Personal Mission Statement

Some people are lucky. They know what they want to do from the moment they hit middle school, maybe even sooner. But not me.


Salem Sunrise

Some people are lucky.  They know what they want to do from the moment they hit middle school, maybe even sooner.  Some people look at their personal path extending back into childhood, remembering a love of writing, or horses, or cars, or math.  Although I, like Arthur J. Miller Jr. think that we can look back at childhood skills and flow experiences and point to innate skills, it’s not always easy to put together these things into a coherent career path and say “Well, I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter!”

Here’s a taste of my winding 12 year path –

  • I loved reading and writing and wrote my college essays about how I dreamed of starting a girls magazine.
  • By the time I graduated from college I thought I wanted to open a bakery in Seattle, building an intentional living community and hosting speakers.
  • Two years out of college I talked about my dream to manage a retirement community and direct activities for older adults.
  • A year or so into my first adult job I loved watching our therapists at work and I started taking courses at night with the hope of being a nutritionist (or maybe a physical therapist, or occupational therapist) and helping people reach their goals for healthy living and pain-free work.
  • Five years ago I wrote a different personal statement for graduate school about how I was excited to learn how to provide the structure and organizational development needed for people to flourish in the workplace, and for businesses to achieve better outcomes.

When I considered the various interests I’d had and what I wanted to accomplish, you couldn’t just point to them and say well, it’s “obvious” you’ve “always” wanted to work in a particular industry, doing a particular job.  Although the liberal arts are widely mocked as not pointing to a specific career – not every person can say they’ve always wanted a specific career.

I didn’t have one unifying vision throughout these 12 years post high-school to gain a specific position.  What did I do during this ambiguous time?  I explored my values and beliefs, as well as a wide variety of fields like social work, sociology, biology, psychology, business.  I tried out hobbies like leading an exercise group, taking courses in grant writing and anatomy & physiology, and volunteering with the SalemRecycles committee.  And let’s not forget attempting to be a North Shore Blogger.

This May I got a position as an HR Coordinator handling recruiting, organizational development activities, and organizing training opportunities at a small company.  I am happy here. For now.

Still, the story of Eric Liddell, the runner profiled in Chariots of Fire, haunted me. The famous line from the movie – “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure” –  is endlessly presented in Christian blog posts as the ultimate construction of how you can know what you’re designed to do, a personal mission statement.

And goddamn it, I wanted a mission statement too!

I wanted it because I believe a personal mission statement provides overarching guidance on what activities you should choose to spend your time on.  Life is equally about knowing your priorities and what you should do, and carefully choosing what you won’t.  This quote by Steve Jobs says it well, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”  In August of this year that I was finally able to articulate what my mission statement is for my life.

So here it is –

My mission is to aggregate information, to create connections, and to stimulate reflection.

And when I do those things, I do indeed feel God’s pleasure.

This is a mission statement that fits in well with human resources, but this is a mission statement that could equally well apply to another career path I might pursue, such as a teacher, a therapist, a community organizer, a career coach.  Therefore, it’s a mission statement that can grow with my own experiences and expand to hold my ambitions. Looking at my previous career aspirations, it could have fit equally well for me if I’d been the director of a retirement facility, as if I’d been the editor of a magazine.

Ultimately those three actions are the way I orient my life, and the way I create value on teams.

How do I aggregate information? I read a lot. A lot.  But I don’t just read that information and keep it, I pass it on. Hence, creating connection.

Create connections?  I’m not a social butterfly, and never have been.  At best, I’m an ambivert, happily making friends one to two at a time, asking my friends for introductions to their friends, and slowly amassing an empire. I don’t do lighthearted easily, I’m much more likely to connect with you at the coffee shop and get your full life story.  Then, I use the information I’ve read, or gleaned from conversations to solve problems, and help improve lives.

How to stimulate reflection?  I’m a reflective person, but I would like to help others live intentional lives by asking open-ended questions that get at the transcendent things of life.

I feel simultaneously comforted and inspired by my mission statement, as though I put a missing piece into place in my life – the final thing I needed to help my values make sense.

What’s next for me?  Well, I’ve got the Mission, and I’ve got the Values, but the truth is – I’m still working on the Vision.

Hopefully sometime in the next 12 years, I’ll figure it out.

Other posts I’ve written about self-reflection you might like:

Creating a habit of Self-Reflection

5 Ways to Know Thyself!

Learn to be an Exceptional Peer Coach

4 steps to increasing your peer coaching effectiveness.


