Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Careers, Confidence and Confusion

Last night while speaking to and interacting with Arizona State University students, many of them graduating in May, I noticed a familiar look of concern and bewilderment across their faces. After spending six years of my life as a university career coach, adjunct professor and student adviser, I know the look. Everyone wants the secret sauce to getting a job or finding a career path. Here's a bit of the advice I offered:

1) Get experience in the world of work and in navigating life. That includes everything from studying abroad to volunteering to being a lifeguard during the summer. Every experience matters and employers pay attention to more than your GPA. They want to know you can navigate life. Package your expereinces in away that gives the employer a reason to believe you can do the job.

2) Be flexible. Be brave. You may have to move to a new city, state or country for a job. Say yes to opportunities to find out what you like and don't like. If you choose not to move, you are choosing to accept what is available in the job market where you have chosen to stay.

3) Your degree is only an invitation to the party. Your personality, attitude, intelligent questions, prior experiences get you in the door. Your eagerness to learn and listen keeps you at the party. People hire people who are intelligent, kind, authentic and who get things done. 

4) Make your experiences relevant to employers. Confidently package what you have done. Stop apologizing for what you have not done. Your study abroad trip, internship, volunteer work, part-time job demonstrate something about you. Tell your story in a compelling and relevant way.

5) Believe that you are created for a unique purpose, even if you don't know what it is yet. Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone is equipped with a specific set of strengths, gifts and talents. You have to try new and sometimes uncomfortable things to discover what they are.

6) Careers rarely move in a straight line. Do not fear the zigzag. Just keep moving forward in the discovery process. Life is too full of change to be afraid of it. Believe your dreams are possible.

Those of us in higher ed have not always painted an accurate picture for students of careers and discovering your life's purpose. I am sorry for that. Students, please stop taking advice from everyone who wants to give it to you. Talk to and listen to those who know the current employer trends and thinking in the job market. Make sure your advisers have experienced life themselves. One day I want to write the ultimate career guide for undergraduates. For now, this will do.

What do you think?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

February is over, now I can say it...

Thanks for the requests. As promised, here are the highlights from my recent rant:

As part of my doctoral coursework, I had to take a diversity and social justice class. Since then, I have had a heightened awareness of race in America. Every February it becomes even more elevated. 

February is designated as Black History Month. The concept of Black History month began in 1915 by Carter G. Woodson, an alumnus of the University of Chicago.  Woodson was living in Washington, DC and traveled back to Illinois to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the emancipation sponsored by the state. It was during this time he posed the idea of highlighting the contributions of Black Americans during the month of February. It is said that Woodson chose February because it encompassed the birthdays of two great Americans who shaped African American history, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. 

I appreciate and understand the idea behind Black History Month, yet I am saddened by the need for it. Isn't Black History American History? During the month of February, we see public service announcements sponsored by corporations who tell us about historic or contemporary famous black people. Children have programs at school, churches may bring in speakers and we all feel good about doing the right thing in February. Do we talk about are these contributions as part of the study of great Americans within a context of American history? Are we including diverse speakers with diverse points of view in our church and school programs throughout the year? Why do we have to wait until February?

Throughout our daily lives, we are creating more history than we recognize. Whether we choose to admit it, race and gender play a pivotal role in how we perceive, interact and communicate with each other. It is influenced by our parents/relatives, the city/state we lived in during our formative years, religious/political leanings and our current/past personal interactions with individuals of a different race or gender. Having lived in several multiple regions of the United States and from international travel, I can honestly say we all harbor poorly informed ideas of each other. All races. All cities. All states.

Even if you disagree with my religious or political leanings, I am personally called to think deeper than gender and race. I don't claim to have an answer, but I certainly wish we could engage in more courageous conversations on this topic. We all carry our silent attitudes and wounds. I'm tired of watching people pretend. I'm tired of micro-aggression. I'm tired of everyone walking on egg shells. Why are we so afraid to have a conversation? Are we embarrassed that we don't know more or just pleased with the status quo?

In moving around the country, I am sometimes saddened by how many social and professional circles exclude me because of the assumptions that come with my gender and ethnicity. You might be surprised by my interests. They might be the same as yours. If they are not, we can still find ways to grow in community. Maybe we should step out of our comfort zones and go where we are not in the majority. Maybe we just try to do more things together than separately. The exclusion hurts us all more than anything. I am not angry about it, just observant and disappointed. In the workplace, many people respond defensively and dramatically to simple questions or comments when posed by women and persons of color. Keep calm. Just asking. Carry on. How can we do a better job of listening without reacting or taking everything so personally? How do we appreciate seeing a situation through another persons lens?

Then there's the rare and awkward moments when we actually try have to face conversations about race. Some people fumble around with political correctness, jokes or just hide behind religious and denominational tenets. Political correctness is often taken to to extreme but also I am smart enough to know when we dance on the edge of deeply held prejudices it impedes growth and progress. It hinders heartfelt conversations. It creates inauthentic interactions. I am so over it.

The age old question is how do we engage in this missing and often frightening conversation? My heart sinks when people go on mission trips to Africa yet are fearful to engage in a conversation with a black person in their church, workplace, or local community. The only answer I have to changing hearts is that we actually get to know each other. If you are a person in the majority, don't always seek to be the savior of someone of a different race. Find your intellectual and social equal who is of another race or gender. Learn more about what they think and feel. You may not agree and that's okay too. Stop being angry with each other. I'm not. Just tired of the same old reasons why there's a problem.

