Tipping “Normal”: Adult Singles in America

3567904905_66cf7378da_bOne by one—but as a singular collective group—we’ve tipped “normal.” For the first time since such data has been tracked, there are more single than married adults in the US. That “I’m the only one” feeling you had walking into your first post-divorce school meeting? No longer valid.

What does this mean? I’ll leave the ramifications of changing lifestyle choices and spending priorities to the economists, but this statistical verification that we are getting better at leaving legal unions than creating them reveals disjointed and turbulent times—where we can easily connect from an Internet-cloaked distance and yet live alone in a crowd of neighbors.

This isn’t really about marriage. It is instead, a vision of our growing disconnection—where “busy” has become the standard response to “How are you?” and slow-cooked conversations have become a luxury meal. With so many fast-flying opportunities, we’ve applied efficiency beyond its “intended use,” compressing relationships to fit available calendar windows instead of creating the space to grow them well. Mobility, efficient living and a lessened focus on fundamental connection skills has left many of us as unconnected islands—more archipelago than community.

An unfortunate career or financial choice, divorce, death, chronic illness… all of these can breed isolation and start a secluding spiral. From childhood “time outs” to penally-administered solitary confinement, isolation is a clear communication of “unacceptable.” For connection-craving creatures such as us, isolation grows loneliness, and lonely people often make desperate choices to fill the unwelcome emotional space—grabbing at unhealthy behaviors to pull their heads above water, no matter how they may ultimately harm themselves or others.  From the quiet individual tragedy of an unfulfilled life to the headline-generating disenfranchisement of a generation, lack of connection leaves too many with no lifelines to support, correction and perspective with which to find their way back.

Our new “normal must include purposeful connection—born of proactive kindness and intentional interactions. Rather than networking resources, we need to connect people. Not gathering them as knots to be used in our own ascent but rather, weaving them—one to another—into society’s fabric. This is how we will harness hope, create vision and channel volatile energy into forward momentum…because the difference-making handout will never come from a government or political entity. It will be the one we stretch out to the lonely one in need of a friend.

Date Like A Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends

 

Cabernet Coaches: Power of Consistent Connection

ccWBistro7.2014Cabernet Coaches

Power of Consistent Connection

I call them Cabernet Coaches. No, they aren’t highly specialized sommeliers or vineyard strategists—and some of them actually prefer the chardonnay. Rather, these are the loosely gathered and rather eclectic group of women I meet with for weekly Wednesday night happy hours.
It’s not about the drink specials. It’s basic elemental networking without the use of that stifling—and for some, intimidating—buzzword. It’s real grass roots relationship building. And it’s a concerted strike back at a world that would keep us too busy for connection beyond those coworkers, neighbors and team moms lying directly in our paths.

How, and more importantly, why do we do this?

It’s a conscious choice to maintain connection. This means that when one of us gets the big promotion or adds a significant other to her life, we continue to value our friendships by maintaining a regular time slot for them on our calendars. “Disappearing friends”—those who get swept away by a change to relationship status or a bend in the career path—can fade like a mirage in the rearview mirror, so we aim for consistent contact. Frenetic schedules may not allow for regular lunch dates with everyone in our expanding circle—but once a week, we purposefully maintain connection.

It’s a conscious choice to create new connection. We’re completely inclusive. Invites have been extended in groceries, at doctors’ offices and on Facebook. There is something to be gained and given in every encounter. “Loneliness makes fools of us all” (Date Like A Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends, epigraph)—and as we grow connection, we stem isolation. With affirming friends, we are less likely to wither in bad jobs and relationships. We gain momentum from the good choices of others and gain resolve to affect change in our own lives. And, we expand our options by creating a larger pool of friends. Nothing pleases me more than to discover two previous strangers meeting for lunch following a Wednesday night meeting.

It’s a conscious choice to value self. Sometimes, driving across town and traffic to meet with a few friends amidst the pressures of a busy workweek takes significant motivation. Many of our conversations begin with “I should be…” but they always seem to end with gratitude for time well spent. Generally, two hours around a high top table won’t negatively impact the productivity of a week, but it will often reenergize us to better adapt and achieve what is required. And, happy hour appetizers always trump microwaved leftovers as a dinner option.

It’s a conscious choice to build a bigger, better life. Our Wednesdays are more of a flow than a settled gathering—with friends bringing friends, and built around the absences caused by travel, parenting our children and all the normal demands of life. But it’s a repeat calendar entry for many of us—an almost sacred appointment that we strive to keep regardless of changes to relationship status or career. It’s a commitment to growth and a leg up over the status quo. New faces, fresh ideas, divergent careers…our little group is far more intriguing than anything we might be missing on reality TV.

