"Resilience" On Our Minds

 A resilient petunia grows from a  crack in the concrete. Photo by Brad Waters

A resilient petunia grows from a  crack in the concrete. Photo by Brad Waters

A Psychology Today article that I wrote two years ago, 10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient Peoplehas reached nearly 100,000 visits. That numbers says to me that “resilience” is on our collective minds and we want to know how we can be better at bouncing back from adversity.

Can you relate to the 10 Traits in this article?

Ten years ago this month, Hara Estroff Marano, Editor-at-Large for Psychology Today, wrote in her article The Art of Resilience:

“At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs… It’s possible to strengthen your inner self and your belief in yourself, to define yourself as capable and competent. It’s possible to fortify your psyche. It’s possible to develop a sense of mastery.”

So how do we fortify our psyche to ride the waves of adversity rather than being pulled under by the torrent? How is it that some people handle incredible amounts of stress while others quickly fall apart?

Those who master resilience tend to be skilled in preparing for emotional emergencies and adept at accepting what comes at them with flexibility rather than rigidity–times are tough but I know they will get better. The old metaphor applies: resilient people are like bamboo in a hurricane–they bend rather than break. Or, even if they feel like they’re broken for a time, there’s still a part of them deep inside that knows they won’t be broken forever. Here’s how they do it… CLICK HERE to read the 10 Traits at Psychology Today.

(original article updated May 18th, 2015)

May Is The Perfect Time For A "New Year's" Resolution

 Photo via Textbooks.com

Photo via Textbooks.com

This year for New Year's I collaborated with Textbooks.com to write the article A Life Coach’s Roadmap for Your New Year’s Resolutions. It's a “best-of-the-best” advice tip sheet that draws from my coaching techniques plus research-backed suggestions from some of today’s most respected psychologists (see reading list below). And the consensus is... it's not too late to start or restart your resolution(s)! The tips in the article can significantly boost your chances of succeeding with your goals by being prepared and being strategic.

Additional reading:

Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions by John Norcross

Willpower, Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister

Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward by Prochaska et. al.

 Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson

 Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

I Want To Do Everything! The Myth of Finding “One True Passion”

 Photo by Brad Waters

Photo by Brad Waters

Are you someone who experiences cycles of high excitement and then flatlines with confusion and exhaustion? Perhaps you’re interested in many things – you’ve had a dozen college majors – but in the end you still don’t know what to do with your life and the struggle has left you feeling frustrated, numb, and ready to give up.

You’ve probably heard that all you need to do is find your one true passion and you’ll be happy forever.

If it were really that easy, wouldn’t we all be rich and happy by now? This is where many coaches, career counselors, and self-help books have failed us in a big way. Their marketing is creating false expectations, spreading misinformation about human nature, and confusing the hell out of us. We’re lead to believe that other people are finding success with some secret formula so why aren’t we?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a pessimist on this topic. I believe we can always be exploring new things that bring us happiness and well being. I believe we each have to define what “rich” means to us and then put in the effort to achieve it. But I also believe our culture puts too much emphasis on finding this mythical ultimate happiness, creating mounds of financial wealth, and, to my first point, finding that one true passion.

Save for some of the creative geniuses and prodigies, many of us don’t have this so-called one true passion hiding in the depths of our unconscious. And if we don’t possess such a creature, we’re going to wind up frustrated and broke trying to find it. We are constantly reinventing ourselves. We are fluid. We get bored easily and we get fascinated easily. We are in a new era of entrepreneurialism and creativity. We live in an age where our vocations aren’t assigned by our parent’s association with the blacksmith. Most of us won’t inherit the family farm. We now put our individual selves first because we don’t have to spend the day hunting meat for our village. We have a lot of freedom and that can be as frightening as it is exhilarating. It’s a new phenomenon to humans and we aren’t quite sure how to navigate it.

When you come across the latest snake-oil salesman hawking his happiness roadmap and passion compass, don’t buy the ticket to ride until your initial impulses have settled down. You are a passionate person and he is a savvy salesperson. He knows how to trigger the emotional responses that mash your finger onto the “Buy It Now” button.

