Leading Without Authority is an automatic classic. This is not a motivational business book in the traditional sense. It’s more of a tell-it-like-it-is guide to why some people are really hard to work with, which can be so refreshing. Read the right way, Keith Ferrazzi’s book can help deal with not just frustrating people at work, but frustrating people at home, too.
What I love about this book is the concept of co-elevation, that improvement is a group project. I can’t become a better person without having a positive effect on others. Helping others, in turn, is a form of self-improvement. Any person at any level has the power to reach out and try to solve problems in the workplace, no matter how pernicious.
Try, anyway. Usually it’s the small stuff that rankles on us more. We can sort of learn to accept larger issues - like my first job at a mortgage bank, where I knew they sometimes foreclosed on people - but daily friction with our coworkers can become nearly intolerable. That’s usually why people quit, because there is that one person (or boss) they just can’t stand any more.
Part of the reason why is that we feel like we’re expected to pretend these interpersonal issues don’t happen. Meanwhile, the person who is bothering us - and possibly everyone - may have no idea! We only know how other people perceive us if they tell us.
Ferrazzi encourages us to approach the people we’ve written off and figure out a way to work with them. Leading Without Authority has a bunch of examples of how much this oogs people out, how they’d basically do anything to avoid this type of conversation, but then how they did it and managed to make a real connection.
I have tried this and I have to say, it does usually work. There are people out there who are unapologetic jerks, and it can be funny to have a conversation with them about their methods, because they have no problem admitting their part in things. Other times, the person everyone is whispering about is totally oblivious.
One of these successes involved the guy who always came to the potluck but never brought anything. I hate nothing more than when people talk smack about someone behind their back and refuse to confront them directly. I said to him mildly, “Usually when people come to a potluck they bring something, like a bag of chips or some paper plates.” “Oh?” he said. He was from Ukraine and, guess what? This was a completely new custom to him, so how was that his fault? From that point forward, he always made sure to bring a contribution.
Start with the assumption that people are nicer than you think they are.
Another occasion that went much better than I expected: I worked at a campus with limited parking. There weren’t enough parking permits to go around, and they only lasted a year. The person in charge issued new permits, and suddenly several people found out that their permits had arbitrarily been canceled with no notice. (!) Mass outrage. I suggested that at least a form letter should go out to tell people, if not some other systemic reforms, but nobody wanted to confront this infamous Revoker of Permits. I volunteered as tribute. I emailed her, and she literally invited me to her office for tea and cookies. She had an entire collection of beautiful teapots and an oak dining table she had brought from home, complete with cloth napkins. I made my suggestions, she instantly agreed, and then we just hung out and ate cookies together for a while. Not much of an ogre.
If you ever find yourself lying awake at night, going over a bad interaction at work or just dreading going in the next day, you need this book. Maybe everybody does. Leading Without Authority is most excellent, and I can vouch that its premise even works for lowly administrative assistants.
I’ve been getting a lot of texts from my landlord lately. We’re on his mind because he’s been doing a gut reno of the unit beneath ours. One of the improvements is something he wants to add to our unit. I reminded him that we are both working at home and that this would be really hard to do with a skill-saw running ten feet away.
It occurred to me only recently that our jobs are an abstraction to our landlord, because he... has never had an ordinary job.
This is true of a surprising number of people in our community.
Prosperous as they may be, busy and hard-working as they may be, the way that they’ve “made it” in this world is usually in a weird and personal way that would not apply to anyone else. On the one hand, this is exciting, because it speaks to the idea that no matter what you want to do, there probably is a way to succeed at it.
On the other hand, it illustrates the fact that not everyone’s advice is generically useful.
Most people’s career advice won’t help you, either because they have no experience in your field, because what worked at the time they did it is no longer effective, or because the reason they think they succeeded is not actually the real reason.
Keep this in mind if you are currently out of work, because, as you’ve probably already noticed, everyone has a theory and everyone has plenty of time to share it with you.
Don’t ask your romantic partner for career advice. This is paramount even if they do, in fact, happen to work in the same field as you. It just gets messy. They have a vested interest in the outcome. They (hopefully) have a strong bias about how great and cute you are. More likely, in spite of all their many adorable traits and touching loyalty, they are lacking in the sort of strategic planning or negotiation skills that you need.
Don’t ask your parents for career advice. To them, you will always be three years old. They already had their chance to tell you anything you needed to know while you were their captive audience in a high chair. What worked for them when they were your age is unlikely to be on the cutting edge of your field today.
Don’t ask your friends for career advice, unless all your friends are work friends? What brought you together as friends is most likely that you’re all on a similar wavelength, which means they can’t tell you much other than “You got this!”
