How a teacher increases her odds of finding meaning and fulfillment

B02283607Alycia is a 3rd-grade teacher in New York City who increased her chances of finding meaning and fulfillment because of the way she works.

Here’s how she does it, and why it matters to all of us.

Is your job meaningful and fulfilling?

Maybe you view teaching as a noble calling that anyone might find fulfilling. Or perhaps you see it as a difficult, underpaid, and under-appreciated job.

Research shows that people in a wide range of work – from highly-skilled to highly-prescribed jobs – are evenly split in viewing what they do as a job, a career, or a calling. Simply put, the way people relate to their work can’t “be reduced to demographic or occupational differences.” Thus, it must be something else that makes us view similar roles so differently.

So what’s the something else? It’s whether a person is intrinsically motivated to do the work. All the research on why we do what we do seems to point to the same basic truths, summarized succinctly here in this quote from Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

…we have three innate psychological needs – competence, autonomy, and relatedness. When those needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive, and happy. When they’re thwarted, our motivation, productivity, and happiness plummet.

Your drive – your motivation to do something and how you feel about doing it – is based on whether or not you’re meeting these needs. Alycia works in such a way that she’s more likely to tap into her intrinsic motivators.

How Alycia works differently 

Alycia works out loud. She works in an open, generous, connected way that’s helpful to others and herself.

Part of that is framing what she does as a contribution. Then she makes some of those contributions visible online using a website in her name as a resource for her students and their parents. She also writes for Scholastic, a leading publisher of children’s books along with ten other elementary school teachers. Here are the kinds of contribution she makes.

  1. Research: resources for teachers and parents.
  2. Ideas: suggestions for teaching time, poetry, and a wide range of topics.
  3. Projects: dozens of examples of work she does in the classroom.
  4. Process: how she helps kids prep for standard tests.
  5. Motivations: why she became a teacher and her values.
  6. Challenges: packing up at the end of the year.
  7. Learning: new books and techniques she discovered.
  8. Work of others she admires: projects and ideas from other teachers.
  9. Connections: people and resources she relies on.
  10. Contributions from others: 3rd-graders blogged about their class pet.

Alycia has written over 90 posts for Scholastic, each one complete with photos of actual work in the classroom. These aren’t professional NY Times articles and shouldn’t be compared to them. Alycia’s posts are something  else entirely – personal, helpful and, as a result, lovely in a way that professional articles rarely are. The work on her own site goes back five years, evolving as she tries new things.

What Alycia gets

The main benefit to Alycia isn’t popularity. She isn’t putting in this effort simply to chase views. Instead, with each contribution, she’s learning. Every time she writes about a project or an idea, she thinks deeply about it and gets feedback from others.

In addition to that investment in her craft, she’s deepening relationships with people already in her network and, over time, creating a portfolio of contributions she can reuse over and over again, unlocking other possible connections. When Alycia writes up a project her class, she can send that to other teachers, administrators, parents, and other people she wants in her network. Each time she writes, she has more to offer while making it more likely that other people will discover her work.

Through framing her work as a contribution and making it visible, Alycia has increased her learning, her network, and her access to other opportunities, all in ways she controls. She’s improved how she relates to her current job while increasing her access to other jobs too.

The benefits to you

You don’t need to be a teacher to enjoy these benefits. The research about jobs, careers, and callings showed that nurses, short-order cooks, software engineers, and people in a wide range of other professions can all craft their jobs and tap into their drive.

It’s because intrinsic motivators apply not to certain jobs but to all human beings. We’re wired to learn, to seek control over our environment and life, to be connected.

How would you frame what you do as a contribution? How would you increase your own chances of finding meaning and fulfillment?

A career talk that everyone should hear (and that anyone could deliver)

WOL Careers - Slide 1People at all stages of their careers have been asking the same basic questions for decades:

“How do I get promoted?”

“How do I find jobs that are available?

“How do I manage my career?”

To help answer those questions, there are plenty of career development talks at work, networking events, and HR courses which give people advice and examples. These can be helpful and sometimes inspiring. They just don’t equip people to make any meaningful change in how they manage their careers.

Now, we have something better.

A different kind of career event

Last month, I was asked to give a talk on personal branding so I could answer some of those career questions for a particular organization. Instead, I offered to talk about working out loud and help people form working out loud circles. We put together a 60-minute, interactive session for over 80 people which ended with Q&A and a call for volunteers to join circles.

25% of the audience volunteered.

The reason so many people joined wasn’t because of me or my slides, it was because they were hungry for something they could do to invest in themselves. Although most had never heard of working out loud, the ideas seemed like common sense and the circles gave them a way to apply that common sense towards a personal goal they cared about. A few weeks later, five circles formed and started meeting.

Results you can replicate

Speaking at this event gave me an idea. I had seen how, even if you want to work out loud, convincing friends who’ve never heard of it to form a circle could be hard. So a career event is a natural trigger to taking some positive action. With dozens of people all attending at the same time, hearing the same information, and with a convenient sign-up sheet at the end, it was simple.

So what if we made it easy for anyone to have such an event?