A solution often offered in the workplace is to conduct "diversity or sensitivity training." This frequently means individuals with good intentions try to teach everyone how to be more "politically correct and respectful." It fails every time. We all have experienced "diversity fatigue" and the eye rolling that goes on when playing the interactive diversity games that are often part of this type of training. You know that one "friend" you have that informs your thinking about race or gender? We would all do well to remember, one person does not speak for an entire race. Building ongoing relationships matters more than a day or week of training. 

I know. Now you're going to avoid talking to me because I'm one of the angry ones. Nope. Wrong again. The difference between greatness and mediocrity lies in the courage of developing one relationship at a time and talking about it. There are many reasons NOT to like being around me, I just hope race and gender are not among them. Maybe we should change the name "Black History Month" to "Cultural Competency Month." I just want to move into authentic fellowship in the spaces I occupy. Who's with me? Leave your comments below. Anger, negativity and ignorance will be deleted

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Raw Realizations in three C's

Goodbye 2013.
Many will wax poetic about you. I have no grand messages or brilliant declarations. This past year has been an awakening of the deepest parts of my soul. I want to grasp and positively use the pain of this awakening. I don't make resolutions but I do plan to keep moving forward with my life goals. The words written here are for my own reflection and renewal. Perhaps someone else will find truth or an insight that might bring healing.

My 2013 has been navigated in less than perfect circumstances. I have been fully bent but not broken. I have arrived at some raw realizations as a result of 2013. So here they are in three words (with a few explanations):

Change. Early in the year, I moved again to a much bigger city. I changed jobs. I changed industries. The change became even more difficult as I recovered from a lingering illness that caused extreme fatigue. I survived a car accident. My car was totaled. My mom died. I've felt alone and misunderstood as toxic people appeared out of nowhere and seemed to be everywhere. Through it all, I have discovered I cannot negotiate life alone. We all need encouragement and love no matter how strong we appear. My husband and my sister, Connie, have loved me consistently and been a source of unimaginable support. And that's all you need--one or two people to love you like crazy. I know I have changed this year.  I have become more aware of suffering and unspoken pain. It has moved me from being concerned generally about others to being concerned viscerally for them. Through my own changes, I am more thankful for family and friends who love me even when I have not been easy to love. We all need wind beneath our wings...corny I know, but listen to the words of the song sung by Bette Midler here, it is real to me in so many ways.

Cry. When we are born we cry. When someone dies we cry. My mom died in August of 2013. I cried a lot. I cried more than I expected. And even months later, I find it difficult to control when or where I might start crying. I have cried around people who could care less that I was crying. I have quietly cried in the restroom stall at work. I've cried sitting in my car in the parking lot as I see an old woman navigating the grocery store. Tears are starting to form just writing this. So what. No one can determine how you will grieve. You are forever changed when you lose your mother. You possess a new gravitas once you have lost both parents. After talking with others who have lost a parent and been through the grief process, I am told it will get better but will never go away. So I cry when I need to.  It cleanses my soul. It allows me to bend and not break. If you see me somewhere crying in 2014, just hand me a tissue or give me a hug. I'll do the same for you.

Consider. During this tough year, I had to seriously consider how I would react to adversity and who I would be on the other side of it. I think about reactions, behaviors and communication styles frequently for purposes of continuous self-improvement, but it took on new significance this year. As I try to gain clarity around my dissertation thesis, I have been reading a lot about psychological capital. I wonder how and why some people thrive in certain environments and circumstances while others crumble. The concept of psychological capital is one of the best explanations I've found. According to Luthans, Youssef & Avolio (Oxford University Press, 2007), psychological capital is defined as "an individual's positive state of development" and is characterized by hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism. Here's how the researchers define those characteristics:
Hope. Persevering toward goals and when necessary, redirecting paths to goals.
Efficacy. Having confidence to give the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks.
Resilience. Bouncing back when beset by problems and adversity.
Optimism. Making positive attribution and expectation about succeeding now and in the future.

Hope, Efficacy, Resilience and Optimism. HERO. I seek to have these HERO characteristics as 2014 unfolds. Yeah, I want to be a hero. Maybe even a superhero. I want to be more considerate of others. I want to overcome pettiness. I want to trust more. I want to have a good belly laugh at least once a day. I want to dance more.I want to have honest conversations with authentic people. I want to get on with a life that energizes my soul. I want to help others find meaning and make meaning.  2013 has prepared the way. My faith reminds me there is joy and possibility awaiting in 2014. I will seek joy with open arms and a changed heart.

Sydney, Australia 2014. Bringing in the New Year!
Goodbye 2013. I am better, not bitter. I'm bending but not broken. Thank you for three C's and the raw realizations. Welcome 2014. I seek new adventures and a pure joy that reverberates in the presence of others. Be kinder. Be gentler. Someone needs that from you and me.  We are more than conquerors. We are over-comers. Go!

Happy New Year. Leave a comment for me below. Let's learn from each other.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Longest Walk

My heart is breaking as I remember this giant of a man and his contributions to human rights and social justice. He sacrificed his marriage, time with his children and best years of his life to ensure freedom for others. He taught us dignity, grace and forgiveness. I am inspired that he lived on this earth during my lifetime.

Many have and will honor his memory. A prayer released Friday by Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Makgoba captured the essence and impact of this great man:

Go forth, revolutionary and loving soul, on your journey out of this world, in the name of God, who created you, suffered with you and liberated you. Go home Madiba, you have selflessly done all that is good, noble and honourable for God's people. We will continue where you have left off, the Lord being our helper." 
Rest in peace, Madiba. You completed your long walk to freedom  with grace, dignity and forgiveness. Thank you for what you taught us.