The sole exception to this is if your friends group is ambitious and you’ve all been trending upward together. If you are very lucky, your friends know you and your skills quite well, and they can pinpoint areas where you can improve or show yourself off.
If you’re unlucky, these same friends are your most likely competition. I know more than one person who is no longer friends with someone because both parties applied for the same job, and only one of them got it. It’s worse when one friend tells the other about the posting and then loses out. That’s gotta sting.
I didn’t tell anyone when I was busy applying for my new job, and I didn’t ask for advice, largely because I was trying not to die at the time. I had barely enough juice in me during those three weeks to hold the phone to my head, much less run a mastermind session. None of it would have come together for me if I hadn’t put in so much effort months earlier.
I did ask for career advice, as should anyone who is looking for something more interesting and more remunerative. I went to an actual career coach, someone with decades of experience in HR who teaches workshops on the subject. She also volunteers her services in the community. It’s not uncommon for people of her experience level to spend the majority of their time mentoring others, because there isn’t much left to learn or explore otherwise. Once you reach mastery, every day is pretty similar to every other day. The joy of watching others blossom into a better version of themselves, though, that never gets old.
Usually the advice of someone at career mastery is straightforward and simple. That’s because you’re not their first customer. Undoubtedly they’ve helped others in your situation before, and they remember what worked and what didn’t. What a strong mentor is looking for is initiative. If they give you advice and you ignore it, they’re going to back off, because their time is valuable and there’s someone else in line who will pay closer attention.
If you’re wise enough to take action and *do* what your mentor suggests, that’s exciting. It shows that you get it and that you’re worth the effort. After you’ve done the first obvious thing, you’re much more likely to get the golden envelope with the next obvious step. Entire careers are built this way.
The first piece of advice that I always give to job-seekers is to put up a profile on one of the major job sites - not LinkedIn but Monster or Indeed, one of those. I have yet to encounter someone who has already done this simple, obvious step. The second piece of advice sounds yet more obvious, but it is nevertheless true: treat your job hunt like a job. Clock in and do eight hours a day. What else are you going to do all day, anyway?
(Answer: do training modules on some software that you don’t know, or at least learn some advanced features of the stuff you already use).
When you’re out of work, it can make you feel vulnerable like nothing else. It’s haunting. Why me, what next, what if this is it, now what am I going to do?? Getting unhelpful advice (or critique) from people who could otherwise be cheerleading and boosting you is just going to make matters worse. Quit giving updates or asking for advice from anyone in your life who does not have tangible success in your specific field.
Keep your chin up and keep going! Remember, you don’t need every job, you only need one. You got this!
Having just started a new job in a new field, I can verify that the job-hunting approach in #ENTRYLEVELBOSS is accurate. Listen to Alexa Shoen, because she knows how this is done.
For some reason, the old methods persist. Every conversation with someone who has just been laid off is the same. “There are no jobs out there.” That basically ends the conversation. They’ll wind up taking the first opening that they hear about, a random position at a random company, and keep trudging along until the next round of layoffs.
I personally just got a job that I applied for while I had COVID-19, and if someone with a lung infection can do well in a panel interview, chances are that anyone can. That is, of course, if they are using an effective approach, and not simply emailing their crusty old resume around every now and then.
I asked a friend who is successful in my field if I could see his resume, and used the same format. Then I had him look it over. After that I passed it to a friend who is a manager for another tech company. I also went to a workshop and had a couple of sessions with a career coach, who helped me figure out some highlights to share at interviews. In all three cases, I wound up adding and emphasizing aspects of my resume that I hadn’t realized were important.
I applied for three jobs - only three. The first one never replied, the second one sent a quick rejection, and the third one went from application to start date within six weeks.
My experience validates Shoen’s emphasis on targeting very specific jobs, rather than sending out the maximum number of applications. This is really important. The job you want, at the company where you want to work, may not be advertising all its openings in places where you would see them. It’s also possible that you can set up a profile and fill out an application at your desired employer before the job you want opens up - that’s what happened to me.
I got a job that didn’t even exist when I applied for it.
That kind of thing happens all the time. I’ve also seen people close to me have positions created for them because someone wanted to bring them aboard. Employers want motivated people to come to them and say, “I can solve this problem for you.”
Whoever you are, you have skills that someone wants. You can fill a role that nobody else can do quite as well as you. Just because you might not be a fit at one place (or several) doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be perfect elsewhere. Don’t give up - read #ENTRYLEVELBOSS and do whatever you need to do to change your approach.
You will never again find yourself at a dead end, panicking without a plan.