We consciously create opportunity while banishing guilt by utilizing “ish” time—meeting at “5:30ish until 7:30ish”—to minimize time pressures. The demands of careers and kids, along with the havoc divorce can wreak on a life, often lead to stress and isolation. Life can become task-driven—with pleasure buried beneath loads of laundry and sales goals. So no one’s early, no one’s late and any “disappearing friends” are always welcomed back with open arms, tissues if necessary, introductions to the newbies and a toast… Whether we clink water glasses, chocolate martinis or cabernet is irrelevant. What matters is the steady encouragement and affirmation that comes with the table space.

Shared joys are amplified, and empathy can buoy a sinking heart… Has a friendship ever surprised or delighted you? Saved you? How have you navigated the inevitable disappointments, friendship “drift”—or worse, a complete betrayal? How has Connection—or the lack of it—impacted your enjoyment of life? Do your relationships make you a better person—or make you want to be a better person? If you’re interested in contributing your friendship story to the book, please email me via the contact page to set up an interview. Thanks! Heather

 

When You Know You Should Go (Part 1):

When You Know You Should Go…

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First 4 Steps Toward Punctuating “Goodbye.”

Her response to “how are you?” was a wincing shrug. Sara dabbed at stray tears and quietly admitted that, once again, she’d been sucked back into the harmful relationship she’d resolved to end. Ten years younger but in perpetual midlife crisis, Tim looked better as a headline than on a full page. And he jerked Sara about like an impatient kid with his first rod and reel. His halfhearted surges of attention were short-lived, but Sara couldn’t… quite… let go.

Diana pined after a man she had dated during her divorce: Why had his interest waned now that she was officially single? While readily admitting he was bad news, she remained alert for breaking (up) bulletins on his availability. Adam held a lingering attachment to a woman whose emotional baggage was far over the limit, but every “goodbye” had a “P.S. I need to pickup my toothbrush” epilogue that led to an overnight and, inevitably, a “let’s try again.”

Actively choosing “nobody” over a harmful “somebody” requires more focus than we can readily access sometimes. For Sara, Diana and Adam, that first pang of “it’s really over” panic always led to an instinctual chase. While a desire for habitual comforts and “the familiar” can easily overpower our best intentions, thoughtful preparation will get the determined over that first hump and increase the likelihood of establishing a new and healthier “normal.” Here are the first four (of seven) helpful steps to punctuate “goodbye” and begin to build forward.

ESTABLISH REALITY.

If isolated or lonely, we’re highly susceptible to falling in love with our own ideal rather than an actual person. We camouflage incompatibilities and fill in spaces with our own hope, allowing forgiveness to overpower self-respect. Adam saw a beautiful victim, treated unfairly by a jealous ex-husband. On closer examination, however, he recognized the woman’s tendency to fuel her own drama. Diana saw “Bad News” as she wanted him to be, but she was in love with her mental picture, not the real life man.

Planning your life around somebody else’s potential metamorphosis is like trying to program the GPS in a stalled vehicle! Are you “in love” with a hypothetical man or woman?

  • Identify the discrepancies between what you hear and what you actually see.

IDENTIFY IMPACT.

Sara was miserable! Years earlier, a devastating family tragedy had irrevocably altered her life, but her reactive “space-filler” choices—chosen for proximity rather than value—had compounded the trauma. Tim—with enough dysfunctions to sail through the audition for any halfway competitive reality TV show—was one of those choices. She had essentially made him her one-stop shop for happiness—an oversized load for even a healthy, fully engaged partner! In pursuit of his drifting affection and in growing romantic despair, she had segregated herself from the family and friends who might have helped. Seven years later, Tim was still filling space in Sara’s life, but he was filling it with a poison that was tainting her blessings and perpetuating what she most feared: Loneliness.

What’s the net result of your encounters? Does he/she make you feel better—or worse about yourself?

  • Quantify the real cost of maintaining the relationship.

VISUALIZE “BETTER.”

Drama is a drain. And like a clunker with a continual oil leak, Diana’s “Bad News” guy absorbed focus and energy, preventing her from really getting anywhere in her new single life. Saddled with the weight of her unwieldy relationship with Tim, Sara couldn’t keep her footing and began managing crises to simply avoid pain. She quit making proactive choices on her finances and career, essentially putting her life on “pause.”

How might you live your life if a relationship was in your future rather than in your present or past?

