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Revisiting an old post. . .(kinda, sorta)

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Find your PassionFive – nearly six – years ago I wrote a post entitled, “You Have To Know the “Rules” . . .(before you can break or bend them)”. It was a not-all-that-subtle attempt to explain how to approach the interview process; how to dress appropriately combined with an attempt to advise job-seekers on the (then touchy) subject of tattoos. The job market had tanked and I felt there was a need for information about finding work, and the various problems that arise during the job search. There are a lot of them, and not all of them have to do with “pounding the pavement”, submitting resumés, etc. . . There was nothing new in the post, nothing that shouldn’t have been “common knowledge” or “common sense”. Still, the article seemed a “good fit” so I posted it, and then promptly forgot about it and moved on to different topics. Then a funny thing happened.

Of all the posts I’ve written on this blog (and I’m the first to admit there haven’t been all that many), “You Have To Know the “Rules” . . .” is the one post most often referenced by people stopping by this blog.  I began to wonder why. I’ve written on a variety of topics, not all of which have to do with job-hunting.  Many have been (at least to me) humorous or autobiographical; some have been straight fiction.  So why did this one post elicit so much popularity after so many years? Are there still people “out there” who need help job-hunting, or dealing with the interview process? Or was it something else?

Were people looking for some “magic bullet” that would allow them to find the perfect job, the most satisfying career, the most blissful life? Was the title of the post misleading? Were my readers referencing the post in hopes of finding some “inside track” that would magically supply them with the key to finding happiness? Is that why people were reading “You Have To Know The “Rules”. . . ? God, I hope not!

Because the simple truth of the matter is, there aren’t any. There are no one-size-fits-all “rules” for anything. In fact, the only “rules” are the ones you make for yourself. Everything else is a “guideline”, a “suggestion”. Sure corporations large and small have “rules” for how the work gets done, how the employees should behave, etc. . .(but they’re the corporation’s rules, not yours) and you can accept them or reject them, along with the job. That’s entirely up to you.

What it comes down to, in the final analysis is this: “Rules”, whether they’re set up by your parents, teachers, pastors, employers or friends are really their expectations of how you should behave, or what you should learn, or what you should believe, or what you should do to try to fit in and nothing more. It’s up to you to decide those things, not someone else.

You have your own ideas of what constitutes a good life, a happy life. You have your own dreams and plans and hopes for the future. It’s up to you – and you alone – to make those plans and dreams and hopes reality. You’ll never get there if you spend your time (and it’s a very limited amount of time) trying to live up to someone (or everyone) else’s expectations, or “rules”. (Image courtesy of gapingvoid,com)






Written by stevewthomas

May 9, 2016 at 11:55 am

On Becoming . . .anything

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I’ve been a practicing professional cook for 30 years — nearly half my life.  In that time I’ve learned becoming a good cook takes more than memorizing a few recipes.  Becoming a good cook as much about how you do something as it is about what you do.  and it takes as much practice, if not more, to learn how as it does to learn the what.  Like any craft, cooking is a matter of practice, of acquiring a skill and using that sill over and over and over until it becomes second nature, then acquiring another skill and practicing it, in combination with other skills, over and over and over until it, too, becomes second nature.  In this regard, cooking is very much like any number of other skilled occupations.  Just as doctors or lawyers or painters or musicians or writers are said to practice their craft (or profession, is you prefer) so do cooks.

There is another similarity these apparently diverse professions share, aside from the need for continual practice.  They all follow a similar recipe.  The ingredients are perseverance, creativity, audacity, unwavering belief in their own ability, humility and, above all, a love for what they do.  These ingredients, in varying proportion, comprise a “recipe for achieving excellence (or at least competence) common to these and countless other occupations.  There are, of course, other ingredients to be added to the recipe.  What those ingredients are and how they are combined are the little extras that make each version of the recipe unique to its creator.

It has been said, “Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration”.  It’s true, perhaps more true for cooks that others. (There’s a reason they say, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”).  It has also been said in order to succeed at anything, you have to “pay your dues” or “put in the hours (or days, weeks, months or years)”.  This is also true.  There are no shortcuts, no easy way to succeed.  There is no such thing as an “overnight success.”

