Do Your Future Self a Solid
Going to work expecting to finish up a report and lead a meeting and having your workday end abruptly at 10:00 AM walking to your car with a box containing all of your workly positions, is jarring. What's even more jarring is the realization that now--SURPRISE--you have to find a new job so that you can continue your extravagant lifestyle of living indoors and eating on a regular basis.
For the whole of my professional career, I have worked in the field of corporate education in positions like software trainer, training specialist, sales training manager and instructional designer. Like many of my colleagues, I've also been laid off three times in my 20+ year career. (I know people who have me beat by at least a couple of times.) While fixating on the fear of losing your job is a horrible way to exist, there are a few things that you can do now--while you're happily, gainfully employed--that can help lessen the blow if you do happen to find yourself suddenly in need of a new position.
Build Your Professional Network
If you read any articles about effective ways to find a new position, leveraging your professional network is a key piece of advice. It's also harder to start networking when you have your proverbial hat in your hand and need something. It's better to start building your professional network before you need something. Your network is also much more than a job search resource.
LinkedIn is a great tool to help you build and connect with others. In the beforetimes (pre-pandemic), I would connect with people on LinkedIn after we had met in person. Now, I proactively connect with industry leaders, people I encounter at professional development meetings I attend via Zoom, or I ask to connect with people who share common interests with me.
I also interact with people on LinkedIn. I post content that highlights my industry knowledge, comment on people's posts, and share posts that resonate with me. Being a good "LinkedIn neighgbor", and building your network before you need to use it for a job search, is a great way to position yourself or future success.
Update Your Resume In Real Time
I was once laid off from a job where I had been for eitght years. When my position was eliminated due to corporate restructuring, putting my resume together again was a challenge since I had years of diverse work experience to document. At that time, I knew details about recent projects, but it was harder for me to piece together all that I had done, and salient details that would help me get hired elsewhere.
Fortunately, and in rather unusual fashion, I was given a couple of months of notice that my job would be ending. That gave me the time to review my calendar, and files, to put together detailed descriptions of what I had done. This helped me put together a master resume. This isn't the final resume that you use to apply for a position. This is the big huge ridiculous document that contains everything you've done ever. From here, you pick and choose details that you'll include in your for real applying-for-a-job resume.
In general, I've become more proactive about recording what I do. While these projects are fresh in my mind, I write down specifics on what I did, who I worked with, outcomes and tangible results. This helps me not only for a someday job search, but it also helps me position myself for additional projects and roles at my current workplace as the company grows and evolves. Keeping a detailed list of projects, responsibilities and skills you were able to use will make resume writing much easier when the time comes.
Learn New Skills
Once upon a time, I was planning on being a high school English teacher. While my current career path focuses on education, suffice it to say that I ended up in a very different place than I originally envisioned. With each role that I have had, my skill set has grown immensely.
When I look at how the world has changed since earned my undergraduate degree, it's amazing. One of my first training jobs was as a software instructor teaching people how to use the big scary Internet. My first few job searches were done relying predominantly on the want ads in the Sunday newspaper. At one company, we were on the bleeding edge of technology by using instructor-led web based training before training by webinar was standard. With advances in technology, the workforce, and worldwide economic factors, things are always changing, and to stay employeable, you need to keep up.
Don't wait until your job's future seems uncertain to start learning. Go to professional meetings. Read website dedicated to your field. Listen to podcasts on topics of interest. Look at job descriptions for emerging positions to see what kinds of skills are in demand. Keep updating your skills so you're not left behind when change happens around you. Be Amazon, not Nokia.
What Do You Think?
What other career advice do you have to share?
Managing Job Anxiety
Recently, I was at a professional development event learning about the finer points of corporate training. During networking time, I talked with a woman who had been previously laid off, then called back to work for the same company (which is rare for my chosen field). What was her biggest concern? In short, she was trying to figure out how to be happy in her new/old position and not constantly worry about the possibility of getting laid off again.
To Worry, or Not to Worry?
Here in the land of having been laid off from various and sundry positions 5 times over the course of my career, I know from being worried about job loss. Granted, the first time I was laid off, an involuntary job loss was outside of my realm of possibility since it had never personally happened to me. After that, though, once I knew it was a thing, there are many times I’ve worried about being laid off. Maybe it was concerns about market performance, or new management, or rumors about reorganization, or any number of other things that caused my anxiety to kick in.
On the flip side, the times I have been laid off, I have just plain not seen it coming. I’ve been busy dealing with my personal life otherwise falling apart, or too busy working on a must-succeed project, or coming back from vacation to realize that apparently, I was not long for those companies. While I do worry from time to time, instead, I now focus on how to proactively position myself for longer-term career success instead.