Towards that end, here are a set of slides and commentary you can make your own. The next time you hear about a career or networking event at your firm, maybe you can offer to give this talk instead. Maybe your organization can go beyond offering advice and examples to  truly empowering people, helping them to take control of their careers and their lives.

Slides and commentary you can make your own

My own style for slides is to use large photos and minimal text wherever I can. It means the slides are readable in almost any environment but it also means they don’t stand on their own. So I’ve included images here along with the main points I make. I’ve also included the actual slides as .key and .ppt files and as a PDF.

Feel free to use them in any way you like to help people form working out loud circles. This is just one way to accelerate a positive movement. I welcome and appreciate all questions, suggestions for improvements, and comments about what worked and didn’t work.

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Career planning has changed

  • Career planning has changed from just 5 years ago.
  • For decades, it was a lottery. Who recruited on your campus? Which company picked you? Who was your boss?
  • Now, you have more control than ever.

Three stories

  • Three quick stories of how people find work that’s meaningful & fulfilling.
  • I’ve written about Jordi Munoz and Joyce Sullivan before. The third is Anne-Marie Imafidon who is a friend, colleague,  founder of the Stemettes, and who merits her own chapter in Working Out Loud. Yes, that’s her with the Queen. You might substitute someone in your own organization as an example.
  • The thing they have in common is they all work out loud.

Working Out Loud – 5 elements

You can do better than a lottery

  • A lot rides on which company you join, which part you fall into, and which boss you get assigned.
  • You can increase the odds of landing in a good spot.
  • A bigger, diverse network with deeper relationship provides you access to a wider range of possibilities.

A short exercise

  • Ask people to take out their smartphones and Google themselves.
  • Who are they? Do they have to rely on a broker to help them describe themselves? Or a 2-page resume? From the animated conversations, people found this both funny and embarrassing.

We all need help

  • Many of us don’t even do the simple things we all know we should do, like photos on a profile.
  • It’s not that we’re bad at it, we ‘re just not good at it yet. We need help.

Making change easier

  • Research on changing habits shows how we can make change easier and sustainable.
  • It includes chunking the change into small, fear-free steps and getting feedback along the way. (Albert Bandura called it guided mastery and cured snakes phobias in an hour this way.)
  • It also includes getting help from friends while practicing, practicing, practicing.

WOL Circles

  • Explain how circles work generally and ground rules for inside the firm, especially how they are confidential, with no need to have a certain rating or corporate title.
  • Available resources include the book, circle guides, and a range of material coming to workingoutloud.com. I provide drafts of the material to all circle members.

Call to action

  • Point them to the sign-up sheet or whiteboard and open for Q&A.

I used Apple’s Keynote to create the slides and also exported them here as a PDF and a Powerpoint file.

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The beginning of a movement

There’s a video that shows, in 3 minutes, how movements are often built. Maybe you’ve seen it.

The beginning of a movementDuring the Sasquatch Music festival in 2009 festival, people are just laying on blankets, listening to music, until one guy gets up and starts to dance. He’s lanky and not a particularly good dancer. It’s awkward to watch. Then, a second dancer joins him. Then a third.

What happens next is incredible to me even though I’ve watched the video dozens of times.

This week, I felt like that awkward guy who’s been doing a goofy dance for a while. I can almost feel what’s about to happen next.

Different people, different dances

The dance I’m doing is writing a book called Working Out Loud and enabling people to form their own peer support circles. The idea is to help people, through actual practice, learn how to build a network of relationships that can help them with any goal, including discovering more meaning and fulfillment in work and life.

I’ve been doing this dance for about three years. Sometimes, I’m sure it’s been painful to watch. Just this week though, something changed.

Author and bloggerUnbeknownst to me, an organization with 130,000 members made this wonderful video about how they work out loud. They even cited me as “author and blogger,” the first time I was described that way.

Then, the first circle formed that didn’t include me or someone I coached. A woman I didn’t know but had read the blog simply decided she wanted to invest in herself.

A division at work held a career development event where I spoke about how people could take more control of their career and lives. People signed up for five more circles.

NHS Working Out LoudI was notified by some wonderful people in Australia that they’ll be forming circles in Sydney and Melbourne, the first circles comprised solely of people from other firms.

Then, via Twitter, I saw how some smart, creative people at the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK are proposing to form circles there, too.

 

What happens at the end of the video

Watch the video now if you can. See how that second and third dancer made it feel like a group, something others could more readily be a part of. That’s how I felt last week.

After that, more and more people join, each doing their own dance, each attracting yet more people. By the end of the 3-minute video, people are racing from all directions to become part of it. There are hundreds of people, dancing and screaming, and it’s become a movement. You can’t even see the first dancer any more.

That’s exactly the kind of movement I’m hoping for. If I was trying to make money or become famous, then I would spoil it by being selfish or too self-conscious. Instead, I’m just trying to spread an idea that helps people access possibilities for meaning and fulfillment.

Here’s to dancing like nobody’s watching.

Working out loud when you don’t want to be visible

Are you visible?When I talk about working out loud, some people will give voice to an objection I suspect is quite common:

“Thanks, but I just don’t want to be visible.”

