – resulting in losing the job. Only you can decide what’s the best strategy for you given what you’re experiencing.

The Climate Dictates What You Hear


There are a lot of jobs where one person listens to another to offer a service. Mental Health Workers, Social Workers, Employment Counsellors, Teachers, Psychologists, Addiction Workers, Real Estate or Investment Brokers just to name a few.

In all these occupations, the degree to which the provider of the service creates a trusting atmosphere often dictates the length of time the consumer of the service needs to fully share and disclose. Most people are pretty good at keeping what’s really going on – the BIG stuff, sufficiently buried in a conversation, revealing the small stuff as a testing ground.

I know when I meet someone, I make the point of saying I’m going to do my best to earn their trust by creating a safe, trusting atmosphere. The quicker they come to fully trust me and share what’s really going on – the big stuff – the quicker I’ll be able to personalize the experience for them; addressing their experiences and making the experience richer.

In short, I can only help someone with what I know to be their issues if those same issues are shared with me. If a person gets around to opening up with me late in our time together, that leaves less time for an in-depth response if they’d prefer one over me being a sounding board or an empathetic ear only.

Now if words alone were all someone needed to open up and share their biggest, darkest thoughts, fears and struggles, “Trust me” would suffice. Yeah, most people have heard these uttered before and been burned trusting those they felt could be trusted, eventually to be let them down. Those same people are ironically, often part of the problems people present.

Actions which support the words spoken are much more effective at creating a trusting atmosphere. So when you’re in a job where listening to people and providing help is involved, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those same people before you are listening and watching. In a group setting, they want to first see how you respond to other people who open up a bit. Do you make light of what somebody shared? Do you seem interested or uncomfortable? If someone in a group shares something personal, did you give them an appropriate response or steer the conversation back to your own agenda?

In my job, I hear a lot of personal tragedies, I see the pain and shame on a lot of faces as people tell me things they’ve held inside for a long time. Every so often someone says, “I don’t know why I even told you; I haven’t shared that with anybody else. I said more than I’d planned on telling you.” If you’ve ever had someone say this or something similar, you know first-hand what a responsibility and privilege comes with such a disclosure.

Of course if you haven’t the time to listen to someone or the supporting resources to offer up when someone takes you up on your offer to listen, you should be careful of inviting the disclosure in the first place. After all, you may not like a lot of what you hear; what you hear could be more than just uncomfortable. Be ready to feel angry, shocked, troubled, concerned and if you’ve never feel these things you may not be as emotionally invested as you might or should be. I don’t mean you take on their issues; never that. However, taking what someone discloses, holding it for a time with care and sensitivity, then returning it to them in a way they can better carry the load can be more of a help than you know.

You’d think in some cases, that one’s position alone puts us in a position of trust; that it should come automatically. The biggest place of trust for most people is their parent or parents. “You can tell me anything” is something a parent might say, but children know that they can often only disclose so much to a parent. How many kids have kept their gender identification secret? An unexpected pregnancy hidden, an accident with the family car, or problems with bullying.

It’s not enough to say, “you can tell me anything.” People are often conflicted about wanting to share things – big things – but also afraid of ridicule, embarrassment, hurting the listener in the process, etc. Sharing often makes a person feel vulnerable, open to judgement; and if they respect you greatly, they may not want to risk having you think less of them for their behaviour, weakness, poor choices – past and present.

Shut down, dismissed, ignored, not believed; these are also the kinds of things people who want to open up and share are afraid of. “You don’t know what you’re talking about”, “You’re smarter than that”, “I don’t want to hear this!” are examples of being shut down and dismissed.

Fail to create an atmosphere of trust and you add another worry to the person you’re trying to help who may be burdened to the point of becoming numb and paralyzed.

A key is to find out what the person disclosing would like as an outcome. Are they looking for solutions or just an ear? Rushing to ‘solve their problem’ is often NOT what they want. When you, “solve” another’s problem yourself, you remove the learning moment, seize the empowerment you could have left them with and keep them dependent.