It is extremely unlikely that you are the one truly unemployable person on this earth.
We’re on a 9/80 schedule and I’m still trying to make sense out of it. When I say ‘we,’ I mean that my husband has been working this way for a few years, while I generally exist in a timeless void. Now I’m back in the Time Dimension and trying to get my bearings.
Basically 9/80 means you work 80 hours in nine days.
This has been relatively unclear to me because my husband a) travels a lot and b) works tons of overtime. Trying to discern his underlying schedule is like trying to spot me under the many layers I wear to hockey games. Something’s going on in there, not sure what exactly...
So we work nine hours Monday through Thursday. On Friday, we either work eight hours or we get the whole day off.
Four hours of overtime each week, tape them together and turn it into alternating three-day weekends!
The reason I’m focusing so much on this is that I want to go to grad school (online anyway), and I’m trying to figure out if I can somehow create the time to study and do coursework.
Our weeknights are like this:
Clock out at 6 pm
Cook and eat dinner
Work out for an hour, half an hour to shower and get ready for bed
...because all of a sudden it’s almost 9 pm!
I’ve been here before. I went back to school during my first marriage, working full-time during my entire freshman year. We would get up at 6 am and carpool downtown. I would take my morning class, then ride my bike to work, put in a full day, ride my bike back to campus for my night class, then ride home and do homework, going to bed at 2 am.
Then I started collapsing, had to go through a bunch of medical tests, and basically discovered that even someone in her twenties needs more than four hours of sleep a night. I dropped out partway into my first term of sophomore year, and didn’t pick up the thread again until after my divorce.
That’s, ah, the other thing.
I want to do this - meet my outrageous academic dream - and skip the parts that didn’t go so well the first time. The health issues, the divorce, then the financial catastrophe.
Advanced education, to me, has always seemed like a gauntlet. You go through an intensive experience for a short time, something fraught with brain drain and all-nighters, and you come out the other side into a new world of opportunity and perspective.
This has been on my mind lately, because I had one of those articles that encourages you to ask your partner ‘deep thoughts’ questions. I asked him what accomplishment he was most proud of in his life. (I usually know his answers to most of that type of question). He surprised me by replying that it was going to grad school.
It’s making me feel like a kid looking through the window at a candy store. This place, this place where we work... I got to hear an interview candidate give a presentation today that he said nobody else had heard, as he is on his way to defend his dissertation.
Waaaah! *I* wanna defend a dissertation!
There are a couple of parts to this project, all of which I have to figure out in the brief windows of time that are available, unless I can somehow stave off my curiosity until the weekend.
First, figure out whether I can pass the GRE, which is a special standardized test - or whether there is some kind of nifty shortcut that allows me to get into grad school without it.
Second, probably do some self-study to make sure I can get a passing score. I haven’t taken a math class since 1993 and I suspect this may be a problem.
Third, figure out what other supporting documentation I will need, such as recommendation letters from professors who have not seen me since, at best, 2004 - or, again, whether I can get around this somehow.
Fourth, hack a way to get in for free, get someone else to pay for it, or, even better, get paid to attend!
Fifth, figure out how to get on the Dean’s List without disrupting my day job. Or, at least, disrupting it in only a positive direction. Which should hopefully be easier considering all those tasty three-day weekends.
I knew nothing the first time around. I had no idea, for instance, that there were study guides for the SATs or any of the other standardized tests. If I had known, I probably would have asked for one for my 12th birthday and read it over and over until the cover fell off. Neither did I realize what the three-digit numbers were that followed course titles. That’s how I found myself in a graduate-level course as a freshman.
No matter who you are or what you are doing, there is always something so “obvious” that nobody thinks to describe or explain it. I am going to be the person who finds that out. It’s like if ‘obvious’ had a loading dock out back, and I’m always wandering around out there trying to find an unlocked door, when the front has a giant neon sign with an arrow.
One ‘obvious’ thing would probably be, don’t try to go to school full-time while working full-time, since you already know that is too hard. Another might be, don’t start planning this type of project when you only got over COVID-19 like six weeks ago.
Ah, but it should be obvious by now, I can’t rest without a challenge. Maybe I’ll never do it, but it sure is fun to think about. Besides, if I can’t find the time to do it while we’re under a stay-at-home order and I have no work commute, then when can I?
This was the year I was going to turn in my book proposal. I had bites from an agent and an editor. I had a plan. I had an outline. I had pages of notes. I was actively working on it and it seemed like I was on track to finish by my personal deadline of mid-June.
I decided to put all that aside for now and take a day job instead.