Who can be a coach?

It is natural to consider coaching as the domain of an expert, the responsibility of the manager or part of a high-potential talent development program offered by HR. However, coaching can exist between peers within the same department or role and provide myriad benefits for both the individuals and the organization.

Peer coaching, initially developed as a way to train new teachers, has seen effective crossover into the business world. Developing peer coaching skills can have benefits for individuals and the company.   It can be used in any department struggling to find ways to train new hires or support a stretched-thin manager.  Additionally, since peer coaching relies on building strong, positive relationships amongst co-workers and developing competence it can act as a strategic employee engagement technique.

People who take on a helping role are often able to understand a rote process in a new way, as well as reap the feel-good benefits of facilitating an “a-ha” moment for a colleague.  Coaching coworkers gives employees a chance to develop important managerial skills, or enlarge their job responsibilities for an added challenge.  The most effective peer coaching relationships are built on mutual trust and confidentiality, and involve refining and building new skills and competencies that are identified early on in the relationship through use of specific objectives.

Here are four ways you can become an exceptional peer coach.

Learn to help others set specific goals.  It is difficult to coach or be coached when the goals is to “Become a better widget maker.”  What does better mean?  What does it look like when you’re successful?  How will others know you’re a better widget maker?  How will you know when you’ve reached the goal? Help your colleague set specific goals for the peer-coaching relationship either by relying on the job description, manager input, or coachee self-identified skill deficiencies. The more control the coachee has over the process, the more likely he or she will be invested in the outcome.

Learn to ask open-ended questions.  Correctly identifying the error the coachee is making isn’t the point of a coaching session.  Instead, developing possibilities for solutions, identifying what led to to the error, or what assumptions are being made are much more crucial.  Taking a non-judgemental stance and asking questions such as “How did you determine that would be your next step?”  “How can you improve on this for next time?”  “What did you learn from this?”

Develop a non-evaluative attitude. Taking on a coaching role does not give you more power over your colleagues and as such you should not be evaluating their work as “good” or “bad.”  However, any time someone is given feedback it is instinctive to feel defensive.  Rather than asking “Why did you…” questions that push your colleague toward justifying their actions, use questions that help diffuse tension such as “what evidence did you use for that decision.”

Develop a reflective mindset.  In his book Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky wrote, “Most people do not accumulate a body of experience.  Most people go through life undergoing a series of happenings, which pass through their systems undigested.  Happenings become experiences when they are digested, when they are reflected on, related to general patterns and synthesized.” How do you create your own reflective habits?  What open-ended questions do you ask yourself?  Set aside time during your week to process your own experiences and consider areas of growth as well.

For Further Reading.

Peer Coaching.   R. Ladyshewsky (2014). Chapter 20 in The Complete Handbook of Coaching.

Honing your skills as a peer coach.  S. Friedman (2010). Harvard Business Review.

This post was initially published on LinkedIn on August 6, 2015.

Balancing Work-Search and Home

Forget work-life balance – I can’t even figure out how to balance searching for work and my life.

Forget Work Life Balance! I can’t even manage to balance searching for work and my life!

Photograph: Jake Wyman/Getty Images via the Guardian

Up until 2 months ago when people asked “What do you do?”  I said “I’m a Graduate Student in the Industrial Organizational Psychology program at Salem State University.”  Then we’d talk about the program, and what the heck I-O psychology is. Those were fun conversations because in my unofficial study of the population, about 1 in 20 people knew what Industrial Organization Psychology was – or even let me get all those syllables out of my mouth.

However, now that I’ve finished the school work for the program, I’m in a surprising limbo of job opportunity hunting, mixed with Stay at Home Mom responsibilities.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering how this could be harder than being a grad student and stay at home mom. We’re in the same boat.  I’m totally confused too.

Since I used to spend about 15-20 hours a week reading, writing, and studying for class, I thought I could easily turn that into time spent job searching. Ha.  It turns out a big part of my motivation was turning up in class and having intelligent discussions, being well-prepared, and oh yeah… impressing my peers and teachers.

This type of gratification isn’t exactly readily present after you’ve sent your resume and cover letter down a half-dozen black holes of online application platforms.  I’ve got a lot less motivation to keep working after the clock hits 9:00pm and I could be using my Netflix account.

This is a problem of motivation and reinforcement that performance management expert  Aubrey Daniels talks about in his book “Bringing out the Best In People.”  If you want to set people up to thrive, you need to create environments that reinforce the behaviors you want them to demonstrate. Reinforcement can be either Positive or Negative, Immediate or Future, and Certain or Uncertain.

