The Job of Your Life with Karen Schaffer

Get out of your rut and find your passion

Archive for February, 2009

Are you a hedgehog or a fox?

Posted by Karen on February 21, 2009

“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”

Read a very interesting article interviewing a Professor of Organizational Behaviour, Philip Tetlock who did a study on the predictive ability of “experts”.

He delineates two different kinds of “experts”:

Foxes: who are self-critical and self-aware, who are open to new evidence and changing their beliefs and who put their assumptions in check even as they give them

Hedgehogs:who fall in love with one big idea (“It’s the Great Depression all over again!” is Tetlock’s example) and stretch the facts and evidence to fit their theory – and have a hard time letting go of it even in the face of contrary evidence.

I like when the interview asks: How can we non-experts test our own hunches?

Tetlock responds….“Listen to yourself talk to yourself. If you’re being swept away with enthusiasm for some particular course of action, take a deep breath and ask: Can I see anything wrong with this? And if you can’t, start worrying; you are about to go over a cliff”.

Check in with yourself – and with others

What he’s saying isn’t “don’t follow your enthusiasm” but “take the time to test your theory and leave space for the inevitable questions and counter-arguments before making big decisions”.

Sometimes we can become afraid of the devil’s advocate, particularly when we’re afraid of second-guessing ourselves too much to go anywhere. And yet the ability to set aside the enthusiasm and emotion and see what the other side might look like doesn’t mean it won’t happen or it’s not a good idea. It’s a check in to see that you aren’t just running on gut or assumption, but have deeply considered it at all levels and given yourself space to decide in a coherent way.

There Was A Time I Avoided The “Testing” Stage At All Costs

I often didn’t want to know what was out there. I didn’t want to get scared off my enthusiasm for something by hearing what might go wrong or by any sense that people were going to challenge my decision with some negatives. It’s important to allow those negatives in…without sinking your enthusiasm.

I remember when I had a great idea for a newspaper column called “Is this you?” (you can find some of them on my current home website and hopefully eventually at this blog, going forward). In order to pitch the column, I had to really listen to what people were telling me about how to approach newspapers.

In the past, I would have avoided talking to people about it because I didn’t want to be exposed to negatives – I didn’t want anyone to challenge my amazing idea. I often wrote it off as “Well, that might be true for SOME people but they don’t understand it’s ME”. It kept me “confident” but not really grounded in reality. Meaning that I could be easily “knocked off my feet” if something negative got in, or if things didn’t work out quite the way I pictured.

But this time around, with this column I allowed myself to interact with all kinds of viewpoints. It meant I got some Negative Nancy/Norman Rain on my Parade types (i.e. the newspaper guy who morosely said “I don’t know why you’d want to write for a paper, it’s really hard to break in” and the well-meaning freelancer who practically patted me on the head and told me to start small with local community papers). I stuck in, even though I had some up and down moments about the idea.

But by allowing my initial ideas of what was needed for a pitch and how to reach people to be tested, I did get great coaching and advice that I believe lead to getting the articles published as a regular feature in one newspaper – and getting hired to do other freelance work for another paper.

It Feels Vulnerable to Put It Out There

It was scary to put my enthusiasm on the line like that, but I gave myself permission to listen to everything and sort out afterwards what felt true to me and what didn’t. This gave me leave to really listen without reacting to whatever they were saying and not come to any grand conclusions. On my own, I would test out how I felt.

Was I repulsed? Disappointed? Tempted to throw out what they were saying?

Did I like their energy? Did I understand the context of their experience with writing and newspapers? How well did I know or trust them?

Having moved through those layers, I could then start to sense what of their contribution was useful to me and what I wanted to let go. It made me feel much more grounded and certain of my direction. I didn’t have to rely on bravado when talking to people about my decisions.

So by the time I was being told to start small (despite my established writing background on the topic) and send my pitch to community papers first, I just smiled, thanked her, got the contact information I needed. Then I merrily went on my way, knowing I’d already run it by someone I respected far more, who was an editor as well as a writer, and who’d taken the time to coach me on my pitch. In the past her comment might have sunk me. Instead I could keep it at bay.

