A shift in possibilities

This blog, and my life, are about to change.

Six years ago, I was told I had to look for a different job. While dealing with the uncertainty of finding a new role, I started writing at work. It began as therapy at the time but it eventually led to a new career, and it taught me the power of making my work visible.

Three years ago, I started writing this blog. That led to a network of thousands of people, a focus on helping others, a book, and more meaning and fulfillment in my work and life. It taught me the power of relationships.

Last week, workingoutloud.com launched amidst working out loud week, and there was a swell of interest and ideas and interaction. In India, for example, peer support groups (working out loud circles) formed during the week, adding to the ones in the US, UK, Spain, and Australia. I applied to deliver a TEDx talk.

Now what? I’m not sure.

Not all those who wander are lost

I do know that, starting this week, I’ll post articles related to working out loud on the new website. If you subscribe to workingoutloud.com, you’ll get an email every Wednesday morning with stories, techniques, and other resources related to building a better career and life.

That will change this blog. I’ll still write every Saturday morning because it’s too big a part of my life to stop. Having the new site frees me up to write about other things here, to explore, discover, and learn. The topics will be more personal and creative.

Your reading, supporting, and connecting has changed my life and helped me discover a purpose I now describe this way:

“To help people find meaning and fulfillment in their work and life.”

Thank you. That’s a purpose I could never have dreamed of until recently. The last six years have taught me that destiny isn’t something that awaits you, it’s something you create with the help and support of others.

Anyone can shift what’s possible for them. What about you?

What relationships will you build? 

What purpose will you discover? 

What destiny will you create?

The first week of the rest of your life

Monday, November 17th, marks the beginning of the 2nd annual working out loud week.  It’s meant as an opportunity for people to “take the chance to practice working out loud” and encourage their organizations to embrace it too. Some people will use this week to experiment with new tools or try to share their work in new ways.

Some people, though, might use this week to change their lives. Here’s how.

3 questions to ask this week

Art by @kazumikoyama of 8works Consulting

Art by Kazumi Koyama of 8works Consulting

The first week of a working out loud circle starts with members asking themselves three questions:

What am I trying to accomplish?

Who can help me?

What can I contribute to these people to deepen our relationships?

They answer these questions in their very first hour together. Then they practice over an additional 11 weeks, refining their relationship lists, gradually making more meaningful contributions, and deepening their relationships with individuals in their growing network.

You too can start answering those three questions, and work towards a better career and life, this week.

1. Pick a simple goal

The first exercise we do in a circle is writing down something you would like to accomplish in 12 weeks. In my first circle, one person was thinking about becoming a financial advisor and wanted to explore that. A woman who was passionate about dangerous toxins in products wanted to raise awareness and suggest alternatives. Another member had started an online fashion consulting business she wanted to grow and one cared about educational issues.

In our circles, the best goals tend to be about learning and exploring. They’re things individuals genuinely care about, are reasonably specific, and are something you could make progress towards in 12 weeks.

Here’s a list of common goals:

  • Learn more about something you care about
  • Find a job in a new company or location
  • Get more recognition at your current job
  • Explore possibilities in a new field
  • Find people with the same interests
  • Get better at what you do

There’s no pressure to get this exactly right. It’s the skills and habits you’re developing in the circle that matter more that this one particular goal.

2. Identify people who can help you

Then we each build our first relationship list, people who can help us with our goal. You start by thinking of people who are already doing what you aspire to do. If you want to explore genealogy or jobs in New Zealand, for example, then you’ll want to know people who are already genealogists or are working in New Zealand. Sometimes you’ll know their name (Sue is the head of New Zealand, Inc) and sometimes just their role (the person who runs a particular genealogy conference).

The list will change over the next 11 weeks. Simply by thinking of people who might help you in some way, you’ll begin generating more ideas. Whatever your goal is, here’s what you might start looking for:

  • People writing about it in blogs, articles, and books
  • Online communities related to it
  • Businesses you admire that are doing it
  • Conferences related to it
  • Organizations that support it

Play Internet detective, conducting searches related to your goal. When the circle members do this for even a few minutes they quickly start discovering people, companies, and ideas they weren’t aware of before. They search, find a lead, follow that with some more searches, and then “Aha! They look interesting!” Over time, your circle members will be another source of ideas and connections.

3. Make your first simple contributions

You could do the first two steps in 20 minutes, though we take some more time in our circles to exchange ideas. Then, before we end our first meeting, we talk about contributions. Dale Carnegie summarized why this topic is so important to building relationships in How to Win Friends and Influence People:

The world is full of people who are grabbing and self-seeking.

