Getting Over Hurdles In Life

It may sound like an odd way to begin, but visualize a roller coaster at a theme park. It starts off level with the ground, then goes through some ups and downs, there’s twists and turns and possibly one or two huge climbs followed by plummeting falls and eventually it all levels out and you get off. Some are excited to repeat the ride, others look a little worse for wear. Most have hearts pounding after the exhilaration of the ride, some have to fix their hair, and a few are ill; vowing never to go through that again!

I asked you to visualize a roller coaster, not Life, but the parallels are just about as real as the tracks on that coaster.

Most of us perhaps would be happy to sit beside our children or grandchildren on the coaster in kiddie land that goes around in an oval with smooth rises and smooth rolling downs. There’s happiness on the faces of the children, they love the ride and it’s so calm we can carry on a conversation with them and enjoy the experience.

That adult coaster though? It’s death-defying drops, blood-curdling screams as gravity is stripped away and white-knuckled terror; not for the faint of heart.

Where the roller coaster image fails to imitate Life however is that we all stand and size up the coaster. We get to watch it from the ground, then make a decision to ride it or not, we know what’s coming and we voluntarily participate having made a choice to undergo it. While exciting, terrible or utterly fantastic, it only lasts minutes and then we’re back to where we started. It’s over. It’s done. We move on.

Life on the other hand, that’s different. We do our best to map out where we’re going based on all the information we can gather. Whether it’s a road trip, choosing a career, getting into a relationship, or making a major purchase, we do our best to plan our moves and take positive steps forward. We build up momentum when we have some small successes and we have obstacles to overcome which, for the most part, we do so using our past experiences; taking advice from our peers and drawing on our skills.

But as is the case for many; perhaps everyone at some point, along comes some major hill to climb; a crisis. Unlike the coaster, we didn’t anticipate this; we can’t stand back and see how it’s going to end up, we can’t see all the twists and turns ahead of us and no, we don’t know it’s going to all end up with us safe. Most of all, we don’t know how long we’re going to be on this, ‘ride’ we didn’t sign up for.

There are many folks who, lacking the necessary life skills and failing to learn from their experiences, go from one crisis to the next. At any one time, they’ve got 2 or 3 major challenges happening and 4 or 6 smaller problems which if they fail to address will grow and become major hurdles. That roller coaster track on the other hand is solid steel; fixed and rigid. The tracks on the roller coaster of Life seem to have life of their own, undulating, hovering, fluidly moving uncontrollably up and down, responding to our ability or lack of ability to control.

Back to the kiddie land coaster. The child who is nervous about going on the ride is comforted and encouraged by the older sibling or trusted parent alongside. They stand and watch it together, mom points out all the happy kids; dad shows the child the exit door where the kids are bouncing out, excited and safe. The sibling takes the younger sister or brother by the hand and says, “C’mon, it’ll be fun and I’ll be there with you.”

But now as an adult facing your real-life challenges, where’s your support coming from? Does it feel like your standing alone, with no one to hold your hand, go through it with you, assure you it will all end up okay? Yep, it sure can feel that way and yes, you’re entitled to feel what you feel; it’s normal and it’s perfectly right to feel anxiety, anxiousness, rising fear, stress and perhaps panic.

That ride in kiddie land is fun on its own for a child, but it’s also getting that youngster ready for the bigger rides later in life. Get on the ride, have some fun, laugh and then get off. Do it again. Do it once more. Eventually, the child says they want to go on another ride, and they point at something a little bigger, then much bigger, and looking back at the kiddie land alligator ride, they say, “Ah, that’s for small kids.” Forgotten was the day they clung to the leg of a parent, heels dug in the grass and fear written all over their face.

Life is like that. We face new challenges and crises using the skills we’ve developed over time. Sometimes we fail and things don’t turn out great. We don’t always land safely. The learning that goes with the failure however? Hopefully that prepares us for a future hurdle to overcome. We can use that experience, as bad as it was, to avoid repeating it.

It’s called Life for a reason you know; we live it.

So c’mon, take my hand and let’s go!

Problem Solving

In order to claim you’re good at solving problems, you must have not only had problems arise in the past, you must have successfully resolved them. If you claim you’re an expert at resolving major problems, it logically follows that you’ve not only had major problems in your life, but again, you’ve eliminated them.

What however, defines ‘major problems’? When an interviewer asks you to share examples of having resolved some major problems in your past, you have to hope that your definition of a major problem and theirs is a shared understanding. If you share something they perceive as a relatively easy problem to have faced, and you view it as a major challenge, you might not be up to the demands of the job being discussed.