The reinforcement for job hunting is definitely Negative, Future and Uncertain.  I can’t know when I’ll get a job, which of my actions are contributing the most to my success (is it the informational interviews? The networking events? The number of resumes submitted?), and for submitting any applications the only response is a frustrating automated reply!

On the other hand, being a SAHM has Immediate, Certain consequences, even if they aren’t always Positive.  For example, I tell my preschooler he can’t have candy for breakfast and the consequence is immediate – yelling and screaming.  Or I can spend time with friends at the park on a gorgeous sunny afternoon.

It’s so much easier to cross off “Do the dishes” from my to-do list and so much harder to find the perfect answer to the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

I’m tired at the end of the day. Without the extra motivation to impress others at tomorrow’s class, applications seem so much easier to just do tomorrow, when I might have more energy.

So, I’ve thrown myself into being solution oriented – what’s worked for me in the past, and how can I make it work for this particular situation?

  1. I’ve found an unemployment partner. In order to keep myself accountable for setting realistic weekly goals I found someone else in the same stage of job hunting as myself. We swap advice, share helpful articles about how to avoid self-sabotage and maintain a marathon, not sprint,  approach to job hunting.
  2. I’m making my search social. Most good job hunting advice will recommend that you network, conduct informational interviews, and talk about your job search like it’s a favorite hobby of yours. So, I’m trying to balance the computer application part of the work with these much more fun, much more social elements of job hunting.
  3. Remind myself that the length of my unemployment isn’t a measure of my worth, or my skills.  It will happen when it happens, and being flexible and trying new things is a key part of any job or job search.’

How about you? Any tips for this job-hunter?  Any moms out there have good solutions that worked for them when they were job hunting? Weigh in with your comments below!

Changing careers and figuring out what to do with my life has been a key part of this blog the last couple years. Here are some of my other posts people loved. 

A lament on finding that perfect position: Single People I hear you!

Some old thoughts on how messed up it is that we expect kids to know “what they want to be” where they are 17 or 18.

Single People, I hear you!

Several weeks ago a very brave woman in her mid-thirties stood up in my church and shared her testimony as a single person who wishes she were married.  The audience, as you might expect from a moderately conservative Baptist church, was married couples attempting to keep their offspring from crawling in the rows, with limited success.  (At least one skittered past me that day).  There were few other singles in the church, but those that were, were mainly in the pews filled with college students.

But her words hit me deeply as she talked about the longing to get married, the frustration with the time it was taking to find the right person with which to settle down.

I’m almost as far from single as one could get, barring those few who met in high school or before.  I met my husband when I was 19 and he was 17, and though it most certainly wasn’t love at first sight, by the time I turned 24 there really wasn’t much question that we would be getting married.  This year, though only our 4th anniversary, marks our 10th year of friendship.

How then can I, who’s never made an online dating profile, never been on a blind date relate to anyone who’s single?

Because I, friends, have been unlucky – not in love – but in careers.

I like to say of my resume – great life, terrible paper trail.  I stand by each of my experiences as necessary to growth – but, like a string of exes, they’ve each taught me what I didn’t want.

Like many others who I’ve talked to, both in love and careers, early on I received little advice beyond admonitions to lighten up and it would happen, or to follow what basically amounted to ‘common sense’ in both the job search or in the quest of relationships.

“Get good grades!”
“Only date Christians!”
“College is for everyone”
“You’re still young, you’ll find some[one/thing].”
“Just get out and meet a lot of people.”

But these cliches aren’t really that helpful when you’re home at night and start wondering –

What’s wrong with me?
Why haven’t I found my passion yet?
Or – worse – why hasn’t my passion amounted to a job that supports me/ creates wealth?
Am I smart?
What am I doing wrong?
What is wrong with me!?

And you attempt to answer that last sentence with any amount of gleaned wisdom from thoughtful well written blog posts by your peers – who are successful – and have managed to secure positions that they deserve and earned.

Am I just unlucky? Should I have just tried harder?  Did I end up on the wrong path so long ago that there’s no finding my way now?

In those bleak hours, that happen, not every night, but unfortunately every now and again, I must review advice and comfort from what I’ve learned.

1. There is no one right path/ Mr. Right. It’s hard when you’ve tried a string of actions that hasn’t repaid your investment, or when you are surrounded by stories that champion the people who knew when they were 17 what they wanted to be. A culture that celebrates child geniuses and profiles CEOs under 40.   That shows success can be had anywhere and success means money, fame, and power.