An Alternative to Worry
Way back when, I had two operating modes when it came to work: “I’m happy with my job” mode and “I need to find a new job” mode. “I’m happy with my job” mode included excelling at my day-job with a side order of inactivity. “I need to find a new job right this minute” mode is when I started to network, look for career opportunities, dust off my resume, highlight my skills, etc. Now I realize that I needed to change from those two to an all new “working professional” mode—which is a both/and way of being. As a working professional, I still excel in my current role, but I also remember to keep my skill set up to date, continue to make ongoing professional connections, and have a career plan B (and up through about J, honestly) just in case I need it. Regardless of my employment status, this mindset serves me well and helps me live my life without focusing on fear.
Learning and Growing
Once upon a time, I planned to be a high school English teacher. While I didn’t end up teaching in a school setting, I use that skill set to help adults who work for businesses learn the knowledge, skills, and abilities that enable them to excel professionally and personally. I’m a lifelong learner, and I literally learn for a living—and help others do the same. I’m always learning new technology, reading up adult education theory, and gaining insights from those around me. In addition to having a formal background in education, I also attend regular professional development meetings, and I constantly read in and outside of my field. I make sure I can speak intelligently about trends in business, education, and beyond. Staying current and continuing to learn and grow keeps me doing well in my current position and future ready. In an ever-changing world, continued professional growth is the best way to manage whatever happens next.
Building (and Tending) My Professional Network
People talk a lot about “networking.” Too often, I think networking is depicted as a superficial act that involves shaking a lot of hands at a nametag laden event where people dread the next day’s “would you like to buy something from me” calls. For me, as an introvert, I approach networking differently. My goal is to build mutually beneficial relationships with people. These relationships are an opportunity to share information, help one another out, and feel more connected.
I keep track of my network using LinkedIn. In the beforetimes (aka pre-pandemic), I would typically meet people in person first, then connect with them via LinkedIn. Now, after I interact with someone via webinar (at a professional development meeting or after we work together for the firs time), I add them to my LinkedIn network. I've also taken a more proactive stance on online networking out of sheer necessity. Regardless of how that connection comes into my life, from there, I’m happy to help a friend of theirs look for a new job, or talk with one of my connections about how they might want design their technical certification program, or answer a question about a job applicant who is a former coworker of mine. I expect to help people in my professional network out, and know that they will be willing to do the same.
Regardless of the role that I’m in, and even if it seems to be going well, I always have a backup plan, and a backup-backup plan, and then a couple more backup plans after those. After 5 layoffs, and the unique challenges of each, I have a broad sense of the types of situations (like figuring out the health care exchange and determining when it made sense to do short-term contract work) I may need to mitigate. This means being ready to manage possible adversity or taking advantage of opportunities as they become available.
In addition to being proactive with my network, some of the things I’ve thought through have made me better equipped for issues as they arise. Here are a few of the things I’ve contemplated:
What Do You Think?
How do you manage career anxiety? Include your thoughts in the comments.
From "To Do" to "To Done"
Like many adults, I have what feels like a never-ending to-do list. No matter how much progress I make, I often dismiss what I have accomplished because I'm too busy focusing on all of the things I haven't done.
A couple of years ago, I had a boss who encouraged me to make a success list on a weekly basis. This was a great way for me to remind myself that I am making progress--even if it doesn't always feel like it's the case. In addition to my weekly success list, I decided to take personal inventory and do a quick list for the past year.
This Year's Success List
1. Added daily yoga to my wellness routine.
2. Applied for 21 jobs and had 12 interviews.
3. Bought running shoes I absolutely love and ran my first 5k.
4. Celebrated my 10-year anniversary with my husband.
5. Connected with over 100 new colleagues on LinkedIn.
6. Cut my daily commute time by 1 hour per day.
7. Decided to quit doing roller derby for a while to focus on being a roller derby mom.
8. Didn’t totally freak out when my daughter was on a two-week trip to Asia with a school affiliated group.
9. Enrolled my daughter a drivers ed class and started my role as a driving coach.
10. Found an awesome new chiropractor.
11. Got a new FitBit and finished 3 StepBet challenges.
12. Got our cat, Zippy, through ear surgery. (Now she has one ear hole, but two cosmetic ears).
13. Learned how to slow down on hills in inline skates. (Next year I hope to have a little more style in my slowing down.)
14. Logged over 80 gym visits.
15. Outlined a book on job searching and job transition.
16. Published 18 blog articles.
17. Ran over 70 miles and inline skated over 250 miles on outdoor trails.
18. Saw “Die Hard”, “They Live”, and “When Harry Met Sally” at the Parkway Theatre.
19. Skated my first inline 10K event and didn’t die, then skated my first inline marathon and finished in under 3 hours.
20. Started a great new job as the Director of Training at a software company.
21. Survived my second position elimination in 2 years and found a great new job in less than 2 months.
22. Tried spinning and enjoyed it.
23. Vacationed in New Orleans.
24. Watched all the episodes of Will and Grace and Friday Night Lights.
25. Wrote my very first knitting pattern.
What About You?
