An Example Of Shifting Perspective


Last week I made preparations to lead a one week workshop on the fundamentals of looking for work. One week, twelve participants. I prepared for it as I would any other workshop; gathered the necessary supplies including handouts, notebooks, pens, notepads and made sure I had all the refreshments stocked and ready to receive. As I left work Friday afternoon, I looked over a room that was neat, welcoming, fully stocked and felt good. That feeling of being prepared allowed me to spend the weekend enjoying it fully, rather than feeling some growing anxiety about all the things I’d have to do upon arriving to work Monday.

So there I was, opening the doors to the room at 9:15 a.m. and hoping that in the next 15 minutes, 12 bodies would walk through the door. I say hoping rather than expecting, because history has told me that in most situations, a full house is seldom the case. Well, as it turned out, two of the twelve showed up. A third person came on the off chance there was an opening and so he was admitted too. 3 people, 1 week.

Now yes, I know that life happens. What I mean by this is that in the lives of the people I support, many face multiple barriers to employment. Many have dysfunctional families, physical and mental health issues, some just have poor decision-making skills, weak problem-solving abilities and so yes, some are on social assistance because they do not have the necessary skills yet to be successful.

Three is disappointing. However, what an opportunity for the three who did show up! I mean, they’ve got an enthusiastic and knowledgeable Employment Counsellor for a week to split between them instead of having an additional nine people to share me with. By the way, being excited for the three present rather than focusing on the nine absent is a shift in focus I want to stress. It’s so easy to be disappointed and let it show which can rob those present of your enthusiasm and passion. Unintentionally, you run the risk of making those who did show up feel less than worth your time.

Now sure I communicated to the staff who made those referrals to the program who showed up and who did not. It’s their role to follow up and determine next steps for the non-attendees after hearing why they failed to show. My focus is on the three.

It’s not always like this of course. Last month I taught a two week class on the basics of using the computer. For that class, fourteen showed up for a class that could only accommodate twelve people. Twelve started and twelve finished with perfect attendance. That was a special group of people; as is every class.

Without knowing the reasons why, it’s easy to make assumptions why people fail to show up for classes that are free, supportive, fun and beneficial. In addition to learning subject matter which helps them move towards self-sufficiency and financial independence, they receive additional funding for transportation, networking, sometimes funds for suitable clothing and/or grooming too. Then there’s the social engagement; connecting with others in similar situations and feeling less isolated. And in the case of this workshop, job searching support; a stronger resume and cover letter, help with preparing for an anticipated interview too. All free.

I’m not angry lest you think I am. No never angry.  I suppose I’m just disappointed. I know the opportunity missed to get all the benefits I’ve mentioned above. I understand the circumstances in which these people live and the pressures they are under. I get the stress that sets them up to make decisions I’d not make myself, and I know sometimes they have every intention on coming but they mix up a date or forget about it until it’s too late. I know they have childcare issues, they have poor health in many circumstances; a consequence of not being able to eat healthy foods as often as they should. I understand they don’t all have strong accountability either, both to themselves and others. You see I get all this.

I’m allowed to feel what I feel though too; disappointed. Disappointed for them not me. It took me no time at all to gather up what became excess supplies. That’s the least of my concern. A very busy week for me, constructing or revamping twelve resumes and writing twelve cover letters got a whole lot easier with only three. The energy I was prepared to expel shifting between twelve people with varying career/employment goals was going to be substantially more than it is now too.

Yes my job got easier – substantially easier. You’d think that as I’m getting paid the exact same wages for three as I would for twelve that I should be ecstatic. Ah, but I’m not. Now, my disappointment isn’t so deep that I’m walking around with a long face and moaning about things. Far from it my reader. I’m happy and invested in the three I do have. I can actually accomplish more for these three than I would have otherwise and we’ll have many more significant conversations.

For a time though, I’m permitted to consider the ??? that goes with the missing participants.

I’m thankful for what I have, not consumed with what I don’t. Hey, that’s  good enough for me and worth reminding myself of.

Opportunities Squandered Or Seized?


Look even casually at anyone you truly admire for having met with success and you’ll undoubtedly find a person who given an opportunity, made a conscious decision to seize it.

There are the athletes who train hard outside the limelight and put in hours when it’s just themselves and their strength and conditioning programs. There are the explorers who took risks heading off into the then unknown with hopes of what they might find to fuel their dreams. There are the students in school who place themselves in the hands of others to learn, become educated and lay the groundwork for their individual futures. What binds them all together is the choice they made to place themselves in positions to succeed.

Not everyone however recognizes the opportunities before them or makes the decisions you and I might assume they would to better themselves. We can look around and easily find students in Universities and Colleges who have a lack of investment in the learning before them. We can readily find athletes with potential who become complacent; who settle for mediocre, would rather party than continue to commit to the regime of training and self-discipline that had them formerly on the rise.

From the outside, it’s often clear when we look at others who is committed and who is not; who is seizing opportunity with both hands and who is squandering that which may or may not come again.