I haven’t given up on Being a Writer, not yet anyway. What I did was to make a strategic decision based on new inputs.
This year hadn’t been going all that well. First Quarter 2020 was a mess. I was still in bandages from my surgery, then my hubby had a severe eye injury, then we both got the flu, then we had to put our dog down, then my hubby’s bike got stolen... Week after week, disruption followed by chaos. Then I began Second Quarter with COVID-19.
These things aren’t even problems, not for a writer. In a certain light, they can be regarded as unexpected gifts of interesting material. Something to write about.
What happened was that in the weeks that I spent severely ill, feeling that death was near, my perspective shifted. I realized that the world had changed. My plans needed to change, too.
My husband’s employer (and now mine, too) sent everyone to work from home quite early, before any state in the US had a stay-at-home order. Our county had had one death, but the schools, bars, gyms, churches, and everything else were still open. Airports hadn’t even begun screening. Only Disneyland made the decision faster.
This is part of why I made the choice to go to work with them. Imagine a workplace culture where employees are literally regarded as irreplaceable assets whose safety must be protected at all costs. Different, right?
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Last year, my husband was out on travel over half the time. We barely saw each other. A couple times we had mere hours within a few weeks. This year has started to make up for the time away, considering that he is now in our living room on conference calls up to 10-12 hours a day.
Here, in our living room, where I used to work quietly alone.
Now our home is a company-sponsored conference room. If I’m going to be here anyway, I may as well put on a headset and join the party. It’s not like I can leave and work at a cafe.
Going back to work has been everything I hoped it would be while I was ill. The time passes very quickly. I learn something new every day. I am rapidly catching up with several new titles of enterprise software. I had met a dozen or so of my new colleagues before the shutdown, and it’s fun to be able to talk to them more.
There are other reasons why I feel like taking a day job was a good idea, as opposed to poking away at my now-obsolete book proposal.
This is the first place I have ever worked where anyone takes my degree seriously. I feel accepted as an academic peer. I’ve already been invited to a few separate ideation meetings, where I was able to contribute as an active participant rather than a clerk.
I could plausibly apply for a fellowship here, not just tuition reimbursement.
My goal in writing a book was to share my perspective in some way that would impact others. What if working for an organization made a bigger dent than my book ever could?
What if I also earned more?
What if I did both, the book and the job?
It occurred to me that my writing has been a pressure valve for my life, and that if I felt very busy again, it might blast its steam into any part of my schedule that it could.
It also gives me more to write about. More power dynamics, more colloquialisms, more quirky characters. I have a window into something that I otherwise would not, which is how this particular profession handles the shift to WFH and positions itself against the pandemic.
One of our colleagues, a young PhD from a family of medical doctors and researchers, is convinced that our strategy is not nearly cautious enough. This is interesting in the context of a beach community where everyone else is busy demanding the rights to surf, go to the bar, and have access to hair dye and nail art.
We’re most likely continuing to WFH for at least the rest of the calendar year.
I just learned this a few days ago, and it helps to validate my decision. Where could I work on my book when my husband and I are confined to our 650-square-foot apartment for the duration? When there may not be open seating in the library or the coffee shop for the rest of the year either? Cases are accelerating rapidly in our county. I see no (sound, rational) reason for a major shift in social distancing policy in the near future.
I wanted something interesting to do. I wanted to be a part of something great and to be where the action is, instead of moldering away on my couch. There are intriguing financial benefits, too, beyond the obvious. I maxed out on life insurance and long-term disability, having had recent cause to believe that I truly could expire any day. What a load off my mind, that if I die suddenly, at least my poor hubby could buy a house.
It’s a bit of a paradox, but having a day job is relaxing in many ways. There’s no time to fret about world events. Most of the day is highly structured. Now, if I find time to write a book, it’s remarkable, rather than belated. If I get published, it’s great news, rather than overdue. There is plenty to be going on with.
So you want a job where you can work from home, but you aren’t sure how to get one. Maybe I can help.
One of the first things that happens when people are out of work is that they start doubting themselves and aiming low. They feel insecure about their abilities, maybe even defensive about their track record. Rather than think, Hey, now is the perfect time to learn a few things and become more competitive, it’s more common to think, I wouldn’t even make a good doorstop, or, I can’t even cast a good shadow.
What I’ve learned is that employers don’t care what you did before. They only care whether you’ll show up and do something for them tomorrow and the day after.
I spent a lot of time preparing for my new job. I read at least a dozen articles on tough, tricky interview questions. I scoured my resume and reviewed all my talking points from every major project I did over the last twenty years. I rehearsed answers to what I thought would be a sore point, which was, What had I done since I quit my last day job in January 2010?