They’re surprised when I tell them they can still work in a way that’s open, generous, and connected – and realize many of the benefits resulting from that – without ever posting a blog or tweet.

Here’s how.

What 9 year olds do that’s worth billions to corporations

Making your work visible is just one of the five elements of working out loud. The others – relationships, generosity, a focus on getting better, and purpose – can often be more important depending on your goal.

A few months ago, I wrote about how my 9 year daughter approaches problems. She doesn’t post anything online related to what she’s doing, but she expects that others have done so already. So her first step in achieving a goal – solving a Rubik’s cube, perfecting her golf swing, improving at cello – is to look online for information that can help her. Then she’ll make note of who published that content and look for other things they contributed.

In that process, she’s building a network and getting better without ever posting anything herself. Then, in person, she exchanges information with classmates and teachers interested in her goal so she can improve even more, discovering things she hadn’t found herself. If my daughter did post things online, if she was more visible, she would further increase her chances of finding useful people and knowledge. But she gets plenty of benefits even without doing so.

Celebrating the “Invisibles”

InvisiblesThere’s an entire book written on Invisibles. (HT to Omar Reece for pointing this out.) It makes the point that people in certain jobs such as anesthesiology and structural engineering are invisible when they do their jobs perfectly and “they’re fine with remaining anonymous.” Here’s an excerpt from the book’s website:

“What has been lost amid the noise of self-promotion today is that not everyone can, or should, or even wants to be in the spotlight. This inspiring and illuminating book shows that recognition isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and invisibility can be viewed as a mark of honor and a source of a truly rich life.”

The book makes an important point that “hidden professionals can reap deep fulfillment by relishing the challenges their work presents.” You’t needn’t seek recognition to like your job.

How even a private person can work out loud

Yet while it’s natural that everyone won’t seek the spotlight, being anonymous and invisible is an unhealthy extreme. There is another alternative.

When you work out loud, your goal isn’t to promote yourself or to be visible to as many people as possible. It’s to be visible to the right people so you can become more effective and discover other possibilities.

The anesthesiologists and structural engineers don’t need to be popular or engage a big audience. But I certainly hope they’re not anonymous. I hope they work out loud at least as much as 9 year olds do, seeking to become better at what they do and actively looking for other experts in their field to learn from them.

A woman in one of our early working out loud circles considered herself a “lurker.” She didn’t want to be visible. Yet after a few weeks she said, “thinking about people and networks and just simple possibilities in a different way is already making me more open at and about work.”

She may still limit her use of the Internet to just looking for information. She may limit her exchange of ideas to in-person talks over coffee. But now she’ll be “open at and about work.” She’s realized that private and open needn’t be opposites, and that mental shift alone will greatly increase her chances of reaching her goals.

“Holy ****. That is awesome.”

Working Out Loud CirclesThat’s a reaction from someone in one of our working out loud circles. It’s an unconventional testimonial, perhaps, but captures both the surprise and joy people feel when a circle member is successful in building a network, taking control of their career and their life.

Here’s the short story behind that reaction that demonstrates how circles work in practice.

We were in week 6

Circles usually form for 12 weeks and this was our sixth meeting. At the beginning of each meeting, before talking about a set of slightly more advanced techniques and exercises, we quickly recap the progress each person made with their plan from the week before. One woman described an event she attended and some of the influential people there who could help her grow her business. Our circle helped her choose the specific people she should add to her relationship list.

“What should I say?” she asked us, and we spent a few minutes suggesting ways to frame an email about the event as a contribution. We wanted her to start with appreciation but to also reference her own work in a way that would be helpful to the person receiving the note. It was a short practice in email empathy that Dale Carnegie would have approved of.

At the end of the circle meeting, we all described the steps we would take before the next session and encouraged each other to reach out if we needed help. Our friend said she would send that email.

“Oh my god. What now?”

Two days later, we all got forwarded an email with a short question from our friend: “Oh my god. What now?” The influential person she was nervous about reaching out to had already responded – thanking her for such a nice note, showing an interest in her work, and alluding to possible collaborations.

The people in our circle quickly offered suggestions for a reply, and the rest of the mail thread was a virtual high-fiving, celebrating our friend’s new connection. She sent the reply that day.

The really important thing that happened

Our friend has been working her lists for a few weeks now and has read a draft of the book. So she knows how to make her work visible, how to frame it as a contribution, how to build a network and be empathetic in her communications. But she still doesn’t have the habit of doing all of it.

So the important thing that happened this week wasn’t that our friend sent an email, made a connection with an influential person, or even that she created a possibility for collaboration where none existed before.

The important thing was that she practiced. She exercised the techniques she has learned so far, got positive reinforcement from both her network and our group, and is more prepared – and more likely – to take the next step and practice again. Gradually, she’s developing the habit of working in an open, generous, connected way.

The working out loud circle gives her emotional support, coaching, advice, and a sense of shared accountability that helps her develop her new habits. Over our remaining time together, as that habit grows stronger, she’ll be equipped to work out loud towards any goal.