You have to also be mindful of what you perceive as an acceptable compromise in resolving challenges and problems compared to the person you’re speaking with. When they don’t tip their hand or react in any way to how you describe the steps you took to resolve the problem you’re relating, it can be difficult to know if you’re on the right track with your answer. There may be no way to amend your answer, provide additional commentary or even move to a better example altogether.

One of the poorest things you can do is claim to have none whatsoever in your past that come to mind. This response either comes across as a flat-out lie or if you somehow come across as believable, it only serves to prove you’re inexperienced when it comes to resolving problems. Neither of the two responses to your claim will help you if they want a problem-solver.

Having had problems is a given in your personal or professional life. I’ve yet to meet the person who has sailed along without having had any problem come up. Owning up to having problems in your past is not a weakness. What is of significant interest is your reaction to the problem(s) you’ve elected to share. So faced with a problem, did you a) ignore it, b) face it, c) tell someone else to fix it, d) make it worse, e) make sure the circumstances that led up to the problem were changed so it didn’t recur or f) give up or give in and let it overwhelm you.

One key to dealing with big problems is learning how to tackle small ones; and I mean small ones. Finding yourself ready to go to work but being unable to find where you left the car keys for example. Hardly a life or death problem, but nonetheless at that moment, a problem that must be resolved. Retracing your steps, asking for help from other family members, checking the usual places, the pockets of whatever you wore the night before, all good. Finding them still in the outside door where you mistakenly left them overnight, maybe the lesson learned is hanging up the keys in the same spot from then on as your usual practice so the problem does not arise again.

Building on the idea of adjusting your behaviour and hanging up keys each time in the same place, you can apply this lesson to other situations. You learned to act in a way that anticipates a potential problem and head it off before it occurs. If nothing changes in your behaviour, you’ll repeat misplacing your keys. While that might be frustrating, the leap in reasoning is that you’ll repeat behaviours that bring on self-inflicted problems in other areas too, and that could be costly for an organization when your problems become theirs.

All problems have two things in common; a goal and one or more barriers. There’s something to be achieved and there’s one or more things which need to be addressed and resolved to remove the problem and reach the desired goal.

Successful people are often viewed as people who face their problems head-on, tackling problems before them and reaching their goals. When they do so, they not only reach the goals they desired, they reinforce their belief that they can solve problems. Their confidence rises, other people come to regard them as capable and recognize their problem-solving skills.

People who struggle often hope problems will go away if they ignore them, or they fail to resolve the problem even when they try because they lack the resources or skills to do so. Their past experiences with problems did not prepare them sufficiently to handle the current problem, so they make what others see as poor decisions which either allow the problem to continue or even become bigger.

If your confidence is low when it comes to solving problems, asking for help is a smart thing to do. There’s no shame in knowing your limitations and seeking help but do make an effort to learn from the person helping you. When someone does something for you, that may resolve the problem this time, but it may not prepare you for when the same problem or one of a similar nature comes up again. Having someone guide and support you while you solve the problem will improve your confidence in not only resolving the immediate problem, but similar ones as they arise.

You’ll likely experience failures and setbacks when facing problems; this is normal and okay. Problems will always come along in life. They really present opportunities to grow.

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.

You Say You’re A Problem Solver?

People that say they can solve problems are worth talking to because employers often want problem-solvers in their organizations. People who can actually prove they’ve solved problems both in the past and the present however will always get selected first. Yep, there’s a big difference between saying you can do something and actually demonstrating your ability.

Not long ago I had the occasion to talk with an employer and he was sharing with me an experience he had with an applicant during a job interview. One of the key qualities he was looking for in the next person he hired was a person’s ability to take on problems and find solutions. What he was listening for a person to share was specific examples of when they’ve faced problems, what their options were, the thought process they undertook at the time and after weighing pros and cons, what they actually settled on as a solution and then the action they took. Sometimes he went on, the result itself didn’t even have to always work out favourably as long as the thought process and the effort was there. Results he said would come most of the time.

In this one interview, he heard this applicant describe a situation at work where they were faced with a problem while working alone. They related in their example what they did when consultation wasn’t possible and things actually worked out very favourably for all involved. It was as he said, an impressive example of their ability to problem solve. So much so in fact, that he was impressed enough to offer the candidate a place. It was at this point however, that the applicant made an error that cost her the job.