  • Envision what a time of stability could allow you to do—and be.

ELIMINATE EXCUSES.

One by one, Sara and I itemized the “” We got real about Tim’s words versus his actions—that little continuity-creator called Integrity. Like drops of rain on a cactus plant, there was a clear pattern of “just enough” hope-preserving attention from Tim. He gave with purpose, and his intentions had little to do with Sara herself. Compassionate Adam had been distracted from responsibilities by his heroine’s ongoing drama. Diana was captivated by vague promises. All three had grown accustomed to floating the relationship on a growing tide of flimsy excuses.

How would you describe or explain the relationship to a close friend?

  • Recognize hypothetical “someday” hopes for what they really are:  a procrastination of your reality check.

 There’s more… But these first four steps can enable the pivotal “What was I thinking?! moment that’s critical for a perspective reset on a damaging relationship.

I’m reminded of my sister who, at age four, ran screaming across our front yard with a fistful of freshly plucked flowers. When Mom pried open her fingers, a limp dandelion—and stinging bee—fell to the lawn. Sometimes, we need to stop and examine more closely what we’re holding onto.

 

 

Single? Celebrate “Discount Chocolate Day” Instead

chocolate die (melting)Focus on Opportunities for Connection

Have you noticed that singles and unhappy couples seem to worry more about Valentine’s Day than most of the lovebirds enjoying their piece of “happily ever after?” It’s about space. Even as the number of adult singles have outpaced the marrieds in America, there remains an “odd man out” mentality. However, most of the “wish I hadn’t” anecdotes in my book Date Like A Grownup clearly illustrate the downside of employing a need-based focus instead of a “right fit” strategy. Real, life-enhancing connection goes deeper and further than one single romantic relationship. So, before you singles start stockpiling gloom in anticipation of a solo February 14th, let’s peel back the pretty pink tissue paper and take a good look:

It’s finite—24 hours, start to finish. You can do this. I once had to write a light-hearted Valentine’s Day piece just days after a breakup. So…I blunt-tipped Cupid’s broken arrow and got it done. You can too.

It can be fleeting. Did you know divorce attorneys refer to the day after Valentine’s Day as “D-day?” After the spike in flower sales comes a spike in breakups. Chocolate-covered strawberries rock, but simply slathering a layer of chocolate and flowers over a stale relationship isn’t so satisfying. Many of those happy couples you may be tempted to envy, aren’t. Happy, that is. Keep your eyes on your own life. Don’t like it? Change it. More on this at the end. Read on…

You have options. Sure, you can focus on all the guys and gals scrambling to snag the last cards at the Valentine’s Day display near checkout—or you could, instead, focus on developing strong friendships that will will outlast bad dates, stem isolation and nurture your better self. Grocery shopping on an empty stomach leads to junk food in the shopping cart. It’s the same with our emotional lives. Loneliness makes fools of us all.

You have opportunities to celebrate. One of my favorite Valentine’s Day activities is to distribute roses and good wishes at the nursing facility my grandma lived in until her death in 2010. Regardless of my own “relationship status,” I can remind those who are sometimes forgotten of their infinite value. Christmas carolers come and go—non-seasonal visits can be a real pick-me-up to both resident and visitor.

Better to live genuinely. Always. And that means releasing a few weighty expectations in favor of the hope you can power with your own forward momentum. Hope is helpful; expectation is presumptuous.

  • Appreciate the season in which you live. Single? Grab a pen and begin coloring in your own life.
  • Identify the root of your pastel-hearted sadness. More often than not, we are mourning an apparent lack of possibility or the death of a relationship dream rather than any “perfect relationship” gone bad. Your focus will determine where your next possibilities grow.

If you’re isolated and lonely—it’s likely that the Valentine’s Day Dread isn’t about February 14th, but is instead indicative of a lack of connection—and you have some control over this! Aim to build your life out, one friend at a time. Genuine connection requires more than Facebook status checks. If your circle is limited to the office and a couple of random neighbors, begin adding connection that matters. Here in the Columbus area, we do it with Cabernet Coachesa weekly face-to-face gathering to build and acknowledge the value of friendship in our lives.

And remember… Valentine’s Day is really just the precursor to what I like to call “Discount Chocolate Day”—celebrated annually at the bargain bin of a retailer near you!

*Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

How to Get Out of a Dead-End Job

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How to Get Out of a Dead-End Job

If You Want Your Career to Change, You Need to Change

Dear Heather,

I really need to get out of where I’m working. It’s toxic and completely reactionary. My boss (whom I’d worked with elsewhere in happier times) just resigned after only one month in her position! Sandy is known for her skill in improving business infrastructure but couldn’t tolerate what she termed “arrogant” and “immature” behavior from management (they never listen to anyone and think they’re always right). I feel like I have no control over things, especially now that my old boss has left. It’s like I’m on an island all by myself. I’m single—no kids. All I really have to show for my life is my career, and it doesn’t look so great at the moment.

I really want to work in a professional stable “team” environment as opposed to being in a small HR department. I took this job after being unemployed for an extended period. Really needed to replenish my savings and get benefits (this company offers a good package), but I keep wondering if I jumped too soon. I need room for growth and advancement. Not more drama!

I know my life needs change, but I keep hoping it will just happen. I keep dreaming that I get a ridiculous job offer and move to Hawaii and live happily ever after…but Monday comes and I’m still on my imaginary island in a dead-end job. Any suggestions?

~Mandy

Dear Mandy,

It’s a noun/verb issue, Mandy. You want “change” but haven’t changed anything yourself. This isn’t uncommon, but it is usually ineffective. Why not put your future into the hands of the one who most cares about it? This is your chance to make some active choices for yourself—the remote control is in your hand, and you have the power to change the channel.

Reality impacts valuation—and the truth of a situation can be a roller coaster drop from a much higher expectation.

Our jobs impact both financial and mental needs, Mandy. While your current situation fills the bank accounts, it is wedging a sizable emotional gap into your life. At some point, you’ll need to decide whether your contributions to date—and likely long-term payoff—are worth your further investment. If you can’t say, “this will (probably) be worth it in the end,” this job will continue to chafe like ill-fitting shoes.

The ability to self-launch is one of the most valuable skills we can learn. Without it, we float at the mercy of circumstance and other people and are more likely to land—and stay—in depleting situations. When self-launch is enabled, however, we can motorize the drifting and begin a more directed course toward our career dreams.

Toleration is a default position that will invariably entrench us deeper into substandard conditions. One has to hate a “rut” with enough passion to rev on out of it. If status quo seems preferable to taking steps toward change, you must identify the reasons or excuses for inertia in order to motivate forward motion.

1) Is it truly about the job? Dissatisfaction with one area of life will often bleed into the next. You mention being “on an island all by (yourself).” Workplace drama has greater impact when it’s your only regularly scheduled program. More than half of US adults are single per the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, and feelings of isolation are a growing problem worldwide. Regardless of your employment satisfaction, creating connection—via friendships and non-work activities—will provide stability, valuable perspective and an excellent counterbalance to typical job stresses.

2) Do you know what you want? Or is this more about what you don’t want? Without a target, you’re only programming your internal GPS to get you away from your current location. An “escape” goal can lead us to teeter on ambivalence—holding on to what we dislike because we’re uncertain of where to reach. What will a “professional, stable ‘team’ environment” look like? Develop this goal into specifics—a recognizable destination.

3) Identify the cost. Outline what you’re willing to sacrifice to gain this opportunity. Are you willing to move to another city, sidestep to another career or accept a pay cut in favor of giving yourself better long-term opportunities? Consider making a lifestyle job choice—aiming for a location (you mentioned Hawaii) or family and friends—that will grow your overall quality of life as well as your career.

4) Choose your next steps. Once you’ve picked a path and oriented your attitude toward a destination (rather than simply “away” from the rut you’re in), you have to start lifting your feet. Identify and address your roadblocks—lack of connection, confidence or up-to-date search tools…so that you can activate change.

5) Set calendar goals. Hold yourself accountable to short-term objectives that will equip you, and then mark goals for your actual job search. Include research and reflection time. Your overall discontentment is a message from you to You. Listen to your own voice.

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com | Boost Your Work/Life Balance column.

5 Keys to Dating Like a Grownup

EonN5Keys5 Keys to Dating Like a Grownup

The Difference Between Dating and Dating Well

Single? Hello, your name is “Average American.” It turns out that there are a lot of us bypassing bulk food bargains in favor of single servings. In its August 2014 data report, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics revealed that for the first recorded time, more adults are unattached than married in America.

And often, the first instinct of the newly single adult is to be part of a couple again—maybe not in a marital, “let’s get this court-stamped” sort of way, but Dating? Sure. A new, better relationship? Please! And preferably, we’d like to be coupled up again before we’re passing green beans to Aunt Bev around the holiday dinner table.