So bringing some of that fox-like quality into your exploration might allow you to really get to the heart of something important for you. It’s not about grabbing one idea that makes you enthusiastic and going full tilt without checking in or allowing yourself to change course (hedgehog).

Nor is it about exposing your dream to the devil’s advocates and getting so deflated you give it up.

It’s about continuing to follow your enthusiasm, tempered with gathering real world information from a variety of sources, and then creating space to digest everything and allowing a deeper, more certain sense of direction appear.

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Recognizing Stagnation and How To Shift It

Posted by Karen on February 17, 2009

Someone mentioned to me the other day that while reading “Now, Discover Your Strengths” she found the line “input without output leads to stagnation”. That captured my imagination immediately, because the opposite could also easily be true: output without input leads to stagnation.

What is stagnation? And what’s with all the A/V club input/output metaphors?

Let’s start with the word “stagnation“. Stagnation is the opposite of growing. Stagnation has this sort of “stinky” connotation- a green film of algae coating a still pond on a windless day. Stagnation in people means to me that feeling when you start to get that feeling of dull and dreariness to your being. That you are slow and sludgy or that you are feeling less than inspired by yourself.

Input without Output

My client’s example was that she feels stagnate when she spends lots of time reading and getting new insights and ideas, but instead of sharing them she lies on the couch. That’s when we take in, and in, and in, but we don’t let what we have percolating out into the world. Sometimes it’s important to give yourself time to percolate unmolested by the world’s challenges, but at a certain point what are you learning it for if you can’t apply it, test it, see it in action? The ideas and insights stagnate without use.

Output without Input

My example here is teaching yoga. I am always in love with my yoga, but there are times I have gone too long without new “input” – that is either new postures, new variations on postures, new bursts of creativity in movement and flow or conversely no new input in the insights of yoga – new explorations of how to describe the movement of energy or meditations or themes that carry through the yoga. The class feels stuck – like the class was still good but not exactly inspired or revelatory.

Interestingly, in both cases what’s “off” is the balance between what goes in and what comes out.

If you are taking in and taking in and taking in, but allowing no space for it to be “out” in the world – either space for you to let it bubble out (some people, myself included, can “over-stimulate” – try and read and take in too much, without allowing time between each new to process and let new insights reveal) OR in sharing it in such a way that you get new energy and purpose from the sharing.

If you are giving out too much without nourishing the core, without giving yourself time to find new sources of input – a book, a course, an idea, a workshop, a conversation with someone in your field – you may find yourself going slowly stale.

 Stagnation is part of the cycle…the Indians call it tamas one of the three gunas. While no one likes feeling it, it’s a reminder from yourself that it is time to get out there and either feed yourself or feed the world with yourself.

If you are feeling stagnation, start with this question…is it your input or your output that needs adjusting?

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Two Career Exploration Questions To Get You Started

Posted by Karen on February 11, 2009

If you spend some time with a question – really spend time getting a handle on it…not only getting an answer, but also another layer down to the insight beneath that answer…it can bear a lot of useful fruit.

I ask a lot of different questions in Career Exploration  and the recent workshop I did at The Yoga Loft reminded me how powerful questions can be. The tricky part is that you can’t put pressure on the answer to take you somewhere directly or to solve the overall career question. You have to just hang out with the question and see what emerges. I call it “meditating” on the question rather than thinking about it. Thinking about it gets you the logical answers, the first round of the answering process. Meditating to me speaks of letting yourself go quiet – letting the question sink in deep, and letting your subconscious get working on it. I find the next layer of “answer” floats to the surface of your consciousness between an hour and three weeks later.

Sometimes what comes to you is mind-blowing and sometimes its useful for clarifying something for yourself. Either way, it keeps you in the conversation with yourself. I’ll tell you this though: it’s the little insights, coming one by one, that add up to the whopping big breakthrough you’re looking for.  You just don’t get to know when the big wave comes.