Imagine my surprise when none of that came up?
In two phone screens and a five-person panel interview, nobody asked a single question about any of my past jobs. A couple of things from my resume were mentioned, indicating that it had been read, but that was it.
I put two important things on my resume: a list of all the software I know, by category; and a list of my skills.
I’ve read that “skills resumes” are frowned on because they can be used to disguise a patchy work history. I don’t know if that’s true for most places, but it seemed to serve me well - and I *had* a patchy work history. I was transparent about the fact that I hadn’t had a traditional day job in over a decade. In my case, the majority of my most valuable skills were things I had picked up in between.
The point isn’t whether you can prove that you’ve 100% done something under an official job title at an official employer. It’s whether you know how to do it, whether you can learn new things, and whether you are enthusiastic about giving it your best shot.
This is where being unemployed, even for a very long time, can be an asset. It gives you the opportunity to study up.
Someone close to me did this a few years ago. She had never really used a computer at work, literally did not even know how to right-click a mouse or copy/paste. She did a self-study Excel course, got over a 90%, and now knows all the advanced features I never learned even though I started using Excel around 1990. Since then she’s been promoted twice, has an impressive new job title, and makes a significantly higher income.
That is my first piece of advice: Go through a bunch of job listings and look at what requirements keep coming up.
(That’s why I went back to college. I kept reading job listings for which I was qualified in every single respect, except the bachelor’s degree. It was infuriating until it became simple and obvious).
Stories keep coming up about young candidates who are shocked, stunned, and amazed that the job requires Microsoft Word and Excel. For those of us who are familiar with these programs, this might seem funny. Instead of laughing, we should be taking notes and realizing that we have been taking for granted what are actually very desirable professional qualifications.
When we get mopey and fall into doubting our employability, we focus on ourselves and our shortcomings. We have no way of realizing that our supposed “competition” may be severely underprepared. I got my first temp assignment in an office because the woman before me quit two hours into her first day, saying, “I don’t have to do this.” They were looking for 1. Someone who would work for 8 hours and 2. See #1.
It’s a similar situation with work-from-home jobs. They’re looking for applicants who are ready, willing, and able to work from home. Not everyone can do this. Sometimes these issues are not their fault; a friend of mine lives about five miles away from us, but the internet is so poor in her neighborhood that she needs two separate devices to try to get a better signal.
If you have electricity, good wi-fi, a smartphone, and a computer you can use all day, you’re ahead of the game and more employable than you realize right now.
Learning the basics of even one in-demand software title can be enough to put you over the edge. If you can pass a quiz, do a demo, or answer a few questions about what you can do, that’s usually enough. Start writing down all the programs that you have used, even if you only feel a passing familiarity. It may surprise you.
Another approach is to take on a volunteer position and build your skills there.
I spent the past three years in leadership positions in Toastmasters. They stepped up in responsibility, and I learned so much that I got back more than I put in. I’m absolutely sure that I reached a higher level of leadership through Toastmasters in that brief period than I would have if I had stayed in my previous line of work for ten years.
Again, it isn’t what you’ve been paid to do under your official job title; it’s whether you can demonstrate that you know how to get things done.
Unemployed people, and their friends, family, and neighbors, often say the same thing, which is: “There are no jobs out there.” This is demonstrably false. Also, you only need one.
Talking about what doesn’t exist, or what you do not want, is a pretty useless way to spend time.
Much more interesting to talk about what you do want to do. If there is something you really want to do because it fascinates you, that will shine through. If it is true about you that you really want to do a good job and be proud of yourself, that will show too. Right now, there are thousands of WFH jobs available. Some of them have been open for months or years without the right candidate turning up. Maybe that person is you.
Some stuff you can learn for free:
Microsoft Office 360
Jira / Agile
Though we’ve been referring to it with the acronym WFH, telecommuting is not the same thing as working from home. Technically I’ve been working from home for over a decade. This telecommuting thing is entirely different.
I did a variety of things in my past work life, often switching between different projects and different styles in the same day. I booked client calls, wrote on freelance and on spec, traveled, worked on planes and in my lap and in coffee shops and on a hotel bathroom floor in the middle of the night.
In all those ways, my freelance life was (is?) both more versatile and less comfortable than what I’m doing now.
Telecommuting is like being in an ordinary office, only at home instead of inside a cubicle.
During my first week, I’ve spent more than half my time in meetings and webinars. Not only do we start on time, it’s necessary to start a bit early to make sure there is time for both the hardware and the software to connect.
