Finding your calling and 10 Things You need to know about Your Job Interview(er)
Today I had two articles sent to me that were both thought-provoking and useful – not often a combination that I encounter in one place. The first focuses on 20 ways to find your calling and is both simple and profound. I suggest printing it off – or even copying it by hand into your journal, perhaps a single step at a time and writing a little bit about each step – and referring to it frequently.
The second is much more germane to the subject of this website. Some really good tips about how to behave in an interview by looking at the process from a different perspective – that of the interviewer and what is at stake for them during the process. Although it may seem that all the power during a job interview resides with the person asking the questions remember that they have a lot on the line too.
The hiring process itself is disruptive, expensive, stressful and time consuming for both individual employees and the organization. And hiring an employee that isn’t a good fit – from a variety of angles – can range from a mildly annoying irritant to an out-and-out disaster with far-reaching consequences that reverberate through the whole organization. Give the 10 Things You Need to Know about Your Job Interviewer a careful read and consider tucking it in your portfolio when you head out to your next interview.
Making work ‘work’ for you
There’s no denying, as Daniel Pink points out in his book ‘Whole New Mind‘ that we live in a time of unequaled abundance and privilege – we are wealthier and for the vast majority of us, even those of us in the 99%, life is pretty comfortable. But it’s a common refrain, one I’ve heard from my own lips, that our jobs, although providing us with the monetary resources to exist simultaneously stifle our creativity, deplete our energy to do other personally meaningful things and make it impossible for us to succeed at our true calling. But yesterday, on NPR I was humbled when I listened to an interview with award-winning children’s author Christopher Paul Curtis. Here are a couple of quotes that stuck with me:
As an adult, Curtis worked on a factory line building cars for thirteen years. His job was to “hang doors,” that is, attach the doors to the cars. These doors weighed anywhere from 50 to 80 pounds, and each worker “hung” 300 of them a day, in a ten-hour shift.
“It was almost like a ballet,” Curtis says. “Each step had to be done correctly, where you placed your feet, and it took a while to learn how to do it.”
It was during his time at the factory that Curtis began to write. He and a friend decided that they would take turns hanging 30 doors in a row. That gave each of them half an hour out of every hour to do whatever they wanted.
“I found out that if I sat down and started to write, I forgot about being in the factory,” Curtis says. “And I think that led to me being a writer.”
Curtis mentioned, in another article on NPR that while he was working the assembly line he’d be ‘writing in his head’ and then when he had the thirty minutes he’d get it all down on paper. After he quit the assembly line:
He put himself to work, writing the Watsons’ story for five hours a day at his local library.
The book went on to win the prestigious Newbury Honor. Our readers connected deeply with the story; they were delighted by the humor and moved by its evocation of the struggles of civil rights movement — and especially the church bombing that killed four African American girls.
I know that these quotes will stick with me when I find myself too sapped to write.
Books Worth Reading
To help me try and figure out some of the issues I discussed in an earlier posting (Can a job be your passion?) I’ve taken quite a few books out of the library over recent months. Here are three that I found particularly interesting – not so much because they gave concrete or direct answers to the questions I have regarding work but rather because they prompted me to think about things in a different way and see common threads running through much of contemporary writing on the human mind and behaviour. These are that:
- much of what we ‘know’ about things like talent and motivation in the workplace is at least partially – and maybe completely – incorrect
- praise and rewards – if not formulated correctly, delivered properly and tailored to the situation – can do more harm than good – especially if the recipient is a child
- the lives of people that we think of as ‘naturals’ and ‘gifted’ are actually the product of a particular mindset and an enormous amount of deliberate, not-very-enjoyable practice
Here are the books:
Pink is a successful author and a failed lawyer (or so his TED Talk on motivation says). I loved this book that talked about why what Pink calls Motivation 2.0 is failing so miserably to create enthusiasm and excellence in the modern workplace. He’s got a great writing style, backs up his statements with lots of studies and has tons of examples that help you understand what he’s getting at. I’ll borrow the book again in the New Year so that I can work more on designing some activities based on the second half of the book which is basically a ‘do it yourself’ guide to creating motivation in a variety of environments (for your kids, at the office etc).