What is on your success list for this past year? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Earlier this year, when talking with a friend about her job search plans, I mentioned the idea of a “personal brand.” She asked me what I meant by that, which caused me to do a little soul searching. I realized I had bought into the idea of the value of having a strong personal brand while working with mortgage loan officers and real estate agents—two audiences who are all about getting their face out there to attract business. I took a step back and started thinking about how to better articulate the why and how of a personal brand.
Role of a Brand
As a consumer, a brand is a shortcut that helps me make a buying decision. If I want a good cup of coffee in an unfamiliar city, I find a Starbucks. If I need to buy a book, I typically go to Amazon, and for an audio book, I’ll visit Audible. If I want durable shoes for outdoor activities, I’m looking for a pair of Keens. There are also brands that are so prominent, they have become part of our lexicon. People Google instead of doing an online search, use Kleenex rather than tissue, and pick the version of Coke they want at a restaurant. Those brands mean something whether it’s quality, range of items available, or a predictable experience. Brands help us jump to a quicker answer instead of having to weigh multiple options for every single buying decision we make.
A Personal Brand
A personal brand is a similar idea. Instead of branding a product, though, it’s intended to help shortcut the decision-making process to promote someone’s credibility or value. When I think of the epitome of a personal brand, I think Oprah. Oprah tells us what pop health gurus to listen to, what books to read, who to vote for and more. Oprah has a television network, and a magazine and an empire. Everyone knows who Oprah is and what she’s all about. This is personal branding at its finest.
For the rest of us non-Oprah's, we also have a personal brand. When people meet one another in-person, oftentimes, we check out one another's online presences. In the work world, it's usually LinkedIn and potentially Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (among others). Whether you're looking for a job, or connecting with a professional colleague, having an online presence is nearly a given. Make sure that presence is one you want people to be aware of (because they'll find it one way or another) and that it positions you in a positive light.
My Personal Brand
My personal branding aspirations are not at the level of Oprah. (My television network and magazine are on hold for now.) For me, my personal brand is showcasing my skills as a trusted professional in the learning and development space. I want to be known for sharing industry related information on adult education, conveying lessons learned, and communicating my personal insights. My goal is to position myself as a real life human with day to day challenges who is also someone you’d trust (or hire) when it comes to helping adults learn information to enable them to succeed.
I started to pay attention to my personal brand when I realized I wanted to start sharing my insights in blog entries. For me, a personal brand was an embodiment of what I wanted my blog to be about. In short, my blog is my way of sharing my learnings with others who could benefit from my trials and tribulations. Using the colors in my professional headshot and a fun photo of coffee, my personal brand was born.
When I think of what my brand includes, I think first of how I present myself online as well as in print. For me, that means I have a professional social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. On each site, I used BrendaLearns as my username, my professional photo as my avatar, and a consistent description on each site. I also have a background picture on my social media sites that showcases the same color scheme (shades of red and gray). In addition, this color scheme is included on my blog at (you guessed it) www.BrendaLearns.com. On my resume, I include a red line on the left side, which continues to emphasize my personal brand. In addition, my business cards feature the same color scheme and background image to keep my personal branding consistent.
Have Something to Say
My focus of my blog is sharing my key learnings with others. It’s about helping others navigate life’s trials and tribulations by enabling them to benefit from some of the things I’ve either researched or learned through experience. Whether it’s helping people think through personal finance questions, figure out how to navigate a job loss, train for an inline skating marathon, or just helping people learn in general, I am wired to want to help people learn and grow. I want to share information in a way that is understandable, and even fun.
Likewise, that same spirit is embodied in my social media presence, I want the world to associate my personal brand with someone who is knowledgeable and helpful. This is why I share articles on helping adults learn, leading strong teams of high-performing (and happy) individuals, and other business insights. I also share articles and posts that show that I’m human, too. I have 2 cats (Zippy and Meathook), a daughter who is into roller derby and learning to drive, a strong interest in inline skating, and a love of quotes that are at once funny and thought provoking. Without having something to say, and getting comfortable being human in front of others, having a personal brand is not worth much.
What Do You Think?
What do you think about personal branding in general and the value of having a personal brand? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Life Is What Happens To You While You're Busy Making Other Plans
Last Sunday, I skated 10.4 miles, my longest skate to date. I was where I needed to be in my inline marathon training plan. I was less freaked out about hills, my endurance was improving, I had an ever-improving stride, and I was mostly ready (and productively anxious), about my upcoming inline half- marathon.
