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Entries in career (3)

Thursday
Apr252013

dream jobification

Sometimes my day job can be such a day job. Meetings and deadlines and demands and fielding some weird combination of professional concern and personal anxiety from all corners and from everyone in the office (including me). There are days when I wake up thinking, "Wow, I used to love this job. Right now I feel like I could be happier working on a pig farm." 

Except I wouldn't. I know I wouldn't. Because frankly, there are aspects of my job that make it the best job I've ever had. I'm respected by the people I work with. I'm known to be a contributor, a hustler, an asset to the company. I'm an influence on company culture here, and I've been told I'm a good one. I feel vital to the company's goals and mission, and that's an amazing feeling.

Of course there are days when it's hard to face the work. Any time you're doing something worthwhile, something that builds and grows and makes the world better even in a slight way, eventually the adversary of us all will take notice and try to flick you off track. But let's say you don't "buy in" to Kevin's "wacky Christian philosophy"—in that case we'll just say that sometimes even the best job has challenges we don't really want to face, and that makes it tough to get out of bed.

It's especially tough when your job, even if it's a great job, isn't really your dream job. If you have a dream that doesn't involve working for someone else, or involves working in a different industry or doing a specific kind of work, and your current gig doesn't seem to support that, all of the challenges start to feel pretty heavy. 

In his book Quitter, Jon Acuff writes about the concept of thinking of your day job as an opportunity to practice for your dream job. I had never quite put it into those words, but that's a great way of thinking about my "recent" (as in, over the past four years or so) approach to my career.

I'm a writer. When I was a kid I wrote a book on both sides of about five pieces of lined notebook paper (top that, other second graders!). I used to dictate Encyclopedia Brown-esque short stories into a tape recorder and play them back for the amusement of my mom as she washed dishes. I wrote short stories that my step-dad actually found moving enough to include in our family Bible study. Some of my stories and papers got kudos and approval from my teachers, and I actually won a scholarship for something I wrote off the cuff in less than 10 minutes (because I had forgotten to do the assignment during the week prior). So you could say that my whole life I wanted to be a writer, wanted to tell a story, wanted to move people, and I've done that.

But I never wanted to be a Copywriter. I never wanted to be a Creative Director. I never wanted to work in advertising or work for a software company. These weren't on the list. And for a while there, some of these realities seemed to work against my dream. I became bitter and resentful and flat-out angry because "All of you are dream killers!"

Except they weren't. And the dream wasn't dead. I kept at it, in fact, in my spare time. And over time, it sort of ... changed. Most of that change was due to the fact that what I thought was my dream was really just that ... a dream. It couldn't be real, because it wasn't realistic. I had dreamt of essentially waking up to find whole manuscripts sitting there waiting for me to fire off to a publisher, who would gleefully print them without any further work needed on my part, and then send me gobs and gobs of money that I'd use to buy my exact working replica of the Starship Enterprise, so I could sail into the far reaches of space with Spider-man and Alyssa Milano as my companions in adventure. I love my dream.

What my dream became, though, as I learned more about the work, about the world, and about myself was the realistic version. I could write books, and I could sell them. That's real. But I'd have to work at them. I'd have to craft them. I'd have to work hard and learn and apply what I'd learned, and be prepared for my attempts to meet with failure. Failure has always been a possibility. It just doesn't have to be an end.

And my day jobs? I hadn't realized it before, but every day job I've had, every dream-killing block of work I had to endure, has actually been practice for my dream job. I've learned how to have a work ethic, how to manage time and resources, how to do research, how to build and lead a team that can support me. I've learned how to overcome my own laziness and do the work I have to do, to meet deadlines, to get along with co-workers, and to be honorable in what I do.

It's true, the day jobs aren't always ideal, or fun. But that's mostly because I'm the one making them torturous. If instead of ticking off each day on a mental calendar of anguish, counting down to the weekend, what if I spent those days thinking in terms of "How can I use this as practice for my dream job?" What if I looked at tiffs and dust-ups with my team as practice for dealing with clients or publishers or agents or readers? What if I looked at each day as an opportunity to get my "brand" in order, to establish how people think of me and what they come to me for? What if I used each day as a way to define myself to myself? 

I do this now, and have for a while, so I can cheat and give you the results up front: This friggin' works. 

Seriously, it works. It works so well you'll start wondering why you were dumb enough to do it another way all along. You can use your day job to fine tune your life and prepare for and build to your dream job. You can turn something that seems hard and useless into a challenge with great worth. 

So what's the trick? 

Caring. Loving. Looking. Listening. Paying attention and giving focus. Pausing before speaking, responding from a place of love and understanding. 

Easy? Nope. Hard. Really hard. That's why we're calling it "practice."

