The Job of Your Life with Karen Schaffer

Get out of your rut and find your passion

Conan’s Last Words

Posted by Karen on January 25, 2010

“To all the people watching, I can never thank you enough for your kindness to me and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask of you is one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism — it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere.

Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

Conan O’Brien on the last episode of the Tonight Show (see full clip here)

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Starting up a New Year, right

Posted by Karen on January 13, 2010

I always find myself a little rusty and slow to start in January. Maybe it’s the weather – often grey, dark a lot of the time and no Christmas tinsel to distract from the winter blues. Maybe the temperature – the cold makes everyone seem to crave stew and pasta and to lie down whenever/wherever possible. Or maybe it’s that Christmas – however you celebrate it – takes focus and preparation (it takes focus even to avoid it!) and often comes saddled with emotional decisions, family issues, boundary issues, varied expectations, extra household tasks (pine needle sweep anyone?)  and general overload.

So by the time “New Year” rolls around, I’m just as happy to crawl under the covers for another month. And I know I’m not alone.

How do you get started when all you want to do is stop?

Good question. Here are some suggestions of how to get yourself rolling towards your career and life goals despite the call of the sofa and the duvet.

1) Start slow. Don’t expect the world from yourself right away. Accomplish small tasks or make bigger tasks into smaller ones. For instance, I need to complete my end-of-year bookkeeping. Honestly? It really isn’t that hard or that long a task, but at the end of a work day it’s the last thing I want to do (oh bed-in-my-living-room, how tempting you are). So every night instead of doing the whole thing, I tackle and sort a small pile of receipts and papers from various areas in the house. I’m starting to feel motivated to go downstairs and drop them in the correct boxes (I told you it was  pretty easy stuff) which wasn’t true at the beginning of the week.

2) Spend time on your Intentions and Goals. Before taking actions, think about what you want out of the year. Goal-setting is one piece of the puzzle and is definitely motivating, especially when you take the time to imagine and allow in what it would feel like to achieve the goal. The more you can “feel the vibe” so to speak, the more promising it is you’ll reach the goal. I also like to work with a theme for the year – something a little more metaphoric that I can draw on for energy and focus. A couple of years ago I set as The Year of The Rock. I promptly and somewhat ironically broke my ankle two weeks later. But having that intention made me do a lot of digging behind the symbolism of having a broken leg in the Year of the Rock. By the end of the year I’d had some amazing breakthroughs in my life in getting more stable and grounded. The goals can fall naturally out of your intention. Or conversely, look at your goals and see what overall theme they represent and stick “Year of” in front of it.

3) Indulge yourself a little bit. Sometimes when you push yourself too hard, you miss that your body is actually asking for something it needs. Go to bed a little earlier. Take your iron and your Vitamin D. Have a meal of Mac and Cheese with veggies on the side (or not). Have a warm bath instead. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You may actually be recovering from something.

4) Get in conversation and get support. When we feel overwhelmed or unmotivated, the trick is to do the opposite of what you want to do. What you want to do is avoid connecting, and instead retreat and indulge…and then be hard on yourself for not doing anything. Getting in connection is what can shift you into a more energetic and positive state. Pick up the phone. Reach out. Have an “Intention Night” or a “How to Make 2010 Awesome” meeting with friends who are wrestling with the same ideas. Why am I writing this blog post right now? Because there are 4 other amazing career-oriented women out there who have promised to read it. Knowing they will check my blog is inspiring me to write it, so I don’t feel that all my efforts will float out into the ether. So find ways to connect yourself to people who are committed to attaining a similar mindset.

I’m writing this on the 13th of January, so clearly, I’ve been taking time myself to get going. But now that this blog post is almost done, I’m feeling more energized and ready for the month, if not the year, to unfold. And my New Year’s wish for you is that you too find what’s important to you and find safe ways to start acting on it.

Posted in Emotional Life as connected to Career | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Importance of Self-Trust

Posted by Karen on November 26, 2009

Consider this a follow-up to the “Spaciousness or Just Drifting” post 

#8 of that post said this: Ask Yourself – You Know the Truth Without This List Anyway: We have a deep knowing as human beings if we are doing something for the “right” or the “wrong” reasons – we just keep ourselves from knowing that truth by keeping ourselves busy and on the surface of our minds. If you have the courage to look inside deeply, you’ll know if you’re creating spaciousness or if you’re merely using the idea to keep you stuck.