 

Why Aren’t You Working?


There are many reasons why people aren’t working; what’s yours? Some possibilities are:

  • Not looking for work
  • Physical or mental health restrictions
  • Poor interview skills
  • Weak resume
  • Unsure what to do
  • Attending school full-time
  • Raising pre-school age children and unable/unwilling to find childcare
  • Required as a primary caregiver for a family member
  • Not motivated

This isn’t an exhaustive list of course, just enough to stimulate some thought, give enough possibilities that some of my audience is captured and yes, perhaps enlighten those that think there’s only one reason anyone would be out of work – laziness.

The first and last reasons on my list – not looking and not motivated one could easily argue are so related they are really the same; ie. not motivated to look for work. For some people, this is absolutely true. Would you agree there are those who aren’t motivated enough to seek out a job? I mean, I know people who fit this category and I suspect you do as well. They have shelter and food provided by someone or some organization, their needs are modest, their motivation to work to earn enough money to support themselves just isn’t enough to get them going.

Perhaps it’s a phrase in that last sentence that is the real issue for many; the idea that money to support themselves is the motivation to work. Money does of course, provide the means to acquire housing and food, as well as the discretionary things in life which for many improves their quality of life. However, working to support oneself when you’re already being supported isn’t much motivation. In other words, if you’re not working but getting housed and fed, you might not be motivated to work 7 hours a day just to get housed and fed – something you already have.

Work therefore, or more importantly, the motivation to choose to work, has to come when there’s more to be gained than just money for basic support. For some it can be an issue of dignity vs. shame or embarrassment. Support yourself with your own source of income and you feel independence, a sense of being in control of what you do, where you live, what you do with your money, who knows your personal business and who doesn’t.

For some people, work provides social interaction. Be it with co-workers or customers, there’s some connection to other people, which stimulates our feelings of inclusiveness; we are part of something and not isolated. Feeling isolated, left behind, left out, missing out – these are common to people who don’t work in some cases. Of course, other unemployed people will tell you they get all the interaction with people they want; many of those they ‘hang with” themselves being unemployed.

Feeling a sense of purpose is one thing employed people often tout as the best part of their jobs. What they do is significant and important to some part of our population, and this feeling of purpose gives identity to the working person. The problem for some who struggle to find a job is in fact deciding on what job to do; in other words, they are focused so much on finding their purpose, they get paralyzed waiting for it to materialize.

The irony is that when you’re unsure what to do with your life, often the best way to discover it is to start working! It is through work that you learn where your skills are, which skills you wish to develop and improve on, what you like and don’t. You learn through success and failure what you’re good at, where you make a difference, where you’re appreciated for your service and what you do and don’t want to do in future jobs. The idea that at 20 years old you should have the next 43 years all laid out clearly before you is a myth. You’ll change jobs and careers in your lifetime – perhaps 7 or 8 times or more and this is normal.

For some – and you may not like this truth – it is a question of not trying hard enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not painting everyone with the same brush, and I’m not saying some people who are out of work don’t put in huge amounts of energy and time. However, if you’ve gone at your job search seriously with no success for a long time, its high time you partnered up with someone and get the guidance and support you obviously need to increase the odds of success. This is precisely the action many don’t want to take and that’s a puzzlement.

The crux of the thing is it’s essential that you’re honest with yourself when it comes to why you’re not working. What you tell others who ask may not be the real reason; what you know to be at the heart of why you aren’t working is the truth. So what is it?

Good questions might be:

  • Why aren’t I working?
  • Am I genuinely happy not working?
  • What’s stopping me? (Is it really me?)
  • Where could I get help and support to find work?
  • What would make me more employable?
  • Who might help me discover my strengths and interests?
  • How do I get help with childcare, transportation, the issue of my age?
  • Would volunteering somewhere be the best way to start?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue; whether it’s you or someone you know out of work.

Under Pressure?