On Tuesday, I went to my favorite local lake with a 3ish mile bike trail with the plan of putting in 6 miles. About a half mile into my skate, I slowed down a bit as I went across a driveway, then started to pick up speed again. Suddenly, I felt something in the middle of my back, and I was knocked to the ground trying to figure out what just happened. A moment later, and I was standing up in the grass with a few more dings on my safety pads, looking at a boy on a bike. My best guess is that he was going faster than he should have been and not paying a whole lot of attention to anyone or anything else on the path. The main “anyone” on the path was me—an adult women in an obnoxious cycling jersey and a blue helmet. I stood there, taking personal inventory of where it hurt (which was barely anywhere because of the fun that is an adrenaline dump), and looking at him, and his seemingly disinterested mother, in disbelief.
There is a Fine Line Between Awful and Funny
What followed was an interchange that went something like this:
Me: You hit me with your bike and knocked me down.
Boy’s Mom: What happened?
Me: He hit me with his bike and knocked me down.
Boy: My brakes didn’t work.
Me: You hit me with your bike and knocked me down!
Boy’s Mom to Boy: Oh no! Let’s look at your brakes.
Me, to Boy’s Mom: HE HIT ME WITH HIS BIKE AND KNOCKED ME DOWN!
[Silence as I waited for the mother or the boy, or really anyone, to ask if I was okay or show any sort of acknowledgement or remorse for the part where the boy HIT ME WITH HIS BIKE AND KNOCKED ME DOWN.]
Me, to Boy’s Mom: In case you’re wondering, I’m okay.
Boy: My brakes didn’t work.
Me: YOU HIT ME WITH YOUR BIKE AND KNOCKED ME DOWN!
In the end, I got nothing from the mom, and the boy continued to try to explain to me about how his brakes didn’t work. I skated ahead to get away from them, and when they caught up with me as I was waiting to cross the street, the boy stopped--funny how his brakes worked then--and his mom didn’t make eye contact with me and apparently was busy trying to locate her other child (who I think she was also trying to locate when the boy initially HIT ME WITH HIS BIKE AND KNOCKED ME DOWN).
I decided to skate only 3 miles that night since I was feeling a little off after the boy HIT ME WITH HIS BIKE AND KNOCKED ME DOWN. I was happy to skate/walk away from the issue, but the interaction bothered me for all of the reasons.
The Day After
I woke up the following day and realized that, although I am durable and tough, getting hit made a real impact on me. (Pun intended.) My back was a little sore, and later in the day, I had a headache and was extremely tired. I went home and slept a bit. The day after that, I noticed neck and back pain, and realized that this is what whiplash feels like. I scheduled a chiropractor appointment for Friday morning, and skipped skating Thursday night.
On Friday, I went to the chiropractor, and told her my situation. She told me it was my call whether or not I wanted to skate in a week, and we could see how it went and make a call later in the week. I have a couple of specific stretches to do, ice to use on my back and neck twice a day, and a directive not to skate or anything equally strenuous until at least Tuesday.
20, and probably even 10 years ago, I may have pushed it and done the race knowing that I could tough my way through it. While I have no doubt in my ability to play hurt and work through pain to achieve a goal, it’s also important to know when that makes sense, and when that is just dumb. I had planned for a week of training to achieve a few more things (a longer skate on rolling hills, an even longer skate on a flat surface to surpass the half marathon distance before the event) that I’m not going to be able to do. There is the pre-race taper, but I’m a little too pre-race to call this a long taper. There is also the pain that you play through (like soreness and aching rather than “I messed up my neck and back because someone HIT ME WITH HIS BIKE AND KNOCKED ME DOWN.”)
All of the Goals
While one of my goals is to skate an inline half marathon, that was really a sub goal on the way to skating an inline marathon. Knowing myself and my body, I’m going to sit out the half marathon (which kills me a little) and heal up so I can come back strong and do the full marathon in September. Sometimes one goal has to go away to reach another, more important goal. I’ll also skate the half marathon distance, just not with the pomp and circumstance of finishing an event as planned.
Skating is the most recent manifestation of one of my longer term life goals: continued wellness and mobility. One of my other core life goals is to be able to retain mobility and fitness throughout my lifetime. Currently, I’m not willing to put “complete inline half marathon in 2019” over “ability to walk when I’m 80 and live relatively pain-free.” This is one of those cases where adulting sucks. I know enough that I need to give up an interim goal to hit two, larger (and more important) long term goals. I'm still not happy about it.
Recovering and Refocusing
For the next week, my main physical activities will be sleep, yoga, stretching, and walking. It's killing me a little bit already, but better to take a week to really recover than pushing it too soon and hurting myself worse. After that, I'll reassess. Then I may do shorter skates on flat, controlled surfaces (like a local inline skating track that is well-maintained), try out my easy hills trail (which is a mile long), and see how things are looking. I'm also going to take full advantage of the chiropractic arts and have a massage between now and then. I may also walk and put in some elliptical time to keep my fitness level up while I heal.
What Do You Think?
How do you heal from an injury? How to you manage your headspace? Include your thoughts in the comments.