As I said at the outset, I’ve been a professional cook for 30 years; years filled with excitement and apprehension, aggravation and satisfaction, success and failure.  I’ve missed birthdays, holiday celebrations and weekend outings.  I’ve worked ridiculously long hours for insane lengths of time under less than ideal conditions.  I’ve lost weight, patience, my temper; at times I thought I would lose my mind.  But through it all the one thing I never lost, the one indispensable ingredient in my personal recipe was the love for what I was doing.  I don’t cook professionally anymore, but I still “cook”.  After 30 years, it’s time to apply my recipe fo something else, something new.  It’s sor of like creating a sauce you can use with a variety of dishes.  I may have to tweak the recipe a bit,  It’s a process I’m familiar with.  Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t.  Doesn’t matter, really.  I still love the process.

True Creatives vs. “Coincidental” Creatives. . .

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Creativity is a mystery.  We know, or at least believe, everyone has the ability to be creative.  But if it’s true we all have creative ability, why are some of us more consistently creative than others?

There are several theories as to why this is so; why some people appear more creative than others.  They run the entire gamut of the “nature vs nurture” argument; genetic makeup, environment, opportunity, practice, even being exposed to certain types of music in utero.  The truth is we don’t know why some people are more creative than others.

Part of the problem, I think, lies in our misidentification of creativity.  We tend to think of creativity in very narrow terms.  Even social scientists do this.  They tend to think of creativity in terms of problem solving.  We in the general public, on the other hand, tend to think of creativity as having to do, almost exclusively, with the arts.  While it is true that problem solving is a component of the creative process, the ability to solve puzzles does not equate with the creative effort necessary to, say, write a novel.  We may see the problem solver as “clever” or “smart” or even “insightful” but very seldom creative.  Why?  Because we tend to think of creative people as being expressive.  But we all express ourselves.  Maybe not artistically, but we do express ourselves.  So, if creative people are expressive, and we all express ourselves, why aren’t we more creative?

Part of the answer, a very big part as it turns out, is fear.  Or, more precisely, uncertainty.  Humans like certainty.  They like knowing things will turn out for the best; the best being to their advantage.  They like being comfortable in the knowledge their chosen course of action will have the desired result.  When you enter the realm of creativity, you’re never certain how things will turn out.  It is a decidedly uncomfortable environment, filled with unknowns.  A chosen course of action may have the desired result, or it may not.  Fear of the “not” is what keeps most people from expressing their creative talents.

This is what separates true creatives from those I like to call “coincidental” creatives.  True creatives possess the courage of their creativity.  What do I mean by that?

Courage is defined as the will to act in the presence of fear (not).  True creatives acknowledge the possibility of the “not” while embracing the “may”.  Before taking a particular action they will consider a variety of possible actions, knowing if one proposed solution doesn’t work, a second or third or fourth, may.  In short, true creatives don’t quit.  They view creativity as a process, not an end in itself.

In contrast, the coincidental creative tends to be somewhat reactionary, using his creative talents only in response to immediate contexts.  If a proposed course of action bears positive results, all well and good.  If not, the usual response is, “Well, I gave it my best shot.”  They don’t pester a problem, looking for alternate or even multiple solutions.  For the coincidental creative it’s the results that matter.  Something either works for it doesn’t.

So, given that we’re all creative, which type are you?  True creative or “coincidental”?


Written by stevewthomas

January 24, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Romancing the Muse . . .

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Throughout history writers have attempted to gain the attention of the Muse, that indefinable source of inspiration that will provide the impetus for the story they feel compelled to tell.  They have used every sort of trickery and guile to accomplish this, all designed to convince their particular Muse of their worthiness to receive her gift.  Many — most in fact — fail miserably in their attempts owing to the fact it is Muse, not the writer, who determines the worthiness of those upon whom she would bestow her gift.  And she does not bestow her gift lightly on any and all who beseech her.  She must be pursued, wooed, romanced and seduced into relinquishing her gift of inspiration.

It is more than a little obvious I envision the Muse as female.  I often imagine her, a young, nubile girl, draped in diaphanous fabric, perched on the corner of my desk, daring me to look up from the page.  But I do not dare turn my attention from the task at hand, no matter how beguiling an image she projects.  She is testing me, daring me to abandon the work and place myself in thrall to her charms.  I cannot.  I must not.  If I surrender, even a moment, to her now, she will forsake me, abandon her perch and go in search of another more deserving.