Here’s what we can do:

  • Sit with people who truly listen and ask really good questions. Look for a supporter who is more curious about you as a person than he is about trying to squeeze you through his particular program or solution. He doesn’t have the answers, you do. He just happens to have put together what he thinks is good- and maybe it is. But the good ones will help support you in finding those answers within yourself. Seriously, THEY DO NOT HAVE THE ANSWERS- YOU DO!
  • Know that there are a lot of genuinely awesome counselors, coaches, therapists, and friends out there who truly want to help you find what you’re looking for. They will help you explore your options, learn more about yourself, work through roadblocks, and support your plan. Shop around and don’t be afraid to return the ones that don’t fit. Tell them what you need in your life, not vice versa.
  • Be wary of your inner red flags that pop up when something is surrounded by a lot of hype. Cultivate your instinct. A best-seller might indicate little more than savvy marketing and someone who knows how to target our emotional impulses. Just because everyone’s buying it doesn’t mean it’s actually good. Sleep on it and see if it’s still makes sense in the morning.
  • Don’t walk on hot coals to prove your devotion to a guru. The heat on your feet only indicates that you’ve just been burned. Gimmicks and shortcuts are tempting, but once people start getting hurt physically or emotionally, these stunts appear foolish. Stupid human tricks have been peddled for centuries. But living the good life is a process that requires a lifetime of working at it and it shouldn’t land you in the hospital.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed by your many passions and options, start by getting them out of your head. Create a file folder or bankers box for each of your interests and give them a real home in your home. Your thoughts deserve to be shown respect. Once each of your passions or interests is given a place, you are less likely to feel you’ll have to give any one of them up. You can come back to them anytime and add random thoughts to the files as they arise. This helps clear your mind and embrace your possibilities rather than sacrificing 10 things so you can have 1. Who said we only have to have 1?
  • Know that your job doesn’t necessarily have to be passion driven. And your passions don’t necessarily have to turn into a vocation. When you’re able to spend time with your interests and your people – when you connect with what’s meaningful – you are more likely to have happiness than if you struggle endlessly to achieve the American myth of “I have to be doing what I love at all times otherwise blah, blah blah.” Who said money and meaning have to be tied together? You get to decide. First discover what’s meaningful to you, then find ways to incorporate it. There are some very happy people doing some very crappy jobs but they go home to some very wonderful people and have very rich meaningful lives. What’s their secret?
  • It’s okay to feel passionate about many things, that doesn’t mean you’re non-committal or wishy-washy or flakey or whatever people have called you. It’s okay to not feel particularly passionate about anything, that doesn’t make you aloof or dull or lazy or whatever people have called you. We are in a time when every single action we take is scrutinized for approval or disapproval.

Start with a foundation of knowing that you’re enough just as you are and then build up from there.

A Good Old Fashioned Kick In The Shorts

 iStockPhoto

iStockPhoto

As we become more practiced and experienced at our craft — whether we’re writers, artists, therapists, or bricklayers — we gradually develop our style and method. Some develop their identity quickly, but most of us have to work diligently and constantly refine our skills. Seldom do you hear of an accomplished professional who is 100% happy with their final product. Always room for improvement and never enough time to practice.

I leave my old blog posts on Psychology Today because, however unpolished some of them now seem, I want to recall how my writing has grown. Striving for better but not expecting perfection, because that’s an unrealistic and disappointing pursuit. That’s a message I have to tell myself over and over when the instinct is to only publish a perfect piece. Here’s what I was writing about two years ago:

 10 Stereotypes of Mental Health Professionals @ Psychology Today

If you’re an aspiring creative or any kind of professional who is just getting started, remember the top piece of advice from those who’ve come before you: you don’t necessarily need innate talent to be successful– it’s consistent time and effort paired with a willingness to learn from your mistakes that yields the best results. That’s probably not news to you.

Putting it into practice is a different matter altogether. Yet it’s practice that sets successful people apart. I doubt I could list all of the hobbies and interests that I dropped quickly because I didn’t want to put in the time to practice. Piano, drums, 35-mm photography, fly tying… I guess I did become skilled at something: buying supplies and selling them a few months later.

So how do we become better at practicing? How do we stay consistently interested and motivated? These topics are why I love studying the lives of successful creatives. From the writers who put in hours of word time every single morning to the painters who didn’t have a public exhibit until after retirement, from them I take lessons that I can incorporate into my coaching with other creatives. There is a science to motivation and success, but it’s not a perfect science. We learn what works and then we try it on for size. Everyone’s process of practice and growth is different.