You will likely mess up from time to time or all the time. But when you do, you can take a few minutes to analyze that mess up and learn from it. You can try again the next day. If your screw up causes you to lose your day job, you can learn from that too, and take that knowledge into your next job.

I'm not just blowing smoke here, I've done this. I was let go from a couple of jobs because of my attitude. I was, at times, lazy and angry and rude and egotistical. I regret it all. But beyond regret, I learned from it all. And now I'm much better. And getting better all the time. Because I've had practice.

And when it's time for my dream job to become my day job, I'll be ready for it, because I didn't let the dream die while I learned how to live it. 

Now it's your turn.

Tuesday
Apr232013

dreamification 

I recently started listening to Quitter, an audio book by Jon Acuff. I'm not far along with it yet, maybe around chapter 2 or 3. But I've already heard some things that have me thinking (always a good sign). I'm kind of impressed by the fact that his path to becoming a writer is pretty close to the path I took. I can learn a lot from the guy, I think.

At the moment I'm reading about "rediscovering your dream." Acuff draws a nice distinction between "finding" your dream and "rediscovering" it. Chances are you probably already knowsomewhere in your brain, among the pop culture references and all that useless "job" stuff you have to remember—exactly what you love to do. Writing, interior design, business accounting (really?), landscaping, public speaking, teaching ... You get the idea. It's probably something you did, at least in small part, when you were a kid. It's likely the kind of thing that was "beaten out of you" by the "real world" and "helpful advisors" and other stuff I have to put in "air quotes" because they're such "stupid reasons" to give up on something you love.

Look, I get it. Sometimes the dream is just that. It's something impractical. Something that won't pay the bills. So you can't justify dropping everything and pursuing it full time. You have to make a living, that's a given.

God really blessed me. My dream happened to click conveniently with a career path. Unfortunately I spent most of my career being too stubborn to realize that was the case. I fought to be everything but the thing I'd dreamt of being. I spent some of that time avoiding writing as a career path because I didn't want to "soil the dream." Big news flash, Kev—dreams packed in a box might be clean, but they also get kind of musty.

Later I spent a lot of time being irritated that, despite the fact that I could make a living as a writer, I wasn't writing what I WANTED to write. I was being "forced into a mold" as a writer. I started writing copy for ad agencies and clients so I could keep food on the table, and I didn't feel like it was a creative venue. It felt crushing at times. I hated it at times. If this was "writing for a living," I didn't want it!

Then I wrote a few things on the side. A book, at first. Then another. And some articles. Some blog posts (oh the blog posts). Here I was able to stretch my legs a bit as a writer by spending some of my time outside of the office doing more of what I was doing inside the office. Different focus, sure. Different results. Different all around. And yet ...

Funny thing, suddenly my outside writing was getting better. I was becoming better at noticing flaws, fixing errors, spotting flubs. I've never been a very good copy editor. Not patient enough. But I have gotten better at it over the years, and largely thanks to the copywriting jobs I've held. Trust me, lose a copywriting job because of your editing skills and you suddenly start to pay more attention to typos and grammar goofs.

So my inside writing was starting to change and improve my outside writing. But wait ... there's more!

I was spending more of my outside time writing the stuff I love. Fiction, mostly, but I discovered I kind of enjoyed writing non-fiction, too. I liked writing blog posts that were useful and helpful. I liked contributing something to the world through my writing, and because I was focused more on that I also started focusing more on doing that work to the best of my ability. What good would it be to write something helpful if it's full of typos and goofs? 

Granted ... I'm STILL plagued by typos and goofs. But I've dedicated myself to learning from each one, and fighting hard to avoid those mistakes in the future. I have gotten better. Much better.

And then I started noticing another something weird. My inside writing was starting to improve. The "fun" outside writing I was doing, that work I was pouring my passion and heart into, was suddenly becoming a means of honing and improving my inside writing. 

My headlines became funnier and more effective. My body copy became more concise and influential. My ability to organize my thoughts became razor-honed. Heck, my ability to turn out copy fast, with ever-increasing deadlines, was a direct result of the fact that I was doing more outside writing, trying to cram as much into the short gaps between work and passing out from exhaustion as I could. Thanks to my outside writing, my inside writing was becoming more polished and professional. And people were starting to notice.

It helps to know that writing is that thing I love to do, and will likely always love doing. It helps to know that my dream is still there, still intact, still serving me.

You probably have a dream, too. It's likely to be something you loved doing as a kid, but put aside by the time you finished college or started your career. Maybe you loved to dance. Maybe you loved painting. Maybe you loved counting seeds in a sunflower. Doesn't matter what you loved, it only matters that you loved it.

And here's where dreams meet reality: You may not be able to make a living from following your dream. That's true. It's very rare that people become highly paid painters or sunflower seed counters. However, that doesn't mean your dream can't fuel you to success.

Excellence breeds excellence. Accomplishment breeds accomplishment. Doing something that energizes you on the outside can give you greater strength and fuel for becoming outstanding at what you do on the inside.

 

Saturday
Jan212012

Listen

I recently came to the realization that I haven’t been listening.

I think my wife could probably give you reams of evidence to that effect, as could a few hundred teachers, professors, former bosses, fellow employees and maybe a tour guide or two. Listening and heeding have always been difficult for me.

But aside from my tendency toward selective spousal deafness, non-conformity and a general and ill-advised contempt for authority, I have other listening issues.  For starters, I haven’t been very good about listening to God. And He’s been practically screaming at me for 39 years, so you’d figure I would have gotten he message before now.

My relationship with God isn’t bad. But I say that in the same way someone might say that the grilled fish at a particular restaurant isn’t bad, or that the drive from Midtown to home isn’t bad, or that the new album by One Republic isn’t bad. These are all non-committal, flat statements. Was the fish delicious? Does the drive provide quality time on my way home from work? Do the lyrics on One Republic’s album speak to me and move me?

There’s a nuance to life, and to our relationship with God, that goes beyond this kind of flat acknowledgement of the relationship. To say “me and God are good” is too vague and wholly inadequate. And really, in the end, doesn’t that mean that we aren’t good at all?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been confronted with my relationship with God. What I always thought of as a nice, in-reserve relationship with occasional spiritual highlights has suddenly sprung upward in my levels of attention, and is demanding immediate care. A recent “long, dark night of the soul” has brought me to a new place in that relationship, and has caused me to rethink my role in God’s plan. And I’ve noticed, for the first time, that He has been sending me e-mails, text messages, smoke signals, skywriting, marquee signs, postcards and billboards for years now. I never got the message.

Have you ever wondered what your purpose in life is? I haven’t. Not really. I mean, I have had the same existential questioning in my heart that everyone has (I think … does everyone obsesses about this?), but I more or less reasoned that my purpose in life was whatever I ended up doing with my days. That’s unfortunate, because when you think that way you inevitably end up spending your days drifting drone-like from one “opportunity” to another.

“If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”

“If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?”

If you have no goal you have no target.

So I’ve started wondering about my purpose in life, and that has caused all sorts of existential angst and spiritual longing. Which, I believe, is the exact opposite of the point that God is trying to make with me. I think the point comes down to this one, simple command:

“Just listen.”

Drat. Listening. My one weakness.

I’m the guy who goes on about everything. I’m the guy who recently learned that all those years ago, as I was helping my friend David and his grandfather Leroy with their side job of moving dirt at the cemetery, I was deemed to be a chatterbox. I would, apparently, just go on and on about anything and everything. I was a talker, and I was tolerated.

I’m the guy who loves to jump into any and every conversation with whatever bit of knowledge and wisdom I possess on the subject.

I’m the guy who likes speaking in public because it means people are listening to me … on purpose.

I’m the guy who loves to communicate. I talk, I write, I post status updates on every known social media network. I strain so hard to have my ideas heard that I forget, quite frequently, that there are other ideas to hear.

And maybe, unfortunately, some of those are ideas I just don’t want to hear. I don’t really want them in my brain, mucking about, causing worry and anxiety. So I shut them out quickly and move on. I substitute something else for them in the tape that runs in my memory. I choose to hear something that wasn’t said. Maybe. I’m not clear on that, because if it does happen then I’m clearly not paying attention, am I?

Listening is hard. I haven’t got a clue how to master it. I try to focus. I try to open my heart. I try to clear my mind. I try to remove all influence of my brain on the situation and just … listen.

I have no clue how to do this.

I know God is saying something. I can hear it, like snatches of shouted conversation competing with crowd noise. But I can’t keep my brain on it, apparently. I can’t force myself to strain to hear it.

It’s a real problem, and I haven’t yet come up with the best solution. So all I can think to do is to keep trying. I’ve started reading more in books and websites about God, Christ, God’s will for our lives and whatever else I can come up with. I’m reading guys like Max Lucado. I’m reading articles in Christianity Today. I’m attending church services for the first time in years, and I’m having open conversations with friends and family about God. Kara and I have a more open dialog about God today than at any other point in our marriage.

And yet …

I still don’t feel it. I still don’t know anything. I feel like I need some sort of sign, some sort of sure mark. But I think what I’m really looking for is a sign that I am being heard … which is kind of the opposite of listening.

Well, I don’t exactly know how to solve that yet, but I’ll work on it. Of course, I’m always open to advice. I’ll keep reading and looking. “Seek and ye shall find,” right? I’ll seek. So, by extension, I’ll find. And, in the meantime, if anyone has any advice for a terribly poor listener I am all ears.

Wow … I really just wrote that.