Hunt out the other stories, and don’t believe lies that tell you there is only one right way to do things and you’ll know it when you see it. You might not.

2. It is not now or never. If you do not find the perfect job (or date) today that does not mean that you will be forever stuck in your parent’s house, or in a basement for the rest of your life.  It only feels like it.  Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you to banish dichotomous thinking whenever you can – it isn’t all or nothing!

3. You are loved. Really. And as someone who is loved, you should continue to be purposeful.  Vision is important – but, vision, I think, can be continually shifting – constantly being refined by life experience and wisdom from respected others.  If your vision looks different than it did when you were in high school.  That’s fine.  Sure, you may be no Donald Miller, but then, who is? As the late great Kurt Vonnegut said – You wouldn’t have written Beethoven’s  9th Symphony anyway.

HOWEVER – it is possible to live purposefully without a clear, well-defined end vision.  I wrote a little bit about what to do when you feel “in between times” and I stand by my suggestions. Make friends, invest in community, volunteer, support causes, learn.  If you can’t see where you will be in 40 years, that is okay – why don’t we just try for 1 okay?

4.  There is more advice and help out there than cliches.  There are plenty of ways to glean self knowledge and to continue to search for and find ways to express your passion while waiting for vision to blossom. Don’t assume that it will come to you in a dream – and – forgive your parents or guidance counselors who gave you bad/no advice.  You’re a grown up now.

However, sometimes cliches make the best endingsSo get out there and Try Try again.

Or at least eat some discount chocolate.


If you liked this post about my career woes you might also like: Career Advice for my Younger Self.

And you should probably share this post with your friends 😉

Career Advice for my Younger Self

Career Advice WordPress

I’ve been poring over my resume in order to update it with my new (almost completed) degree, as well as recent projects, experiences and high hopes for the future – Oh wait, that last bit just goes in my diary.  So I’ve been considering lessons and career advice I wish I’d known during my first  job… but that I’ve learned along the way since then.

After a series of eclectic high school and summer jobs (orthodontist assistant, library page, soccer referee, camp counselor..) I finally got my first real job – as in only 40 hours a week, with a liveable salary – as a twenty-two year old.  The salary was enough to move into my first real apartment, which I wrote about on Connect Shore last year.

But, as most of us know, first jobs are well… first jobs and the learning curve is steep, and includes more than just the basics of mastering the job description.  Eventually you move on, leaving behind a trail of mistakes, growth, and new references for your resume.

Here are the top 5 pieces of career advice I wish I’d known on my first day of work.

1. Write down what you learn and what you want to learn.  The first two weeks on the job I was an eager beaver writing down all the important things I could – like where the emergency kits were, what my employee ID number was, and how to create the best daily schedule.  But over time I stopped making an effort to write down details. Since then, I’ve become a lot more conscious of holding onto lessons learned.

At the beginning of each semester I take the time to write down a couple goals that range from details:  answer ALL the emails within 6 hours to content: Read at least one supplementary reading the teacher mentions and use it in an assignment.

At the end of the semester I write down what I learned: personally: don’t take three classes at once! and scholastically: I now know about Michael Porter’s Shared Value theory and the importance of reviewing key learnings in training programs.  You could also choose to write down professional learnings, emotional learnings, or simply various observations.

Taking the time to keep a learning journal will help you remember and practice the lessons you’ve learned.

I also try and write down what else I want to learn in the future about the topics I just started exploring through a class: for example I want to learn more about concrete ways businesses are able to integrate sustainability practices into their strategy and bottom line.  This applies equally well to jobs – there are always more things to learn.  This can help you make the most of even an entry level job.

2. Office politics matter. People, and the way they work together, are incredibly important.  Some people have even disagreed with the venerable Abraham Maslow to say that social needs may be as important as physical needs – at least on the job.  It’s worth the effort to learn the strengths and weaknesses of your coworkers, to learn how to manage your boss (as the Harvard Business Review calls it) and your coworkers, along with learning how to manage yourself.  It’s also worth it to know when to get involved in a conflict, when to walk away, and when to ask for help from your boss in a conflict. Yeah, that’s a story for another time.

3. Track how you work and what is involved with big projects. I have a bad habit  of wanting to do half of my week-long to-do list on Monday morning. Then, when 1pm comes around, I’m disheartened that I couldn’t tackle those first 16 hours of work in 4 hours. Be realistic and know how long answering emails, writing reports, and travel time can take. Writing a paper is a project – but there’s a lot more to it than simply “writing” (see my last post).  There are “sweet spots” for working on different types of work, and figure out when and how the pieces of the puzzle (projects and time available) fit together.