I cannot convince her to impart her gift, her genius, through words.  No prayers, no matter how fervent, can convince her of my worthiness.  Any fool can pray; they do it all the time.  I must act to demonstrate all my skill, technical mastery of my craft; to show — not tell — my dedication to the task at hand by constant practice, perfecting each line, each word until they are honed to knife-edge sharpness.  I must do this again and again and again.  Then, perhaps, when I have practiced sufficiently to prove I possess the skill, the determination to use her gift to its fullest advantage; when I have demonstrated the endurance to see the task through to its conclusion, then she may lean forward from her perch and whisper, breathily, in my ear the words I long to hear, “You are inspired!”

Written by stevewthomas

January 7, 2013 at 7:30 am

What You Need To Succeed . . .

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The decision to start your own business is only the first (half) step along one of the many paths to entrepreneurial success.  The second (half) step is to select the path — the kind of business — you intend to pursue.  It isn’t as simple as it sounds; you don’t just pick the first business that happens to pop into your head.  A little research is called for here; you don’t want to start a business you nothing (or next-to-nothing) about.  Your business should be something you know more than a little about, something you’re good at and something you enjoy doing (at least most of the time).   So, when considering what kind of business to start, don’t stray too far from your area of expertise.  One exception to this is the “hobby”.  There are a number of hobbies — beading, quilting, metal craft, etc. — which seem, at least on the surface, to naturally lend themselves to a business.  Not all hobbies lend themselves to business, not all hobbyists are suited to running a business.  If you pursue a hobby as a means of satisfying your unfulfilled “creative urges” or as means relieving the stress of your day-to-day job, you may want to rethink your “hobby-as-business” idea.  If your business takes off, the demands of the business side may cause you to resent having to neglect the creative side of the business; likewise, the stress of doing business may take “all the fun” out what was once an enjoyable pastime.  (In the case of the former, one solution could be to take on a partner; in the case of the latter, find a different business idea, one that utilizes the skills you use in your hobby, and keep the hobby as a stress reducer.)

The next step in the process is determining where your business will be located.  For the vast majority of newly minted entrepreneurs, home is the logical first choice of locations.  Once the exclusive domain of “crafters”, home has become the launching pad for such diverse businesses as engineers, interior designers, consultants of all stripes and even television and movie producers.  There’s literally no limit (within the bounds of local zoning laws) to the type of business that can be at least started at home.  There are a number of advantages to starting a business at home; the elimination of expenditures associated with renting or leasing a separate business location, transportation to and from said location, clothing costs (no need to maintain a closet full of suits or a “business appropriate” wardrobe) and, more importantly for those with small children, no (or substantially reduced) childcare costs (you are, after all, at home).

Regardless of what kind of business you choose, or where you choose to base it, there is one thing — one element — critical to its success.  Commitment.  Starting a business is not a “I’ll try it for a little while” kind of thing.  It requires a determined effort to launch, maintain and grow.  It requires doing whatever needs to be done to ensure its success.  It can’t be done “when I feel like it” or “when I get around to it”.  Business is a hard taskmaster.  Its demands are unceasing.  Its appetite insatiable. 

Having said all of this, there is really only one way to insure business success . . .

I wear this bracelet as a constant reminder of what it takes . . .

 P.S. you don’t have to actually die . . .but you should be willing to!

You Don’t Have To Be Competely Crazy . . .(just crazy enough)

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You’ve been out of work for months.  None of your resumes have garnered interviews (in fact, in most cases they haven’t even garnered a response) and your unemployment benefits aren’t stretching as far as you’d like.  Things haven’t gotten to the desperate stage yet, but they’re not far from it.  You decide there’s only one way out of this situation — you decide to start your own business.  That’s right, your own business.

Okay, the economy has pretty much tanked.  The recent debt crisis has scared the living hell out of nearly everybody (the Dow Jones dropped 500+ points last Thursday, wiping out whatever gains were made for the entire year).  You probably think this is not the best environment to consider starting a business, that you should wait a little longer for the economy to pick up a bit.  Truth is, there’s no perfect time to start a business.  Besides, you’ve been thinking about it for the past couple of years (at least!); always promising yourself you’d “give it a try” when you had more time.  Well, I hate to break it to ya, slick, but with the possible exception of retirement, when, exactly, do expect to have more time on your hands than right now?