So keep on asking yourself questions and spend some time with each one to see if there’s real juice in them (sorry for all the mixed metaphors…I’m riding end of the day fumes where waves, juice and meditating all come together as one big happy explanation).

Okay…here are two questions to get you started:

1) What, right now, do you KNOW about your next step or next career?

2) What, right now, DON’T you know?

Try writing one thing for each. Then come back to the exercise and try adding a few more for each question.

One of the aims of this exercise is to see that you DO in fact know things about your next step, even if you don’t exactly KNOW what it is. You are in a process…you’re really in it…and some things are clear to you (even if it’s “I really don’t want to do THAT job ever again”) and some things aren’t. The questions act like guideposts to where to look next.

For instance, if you are having trouble writing your resume and you sat down with the question “What don’t I know”, and what you don’t know is what exactly you’re applying to…well, now you know you need to step away from the resume and do some other exploration first.

Treat the “don’t know”, as an observation, not a judgment of your progress. Your judgments about how far along you should be in the process by now get in the way of you hearing deeply what is needed next.

Let me know how it goes!

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How We Decide

Posted by Karen on February 9, 2009

Saw Jonah Lehrer on The Colbert Report talking about his book “How We Decide“. It stirred up a few things in me about how we make decisions in career exploration.

Lehrer mentioned how we (I think he meant culturally/scientifically) used to talk about reason being the charioteer to the horses of emotion, and how lately the metaphor has changed to this: emotion is the elephant and reason is the small rider perched on top. Which is an image I love because the longer I work with people (and myself for that matter) the more I realize that we are all riding these huge elephants with the illusion of control, but one mouse squeaks underfoot and we’re holding on for dear life while the elephant busts the hell out of there.

And that’s scary right? It’s scary that you could try and come to all these reasonable, practical solutions…or even really thought-out big beautiful dreams and then your emotional elephant decides to take a bath and it all goes out the window faster than you can say “NOOOO TURN THIS WAY YOU BIG-EARED HEFFELUMP!” (which reminds me…I have been on the back of an elephant – bareback actually – and when that thing stood up it was like CRAZY how high and broad and PRICKLY it was. And she just watched me from the back of her eye the whole time, while the neighbourhood gathered to watch the crazy white lady straddling an elephant in a skirt. My honeymoon. Good times.)

Okay so just when you were about to wish the elephant of emotion away though, Lehrer brings up another excellent fact. He and Stephen are talking about the state of objectivity and if someone can use “pure reason” on a decision or if it’s always got some emotional context wrapped up in it. And Lehrer mentions that people who don’t have an emotional context – who can’t feel pleasure or pain – are so impaired that tests have shown they can’t choose between a blue pen and a black pen for an extended period of time. He calls “pure reason” a disease.

Emotions signal to us what we WANT.

They tell us what to choose, where to go, what we like and what we prefer. Without emotions we could analyze the top three directions but we wouldn’t be able to feel the truth of which one would be best for us.

Thus we need emotion in our decision-making process. Too often I see people trying to fight it because they are afraid of what the emotion is going to tell them.

This can often be unconsciously. Sometimes someone will say that they “can’t feel anything”. Unless they are suffering from “pure reason” in my experience these people a) have never done significant inner work to discover what makes them happy or b) they don’t want to know what makes them happy because it will challenge some other long-held and treasured belief. If this is your issue and you can figure out which one is operating, you’re gold…you’ve got a great place to start looking.

But overall, we often think of our emotion as an elephant that needs to be tamed and caged and to know its place because if we listened to it we’d be 100 miles away in the middle of the wilderness with no way home.

So many of us try and make the career exploration one of logic and assessment. A test will only tell you what it catches you reflecting as an interest or value. It can’t tell you how to put those pieces together in a way that feels good to you. It can’t measure your excitement in learning something that you didn’t expect to be interested in or the rising of your energy when you’re doing something you love. It can’t help you truly figure out the people you feel are kindred spirits and who leaves you cold. You have to be there, emotions and all, to sense how you respond.

