Accept the offer or keep looking? A seven-question shortcut analysis.

It’s a common decision that a number of my clients face. They have an offer, which is comforting, but they have some concerns. At the same time, they are nervous about the uncertainty of where a continued search may lead. So what do you do? Accept the offer or keep looking?

Accept or keep looking

Again, it’s the uncertainty that makes the decision difficult. But here are a handful of questions you can ask yourself to clarify your thinking. Continue reading

Making career decisions in the face of uncertainty

“I just don’t know how this will pan out.”

A few months back, Maria left her marketing job at a large company in order to spend more time with her young daughter and do more interesting work. She had put a lot of thought into that decision, and was happy with it. Now, her day-to-day work with a start-up was far more intellectually stimulating than her previous job. However, the uncertainty of whether the early stage start-up would succeed nagged at her.

“Do I keep working for an unfunded start-up, or do I look for a salaried position at a funded start-up?”

Over the course of my Decision Analysis Session with Maria, we unpacked the decision she faced until she had a clearer picture of how to proceed.

When Maria first reached out to me, she had framed her decision problem as a binary one:

Binary decision

Narrow framing is the first “villain” of decision making, as the Heath brothers point out in their book, Decisive. The remedy to narrow framing is widening your options.

The first thing you should ask when faced with a decision framed with just two options is “What other options might I be leaving out?”

After some probing, Maria acknowledged a couple other options on the table:

Additional options

It turns out Maria also had her own startup idea she had been mulling in the back of her brain. Furthermore, based on her deep experience in marketing, she had also considered doing some consulting work before she took on the job at her current startup.

Once we were able to add a couple other options to the mix, I asked, “Are these options truly mutually exclusive? Is it possible to parallel path any of these options?”

In other words, did she really have to choose between staying at her current startup and pursuing her own idea? Could she do both?

Parallel path options

Ultimately, Maria wanted to continue building her skills and her network to continue to advance her career in the future. Now, she had more options that could help her achieve that goal.

“Remind me, why is it that you feel you need to make this decision?” I asked.

“Well, the startup I’m working with now is very early stage, and to be honest, I’m not sure how things will pan out. What happens if things go south in 6 months? What will happen to my career?”

Uncertainty, specifically, fear of something undesirable happening in the future, often prompts people to weigh their options in the present. That fear prompted Maria to view her decision like this:

What if something bad happens

However, that uncertainty may very well resolve itself (i.e. become a certainty) in six months. Another way of looking at things, if you wait and see what happens in six months is this:

Waiting for information

“Maria, I totally hear that the uncertainty can make you nervous. What do you gain by deciding whether to take another job now, as opposed to waiting six months?”

Maria acknowledged that she didn’t really gain much, and admitted that she just wanted to have a plan. In actuality, she already had a plan. She identified in the previous exercise that she could parallel path other efforts (e.g. working on her own startup idea, looking for a job, and/or building her network) so that in the future she would be in a better position to pursue other options. And, if she stayed at her current role to see how things played out, in six months she would have the information that would help her make a decision in the future. Identifying how you will approach a decision in the future counts as a plan.

To recap, Maria’s decision problem illustrates a few insights:

Combat narrow framing by widening your options. If you find yourself framing a decision in the binary, ask

1) What other options might I be leaving out? and

2) Are these options truly mutually exclusive, or is there a way to combine them?

Examine uncertainty and the cost of information.

Uncertainty and the fear of something bad happening makes people nervous. Think through whether discomfort is pushing you to act prematurely. If uncertainty exists, ask:

1) Is it possible to obtain (now or in the future) the information that would make this decision much easier? If so, then ask

2) What is the cost of postponing the decision until you can get that info? Could the outcomes improve if you wait? If so, is it worth waiting?

If you choose to wait for information, deciding what you will do once you have that information counts as a plan. For you planners out there, find comfort in defining some “if this, then that” scenarios.

Stay tuned for next week’s post in this Decision Lab series!

How I untangle messy decisions

I never realized just how much anxiety was triggered by decision making until I began sharing with people that I studied decision engineering at Stanford.

“That’s neat! I hate decisions. Can you help me?”

“That’s a thing? Why don’t they teach that to everyone? I could totally use that.”

“Wow. Can I just outsource all my decision making to you?”