I’ll admit that a lot of this book was slightly painful reading for me because I saw much of myself in many of the example. I was a pretty smart student throughout school and I now realize that the praise I received helped to cement me quite firmly into a fixed mindset which has done me no favours in later life. For example, I have very little patience with myself if I do not pick something up immediately and succeed at it with little or no effort. This has caused me to abandon many creative pursuits and also meant that I am reluctant to try new physical activities which I have even less ability in than academic subjects. Again – this is a great book not just for adults who want to learn more about how to get more out of life but also invaluable for parents who really want to help their kids succeed in whatever they choose to do.
This is another fascinating book that will simultaneously make you feel hopeful and more than a tiny bit despondent. The good news is that those people that we think of as prodigies or ‘naturals’ at what they do – folks like Tiger Woods or Mozart – actually got that way through very specific circumstances and oodles and oodles of a particular kind of practice. Further heartening news is that except for some pursuits that are physically constrained (i.e. gymnast) chances are good you too could achieve levels of expertise in a given field that would astound you. The bad news is that the ‘particular kind of practice’ that is required is really, really, really hard work and not much fun at all and – perhaps even more depressingly – the sheer time that must be spent on this practice is so great that if you’re an adult you may have to face the fact that you’re never going to be able to reach the heights of excellence of people who began working on their skill as children. Still – the book is well worth a read if only to get some ideas about how you might attain far-better-than-average levels of accomplishment.
Can A Job Be Your Passion?
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about work versus vocation. I would very much like to be passionately engaged with what I do to make a living but part of me thinks that is asking an awful lot – especially in today’s economic climate. Shouldn’t I just do my job, make my money and look for things like fulfillment, engagement, meaning and purpose in other areas of my life?
I do hope to go off and do a Masters Degree in Public Health at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden starting in the fall of 2012. And it is my fervent wish that this will allow me to do a job – or maybe I should say establish a career – that will help me feel that I am contributing more as well as doing something more meaningful on a day-to-day basis.
But perhaps my thinking is all wrong. Certainly Penelope Trunk seems to think that the mantra ‘do what you love’ is at the least bad career advice (and at the most a steaming pile of crap). However, I’ve found that as I get older jobs that contain aspects that are somewhat entertaining, enjoyable or even mildly diverting seem to have vanished and everything now is really quite horrid. The work is dull, management is either so disinterested you could die at your desk and no one would notice or actively malicious and with the current economic downturn the pressure to do the same amount of work (or more!) with less staff is turning even previously pleasant work environments into stressful pressure cookers.
Trunk’s article suggests that rather than finding work you love that you try and find jobs that allow you to use your strengths. That sounds like sensible advice but my problem with it is that often what you are strong at is not actually stuff that brings you much pleasure. For example, I am a fast typist and I have developed my technique so that I can do a particular type of transcription very quickly and accurately. But doing this work bores me sh*tless and every time I finish a shift doing it (and about 4-6 hours is the most I can stand doing it) I feel as if a vampire has sucked the life right out of me. I’m exhausted, depressed and although the money is good it barely feels worth it.
The other problem I see with this advice is that nobody gets hired – at least in the kind of jobs that most of us are in the running for – based on STRENGTHS. We get hired because of our skill set or how we score on a test of specific knowledge/abilities (i.e. typing, medical terminology, troubleshooting code). We get the job because of how we came across in the interview or how our marks stacked up against the other candidates or perhaps on the type of things our references said about us.
So what’s the answer – take any job for now and simply keep working on finding the right one? Pull your head out of your *ss and realize that it’s a pipe dream to have a job that you love and instead focus on fulfilling your passions in your non-work hours? Try and mold your existing job to contain more of what you like to do? I don’t know but it’s something I’m going to keep researching and thinking about.