How To Uncover Blind Spots When Mapping Your Career Path

(This post originally appeared in FastCompany.)

Do you ever read career advice, especially for new entrants into the job market, and feel like the important qualifiers, “Yes, but…” and “So…” are too often missing? For example, “Yes, do what you love. It may translate into money, but not always or it may take a long time. So what can you do to avoid going broke…?”

Author Alexandra Levit agrees. In her thought-provoking new book Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, she reintroduces the long-absent and important, “Yes, but…” and “So…” to some of today’s most common career beliefs.

Some of the blind spots that Levit highlights in her book include:

  • Yes, overnight success might happen to the rare person, BUT more likely it will take years of mastery and resilience. SO, here’s how to get started and to deal with inevitable setbacks.
  • Yes, employers recognize and hire you for your unique skills and experiences, BUT they also have an organization to run with rules and guidelines that have to be followed. SO, how do you function professionally and diplomatically in the workplace.
  • Yes, it’s important to perform in order to earn more money, BUT performance isn’t the only factor in determining pay. SO, learn to understand how performance, business realities, HR mandates, and office politics all impact how much you are paid.

And, as an accidental entrepreneur who knows how much work it takes to create, run and grow a successful business, this is my favorite:

  • Yes, leaving corporate America and starting your own business can be the right option for some people, BUT it’s harder than it looks and is not for everyone. SO, how can you evaluate the many often hidden benefits of working for someone else versus entrepreneurship?

I worry that without these well placed reality checks people both miss opportunities and undermine their long-term success. For me, it happened my sophomore year of college. My father responded to the news that I was going to be an English major and become a writer with, “Yes, but…you also want to move away from central Pennsylvania and live with your friends in New York City after graduation. So, you better find a major that will get you a job with a good starting salary and benefits.” That led to my double major in Economics and English and the discovery that I also love business. And today I write books, articles, and blog posts about my work, creating more flexible work environments and helping people use that flexibility to manage their work and life balance.

I’ll confess that it felt good to show my father my first book contract and relish in a moment of, “Ha, I told you so” satisfaction. But then I had to admit to myself (and to him) that moving to New York after college, finding work that I love and being able to write about it wouldn’t have happened if my father hadn’t inserted a valid, albeit painful, dose of reality into my early career decisions. Hopefully, Levit’s book will do the same for others.

What were some of the helpful, and perhaps painful, “Yes, but…” and “So…” qualifiers that helped you along your career path?

For more from Alexandra Levit:

· Buy her book Blind Spots.

· Check out her blog.

I also invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost.

How Employers Can Love (or Stop Hating) Maternity Leaves

Last week, The New York Times included a quote from me in a great article, “Taking a Positive Approach to an Employee’s Maternity Leave.” Because this is an important topic that many employers struggle with, here are a couple of the key points from the article I wanted to highlight and expand upon:

Of all of the inevitable work+life realities a workforce will experience, maternity should be the least feared.   Unlike illness, accidents, eldercare or spouse relocation, you can plan for it in advance.

Every small business owner should take note of how effectively and proactively the leaders in the article addressed the work+life issues of their employees.  Unfortunately, this is still unusual.  From my experience, most employers refuse to acknowledge and build into their day-to-day operating model contingencies for dealing with the intersections between work and other parts of life even though they are inevitable.  Everyone has a personal life.  Everyone.  Not just women who become mothers.

I’m always baffled by the panic of these same in-denial business owners every time someone becomes pregnant, takes care of a sick parent, has a heart attack, or stays home because of their child’s snow day.  By facing the reality that work+life conflict is a business issue, they’d create a culture that encouraged an open, ongoing, problem-solving dialogue about how to flexibly manage and adapt.  Everything would run so much more smoothly.

Whereas eldercare, illness, accidents, swine flu and snowstorms are usually unexpected, in most cases maternity gives you months to plan!  As the article shows, companies benefit from an open dialogue even if a new mother decides not to come back to work or returns on a part-time basis.  And it’s important to note that new mothers aren’t the only ones who may choose not to come back to work or who would be helped by a phased return after a work+life challenge.  People with elder care responsibilities, a long illness or accident can also benefit.

Prepare employees with the skills and tools to create a solution-oriented plan.