She mentioned to the interviewer that she wouldn’t be able to work on the weekends (a written requirement in the job posting) as she didn’t have anyone lined up to look after her child on those two days. This as he related it, was a current and ongoing problem that she hadn’t been able to solve. How, he reasoned, was she going to be able to solve his problems associated with the business if she was unable to solve this critical problem of her own? Presumably being more important to her to solve her own problems, he could only imagine she’d put less effort into solving the organizations as they arose were she to be hired. She didn’t get the job.

Now lest you think she was immediately asked to leave, he told me that he had first asked how long the problem had existed. After all he reasoned, if she had only just learned that her childcare provider was suddenly unavailable, she could have made a case that it was a short-term problem and she’d have a solution quickly. Her answer however surprised him; she’d had this childcare problem for over a year.

This was to him more an example of her inability to solve a critical problem than any example she could present to him from her past work experience. Here was a very real problem that in over a year she had not successfully resolved. What she was hoping for was that he’d hire her to work just Monday to Friday and that some of his existing staff with greater seniority would be scheduled to work the weekend shifts. How likely would you think an employer and the fellow employees would see that as a reasonable accommodation? That’s thinking from a very egocentric place; the world resolves around me and others should meet my needs.

Problems exist; they come and they go only to be replaced by new ones. There’s a lot of good in being faced with problems actually. Be careful if you wish you had no problems to deal with in your life. Problems present opportunities to use your existing skills, coupled with your life and work experiences to devise solutions. Being challenged with situations that require you to think, research, brainstorm, consult and eventually make educated and sound decisions based on what you’ve accumulated is a desirable skill.

Now some people can solve problems that benefit themselves only; or benefit an organization but at the price of the customers they serve. Other organizations are bending over backwards so much to keep their customers happy that they actually destroy themselves in the process, so that’s not a long-term problem-solving strategy for success.

The best solutions to problems typically start with one’s ability to correctly comprehend and diagnose the problem. This is followed by coming up with the possible options available that will resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all. Ideally all parties want to feel that they have a resolution that maintains the relationship moving forward, meets their own needs and everyone can move forward.

If you are heading into an interview fully advised in a job posting that problem-solving is one of the requirements of the position, you should expect to be asked to prove through examples from your past that you’re a problem-solver. Don’t wait until that moment, look dumbfounded and sputter out some poor example or worse yet, tell them you’ve never had a problem you couldn’t solve. That could just show you’ve never been properly challenged and your skills in this area are underdeveloped.

You might typically be asked to relate past problems with customers, co-workers, management etc. Be ready. Be a problem-solver.




Want A Better Life?

Last night while talking with my wife, she shared a comment that someone she knows often makes. The fellow said, “I’ve had a lot happen in my life.” This, apparently is what he says as a way of both explaining why his life isn’t that good and why it won’t get better either. Like people all over the world, this fellow has had his share of challenges, but it’s like he wears his as a badge of honour not choosing to actually make some changes and do things in the here and now that will alter his future for the better.

It struck me then as it does now, that it might be useful to talk about how to go about improving the future; your future. After all, it’s a safe bet you’d like yours to get better whether your past and present have been a series of disasters or quite good. There are some, many I suppose who actually like chaos and disappointment but let’s look to focus on making life a better one in the future for you.

So here’s some ideas to get you started. Share these with anyone you feel might benefit from reading them with my thanks.

