The Job of Your Life with Karen Schaffer

Get out of your rut and find your passion

Archive for March, 2009

Above Average Persistance > Anything Else

Posted by Karen on March 17, 2009

Had an always enlightening and informative meeting with my friend Bruce Sellery today (click on the link for a fabulously cute photograph amongst other helpful stuff).

In the course of our meeting (mainly focused on learning some business-industry related information) he said one of the biggest predictors of success in getting into the television industry (and he should know) is persistence. Basically, someone with average everything – experience, intelligence, creativity etc – who has above average persistence will most likely get a job in television.

And I think that’s true for any career path.

The people who get what they want persist.

And they persist in a number of ways:

1) They persist in knocking on doors. People who succeed knock on more doors, or return to old (slammed shut doors) asking new questions or providing new information and being generally cheery about it all. Once I told a woman she didn’t have enough experience to work with me as a career coach. She said “What do you need to see from me to hire me?” Great question. And leaves the door open for her when she obtains some of the experience I outlined.

2) They persist in looking for other ways to do the thing they love. Okay, so maybe being on air in television isn’t going well. What about writing for television. What about story producing (what you learn behind the scenes is many times it’s the producers that come up wit h the interesting stories…the on air person is just a talking head who doesn’t have much interaction or command of the story direction beyond their 5 minutes on air). Sometimes producers jump to on air. Sometimes on air people become their own producers. There can be more than one way to the goal.

3) They persist in learning more about themselves and how they are perceived. They persist in getting feedback – authentic, truthful feedback. They listen to that feedback as a way to learn more about how to get what they want, not as a judgement on whether or not they can.

4) They persist because they know IT TAKES TIME to get what you really, really want. Longer than you think. And by persisting with that in mind, they see the longer term picture. Beyond this week, next month or even next year.

The people I see in my office who have the best shot of having a great career are motivated to continue, to keep looking for new doors to open, to keep having conversations, to circle back around if those conversations don’t come to anything, to get support, to ask more questions, to keep the focus strong.

What gets in the way of you persisting?

What has been your experience when you have persisted at something you wanted?

How could you re-charge your persistence levels?

Posted in Authentic Job Search, Career Exploration | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Computer Mayhem

Posted by Karen on March 13, 2009

It’s been a quiet week.

I had a computer meltdown on Saturday. Normally a computer meltdown means that the computer itself is melting down and technical repair is the only solution.

This time I was the one having the meltdown.

I’ve had a desktop computer since 2004 (2004! Where did the time go!?) that has run slower and slower and slower, until turning it on is an exercise in Zen-like meditation and patience as it loads slower than a glacier moving across the continents during the last Ice Age (which, if I’m not mistaken, was in 2004). I could turn the computer on, tidy the living room, make a snack and a cup of tea, run upstairs for something and knit a pair of mittens and when I returned to the computer it would still be whirring away as it – what? what was it doing??? Other than driving me insane?

Last year I bought a laptop, but I never got around to transferring all the data and setting up the laptop as the “main” computer. Why? That’s what I actually had to investigate during my meltdown, as I wasted nearly an hour trying to get a few emails and files from one computer (glacially slow) to the other (lean and speedy but content-free). I knew the steps I needed to take (burn backup disks, transfer data, secure wireless, set up Outlook etc. etc.). I knew what had to happen. I knew pretty much how to do it. I knew that it would be a time-saver to get it done. I knew my husband would be ecstatic to regain the dining room table. But I wouldn’t get around to doing it.

Why not? Why couldn’t I just do something that was so crucial to efficiency and ease?

After the meltdown (I didn’t actually throw anything or hit the computer, but I did stomp around and yell at it a little bit…imagine sort of cartoon-y language like “ARRRGGGGGHHH” and you’ve got about the right picture) I reflected on what was going on. I’ve only once managed to transfer my data successfully from one computer to another, and that was when someone helped me. Most times my computer crashes for good and I lose everything on it. I do this even though I have fair warning that it might crash any moment. There is something sticky for me about changing computers. I’m afraid I’m going to do something wrong I think and be responsible for losing something forever (rather than just having it happen and it not being my fault).

I also think that there’s something emotional/psychological at play…do I want to look at all of that data? Do I want to keep it? Do I have the time to edit it? How do I feel about it? Do I want to bring it with me? My logical mind tries to shuffle this inner agony aside. What does it matter? Just move and then decide. But there’s a part of me that gets involved when I look at all that information.