The article does a good job emphasizing the need for employees to start the conversation by thinking through an initial solution (for a contrasting example of what can go very wrong when an owner/manager tries to figure out the right answer for a pregnant employee, click here).

But knowing how to create and present a well thought out plan is a skill set.  Most employees need to be shown “how.”

A step-by-step process for developing a win-win flexibility plan is outlined in my book “Work+Life: Finding the Fit That’s Right for You” and is a great place to start (excerpted in the Work+Life Fit in 5 Days blog series).  In fact one of the reasons I wrote the book five years ago was to give small business owners a resource to help their employees create win-win flexible work+life fit solutions.

A one-size-fits-all, across-the-board “policy” related to how maternity or any other work+life reality will be addressed doesn’t work.  BUT, it is a good idea to have a consistent process in place to which everyone has equal access.

This consistent process should outline the unique circumstances of an individual employee’s job and life that they should consider to determine the solution that will work for them personally and for the business.  Even though the outcomes will vary, a clear process maintains consistency by virtue of the fact that everyone had access to the same approach and parameters.   Again, check out the work+life fit process in my book to get started.

What do you think?  How do we get more companies of all sizes to come out of denial and face the fact that work+life realities are just part of their day-to-day operating reality that they need to plan for?  And how do we get them to embrace an ongoing, process-based, solution-oriented flexible response?

“Mind in the Making” by Ellen Galinsky–Giving Your Child the Skills to Succeed in Any Era

It’s no accident that I wrote about Ellen Galinsky’s excellent new book, Mind in The Making (HarperStudio, 2010) on the same day that I blogged about the skills needed to succeed professionally in the new economic era.

They directly relate, and that’s what makes Galinsky’s book so important. This is especially true for busy parents who may wonder, “Where should I put my limited resources to prepare my child for life in a world I’m still trying to understand?”  Mind in the Making will tell you where and how.

The book opens with a great quote about how the world has changed profoundly since many parents were children:

“Think about some words that describe what life is like today.  What words come to mind?

Did your words reflect the challenges of living in a complicated, distracting world?  Did you think of words that describe feelings of being rushed, time starved, of having too much to do and not enough time to do it?…

Life today is all of these things—complex, distracting, multitasking, 24/7, stressful and focused on immediate gratification and test scores.  It is also joyful and full of exciting possibilities.  We know that if it is this way for us, it is only going to be more so for our children.  We all want the best for our children, but how do we help them not only survive but thrive, today and in the future?”

The book clearly outlines “The Seven Essential Skills Every Child Needs.”  And, most importantly, Galinsky shares numerous concrete steps to build each of those skills from which busy parents, teachers and caregivers can choose.  The “Seven Skills” include:

  1. Focus and Self Control—achieving goals in a world full of distractions.
  2. Perspective Taking—figuring out how others think and feel.
  3. Communicating—determining what to communicate and being understood.
  4. Making Connections—figuring out what’s the same, what’s different and sorting things into categories.
  5. Critical Thinking—searching for valid and reliable knowledge to guide beliefs, decisions and actions.
  6. Taking on Challenges—taking on rather than simply avoiding or coping with challenges.
  7. Self-directed, Engaged Learning—realizing our potential through ongoing learning.

To understand how important the information in Mind in the Making is to laying the foundation for a child’s future success, consider what CEOs said were their top concerns in the coming year.  According to the Conference Board’s 2010 CEO Challenge Survey, senior leaders will be focused on growth, innovation, creativity, quality reputation, and customer service.  A child who has the “Seven Skills” would be ready to execute that vision, and succeed.

Contrast that readiness to the way current employees, their parents, are feeling in this new post-Recession era.  According to the 2010 Towers Watson Global Employment Survey of 20,000 workers across the global, they are afraid, insecure, and distrustful.  They are lacking the resilience to rise to the challenges of a global, 24/7 economy in which rapid change is the norm and self-direction of your work, life and career is required.

By following the steps outlined in Mind in the Making, children will have the skills they need to succeed.  And maybe their parents will learn something in the process as well!