  1. Change has to happen. If you want a different future than your past or present change must occur so see making changes as a good thing. This will take some getting use to and it may be uncomfortable at times when you do things differently. However, expecting a better future when you keep doing what you’ve always done hasn’t worked before and it won’t work now. Welcome changes.
  2. Make better decisions. Those changes I spoke of in point 1 can only happen if you make different decisions than you’ve typically made. The key is not only to make different decisions but better decisions. Again, these better decisions won’t always be easy or comfortable but you want a better life right?
  3. Take responsibility. This is your life, and it’s made up of your decisions in the past, the present and the future. Stop blaming your parents, family and friends, former bosses and co-workers for what life has ‘done’ to you. Stop giving them power over you and admit this is your life to live and yours to make. That’s empowering and with that power comes responsibility and accountability.
  4. Get help. If you had the necessary skills to make better decisions, it’s highly likely that you would have done so right? Yet, here you are wanting things better than they are which indicates you need some guidance and advice when it comes to both making those choices and support on the follow through.
  5. Move on. The thing about the past is that it is…well…the past. You can’t go back there, you can’t live there. Move on. Try walking forward down a sidewalk with your head facing backwards and you’ll run into a lot of obstacles. Turn your eyes forward and you can avoid those collisions. Look forward in life and move on.
  6. Learn and not re-live. Making the same mistakes over and over and re-living the errors of your ways isn’t productive. When things go wrong – and they will – learn what you can from the experience with the goal of making better decisions in the future when you find yourself in similar situations.
  7. Eliminate temptations. You might have good intentions but fall to temptations if you don’t remove yourself from what’s caused you problems up to now. So it could mean dropping friends who are bad influences, moving from a bad neighbourhood, clearing the house of the alcohol or the chocolate and fatty foods. You have to want your end goal more than your temporary fix.
  8. Set Goals. Know what you want in this better future you imagine. Picture that job, the ideal partner, a better apartment or condo, a clear complexion, a new set of teeth, no criminal record. Whatever it is, set a goal; maybe several that are meaningful to you personally.
  9. Develop plans. Goals don’t turn into reality without some planning. Again, get some help from someone you trust. Start with one of your long-term goals and come up with a plan that will eventually cut the things getting in your way of having this better future. Big problems will take time and a lot of effort. Small problems are easier addressed. Both big and small need attention.
  10. Commit to yourself. You’re going to have setbacks, make some spur of the moment decisions you regret but don’t pack in the, “I want a better future”, plan. When you have a setback, re-commit to yourself what you’re working towards and focus on what you’ve accomplished so far.
  11. Forgive. A big one. Don’t carry hate, anger and bitterness around with you because it’s not attractive, certainly doesn’t help you and always hinders you. Let it go and forgive those who harmed you, set you back, let you down and disappointed you. This is your life not theirs; you’re forgiving them because YOU’VE moved on.

Look it’s not going to be easy and few things in life that are worth having are. In fact, ‘easy’ hasn’t been your past life has it? Nor your current life? So, ‘easy’ has nothing to do with it. Yep, you’re going to have to work for what you want and all that’s going to do is make you proud of yourself when you get it. It’s your call.

Problem? Show Your Skills. Solve It

One of the most common skills you’ll find on many job postings is the requirement to solve problems. As an Employment Counsellor, I notice the relative ease with which many people happily add the ability to solve problems to their resumes. Ah, but when faced with problems that I observe, they are sorely lacking in this area.

It would seem that many people don’t think about their problem solving skills outside of the workplaces they are trying to get employed with. It’s as if they are saying, “I have to get a job before I can show you my problem solving skills.” Really? Uh, no that’s not true.

We all have problems; some are small, some large and some are truly huge which we have to work on over a long period of time. All problems however have certain characteristics in common and the process for eliminating them is similar.

Problems by their nature threaten our goals. When we identify what we want to achieve, we then determine if things stand in our way be they small, medium or large and then we have to evaluate whether those things, (let’s call them barriers or challenges) are worth the effort to overcome or not. If we determine our end goals are important enough, we set out to tackle the barriers. If the barriers themselves are too massive to overcome and we aren’t willing to put in the effort to move past them, the goals we want aren’t important enough to us and we might as well stop ‘wanting’ the end goal. We’re setting ourselves up for failure; well at least until achieving the end goal takes on greater importance to us than the work it will take to eliminate the barriers standing in our way.

Simply put, make sure your goals are bigger than your biggest problems.

Suppose you’ve looked at what you want to do career-wise, and you’ve determined that a return to school is absolutely critical in order to get the academic qualifications necessary to compete for that dream job. You’re looking at 2-3 years of College or University. This means you’re also going to have to take on 2-3 years of debt and you’ll be 3-4 years older when you graduate and ready to compete with others for your end goal. Depending on a number of factors such as your age, how much you really want that career and your perception of debt vs. an investment in yourself, you either have to pass up the end goal because going to school is standing in your way or you enrol and invest money and time in yourself.

Or perhaps you find the job you really want is in another neighbouring city and it’s going to take you 1.5 hours to get there and another 1.5 hours to return each day by transit. You know you COULD move closer, but you’ve got your child in school and at 8 years old they’d have to change schools and you’ve got family just down the street for emotional support. One person will choose to stay put choosing unemployment for the present and the status quo while another will choose to pick up and relocate, rationalizing that the child is only 8 and kids make new friends in no time; what’s the big deal?

The thing about problems or challenges is that they always come with choices. The good problem solvers know that the first step to solving problems is to see them for what they actually are not what they imagine them to be. They weigh the importance of their end goals against the problems standing in their way and then brainstorm the various options they have to eliminate the problems. One thing they also do is ask other people for input; after all, other people might present options they themselves haven’t considered.