I absolutely love the process of untangling decisions. Most people don’t. They run the other way. And when they do face one, it can feel confusing, emotional, stressful, and overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the best things you can do to avoid thinking in circles is to get all of those thoughts about the decision out of your head and onto paper, into a decision tree.

A decision tree is a visual representation of the decision(s) you have to make, the uncertainties in play, and the possible outcomes you may face. Once your thoughts are mapped out outside of your head, it becomes easier to evaluate what course of action makes sense.

Let’s take, for example a common dilemma faced by a number of professional women.

I want to have kids. AND I want to have a career. WHAT DO I DO?!?!?

Recently someone hired me because she was stressed out about decisions regarding her career and starting a family. Continue reading

What people get wrong when searching for their purpose

Last Saturday I attended Wisdom 2.0 The Shift – Aligning with Life Purpose, led by Soren Gordhamer, the founder of Wisdom 2.0.

One of the questions that Soren asked us to reflect on was “What would it be like to be aligned with my purpose?” After the reflection, one woman raised her hand to ask a question.

“Did I miss something?” she asked. “You didn’t cover how to find my purpose. How am I supposed to imagine what it would be like to align with my purpose if I don’t know what it is?”

Her question highlighted the common mistake people make when searching for their purpose.

put-the-cart-before-the-horse

Continue reading

3 ways to shed that icky feeling about self-promotion

A couple months ago, I attended a Levo League book club event for the book, Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It, by Peggy Klaus.  The book was a great primer on strategies you can use to promote your accomplishments in an authentic way, and I thought the book club was going to be a great forum to practice some of those strategies.  Instead, there was a lot of discussion around why it is so important to learn the art of self-promotion, but no one stepped up to actually try it.  Finally, the facilitator asked, “Why do we have such a hard time talking about ourselves?”  

 

It’s not because we don’t recognize its importance.  It’s not because we don’t know how.  It’s because of how it makes us feel.

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Bragging.  Self-promotion.  Talking about your accomplishments.  How do you feel after reading these phrases?  Do you feel icky?  Do you feel disgust?  Maybe there’s a thread of frustrated obligation in there, too, like you know it’s something you should do, but for some reason you still resist it.  Why do all of these negative feelings come up?  I polled a number of people, and one response came up over and over again: “I don’t want to be so self-serving.”

 

Bingo.  No one wants to be a self-serving brag who talks about him/herself simply to promote their own agenda, and even worse, makes others feel less-than.  So how can you approach talking about yourself without turning into that kind of person?

 

Here are three mindset shifts that can show you how talking about yourself can be more about supporting others than about serving yourself.

 

Sharing more about yourself creates opportunities for deeper connection.  Countless times I’ve heard people answer the “So, what do you do?” question with just their job title.  That answer gives your listener very little fuel to propel the conversation further.  It’s almost like slamming a door in their face.  Don’t be rude; invite them in.  Go beyond your job title to talk about the impact your work makes.  Give them something they can get curious about, so that they can get to know you better.  Who knows, you may be the perfect person to help them in an area they need help with.  But neither of you may know that until you open the door.

 

Achievement is not a zero sum game.  When someone succeeds, there isn’t suddenly less success to go around.  When someone is good at something, it doesn’t make everyone else around them worse.  And yet, some people feel this way when they hear others talk about what they’ve done.  It is that myth that keeps people silent about their accomplishments.  So, help bust the myth.  The next time someone shares about what they’ve accomplished, understand that it doesn’t take anything away from you.  And when you fear how others may feel if you share about your success, understand that it doesn’t necessarily take anything away from them.  Give yourself permission to shine, and you’ll give others permission as well.

 

Being open about your accomplishments will ultimately pave the way to opportunities to help more people.  Maybe you have a unique message to share.  Or you have valuable expertise that can help others in their work.  Whatever your genius is, there are people out there that need it.  But no one will know to give you the stage unless you share about your genius.  Your manager won’t know to give you more responsibility until you share stories about what you’ve done to build her trust in you.  You may be the exact change-maker your organization needs, but you won’t land the job or the promotion to lead more people unless you are vocal about what you are capable of.  There are people out there who need you.  Talking about what you can contribute will be the key to earning the platform to connect with them.