A test can sometimes even give you “the answer” but if you can’t FEEL it, you’ll actually ignore that part of the result. And look back on the test later and smack your head because you realize it was showing up there all along, but with a different name or spin on the idea.

Embrace the emotional elephant! Harness its power without putting legcuffs on. If it wants to go in a certain direction, let it lead so it can show you why. No need to commit to the path; just explore where the elephant is leaning and

Learning to tune in to yourself and feel things in your body, not just as thoughts in your head…that’s the challenge of career exploration.

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Musing over the COPES

Posted by Karen on February 7, 2009

Remember those tests you did in high school that told you that your best jobs would be a butcher, a circus clown and an interior designer?

I’m currently taking some assessments that are normally given to high school and university students to figure out who they are and what they like to do and how to connect that to potential work. In the middle I started flashing back to doing a similar test in my high school gym. It’s so weird to think of that period of time, when I had no idea who I was or how I might shape myself in the world.

Two thoughts…

1) It’s strange to take this kind of test knowing your interests and your path. The things that call me now practically jump out of the test, while other scores results are at zero because I’m so clear that they don’t interest me. It makes me wonder how much of that is “truth” and how much of that is that I’ve picked a focus and allowed these other parts of me (like the part that wanted to be a zoologist…just like my biggest crush Jason Bateman who said if he wasn’t an actor he’d want to be a zoologist…we were so MEANT TO BE) fall by the wayside.

2) I realize how much I’ve learned about myself in the last decade or so and one of the things I’ve learned is what I assumed about myself (i.e. that because I had taken leadership roles at school, I therefore must like directing people) were not in fact true. No wonder I balked at business school despite thinking that I might “go into business”. I’ve definitely learned that I have little or no interest in managing others. Managing people well is an under-appreciated art…and it certainly isn’t my passion. 

I also answered a lot of questions positively about wanting to always do things my own way without a lot of order, but the truth is that I also really like a certain amount of structure to my day, and I never admitted that to myself before either.

I think sometimes we get this impression of ourselves from things we do in our younger years, and it seems so solid and true, but as we get to know ourselves better, we find out that in fact what we knew as a certainty is different than we thought.

I would still instinctively say I don’t like “process” but the truth is that I like having a structure where I know what I’m doing, so long as the things I’m doing within that structure are done my own way. (And while I was absolutely certain Jason Bateman and I were meant to be, it seems that we’ve both found true love elsewhere. Of course if you’d told my 14 year old self I would actually be marrying someone who lived a block and a half away and Jason would be married to the daughter of someone from my Columbia House cassette collection, I would have dramatically slammed the door in your face and written atrocious but impassioned poetry about how my dreams were like dead leaves blowing down the street to be crushed under the wheels of thoughtless passing cars…).  

What have you been telling yourself is true about you, that may have softened or transformed since you last consciously checked in on it?

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A Different Way of Looking at Your Career Exploration

Posted by Karen on February 4, 2009

As the only intelligent surveyor of a seemingly barren universe, man is prone to have too high an opinion of himself. In actual fact, humanity, at this stage, is like a castaway child trying, without knowing it, to prepare itself for a superhuman role in the aeons to come.  Gopi Krishna

I am reading Gopi Krishna’s text on Kundalini (Kundalini is a – nay…the Life Force energy typically pictured as a snake coiled at the base of the spine). Gopi Krishna writes that Kundalini is at the source of all mysticism and wonder, and at the mystic heart of every discipline and religion. I love this quote – it suggests that while we often think we’re at our zenith in terms of human ability, we are, as ever, babes crawling on the floor of the universe.

That means there is lots of undiscovered potential within us.

Imagine if what you were doing was more than just an individual career exploration…it was also a part of a greater transformation of what’s possible for human beings.

Wouldn’t that be cool?

Wouldn’t that also explain why it can be so hard and frustrating?

