Activating the best of you!

Dear Joan,

I have just accepted an early retirement package after 25 years of working as an engineer in a high-tech company.

I enjoyed my work but always daydreamed of doing outdoor work, immersing myself in nature and playing a role in preserving our environment. I have been a lifelong birder. I am 55 years old, in good health, my wife continues to work and our kids are grown and on their own. I can afford to take a pay cut but still need to have an income.

Is this ‘daydream’ a flight of fancy or something I should really consider?

I value our thoughts on this.

—Brian the bird lover engineer

Dear Brian,

What would the world be without our daydreams! Some of the best inventions, innovative ideas and remarkable people have started with their dreams!

But does that mean to throw caution to the wind and look to hug trees for a living??? Not necessarily.

I’ve had several clients in your situation and the prudent thing to do is to make a transition and exploration plan.

Identify the key values and work style preferences that drive you. Reflect on the actually skills and strengths you bring to a work environment.

Then begin your research. Look for organizations that support the outdoors and the environment. Set up informational interviews with staff members there. Informational interviews are typically 30 min sessions where you ask to get the inside scoop on a job or profession.

You are not there to ask for a job. You are to prepare some thoughtful questions so you can learn more about what it’s really like to do a job for an organization you are attracted to. Also, assess what your financial income needs will be. Perhaps you might set up a lifestyle where you work part time as an engineer and part time as a volunteer, outdoors, supporting a cause you love. Brian, this is the time for careful planning, exploration and discovery.

It is often the time people come to see a coach to help build and execute on a transition plan that includes accountability and structure. Most folks need that.

Good luck and may your dreams take flight!

—Coach Joan

Dear Joan,

I’m a lawyer and I’ve always loved my work. I’ve been at the same firm for 8 years and was on track toward being partner within the next couple of years. I’ve earned consistently glowing reviews and pride myself in using good, careful judgement in all of my business dealings and I have a robust and growing client base. The problem started three months ago when I was assigned to work for a new partner in the firm. He is the most controlling manager I have ever had. I can’t make any decisions without him looking over my shoulder.

In fact, he asks me to review, in advance, any and all client communication. It is counterproductive, demoralizing and frankly, I have never been this frustrated and unhappy in my work before. My wife can’t stand to see me this miserable. Should I just quit and look for a new job?

Please help!

—Larry, who at present is a very unhappy lawyer

Dear Larry,

I feel for you. This sounds like a very uncomfortable and difficult situation and unfortunately, one that is not that uncommon.

You and your manager have a style clash. You tend to be an independent worker and he is very high on control. I  suggest that you consider not taking his behavior too personally. Why? He either has been treated this way himself and is modeling familiar behavior or, more likely, he has probably been burned before by subordinates who acted impulsively or improperly and the consequences fell to him.

My suggestion is that you ask to talk to him about the style situation, and how you really want to earn his trust.

Suggest that for the next say 3-week period, you meet with him on a daily basis, and discuss not only your current workload, but communicate your strategies and your thinking in full. Let him get to know you and become comfortable with your judgement and decision making style. Additionally, send him a detailed full status report twice a week with any special concerns, red flags or questions. After that 3-week period, ask for feedback, and if it’s positive, ask him if you can meet less frequently but continue to do weekly detailed status reports.

Larry, I have seen this strategy work, a systematic process of earning trust toward more independence.

Best of luck to you and onward to earning your partnership in the firm.

—Joan, the career coach

Dear Coach Joan,

I left the corporate world 3 years ago to run my own consultancy in the publishing world. I felt that with fifteen years of experience, half of that in management, and a good network of colleagues and clients I could go out on my own. I have some specialized skills and did my homework to determine potential clients. All good. But I now have more business than I can handle but I am wary about adding staff. Any thoughts on how to approach growing my business?



Dear Dan,

Congratulations on going out on your own and sustaining your business for 3 years so far! That is something to be proud of. And you went through the right steps by determining market needs and potential clients before you left. That caution has served you well in the past and that same caution is needed in growing your business going forward.  In my experience as both a business owner and coach, here are 3 of your top considerations in growing a staff:

  1. Determine the tasks you can delegate: Review and study some of your recent projects. What were the tasks that took you a long time but really did not require your high level skills. Were there administrative skills you could delegate to others? Perhaps bookkeeping and clerical aspects of your work. Quantify the time it took you to do those. Project forward how you might have been freed up to take on additional projects if you had some support. Sole proprietorship businesses often grow by hiring an assistant first, and then considering higher level personnel once that support is in place. Ideally, you will have time then freed up to find additional projects.
  2. Write out a job description: Think though your upcoming projects. Identify the tasks you can delegate and the specific skills required. Think through the education and training level needed for the tasks to be done right. Consider perhaps a person you could train. Also think about that person growing and providing additional skills. Think about the time you will have freed up to possibly do more business development and really grow. Also think logistically about where this person will work. Can they work remote? Is there room for them in your work space? Perhaps look to find inexpensive office space where you can expand?
  3. Consider a short term contractor or temp first: Walk before you run. When you know you have some good, lucrative project coming up, think about hiring someone on a contract or temporary basis. See how it goes. First try to find people through your own network. Consider a job board at a local college to find a part time student perhaps. Also, see if you can build a staff person into your next contract. Show that you need an assistant and how much that person costs. You might even make it a win-win with your clients as they see that for lesser skills you are employing a lower priced worker and passing the savings on to them.                                                                                                                                  Growing a business can be exciting but it can also be stressful and daunting. It is wise to go slowly, proceed with caution, and be thorough in assessing the exact role and time required for the new staff member. When it is done carefully and strategically, adding staff can be both lucrative and another step in building a larger, more impactful business.                                                                                                                                                             Good luck, Dan!  Wishes for all the best as you grow your business successfully!                     Coach Joan

Dear Coach Joan,

Am I the only one getting paranoid during my job search? For the last three months I have sent out over 50 resumes and I have gotten no bites, no interviews. I am applying for jobs I am well qualified for. Should I assume that I have been blacklisted by former employers? I just don’t know how to interpret this rejection …

Sad in Santa Rosa,


Dear Jan,

No, you are not the only one feeling really bad about getting no responses to your online job search. It can be very depressing to feel as though you are being rejected before you’ve even had a chance to be interviewed.

The reality is that many, many people opt to submit their resume online and companies are overwhelmed with submissions. And sadly, unless you have the exact qualifications they are looking for you will often get no response, not even a rejection note. Is this right? Of course not! You have taken the time to submit your resume and possibly (hopefully) a cover letter explaining your enthusiasm for the organization and the position, and your key qualifications and how they align with the job requirements.

But, we live in a very competitive environment, and organizations do tend to be more opportunistic than considerate. Yes, this is my opinion, but it is backed up with many years of seeing candidates experience exactly what you are talking about.

That said, we in the career business strongly recommend that you get up from behind your computer and start getting connected with real people who can influence your job search in a real way. How might you do that?

  1. Professional Associations: Google to find professional, local organizations in your field. There are organizations for almost every industry from engineering to sales to marketing to manufacturing to hospitality and more…. The people who run these groups are typically professionals who are volunteering to play leadership roles and who are interested in advancing knowledge and education in their field. They often enjoy networking and helping others. You can go to their web sites and find upcoming meetings and I recommend calling ahead to introduce yourself to a couple of the leaders, and offer to volunteer at an event. They will often invite you to come free to your first meeting. Show your enthusiasm and  meet people who can help your job search.
  2. Job Support Groups: Almost every town and city has some kind of MeetUp and job support groups. You can check out your local chamber of commerce and even ask at your local library. There are often employment centers, too. These offer a way to meet people and work together on your job search, on your resume and career tools, interview skills etc. It helps to have support and accountability in the process. And you never know who knows someone at the companies you are aiming for. Having your resume delivered in person rather than online offers a much better chance of you being considered for the job.
  3. Confidence Cards: The opposite of being paranoid is being confident! I suggest you build something I call Confidence Cards. Use about 6 index cards. On one side write down a skill or capability you have. On the other side write out 2-3 examples that demonstrated those skills or capability. Once you’ve completed those you have your Confidence Cards. Discuss them and really take to heart the achievements and capabilities you truly have to offer! No once can take away the perseverance you showed in working and going to school to earn your college degree. No once can take away your research and writing skills that allowed you to do a fine master’s thesis. No one can take away your having reached quota in your sales job for 6 quarters in a row. Own your achievements, articulate and be prepared  to share them when networking and interviewing.

The job search process can be a difficult time and see it as a real JOB. Take control. It is about YOU owning your capabilities, building your confidence based on real skills and achievement. Then, you must get out there to connect with people who can then connect you with opportunity. As I always say to my clients:


Work hard to be ready, Jan. Keep yourself pumped up! Project confidence grounded in true achievements and skill. You will find and create opportunity this way!

Onward to finding a great job,

Coach Joan

Dear Coach Joan,

I’ve been really frustrated as my job search stretched out way too long.  So I’ve taken a contract job, but am bored out of my mind! I know it’s better to be employed and have structure and income, but are there ways to make it a better situation? I feel that I’m sinking….



Dear Bob,

I applaud you in moving to Plan B. It is not fun or nearly as rewarding as getting your ideal job. But you have made a mature and wise decision to get to work, even if it is boring work. As you said, you now have structure and income. Plus,  I would contend you have more opportunity than you realize! Try to put yourself in a growth mindset vs a locked mindset.

Let’s look at three examples of clients who made the most of their contract work. They put themselves in a growth mindset. Perhaps their experiences will give you, and other readers, ideas. When it comes to our work lives, all motivated people wants to feel challenged, stimulated and that they are using their talents and skills. But you can find creative ways to get into a growth mindset:

  1. Alan became a car salesman. Alan graduated from college with a creative writing degree and wanted to get a job in an ad agency. He applied for over 100 jobs and though he did get a few interviews, he never got the job offer. After 6 months he was frustrated, out of money and really needing to get to work! His friend’s Dad owned a car dealership and offered him a job. He always liked and respected this man but never saw himself in sales or in the car business. But it was the only offer on the table. He took the job and had the good fortune of having a manager who instilled in him the understanding that any job that is worth having, can be done with a good attitude and with an openness to growing and developing. Alan shadowed this successful car salesman for the first 3 weeks during which time he also had some online training. After working his first week, he made a sale. He couldn’t believe the rush of happiness and satisfaction he got from the sale! He continued on, making the most of each opportunity to learn and develop. During his third year he sold a car to the owner of an ad agency who was so impressed with him that he offered him an interview as a copywriter (advertising writer) and got the job! He now works full-time in the ad agency but part-time in at the car dealership to boost his income.
  2. Suzy worked as a supermarket clerk. Suzy lost her long time job as the office manager of a busy medical office when the office closed. She was in her late 50s and whenever she interviewed for jobs in other medical offices she lost out to younger people who had lower salary requirements. She was frustrated and disappointed, but the reality of needing work sunk in. When she saw a help wanted sign in her local supermarket she applied and got the job. In fact, she gave it her best and due to her excellent customer facing work at the medical office she distinguished herself as a prize employee and she was promoted three times in five years. She is now a supervisor at the store and enjoying her work. Again, she told herself to give it her all and her positive attitude and skills paid off!
  3. Ben is doing data entry with an MBA. Ben earned his MBA and set his sights on getting a data analyst job in the high tech field. He’s originally from China and has a strong accent and feels it is holding him back from getting the higher level positions that he’s applied for. In fact, he got feedback that his accent was problematic. So he looked reality squarely in the face and decided to get whatever job he could in finance, even data entry, while devoting evening hours to working on improving his accent. Even though his day job is boring, he knows he is progressing in his English tutoring each evening. Additionally, he has made some friends at the company and when he reaches a certain level of language skill, the company will interview him for a higher level position.

Yes, Bob, it can be frustrating to have a boring job. But see it for what it is. Identify the skills gaps that are in the way of getting to the next level and know that you are working day by day to be positive and growing in the ways that you can. Look at the grass that comes up in the cracks in the sidewalk….find ways to GROW, whatever your job or situation. You will feel a lot better once you have built GROWTH and HOPE into your career life!