To learn more about and follow Mind in the Making and author, Ellen Galinsky, here are some important links:

Personal Branding, Today and Post-Recession–Me 2.0 by Dan Schawbel

Most of my recent blogs have focused on creatively and flexibly managing through the current recession, with a focus on flexible alternatives to layoffs.  But I continue to keep my eye on the future.  Thinking about what lies on the other side, or the post-recession workplace reality, there are trends gaining momentum in the downturn that will play key role in the future.  One of these trends is personal branding.

If you’re over 30 years old or don’t participate in social media, you may not have heard much about personal branding.  But it’s here to stay, and is something you’ll have to pay attention to in order to take charge of your work+life fit.  Good news–there’s a terrific new, easy-to-follow book that can get you started, Me 2.O by Dan Schawbel.

What is personal branding?  Here’s the definition from Schawbel’s book:

“Personal branding describes the process by which individuals and entrepreneurs differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value proposition, whether professional or personal, and then leverage it across platforms with and consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal.  In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in their field, establish reputation and credibility, advance their careers and build self-confidence.”

Why is personal branding and the information in Schawbel’s book important today and post-recession?  Here are some specific applications:

1) We will all need to find ways to stand out in a job market where rapid change is going to be the norm, or as Schawbel says, “In today’s competitive career marketplace, you need to stay relevant to survive.  One way to achieve relevancy is to constantly acquire new skills…Incorporate these skills in your personal branding kit in order to improve your current organizational role or change career paths.”  Believe it or not, whether you work for a company or work for yourself, being mindful of your personal brand can, as the book points out, build your credibility, showcase your character, attitudes and actions in ways that “instill good feelings in others.”  In other words, having a resume and a good cover letter isn’t going to be enough.

2)  Social media is a critical, yet underutilized or misunderstood, tool for managing your personal brand especially if you haven’t searched for a job since 1997.  Schawbel points to the year 1997 as the demarcation date when social media such as blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. began to influence hiring decisions in the marketplace, and I think he’s right.  As someone who has to make it a point to find time to blog consistently, update Twitter and LinkedIn, I sympathize with those who say, “I just can’t imagine finding the time to do all of that.”  The good news is that once you start, you do get into a groove and it becomes second nature.  But getting started is important, and Me 2.0 outlines in very simple terms how to begin. If you already use the various forms of social media, he also gives you some good advice on how to take it to the next level.

3)  Gen-Y may be the book’s target audience, but Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers will find it helpful too, maybe even more so. Schawbel says his book is primarily for Gen-Ys and people coming out of college, and it has case studies and examples for new grads.  But as a 44 year old with experience using social media I found the book very relevant.  And I imagine that other Gen-Xers and Baby boomers being introduced to the concept of personal branding for the first time would learn even more.

4)  If you are a parent, you need to understand how to help your child build and think about their personal brand, especially online, before it’s too late. This is one of the unexpected “ah-has” I had while reading Schawbel’s book. As a parent, it’s not just my personal brand I need to manage.  I need to make sure I understand how to guide my children to start thinking about how they are presenting themselves to the broader world via social media, because what goes on the internet lives on the internet forever.  This can effect their college and job search opportunities years later.  Every parent should read this book, especially if you are not savvy about the way social media works.

5)  Managing your personal brand involves actively managing your work+life fit. While he doesn’t specifically call it work+life fit or “balance,” Schwabel points out that the personal branding process must consider all aspects of your life.  And it will evolve and change over time as your realities change.  As he says, “You can start by asking yourself, ‘Who am I?’ This question seems simple enough, but the truth is that most people don’t truly find out who they are until later in life.”  And even then, the process of self-discovery and understanding continues.  He goes on to discuss the importance of defining “personal success,” a work+life fit concept near and dear to my heart.

To learn more about what’s new in personal branding, you can follow Dan Schawbel and other experts in the area on his Personal Branding blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Let me take this opportunity to thank you for following me and work+life fit on this blog for the last three years, and more recently on Fast blog, and on Twitter and LinkedIn.  The power of personal branding to connect people and to change the world continues to amaze me!  What’s your personal brand?

Stay tuned-next week, there’s more on the post-recession workplace reality.  I will share my recent interview with Maggie Jackson, the author of one of my favorite books from last year Distracted, where we discuss the need to be less distracted and pay more “attention” in all aspects of our lives.