There are several days each year where people typically look back and assess their lives. This could be the anniversary of a death, a holiday full or memories, or your birthday. For me, the day I look back at my life is Groundhog’s Day.
February 2, 2006
Early in 2006, my life was at a crossroads. My then-husband and I were in the process of getting divorced, and I was figuring out how to transition from a house to two houses and what co-parenting my 2-year old daughter would be like. The one stable thing I had was my job. I was happy to have one thing that I could count on not changing.
…and then February 2 happened.
That morning, I went to work. I took a few minutes between meeting to create a spreadsheet to figure out if I could afford to buy a condo I’d looked at the night before on my own. As I saved, I got a tap on the shoulder that I had an impromptu meeting. I grabbed a pen and a legal pad and walked into a conference room full of executives who informed me that position was eliminated due to restructuring because of the company being acquired. I was in shock. I returned to my desk, deleted the spreadsheet of my financial plans (which in just a few minutes had become irrelevant), told my coworker Brad “I’m gone,” and found myself sitting in my car with a box containing all of my formerly workly possessions.
From the parking lot of my ex-workplace, I called my soon to be ex-husband to tell him that I was now unemployed. His only response was “huh.”
Then It Got a Little Worse
That weekend, I was on a road trip to visit some of my high school friends for a fun weekend of reminiscing and going to the Snowflake Ski Jump. On my way there, a local cop pulled me over for speeding. As I sat there, I glanced at the notification I’d just received from unemployment sitting in my passenger seat—the one that said I’d receive less money than the previous time I’d been laid off—meaning I wouldn’t be bringing enough money in to cover my half of the mortgage. As the officer came to my window, I could feel the tears well up. I could not get a ticket, too. I would cry (as I often heard people threaten to do), but this was no empty threat that would come to bear only through theatrics. I was legit going to fall apart if this happened.
This moment—sitting in the car with indications of my life failures greatest hits smacking me in the face, was a low point in my life—second only to my dad’s unexpected death.
Then It Got a Little Better
Fortunately, I think because of my street cred, which included being a native of a town nearby, I drove away ticket free. One thing had gone okay. Then I got to see friends, connect with new people, and spend more time with my daughter. I also had the time and space to figure out what to do with myself now.
The Transition Begins
It was an ugly, ugly few months.
I applied for countless jobs. I put our house up for sale. My daughter’s dad (new language from Mom’s House, Dad’s House) and I decided to move in tandem to Minneapolis, Minnesota from Madison, Wisconsin. I looked for jobs, made business connections, and stayed with friends on the way to and from my regular trips to Minneapolis. I didn’t sleep well for months. A tree fell down in my front yard the day of my open house, so I figure out how to have a giant tree removed while driving on I-90 from a job interview.
That May, I found a job, a pre-school for my daughter, a new place to live, and reconnected with one of my best friends from high school. Later, her dad found a job and moved, too, with his new girlfriend (who was a lovely person who was good to my daughter). Then, I totaled my car, dated and broke up with a couple of people, and got Shingles three times in a row. Some days, after work, I would lie on my floor and look at the ceiling in my apartment, my low-cost therapy as I adjusted to all of the life changes. I adjusted to my new normal after going through every major life change (save a death in the family) I could think to experience.
Then It Kept Getting Better
In October, on the same day, I was approved for a car loan and found out that my house in Madison had new owners. Over time, I made two great friends from my job and still spend time with them regularly. I got comfortable in a new city. I started dating someone who was great—then bought a house with and married that guy (who my daughter still calls “Mikey.”)
I got laid off again and got another good job, then got laid off again and got an even better job. My husband and I celebrate our 10th anniversary this year, my daughter is doing well, and my best friend and I get together most weeks to catch up. Life is pretty damn good.
A Frame of Reference for Gratitude
Sometimes, I see people who don’t seem happy with what they have. The strange upside of having gone through rough times is that it gives you a frame of reference. It reminds me to be grateful for the house that I love, my husband sitting in the living room with our two cats in his lap, my healthy, happy teenage daughter (including her brown, purple and blond hair), and my challenging job that I absolutely love.
’m grateful for being active, able-bodied, and having a strong sense of well-being. I am grateful for heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, and automatic garage door openers. I treasure mother/daughter movie night, trips to the skating rink, and even playing chauffeur on the girl’s friend outings. I value my roller derby skates, my outside roller skates, and my inline skates. I appreciate my cats, Zippy and Meathook, and the combination of disdain and affection they have for me. I am genuinely grateful for it all. Groundhogs Day is my annual reminder to remember all these things.
What Do You Think?
What reminds you to take time to be grateful? Include your thoughts in the comments.
The Challenge of Behavioral Change
About a year ago, I began driving to and from work on a daily basis. Consequently, I have become an avid audiobook listener. I enjoy reading non-fiction, and I focus on topics including business, management, social science, and health.
