Tag Archives: career

Three Turning Points in a Career


I recently came across something that an old mentor of mine once wrote me as I approached my 30th birthday in the mid-1980s:

“There are three turning points in your career you will go through:

“1. Wondering if you really like what you do, at about age 30.

“2. Mid-life crisis, at about age 40, when you have a strong desire to do something else, and have a sense of losing your youth and vitality, wondering why you haven’t done more and why you’re not at the top.

“3. The end of your career, which might come any time after about age 60, when you’re ready for retirement, want to do more with your life than work, but may have some regret that you haven’t achieved your goals.”

His words weren’t the most artful description of career stages I’ve read, but they had an impact on me, and I’ve had occasion to think about these turning points over the years. He described pivotal times that I did in fact experience in my career.

MP900341467We all go through our individual variations on these career stages. Our chronological age may vary some from what my mentor stated (in particular, retirement in today’s world can come much earlier or much later than age 60). The depth and severity of the emotional conflict each of us feels are likely to be different from person to person, and one turning point might hit one person harder, while someone else is impacted more by another turning point. Finally, how we choose to cope with each of these turning points will be as personal as each of us and our career paths are.

My mentor wrote this to me when I was approaching my 30th birthday and at turning point #1. At that time, he had passed turning point #2, and was beginning to think about #3. Now I’ve passed #3 myself.

In my case, I gutted my way through turning point #1. I stayed in the same career with the same company for another decade after my mentor and I discussed my disillusionment with where I was at that time. But at my #2 turning point, I switched careers, moving from law to Human Resources. And my #3 came when I was only 50—I quit the corporate world to turn to consulting and writing, which I expect to continue for many years into the future.

In my mentor’s case, he moved into management from an individual contributor role at his turning point #1. He changed careers and industries at #2, though remained in a corporate setting. At #3 he also left the corporate world and moved into a teaching position at a small college in a poor, rural community, which he continued to do until he turned 70, when he retired completely.

My mentor said one other thing to me in that letter he wrote long ago,

“Very few think about these things. They just go as far as they go.”

He encouraged me to really ponder what I wanted out of life at each turning point I faced. Perhaps that’s what started me on my journey of self-assessment.

How have you coped with turning points in your own career, and what helped you work your way through them? How have you mentored others facing turning points in their careers?

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Filed under Employee Engagement, Leadership, Philosophy, Workplace

Making Dramatic Career Changes


toughdecisionsI read an article recently entitled “Thinking about making a dramatic (and scary) career change? Here’s what to consider,” by Sylvia Lafair, (July 6, 2015), on The Business Journals website.

The article got me thinking about the three dramatic career changes I’ve made in my life:

  • taking my first job as an attorney in a corporate legal department in a strange city rather than starting at a law firm (as everyone expected)
  • leaving the legal practice to move into a series of Human Resources assignments
  • leaving the corporate world completely to turn to mediating, consulting and writing

Each of these moves set off the emotions similar to those that Ms. Lafair described. Specifically, for me, the emotions were

     1.  Fear of the unknown and leaving what seemed safe

I knew I could do well if I followed the expected path. That even seemed true of the expected path right out of law school. I didn’t really doubt that I could do what others in my law school class were intending to do—work at major law firms near our school. But setting out halfway across country, and working in a corporate law department? Would I get adequate experience to move into other legal assignments in the future? Would I have the same respect from other attorneys and judges? These were my unknowns.

When I decided to leave the legal department for a Human Resources assignment, I knew the learning curve would be steep. I was jumping into a senior HR position with no HR experience. I thought I knew about half of what I would need to know, and that turned out to be correct.

Then, when I left corporate work altogether, I left a good salary and benefits, not knowing for sure if I could earn what I needed to as a consultant and mediator. It turns out my family has done fine financially, but the worry was there for the first couple of years.

     2.  Excitement at the possibilities a move could bring

The strong camaraderie I felt with the people in the corporate legal department ultimately outweighed the doubts about the work. I made my decision based on who I wanted to work with, and that was the right decision for me. One of the law firms I could have joined right out of law school folded within five years, so it would not have been more secure than the job I took.

And I moved into HR largely because I was bored at the repetitiveness of the law practice I had. I needed something new to interest me, and I knew I needed to move to another job to find it. The choice was to leave the law or leave the company, and I chose to leave the law, because a new field of expertise would give me more opportunities to learn.

And finally, I knew I wanted to spend my time doing many things that a demanding full-time job would not permit. That’s why I switched to consulting, mediating, and writing, which has let me set my own schedule.

   3.  Indecisiveness, while I wrestled with the decision

It took weeks for me to make the first decision, months to make the second, and years to make the third.