4. Reach out to like-minded people AND/OR join a professional group.  I got disheartened after two years of working in my first job because of a dearth of connections.  I liked my coworkers enormously, and office drinks were fun… but other people didn’t seem to view what the work the same way I did.  Some were putting in hours to get paid, others were focused on daily tasks and I wanted to talk the high level view.  I got so frustrated, in fact, that I first began my quest to re-assess my skills, desires, and interests in order to find another field to work in.

Perhaps if I had known to find a professional group, a mentor, or reached out to others in a group for career advice, I might have found a way to use my skills in that field.  Talk about work from a step-back every now and then with other professionals in order to get a fresh look, don’t just whine, moan, and complain about the daily grind.  Reach out to mentors!

5. When the right time to move on is. I wish I’d known the answer to this one then, and I still haven’t had enough experience to be able to answer the questions now – but I really wish I knew!  Some experts say that when you’ve stopped learning anything new, that’s the time. Other say, when you’ve mastered the core responsibilities of the job.  I don’t think these take into account the fact that people aren’t just career-bots and may also need to accommodate rest-of-life circumstances when they consider moving to a new job.  However, if you’re feeling burned out, it’s probably time to move on now!
How about you? What career advice would you have given yourself when you started working?

Oh Grow Up! or Career Choices for the Adult

After some reading this week I felt compelled to tweak a few details on my blog.  The most identifiable change is the prominent “Emerging Adulthood” label at the top.  This new title reflects the beliefs of psychologist Jeffrey Arnett that young adults in industrialized countries are experiencing a new phase of life affectionately known as “Emerging Adulthood.”  This phase chronologically encompasses ages 18 to 30ish, (not coincidentally, the approximate age demographics of this blog.)

For my Psychology of Old Age class at Salem State University I was required to read that article, entitled “Oh Grow Up!” and there was a time for the professor to field reactions of the class.  The opinions of the class spanned from surprise at this new “category” of adulthood to world-weary acknowledgement.  As discussion developed a few words relating to this new phase piled high.  Specifically the phrase, “there are so many choices now” was echoed repeatedly.

Since the class is composed mainly of “adult learners” (those over 22) most in the class are pursuing some form of career change, redefinition, or advancement.  Most have experienced the choice they made to start a certain job as less than satisfactory.  They would like to enhance their lives with more identity-based work, work more tailored to their interests, or perhaps work with a higher salary.

Thinking back to the career opportunities I envisioned at 17, these were cardboard cut-outs compared to flesh-and-blood jobs.  Two-dimensional at best, my ideas of careers were along the lines of “teacher,” “engineer,” “writer.”  They included little flexibility and a startling lack of knowledge for attending a fairly good high school.  Although I still recognize “Teacher” as a job title, I can also see that many people who describe themselves as such don’t view a traditional classroom as their domain.

Instead, “Teacher” has expanded as a path to include opportunities as a “Teacher’s Aide” “HR Training Department” “Behavior Therapist” “Employment Specialist” “Soccer Coach” and surprisingly “Technical Writer.”  These career choices wouldn’t have entered my definition of “Teacher” in high school.  These people make their living instructing others about how to do things that they don’t yet know.  They impart knowledge.  They Teach.  However, these job titles don’t necessarily involve traditional classrooms in elementary, middle, high schools or universities.  My definition of this career choice was far too narrow.  I suspect that many youth operate under similarly narrow definitions of careers.

So, when they pick their career at 18 or 22 and then work at it for two or three years, they become disenchanted when they realize they don’t like children, or teens.  They don’t like lecturing in front of large groups.  These crises experienced are not because they inadequately defined their skills or likes, but most likely because they narrowly defined a job.  As emerging adults, with fully formed brains they are more likely to see the discrepancies of their old definitions.  This usually means some sort of re-education, bringing us back to Salem State and Emerging Adulthood and choices.

Were all these career choices available thirty years ago?  I don’t know.  We didn’t cover that in my class, and I’m sure that I’m not knowledgeable enough to hazard a guess. There is no longer a single career choice which must be made, but numerous, each leading down a specific pathway.  And hopefully, each pathway clarifies the goals of the individual and provides more fulfillment and functionality.  In the meantime, each choice requires time, and this is reflected in new phase of Emerging Adulthood.

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