I've read a lot of books focused on personal improvement. While the information is always beneficial, here are three books that stood above the rest. They include convincing arguments for making positive life changes, straight talk about personal accountability, and specific steps to take to take needed action. In fact, each of these books was so helpful that I initially listened to them, then bought them in a hard copy to have access to the exercises and as a reference moving forward. Here they are in the order that helped me to take best advantage of the information.
1. Emotional Well-Being: Not Nice
Full book title:
Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty... And Start Speaking Up, Saying No, Asking Boldly, And Unapologetically Being Yourself
Dr Aziz Gazipura
What I expected:
I was looking for a book on being a better conversationalist. After a couple of false starts with other books that focused on rehearsing conversations and strategies for coping with severe social anxiety, I stumbled across this book.
What I got:
This book is about being more authentic as a person, which can increase personal confidence and make it easier to move freely about the world--including having conversations with people you don't know very well. At it's core, it is about our misconceptions about being nice, and how we "nice" ourselves into insecurity, resentment, and unhappiness.
Dr. Aziz's personal stories resonated with me, and encouraged me to reexamine my attitudes and behaviors. The book includes exercises on everything from evaluating your personal "rules" for interacting with others to thinking through alternative ways to handle common situations. After going through these exercises, I am better at prioritizing what matters to me and living more authentically. As an extra added bonus, having a better sense of myself is helping me commit to the life changes I want to make. By giving myself permission to say no to things that don't appeal to me, and feeling more comfortable really committing to what I care about most, I'm making progress towards healthy eating and fitness.
2. Nutrition: How Not to Die
Full book title:
How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease
Michael Greger, MD
What I Expected:
I was looking for a book about nutrition. While I knew the basics, I wanted to eat better, and I thought having more information on nutrition would help. I also thought it had a high probability of being painfully boring.
What I Got:
I got nutritional information formatted in a way that I cared about it and decided to change my whole diet. Given family history of obesity, pain management, and limited mobility, I wanted to take positive steps to position myself for a long, healthy life where I could skip having to take multiple medications, increase my overall level of fitness, and bypass health issues.
This book guides the reader through health conditions and studies showing how healthier eating can minimize chances of getting the disease, or even provide treatment. Using scientific studies, and even acknowledging the shortcomings of some of them, this book lays out the "why" for the way of eating it advocates. The "why" is positioned not as fear mongering or shaming the reader into making positive life changes, but on the benefits of making eating changes that are completely within your control.
The author, Dr Greger, is an advocate for a Whole Foods Plant Based (WFPB) diet, which emphasizes leafy greens and lots of fruits and vegetables. He also mentions that even if people don't become strict in their adherence to this diet, including more fruits and vegetables will have positive results. I would have never seen myself completely change my eating, but this book gave tangible, specific reasons to upgrade my diet for the better and never look back.
I got more than a dry book on nutrition. Instead, I got the motivation and key strategies I needed to make positive, healthy lifestyle changes. As an extra bonus, the Daily Dozen (also available as an app) is a helpful tool to make sure I'm planning my diet around these core requirements.
3. Fitness: The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation
Full book title:
The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation
What I expected:
I will be completing an inline marathon later on this year, and I am making plans for my workouts leading up to the event. I also know that the last time I signed up for an inline half marathon, I managed to not make a training plan and ended up not even doing the event. I went in looking for motivation (and not even really knowing what I expected that to be). I was also not entirely convinced that I could get motivation from a book, but I was willing to give it a shot.
What I got:
This book is the stern talking to I needed to commit to a goal, take steps to motivate me to achieve it, and the "just do it" mentality to take action towards that goal. The focus is not just on thinking positive thoughts, but on doing the work to make success happen. Like with many books focused on personal improvement, there aren't a lot of new and unusual ideas. It does, however, bring together useful ideas and package them together to motivate action. It includes useful tools and exercises to get from "I should maybe sort of kind of do a thing" to "I'm going to the gym right now, and I'll continue to fine-tune my plan as I go."
There are a few helpful exercises to help empower people to get out of their own way. So often, people sort of, kind of commit to a goal, then find every reason not to follow through. Personally, I think of all the excuses I can come up with for not going to the gym. Using the techniques included in the book, helped me to eliminate many of those lame excuses and motivate myself to go even if I don't totally feel like it on a given day.
What Do You Think?
What books have influenced you to make positive life changes? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Feeling Behind? This Can Help.
I work at a fast-paced software company that is growing like crazy. That means that no matter how much I accomplish, there are always things left undone, and I feel like I should be able to figure out how to do more. In a meeting with my manager, where I shared this frustration, she told me that needed to remind myself of what I DID get done. She challenged me to take time each week to list out my successes. I've been doing that for about a month now, and it'a amazing what a difference it makes. Instead of focusing on the negatives, taking a moment to appreciate, and be grateful, for all the things I've accomplished really helped.