So I encourage you aspiring creatives out there to look to those who’ve come before you. Learn their habits and keep practicing until you find a system that works for you. If you’re a writer, read and write. If you’re an artist, draw and visit galleries. Maybe you need to find an accountability partner who will hold you to reporting on your progress. Maybe you need to make a commitment to go public with your work so that you have a deadline to meet and an audience waiting.

Of course I might be biased, but I also suggest hiring a coach! And if you do work with a coach, make a commitment to allow that coach to lead you into action rather than getting stuck in the discussion. Coaching is a wonderful environment for brainstorming and exploration, but talking can become a comfortable place where we get stuck because we’re not willing to start acting.

Does Passion Equate To Career Choice? Two Artist Case Studies.

Artists practice their craft because they foremost have a deep need to create and express. Some people discover such a passion and stick with it regardless of recognition or pay. Some feel like they have not, and perhaps never will, stumble onto that one strong passion. There tends to be a lot of pressure to find our one true passion and morph it into a high paying job. But does it have to be so? Have we somehow failed if we reach retirement having never turned our craft into a career?

There is intrinsic value/reward in finding a hobby or passion and it’s healthy to pursue interests regardless of financial gain or end result. Often times people don’t want to ‘mix business with pleasure.’ They are perfectly content working a day job and then practicing their craft in their spare time. Two Chicago artists have posthumously gained critical acclaim in recent years for doing just that.

 Henry Darger photo via Wikipedia

Henry Darger photo via Wikipedia

Henry Darger was a reclusive janitor living in a tiny studio apartment in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Outside of work, Darger entered into his imaginary world of the Vivian Girls and the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm. Upon his death, caretakers discovered a realm of the unrealin Darger’s apartment- an enormous collection of artwork and a fictional tome of over 19,000 typed pages. His works are now on display at major museums throughout the country and he’s the subject of a full-length documentary.

Not far from Darger’s world, Vivian Maier was a nanny in Chicago who took upwards of 100,000 photos during her lifetime. Nobody realized she’d created such an immense body of work until her photos were discovered in an unpaid storage locker. Now she’s the subject of a major photography exhibition and the subject of an upcoming documentary (watch the trailer below).

 Vivian Maier via Wikipedia

Vivian Maier via Wikipedia

There’s a great mystique and profound respect surrounding these Chicagoans– neither of whom ever lived to see their fame. Neither of whom sought it in the first place.

UPDATE: If you’ve been following the Vivian Maier story, check out this podcast by WBEZ Chicago about legal process determining who rightfully owns her work.

This is the official trailer for the documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel. A film unraveling the life of the now famous Vivian Maier and John Maloof's journey to piece together Maier's past.

How To Complete (or Junk) An Unfinished Project

(I originally wrote this article for the website Pick The Brain.)

wood_project

So that brilliant new idea that washed over you in a hot rush of genius? It didn’t feel so hot once you put in a few hours. That big assignment that you fueled with caffeine and shook your finger at pointedly? It paid no mind to your stern threats of completion. You’re left sitting at your desk (your couch) with a cold keyboard, a warm remote, and a stomach full of gummy bears.

We right-brainers, project-non-completers, and coffee-hoisters know all too well how the thrill of a spark gets dampened by time and our inner-critic. What yesterday felt like a breakthrough in human ingenuity, today feels like yet another unfinished project; or worse, just another dumb idea.

If we were all lucky enough to have a tiny bobblehead life coach stuck to the dashboard of our brains, she would likely remind us at this point that there are no dumb ideas. That if we’d just organize our desk and buy more file folders, our workflow and carry-through would breed and spawn into a litter of completed projects.

But Project Runway just ended, there isn’t a life coach around for miles, and this puppy is due at 9 a.m. So here’s what you do:

Step 1.  Think of this pause in your motivation as the best gift ever. The gift of reevaluating what you’re doing in the first place, and why. What’s the point of this project? How did you feel when you envisioned it? And what will be the intrinsic reward when it’s completed?

I wish I could say that all projects, by virtue of their being birthed in your brain parts, are worth carrying through to completion. Sorry, my cheery optimism can’t come out and play right now. Take the time to evaluate if this project is still worth your time. If your job or grade depends on it, it’s probably worth your time. If you are obsessed with it, your passion deserves attention.