So the rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others

has an enormous advantage. He has little competition.

The initial contributions you make are easy, almost trivial. You start by searching the Internet for the online presence of each of the people on your list.

Look for a Twitter account, a blog, or other online content they’ve produced. If they have a Twitter account, follow them. If you see a website in a person’s Twitter or LinkedIn profile, go to that website, start reading, and hit a Like button if you like any of it. If you want to keep receiving updates, look for a Follow button or the ability to subscribe by email. There’s no need to worry about what to say or write. For now, all you’re looking for is an unobtrusive way to move the relationship from they have no idea who I am to they’ve seen my name.

During the rest of your 11 weeks together, you’ll learn about making more significant contributions, ones that take more effort but have more value both to you and the people in your network. You’ll practice generosity with more people in a wider variety of contexts and you’ll discover other gifts you have to offer.

Congratulations

The changes we want in our careers and our lives can seem so daunting that we don’t even know where to begin. For me, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties that I began even thinking about alternatives and that was only because I was forced to.

But you could start this week with three simple steps that take less than an hour. Practicing those steps – What am I trying to accomplish? Who can help me? What can I contribute to these people to deepen our relationships? - creates a powerful mindset. Over time, you develop an open, generous, connected approach to work and life. And that mindset increases your chances of finding meaning and fulfillment in whatever you do.

Take the first step and your mind will mobilize all its forces to your aid.

But the first essential is that you begin.

– Robert Collier

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.

WOL Careers - Slide 1

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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.

Working Out Loud – Career Planning Presentation.key

Working Out Loud – Career Planning Presentation (PDF)

Working Out Loud – Career Planning Presentation.ppt

“How would you accelerate what you’re doing?”

My orange backpackI knew we would get along well when we both had the same bright orange backpack from IKEA. We met in a cafe near Wall Street on Monday and we were talking about Working Out Loud. After I described the main ideas and the circles that are starting to form around the world, he asked me:

“How would you accelerate what you’re doing?”

I paused and offered an uninspiring “I’m not sure.” So I’ve been thinking about it since then and wanted to share what I’ve come up. My hope is that some of you find these ideas useful and some of you can help make them better.

Step 1. Remove friction

workingoutloud.com is coming soonMake it easy for people to get started. A small part of that is writing a book people will want to read and share with their friends and colleagues. Then there needs to be a website with other resources, stories, and ways for people to ask questions and interact.

I also wanted to remove any mental friction. To me, that meant donating all the book royalties, making the other resources freely available, and creating a new workingoutloud.com website rather than using johnstepper.com. Removing money and ego from a movement makes it easier to join.

Step 2. Build momentum

Posted today by a #wolcircle in the UK.

Posted today by a #wolcircle in the UK.

There are already a few hundred people who have reviewed the book or are forming circles based on draft materials. To build momentum, I need to equip them to spread the word if they want to.

That includes simple text they can use to describe working out loud and a short video they can link to. Other ideas include ways for circle members to know about each other, ask questions, and share information. Just today, for example, we introduced the hashtag #wolcircle on Twitter.

I also need to keep publicizing it through speaking and writing about the benefits to individuals and organizations. This one article from The Economist is good, but it’s just a start.

Step 3. Seed & Amplify

Image copyright Denise Ippolito Photography

Image copyright Denise Ippolito Photography

So far, these are basic things that underpin any movement. They’re necessary but not sufficient. To accelerate things, my strategy (though that seems too lofty a word) is to leverage existing networks and equip them to help their members.

Here are 5 real examples. The more I can add to this list and contribute to additional networks, the faster the working out loud movement will spread.

  1. HR associations like CIPD and Society for Human Resource Management
  2. Outplacement and job search firms like The Ayers Group and CareerShift
  3. Social networking vendors like Jive, Yammer, LinkedIn and their customer success networks
  4. Coaching associations like the International Coach Federation and the International Association of Coaching
  5. Training providers like Dale Carnegie Training

There might be different contributions for each of these networks. I might do a free webinar for their members, write content for their magazines, or collaborate with them on customized training materials.

One group alone has 135,000 members. Combined, these networks touch millions of people.

What would you do?

To accelerate the movement, I’m going through the same questions people ask in the first week of a working out loud circle:

What’s my purpose?

Who can help me?

How can I contribute to those people?

What else would you do to remove friction, build momentum, or seed and amplify this movement? Which organizations might benefit from working out loud and how could I help them?

I’m sure I’m missing things, and I appreciate any and all suggestions you might have.