Applying Work to the Rest of Life
While completing this exercise for my job, I also included a few successes from life in my list. I quickly realized that, as at work, I get way more life things done than I realize. I decided to go bigger with my list. At this time of year--when we so often focus on all of the things we're going to totally change in our lives--I decided to take stock of what all I accomplished this year first. Here are 50 things I did this year.
26. Joined a gym.
27. Made my first smoothie in my very own smoothie maker.
28. Painted the living room walls red and gray (again, mostly my lovely husband).
29. Planned an upcoming vacation to New Orleans.
30. Read 13 audiobooks.
31. Rode the train from Duluth, MN to Two Harbors, MN.
32. Rolled over my old retirement account.
33. Roller skated at US Bank Stadium for the first time.
34. Saved money for retirement in a 401(k) and Roth 401(k).
35. Saw "Singing in the Rain" at the Heights Theater.
36. Shared my employment success story with the White Box Club.
37, Shopped for and bought my first inline skates.
38. Signed up for my first inline marathon.
39. Started a new job as a training department manager at a growing SaaS software start-up.
40. Stood in two states at once – Iowa and Nebraska.
41. Switched banks.
42. Took a foam roller class.
43. Traveled to 13 US states.
44. Treated myself to monthly massages.
45. Visited my mom and had mother/daughter/granddaughter holiday lefse making day.
46. Walked along the beach and watched the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.
47. Watched "Lethal Weapon" at the Parkway Theatre.
48. Went to the gym at least eight times a month from April through December.
49. Won two Step Bets to and increased my overall activity level.
50. Worked my first learning and development contracting gig.
Whoa. I did accomplish a few things. I love that I had milestones including health, adventures, and garden-variety adulting. Seeing this list helped me remind myself of the amazing things I can do. Taking a moment to celebrate, and be grateful for, these successes has me excited to plan for next year's adventures!
What Do You Think?
What did you accomplish this year? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
'Tis The Season
I’ve been laid off 4 times, twice in the fall. In fact, last year at this time, I was “in transition” searching for a new opportunity. Being in job transition is rough. Being in job transition during the holidays—especially the week before Christmas through the new year—is downright futile.
I’ve read a ton of articles touting the benefits of job searching during the holidays--and I mean a lot, a lot of them. Reasons to keep going abound. No one else will be applying! You’ll get a leg up on other applicants! Tons of people are trying to fill positions before year's end! In spite of the articles I read that encouraged me to persevere, in retrospect, I would have ignored that advice and deferred to my own best judgement.
I look at the sheer number of articles on self-care during the holiday season. If the holiday season is hard all by itself, add the stress of unemployment and there are a whole ton of reasons to be extra sure to take care of yourself.
My Best Holiday Job Seeking Advice
Here’s the best advice I didn’t take: take time off from your job search during the holidays.
The Challenge of Applying for Jobs in December
Even in a fast-moving job market with ridiculously low unemployment, it takes a bit to find a job. Just given the linearity of time, there will be a gap between when you apply, interview, and get an offer you’d like to take. This process can feel like it takes an eternity when people at these potential employers are focused on working. During December, with people taking time off for all things holiday, finding gainful employment moves even more slowly. Take a break and let yourself move more slowly, and deliberately, too.
During my last job transition, which lasted 5 months, the most frustrating period was a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving until the end of the year, the last two weeks of December were the absolute worst. Aside from the darkness and winter weather, the sheer sucking void of job prospects hit me hard. In short, nothing came from my job searching at that time. I was either submitting applications to jobs that no one was going to pay much attention to for a couple of weeks, following up with employers who had other priorities, or bothering former colleagues for recommendations when they were in the throws of Christmas programs and family get-togethers. The job search picked up again the second week in January when people had their heads back in the game at work.
Take Time for Self Care
My advice to you as a job seeker? Take a holiday break. Go do things you’d like to do when you’re gainfully employed, but that are harder to find time to do. Go to a noon yoga class. Get together with friends for lunch. Read a novel with no obvious professional development benefit. Go to a matinee. Visit a museum. Walk around the mall on a weekday Take some time for you. Take a break from pounding pavement on your job search and just breathe. You’ll feel better for taking some time for you, and for not feeling like you’re working hard and getting few results.
Just like we all need vacation time to recuperate from our day jobs and be able to do good work, we also need to take a break from a job search so we can have the mental space to regroup. Take a couple of weeks off—like the week before and the week after Christmas—and reset. You’re future self will thank you for this act of self care.
What Do You Think?
What has your experience been applying for jobs in December? Share your insights in the comments.
Just Eat Healthy. Duh.
We all know that we should eat a “healthy” diet. What does that mean? It’s easy to get caught up in the whirl of diets that are popular today—be it Keto, Paleo, DASH, Atkins, Whole 30, or something totally else—and feel like whatever changes you make might be the wrong ones. So now what?