What if  you really don’t know – like #8 suggests you really should – when you look inside yourself …because you don’t know if you know anything “true” about yourself anymore?

One of my readers emailed me that question. She pointed out that once you get into this career exploration thing – letting go with who you thought you were and what you thought you wanted and in the vacuum-like state of trying to discover what you DO want – you can often feel more lost and confused than you have in your entire life.

When you’re in that state, not only do you doubt yourself, you tend to also doubt yourself self-doubt and then second guess your second guess doubting. Head spins ensue. Lying on the floor in the fetal position begins to look like an appealing life choice.

My reader is right – and good to remind me – that the great unknown of searching for your passion can make you feel much more vulnerable when being told you should “know” whether or not something is true for you.

And that’s where Self-Trust comes in.

Self-Trust is the unsung, oft-missed and yet vital element of a transformative career search. What I’ve come to learn…though it’s really rather obvious when you think about it logically…is that if you don’t trust yourself, no matter what possibilities open themselves to you, you won’t take them – or often won’t even see them – because you don’t trust yourself enough to make the right choice.

I find this often happens particularly later in someone’s career, when they’ve been around the proverbial block enough times to have been “burned” by their decisions (even if they couldn’t have foreseen the consequences of the decision, such as a workplace environment going toxically sour). Even if there was no way of knowing the outcome, they begin to question and doubt their choices. They get stuck. “I don’t want to choose that direction if it’s only going to end up the same way”. There’s no way out of that one with certainty. No one knows how it will end up.

Or, another version of the Self-Trust shake up: losing one’s certainty of life purpose that comes from knowing what you do. That can seriously mess you up. I knew a guy who loved his marketing job so much he’d named his cats Trix and Snap after the brands he worked on. But when he didn’t love the job anymore he got severely depressed…who was he if not a marketing guy? Trust goes out the window because you begin to wonder “Did I know myself at all? And if I don’t know myself, how do I know if my new ideas are the right ones?”

So we could actually say that self-doubt is an integral part of career exploration. And Self needs Trust in order to move forward. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Career Exploration, Emotional Life as connected to Career, Yoga and Career Exploration | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Why there is still a “Bright Side” to being Positive (more so than Barbara wants you to think there is)

Posted by Karen on October 22, 2009

I was watching a DVRed episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart from earlier this week and the guest was Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of “Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America”. Jon greeted her with “Hi grumpy” and the interview went from there.

Now, I cannot say I have read this book, but what I gleaned from the author was that the book had stemmed from her own experiences with illness and with people telling her she had to “think positive” in order to heal. This lead her into writing a book that I believe she hopes will debunk the idea that positive thinking does any lot of good. She then went on to sniff at quantum physics as a means to explaining the law of attraction and made fun of feeling “the vibes” of a situation. She also said that while people told her she was going to have a spiritual journey and come out the other side learning more about herself and life, she – quite amusingly – said that wasn’t what happened with her at all.

Here’s what I’ll agree to in what Ehrenreich talks about:

First, that this culture of “positive thinking” around illness inhibits people from expressing what they need to express during an illness – which is a whole range of thoughts and feelings ranging from fear and anger all the way through to blessed and grateful. Without acknowledgement and then acceptance of the “what’s so” (and name me one person who doesn’t get scared in life period, much less when a cancer diagnosis is added to the mix) then positive thinking is basically layering itself on top of deeper, unexpressed emotions. It’s the pretending or even believing “everything is okay” without addressing the underlying fears, which do the damage. The “positive thinker” is trying to change with thinking alone and I believe emotions have to be a part of the picture for true change to take place.

Which, two, leads to the other thing I agree with Ehrenreich about:

Positive thinking, all by its lonesome, doesn’t work.

Changing one’s thinking is important, no question. Learning to be present and accountable for the thoughts in your head and learning to transform those from taking you down a negative path to a more reasonable outcome is a big, important step in self-development. It’s also one of the first major steps, because until you can really hear and be present to what you tell yourself all day long, it’s hard to hear the more subtle messages from your body, emotional and spiritual self. Our heads tend to drown those other suckers out if we don’t manage them better.

Still, there were a lot of things I didn’t agree with Ehrenreich.

What we’re learning, what I’m learning from other great Masters of Emotion, is that it’s not about (just) thinking positive, but about feeling positive.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Nice Long Juicy Thoughts from Deepak Chopra

Posted by Karen on October 11, 2009

I think this is a brilliant quote…there’s so much richness in these ideas. Learning how to “be” with your hurt is the only way through to something different – the way to happiness through freedom of emotion. The more you accept what is, the more spacious and wonderful life is. Enjoy.