   4.  Guilt in leaving expectations of family and friends behind and choosing my own path

Choosing the path less seldom taken is always stressful. Why should I move halfway across the country to take a risky job? Why should I leave a field where I was successful? Why should I leave a financially rewarding career?

I got many questions from family members and friends, who essentially wanted to know why I was “dropping out” as they saw it. However, over the years, I’ve seen many friends and colleagues make similar decisions. I guess I was just an early adopter.

* * * * *

In the end, at each of these periods of indecisiveness, the pain I felt at following the expected path became greater than the fear of the unknown. For others (perhaps those with a healthier mindset), excitement about the future may come to outweigh the fear.

If you are faced with a difficult career decision, take a look at Ms. Lafair’s article and see if her suggestions help.

When have you made a change in your career, and what emotions did you experience?

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Filed under Human Resources, Law, Work/Life

Five Tips on Managing Work and Family: Here Is How She Does It


51dDweLYrsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_There’s a new book out on working mothers—I Know How She Does It, by Laura Vanderkam. Ms. Vanderkam took a data-based approach to the issue of how women manage both a career and children. She asked women in highly paid professional jobs who also have children to keep hourly records of what they did every day for about three years.

Her book makes the case that the women she studied—all of whom were mothers with children still at home who earned at least $100,000 per year—actually don’t have such rough lives. While they may not “have it all,” they have a lot. They are not stress-free, but they are pretty satisfied with their lives.

Ms. Vanderkam’s website promotes the book as follows:

“I Know How She Does It offers a framework for anyone who wants to thrive at work and life.”

So what is the framework? How do they do it? Primarily by taking control of their lives. Here are the primary take-aways I had on how they do it, and how the rest of us can, too:

1. Flexing Your Time

The women in Ms. Vanderkam’s study flex their own time, even if they don’t have formal approval for doing so. During most weeks, they do something personal during normal working hours. (And, of course, they do some work during off hours as well.)

It isn’t surprising that women in this group had the ability to flex their time. Most people earning more than $100,000/year have a support staff and technological tools that can cover for them when they are gone. They can mask their absences, both by handling email and phone calls when they aren’t in the office and by getting work done outside of normal working hours.

This isn’t new. In fact, back in the early and mid-1980s, I flexed my time when I needed to, handling personal matters during work hours and taking work home every night, so I’d have something productive to do if a child woke up sick in the morning. Maybe I was ahead of the times, but I doubt it. I just did what I needed to do to feel capable both at work and at home.

2. Managing Your Time

Moreover, the women featured in Ms. Vanderkam’s book are good planners. They take time at the end of each day to plan the next day. They take time at the end of the week to plan the next week, so they hit the ground running on Monday. Not surprisingly, time management is critical to getting a lot done. And their time management is accurate—they are honest about how long things will take.

Again, not a surprise. Every really successful manager I know is good at time management, or has a trusted assistant who manages his or her time. I think the issue of taking time to plan is something that is hard for some people, but I have always found that the work goes faster and more smoothly if I do spend time planning.

3. Taking Care of Yourself

In addition, these women take care of themselves—they exercise and get the sleep they need. They also have support—a committed partner (when available) and reliable child care providers.

At salaries of more than $100,000, Ms. Vanderkam’s surveyed group has more than many women do. But for all of us, it is a matter of getting the support we need. The one thing I have agreed with Hillary Clinton on over the years is that it takes a village to raise a child. The more support parents have, the better.

4. Making Choices

The women in Ms. Vanderkam’s book also may not spend their time on conventional activities. If they can’t get home for dinner, they have breakfast with their kids. They make time to play with their kids when they can. They don’t watch much television. At work, they skip as many meetings as they can.

And they don’t do it all. They make choices about what’s important to them and focus on getting those things done. The rest they let their partner do, or they hire someone else to do it—house cleaning, grocery and other shopping, etc. Again, money is a help. But we all do things because we think we’re expected to do them. Instead, we should focus on what is truly important to our specific family.

5. Putting in the Time

The only real surprise for me was that the working mothers in Ms. Vanderkam’s book worked an average of 44 hours/week. I would have guessed it was north of 50. Many executives—women and men alike—do have to work more than 44 hours/week. In all things, to be successful, you have to put in the time.

I think of the years when my children were small as being some of the roughest years in my life. Nevertheless, I was successful in my career, and I was available at home. I put in the time both places. The years were rewarding both financially and emotionally, even if I didn’t get to read many novels and gave up baking cakes.

What tips do you have for managing your work and personal lives?