What is harder and less appealing is to look at ourselves. We don’t always recognize real opportunities when they lay before us, and even when we do, isn’t it the case that we often squander them? The reasons? Perhaps a lack of money, courage, self-motivation, reluctance to put in the hard work required, competing commitments etc. For those that squander chances and opportunities, there’s always a reason.

I work with people in receipt of social assistance, most of whom are unemployed and some of whom are underemployed in part-time jobs both in and outside their fields of training, education and interest. You might assume that every one of these people would be looking to improve their financial situation; looking to get back to being gainfully employed and productively contributing to the society in which they live as a result. You’d be wrong. Just like in any other group of people, you’ll find the highly motivated and the ones letting opportunities pass them by.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the distinct privilege to work closely with 10 unemployed people who are looking for employment. Each of the 10 had the same introduction to the two weeks given to them individually. They heard that one of my key expectations was that they must want a job more than I want it for them to be successful. They were even advised that if they didn’t want to put in the work required, I’d rather they didn’t choose to join in, and no penalty would befall them for turning the opportunity down. Now of these 10, there wasn’t one who didn’t agree.

Things being what they are however; and yes you’ve probably guessed it, not all 10 seized this opportunity with the same enthusiasm. At the end of the first week I asked everyone in the group to share how many jobs they’d applied to, how many calls they’d made and how many interviews they’d had. While each person reported at least some achievement, one person reported no calls made, no jobs applied to and not surprisingly no interviews forthcoming. Puzzling.

This isn’t the place to share all the background I explored and learned for reasons of confidentiality however, I can say with conviction that this is an opportunity squandered. Sure there’s personal factors; there always are. Not one of the 10 in the group doesn’t have barriers to overcome and in this they are just normal people like you and I. Everybody has challenges; things that we either face, struggle with and commit to overcoming or things we choose to give power over us.

Now what of you? What’s your personal situation at the moment? I’m willing to say that you’ve got something now before you that is an opportunity hanging in the balance. It might be an employment program, a return to school, a job that would need a move on your part, an apprenticeship, a course to upgrade a licence or certificate. You might have put off this opportunity for a long time too, and with the passage of time you’re feeling that chance is now becoming more remote than ever. But it still keeps nagging at you.

Is it your age, wondering how you’d pay to go back to school and still pay the mortgage and provide for the family? Is it not wanting to have wasted the education you have already which at one time you thought would set you on your career path? Maybe it’s that your afraid of the pressure it takes to throw yourself back into a determined job search; pressure being something that has in the past triggered your dependency on drugs to cope with; a path you don’t want to revisit.

The good thing about opportunities is that they come to us all the time. You’ve got several before you today in fact. Today – yes today – could be the very day you make a decision to seize one.

 

 

As A Client, How Do YOU View Meetings?


I am fortunate to count among my readers a broad cross-section of professionals, some unemployed and looking, or in school preparing to launch themselves into the field of their studies.

My appeal in this post is to actually speak directly to you who are clients receiving some kind of support and guidance, where you are sometimes told or asked to meet with a representative of an organization. This kind of meeting may be mandatory or optional, and you may look forward to it while others might see it as an intrusion; the price you pay for financial, spiritual or social support.

These meetings are wonderful opportunities for you to take advantage of. While the person you are meeting with might have their own agenda, such as updating your computer file every few months, you should recognize this as a chance for you to ask some questions of your own, find out what more the person you are meeting might be able to offer you or possibly help you do for yourself.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who come to such meetings without having done much thinking about its purpose; who sit in chairs provided, answer all the questions put to them, then get up and leave not having really engaged themselves in the process. What a shame!

As an Employment Counsellor, I often meet with clients 1:1 following various employment-related workshops I facilitate. This is a great time to give a person feedback on what I’ve observed, listen to the person talk about their goals for employment or schooling, and based on what I hear offer some suggestions. If however, it turns out that the person I’m meeting with limits themselves to short responses to questions I ask, asks no questions of their own, that meeting is going to be short and unproductive.

You see, you might want to get out of such meetings as fast as you can; viewing such face-to-face encounters as a wasted part of your day, having to travel there and back home, and for what? Just to go over the same old questions and give the same old answers? If that’s how you see things, then I guess you can be forgiven for not wanting to be there in the first place.

However, I wish that you could be a silent observer and watch some other clients in the same position as you as they go through the same meeting process with the same employee. You see, these folks come in willing to participate in the discussion; they want the opportunity to share what’s going on in their personal lives. This information is often valuable to the person listening; as a trained professional will be able to figure out what services, training opportunities or even what money might be available to help the person achieve their goals based on what they’ve shared.

So for example, if someone wanted to look for a job waiting on tables and serving alcohol but couldn’t afford the money to get the training in responsible alcohol service, the person hosting the meeting might have the funds to release so they could get the training, or know where to access it. If however the client says nothing, no help can be suggested, and the person’s goal is still only a wish.