Smaller scale problems that crop up are solved the same way. You wake up and there are salt stains on your favourite pair of pants; pants you were planning on wearing. One person might just toss them in the laundry and pull out a second pair while another person might let that small problem paralyze them entirely; throwing off their mood, upsetting their plans and they just don’t go to work or that big interview because they have, ‘nothing to wear’.  (It’s true actually; I’ve heard this one many times.)

When you tackle a small problem and succeed, two things happen. First of all the immediate problem is overcome and you’re closer to achieving your goal. Secondly you build some confidence in your ability to solve problems, and that confidence gives you the courage to tackle other problems. Start to solve a few problems and you feel you can apply the same thought process and actions to tackle even bigger issues, and soon you’ve got a track record of solving your issues. Now you can truly say you are good at solving problems AND you’ll have examples to cite when asked in an interview as proof rather than a baseless claim.

So when faced with a problem, stack it up against your end goal. See the problem for what it actually is. Brainstorm your options. Get ideas from others. Take action if the end goal is important enough to you and if it isn’t, ditch the goal you’ve got in mind. Remember, if your problems are bigger than your goals, nothing happens unless you change the value of the end goal.


A Workshop Facilitation Problem

Today I have a choice to make, and it’s one I’ve been contemplating and confounded by all of last evening; I still don’t know what I’ll decide. This is the kind of dilemma every Workshop Facilitator has the possibility of being confronted with and those in the workshops themselves will never have to face, but will certainly be impacted by.

I’m starting in the middle, so let me back up to yesterday morning right about this time. Here in Ontario we got snow which caused delays in people getting to their destinations. I myself arrived 15 minutes later to work than I normally do, but as I always allow 30 minutes leeway, I was still 15 minutes ahead of my 8:00 a.m. official start. So the usual 1 hour drive took 1 hour and 15 minutes. All the way i, I had one prevailing thought; “How many people will show up for Day 1 of the workshop?”

The workshop I’m running is a 10 day intensive job search for 12 unemployed people on social assistance. In order to attend, they can’t refer themselves; either I or one of my colleagues must refer them to me, and I go over ahead of the program what they are in store for. Gauging their interest and commitment, I then select 12 who in short, need to want a job more than I want it for them.

Well of course there was a problem with attendance or I’d be sharing something else. 5 showed up by the 9:00 a.m. start time; 1 called to say he was running late and would be there shortly and arrived 20 minutes in. Of the six remaining, 1 called in with the flu, 1 had a flat tire on the way, 3 emailed to say they had job interviews in Toronto and would gone for the entire day, and 1 didn’t call in at all. When I reached the last fellow, he claimed the weather kept him from coming and he “was going to call” but never did.

So here’s the situation in which I find myself. Literally 6 of the 12 weren’t there for the first day; a day in which I had those present introduce themselves and me to them. We covered expectations and I handed out resources both electronic and manual. We went over resumes as a group and had a quick visual look at the ones of those in attendance so they could contrast theirs with the format I’d like to see them use.

Under normal conditions, I’d move ahead to day with a short ½ hour talk on some job search subject and then release them all to job search. However, if Day 1 takes from 9:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. to set everyone up for the two weeks and get them mentally prepared, I’ve got 6 who should similarly need that same time today. However, I’ve got 6 who did show up and expect to move ahead and throw themselves into job searching; each meeting with me individually for guidance and help starting this morning while the others job search.

Now if I was missing one or two on the first day, I’d have them briefly introduce themselves and the group to them, and I’d get them up to speed in an hour. But half the class?  So I ponder the predicament I’m in. If as they claim, 3 were at job interviews in a neighbouring city on a snowy day where travel time was slowed, they have excellent reasons for being absent. The flu victim and the one with the flat tire both have claims beyond their control; although I do wonder why a flat tire would keep a person away the entire day. The only one with no excuse is the person who blamed the weather but didn’t take the responsibility to contact me and leave a message.

No matter the reason, I’m potentially standing in front of 12 people in 3 hours and 15 minutes, and I’ll have to know what my plan is for the day. Just as the weather tested their decision-making skills yesterday, their decision yesterday tests my own decision-making skills today.

I share this situation with you my readers, because some of you are also Workshop Facilitators and we can learn from one another. Ever had this problem? In talking with my peers at the close of the day yesterday, some would have refused the guy who didn’t call at all from attending the session entirely. That however I personally reject in this unique situation as even were I to ban him, I’d have 5 who still need some kind of orientation so what’s 1 more? He is on a short leash however (if that metaphor isn’t too offensive).