The things to know about pressure are:

  1. What is causing it?
  2. How much can you take?
  3. How long can you take it?
  4. What can you do to ease it off?
  5. What can you do to end it?

Under pressure. Carrying around a burden for a short period is something most people are used to doing. Think of the pressure of an upcoming exam, your expectation of a first kiss, sitting beside the Driver Examiner as you do your driving test, watching your favourite team bat in the bottom of the ninth, down a run and down to your last at bat.

You might find the above examples bring back memories for you of tremendous pressure; or conversely you might see the examples I’ve provided as relatively minor sources of stress or none whatsoever. It really depends on the person and how you perceive each event. Of equal importance is how many other sources of stress you’re experiencing at a given moment.

So while going to the game to, ‘get away from it all’ for a couple of hours might be your friends idea of helping you cope with whatever stress you’re under, it could all backfire and be just the thing that sets you off. It may just put you over the top while those around you are hopeful for win but not incapacitated while the outcome is in jeopardy. Yes, you could be exiting the ballpark in the 8th inning and nowhere in sight in a close ball game, just unable to deal with one more potentially stressful event.

Looking for work, looking to get ahead at work; even just looking to keep the job you’ve got now, these too may be immense sources of frustration from which pressure to succeed is incredible. My experience assisting people with their employment aspirations continues to show that almost every job seeker has multiple sources of stress in their lives. If getting a job was the only thing they worried about and had to concentrate on things would be easier. By easier, I mean their concentration level and focus would be sharper, their ability to put into action the necessary steps to find the work better, and this would make the period of unemployment shorter.

However, finding work isn’t all that’s going on. There’s bills piling up, rent and child support to pay, reliable childcare to find, late buses to deal with, dirty clothes to clean and keep up-to-date. There are utility costs and interest on unpaid credit cards to pay down, expectations of family and friends to, “just get a job why don’t you!” that constantly irritate, resumes to write, ink for the printer to buy, food needed for the table, a throbbing toothache and growing anxiety that you’ll always be a burden. On the outside of course, you’re doing your best to fit in, look normal, smile to world and not let on that you’re floundering.

Really though, you’ve been under these pressures for so long, this constant state of chaos has become your new normal. Maybe that’s why self-medicating, forgetting everything for a couple of hours, seemed like something you could handle. Yeah, that didn’t work out as planned. Nope, when you’re honest with yourself you know you’ve got yet another problem, and you know it because you’re on the hunt for your next fix far too often; you’ve become dependent and that’s so typical of just how you see yourself.

No column is going to give you the fix for all the above, nor would I try. If you’re fortunate enough to have none of the above as your personal issue, you might be thinking I’m laying things on rather thick; that surely only a very rare few deal with what I’ve laid out altogether. I know you’re mistaken in that belief. In fact, I welcome the comments of any and all readers who might want to back up what I’ve said with their own experiences. It’s so hard to cope and focus on just getting and then holding down a job when a job is only one of maybe 30 things that are going on and adding to one’s pressure.

I suppose a good analogy is a juggler. If you start with only two balls, you might be able to go without dropping one or both fairly easily. Okay, add another. Now keep that going without dropping one – not for a few seconds but rather for 20 minutes. Could you? Okay add some more; not one more you understand – 4 or 9. At what point did it become overwhelming? Are you surprised with how little you could actually handle when a professional makes juggling look not only easy but actually fun?

I tell you this…take a single parent of two, one of which has a learning disability, add in no job, dependency on social assistance and food banks, no internet, mounting bills, seeing a Credit Counsellor, a Mental Health Counsellor, a Family Doctor, frequent meetings with a School Vice-Principal to discuss behaviour problems at school, and volunteering at her child’s school 4 days a week, and you’ve likely got someone who out of necessity, has become an expert on how to deal with stress. To us on the outside, it looks like a life in chaos. The worst things we could say is, “I think it’s time you thought about getting a job. Don’t you want your kids to be proud of you?”