“Unhappy people are always confused when they are told to try and be happy.

Their minds are occupied by grievances; there seems to be no room for new experiences that might be uplifting, and even if they came along, they would be seen through the gray haze of one’s misery.

So the search cannot be for happy experiences. Those are already available in abundance. The search is for an opening that allows happiness to become your experience. This opening comes about very differently from the way most people suppose. Most people try to make themselves happy by forcing their unhappy feelings underground, or by turning their backs on them or pretending that they don’t exist.

If you have a closet stuffed with junk, the best way to find room for new stuff is to clean the closet. In this case the closet is the nervous system, and one cleans it out at the level of awareness.

Communicate your desire to be free of this hurt. Ask for inner guidance to The healing process isn’t mystical; it involves well-known practical steps.

Look directly at what hurts you and let it show you what to do. Listen to what you feel, but don’t give in to it. Know for certain that you can remove old hurts. Be patient, since you will have to return to your old hurt many times.

Most people feel trapped by their resentments because their behavior runs counter to these steps. They don’t look honestly at their hurt but focus instead on blaming someone outside themselves. They don’t communicate a desire to let go of their anger but keep nursing it. Instead of listening to what they feel in the moment, they replay the same tired reactions from the past. Instead of being patient, they take a few stabs at healing only to conclude that there’s nothing to be done.”

Adapted from: Peace Is the Way, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2005).

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Me on Video!

Posted by Karen on October 10, 2009

I recently did a short video with Bill Vick who has a number of sites incliding to helping people with their careers. He approached me via Twitter (thanks Bill!) and we met on Skype and recorded this short take on authentic job searching. The internet just blows me away sometimes, especially when I think about how little I used it a mere 11 years ago.

Anyway, it was a good experiment in online video creation for me. Perhaps I’ll finally get myself on YouTube one of these days.

So this is your chance…if you’re curious about what I look like or finding out how much I throw my hands around when I talk (quarter Italian…it’s hard for me to keep still), check out this link and scroll down for me. I’ve cut off all my hair since I did this (well, not ALL my hair but a good portion of it) so you’ll have to imagine that part of it. Let me know what you think!

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Moment of Gratitude for #BeOriginal

Posted by Karen on October 10, 2009

Learning all about Twitter these days…which is a little distracting from this dear blog, but a good way to touch base daily with online creativity. 

One of the cool things you can do on Twitter is add a hashtag (#) in front of a topic that allows users to find comments and tweets on that subject. One of my favourites is #beoriginal that allows people to generate their own quotes and tweet them to others.

It’s quite a challenge to share thoughts from The Job of Your Life (I’ve discovered I write LONG sentences…under 140 characters is rare) and yet quite fun. Takes me back to my Grade 12 English class when I learned about “precis” – the art of writing short.

Anyway…here’s a link to a bunch of #beoriginal quotations – lots of great advice and insight…including some from JOYL.

Thanks to Joan Koerber Walker for creating the original #beoriginal hashtag and then capturing  the results on a dedicated web page!

p.s. And follow me on Twitter at  – My tweets show up below left on this blog but not as neatly as in the Twitter-verse, and only five at a time. You don’t need your own account to follow someone. That’s one of the rad things about Twitter…lurking is totally cool.

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Spaciousness or Just Drifting?

Posted by Karen on September 8, 2009

(Shout out Renata and thanks for waiting for this one!)

So I’ve spent my summer (supposedly) working on this wonderful question from a “Job of Your Life” reader, who, in engaging with the new step of Spaciousness asked “How do I know if I’m being spacious or if I’m just drifting?”

Because that’s the concern, isn’t it?

In The Job of Your Life I’ve outlined the idea of Spaciousness – of allowing things to occur inside of a structured inquiry – which sounds really meaningful and important. But then you could just as easily be calling it “Spaciousness” when what you’re really doing is avoiding the decision or maintaining the status quo with a great excuse or drifting along thinking you’re getting somewhere but really just fooling yourself.

And really, in our chaotic world of “go, go, GO!” it does seem self-indulgent and new-agey to “just go with the flow” or that’s how it feels maybe when we’re trying to explain to people about our lack of perceivable action. And if it’s hard for other people to tell if we’re being “spacious” or just being “drifters”, it can be even harder to tell ourselves, since in this area of career exploration I find that people often feel like they’ve lost their proverbial mojo anyway – that inner sense of knowing that you’re going in the right direction.