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Filed under Management, Work/Life, Workplace

Recognizing and Remembering Administrative Professionals This Week


Photo from clker.com

Photo from clker.com

This week is Administrative Professionals Week, and Wednesday, April 22, 2015, is Administrative Professionals Day. This recognition of the secretaries and other administrative professional employees that support our businesses began in the 1950s as National Secretaries Week (and Day). The name of the celebration changed in 2000 to address the changing nature of clerical roles in the workplace.

I don’t know of any manager or professional person in any organization who doesn’t rely heavily on a strong administrative support staff. In my own case, they have saved me from many errors and managed my life for the better on many occasions:

  • “Where’s Attachment C? I think you gave me last week’s version.”
  • “I had to move your appointment with the VP to 10:00. But I held 9:00 open so you can get ready for the meeting.”
  • “Your son called. He missed his flight. I re-booked him tomorrow.”
  • ”Did you really mean to copy so-and-so on this letter?”

When I published my novel,  Playing the Game, I wrote:

“This novel is dedicated to administrative professionals everywhere. They are the ones who keep businesses running.”

The administrative employees in Playing the Game are all named after secretaries I knew during my corporate career. I admired them all.

Today I remember and honor two of my admins who are now deceased—Deanna and Diane. Deanna, who passed away in 2006, was given a role in Playing the Game. My next novel will have to include an admin named Diane; the Diane I knew died this last year.

Deanna was the most competent all-around secretary I ever had, and she worked hard. Not only did she organize my work day, but she kept my boss on track as well. She was the only person he trusted to put together his complicated PowerPoint presentations and strategic planning manuals.

Diane was one of the fastest and most accurate typists in the law office where I worked. I barely had a brief dictated before she had it on my desk. I could trust her to make revisions accurately. She didn’t have any legal training, but she had a good editor’s eye.

I am grateful to these two women and to all the administrative employees who have helped me over the years.

Who are the administrative professionals who impressed you the most during your career? Have you thanked them?

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Filed under Management, Playing the Game, Workplace

Who Must Raise the Topic of Religious Accommodation in the Workplace?


A&F logoI wrote recently about religious accommodation, but the Supreme Court arguments in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., last week keep this issue top of mind. The Abercrombie & Fitch case is one where I have sympathy with both the applicant and the employer.

The issue in this case is whether an employer has any duty under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to try to accommodate an employee’s or applicant’s religious practices if the employee or applicant doesn’t directly request an accommodation. In this case, a Muslim woman, Samantha Elauf, interviewed for employment with Abercrombie & Fitch wearing a hajib. Whether or not she was Muslim did not come up during the interview, but the employer assumed she was Muslim and decided not to hire her, because her appearance did not fit the “look” it wanted for sales employees in its stores.

hijabIt is a shame that this case has reached the Supreme Court. By all accounts, Ms. Elauf has had a successful career since Abercrombie & Fitch rejected her application. Most likely, Abercrombie & Fitch lost a good prospective employee by making a decision without discussing accommodation with this applicant. In fact, Abercrombie & Fitch later changed its policy to permit sales employees to wear hijabs, so the whole lawsuit might have been avoided had the issue been addressed before the retailer rejected Ms. Elauf’s application.

I am sympathetic to the applicant, because I believe that religious practices should be accommodated. As I stated in my February 16 post, this nation was founded to permit a diversity of religious beliefs, and we should give each other a little space to make that happen. The “look” policy, if strictly applied with no flexibility, might not have been the best practice from either a customer service or an employment perspective.

With respect to the specifics of the case, the hiring managers at Abercrombie & Fitch correctly perceived Ms. Elauf’s hijab to be an indication that she was Muslim. Therefore, the Supreme Court could easily rule that the employer should have done more before rejecting the applicant. The company should at least have raised the issue, as the EEOC argues. However, the challenge for the Court might be to do justice to Ms. Elauf without issuing broad rules of law that go beyond the intended scope of Title VII and could make managing a business more difficult.

There are many reasons why the employer’s position is also sympathetic. In my opinion, particularly for customer-facing employees—which retail sales employees are—an employer should be able to set appearance standards. Moreover, placing the burden on the employer to determine whether there might be a religious practice at stake, as the EEOC argued, goes beyond the capability of many hiring managers. How is any particular manager supposed to be aware of all religious practices—for example, whether a particular tattoo is religiously based or simply a style that an applicant likes? It is much more likely that the applicant will recognize when his or her religious practices might be an issue than that the employer representative will.

Moreover, many employers are legitimately concerned about mentioning religion at all during a hiring interview. Whether the applicant is or is not of a particular religion, the employer opens itself up to the possibility of a discrimination claim for “perceiving” the applicant to be of a protected group. Most Human Resources personnel and other management representatives have been carefully trained to avoid bringing up religion unless and until the employee does, and even then to handle the situation gingerly.