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A Magical Skill That Is Available To You…With Conscious Awareness Of Course

Posted by Karen on February 3, 2009

To sit patiently with a yearning that has not yet been fulfilled, and to trust that, that fulfillment will come, is quite possibly one of the most powerful “magic skills” that human beings are capable of. It has been noted by almost every ancient wisdom tradition.  Elizabeth Gilbert

Thanks to Kelly for the quote.

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The Yoga of Career Exploration

Posted by Karen on February 3, 2009

Spent this past Sunday giving a workshop on how the practice of yoga can support your career exploration. It’s a workshop I have held before, in the fall of 2006, and holding it again allowed me to observe how much I have integrated the learning from the principles for myself. The workshop was blogged about, which is a first for me. So…in all…awesome.

To give you a taste…I took four principles from yoga practice – Playful Exploration, Spaciousness, Self-Trust and Acceptance, and looked at the ways that this can form a new way to approach Career Exploration.

Playful Exploration: In the practice of yoga, we explore postures and movement. We see what is possible in our bodies, without striving. We hear something new a teacher says about the posture (or hear something we’ve heard a million times and suddenly “feel” it in our bodies) and we play with that direction to see what that does to our experience of the posture. I add the word playful because playful to me conveys the lightness of the exploration. It’s not heavy and full of judgment and assessment. We aren’t commenting on where we can go or how far we come or where we are compared to where we should be. We’re in it. We’re being the posture.

Spaciousness: I’ve written more about this now in The Job of Your Life 10th Anniversary Edition. In yoga, spaciousness conveys our experience of the whole yoga. Often people relate the most strongly with the “strong” postures – the downward dog, the warrior – when they are sweating and energetically holding. Then when they get to a counter posture, like child’s pose, they just relax without awareness. We dismiss it as “easy”, as the holding place between the more important postures that are really “doing something”. I invited the class to really experience the spaciousness, to honour it and recognize it’s importance. Even the spaces between the postures can be full of awareness and experience. Spaciousness allows us to savour and release the energy we create, to fully experience it. Without spaciousness, there is no awareness.

Self-Trust: Yoga allows us to explore and observe how much we trust ourselves. Are we willing to move slowly and with awareness in new ways? Do we hold ourselves stiff because we are afraid of getting hurt, or we have an unshakable belief that our “shoulders will always be tight” or “I can’t touch my toes”? Can we not do a posture that everyone else is doing because we know that it’s not right for us today? Self-trust is how to move safely in yoga. One trusts the instructor, and yet each class is a co-creation with your inner teacher. Self-trust allows us to make the decision to go forward because we trust ourselves to take care of ourselves when something isn’t right.

Acceptance: I accept where my body is. I accept where my body is in this class. I accept where my body is in this posture. I accept where my body is in this moment. Learning how to accept ourselves, have compassion for where we are at every moment…this is the practice of yoga.

My breakthrough has been in seeing how these areas apply so powerfully to a Career Exploration.

Most people come into a career exploration feeling heavy, serious, action-oriented, pushing for the answers and yet not trusting themselves to know if it’s really the right answer. As human beings we are generally not very good at being compassionate at the best of times. We get even harder on ourselves when we don’t have what seem like things that should be important or “simple”. Of course what we’re asking to be clear about is only the most profound life questions of “Who am I?” “What is my purpose?” “What are my unique gifts and how can I serve the world with them in a way that bring me joy?”. It’s not like ordering off a McDonald’s menu.

Of course society at large doesn’t help because we are not, as good North Americans, very tolerant of unanswered questions or anything that appears as indecisiveness. Hence the non-compassionate attitudes that often surround career exploration (as one person in the seminar said, “I don’t want to be running around “chasing my bliss” while telling my partner he has to do things he doesn’t like in the meantime”). We don’t want to be irresponsible in the exploration…we still need to keep up our end of the practical necessities of life.

And at the same time make space for a delicious, open, playful exploration.

Using the practice of yoga to learn through the body what the exploration of Self is…it’s a great way to find new avenues and secret pathways to your inner “answer”. And to have a much more peaceful and joyful experience while you’re at it.

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