I want to share a few videos from a talk I gave recently at a job-seeking group. I’ve revamped my “Transcending Procrastination” presentation to add some more techniques and ideas, and these videos offer some samples of the new content. I hope you find them useful and fun.
In this first video, I talk about how to develop a longer attention span, and thus get more done in a single sitting in your work, by practicing holding your attention on your breathing or an object:
In the next video, I talk about how being able to say “no” to requests is an important part of staying focused and motivated in our projects. Often, this is a matter of getting comfortable with the intense sensations that can come up when we refuse a request:
Here, I answer a question about dealing with job interview-related anxiety, discussing how useful it can be to find the place in your body where you’re feeling the nervousness or tension, and breathe into that place. This can be helpful for anxiety in other situations as well:
(This is Part Two of a two-part book review. Click here to read Part One.)
As I said in Part One of this review, Parachute has much to recommend it in terms of the inspiring and spiritual perspective Bolles offers on the job hunt and career satisfaction. As with any work, however, there are places where Parachute has room to grow, and I’ll talk about three of them here.
1. Canned Interview Strategies. Bolles provides a long list of tips and tricks for succeeding in job interviews. Examples include the “two-minute rule,” which means you should avoid spending more than two minutes responding to an interviewer’s question, to make sure they don’t think you’re self-indulgent; the “50-50 rule,” which means that, for the same reason, you should ensure that you and the interviewer talk for roughly equal amounts of time; and various forms of confident body language, such as strong eye contact.
Bolles says some of these strategies are supported by studies showing that people who use the suggested behaviors are more likely to be hired. Even assuming these studies actually prove what Bolles says, one question that remains is whether people who intentionally make an effort to do these behaviors succeed in interviews. In other words, it’s one thing to say that people who don’t talk for more than two minutes per answer tend to get the job—it’s another to suggest that people who consciously worry about the amount of time they spend talking are more likely to get hired.
In my experience, people who go through job interviews saying planned lines and using rehearsed body language are likely to be, and give the impression of being, anxious. If you’ve ever tried to use rehearsed lines or body language in any setting—and many of us have in some context, whether at a social event or at work—you’ve probably noticed it takes a lot of effort. What’s more, if your attention is on trying to get the techniques “right,” it’s hard to keep your mind on what the other person is saying.
Recall those moments, for example, where you’ve been in a conversation and you’ve been frantically trying to plan what to say next. I’ll bet you were not only nervous, but you also had trouble listening to the other person’s words. This probably isn’t the best mindset for coming across as confident and professional in an interview.
A Novel Idea: Real Interest In The Job You’re Applying For
What do I propose instead as an approach to interviewing? Let’s start by looking at the impression the rehearsed language and movements Bolles recommends are supposed to create. Essentially, they’re intended to make us look enthusiastic about and interested in the job we’re looking for, and confident but not arrogant.
So here’s a crazy new idea that isn’t covered in most job-hunting books: what if we applied for jobs we were really enthusiastic about, and we actually became more sure of ourselves? If we genuinely had the characteristics interviewers are looking for, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about looking like we did.
But how do we cultivate these qualities? There isn’t space for a comprehensive discussion here, but I’ll talk briefly about enthusiasm for the job you’re seeking. On one level, you can ensure that you’re engaged during a job interview by actually being interested in the work you’re trying to get hired to do. If you’re genuinely intrigued by or passionate about the job you’re interviewing for, those qualities are likely to naturally show up in what you say and do.
This may sound obvious, but many of us don’t actually focus on it. Instead, our attention is usually on the perks of the job we’re seeking—how much it pays, how prestigious it’ll sound to other people, and so on—rather than the actual work the job entails. Or, we’re so concerned for our survival that we don’t feel we have the “luxury” of paying attention to our interests. As Bolles himself recognizes, if we actually take time to think about the work we’d prefer to do, we can much more easily guide ourselves toward employers we’re interested in working for, or businesses we’re interested in starting.
Perhaps you find yourself feeling angry or resistant when you read this, and you’re having thoughts like “that just isn’t realistic for me. I’m focused on paying my bills, not ‘pursuing my dreams’ or ‘being myself’.” If a reaction like this arises in you, notice any subtle feelings of superiority or righteousness you get from seeing yourself as constantly struggling to survive.
For instance, do you see yourself as responsible or practical because you aren’t following your dreams? Do you see it as “selfish” to go for what you want in life, and view yourself as a noble martyr because you don’t? Asking these kinds of questions can help you make valuable discoveries about how you may be limiting yourself in your career and elsewhere.
On a deeper level, as I discussed in Part One of this review, sometimes we have trouble getting excited about a job we’re seeking because our unconscious defense mechanisms against intense feeling stop us from experiencing enthusiasm and aliveness in any area of our lives. As I noted, the key to letting go of these barriers against intense emotion is to develop awareness that we have them, by carefully observing how we move and tense up our bodies when strong sensations arise inside us.
2. Transcending Shame. The formula for career satisfaction Bolles presents is, essentially, find out what you love to do using the self-inquiry exercises Bolles describes, then use Bolles’ job hunting techniques to pursue your passion. As I’ve said, the information Bolles offers on both these subjects is wide-ranging and thorough. However, like most career advice out there, Bolles’ formula misses a critical stumbling block for many of us: the fear and shame that hold us back from doing what we know we must do to succeed.
