America: 40% Satisfied. 10% Unemployed. 50% Miserable. How to Be the Exception.

11 Jan

As I write this, approximately 2.5 of the expected 8-12 inches of snow has already fallen on New York City, approximately 25%. Funny how that also matches the percentage of my Facebook friends who have similarly already posted statuses describing their hopes of having a snow day tomorrow (including myself). When you’re 12, a snow day means no school and getting up early to go sledding. When you’re 30, it means no work and getting up late to do, well, nothing most likely.

An astonishing 45.3 percent of Americans are “satisfied” with their work, according to a survey for the Conference Board Consumer Research Center released last year. And don’t forget that nearly 10% of the country is unemployed (how can we?) on top of that, bringing the percentage down even more. And while I intend not to make this into the ‘Debbie Downer Career Hour’, I’m simply being realistic. Are we truly satisfied with simply being satisfied?

Where do you fall? Granted, I can’t fault anyone for wanting a snow day. I want a snow day. My fiance wants a snow day. My cats want a snow day, because that means they’ll get to eat lunch at noon instead of 5pm. I would be excited too. But regardless of whether or not Mike Bloomberg pulls a miracle and the F Line is running on schedule to/from Brooklyn, I’ll be working. And that’s okay…because I love what I do.

Most people come to me because they don’t love what they do. Or they know what they love, but are having trouble translating it into a career. Something tends to happen when I start working with clients. The first couple of sessions we spend putting some terrific ideas on paper – clarifying their passions and talents, and how that translates into a profitable career, giving their resume a makeover, clarifying their personal brand, building solid networks of strategic partnerships and contacts on and offline, and basically working the the entire job search strategy into a finely-tuned machine. And when we have all of the tools in place…they wait for something to pop. For some, it’s immediate, and that’s fantastic. For others, they still have a little ways to walk before they find the right job for them. And that’s okay. Because too often we are focused solely on the end goal of achieving X when the process deserves just as much attention and energy. If we are focused on one sole outcome, we ultimately set ourselves up for failure. This is why for every career coaching relationship there is almost always an element of life coaching that comes into play. Think about it – how do we take on such an emotionally and energetically-charged endeavor such as a job search, a career change, navigating unemployment, and keep our energy, our motivation and our confidence running at peak levels? It is hard, but possible when we focus on the process instead of the end goal. You can’t focus on how many days are potentially left until you leave one job for another, find that perfect fit, or get an offer letter. Instead, celebrate and congratulate yourself on each step you take towards positioning yourself as the best candidate and the best version of yourself that you can be. Outside of that, it’s out of your control.

It’s just a fact of life that even if you are the perfect candidate you may not get the job. There may be someone slightly less qualified than you but a better fit when it comes to the department budget for salary and benefits. And guess what – the CEO’s niece just graduated from Rutgers and even though she has no interest in advertising, she needs a job and Bobby media guru owes his brother-in-law a favor (because he never did spill the details of their Vegas bachelor party trip back in ’86). Besides, she knows how to use Facebook, and that automatically makes her a Social Media Manager. Back in the day such practices in church & state were referred to as nepotism. Today, in corporate America it’s called standard practices in human resources.

Of course that’s a rare example (that I’ve seen happen). But doesn’t that also illustrate so well why over 70% of job are attained through networking?

So you’re doing everything right, but still feeling like things just haven’t fallen into place yet. That’s okay. When I was recruiting for Digital People back in 2005, I met a fabulously talented Creative Director who had worked with some of the best advertising agencies and clients throughout Europe and the US. This was right when the print world was going largely digital (and had been for some time), and everyone in Boston wanted superstars of the interactive world on their team. Unfortuantely, in 2005, people who had been designing Flash applications and mobile websites for 10 years didn’t exist, largely because neither did that kind of media in most of mainstream America’s households. My amazing new candidate, as senior-level and fabulously accomplished across 10 different countries as he was, was mostly a print guy. I sent him on interviews with top agencies in Boston and New York, and alas, nothing panned out. One night we went to a record release party (he’s an amazingly talented musician as well), and as we sat at the bar talking shop, he joked with me, “Dude, find me a *%&#@! job.” Eight months later he ended up leaving Boston to pursue a new job out west. It wasn’t for lack of trying, and certainly not for lack of talent on his part. It just wasn’t meant to happen in Boston. And he certainly never looked back on his under-employed time in Boston as a waste. We’re still good friends to this day. It was simply a stepping stone in the process towards something better, and he eventually found it.

So the answer isn’t always obvious. What seems like the right job, or even the right career at the moment, isn’t always that. What seems guarenteed, never is. The world is sometimes simply devoid of logic. And if you only focus on the outcome of the process, you will likely be disappointed that it didn’t turn out the way you had hoped or anticipated it would. Because rarely does it ever. But if you live life one day at a time, committed to yourself and your higher goals, committed to simply taking the actions each day that you can to best position yourself for the success you intend to find, then honestly, that’s enough. If you truly believe you are doing the best that you can, then congratulate yourself; stop berrating yourself for not yet being at point B, and allow things to unfold naturally, because there is just an element of uncertainty to life. And sometimes we mistake uncertainty for unfairness, and we waste our time trying to find that non-existent logic of why things are happending the way they are, why we are stuck in a job we hate for several years because we can’t get our dream job, or why we didn’t get what we wanted, when instead we should be looking for the opportunity in each situation. And trust me, there is one. Always.

I challenge you to try this: Make a commitment to yourself to just simply do and be your best each day, and trust that the rest will fall into place. My mom would always tell me in her slow, factual teacher voice, “Surrender to the limitations of the day.” And then she would tell me how she wrote it on a piece of notebook paper and stuck it on the fridge. Again, as always, my mom is right in hindsight. Don’t get caught up in the what if’s (“what if I’m miserable/disrespected/underpaid/laid off/still unemployed in six months). Because I have seen it happen hundreds of times with wary freelancers who were afraid to take a full time job because they had always imagined their careers being something else, or vice versa, and 6 years later they are still doing the work they love…and being paid handsomly for it! You cannot control the economy. You cannot control the HR department at Agency Awesomeness, who you desperately want to work for. You can’t control the actions of that a$$ you went on six dates with who, for no reason, never called you back. He/She and HR now have something in common. Give yourself permission to brush both of them off, because they no longer server you. And even when the choice to simply deal with a situation seems like the lesser of two evils, remember that it is still a choice.

So go ahead and enjoy the snow day tomorrow. And even if a snow day to you simply means another day of job searching, just with a white background, enjoy that you’re putting yourself out there as something new, rather than hiding from something you’re unhappy to be. Or worse…satisfied.

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