Ironically the very reason WHY you’re career exploring is exactly why you feel so confused; you’re looking for a new direction you’ve never considered before.

That’s also why you can feel pretty vulnerable to the vagueness of the process, the wondering “Am I getting it right?” and the sense that other people would be doing a lot more fancy action steps. Plus we really don’t value spaciousness, ever. Our world has become so instantaneous and responsive, we have problems understanding why someone can’t “just get it together already” and make a choice. So measured by that standard, we get very unforgiving of ourselves if there’s any sense that we’re not in constant motion.

So here’s a way of evaluating whether it’s drifting or spaciousness:

1. A Created and Stated Intention: When you move into spaciousness, do so with intention. That mean, be clear on your outcome (not rigidly but with some specificity) such as “I allow new ideas and opportunities into my working life. I stay open to when these new ideas and opportunities arise”. Intentions are the structure, the silent backbone – it allows you to become spacious and allowing “with purpose”. If you want to know more about the power of intention, check out/read The Intention Experiment. It will scientifically both prove my point and blow your mind.

2. Follows an Intense Period of Breakthroughs: Spaciousness is often required if you’ve been doing some deep inner work. That takes time for your system to process. It may be that other, unexpected things came up, things you didn’t expect to be related to career. It may be you saw new things about how you relate to work, or your self-identity, or made progress in your personal self-development. Following the natural ebb and flow, this means letting things settle before leaping into the next stage.

3. Continued Personal Work: Spaciousness can still mean that you’re working with a coach or doing other kinds of personal work. I do notice that there are times that clients step away from regular meetings with me and need a few weeks or months to process what we’ve worked on. Or they may find an alternative form of therapy or personal work that they resonate with and want to do work with that for a while – this might require some spaciousness.

4. Keeping in Touch with Your Needs: Learning how to listen to yourself is one of the first hurdles of an inner exploration. If you know how to tune into yourself and when you tune in you are clear that you still need space – take it. Your mind might get impatient (mine always does) but I soothe it by showing it the undeniable truth – I’m not ready and I won’t be ready until I’m ready. And there’s no sense trying to hurry it.

5. Other Things Are Happening: Often we get impatient with ourselves at the weirdest times – like when you’ve had a big breakup or you’ve moved or you just had a kid (that goes for Dads too) or lost someone close to you. Everyone else is like “slow down, take it easy” but we try and crack our inner whip on the career thing, like that’s going to make a difference. I think we just have a deep human desire for emotional events not to touch or change us and so we reach out to things that we feel like we can control, like career decisions, even if it’s more appropriate that we spend time processing or getting through what we need to get through in the moment. If your moment is demanding your attention elsewhere, give it in trust. You can always check in with yourself if the demands continue to keep you away from your career exploration.

6. You Feel Engaged Even If You’re Not in Action: I always associate this one with writing. I have books in me that I don’t yet have time to write, but when I check in, they are there, waiting for me to be ready. I don’t feel like I avoid them; I feel like they are a delicious thing in my future that will flower at the right time (pardon the mixing of metaphors – I suppose you can eat a flower but maybe it won’t be delicious). If you check in on your feelings about the career exploration, and you feel positive about it – that some part of you is engaged, feeling like this change will be good and it’s coming – you’re likely in spaciousness.

7. You Get Unexpected Breakthroughs or Synchronistic Events: Spaciousness is the opportunity for your subconscious to process all the learning you’re doing about yourself and the possibilities and opportunities that might fit you. So you can be in a period of spaciousness and suddenly get a new insight, apparently out of nowhere, or get into a great conversation with a woman at the dentist’s office, or hear a program on the radio that seems like it’s speaking to you, even if nothing else seems to be happening. These are signs, also called termed God Winks and other various names, that let you know you’re still on the playing field even if you don’t feel geared up and carrying the ball (see…there go those metaphors again).

8. Ask Yourself – You Know the Truth Without This List Anyway: We have a deep knowing as human beings if we are doing something for the “right” or the “wrong” reasons – we just keep ourselves from knowing that truth by keeping ourselves busy and on the surface of our minds. If you have the courage to look inside deeply, you’ll know if you’re creating spaciousness or if you’re merely using the idea to keep you stuck.