However, if this is just some wayward invasive seed that got rooted in your brain, yank it out and toss it in the composter. You have too many big ideas to get distracted by something small and weedy. No guilt, just let it go. If there’s something about the concept that’s intoxicating but not right for this moment, you won’t be able to junk it. Trust that instinct, jot down enough of the idea that it will jog your memory later, and file it away in your banker’s box of transient schemes. That way you’re respecting your new ideas by giving them a home, yet also respecting the backlog of ideas that are waiting for some love.

Step 2.  If you determine the project is worth your current effort, it’s time to silence your mind and sit with this baby for awhile. Nurture it, sing to it softly, and don’t drop it on its head.

First, try holding up a stop sign to all those self-critical voices that are popping up as you try to get your work done. I mean this (almost) literally. Picture a stop sign and flash it in front of your mind’s eye — that inner-critic Cyclops — every time he tries to stomp on your project. Stop worrying about how much work is left. Stop telling yourself it’s just too damn hard. Keep flashing the stop sign every time you see a jaywalking critic. “Hey jerky, can’t yeh see I’m walkin’ here!”

If this all becomes too much, STOP “working” altogether and just sit in silence for 15 minutes. This is meditation and this works. You need to give it a rest. Set a timer for 15 minutes and let the clouds float by in your brain. When time is up, clean up any clutter on your workspace, rearrange your materials in front of you, and try working again. Do not think about reaching the end. Do not think about the enormity of the project. You already know all about ends and enormities, so Stop. Then go.

Step 3.  Stay fully present in the moment and then type one word. Draw one line. Once you’ve written one word, or one sentence, concentrate on writing one more. Concentrate on putting in one minute of work. Then one more minute. You’re breaking down the enormity of a task into the smallest pieces you can handle at any given moment. You can only do what’s now, so focus on the tree rather than the forest. Momentum will build.

Step 4.  If Step 3 doesn’t work — you’re sitting there for 10 minutes and nothing is happening but frustration — get up and do something “light” for 5 minutes. Don’t get distracted with a new task. Do not turn on the T.V. or get sucked into the Internet! Just grab a snack or a breath of fresh air and come back. What we don’t want to do is train the brain to run away every time it’s frustrated. But we also don’t want you sitting at the desk stuck in snowballing desperation. Strike a balance between stepping away to recharge and pushing through the discomfort of worker’s block. Push-through and stick-to-itiveness will build up your project-completing willpower and confidence.

Side note: Trust your instinct. There are probably two voices (at least) in your head that will help guide you toward the right decision. One will probably say “If I take a smart break now, it will help me prepare for good work when I return.” The other voice will say “Enough! You’ve taken fifteen dumb breaks, no more excuses, just do the work!”

Step 5.  (Contingency Plan). Get the hell out of there! For some reason that I’m sure someone somewhere knows the answer to, there’s something magical about working from a coffee shop rather than an office. There’s also this horrible long-standing myth that all good work must be created at a cold hard desk. If you’re not getting your work done at point A, find a warm and cozy point B and repeat steps 1 through 4.

Once you’re absorbed in your project, maintain the momentum by not responding to distractions. Stop taking the short breaks that will interrupt your flow. You may not eat again for hours, weeks! But who cares as long as you get the project done. And you will.

Postscript: Some of these ideas may seem very simple and obvious to you. But have you actually practiced a new behavior to boost your productivity? If you need your behavior to change, you need to actually change your behavior. By keeping this process simple, you can focus more time on your project at hand and less time learning all the productivity strategies out there that allegedly take you to the finish line.

5 Reasons Entrepreneurs and Business Startups Should Journal (via Psychology Today)

 iStockphoto

iStockphoto

The first assignment I give my career coaching and consulting clients is to go out and purchase a journal. Not because I want to hear about what they made for dinner, but because I know they’re about to encounter a lot of information and emotions they’ll need to get out of their heads. For someone exploring career change or starting a business, a journal is one of the best (and cheapest) investments they’ll ever make

Here’s how journaling can guide you through career and business growth:

1. Visualizing and journaling is a solid first step towards making a career change or developing a business plan. It helps clarify and prioritize that which you want to concentrate on next. Ari Weinzweig of the wildly popular Zingerman’s company in Ann Arbor, MI states , “To be clear, a vision is not a strategic plan. The vision articulates where we are going; the plan tells us how we’re actually going to get there.”1

Read the rest of the tips plus writing prompts for keeping up the journaling habit, here at Psychology Today.