Also supporting the employer’s position in this case is that the standard for religious accommodation under Title VII has traditionally been quite low. Unlike under the Americans with Disabilities Act, where “reasonable accommodation” has placed some significant burdens on employers, under Title VII the only accommodations required have been those that do not impose more than a “de minimis” burden on the employer. So, even if Abercrombie & Fitch had raised the issue of Ms. Eleuf’s hijab, the retailer might not have had to change its “look” policy to accommodate her.

Nevertheless, it is quite possible, as the EEOC argued here, for the employer to have policies and procedures that the applicant does not know about—such as Abercrombie & Fitch’s “look” policy. It does not seem fair to make the applicant raise the issue of religion because there might possibly be a problem that the applicant knows nothing about. If employers do not need to discuss religion, why should applicants?

Thus, keeping the focus on the job—as Justices Sotomayor and Alito seemed to suggest during oral argument—might well be a workable solution. The hiring managers’ questions can ask about the job requirements and whether the applicant sees any problem performing them. Then, if religion might be an issue, the applicant can tell the employer what his or her religious beliefs require.

My advice to hiring managers was always to keep the focus on the job requirements.

How have you dealt with religious accommodation issues in the past? How do you feel about the issues raised in the Abercrombie & Fitch case?

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Filed under Diversity, Human Resources, Law, Management, Workplace

A Leadership—and Life—Resolution


leadership sign 2Over the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership. What is it? Who has it? How do I improve my own?

One trigger for my thoughts was a blog post by Randy Conley from October 19, 2014, entitled Do You Have the Constitution to Lead?  He recommends that we each have a leadership philosophy and that we codify our philosophy in a personal mission statement.

I scoffed at this post when I first read it. I’ve never been big on personal mission statements. Nor corporate mission statements. In my opinion, the value of these documents is not in the words on the paper but in the thought and discussion behind them. And too often, the thought gets left behind after the words are written.

In another post, Conley agrees with my first reaction:

I used to think this [crafting a mission statement] was a bunch of warm, fuzzy, namby-pamby leadership nonsense. Until I wrote one. It helped me take the jumbled mess of thoughts, values, and ideals that I knew in my gut were my personal mission, and express them succinctly and coherently.

But even though I’ve belittled the notion of personal mission statements, like Conley, I crafted one a number of years ago. Mine was (and is):

“To do right, to do good, and in so doing, to do well.”

But what does this have to do with leadership?

Everything.

If I truly believe my mission statement, then I must do right and do good BEFORE I worry about doing well. That means that as I lead—whether in paid employment, in volunteer organizations, in family, or in any other endeavor—I must first seek to do the right thing and also seek to do good for those around me and for the greater community. Only then should I worry about the impact of my actions on myself.

Sounds a lot like servant leadership.

Conley’s post goes on to recommend that you identify your core talents and values and define them in terms that others can understand. And that you communicate your values to your followers.

Most importantly, of course, is that you live your mission statement, whether you consider it a personal mission statement, a leadership constitution, or simply a philosophy of life. The words we use are far less important than our actions.

For more good posts on leadership, see

5 Hard Truths About Leadership That You Never Stop Learning, by Scott Span

Lead at your best, by Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie in McKinsey Quarterly

The 5 Critical Things That a Good Manager Never, Ever Delegates, by  Laura Stack

As we enter a new year, a year that will bring many challenges and tribulations, I resolve to do right and to do good in all aspects of my life.

What is your leadership resolution for 2015?

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Filed under Leadership, Management

Finding Your True North—A Year-End Reflection


northAs I head into the end of each calendar year, I tend to spend some extra time in reflection. I recently found a list of ten things we should do to find our own true north. The list was in an old file, and I labeled it as coming from a presentation I attended by Dr. Terry Crane. However, I could not find Dr. Crane on the Internet, so I cannot provide further credentials. If anyone has links to Dr. Crane’s information, please send them to me in the comments below.

Here’s the list (it’s a good one):

1. Get an education.

2. Be an expert . . . in something.

3. Don’t take no for an answer.

4. Cultivate mentors—male and female—and never burn a bridge.

5. Build & keep your network; don’t lose a headhunter.

6. Be able to apply technology and understand how it impacts your business.

7. Become a mentor yourself—do not leave others behind.

8. Identify your support system—family and friends—know what’s important to you, and what your tolerance and flexibility are.

9. Take risks—do what’s uncomfortable, you can always go back.

10. Develop a passion for the work you do—it’s too much a part of your life not to.

Based on this list, how are you doing in finding your true north?

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Filed under Leadership, Management, Work/Life, Workplace