 

You were put here to make a difference.  You have some gift that can help others.  However, no one will know how you can help or what difference you can make unless you tell them.  In marketing, that’s called positioning.  So, have the courage to position yourself as the resource that you are.

What to do when you feel like you are not moving forward

If you had to point in the direction of progress, which direction would you point? If you had to draw it on a piece of paper, what would it look like? It might look like an arrow pointing to the right, or diagonally up and to the right. Forward. Onward. Upward.

Alison Levine, a woman who has climbed to the highest peak on every continent and skied to both the north and south poles, thinks differently.  Alison was sharing some of the leadership lessons she learned from climbing Mount Everest at yesterday’s Invent Your Future conference in Silicon Valley.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

There are multiple camps along the path to the summit, but Alison explained that climbing to the top is not a matter of starting at the bottom and then progressively climbing higher and higher, stopping at each subsequent camp. In fact, it looks more like this.

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

So, even though the objective is to climb to the top, a significant proportion of your time is spent going back down to basecamp. The first time you reach one of the camps, the purpose is to help your body acclimate itself to the altitude. But, at that altitude, the human body begins deteriorating, so you need to go back down to base camp in order to rest and regain your strength to climb even higher.

“Even though you are going backwards, you are still making progress.”

This is a difficult lesson to digest for those who are used to always moving onward and upward. My clients often talk about how they are dissatisfied with their lack of forward movement, want to make the best use of their time, or don’t want to waste their time.

It may sound counter-intuitive to have to climb back down the mountain after reaching each camp. But it is only counter-intuitive if you think that reaching the summit is the singular objective. However, there is another, more important objective in play: to stay alive, both before and after reaching the summit. When you bring that objective into focus, taking the time to keep climbing back down to basecamp makes sense.

Sometimes we Type-A folks forget that there are other objectives in play. It’s easy to cling to objectives that are visible and measurable, like ascending titles, degrees earned, or salary. It can be more difficult to retain a focus on other objectives like health, fulfillment, and nurturing our relationships with loved ones, until we are sick, unhappy, or painfully absent.

So, if you don’t feel like you’re moving forward, I encourage you to take some time to examine your objectives. Ask yourself:
1) What is the objective you don’t feel like you’re making progress against?
Is the way you’re currently spending your time helping to make you better able to achieve that objective? (If not, then ask)
2) Is that truly the only goal you are working toward right now? What are the other things that are important to you?
Is what you’re doing now fulfilling these other areas of your life that are important? (If not, then ask:)
3) What can you do right now to nurture your ability to achieve any of these objectives going forward?

“Progress is not just one direction. It can happen in many different directions.” It really depends on your objective, that thing which you are trying to achieve. And, it depends on what you need personally to cultivate the strength to go after your goals.

Want to read more about Alison’s lessons learned from climbing Mt. Everest? Check out her book, On The Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership

Three reasons why Type-A folks need to learn to pause

There’s something about achievement that feels really good.  Arriving at the right answer.  Finishing something.  Getting to the next level.  If you identify as Type-A, you have felt the drive to continue onward and upward.  As soon as you’ve finished something, you’re looking for the next thing.  As a result, Type-A folks have the ability to get a lot of stuff done.  But the dark side of the Type-A mentality is the tendency not to pause.

pause

What’s so great about pausing?  Well, as good as achievement feels, your go-go-go attitude is likely leaving you feeling less fulfilled and happy than you would feel if you took the time to pause.  Here’s why:

Pausing gives you a chance to re-evaluate whether you’re chasing the right goals.  In his book, The Quarterlife Breakthrough, Adam Poswolsky points out that many professionals suffer from  the “career ladder mindset.”  The career ladder mindset convinces people that the success is achieved by ascending the ranks within the field you’re in.  The problem is, “career ladders define success on someone else’s terms,” not your own.  As a result, you may find yourself at a crisis point when you realize that what you’re doing is not aligned with what you really want.  Taking periodic pauses in your career to define what success means for you will help you avoid wasting time on a path that isn’t a good fit.