Words of Wisdom on Eating Healthier
Life changes are hard. Everything is new, and everyone has an opinion on what you should or shouldn’t do. We all know that we should move more and eat less, but we often get in our own way when it comes to making a healthier life happen. Here are three mindset tips that helped me stop overthinking and start making better dietary choices.
Tip 1: Never Miss Two in a Row
Over the years, I’ve dieted a ton—including Weight Watchers, Naturally Slim, TOPS, SlimFast and other ridiculous things I have blocked out. While I had success some (but not all) of the time, the effects were short lived. Changing your diet in the short term, but not looking at how to create sustainable changes, leads us right back where we started and leaves us feeling defeated because we succeeded, then failed. Such is the issue with going on a diet with the goal of losing a set amount of weight in a set amount of time.
Instead, it’s better to focus on changing your overall diet, and on a larger scale, your lifestyle. This means the possibility of fewer results right away, but a better chance of real deal, longer term success. Instead of lying to yourself that you’ll never eat [insert thing you absolutely love] again, figure out how to make better overall choices with food that will become just regularly schedule life longer term.
Steve Kamb, founder of Nerd Fitness, has advice to help stop the spiraling before it starts. One of the core tenants of Nerd Fitness is “Never miss two in a row.” Basically, if you miss a workout, or eat a not-so-healthy meal, instead of giving up, consider it the blip that it is and keep on going. Instead of eating a donut at work, deciding you are a horrible person who can’t commit to anything, and make abysmal food choices for the rest of the day—and perhaps forever—commit to not missing two in a row. So you had a donut. Make your next meal or snack better. That’s it. Instead of labeling yourself a “failure”, label yourself “human” and get back to your bigger plan of healthier living.
Tip 2: Get It Right 80% of the Time.
For every identified way of eating that could be successful, there is someone who is ready to proclaim that whatever you’re doing is not “right” or in keeping with said established diet. Instead of listening to the voices online, in your family, or simply in your head trying to convince you that you’re not a good enough paleo/vegan/pescatarian, tune out the unhelpful voices out and focus on eating more things that are better for you more often. Other people can pound their tiny fists as much as they want to, but they are not living your lives, and, honestly, they don’t get a say in your choices.
Dr Michael Greger, author of “How Not to Die”, is an advocate of the benefits of a Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) diet, which he backs up with scientific research. However, he also points out that making positive changes can be iterative. For example, if you’ll eat salad greens (which have multiple health benefits), but you need to have Bacos on it (which are processed and not great for you), make that iterative, positive change! More than once, I’ve had a big salad loaded with vegetables and a side order of french fries. In short, improve your diet, don’t beat yourself up for doing things you want to do. That’s the path to self-loathing and general unhappiness, not an overall healthier you.
Over time, as you eat more things that are better for you, your body will start to crave healthier food and not have any time for the Bacos/fast food/whole entire cake that you would have eaten routinely in the past. That 80% gets you where you need to be in spite of a “keeper of the label” making uninvited commentary on your choices.
Tip 3: Sometimes, You Have to Eat Like a Dog.
When you start to look at making a chance in how you eat, everything in life gets harder. If you’re no longer picking up a burger at the drive though, now what the heck do you eat? How much do you have to figure out how to cook? What do you even buy at the grocery store? Where is the grocery store anyway?
Enter my personal trainer, Colin, with the best, most practical advice ever. When I told him that I struggled with meal planning, he simply stated “sometimes, you have to eat like a dog.” He went on to explain that I don’t have to make something elaborate for every meal. Instead, I should pick a few staples and move up from there. He pointed out that we feed our pets the same thing every day for a reason—they need certain health needs met, and we know their food will do that for them. Why not do the same thing for ourselves?
When looking for recipes, we see many options that are colorful and beautiful and elaborate. We also tend to forget that every day is not a holiday, and we don’t have to make the equivalent of an elaborate Thanksgiving Dinner three times a day, every day. Instead, find a few basics that you don’t hate and that have nutritional value, build a routine, and then modify as you have the desire (and mental bandwidth) to do so. For me, I went with the following:
Done! I know I’m getting the nutrition I need, and I’m not spending an inordinate amount of my life trying to figure out what to eat. Problem solved. For others, it may be cooking up a whole bunch of chicken, boiling a dozen eggs then creating meals to take to work each day that include protein, frozen vegetables, an orange, and string cheese as a snack. For me, now that I have basic, go-to meals, I am starting to research additional meals I might want to make. The better you are at having at least a basic game plan for what you’re going to eat, the better set up you will be for success.
What Do You Think?
What are your best go-to pieces of practical advice for healthy eating? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Brenda is a dynamic training and development leader and an innovative learning experience designer. Brenda also enjoys learning all the things.