Do You Need A Career-Life Realignment?

 Google Images

Google Images

Yeah, a realignment, like when your car has hit too many potholes and it begins steering itself into a 360 pattern when you let go of the wheel. Sometimes we wake up and realize our life has hit too many potholes and we’re just going around in circles.

I’ve been there myself. Traveling down a bumpy road and feeling like there’s no turning back…even though you know you’re actually quite lost. Six years ago I sold the small business that I’d built from the ground up. It was modestly successful: a handful of employees, respected in the community, paying the bills. But it wasn’t me.

So I switched directions and got back into the mental health field- crisis counseling. Again, a respectable steady job that payed the bills. A conventional progression for someone with a Master’s degree in the field. But it wasn’t fully me.

I needed a serious realignment. It began as a thorough self-assessment that found me pulling together all the parts that could create something more authentic. It had to be something that served a purpose greater than myself; fulfilling the helping/teaching part. It had to be something that incorporated writing and various mediums; fulfilling the creative part. And it had to be something that I built from scratch and poured my sweat into; fulfilling the entrepreneurial part. So I founded my own creative coaching and entrepreneurial consulting company where I could create something that is so me.

Do you need a career-life realignment? Maybe the car is going in circles because it needs a 360 degree view of what needs to change. The potholes serve a purpose. After all, we often don’t appreciate a smooth ride until we’ve experienced a bumpy one.

Components of Comprehensive Career-Life Realignment May Include:

  • Core Values Assessment
  • Total Wellbeing Assessment
  • Strengths Spotting
  • Interests & Passions Identification
  • Life Story Editing Tools
  • Goal Establishment and Future Planning
  • Parts Work/Inner Critic Identification

Contact Brad Waters to request a free sample coaching session by phone and share your ideas for a one-on-one Career-Life Realignment.

The Paradox of Change

The Paradox of Change was first published on Brad's Design Your Path blog at Psychology Today.

 Photo by Brad Waters

Photo by Brad Waters

I hear you say things aren’t quite right these days, that you’re eager for change. And underneath that eagerness lies some fear. And underneath that fear, something deeply unknown.

I recognize the courage it has taken you to tell me. Remember that courage when parts of you resist the changes you seek. Change is full of paradox like that.

I hear you say you’re ready to take that risk. You’ll be challenged around every turn. But accepting that challenge is some of the most meaningful work you will ever do. And it is work. There are no shortcuts. Seven days a week. 365 days a year.

Because the real work isn’t a place you go each day or a series of motions you’ve been tasked with completing. The real work follows you everywhere you go and fills each of your motions with an intention. The work is always about intention.

Get ready for changes to happen quickly, and for parts of you to slow it all down. And just when you think things are running smoothly again, you will encounter setback. That is when you do the work.

You will love doing the work. And hate it with every cell of your being. You will feel rested doing the work. After you feel exhausted. You’ll have glorious warm days of inspiration and accomplishment. And it won’t feel like work at all.

Please remember to celebrate your small changes, and have faith that they will grow into your biggest intentions. Please remember to be forgiving with your setbacks and mistakes, for they too will grow into your intentions.

Always be kind to yourself. And be tough. They both take work. And remember to take breaks. To rest your soul and soften the hard edges. Then, keep working.

Rethinking SAD: Creating A Winter Oasis

 photo by Brad Waters

photo by Brad Waters

A departure from my usual career themed blogs, my latest at Psychology Today tells my own story of how I developed a mutual respect for the season of SAD. Does your mood or productivity change during winter months? Learn ideas for creating a winter oasis

“One thing I might find more frustrating than the polar vortex is the annual onslaught of mainstream news articles about seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Only because it’s the same advice year after year: exercise, buy a sun lamp, and have your doctor check your Vitamin D level. Okay, did that, still feeling kind of crappy. So now what?