But before you toss your online profile into the ring, it’s well worth gauging your dating readiness first. Otherwise, you risk treadmill dating—an emotional workout that will wear you out without moving your life forward.

Evaluate the following:

1) Who You Are Today. One of the worst bits of advice my widowed sister received as she reentered the dating arena was “don’t date anyone you wouldn’t have dated in high school!” Huh? While the intent was, perhaps, to encourage stability, the message—that we are somehow stuck in time with our “beginner self”—is ludicrous. You’ve changed. Picking someone who fits who you were will chafe against who you are now becoming.

2) Your Confidence. Have you brushed off the dirt and let the wound heal? A tumble in divorce court or the death of a spouse is trauma. There’s a rehab period. Racing back into dating too soon raises the likelihood of making need-based choices. These are non-sustainable space-fillers that will waste both time and energy. “I don’t want to be alone” decisions only create ruts from which to complain about our lack of good dating prospects. Using Dating as a life patch will work about as well as a spare tire on a road trip. Stabilize your vehicle before you begin the journey.

3) Your Financial Stability. Divorce rarely leaves us with a bigger bank account. Compromised goals and deferred dreams can be difficult to face—but do it. Come up with your own Plan B. If you’re aiming for a long-term sustainable relationship, don’t allow another person’s finances to impact their attractiveness. Your best insurance against using the dollar sign equivalent of “beer goggles” will be gaining traction on your own financial situation before you begin dating.

4) Acceptance. If the divorce playback still has a hero and a villain, you might want to wait for the remake. Rarely is a relationship breakdown a one-person debit. Most often, there has been an ongoing pattern—an accommodation of “unhealthy.” The divorce is either a continuation of the dysfunction or an attempt by one or both parties to break free of a rut-digging pattern. Bitterness and rearview regrets will sideswipe forward momentum.

5) Connection. “Great to meet you! Say, would you mind holding my hopes and dreams?” Yes, people do this. It most often happens with the disconnected as they mistakenly tie their future happiness to somebody else’s wagon. Guard against this by building connection—good old-fashioned, face-to-face friendships. Creating choices for yourself will allow you to say “no” without fear and “yes” without expectations. Life must be bigger than your next relationship for sustainable love to grow.

Originally published in Eyes On News | Lifestyle section.

 

How Can I Stop Hating My Job?

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How Can I Stop Hating My Job?

Quit, Improve Your Lot, or Get a Hobby

As an advice columnist for Salary.com, I answer letters related to balancing and blending our work and personal lives for better overall living. It is rare that we can successfully relegate an office issue to “office hours,” so effective navigation of these situations is critical to our general well being and productivity. Read on for what happens when ophthalmologists lose sight of office management:

Dear Heather,

I read one of your articles on what to do about hating your job and it moved me to write you a message myself.

Like the woman in the story I too have come to absolutely loathe coming into work. I’ve been in my current line of work for close to five years, and to be honest I really enjoy what I do. In case you were wondering I’m an Ophthalmic Technician for an Ophthalmology office. At first my advice and actions were very respected and the rest of the office seemed to care about them. But as time slipped past the luster started to fade and the true beast began to rear its ugly head. We have two doctors here in the practice and they couldn’t be more opposite one another. One is very old school and is resisting the technological advancements we have to make with everything he has. The other couldn’t embrace it fast enough. Due to the intense nature of this job its imperative that we follow through with all the electronic issues that we face. And since I came from the computer programming/troubleshooting background I have even more knowledge and responsibility in the office.

There are three of us (technicians) in this office and we are all responsible for loading patients into exam rooms, working up their charts, doing the testing required for their exams, and getting them set for the doctor to come see them. However over the last 6 months the others have started slacking off their duties or “specializing” in one area over the other. I’d have no problem with this if the job titles were different. Instead I’m seeing more than my fair share of the load and still getting paid like the underling I was 5 years ago.

To combat this little problem we’re supposed to have weekly staff meetings to address our concerns in a professional manner. Instead weeks, possibly months, go by without said meetings even occurring. And when they do, it’s a blame-fest. No one likes to take responsibility for anything. The phrase “I was told” is used a lot when referring to the wrong way of doing a test, etc.

Basically the problem boils down to this. I’ve lost respect for this position because it doesn’t respect me. Too many times I’ve been walked all over and expected to pick up the pieces like nothing has ever happened. No one wants to man up and take charge, and the authority around here is terrible.

What can I do to stop (or at least limit the amount of) hating my job?