Just yesterday I had two meetings I’d like to contrast as examples. One meeting was with a mature man who knows the construction industry. Being around 50, he sees himself working for 10 – 15 years but is trying to figure out what to do as he only knows construction and the body is making it harder to continue doing labour. So we addressed some options and he left with a plan.

The 2nd client showed up with her grandson and really just saw the meeting as a ‘where do I sign the required forms’ session. She was very nice, but there was no meaningful conversation to be had when the young pre-schooler was present and so actively robbing us both of a productive discussion. Was that her plan? I doubt it, but the entire meeting was less than 10 minutes. The conversation with the man? It lasted just over an hour, and he was surprised it went by so fast.

These are the chances and opportunities which you only get so often. How you view that meeting you must or could attend largely affects the outcome and whether you walk away feeling it was productive or not. I would encourage you to share your thoughts, your ideas, your problems and challenges. Be open and honest, listen to feedback and if you feel yourself being dismissed earlier than you’d like, arrange another meeting, or ask for more time. Some of my best discussions with clients actually happen when the client emails me ahead of time with questions they’d like answers to at our meeting, or things they’d like to discuss. That’s great! I’m always impressed and our time is much more valuable.

Truth is, this is YOUR meeting. You should take advantage of it. Will it be just a formality so you can go on with the day or will you really get involved in YOUR plan moving forward.

Now I really believe that as an adult, you are responsible for your own actions. You can choose your level of engagement or separation from the process, just understand the opportunities before you and the consequences of each choice.

What Does Your Job Teach You?


When you are looking for work, one of the most natural things to do is to look for a job where all the learning you have accumulated to date will allow you to compete successfully to obtain the position. Employers predominately are looking to hire people with the skills, experience and backgrounds that will benefit the company either on their bottom line, enhance their image, accelerate their growth and visibility or some other form of benefit.

How often however, do we look for work thinking to ourselves, I want a job that I can learn from. To be sure we might do this when we are young and just starting out, and again we might do this when we are changing fields of work. But I truly wonder if what we are saying to ourselves in those moments is that we are looking for something to learn but only to the point where we know enough to be competent in the job. So 7 or 12 years into a position, is there anything else your job teaches you?

I’m guessing you can think of people who are going through the motions in your own workplace. They are fixtures in the company, worthy of being respected and have earned their place in the company. But do you sometimes get the feeling, or even hear them say aloud that they are no longer challenged? That there is nothing further to learn in the job? I believe when you get to that point it’s rather a sad state of affairs – well to me personally at any rate.

Now in my situation, we’ve got a new computer software program which is taking people some getting used to across the entire Province of Ontario. And the learning going on is tangible, measurable, and it certainly is good for the old brain to be stimulated in this way. Aside from the software though, my work brings me into contact with people each and every day. And it is from these people that I learn the most and am the better for it.

I am fortunate to share my work day with approximately 50 or so people. That number includes Clerks, Employment Counsellors, Supervisors, Secretaries, Family and Mental Health Counsellors, a Psychologist, Receptionists and of course a wide diversity of clients. Each of these people, if I look for the opportunities and take advantage of them when they present themselves to me, has things to teach me that I can learn from.

For example, I can observe how one staff member’s personal style resonates with someone whom another staff person finds difficult to deal with. I can listen to the varying tone and pitch of a colleagues voice that makes what she has to say all the more interesting and encourages those around her to listen. I can recall the manner in which our Manager relays information, passes on praise and challenges us to do our best. And yes, even when there’s an issue arising, I can appreciate the delivery and the sensitivity with which it is delivered by a Supervisor.

From all of this and more, it is the case that my own communication style has changed. I suspect that like me, you either consciously or unconsciously find your way of doing things change as you learn to separate what you appreciate in others and what you find leaves a poor taste in your mouth. Sometimes we try to copy or mirror the best in others and see if how they handle themselves in certain situations would bring about similar outcomes for ourselves.

For learn we must; all of us. When we learn, we evolve, we grow in value not only to our employer but to those around us, our co-workers, our clients, our families and most importantly to ourselves. As we learn new skills, open ourselves to new ideas and as a consequence our self-esteem goes up and our self-image improves.

Be prepared for the truism that often real learning can be challenging on two fronts. First it challenges our own belief system sometimes secondly even when our belief systems aren’t being challenged and we embrace the opportunity to learn new things, we don’t always have the pre-requisites that will make the new learning smooth. Both of these are not insurmountable barriers to learning unless we see them as such, but rather once worked through make the lessons or information newly acquired all the more sweet when we master it.

So learning a new way of constructing a home might challenge the basic principles which a builder has been using on the job for a couple of decades, but if open to the possibilities, there exists the chance to not only learn a different way, but perhaps one that is more economical to build, less expensive to maintain and takes less time to create. To fight that opportunity is sometimes based more in fear about being made obsolete and being revealed as not capable of the learning.

So what does your job teach you? What opportunities for learning have come about over your time where you now work, and more importantly what opportunities exist in the present and are just on your horizon in your workplace? When we learn we continue to grow, and when we stop growing, we curtail that capacity to learn and evolve.

All the very best to you this day!