Unlike normal meetings in conference rooms, most people are on mute for most of the call, so it’s common for someone to be talking to themselves in an empty room for several seconds before everyone realizes their mic isn’t on. Picture this happening with people sitting around a table and it’s actually quite funny.
Everyone is using different equipment, some company-issued and some more ad hoc. Most people have worked for the company for years - or decades - and others were actually hired after the shutdown. Like me, there are people who don’t have a physical desk, chair, computer, phone, or anything else. Our physical existence is hypothetical.
I have the good fortune to have visited the building several times. I’ve met a few of my new colleagues in person, some through my husband and others through Toastmasters. I know where I will probably sit, if we start going back to the corporate campus soon. A few of the new hires can only look at pictures of the building and guess.
One of the odd things about telecommuting is getting used to VPN. It’s like the movie Inception, a computer within a computer, or sometimes more. A desktop within a desktop, with its own wallpaper and its own software. “I’m opening a browser from inside a browser!” This is really important for security reasons, of course. It works well enough once you’re over the “nesting Russian doll” feeling.
This process has been fun. The days are going by so fast, and there are so many things to learn and so many people to meet.
It’s also been weird, because the interruptions are so different from the kind that are typical in an office. I joined a call with my boss first thing in the morning, and there happened to be an entire flock of crows freaking out for several minutes on the roof across from us. (“Us” meaning my household, not me and the person to whom I was speaking). Today it was a dog barking frantically in the alley on my end; last time, it was someone else’s neighbor’s dog barking in the yard next door. So many dogs.
Cats are another one. Someone will be talking, chatter chatter chatter, and then suddenly a plaintive MEOW. Must be cat lunchtime.
My parrot has her good days and her bad days. Sometimes she will play quietly in her box fort for hours. Other times she wants to be on the call and has a way of letting out a shrill whistle the moment I turn off mute. It’s like she knows. (She might).
We’ve been joking about making her a little headset of her own. She is a biped who speaks English, and at 21 she’s certainly old enough to start contributing to the household. Maybe they’re hiring a paper shredder, who knows.
Telecommuting has changed a lot in our household. My hubby and I sit at our own desks, together but apart, on opposite ends of our couch. We’re often on calls at the same time. We have the same schedule and the same days off. We work in the same department. This is how we met, fifteen years ago, though of course in those days we couldn’t have guessed we would marry and share a whiteboard together.
This style of working from home is much more interesting, now that the world has shut down for who knows how long. The time passes very quickly. I like to imagine what I’ll be working on three years from now, and how much of what is new to me today will be routine then. What will a regular workday look like in 2023?
“Many of us are done with this,” said one of my neighbors on Nextdoor, following a demand to “stop policing people.” Okay, fine, cool, thanks for making this decision easier on me and my household.
I’m staying inside until 2023 and getting a head start on the new supernormal.
Possibility thinking is not the same thing as optimism. For it to work as a strategic planning tool, possibility thinking has to include *all* possibilities.
At least in my region, there seems to be a pretty broad consensus that there is nothing to worry about. I read that 1 in 5 Brits believe that COVID-19 is a hoax, and it’s probably not too different here in Southern California. This makes me feel some kind of way, as you can probably imagine.
“I ate there and got food poisoning” NO YOU DIDN’T
“I got a speeding ticket along that stretch of highway” YOU LIE
“Attempted break-in on our street” NEVER HAPPENED
*shrug* okay, so I guess we’re done with the concept of social proof. I would really prefer that nobody else in our galaxy go through what I went through the entire month of April, but have it your way. My experience isn’t real to you, all right. Noted.
I feel no desire, need, or motivation to associate with people who feel that way... especially not in their physical proximity.
How am I going to deal with this emotionally, mentally, socially?
Reset my expectations.
Cases are rising in at least 18 states? My county has roughly half of the cases in my entire state, and more than half the deaths? Coronavirus is active on six continents? There may be a separate strain now that takes longer to show symptoms?
I don’t see this thing going anywhere any time soon.
Therefore, I don’t see myself doing what I used to do for fun, anytime in the near future:
Going to the airport, getting on airplanes, staying in hotels, going to live shows
Hanging out in restaurants, cafes, or movie theaters
Wilderness expeditions - will I ever be well or strong enough to do that again??
Everything else about my family, social, and commercial life can be done online, in some cases with more fun and greater efficiency.
Do I miss my family and friends? Yes, of course. Would I ever forgive myself for picking up COVID again and exposing them to it? No. Especially if any of them ran up massive debt in the hospital, or died.
We will meet again and we can hug it out when it feels obviously, finally, conclusively safe.
In the meantime, what are we going to do with ourselves?