It’s actually a very similar feeling to me about tidying up papers (an issue my mother also suffers from…we both could drown in scads of “interesting articles and useful resources” that we pile up around ourselves in our work spaces). I just didn’t realize it was playing out in the computer environment as well.

The light bulb went off. I needed help!

I called the computer store that sold me the laptop and walked through what I needed. He said they could do it all in under two hours. Under two hours! I was imagining it as a full day’s work (and certainly would have taken me at least a day or more). All I had to do was make a list of what I wanted them to do.

That was a great assignment (and easier to do as an assignment than trying to do it on my own). Sitting down to figure out what I wanted transferred without having to be responsible for transferring it gave me the freedom to really examine what was on the computer. I felt in control of the process again, instead of dominated by it. It was hard to unplug the desktop – still having “change” panic – but once I took both computers in with my list…I felt so light all week.

No really. All those books and studies about what makes people happy was translated to: I’m happy because I took my computer to a computer store. Literally beaming with joy over a computer data transfer. Proving once again it doesn’t take much to be happy in life, just recognizing your true needs.

(Apparently husband’s “true need” was to have another room to re-design. His current joy is mentally re-arranging the dining room…I don’t know if I’d call it “lightness” so much as “thank god we can finally move all this ugly office crap cluttering what used to be the dining room out of here”)

Now the laptop is back in my possession. I have backup disks of everything, so even if this one crashes unexpectedly, I haven’t lost data. I even got the web-cam I’ve had for 2 years installed (what was so hard about that?). Of course I still have to find a password to get the email to work, but now I’m just dealing with one issue not seven.

So what’s the learning?

This process definitely reminds me of several key things about human nature:

1) We tend to resist change, even when we know it will be good for us.

2) Often there’s an emotional component to what seems like purely logical tasks. If you don’t acknowledge the emotional part, you get stuck.

3) It’s good to get help, even if you know that theoretically you can do it on your own. If the actions remain “theoretical”, it probably means that #1 and/or #2 are at play so bringing in someone else is a good idea. Or merely much more efficient.

Career explorations and job searches have lots of “logical steps” that can quickly become quicksand if the emotional components aren’t acknowledged. You can start calling yourself “lazy” or “cowardly” or all kinds of mean names, because you aren’t doing something you know you should do. Instead, review what might be happening for you just below the surface of the task and see if that opens up new ways of thinking about your “to do list”.

There is logic. Then there are emotions. You can’t get rid of those emotions, no matter how logical you want to get with them.

The only way around is through. Acknowledge the emotions and you will get unstuck.

Posted in Authentic Job Search, Career Exploration | 1 Comment »

Homework in High School…did it set your neural pathways on fire?

Posted by Karen on March 6, 2009

I was reading this articleon MSN about whether or not homework was important. The author goes into a discussion about how homework is useful for academically-oriented students that get a neural “kick” from processing the information. But he goes on to say that creative thinkers, athletes and those who are good with people may not have had the same benefits.

Heller and Molnar-Szakacs both touch on the notion of multiple intelligences. Academic skills, and the homework used to sharpen them, simply do not cover the range of possible ways in which kids can shine.
Says Heller, “Students may excel at making personal connections, being creative, or having athletic ability. Generally they are not good fits for the traditional educational model, even though there are so many people whose success is based on those same talents.”

The article goes on to say:


The narrow focus of many homework curricula can strand those kids. Brilliant creative thinkers who struggle through piles of math and science assignments may complete high school without ever putting the appropriate number of miles on their neural pathways. They will experience all of the stress and little of the reward, neural or otherwise.

Unrecognized and unpotentiated, their intellect is put on hold, delaying their success and their happiness. Many will not blossom until their adult life when, of their own volition, they pursue a career that plays to their strengths.

“Children come to school thinking the world is their oyster and that anything is possible,” concludes Molnar-Szakacs, “and then every year we essentially limit their vision by teaching them how to narrow their thinking.”

 It’s an interesting notion that some of us may need to be in a career exploration because we had our worlds “narrowed” when we were at a developing stage of our intelligence. It may explain why it seems so hard to envision new career paths or to get excited about the possibilities.


I remember back in high school saying to a friend of mine after a particularly discouraging day in the academic trenches, “You have abilities school doesn’t even begin to test”. It became our motto in our final year, when it seemed over-whelmingly that the only mode of success was through one version of intelligence.

So…imagine that you’re not just looking for a new career path…your brain cells are looking for new paths too.

Posted in Career Exploration | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »