Tony Robbins talks about our motivations

I came across an old TED talk (old enough that the speaker, Tony Robbins, praised Lance Armstrong for his resourcefulness and determination) about our motivations. I was more excited about it when I read the title than I was when I finished watching it, but only because it didn't turn out to be what I expected it to be.

In short, Robbins boils down human motivation to six needs: certainty, uncertainty, significance, connection/love, growth, and contribution to something bigger than ourselves. He uses a lot of anecdotes, and consequently doesn't say much about how he developed that model, but what struck me is how his work is in some ways the reverse of mine.

Over Robbins's years of experience, he has developed his list of needs, and theorizes that they are the base-level motivators of all human behavior. He now works from the bottom up, determining how those six needs relate to specific experiences that people have, eventually producing behaviors which are either desired or undesired.

When I work with my clients, we start with thoughts, behaviors, and words, and dig down through a series of "why" questions to arrive at the beliefs they hold that cause them to do what they do.

Both of these paths are valid and interesting, and ultimately have different goals. Robbins works with his clients to help them make changes in their lives. I work with my clients to help them change the way they communicate about themselves and their organizations.

See the full video here. I would be interested to hear your thoughts about the differences between Robbins's and my philosophies. Thanks!

How to write the best resumé of your life, Part 2: The Writing Process

May 14, 2016

Hi! Thanks for reading Part 2 in my 3-part series on how to write a stunningly good resumé. Part 2 here is all about the writing—actually putting words on a page. If you haven’t checked it out yet, Part 1 is here, and it has some really important ideas, like what a resumé is for and the kinds of things you should know about yourself (these are not as obvious as you might think).

 

Part 2 Overview

You have your coffee, and you’ve sequestered yourself in a comfy chair, or at a coffee shop, or at your desk—wherever it is you work best. It’s time to start writing, so let’s go. Here is the general outline of what you will need to do to write the first draft of your actual resumé.

 

  1. Write these things, in this order:
    1. Summary
    2. Experience
    3. Objective
    4. Education
    5. Other stuff—awards, volunteer activities, hobbies, and the other things that make you an interesting human being
  2. Start building your list of references
  3. Review the stuff from step 1 with a friend or colleague
  4. Rewrite based on that feedback
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as necessary

 

Sound good? Let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail.

 

STEP 1.1: WRITING THE SUMMARY

The summary is where you describe your professional character (the one we talked about in Part 1, remember?). This is the core—the vital, beating heart of your resumé. Every single thing you include on your resumé must support this one paragraph, because this is the exposition of who you are as a professional. Spend most of your time here. The summary is simple in concept, but it is not easy to write.

 

If I listed a bunch of rules for how to do this, I would be making them up; every awesome summary will look different, because every awesome summary describes a different awesome person. Instead, here’s some advice:

  • Make it as short as possible, but no shorter.
  • Be authentic: write like you talk.
  • Keep your goals in mind (see below).

Your goals are as follows:

  • Clearly communicate the strengths you identified in Part 1 (after all, this is why you did that).
  • Ensure your passion comes through. You have to care in order to get someone else to care.
  • Make a clear value statement about yourself.

 

Here’s a challenge for you: You want to come across as authentic, as I said, but of course you also want to describe yourself as you want people to see you. If you lack self-confidence, for example, an authentic summary would communicate that (which to be clear, yes, would be bad). The best way to write a confident summary, though, isn’t to fake it; instead, start working on your self-confidence. Nobody’s perfect, but everybody is capable of working towards who they want to be. Successful people aren’t those with a lot of money or power or fame. Nope, they’re people just like you, who made the decision to work towards who they wanted to be. You can do it, too. And then the person you’re becoming can come across in your summary.

 

Here is an example of a lackluster summary:

Senior engineer with over fourteen years of experience in application design and development with various Java and .NET frameworks. Experience in database design, software engineering and development. Can jump into new projects and learn new technologies quickly.

 

And for contrast, here is an example of a strong summary

I have architected software for seven different companies over the last 20 years. During that time I worked with many different software architects and learned that the best of them shared three common strengths: they were organized thinkers, they were adaptable to changing requirements, and they were highly technically proficient. Over these last 20 years, I have developed these strengths to the utmost, and use them to do what I love: design software that solves people’s problems. My experience, strengths, and passion mean I will be able to solve your customers’ problems, making me an ideal software architect for your company.

 

The first summary is simply a list of experiences and qualities, while the second is a description of personal observations, strengths, and passions, which as an added bonus, hints at overcoming past adversity. The first summary is dull and dry, while the second establishes skills, passion, and value.

 

Guess what—both of these descriptions were written by the same person! It’s true; a client of mine with long years of software development experience wanted to make a transition into a role as a software architect. (For those of you who are nontechnical, this is an orthogonal move—not insignificant, but not drastic.) And yet his early summary, since it was rooted only in his self-image and prominent past experience, had no chance of landing him the architecting jobs he really wanted. But when we wrote a summary that described him as the software architect he wanted to be (and which, of course, he had the skills for), his summary became clearer, stronger, and more authentic. And it reshaped the rest of his resumé, as well. Which brings us to the next section, your experience.

 

STEP 1.2: LISTING YOUR EXPERIENCE

The lion’s share of physical space on your resumé will be dedicated to a list of your relevant past work experience (the one exception being if you are a recent graduate, in which case it will be expected that your resumé is a little shorter). The basic format of this section is a list the companies you worked for from most to least recent, with dates and your job title.

 

Traditionally, for each company and position on the list you would include your main responsibilities and activities. That sort of resumé is exactly what we’re NOT going for. Instead of listing what you spent the majority of your time doing, it is much more important to list your activities and accomplishments that—and this is REALLY important—directly support the summary you just wrote, whether or not they were your main duties. If you have done a good job of developing your summary, it will be much easier to find and describe these kinds of experiences.

 

Here are a few examples from the same resumé as above.

  • Bad example
    • Filled a variety of development roles, both in leadership and non-leadership positions.
  • Bad example
    • Responsible for the implementation of web applications including: utilization of Java and J2EE technologies to create and deploy both small and large scale Internet/intranet applications; administration, maintenance, and performance tuning of J2EE server environments and related applications; maintenance of legacy CGI scripts and PL/SQL applications.
  • Good example
    • Architected in-house applications to meet the following needs:
      • Rapid deployment for all our Internet and intranet applications
      • Maintenance and performance tuning of our J2EE server environments
      • Automated maintenance of legacy scripts and applications

 

The first example is bad because it isn’t specific. It shouldn’t take 13 words to say this little. Space is precious!

 

The second example is bad because it doesn’t support the summary. The work described there is not the work of a software architect. That’s not to say it isn’t valuable; this applicant would just want to find a way to communicate how the skills he gained doing this work now contribute to his expertise as a software architect.

 

...which is exactly what the third example does. The individual projects were broken out for clarity and so that the main point could be communicated first: “I architect solutions to problems,” is the entire point of this resumé.

 

One piece of information that would have made the third example even more effective would have been the inclusion of a quantitative improvement that these applications made at the company. For example, if, after the company started using the rapid deployment application deployment times decreased by an average of 30 minutes, that is powerful testimony to this person’s effectiveness. Know your numbers and list them.

 

Another story: One of my clients was a hardware testing engineer. He loved the troubleshooting process, finding errors in areas no one else had thought to test. He excelled at using his problem-solving skills to identify fixes for those issues, and worked with design and manufacturing teams to improve the products his company made. As he was looking for a new job, one of the items listed on his resumé under a previous position as a technical support engineer was the fact that he served as a mentor for some of his more junior colleagues. While mentoring may have been an important part of his role then, it was not what he enjoyed doing, nor did it support the story he was telling of himself as a Technical Problem Solver. On the other hand, his years as an emergency paramedic provided many valid experiences, even though they were in an unrelated field. “Identification of proper stabilizing medical procedures in a fast-paced, high-stress environment,” probably doesn’t capture the chaos of dealing with life-and-death ambulance rides, but it definitely demonstrates his experience with troubleshooting and solving problems.

 

STEP 1.3: WRITING YOUR OBJECTIVE

Even though it will probably be the first thing on your resumé (but more on that in the formatting section of Part 3), I recommend you write your objective third, because until you know where you’re coming from—which you just described in your summary and experience sections—you can’t know where you’re going.

 

Your objective should be one short sentence about what you genuinely want to accomplish. And when I say genuinely, I mean it. This should not be spun for a certain audience, nor is it for placating crotchety hiring managers or anyone else. Your objective should be the one thing you most authentically want to accomplish in the context of whichever company you’re applying to.

 

Let’s look at a few examples. Remember, our most important criterion is authenticity.

 

Sally: “To obtain a position as copy editor at the Huffington Post.”

If Sally has been working for years to obtain copy editing experience and training, and finally has an opportunity to apply to a publication she respects and admires, this is an authentic (if somewhat dull) objective statement. On the other hand, if Sally simply saw the job opening one day and sent over a hastily written resumé, the statement is still true, though not particularly authentic. And, interestingly, this is why this objective is bad if coming from the Sally who really wants to work for the Huffington Post; it’s indistinguishable from the statement of the Sally who just wants a job, any job. A good objective statement would make it perfectly clear how passionate Sally #1 was about about being an editor for HuffPo. Something like, say, “To bring my years of journalism and editing experience to bear for a powerful and influential online news publication.”

 

Aretha: “To make the world a better place by solving people’s problems one by one.”

Aretha’s objective looks pretty idealistic at first glance. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as it’s authentic (are you seeing a pattern yet?); the bigger problem is that it’s rather vague. For a life coach, for example, it could be an authentic expression of how they see their role in relation to their clients. For an individual app developer, it might actually be a pretty good description of what they do. But for someone applying for a job whose top requirement was, “strong problem solving skills,” it’s simply saying what someone else wants to hear. And that never ranks high on the authenticity scale. A better statement would be more specific: “To help my coaching clients overcome each obstacle on their journey to create fulfilling lives for themselves and their families.”

 

Sam: “To land a job that will pay the bills.”

Our third example seems to have been written by a kid, and kind of a lazy one. “To get a job.” Really? I suppose they could have written, “To have a resumé,” or even, “To write an objective statement with no grammar or punctuation errors.” But despite its excessive brevity, even this statement could be effective if it is truly (you guessed it) authentic. If I’m a teenager looking for a job and am not particularly self-aware, this might be the most honest statement I could make. And if, as an honest person, I’m hoping to catch the attention of hiring managers at fast food restaurants who value my kind of authenticity, this statement would give me the best chance of getting a job that I would actually enjoy and can be successful at.

 

The point of the objective statement is not that you think it would sound good to someone else. The point is that it’s a statement that you will defend 100%, no matter what challenges it receives. That is how you know your objective is authentic.

 

STEP 1.4: LISTING YOUR EDUCATION

I won’t talk too much about this; it’s fairly basic and self-explanatory. List your education in the same format as your work experience—newest to oldest, sorted by institution, with years and degrees listed. (If you graduated with honors, I think it’s worth mentioning.) You want to paint a picture of where, when, and what you studied. If you have room and desire to include bullet points, do the same as with the experience section; make them support your summary, even if they initially seem unrelated. See my resumé at the bottom of this post for examples. My original education was for teaching music, but I drew out some relevant experiences to my current writing career.

 

STEP 1.5: LISTING THE OTHER STUFF

This includes, but isn’t limited to: awards, activities, accomplishments, hobbies, volunteer projects, memberships to personal or professional organizations. Anything that is a part of your life that justifies inclusion by supporting your summary statement should be added, and you can even add things that you are particularly proud of that don’t support your summary statement. For example, if you’re an amateur cook who won the barbecue sauce competition at the state fair three years running, that’s unique and cool, so say something about it! Keep your categories as few as possible, but make them descriptive. I think Awards and Activities is a catchy section heading, as is Organizations and Memberships. Those two groupings capture just about everything that you might want to list, and I include a Hobbies section on my resumé as well.

 

STEP 2: REFERENCES

In brief: Make a BIG list of pertinent references.

 

While you’re writing the things above, start working on your references section. Hiring is a human process, and human beings are social creatures. We are seen as greater or lesser by the number of people who esteem us. Your past professional relationships are important; not only are they a part of who you are today, but they are a reflection upon your personal and professional character. So, include references. Lots of them. Every one you can think of, in fact.

 

This might go without saying, but if you put someone on your list, make sure to let them know. You don’t need to ask permission, just shoot them an email or text that says you added them, and include a compliment or two (which shouldn’t be hard; they’re on your list because you liked or respected them, right?). If they don’t want to be listed, let them be the one to say so.

 

Never submit your references directly with your resumé, especially if you have a list of, say, 100 people. If they are requested, you will have them ready ahead of time. When a company asks for your references, send them along, formatted nicely in the same style as your resume (this point is to not make your reference list an afterthought). Here’s my list of references (with contact information obfuscated), for example.

 

So don’t make your list merely the 3 colleagues you would most want a potential employer to call. List anyone and everyone from your professional and educational past who you think would speak positively about you, and about whom you would speak positively if someone were to call you about them. But make sure everyone on your list is a professional reference, not a personal one.

 

STEP 3, 4, AND 5: REVIEW AND REVISE

This is such an important part of the process that I broke it into three different steps even though it’s conceptually probably the simplest thing on the list.

 

By now you have your resumé filled with content, and you feel like it’s a pretty good draft description of your professional character. Nice work! BUT! Don’t take it for granted; get another set of eyes on it. Step 3 is to find a friend or colleague that you trust and who is a good communicator. Give them your draft and ask for feedback (though not on format, obviously, since you haven’t done that yet). Don't explain your vision (you won't get to explain it to a hiring manager), just hand it over and let them read it. Then, ask them to explain to you what they just read. See if their explanation matches the idea in your head about what you were trying to communicate. Listen to their feedback and write it down (very important). At this point, you are only allowed to do two things: one, ask clarifying questions, so you understand their point of view; and two, say thank you. Do NOT defend or explain anything; the point of this exercise is to get feedback on what you’ve written, not to communicate what you were going for. Depending on your personality, this might be excruciating, but it is critical. Step 3 is to listen and understand only.

 

Step 4 is to humbly consider (later, on your own) whether or not your friend’s points are valid. Maybe they asked a question that showed they didn’t understand something you thought you made clear. Maybe they pointed out some grammatical errors. Maybe they didn’t like the tone you wrote your summary in. You may agree with some of their points and disagree with others, so you don’t have to make every change they suggested. Only make the ones you think are valid. Be deliberate, not reactionary, but keep your ego out of it; your resumé won’t be perfect, so make changes where necessary.

 

Finally, you’re nearing the end. Step 5 is to repeat steps 3 and 4. You might only need to do it once, but you may need to do it several times. You can use the same person as you did the first time, or a new person. It all depends on how many people you know and how much time you want to spend polishing up your resumé. The more important it is to you, the more times you should cycle. The ideal end result is that the reader of your resumé should be able to describe to you exactly the professional character you wanted them to get out of your resumé. Once you hear your own thoughts coming back to you from someone else’s mouth, you know you’ve written an outstanding resumé.

My Resumé is here.

Come back soon, for Part 3: Formatting, optional sections, and alternative viewpoints. Thanks for reading!

Just a Cog

With all the activity related to starting this business, finding time to write is a rarity. So the resumé blog, while still in progress, is taking longer than I had hoped. In the meantime, here is a post I wrote maybe 8 months ago, while I was still working as a project manager for a Silicon Valley startup. It was greatly inspired by Seth Godin's wonderful book, Linchpin.

Like most people, I am the product of a system that taught me to be a cog--an ordinary thinker, a standardized worker, a bland human being. This started for me when I was processed through America’s factory education system. Where I was told to sit down, shut up, follow directions, fit in, memorize this meaningless list so you can pass the test. I was told that if I did these things well and didn’t make waves I would be successful. I came to feel that I was not unique, not important, that I was totally replaceable, statistically average, just another number. In other words, that I was just a cog.

For most of my life, I have played that role; I have been that cog, unaware of how much I hated it. Why? Because my ‘cogification’ was not accomplished with fanfare. Indeed, it is the product of thousands of tacit messages inherent in the system. I was never overtly told that my role in society was to be one of compliance, unquestioning sacrifice, and eminent replaceability. Instead, I was praised for my unique intelligence--the quality that gives us all our human value. But that overt message distracted me from what was happening behind the curtain; I was being standardized and dehumanized.

Words can blind us to the truth. For years I was told I was unique while being scored on the same scale as everyone else. I was told I was a good problem solver while solving the same problems as everyone else. I was told I was smart while paying thousands of dollars for a degree that I no longer use. Both I and, I think, the people telling me those things believed them. But when I started paying attention, I realized that I only believed them intellectually. Emotionally, I felt like a cog.

I am learning, however, to pull back the curtain. As I gain perspective, I become more unique, able to think more clearly, to create more freely, to effect more courageously. By unleashing my own unique qualities, I become more human.

That is my journey, but it is only the beginning; journeys are made up of many destinations. Each day of my life is a gift--one that can be enjoyed and remembered, but never recovered. I am no longer content to trade in those days one at a time for a paycheck. I don’t yet know where this journey is taking me, but I am more optimistic than ever that as I embrace the unique qualities of my own humanity, that it will be somewhere amazing.

How to write the best resumé of your life, Part 1: What, Why, and How

April 11, 2016

Hello, thanks for joining me! Welcome to the first in my three-part series on how to write the best resumé of your life. Part 1 will cover the pre-work that goes into writing a great resumé, and will lay some foundations for the processes you will follow in Parts 2 and 3.

 

Part 1 Overview

I’m going to cover three important ideas in this post. First, what a resumé is; second,why you should write a resumé; and third, how to write a resumé. Lastly, in the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, I’ve done something I have seen no other resumé advice writers do: attached my own resumé to the end of this post. This was the most intimidating thing I could imagine, so it seemed like exactly the right thing to do.

 

What is a resumé?

I most often see resumés described as advertisements. After all, they market a product (you) and have a metric for measuring success (getting an interview). Personally, I don’t like thinking of resumés like this because you’re not a product; you’re a human being. And, while you have certain skills you must market, you also have a personality, beliefs, goals, and dreams—characteristics which are enormously important to your professional career, and which should be hinted at in your resumé, if not directly mentioned.

So I think of resumés a little differently. My thinking is this: Human minds make sense of the world with stories, so for everyone, work is more meaningful when it fits into a larger story. And all stories, of course, need characters. That’s you! So think of your resumé as a description of your professional character: the professional roles that you can play, as it were. If you can make your resumé a compelling character description, then those who read it can quickly evaluate whether or not your character will fit into their company’s story. Both you and the companies you apply to want a good fit, so it’s crucial to think hard about the role that you want to play.

Crafting a compelling professional character goes beyond simple job titles and descriptions. In a story, bad character description tells us what someone looks like, while great character description tells us what kind of person someone is. Similarly, a good resumé should tell us not merely what you’ve done, but what you’re like as a human being.

Let’s look at an example of bad character description: “She was a middle-aged woman with light brown, shoulder-length hair. Her eyes were also light brown. She was tall and thin, and usually wore baggy jeans with a patterned knit top.” None of that insipid visual detail actually tells you anything about the character, and yet that’s what most resumés look like: “Software engineer with 12 years’ experience. Strong skills in C+, SQL, C++, Java, C#, C++++.” Blah, blah, blah. That is dull and forgettable, and fails both as a character description and as marketing (if you must persist in thinking of your resumé that way).

Now look at this fantastic character description, courtesy of Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War: “Sterling Mulkern was a florid, beefy man, the kind who carried weight like a weapon, not a liability. He had a shock of stiff white hair you could land a DC-10 on and a handshake that stopped just short of inducing paralysis.” Look how Lehane uses Mulkern’s appearance to describe what kind of person he is (strong and confident with a hint of violence about him). Your resumé should communicate your strengths with similar clarity; use your work experience to describe who you are. Your goal is a clear and memorable description of your professional self.

Speaking of memorability (memorableness? memorabilia?), I see a lot of talk out there about the amount of eye time that your resumé is likely to get from hiring managers (it ranges from 6 to 20 seconds). The result, they say, is if you can’t grab their attention in that window of time, you’re screwed. Thankfully, that’s nonsense. Anyone who believes that is thinking of resumés like fragile little birds released in the wild to live or die at the whim of mother nature. But not you. Your awesome resumé, which you poured so much time and effort into, is more like your child, right? You’ll follow up with as many emails or phone calls or random drop-ins as it takes to get someone to look at it, right?! And if, after all of that, your bang-up resumé still doesn’t get any love, well, why the hell would you want to work at that company, right!?! They obviously don’t have their shit together.

What is a resume? It’s just a piece of paper, of course. And no piece of paper ever commanded attention on its own. But on that piece of paper is an amazing description of your professional self, and once you make someone look at it, there should be little doubt in their mind about what kind of person you are.

 

Why write a resumé?

If you have time, I will boldly send you away from my blog post to take a look at Richie Norton’s free (and short) ebook Resumés are Dead and What to Do About it. He makes some excellent points about the modern world and how we communicate our skills to one another, culminating in his conclusion that people should craft their own businesses and work schedules and tell their story with a portfolio of work. I think Mr. Norton misses on a couple of points. First, he presumes that we write resumés solely for the purposes of getting jobs. Second, he assumes that everyone wants to engage in what Tim Ferriss calls “lifestyle design,” where by and large you work for yourself and are beholden only to your customers. Third, he overlooks one of the key benefits of the resumé: brevity. I take issue with each of these.

First, whether you work for the government, a large or small corporation, or for yourself, writing a damn good resumé is at least a wonderful exercise in self-discovery and self-branding. Spending the time rigorously thinking through where you are professionally reaps huge rewards in reorienting yourself toward achieving your professional goals. Maybe you’ve been pigeonholed as a software engineer for so long that you forgot you wanted to try teaching. Or maybe there’s been a lovely idea for a book buried in you for years. We forget these things if we don’t revisit them—if we keep ourselves distracted with the work that we’re doing. Putting your professional self on a piece of paper can bring to the surface long forgotten parts of who you are. Even if no one else ever looks at your amazing resumé, it’s worth it to write one.

Norton’s second assumption is even more misguided than his first. I have met many people who simply aren’t interested in lifestyle design, who much prefer to work their nine-to-five job and take two weeks of vacation a year. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But almost without exception those people still want to advance their careers, make more money, and create a space within their worldview to grow themselves professionally. And until all the old-school hiring managers at traditional companies have died off, they’re still going to expect that piece of paper on their desk.

Finally, in contrast to Mr. Norton, I believe that maintaining a resumé is the best and most succinct way to summarize your professional character. By all means, keep a portfolio of your work or make a video introduction as he suggests. But I will always be able to learn more about a person by spending a single minute looking at their badass resumé than I can by watching their five-minute intro video or spending 10 minutes trying to figure out the scale of the work in their portfolio.

Why write a resumé? When it comes to describing your professional self, they are cheap, quick, effective, and familiar.

 

How do you write a resumé?

By the way, for Part 1 here, I’m going to discuss mostly the principles that underpin stellar resumés. I’ll be speaking in some generalities, but don’t worry; specific examples of what I’m talking about are coming in Parts 2 and 3.

Commit

To write a resumé, first get ready to put in some time. A smashing resumé is not a one-and-done sort of document. You need to work on it at least once a month—whether or not you’re planning on applying for jobs anytime soon. Don’t think of your resumé like your great-aunt Bess, whom you see once a year (if that) at Christmas and make 5 minutes’ of small talk with and immediately forget everything she said. Instead, think of it like your sister who lives across the country, whom you’re fairly close to; you chat once or twice a month, and though you aren’t drastically involved in each other’s lives, you know pretty much everything that’s going on. Having a beautiful resumé is a commitment to documenting your professional journey on a regular basis.

Here’s how much work it actually is: I have spent at least 5 hours working on my resumé in the past month—and I work for myself. The lessons that I’ve learned about my professional self have been invaluable, and every time I revisit my resumé, I have a new self-realization or find something to improve. This points back to what I said earlier: The resumé is more than just a tool to get a job; it’s a vehicle for self-discovery.

Do character research

Second, before you even start to write, you need to get your story straight and figure out who you are as a professional. As a starting point, consider your answers to the following questions:

  • What do you do (as in, your job title)?

  • How do you describe what you do to others?

  • Why do you do what you do?

  • What do you like about what you do?

  • What skills do you have that make you good at what you do?

  • What is hardest about what you do?

  • What do you want to do?

  • Why do you want to do that?

  • What are you bad at (don’t judge yourself for it)?
  • What are you good at?
  • What balance do you want to strike between what you’re good at and what you enjoy doing (if they’re different)?

I could go on. There are dozens of questions to consider, and each one takes time. Remember how a scintillating resumé is like a great character description? Well, this reflection process is how you figure out what kind of character you are. You need to know what you’re good at—what you’re truly good at, not what you only wish you were good at. You need to know what you’re bad at—without judging yourself for it. You need to know your professional goals and you need to have actually committed to doing whatever is necessary to pursue them.

If thinking about these things is uncomfortable, good. That means you’re on the right track; self-discovery is uncomfortable at first because it requires honest introspection. The point is that you have to think critically yet nonjudgmentally about yourself in order to describe yourself well. Give yourself permission to be bad at the things you’re bad at so that you can identify the things you’re phenomenal at. Next, discuss those things with someone who won’t judge you: a spouse, friend, or close colleague.

Depending on your natural level of self-awareness, the above process might take an hour or two, or it might take weeks. I never sat down to actively engage in this kind of reflection (I developed the process in hindsight), so it took me about 4 months. Here’s what it looked like from my point of view:

Though I only recently became aware of it, my professional image was strongly influenced by the things I heard about the importance of 21st century skills. I was constantly reading and being told that things like creativity, problem solving, organization, and teamwork will be critical for success in future careers. For years I touted how good I was at those things, not because I actually thought that I was good at them, but because I thought I had to be good at them to be successful. And I never even noticed I was doing this. But after reading some impactful books and working some challenging contracts, I slowly began to realize the truth: I kind of suck at all of them. I had a conversation with my friend Mauricio about this realization. He confirmed what I said with absolutely no judgement, which was a great feeling. When I stopped worrying about not being good at the things I was “supposed” to be good at, some things became very clear. For example, it didn’t make sense for me to work with startups anymore, because I don’t like working on teams. But admitting my weaknesses allowed me to recognize the things that I’m actually good at, like teaching and writing and working with people. I had to find the difficult balance between working with people (strength) and being on a team with them (weakness). These are the kinds of valuable tensions that become evident as you think through your professional personality.

By this point, you will have a few clear strengths and weaknesses in mind or written down, and will have discussed them with a friend. That’s the core of your professional character, and will become the heart of your resumé. Don’t worry if you don’t feel perfectly clear; once you start the writing process, things will evolve and settle into place, and you’ll probably have more realizations about yourself.

Read up on the business story

Now that you have a rough professional character outline for yourself, you can start to investigate the businesses you’re planning to apply to and decide how your character will best fit into their stories.

Most of the advice I’ve seen is that you should tailor your resumé to the job that you are applying for—that is, write your resumé specifically for that job. In fact, on many other sites this is their first step in writing a resumé, as opposed to the self-reflection that I recommend. I disagree with their advice, of course. Remember, your resumé is about you first. It’s about your journey, your story, your professional character. If you start writing your resumé from the perspective of “Acme needs someone to sort widgets. I can sort widgets,” you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. Instead take this position: “I can dream up amazing new widgets better than anyone, and Acme needs ME!” Tailoring your resumé to a job posting is compromising who you are as a professional, an individual, and a human being in order to get a job. And if you start compromising yourself right at the beginning, you’ll be doing it the entire time you have that job. If you’re looking for your dream job, look inside yourself first—not to some company.

But don’t be dumb, either. If a job opportunity comes along that looks interesting, do your research! Find out about the company. Start with their website, then find some of their employees and customers. See if there’s any information out there about what it’s like to work there, what the company culture is like, and whether the mission and vision are genuine or just marketing bullshit. When you do the research to get this information, you will be much better prepared to have an informed conversation with them. You will have the chance to approach them as an equal who knows exactly how exciting this opportunity is to you, instead of being a supplicant who “just needs a job.”

How do you write a resumé? Commit to the process, reflect on your professional self, figure out how you want to fit in at the company you want to apply to (then come back and read Parts 2 and 3 of this blog series)!

 

That part at the end

If, having read these points, you are currently asking why for the love of god you would ever put that much work into your resumé, I invite you to ask yourself one simple question: What is your professional success worth to you? If you believe (as I do) that success is not measured in money or power, but in personal growth, self-knowledge, and a feeling of purpose, then the hard work of crafting a pristine resumé for yourself will return vast rewards along those lines. And, hell, if you DO measure success in money and power, then putting in the effort to write an overwhelmingresumé will pay off there, too. In fact, the only reason I can think of to not commit to following the guidelines I set forth in these next few blog posts is because deep down you don’t believe you can be successful. And that’s not a problem with your experience, your qualifications, your intelligence, or your work ethic. That’s a problem with your attitude. And no resumé, no matter how mind-blowing, will fix that.

Now that all of that’s out of the way, let’s begin. Decide that you and your professional self are capable of success and worth the effort! Grab a cup of coffee, sit back in a comfy chair, and let’s get to work writing the best resumé of your life. Part 2 is here!

(Oh, and like I said, here’s my resumé if you want to check it out.)

If you liked this, you’ll like my Video Blog as well. Please watch and subscribe!

Finally figured it out!

Shortly after writing my last blog post I had a fantastic meeting with Nancy Buffington, the wonderful woman behind Boise Speakwell. Not only did I come away from our conversation energized and encouraged that with hard work and dedication my business has a chance of succeeding, but I also found direction for my blog.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’re familiar with my struggle, which I shared with Nancy. Her response? “I assume that with your business, you’re mostly writing about writing?”

Sometimes I can be such an idiot. In two months it hasn’t occurred to me to write about what I know!?

Time to fix that. I’ll start the same way I start with most of my clients–the resumé.

I’m putting together a series of three posts that will describe all the ingredients that go into a killer resumé. It’s not a simple formula; there are sites out there that describe six steps, or even ten!

Blaise Pascal famously said, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” It is no easy task to distill complex subjects into simple explanations, but I will work to do so with these three posts.

If I succeed quickly, I’m sure I’ll be elated. If not, well, they’re coming along nonetheless!

A day of shadows and bags

March 14, 2016

I have said before, and I will say again, that I don’t really like to write about myself. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, except maybe that it’s a bit of an awkward thing for a writer to feel, especially in the world of blogs and social media, both mediums that encourage and expect people to write about themselves.

Here’s an example of something I normally wouldn’t talk much about: I’m not religious. I am, however, quite spiritual, and I suspect (believe is too strong a word here) that consciousness is far too miraculous a thing to be entirely explained by the mundane, and could in fact be a universe in and of itself. I often find myself thinking that my death will be the end of my universe, and it is only those universes perceived by other consciousnesses that will go on. I don’t very often go out of my way to mention this (possibly because of the fact that there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to open up about one’s deepest beliefs about existence). I’m not uncomfortable talking about it, I just don’t often see a point in bringing it up.

The list goes on. Moving from core beliefs to the more ordinary: I’m politically progressive, though fiscally conservative; I have the best parents in the world and am incredibly grateful for my upbringing; I am often driven by fear–I make hasty decisions to dive into things I’m afraid of, precisely because I’m afraid of them; I’m not very good at teamwork–I find working with myself more rewarding than working with others; I am a fan of board games, but my enthusiasm for them has been waning over the last year.

I take these things for granted. They are the walls of my personality, and like the walls of my apartment, are quite mundane to me; I don’t look for opportunities to talk to others about them, even though they could be objectively interesting to someone not used to seeing them.

Here is another example of a story that I wouldn’t normally talk about.

This morning I went for a walk, and listened to a podcast by Robert Bly about what Jung called our “shadow,” which is essentially a word used to describe the entirety of our subconscious. In his discussion of the shadow, Bly goes into a lot of detail about what he calls “the bag.” The bag is the place in our subconscious where we hide all of the parts of ourselves that others have told us are unacceptable or unwelcome. The idea is that, as small children, we are complete beings in contact with our entire personalities. At a certain age, our parents begin to tell us that certain things are not acceptable. “Don’t stare at people.” “Don’t tell stories.” If you’re a girl, “go make friends with that boy who treated you badly.” If you’re a boy, “only sissies cry when they get hurt.” We hear these messages and in our utter dependence on and trust in our parents, we suppress those aspects of our personality, so that they don’t come out. And then, as we grow, we forget they are a part of us. We continue to receive messages like these when we enter school, from our teachers, and later from our friends, and by the time we pass through the crucible of our teenage years, much of our personality has been stuffed into the bag and is no longer available to us.

As I listened to Bly talk, I wondered which parts of myself had been placed into the bag, and just how big my bag was. Was it the size of my living room? Or was it miles and miles long?

At some point, I got to wondering if this hesitance to share things about myself is caused by something in the bag, as opposed to a legitimate aspect of my personality.

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know why I’m comfortable talking about myself but don’t seek out opportunities to do so. It’s as if the opportunity, rather than the information, is what makes me uncomfortable.

And this, you see, is why Jung called it a shadow: it’s hard to see our own. It’s hard to evaluate ourselves when we’re so busy being ourselves. And it will always be hard. The shadow isn’t going away anytime soon, and neither is the bag. But they aren’t bad, especially once you recognize their presence in your life.

I believe that we are, each of us, on a journey of self-discovery that lasts for as long as we are alive. I think it is our life’s work to pay attention to the journey. I do not know if I will ever be comfortable talking about myself, but I do hope to someday understand why I am this way.

So what’s something you’ve learned about yourself recently? Something that surprised you, or that you’ve previously been resistant to? Please share!

And thanks for reading.

Let's have a conversation about writing

February 24, 2016

I have a question for you. Yes, you! I would love to know your thoughts.

Big Question: When you think about the role that writing plays in your life (which you may or may not do on a regular basis, but take a few moments to reflect now), what comes to mind?

little details (guiding questions in case you need a little more prompting to feel comfortable answering): How often do you seriously write (stuff other than very basic texts or emails)? Do you have any generally positive or negative feelings about writing? Do you feel like you learned to write in school, or were left to your own devices to figure out how to do it?  Does a strong writing ability have a lot of value to you in what you do?