This is consistently the issue that needs, and receives, the most attention in the coaching I do. In my experience, the main obstacle people face in finding career satisfaction actually isn’t not knowing what they want. They often come to me claiming they don’t know, but often we quickly discover that isn’t true. In fact, they’ve fallen into the habit of telling people they don’t know what they want, and perhaps even convinced themselves they don’t know, because they’ve learned, for one reason or another, to feel ashamed of their desires.
The reasons we develop this sort of shame are varied, but they often stem from early in our lives. Perhaps, for example, our caregivers told us we were selfish and asked for too much, said our dreams were unrealistic or stupid, criticized us and told us we’d never amount to anything, or something else. These experiences convinced us it’s unsafe to express and pursue our wants, and we learned that it’s easier to just say we’re not sure.
One of my roles as a coach is to provide a safe, nonjudgmental environment for people to say what they want out of their careers, and when I do this people often surprise themselves with how much they actually know about their true calling. I often recommend to people having trouble finding career direction, even if they aren’t working professionally with a coach or someone else to reconnect with their desires, to simply find someone who will listen to them without judgment, and reveal their career goals.
I invite you to try this if you’re looking to make a career transition, or just seeking more satisfaction from what you do. Find a confidant you can trust not to criticize your ideas, and simply tell them what you want out of your career—even if you only have a vague idea of what that is going into the conversation. When you have the firsthand experience of someone listening to your desires without shaming or judging you, you’ll likely start feeling safer expressing what you want and even seeking it in the world.
When You Think You “Can’t Do It”
We might call the type of shame that prevents us from expressing our wants the sense that “it’s not okay to want.” Unfortunately, even when we overcome this variety of shame, another limiting belief often continues to stand in our way—the conviction that “I can’t do it.” We’re all experts at coming up with reasons why it’s just not realistic to pursue our goals. Maybe we’re not smart or motivated enough, we’re too young or too old, there’s too much competition, people will ridicule our decision, or something else.
These reasons usually sound so logical and compelling to us that we just give up and settle for less in our careers and other areas of our lives. In my experience, however, these reasons lose their power over us when we become willing to take a look at what’s really prompting us to come up with all these obstacles to achieving our goals.
For example, the next time you find yourself devising all kinds of creative reasons why you can’t accomplish something, notice how your body feels when you’re in this “hopeless mode.” In other words, what kinds of sensations do you experience when you’re convinced that you can’t do something—is it a sinking feeling in your chest, a tightness in your shoulders, a shortness of breath, or something else?
Once you understand the sensations that signal you to feel helpless, consider the possibility that you’ve chosen to label those feelings as a sign that you can’t succeed. You’ve convinced yourself that, when your body feels a certain way, that means you can’t do what you want to do. What this means is that you can choose to remove the label you’ve put on the feeling, and just experience it as a sensation that comes up in your body—like an itch or the urge to sneeze, for instance—and nothing more.
Training yourself to remove the labels from the emotional energies that arise in you can take some work, but the freedom this can give you in your career and other areas of your life is remarkable. When you take control of how you interpret the feelings in your body, many of the limitations you used to face seem to dissolve.
3. Emphasis On Jobs. As I’ve said, what I appreciate most about Parachute is its focus, particularly in the last chapter, on pursuing a career path that’s congruent with what you see as your overall purpose in life, rather than being (as Bolles puts it) a “job beggar” who’s only interested in paying the rent and keeping busy during the weekdays. Seeing as how this is Bolles’ perspective, it’s surprising to me that most of Parachute is specifically devoted to techniques for getting a job—to finding an employer to work for instead of striking out on your own.
Bolles does offer one chapter on starting your own business and self-employment, but his recommendations are more about how to transition out of your job than the logistics and inspiration needed for entrepreneurship. This may be simply for marketing reasons, as the reality is that most people automatically look for jobs when they finish school or make a career change. However, as Bolles wants to inspire us to find more direction and satisfaction in our careers, I found myself wanting to hear more from him about seeing that there are alternatives to the conventional wisdom.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with working a 9-to-5 (or 9-to-later) job. If doing that is part of your vision for your life, more power to you. However, it’s also true that many of us, although we dream of owning businesses, go to work for someone else anyway, either because it feels more comfortable or we doubt our abilities. The comfort factor comes from someone else bearing the risk of profit and loss and making decisions about the business’s overall strategy, and our doubts often concern our ability to lead others and find customers.
If the idea of being an entrepreneur has never occurred to you, I encourage you to at least consider it, if only as an exercise to gain more knowledge of yourself. Because, in our culture, we’re generally encouraged to get jobs, most of us don’t put much attention on our capacity to be leaders, or simply assume we don’t have what it takes to lead. The same is often true of our ability to locate customers—many of us, I’ve found, simply conclude “oh, I could never do that” without giving the issue serious thought.
In my experience, when I encourage someone I’m working with to imagine what it would be like to start their own business, they often become suddenly aware of talents and abilities they’d forgotten they possessed. No matter what working environment we end up in, recognizing our leadership skills can only help us find career fulfillment and success.