Pausing gives you space to celebrate your accomplishments, without immediately burdening yourself with the next item on the to-do list.  I recently complimented a friend on hitting a major milestone on a project.  She replied that there was still so much work to do.  When you complete something, does your mind immediately go to what’s next?  When was the last time you gave yourself permission to fully celebrate a win?  Regularly taking time to reflect on what has gone well will make you a happier person.  Try instituting a daily celebration routine.  If you don’t take time to celebrate now, when will you?

Pausing gives you time to rest and recuperate, so you can dive into your next project energized.    As much as you may hate to admit it, you are human, and your human body needs rest in order to function at its best.  Whether it’s taking a moment of mindfulness to lower your stress level, or letting yourself sleep so that you can avoid damaging your brain, it’s important to take time off.  Don’t wait until your annual vacation (if you even take one!) to give yourself time to unplug.  Smaller increments of time spent off the hamster wheel, on a more frequent basis, will enable you to produce more high quality work than burning out will.  And as mentioned before, if you’re Type-A, producing high quality work feels good.

I am as guilty as any Type-A of forgetting to hit pause every once in a while.  Do you forget to take time to pause, too?  Here’s a tip from one Type-A to another: schedule it.  Block off time on your calendar, and make it a recurring appointment.  Choose to take time to reflect, celebrate, or be present.  It’s not a full-stop; it’s just a pause.  When you’re done, you can go back to your regularly scheduled achieving.

 

The #1 mistake people make when networking to find a job

My colleague was lamenting how his networking efforts weren’t producing many job opportunities.  He was afraid that his network was “tapped out.”  I asked him how he was leveraging his network.  What were the exact words he used when reaching out to people?

“Well, I email them my resume, and I ask them to send opportunities my way.”

It’s no wonder why he wasn’t getting much of a response, I thought.  But my colleague, who went to top-tier schools for both his undergrad studies and his MBA, didn’t seem to realize what a big mistake he had made. 

Please send me opportunities Continue reading

The myth that makes career decisions so paralyzing

“Michelle, I need your help.”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“I need to decide what to do with my career.”

“Ok, what is it about your career you’re deciding on?”

“The rest of it!”

From college seniors about to graduate, to MBAs with 12 years of working experience, countless people have come to me completely stressed out about career decisions.  When I dig deeper into what keeps them in a state of paralysis, unable to move forward, it’s often because they’ve fallen victim to the biggest career myth of all time: that figuring out what you want to do with your career is a single, one-and-done decision.

But deciding what you want to do next in your career is not an irrevocable, “Final Answer!” type of decision.  Careers (and life, for that matter), are the sum of a number of smaller decisions that happen over time.

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Maybe you do realize that there are many subsequent decisions that may arise after the one right in front of you.  But instead of recognizing that there are multiple ways to arrive at those future decision points, you may think that all future decisions cascade into mutually exclusive paths stemming from this one huge decision that will affect what you do and what choices are available for the rest of your life!  (The drama-riffic nature of that myth is tempting to succumb to, isn’t it?)

So how can you whittle down this big monster decision of “What do I want to do with the rest of my career” into something you can actually tackle?

The key is to define your decision problem statement with a more manageable scope.

Step #1: Recognize the series of smaller decisions within your big decision.  Within “What do I want to do with the rest of my career?” is the smaller decision of “What do I want to do next in my career?”  Break it down even more, and it may become “What do I want to do in the next 6 months of my career?”  Keep drilling down, and you can reach a much simpler decision: “Do I want to keep doing what I’m doing now, or do something different?”

Step #2: Choose a focus – short-term or long-term.  Given that what you’re going to do with the rest of your career will be made up of a number of decisions in sequence, decide whether you want to focus your decision on the short-term or long term.  If your current job is giving you a lot of grief, you may opt to focus on what to do in the short-term, and then face the long-term decision later.  (e.g. “What opportunities can I pursue immediately to improve my working environment and get away from this horrible boss?”)

Step #3: Tackle the more narrowly-scoped decision first, and consider the other decisions only after you’ve concluded what path you would take in first decision.  If you chose to backwards-plan to the present, frame your decision around long-term direction, then treat your short-term action as a separate decision problem.  The key here is to avoid trying to optimize all decisions at once.

Tackling big career decisions is like trying to untie a complicated, messy knot.  If you try to pull on all parts of it at the same time, you’ll get nowhere.  But if you just pick one part to focus on at a time, eventually you’ll get there.