I think what bothers me the most is that the articles often contain cutesy phrases like “knock out depression”, “put the smackdown on SAD”, or “beat the blues.” I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling lousy I’m not exactly in the mood to jump in the boxing ring to deliver depression a TKO punch. And when we treat our “bad mood” like it’s the enemy, we might just be setting ourselves up for a long and difficult bout in the ring.

I believe our culture tends to make a fundamental error when it conceptualizes negative moods as intruders we must stave off. I believe we can do much better at seeing our whole spectrum of moods as parts of ourselves to be witnessed and experienced. What if we reimagine mood as more like a dance partner than a sparring partner? Allowing all of our moods to show up at the metaphorical dinner table, not as uninvited guests, but as wise elders with lessons to share.

Our moods and emotions are intertwined with the world around us, and the environment within us. I think of them as infinite invisible threads weaving together our behaviors with our memories, associations, connections to our environment, and relationships with one another. Each thread serves a purpose, has a story.

I recall one winter over a decade ago when I was feeling particularly mired in the long gray season. That was the winter I truly learned what it meant to witness and honor all of my moods and the messages of my body, as opposed to hating those parts that felt like suffering. I learned to witness and dance with the discomfort of a depressed mood without judging it so harshly for showing up on the floor.

This was the dance: Over the course of that winter, I worked with a counselor to redefine my rigid beliefs about winter and find a rhythm I could move to—personal ways to give meaning to the season. First, I learned how to witness, honor, and appreciate aspects of winter rather than blanket the entire season with resentment. Then, to notice and appreciate the messages my body was sending, and to give myself permission to accept a slower, gentler pace. Finally, I learned how to incorporate symbolic objects into my home that reference what I love about warmer seasons and long for in the winter. This, a process I now refer to as creating a winter oasis…”

Please click over to my Psychology Today blog to read the 4 steps for creating a winter oasis

 

Ever Considered a Career in Antiques of "Mantiques"?

I enjoy interviewing and profiling professionals with non-traditional careers. The subject of my recent interview, however, transformed enjoyment into pure jealous. Eric Bradley is a Public Relations Associate for Heritage, the largest collectibles auction house in the world. He also wrote the book Mantiques: A Manly Guide to Cool Stuff. In my Psychology Today interview I talk with Eric about his new book, how he came into his career, why people collect antiques, and how people are making careers out of picking and selling. Plus, he answers two very important questions we antique buffs all want to know:

  • Are the estimates on Antiques Roadshow accurate or are they inflated to make good t.v.?
  • Have you met the Keno brothers?

Click over to the interview, Mantiques Turn Classic Collectibles Into A Cultural Craze

Stuck In Your Career Search? Start a Career Journal (via Psychology Today)

First published on September 17, 2013 by Brad Waters in Design Your Path at Psychology Today

 iStockPhoto

iStockPhoto

Right after high school I did a short stint in a culinary arts school. It was a strange little place that ultimately wasn’t a good fit, but it planted the seed of an idea that I would come to revisit over 15 years later. In our first semester each student was given a rigid blue plastic box – about the size of a 3-ring binder – filled with blank pages like a scrapbook. It was designed to be a professional development portfolio where we could store our resume, certificates of achievement, and anything else that would highlight our accomplishments during a job interview. In theory, it was a great concept to encourage us to develop a career mindset. But ultimately its high dork factor relegated my blue box to the thrift store donation bin.

Now that I’m in the position of helping people navigate their career exploration, I’ve tweaked the concept of a dedicated space for career materials into a career exploration journal. Not an awkward blue box, but a more personalized notebook or binder where career seekers can store and explore all things career oriented. In my last blog I wrote about the errors of the American career search, and how self-inquiry is not emphasized early enough or strong enough in our youth. In this follow up, I propose that developing a comprehensive career journal is a valuable personal development tool for all ages in the career stream.