We’ve doubled down with our quaranteam buddy. We’re helping her move to a new apartment this week, where we’re already planning a small shared garden. We’re teaching her how to pack a go bag and working on a team evacuation strategy for wildfire season. She’s our literal ride-or-die friend now.
I cut my husband’s hair for the first time. It actually turned out fine! He can’t stop raving about it and running his fingers through it. I give it... an 80%. I’m doing my own split ends and feeling glad I wear mine long. QT and I agreed to color each other’s hair, and maybe we’ll tentatively try a trim, in the back where it doesn’t show on webcam. With videos and practice... maybe it just becomes a thing and we all save hundreds of dollars a year.
We learn a few new artisanal skills, our cooking and baking improve, we expand the ways we support and care for each other, we develop a new group video call etiquette.
It’s up to us to decide - first as individuals, second as households, last as a society.
Or several adjacent societies?
I fear for those who are struggling to live in the reality-based community. It seems like an awful lot of people have lost the plot as far as what sources to trust, what is objectively testable or verifiable, and how to make decisions. Most people aren’t all that great at long-term planning or strategic positioning in the best of times, and when a crisis hits, we often begin to act less rationally than we did before. Clearly there are some issues.
One of the first things I’m personally working on is a quick vetting process. When I meet people (virtually) or see them (physically) how do I size them up? Who gets a shot at being in my social bubble and who would probably find it annoying and unsatisfying anyway?
Another thing we’re working on, as a quaranteam, is speculating on business and investment trends. Not in the “let’s gouge people for PPE” way but in the “what will the world look like in 2025” way.
Even *I* think this pandemic will be over by 2025! Though I have already made permanent policy changes, especially for travel, that I will carry forward. Reason: there are no rules about pandemics! We could have several new ones every year, which is one of the reasons why a COVID vaccine is, for my purposes, a moot point.
I got a new job while I was sick with COVID-19, as I mentioned. They’re WFH-mandatory right now, and it’s possible that most positions will remain that way because they’re already seeing higher productivity. My Plan A is to absolutely crush it at this job. Rather than mope around wishing I didn’t have to isolate, I’m going to pretend the outside world doesn’t even exist, and I work in an alternative arrangement.
Antarctica? A fire watch tower? Spacecraft to Mars or elsewhere? Emily Dickinson’s trance medium? Could vary from day to day or month to month?
As part of my job, I’m determined to get a few software certifications. There is a modest tuition reimbursement. I’d like to get a master’s degree, maybe an MBA too. I’ll have nothing but time and no particular reason to delay. It’s not like we’re going anywhere...
It would be easy to spend the next few weeks or months exactly as tense and anxious as the last few. It would also be easy to go out ONCE, like I did back before the shutdown orders, and get sick, and not even know for two weeks. Those are the default options. As a general rule, whatever is the default is uninteresting to me.
I prefer to move forward, through this intense time when we are all in the Place of Uncertainty, in a direction of my own choosing. To the best of my abilities, I’d rather come out of this in better shape than I went in. I have the power, as do we all, of determining my own attitude and my own behavior. I’d like to emerge in three years better than I am today: like myself, only supernormal.
This is Marie Kondo’s best book. I read it with a certain amount of trepidation, because I found several ideas in her previous books to be impractical or actively dangerous. It also amazes me that her clutter work is so broadly popular, because I have yet to see a hoarder like one of my clients actually complete the KonMari method. Joy at Work, on the other hand, should work for anyone.
Where this book shines is in its focus on time, rather than stuff. The reason for organizing papers or office supplies is to free up time, which can both improve one’s professional reputation and allow for an earlier end to the workday.
Joy at Work also highlights relationships and communication more than Kondo’s earlier books. Most of what constitutes “work clutter” is probably more about people irritating each other than about the arrangement of physical objects. This approach would be great for another household management book, if she ever chooses to write one.
There is a section on meeting management which obviously comes from someone with a full calendar. Here is an area where even one reader who is willing to share this material can delight everyone else in the office. Yes, let’s all have fewer and shorter meetings and excuse anyone who doesn’t need to be there.
The only thing that Joy at Work is missing, in retrospect, is a section on telecommuting. That could really be a book of its own, with chapters on how to balance homeschooling, electronic device sharing, and varied schedules. Maybe it could be called Joy in Spite of It All.
Someone asked me, You said you hadn’t had a job in over ten years. How did you address that in your interview?
This is what I said on the phone:
“I’m a radical candor person, so I’ll just tell you. I haven’t had a regular day job in over ten years.”