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

What to Write

February 22, 2016

So here’s an interesting problem. Now that I’m a writer, what do I write?

(A big part of the motivating force behind this post is Celeste Headlee’s excellent TED talk, which you can see here: https://www.ted.com/talks/celeste_headlee_10_ways_to_have_a_better_conversation. If you take the time to watch her talk, you will hopefully see some connection between her comments about blogs. I also have her to thank for the idea of the image above.)

I’m not a particularly preachy person (I really hope my self-perception is accurate in this area); I’m not very comfortable up on a soapbox. I much prefer to engage in the exploration of an idea with someone else. This is why I like the idea of being a freelance writer; before sitting down at a computer to put something to the keyboard, I get to have a conversation with another human being where I get to try to understand their perspective. And I love that process.

But it creates a challenge for finding my own voice and putting it out there–letting y’all know what I’m up to, as I discussed in my previous post here. I don’t want to write weekly “Christmas letters.” That would be dull, and anyway, it’s essentially what mydaily vlog is for–“this is what I did and this is what I think about it.” And it’s easier to do in video form; much less editing.

But the problem remains–what do I write about? How do I keep myself on people’s radars, in their heads and hearts? I don’t really know the answer. Yet. I hope to find out as I keep on journeying.

In the meantime, if you’re in the Treasure Valley and have fallen off my radar, or are traveling through and want to catch up, or want to travel through Boise (it’s a great city and Idaho has awesome wilderness) and need a couch to crash on, give me a buzz. Like I said, my very favorite thing is talking to interesting people and finding out what the world looks like from their perspective. It’s the most cost-effective way to spend an hour that I can think of (coffee is a $1.54 at Dawson Taylor, 4 blocks from my apartment), and I always walk away from conversations with interesting people like you feeling like the world is pretty awesome.

———

Check out my daily YouTube vlog!

New Directions

February 16, 2016

For those of you I talk to somewhat regularly, you know that I’ve been spending the last few months trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. This is not something I was taught in school.

I tried a lot of things. I led a user group, joined some user groups, joined a book club, got an accountability partner, worked for a startup, did some contract writing, worked as a professional coach, talked with half a dozen mentors, went to conferences, signed up to help organize Hackfort, wrote a school grant, did a ton of networking, took a money class, volunteered as a project manager for the Treefort app team, went to a startup weekend, talked entrepreneurship with anyone who would listen, had a dozen business ideas, pitched two of them, discarded all of them, made a ton of new personal and professional connections, failed to properly file for unemployment, went to a meeting about the future of education in Idaho, attended two startup pitch events, helped organize a hackathon, got involved with startup grind, and more.

I learned a lot about myself and about life. Much too much to go into in a little blog post like this. I’ll share with you two lessons and two updates, and would be grateful if you read to the end, and maybe shout hello or something.

Here are my lessons.

First, as I try new things, I realize that I stand little chance of succeeding if I don’t focus, especially as I’m learning. I can do a bad job at ten things, or a mediocre job at five, or a great job at one. After three months of casting about, I want to try to settle into one role for a while, at least until it starts to click.

My second lesson is that I must do a better job of engaging, which basically means telling other people about what I’m doing. If I’m not discussing my insights, my opportunities, and my current activities on a regular basis, it doesn’t give people much of a sense that I am, in fact, doing what I say I’m doing. This is hard for me because I don’t really like to talk about myself. But I need to get better, and social media (particularly LinkedIn) is a great way to talk about what’s going on in my professional life.

Next, my updates.

🙂

First, I have been making a daily video blog to try to track the events of my entrepreneurial journey and my feelings about them. I’m nervous to share it because I don’t have much credibility right now (in fact, the reason I started it is because I thought it would be so helpful to be able to listen to the thoughts and feelings of successful people at the time they were at the beginning of their journey, as I am now), but if I don’t put it out there it will never improve or become useful. I hope that you will watch an episode every now and then, and maybe share your responses or thoughts for how I can improve it. And, of course, subscribe This channel is where I will post the bulk of my updates, but I’ll point back to them now and again using social media.

My second update is that, starting next month (now, I suppose), I’m going to commit to writing. After four months of exploration, I have decided that I could support myself as a freelance writer, but that’s not quite enough; while I am a good writer, I don’t love the writing process itself. Rather, I love communicating ideas, and writing is a great way to do that. But more than that, I love connecting with people, understanding their perspectives, and helping them. So in addition to freelancing, I will use my teaching and writing skills to help people become better writers (something I have seen a need for). Whether someone needs to rewrite their resume, wants help writing more effective emails, or wants to start a blog, I can help them get clear on their ideas and find the words to share them. I think that this combination of my talents and a opportunity to help others has a chance to grow into a passion, and that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.

Whether or not this ends up working out, I hope that you will stay in touch and give me a read (and a like) when I post things in the future.

Thanks!

——–

Check out my daily YouTube vlog!