Oprah, You’re Trying to Find the Best Work+Life Fit! Now, If You Would Just Call It That…

Check it out:  I’ll be appearing on Maggie Mistal’s radio show on the Martha Stewart Radio Network, Wednesday, January 21st at 4:00 pm EST.   Get tips for a better work+life fit in 2009!  Tune in on Sirius 112 or XM 157.  Call in and ask your question at 1-866-675-6675.

Now back to the blog…

Oprah launched her “Best Life” series last week “making the commitment to have more joy and balance in 2009.”  But if you watched all five episodes (which I did—full disclosure, I’m a fan), you saw that what she’s really trying to do is manage her work+life “fit” better.

She’s not calling it work+life fit, but if she did I think it would help her and her viewers understand the real issues more clearly.  It would connect the dots between the “life” advice provided by the health, money and spirituality experts in the later episodes.  But, more importantly, it would highlight the fact that a very important piece of the equation is missing from the series—how to manage work, and how that work “fits” into what’s happening in the rest of your life.

Although the focus has been on her weight gain, Oprah knows that’s a symptom and not an underlying cause.  According to highlights from the show on her website, When Oprah gains weight, she says it means her life is out of balance. “It’s not about the food.  It’s about using food—abusing food,” she says, “Too much work. Not enough play.  Not enough time to come down.  Not enough time to really relax.”

But the problem is not a lack of “balance.”  It’s a lack of actively managing her work+life fit when the realities in her work and personal life changed over the past year.  As a result, she was just adding more and more until it became too much.

What do I mean?  I took the liberty of imagining what the information in opening episode would look like if presented from the work+life “fit” perspective.  See if you think it more accurately reflects the real issues that Oprah, and so many other people, are trying to address:

“Oprah Finds Her Best Work+Life Fit”

As Oprah shares her story of “falling off the wagon,” she talks about the changes in her work and personal life over the past year. And discusses how, by failing to rethink her work+life fit in response to those changes, she became sick and overwhelmed.

When she says, “I’m hungry to do something other than work,” She shares that her dog died, and how grief not only requires time, but takes a lot of energy.  She talks about campaigning for Barack Obama, dealing with challenges at the school she founded in Africa, and deciding to start a television network.  And then she confesses that she didn’t reset her work+life fit by deciding what she would give up both personally and professionally to account for these changes.  As a result, she gave more than the 100% she had to give, and cut out the activities that are easiest to eliminate—all of the things we do to take care of ourselves.

We can give more than 100% for a period of time, but eventually the wheels begin to fall off the bus.  Oprah talks about how overwhelmed and disconnected she was from the inner guidance telling her it was too much.  Then the physical signs started, which included sleeplessness, weight gain, and thyroid disease.   Oprah explains that her weight gain and thyroid condition were the physical manifestations of that lack of work+life fit. There was no room for healthy eating, exercise, writing in her gratitude journal, and taking a relaxing bath.

She points out that it’s not just about the hours in the day.  It’s also about the energy expended to deal with your responsibilities.  Sometimes more energy is required than time.  But, like everyone else, she didn’t pay as much attention to energy deficits as she did to the lack of time.  And it became a downward spiral.  There’s less time to take care of yourself, which results in less energy and it goes on from there.

Finally, she closes by admitting that she’ll never have “balance.  But in 2009, she’s going to take control and find the “fit” that works for her, and restores her health.

Roll the closing credits….

The rest of the week-long series would remain the same with experts offering advice on a variety of topics critical to finding your Best Life, or managing your work+life fit.  This includes exercise, managing your health, spirituality, money and sex.

However, I would add that missing episode on how to manage your work-related responsibilities day-to-day and throughout your career especially in this economy.  Managing your work+life fit is a two-sided equation.  Even though she chose not to cover it in the Best Life series, I would imagine managing the work piece of the puzzle is a big part of Oprah’s challenge, as it is for many others.  Is she delegating more responsibilities?  Is she saying “no” to any additional projects, so that she has the time and energy to take care of herself?

Whether she realizes it or not, Oprah is trying to manage her work+life fit better in 2009.  It’s not about weight.  That’s just a symptom of a work+life fit out of whack.  It’s about knowing what you want and then actively managing your choices and resetting the way work “fits” into your life, especially when your work and personal realities change.