They already had my resume, which was of course an accurate reflection of how I have spent my time over the past twenty years. If I got an offer, they were going to do a full background check. They’d “find me out” one way or another, if they hadn’t already. I figured, if they’re talking to me, they’re interested. I have their attention.
Might as well be myself.
What I never realized when I was younger is that employers don’t care what you did in the past. They don’t even care what you’re doing today.
They want to know what you’re going to do for them going forward.
(And can you convince them that you will?)
It’s really hard to be future-facing when you have doubts, guilt, shame, or mixed feelings about your past performance. This is just as true in the workplace as it is in academia, family relationships, or even clearing out your closets. If you want to move forward, you have to figure out a way to integrate your experiences with your identity.
A fixed mindset will say, Failure is permanent, absolute perfection is mandatory every single microsecond, the way we have been is the way we always will be.
This never made sense to me because it’s unclear where that fixed set of attributes starts. After high school? Because surely we all remember a point when we did not know something that we know today. We were all completely incompetent at something, from tying our shoelaces to driving a car to filing a tax return.
If you learned one thing, you can learn another thing.
That right there is your growth mindset.
Not only CAN you constantly learn new things, but... why wouldn’t you? Why would you ever stop?
Another thing that I said during my interview is that “I’m challenge-driven. I’m motivated by curiosity.” I can’t let it rest with not knowing how to do something. As soon as I realize there is something more to know, I’m going to dive deeper.
This was actually a significant liability in some of the lower-level jobs I had as a young person. What those employers wanted was someone obedient who could be tasked and would cover shift changes or skip breaks with no notice.
This type of organization usually starts out interviews from an adversarial position. They are trying to hide their dirty secrets, usually including high turnover, low or no opportunities for advancement, unappealing benefits, uninspiring corporate culture, demands for unpaid overtime, and at least one supervisor who drives people out the door. Because they have to lie about what they are offering, they naturally assume that new hires are hiding things too.
What are you hiding??
I’ve been asked on interviews:
What is my worst flaw (almost every time)
How I would describe myself in one word (??)
Why I left my last position (almost every time)
Where I see myself in five years
These are ‘gotcha’ questions, as is the sneak-attack “Do you have any questions for me?” Nobody is expected to tell the truth about these lame questions; they’re expected to wear a good social mask and give the expected answers in the acceptable way.
My worst flaw? I’m excessively punctual! I’m such a perfectionist!
How would I describe myself in one word? Dedicated!
Why did I leave my last position? I’m looking for new challenges.
Where do I see myself in five years? Working here, I hope!
It doesn’t really matter how you answer the “do you have any questions for me” thing, as long as you actually have a question. This time, my question was, “How supported did you feel during the transition to telecommuting?”
What did I do over the ten years that I stepped out of the traditional workplace? I realized that no employer defined who I was or what I could do. I had “F.U. money” and the incredible luxury of never having to take a job that I didn’t want. I started to learn how to think like a professional (someone with a profession) rather than an employee or, worse, a servant.
(What does someone in customer service do? Serve. And what do you call someone who serves? Right).
To be transparent, I am emotionally attuned toward service no matter what I am doing. I don’t really mind doing scutwork or waiting on people. I don’t even care if I have to wait on Rude People because I think it’s funny to return their behavior with gracious courtesy.
Two things change everything about your outlook and your appeal as a prospect:
Whether you internalize the organization’s goals as your own, and
Whether you are very clear about what you bring to the table.
I’m not *asking* for a job from anyone. I am *offering* the option to bring me on board. Nobody wins if it’s a poor fit, if either of us on either side pretend to be something that we are not.
I was an obvious choice for my new job for a bunch of reasons. One was that I had taken the initiative to do a long-term project on spec, and after nearly two years, it demonstrated a great deal about my work ethic, creativity, and ability to adhere to a production schedule. There is simply nobody like me, and nobody else who can do exactly what I can do.
NB: That’s true of you, too (I’m certain of it), but it’s up to you to demonstrate whatever that is.
Another reason I was an obvious top candidate is that I spent my ten years off doing things that did not fit in my prior job descriptions. I built my resume around a list of untraditional, non-clerical skills, including event planning, ideation, and literature search. I had years’ worth of volunteer positions of increasing responsibility, including leading a team, and I had won a bunch of awards. I had felt stymied in my earlier work life, and I had found a ladder up and out.
Your boss and your job do not tell you who you are, what you can and can’t do, or what you have to offer. You do that. If you feel limited in any way, you’re already prepared to launch straight through the roof. You’ve already outgrown what you were doing. Now it’s up to you to decide what you’d rather be doing, and start figuring out how to get there.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies