Are you the only one in your role at work?
Who supports you emotionally & intellectually in your work?
How do you keep up with developments in your field when your few, true colleagues are far away?
When is it time to launch a new career? Or resume an earlier one?
I came face to face with these questions at my bank last week.
My business required a consultation with a bank officer. Our conversation started with an introduction, handshake, and apology from her. She had needed two minutes more to finish her phone conversation while I waited. As she took care of my transaction, she asked me about the Women’s Learning Studio. It was a friendly throwaway inquiry but I went for it. I explained that we help women acquire net savvy to become do-it-yourself learners and leaders online. With their new skills and focus, they can collaborate online with peers who share their interests, find new connections, and expand their prospects for future work and life satisfaction.
Up to this point, she had been sitting perpendicular to me working on her computer. When I finished, she turned to face me fully and said, “I can’t believe you are here today.” Turns out that I had her full attention.
She described a morning of challenges. Finally she had called a friend in the same work role in another bank far away. Her friend talked her back into a rhythm to cope with the rest of the day. She confided to me then that she was considering whether being a bank officer for the next twenty years was what she really wanted to do. She had been in the performing arts years before. As we talked more about how learning purposefully online can bridge gaps and reveal new pathways, as well as create new allies, she smiled and laughed a little. She was visibly more upbeat than when I had entered her office. She had given voice to concerns she had had for a while. She had also served me well on my need for help.
Too often we find ourselves in solitary confinement at work. We may be contractors working mostly alone. Or few if any co-workers understand our specialized responsibilities. We do not have peers close-by to share special moments or consult with. We may plod along, in our minds at least, and maybe outwardly, too, not really sure if we are in the right place anymore. We want to talk but don’t know when and with whom we can talk.
How do we bust out of monk-like restrictions at work without paying an unpleasant price? Kathryn Sollman at the Huffington Post, 9 Lives for Women—Find the Work that Fits Your Life, offers several suggestions for reframing your work and life to create the right fit. I like her encouragement to “open up to other women,” “consider a life or career coach,” “participate in online discussions,” and “take advantage of many low commitment, one-baby-toe-in-the-water resources to get moving in a new direction.” The last step expands into “Look for courses offered through local colleges, libraries and continuing education programs, lectures sponsored by women’s professional and community groups and often inexpensive programs offered by career coaches, recruiters, financial planners and firms that specialize in entrepreneurship.”
These are all good ideas especially when pursued ONLINE. New allies and opportunities for connection can be found in discussions that start around a single blog post. Courses abound online, many of them free or certainly low-cost and very high quality, without having to combat traffic or find parking on crowded college campuses.
If you suspect that your work situation is becoming intolerable, a blog post by Liz Ryan titled Seven Signs You’re Too Smart for Your Job might be the prod to hit the road. Humorously tongue-in-check, Ryan compares beginning and experienced careerists noting that it is critical to work in situations where the work requirements match up well with one’s innate resources and passions. She surmises that “We can tell ourselves whatever we want, but the universe pushes us in the direction of situations that will grow our muscles and our flame.” Two of her seven signs to think about leaving a job are that “You don’t see a forward path” and “No one around you looks like a role model, a guide, or a mentor.” Ryan cautions, “If you see yourself in these examples, don’t panic. You don’t have to do anything today or tomorrow, but start thinking about what you’d do if you weren’t doing the job you have now. Get a journal and write in it. Design your dream job on paper first to get clear about your direction.”
If you visit Ryan’s post, do glance at the authors of comments that it triggered in a VERY SHORT time frame. There might be some people you would want to look up on LinkedIn as potential new resources and others to avoid!
He identifies four elements that should define the intersection that becomes your focus and shapes your behavior for a year at a time. The elements are your strengths (you choose the game that you excel in), your weaknesses (embrace them as an “asset instead of a liability”), your differences (assert them because “being different is the only way to win”), and your passions (what you love doing deeply enough to persist over a year, “even when it feels like you’re not succeeding at it.”) He urges a year for your long-term focus because it “provides us with the perfect amount of time in which to make real progress in our lives without getting lost.” He also recommends focusing on only five areas of focus for a year—three work related, two personal—because it is like the porridge Goldilocks consumes: just right. (If you don’t want to buy the book but want to learn about his brand of time management, see the HBR post here.)
All of us will face a reckoning on the choices we make in life (and I’m not talking about any final reckonings here). Are we making the most of our work, our lives? What would we like to move toward? And how do we do that? I’m sure there are allies online that can help us bust out of solitary confinement to live in circles of our choosing with greater purpose and fulfillment.
Exit and Jail photos courtesy of MorgueFile