Below are some of the general framework components of a career journal. I see it as a living project that carries throughout a person’s career span. While one might add folders for resumes and certificates of achievement, the primary goal is to conduct introspective writing and brainstorming on career-related themes. I suggest dividing a section of the notebook/binder to each of the following headings:

  • Core Values (Write about what really matters and what guides you. How can the work you do day in and day out align with your values?)
  • Skills/Strengths (Go ahead, toot your own horn, what are you good at?)
  • Interests/Hobbies (All of them. That’s right, jot down everything you can think of that grabs your attention.)
  • Needs and Wants (From a job, from a career span, from life in general. What is essential, what would be luxury, and what isn’t so much a priority?)
  • The ROPES: Roadblocks, Obligations, Pressures, and Excuses(What are the things that seem to get in your way?)
  • Mission, Meaning, and Focus (What propels you forward and why do you do what you do? What would feel rewarding to contribute to the world?)
  • Keywords and Job Titles (When you come across a job related keyword or job title that piques your interest, record it here for when you sit down to conduct your job search. These come in handy when you’re writing your resume, cover letter, and inputting search terms into job boards.)
  • Testimonials and References (When people praise your abilities, ask if you can “quote them on that” or use them as a future reference. You will need these and you don’t want to be scrambling to find them at the last minute. After all, it’s Murphy’s Law that the deadline for the job posting you most love expires in the morning.)
  • Reality and Research (Know what you’re getting into. Dreams andfantasies are wonderful, but how do they fit into the real world? How will you support yourself as you move toward your long term goals? What’s your plan?)
  • Rainmakers and Resources (Make a comprehensive list of everyone you know in your extended network: your friends, teachers, mentors, ex co-workers… anybody to whom you might someday reach out for advice or job leads.)
  • Resume and Cover Letter (Know where they are when you need them. Tweak them and update them– your professional voice and writing skill develops over a lifetime.)
  • Continuing Education (What skills do you eventually want added to your toolkit? Keep a list of the who, what, when, where, and how you can grow as a professional. Many careers require continuing education and this will keep you organized and on top of those requirements.)

Give each of these sections a tab in the journal and come back to them whenever inspiration strikes. Make an effort to sit undistracted with your journal and brainstorm what truly matters to you. And what does not.

We don’t know where our professional life will ultimately lead, but we can develop a sense for what we want it to contain. This is the kind of attention few of us are encouraged to give to our career exploration, yet I believe it would greatly decrease the amount of job dissatisfaction. The encouragement to explore what each of us wants and needs from a fulfilled life seems revolutionary in its possibility. Could it be part of the antidote to an unstimulated and overstressed workforce?

If you’re interested in a comprehensive life story and career exploration tool, consider purchasing my StoryLaunch! e-workbook full of exercises, writing prompts, and personal development tips. 

Our Relentless Pursuit For The Secrets of Happiness

This May 2013 issue of TIME is all about happiness. It places new research alongside old stereotypes to reveal some game-changing myths and truths about happiness. Here are some highlights:

1. The pursuit of meaningful goals boosts our happiness. (“it’s about the journey, not the destination”)

2. That old saying “money doesn’t buy happiness” is now considered inaccurate. Modern studies indicate money does correlate to happiness, but there are some caveats. For example, “exhibitionist spending” (buying things to impress others) ends in let down.

3. “In a TIME poll, 60% of respondents said they do not feel better about themselves after spending time on social media, and 76% believe other people make themselves look happier, more attractive and more successful than they actually are on their Facebook page.”

4. Research by Stanford neuroscientist Sylvia Morelli: “”Being distracted reduces our empathy for others and blunts responses in the brain,” says Morelli. “So it’s possible that being distracted may also reduce our own happiness.””

Do these highlights tell you anything new or have you discovered them to be true in your life? Would knowing the latest research on how we approach happiness actually change your behaviors and mindset?

Successful Creatives Who Didn’t Have A College Degree

Creative ability knows no rules or boundaries. One does not have to be born with innate talent, nor does attending school equate to success. While a lifetime of continuing one’s education is certainly a good thing, here are some famous creatives who didn’t obtain a college degree before achieving success:

1. Walt Disney (visionary)

2. Halle Berry (actress)

3. Walt Whitman (poet)

4. Fiona Apple (musician)

5. The Beatles (musicians)

6. Ansel Adams (photographer)

7. Adele (musician)

8. Woody Allen (writer/director/actor)

9. Jane Austen (writer)

10. David Bowie (musician)

11. Picasso (artist)

12. Frank Lloyd Wright (architect)

13. William Faulkner (writer)

14. Jack Kerouac (writer)

15. Robert Frost (writer)

16. Quentin Tarantino (actor/writer/director)

17. Thomas Edison (inventor)

18. Ellen DeGeneres (actor/writer/comedian)

19. Bill Gates (inventor)

20. Oprah (media mogul)

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/11/most-successful-people-wh_n_533355.html#s74636&title=Dave_Thomas

http://chronicle.com/article/article-content/132741/

http://collegedropoutshalloffame.com/s.htm

http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2010/06/07/100-famously-successful-people-who-skipped-college/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/ashleyperez/23-famous-dropouts-who-turned-out-just-fine