It’s totally natural to doubt yourself, particularly when nothing seems to be happening on the surface. Spaciousness is the ultimate practice in trusting yourself – and trusting the Universe – that all will happen in right timing. Your insights are happening deep below the surface. Your job is coming. Stay peaceful. Stay connected.

All is right with the world.

Posted in Career Exploration, Emotional Life as connected to Career | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Life Can Change In A Moment

Posted by Karen on September 4, 2009

If you’ve been following the Bryant case in Toronto, Judith Timson of the Globe and Mail wrote an excellent article analysing how perceptions keep changing as we learn more about each man on that tragic night. She concludes with a great point:

How frustrating that we will have to wait at least until mid-October to know the end of this sad tale, that in the meantime we will have to deal with more ambiguity and nuance, with not knowing which details matter and which are just the easy ways we have come to typecast our heroes and villains – not to mention voice our own frustrations. We may finally have to acknowledge that notwithstanding a Harvard degree or an alcohol problem, both of these human beings gave in to the wrong emotion at the wrong time. Yet of course only one lost his life.

Told that way, we are left with no clear villain – only colossal misjudgment in a human tragedy that reminds us what we don’t want to think too closely about, lest it happen to us: Our lives are completely hostage to human frailty. That isn’t the satisfying moral conclusion we want to draw from this story. But it’s the one we’ve got“.

I have also been fascinated by this case and for the reason Timson identifies, which is that in a flash of anger or fear or upset we can make terrible decisions that can impact us for the rest of our lives – or cause our deaths. I think what makes the story a “hard-to-look-away” story is that by the grace of god goes all of us – one bad decision, one temperamental moment and it’s over. And in this case, that goes for both men. No matter what the end result, each of them made bad decisions that compounded into tragedy.

How do we stay grounded when our tempers are flaring? How do we walk away from an ego moment? How do we know when it’s best to let go, even if it means the other guy might get the upper hand?

A Life Changing Moment

The practice of what Landmark Education calls “getting unhooked” and all spiritual practices talk about in some form or other is the practice of being able to “let go” right when Ego has us in its grip. The practice of ego detachment has to start long before the penultimate confrontation. It’s a daily practice of letting go in the moment…letting go of being right, letting go of being understood, letting go of the outer world asserting that we’re okay.

I have a really extraordinarily calm relationship with my husband, which I credit to our mutual practice of being able to let go of anger and upset within moments and quickly moving to communication and resolution. . And it helps that we both do it…over time we have come to trust that letting go on one side will lead to the other person letting go as well.

The ability to let go in the moment after an upset didn’t come for me all at once though. I was practicing that skill long before I met him in ways big and small – with everyone from family members to the person who cut in front of me in line. It’s a commitment to peace. Inner peace. It  didn’t come easily and I failed often. But little by little I got stronger in it, where an upset didn’t have to last days or even hours, but I could work through in the moment what had triggered me, why I wanted to react and get to a place of being able to share that without making the other person the enemy.

I haven’t always been successful. Who is? It’s hard to do when you’re tired or vulnerable or full up from other emotional situations. It’s hard to do if you have an unsafe history with the other person. It’s hard to do when a stranger is screaming in your face, because you’ve never built up trust with that person and have to trust in yourself to create it in that moment. But the way is always there and it’s practice that gets us there faster.

It’s not about giving up your ground.

On the contrary it’s about honouring the other person’s ground and then sharing your perspective. If you’re yelling your “perspective” at someone or you’re trying to getting across to them while you’ve got them in a headlock, it’s probably not going to get through. It would take the Dalai Lama to peer out from under your arm and say “You must be really upset I took your special cupcake from the fridge. I apologize for depriving you and I want you to know I did it out of extreme hunger”.

But if you practice letting go, of calming down, of not allowing that flash of anger and hurt to create your reality but to acknowledge and then step away from the feeling and look for another path that would honour you both, that is where inner strength and inner peace is created.

And it’s that very inner certainty that will hold you stable in a chaotic world, and keep the people around you – the ones you know and the ones you don’t – safe from harm, no matter how they behave.

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It’s been a long wait…

Posted by Karen on July 27, 2009

Thanks for your patience as I juggle a busy summer of moving, minor surgery and work. I’m sure there’s many a post I could share on the old “work/life” balance conundrum. Overall, the blog may be a little barren in recent posts but life is full, rich and wonderful…thanks for asking!

I’ll be back soon…working on a post on spaciousness versus drifting…

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