Tag Archives: Management

Dealing with the dreaded “what do you do?” question.

what do you do?

Björn Simon via Unsplash

When you were a kid, did you want to be a butcher, baker or candlestick-maker?  Maybe.

Policeman, firefighter or astronaut?  Probably at some point.

Doctor, lawyer or teacher?  Sure.

Accounting specialist, administrative coordinator or client services professional?  Hmmm…maybe not.

But that’s where a lot of us find ourselves.  And it’s hard.  Because we want to be able to talk about our jobs – they take up a big chunk of our life, after all – but it’s not always so easy to explain what we do.

Professional titles are our conversational shorthand.  When someone asks “What do you do?”, a title immediately puts us in a category and tells the listener something about who we are – at least in theory.  And we’re drawn to titles that make it clear how we add value.

Baker?  Done.  We know what that person brings to the table.

Teacher?  Yep.  Clear value proposition.

But if you’re a generalist, it’s not really that easy.  You have to work harder to explain what you do and what you care about.  And you know what?  That’s actually a good thing.

Who are your customers?  What are they struggling with?  What problems do you help them solve?

Do you take something complicated and make it simple?  Do you turn something boring into something fun?

Do you make your team better, stronger, faster?

So many people bemoan the lack of meaning in their jobs, but what if we shift our focus away from title and onto simply how we add value every day?  Beyond making your cocktail party banter less awkward, it may actually provide some career inspiration as well.

So tell me, what do you do?

 

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Six things to do when you don’t know what to do.

Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash

Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:  You’re not happy in your current job but aren’t sure what else you’re qualified to do.  You’re not making enough money but you can’t afford to quit.  You want to do something meaningful but you haven’t found your “passion”.

Go back to school?  Start your own business??  Join the circus??? 

If you’ve become paralyzed by indecision, the best strategy may be to stop, take a breath, and come at the problem from a different direction.  Here are some ideas to get you moving:

Dive deep into a new subject.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  Pick something that interests you (work-related or not) and start learning everything you can about it.  Explore it from different perspectives and thru different mediums.  Follow footnotes and interesting asides.  See where it takes you.

Get an activity tracker and start walking.  Feeling aimless drains your energy and you may find yourself in a sedentary rut.  An activity tracker (I like the FitBit) will help you focus on getting up and out.  And walking will clear your mental fog and get you thinking big thoughts.

Declutter.  Our physical space and our mental space are deeply entwined.  Clearing our  material baggage has a magic way of clearing our psyche as well.  Purge ruthlessly and then examine what’s left.  It may hold clues to what really matters in your life.  (Marie Kondo’s book on the magic of tidying up explores this in depth.)

Keep a time log.  “I don’t have time.” is probably the biggest excuse we use for not moving forward.  But you probably have more than you think.  Track everything you do for a week and see where your time is really going.  Then evaluate what you can change to make time for something new.

Start a blog.  Pick something that interests you and start writing about it.  It doesn’t have to be ground breaking stuff, but commit to writing something on the regular.  Explore other blogs and start connecting with people online.  Be open to the process and again, see where it takes you.

Volunteer to work with someone from another country.  Volunteering is good experience in general, but working directly with someone from another culture – tutoring a non-native speaker, for example – is an excellent way to put your own life in perspective.

 

How about you?  Have you ever felt aimless?  How did you deal with it?

 

(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)

Management Quick Tip: “Watch for idiots on the road.”

No no. Thank you!  by Aaron Stidwell

Growing up and well into adulthood, whenever I left the house my dad invariably said:

Watch for idiots on the road.”

Not “Drive safe” or “Be careful“, but “Watch for idiots on the road.”  And as curmudgeonly and vaguely paranoid as it sounded, I always took it as a compliment.

It was his way of saying, “I know you’re smart and competent behind the wheel.  It’s everyone else I’m worried about.”  And I appreciated that.  My dad wasn’t an overly affectionate man, but he somehow always made me feel that he believed in me.

So the tip here is really twofold:

First, actually do watch for idiots on the road.  It’s sound driving advice.

And second, find a way to show your team that you believe in them.  It doesn’t have to be overt or gushy or something out of a management textbook.  Make it unique to you and your personality, and your team will appreciate it.

 

(Photo by Aaron Stidwell via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Ready to quit? I’m not here to stop you…but try these things first.

Boots by Phil Roeder

I’ve quit a lot of jobs.  And not just burger-flipper kind of jobs.  Real, career-level jobs.  With nothing lined up to take their place.  Do I recommend this as a career strategy?  Um…no.  But, my chronic dissatisfaction has taught me to tell the difference between real job issues and me just needing an overhaul, mentally and physically.  If you’re feeling burnt-out and uninspired in your job, try these before you throw in the towel:

Get some exercise.  Doing this is a constant battle for me, even though I know I will feel 10x better if I move my body regularly.  So I get that it’s extra hard when you’re unhappy in your job.  But you’ve just got to do it.  Exercise releases endorphins, which improves your mood.  It improves flexibility, something you’ll appreciate if your desk job is leaving you an aching, contorted mess.  And it gives you the energy and stamina to do other important things, like professional training, strategic volunteering or pounding the pavement for your next gig.

Find a hobby.  Find something outside of work that lights you up.  It doesn’t matter what it is, but you need something to look forward to at the end of the work day.  Having something to think (and talk) about besides your crappy job will make you happier and easier to be around.  And connecting with people who share your personal interests is a non-greasy way to network and can lead to unexpected professional opportunities.

Take stock.  When you’re feeling beat up, the temptation is to jump ship and hope for the best.  But the “anywhere but here” approach often sets you up to be just as unhappy in the next gig.  (Trust me, I know.)  Think hard about what it is that you really dislike about your current job.  It might not be what you first think.  And consider what parts of it you actually enjoy.  These are clues to where you might want to go next.  Then take an honest look at your skill set and decide if it fits a career trajectory you can be happy with over the next 5-10-20 years.  If it doesn’t, you have the starting point for crafting your next move.

 

(Photo by Phil Roeder via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Management Quick Tip: Watch your thoughts.

No no. Thank you!  by Aaron Stidwell

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
– Lao Tzu

As a busy manager, it’s easy to overlook the important role you play in creating your own workplace culture.  The mindset you bring to your job can impact the destiny of the whole organization.

I know…it sounds a bit airy-fairy.  But I believe it to be true, my friends.

 

(Photo by Aaron Stidwell via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Fighting negative self-talk…with water?

monochrome by Steve Johnson

Do you have a phrase that seems to pop into your mind unbidden, like a sort of mental tic?

I do:

“I’m tired.”

Now, I have a toddler, so I actually am tired quite a lot of the time.  But not nearly as often as this phrase runs through my head.

It’s like an internal sigh, when I’ve gotten plenty of rest but my energy is low or my task list seems extra long.  Sometimes, I hear myself say it and I don’t even know why.

It’s a negative habit that impacts my perspective and I need to break it.

So here’s what I’m trying:

When I hear myself think “I’m tired“, I quickly go and chug a glass of water.

The action takes me out of my head and refocuses me elsewhere, so I don’t start to dwell on the negative thought.  And, since tiredness can be a symptom of mild dehydration, drinking water helps improve how my body feels overall.

Mind and body taken care of?  Seems like a win-win.

Let me know what you think.

 

(Photo by Steve Johnson via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)