I’m not suggesting you launch a leveraged buyout of your old firm, or cash in you 401K and challenge Microsaft and Apple.  What I’m suggesting is starting a “small business”, one you can handle, either on your own or with minimal help.  It’s not impossible and you don’t have to be completely crazy . . . just crazy enough!  Hell, you don’t even have to be smart!  “The world,” as the saying goes, “is run by “C” students.”   And, thanks to the Internet, even a “C” student can make a decent living with a good idea and the determination to see it succeed.

  There are literally thousands of websites “out there” with ideas and resources for starting a small business.   There’s bound to be something that strikes your fancy.  Or maybe you have an idea for a business that’s unique to your particular location; a little market research, scoping out the competition (if there is any) and formulating a business plan. . .  It’s not as crazy as it sounds.  Especially with the present economic “downturn”; companies are scaling back, the government is reducing (or eliminating funding), and someone with an idea for filling those gaps has a pretty good shot at making some serious money.

You don’t have to invest a ton of money (although having adequate cash-on-hand couldn’t hurt), you don’t need an MBA.  All you need is the determination to make your idea work.  But none of this will happen if you don’t start.  Stop dreaming about starting your own business and do it!  Like Woody Allen once said, “Ninety percent of success is showing up.”

We’ve All Been There . . .

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We’ve all been there, we’ve all done that.  We’ve sent out resumé after resumé, accompanied by an absolutely “killer” cover letter detailing those special skills and talents that make us the perfect choice for a job listing.  Then we wait . . .and wait . . .and wait some more.  We send follow-up letters, phone calls (during which we’re told “in all sincerity” our resumé has been received and will be reviewed; if we’re deemed “qualified”, we’ll be contacted).  So we wait some more and still, no job offers.  After this happens more than a few times, we begin to wonder why we’re not getting any responses.  That’s when the “negatives” start to plague us.  Am I too old (or too young)?  Maybe I don’t have enough experience (or too much)!  Maybe I should’ve gotten my Bachelor’s degree (or my Master’s).

Rejection is never easy to take.  It’s hard enough after you’ve finally gotten a long-awaited interview (I recently waited two-and-a-half months for an interview), but when your resumes, letters, applications and follow-ups get no response, it’s more a feeling of being ignored, than being rejected.  First, you get angry, then frustrated; finally, you become depressed and begin to wonder if all the crap on the job search websites you’ve been haunting isn’t just a pile of bull flop.  Pretty soon you find yourself ready to give up, throw in the towel.

Before you think one more thought, Stop!  Keep in mind although the economy is supposedly “coming around” — slowly, there are still several million people out there, looking for work.  For every job listing you see in the newspaper, on a website or job board, there are hundreds of people (perhaps thousands) actively trying to land those jobs.  You are only one of them.  Recruiting managers, employment consultants and resumé screeners are inundated with applications for employment every day; literally, thousands of resumes cross their desks (or computer screens) every week.  It takes time to sort through all those pieces of data.  Many HR people (especially those in large companies) use  computer programs designed to target keywords found in resumes and cover letters to screen applicants.  Others do it “old school”, sorting through their “slush pile” of resumes by hand.  In either case, it takes time for the “cream to come to the top”.

In any event, it does you no good to quit.  It does you no good to settle for less.  The jobs are out there.  Your job is out there.  But you’ll never find it if you give up, if you settle.  Now is the time to re-evaluate your resume, check those keywords, reconnect with your network, start cold-calling.  Do whatever it takes to keep yourself in the game.

And one other thing.  Don’t be intimidated by that “Bachelor’s Degree Required” item in the job requirements of a job listing.  Unless it states a specific degree is required, very often a degree is not a requirement for the position.  This is true especially in the Human Services/Social Services sector.  The degree requirement is there to justify the pay rate for the position.  Besides, there’s always that little “or equivalent experience” disclaimer attached.  So do not be intimidated!  There is, very often, especially in a tight job market, some “wiggle room” in the job requirements that will allow you to snag a position.  But it’s only there if you are.

Written by stevewthomas

June 13, 2011 at 11:03 pm

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