I also share this because if you are a client attending workshops, you hear a side of things that you may not have given much thought to. Those of us running such workshops do care, we plan them out with your best interests in mind and each day has something meaningful to learn. If you lose a day, not only do you mess things up for the presenter, you can’t learn in 9 days what 10 were scheduled to share. You’re short changing yourself.

We shall see how the day unfolds – and how many show up. Whatever decision I make will depend in large part on that.

Heard The One About The Guy Who Said, “I Want To Work But…”

When you hear someone say, “Heard the one about the guy who said…”, it’s usually the start of a joke. When the next 5 words are, “I want to work but…”, then it sounds like the idea of making a joke about someone looking for work is in bad taste.

It is true however – and most unfortunately so, that there are a great number of people who claim to want to work but who follow-up that statement with single or multiple barriers. The nature of those barriers are either self-imposed barriers or barriers beyond their control. Of the two, self-imposed barriers are far more common. So if then these barriers are so often self-imposed, why is it some people still make claims of wanting to work, but don’t take the steps to remove the barriers they’ve set upon themselves?

The answer is actually very simple; while they profess to wanting employment, they don’t want the employment more than they are content to live within the barriers they have constructed. So the person who wants to work but needs their high school diploma would much rather live without going back to get it, hence jeopardizing their own ability to get the work that requires the diploma. Similarly, the person who says they want to work and gets offered a job interview, declines it because it would mean having to work 15 kilometres away and in their mind that’s too far to be expected to travel every day.

In both cases above, the person states a desire to work, knows what has to be done to obtain employment, but doesn’t want the end goal of a job bad enough to in the one case, get their high school diploma and in the other travel outside some predetermined and largely arbitrary geographical boundary. How bad do they really want to work? Not bad enough.

These kind of examples work really well in the sense that most of us can see how the person is self-sabotaging themselves. We might go so far as to say, “15 kilometres? Really? Come on, that’s like a short bus ride. You’re not serious right?” Oh but they are. And it’s easy to look at someone else’s situation and gape, laugh, question, or puzzle over. But what of our situation; more directly YOUR situation? Are you equally putting up your own barriers to employment?

Suddenly the thought that someone might look your way and suggest that you are your own worst barrier to employment might not seem so funny. How dare they! How dare I. But I stand by this assertion; in many cases, the single biggest barrier to someone gaining meaningful employment is themselves.

I’ve heard some single parents say, “I want to work but I have no childcare.” Others say, “I want to work but everything is on computers these days”. There’s the classic, “I want to work but I’ve got this 15-year-old criminal record.” That one is only topped by the ever popular, “I want to work but nobody is hiring in this town.” If this was a music album, it’d be a cheesy collection of country-wailing fiddles and bluesy saxophones.

At what point does a person say to themselves, “Okay, I’ve got a situation of my own making, I’m taking responsibility for it, and the solution is also mine to own.” It’s far too easy and much more comfortable to continue on blaming others for our circumstances. In some cases, it’s even necessary quite frankly. Some current situations exist because of past situations in which we found ourselves – shady employers who duped us, maybe families who put us down and suppressed us.

At some point however, for each and every person who pulled themselves out of that “woe is me” life, a decision was made by the person themselves that enough was enough, life was passing them by, they were going to succeed where they had only ever failed, and that change – REAL CHANGE – was needed. The second thing beyond that initial decision was an equally important next step and that was to act.

If you are truly happy with your present life there is no real desire to embrace change because there is no motivation to experience things differently. If you are not happy with life as it is, you DO have the power to change how you experience it. In fact, you are the only person on the planet who can really drive that change if it’s change that’s to last.

If you are unemployed and don’t want to work, stop telling people you do. You are only going to waste both your time and theirs. Is that your goal? I would hope not. If you are sincere about wanting to make a change and gain employment, the real work is about to begin. Getting work IS work. You’ll need to update your skills, education, your appearance, self-confidence, decision-making ability, change your daily routines. It will involve struggles, setbacks but also gains, achievements and successes.

Eliminate the word, “but” from your vocabulary for starters. If you want to succeed and work, get going. “But I don’t have my grade 12!” becomes, “I’m enrolling in school”.  “But I don’t have childcare becomes, “I’m getting a sitter.” But I’ve got a criminal record!” becomes, “I’m getting a pardon”. etc.

Who said getting a job would be easy? So you have problems to overcome? It all starts with YOU.



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!

The Human Spirit As A Resource

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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