A Simple Relaxation Exercise

 Photo by Brad Waters

Photo by Brad Waters

Without getting heavy into the why’s and how’s of mindfulness and visualization, I’d simply like to share a brief exercise you might try when you need a time out for relaxation. Whether you have three minutes or thirty, adapt this one to suit your time and space. Read through the exercise at least once and then practice the visualization.

1. Find a quiet space where you can sit comfortably for a few minutes. If you’re able, you might take off your shoes, slip into loose clothing, and stretch a bit to loosen up any tension you might be feeling.

2. Close your eyes and begin to take gradually deeper breaths that allow you to feel relaxation coming into your body. At this point you don’t need to be concerned with how deep, how many, or where the breaths are coming from. Just breathe.

3. Imagine that you’re sitting outdoors in a wide open space, where you’re seeing clouds overhead and hearing a light breeze around you. Sit in this place for as long as you wish, noticing the vast space that is so peaceful and natural. Engage your senses by noticing all that surrounds you. Feeling a lightness in knowing that you’re exactly where you need to be at this moment.

4. When thoughts come into your mind while you’re sitting, allow each thought to float through as though it’s one of the clouds you see in the sky. You don’t have to concern yourself with trying to get rid of your thoughts, or any pressure to attend to their message, just let them come in and out of your mind.

5. Think of your breath as though it’s the wind that’s gently blowing around you. Breathing in deeply, breathing out slowly, as though every breath is the wind that bends a blade of grass or rustles a leaf on a tree. Continue connecting with your surroundings with your gentle breath for as long as you wish.

6. At your own pace, when you feel relaxed and ready, bring yourself back to the space you’re sitting in. Gradually open your eyes to let in the light. Ground yourself in the space by noticing where your feet touch the floor or your back touches the chair. If you’d like, you might gently roll your shoulders, massage your feet, or rub your hands.

7. As you’re awareness shifts to your environment, you might set an intention for the rest of your day. Perhaps you’d like to say a prayer or express thoughts of gratitude. Then stand up gradually – making sure you have your balance – and take your next steps with this refreshed sense of relaxation.

Everyday Mindfulness Moment: “Sounds of Home”

 Photo by brad waters

Photo by brad waters

A year ago I wrote an article about the hype surrounding the concept of mindfulness. All of the attention it receives can have the paradoxical effect of making us tired of hearing about it or stressed out that we’re not doing it right. For today, just know that mindfulness need not be concerned with hype or rights & wrongs. Mindfulness doesn’t require a special place and you don’t have to gear up with special clothing. Mindfulness is an aware and present state of being, to which we don’t have to ascribe judgement or value.

For today, try this simple idea to be more mindful of your sense of place. I call this “Sounds of Home” but it can be practiced anywhere. Start by finding a comfortable position where you can spend 15 to 2o minutes alone. You might  even set a timer on low volume.

Take several deep but comfortable breaths and settle into your space. Then, simply notice the sounds of your environment. If other thoughts arise—like your to-do list for the day—just notice them as they arise and let them pass. Keep bringing your attention back to the present moment of listening and noticing the space you’re in. You’ll likely notice familiar and unfamiliar sounds, but you don’t have to label them or attend to them. You’ve given yourself permission to sit for this time without answering the phone if it rings, without getting angry at the dog if it barks. You’re realizing that as much as you don’t have control of many aspects of your environment, you do have control over how you react to them. You notice how quickly fleeting sounds really are, yet how strongly our minds have been conditioned to label, judge, and react to them. A car horn is just a car horn until we allow our reactions to ascribe to it the story of how we can never seem to find peace and quiet. Yet even when we can’t find quiet, we can practice being at peace by staying fully present in the moment.

I share more tips for everyday mindfulness in my small ebook, Cultivating Your Everyday Mindfulness.