To learn from Oprah’s journey, check out the Best Life episodes and webcasts on, and let me know if you agree with me—Oprah is trying to find a better work+life fit!  Now, if she’d just call it that…

Fast Company–Recession Silver-Lining: No More Excuses Not to Make a Work+Life Fit Change

By nature, I am a glass half-full person.  So even though there are many dark clouds hanging over this long and painful recession, I continue to look for the silver-linings.   And I believe this recession is going to force some people to finally find the work+life fit they really want.

The other day I had lunch with Bob, the brother of a friend, to help him think through a difficult work+life fit decision.  A year ago, Bob negotiated that in January 2009 he would take a package and leave the job he’d held for 10 years with the same company.  While he had been very successful, a change in leadership and the sense he needed a new challenge made the package seem like a perfect segue into the next phase of his life.  Then the recession hit full-force, and now he is reconsidering.

He doesn’t want his current job anymore and his employer wants him to stay.  They have offered him a few alternative jobs none of which are particularly appealing.  But Bob has a 15 year old going to college soon, and a large portion of his college fund as lost in the market downturn.  Bob is concerned that there won’t be any jobs out there, which is understandable given the unemployment figures.

He’s stuck in an all-or-nothing quandary—do I stay and have salary, or do I leave and face a financially scary unknown.  This is where I come in.  We talked, and ultimately Bob realized that maybe there was a middle way work+life fit.  Here are some clues from our conversation that helped Bob begin to see the possibilities.

“They’ve offered me a lower level job I could do in my sleep.  It would give me money, and a lot of flexibility to investigate other opportunities, but my ego would take a big hit.”   Maybe Bob doesn’t have to quit.  He could try take this lower level job, do what he needed to do, but take advantage of the autonomy and flexibility to beginning setting up his next career move.  (Click here for more)

Merits of Negotiating Your “Fit” BEFORE Taking a Job

Last week I found myself taking the train into New York with my friend Scott. Scott has generously given me good business advice over the years, so I was happy to reciprocate when he said, “I am considering taking a new job, but the office is two hours away. So, I’ve put together a plan whereby I would work from home two days a week and in the office three days. What do you think? Should I propose this before I get the offer?”

Scott is not the first person to ask me, “Should I mention that I want to work flexibly when I am interviewing for a job?” There are many variables that influence the answer including: (more…)

WSJ–Data Prove “Opting Out” Becoming a Work/Life Balance Strategy with Potentially Negative Financial Consequences

Is There Another Way? Yes! But We Don’t Hear About It Until Now…

Sue Shellenbarger’s terrific article in today’s Wall Street Journal offers sobering proof that one of my fears is coming true: “Opting out” is becoming a work/life balance management strategy that is no longer limited to high-income mothers. It is trickling down to mothers in lower earning brackets, and the result may have potentially negative long-term financial ramifications on their families.

I am all for each of us making work+life choices based on our unique circumstances. However, I’m concerned that too often those choices are not being made using 21st Century thinking or facts, and instead are being guided by outdated approaches. It’s this mismatch between the outdated and often inaccurate way we, as a culture, still think about how to manage work+life and today’s realities that is causing many of us to make choices that may not be optimal given our specific set of circumstances. That includes our personal financial reality. (more…)

Reflections from My MBA Alumni Work+Life Fit Teleseminars

Last week, I conducted a series of teleseminars for the alumni of top business schools. Although most of my work is done within big companies, I am always trying to find new and creative ways to share the “work+life fit” strategy with a broader audience. Most people don’t work for my clients since approximately 95% of the U.S. workforce works for small or medium-sized companies.

I chose to target MBAs this time, in part, because I am one. But also because in my experience the stereotypical MBA model of “all work, and no life” doesn’t reflect the reality of most students and alumni. (more…)

How Can I Work “Part-time?” Strategies and Resources

Often you can find your “fit” not by doing less work, but by working differently. However, there may be certain work+life transitions that require you to reduce the hours you work and the amount of work you do for a period of time. The question then becomes, “How can I work ‘part-time’”? I’m going to share some strategies for making that shift in a way that considers your needs as well as the need of your job:

• Thinking of it as a “reduced schedule”
• Partnering with your current employer
• Using a “part-time” job placement company (more…)