Thanks,
Jason

Dear Jason,

I’m sorry you’re in such a tough and depleting situation. It sounds as if divergent leadership has left your office with no leadership at all. Consequently, guidelines have been blurred and rules have grown fuzzy creating an “every man for himself” environment with lot of the unhealthy brand of competition. It’s no wonder you hate your job. I bet you aren’t the only one.

You have three basic choices in front of you, Jason:

1) You can muscle up your motivation and focus on filling your life outside the office with rewarding endeavors, amp up your business/social networking and simply wait out the current situation. Focus on the parts of the job you enjoy and your interactions with patients. What you’ve described is unlikely to last indefinitely. Either one of the partners will “win,” one will split, co-workers will quit or there will be a leveling process in which the technological advances take hold and positions realign to fit present need. There is no timetable, however, so this is an undefined period of stress. I’ve written elsewhere that the indefinite aspect of limitless stress can be a debilitating energy drain. These situations, whether an unfulfilling job, tenuous relationship or chronic health difficulty, can feel like an ongoing sprint with no finish line —and we need a finish line. So, I’d suggest that if you choose this route, you set a deadline at which point you will move on to option 2 or 3.

2) You can seek to create a resolution yourself. The main issue is the doctors’ opposing views and weak leadership. This has created opportunities for co-workers to basically redefine their own job descriptions. It has also fostered a defensive atmosphere in which office staff is unwilling to shoulder responsibilities. The randomness and combativeness of the staff meetings only magnify these issues and serve to etch those battle lines more deeply. You can’t fix the doctors’ dysfunctional partnership, but you can seek some clarifications. Ask to meet with both doctors (or the office manager if there is one) and share your observations regarding the shift in job responsibilities. Be careful to a) meet with both together (say that you have some ideas that you think could improve staff/patient relations) and b) avoid bad-mouthing co-workers. Instead, explain that responsibilities have become unclear and that you’d hate for there to be an error with a patient that would reflect poorly on their practice. Offer to take notes regarding proper protocol at the next staff meeting —this will at least start a paper trail to refer back to when disputes arise and will possibly provide a means from which to routinize procedures.

3) You can set your sights on greener pastures. You sound like a smart and capable man, Jason. It is to your credit that you have tried to keep your focus on maintaining quality patient care within such turmoil. If you don’t feel you’ll be appreciated or allowed to grow where you are, consider searching out another office. Chances are you can list half a dozen reasons why this is a bad idea: lack of job opportunities, seniority, location or benefits to name a few. But consider the toll that stagnating in a contentious atmosphere will have on your career and mental health. Your present situation is creating drag and wasting a lot of your energy. The mere act of choosing to take control of this area of your life by creating some new possibilities will generate positive energy and be a reminder that your world is bigger than the one you’ve live in these past five years.

It may be that a combination of all three strategies will be your best course, allowing you to take action in the present as you also plan for the future. Best of luck to you, Jason.

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

How Can Busy Parents Get Ahead at Work?

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

How Can Busy Parents Get Ahead at Work?

Climbing the Career Ladder is Difficult With Children in Each Arm

Dear Heather,

Hello, you don’t know me, but I saw your profile on Salary.com. You look so happy in your picture and I would love to see myself so accomplished in the near future! Do you have any advice for a hard working creative woman like me? I’ve been designing and managing at the same stable, but unfulfilling job for the past 8 years. I need a kick in the a** to make a move to senior management ELSEWHERE, but I have little time with a toddler underfoot? Please help!

~Mindy

Heather: What a compliment! Thank you. But make no mistake, that photo was cropped to exclude unfinished laundry, a carry-in dinner and the pile of work sitting in my office! It is hard for working parents –especially in that “it’s a good thing you’re so cute” toddler stage.

The first thing is to identify what is truly holding you back from surging towards a senior management position. Exhaustion? Understandable. Or, is it a lack of time or confidence? It’s time to invest in yourself.

Once you’ve identified your particular barrier, purpose to chip at it until it’s a pile of rubble on your Cheerio-strewn floor. You may or may not be able to combat exhaustion. Your vision of your dream job needs to be tangible enough to wake you up to opportunities even with a standing sleep deficit.

If you’re battling a complete lack of time, you’ll have to break down each necessary task to toddler bite-sized pieces. “Find management job” is overwhelming, particularly with a two-year old eyeing the viability of an applesauce launch. So, write down each step of the process and visibly mark off your progress (I even write things down after I do them for the pure satisfaction of crossing them out). Instead of burdening yourself to “do your resume” when your child has perhaps a ten minute attention span for coloring, plan to tackle a single resume section at a time. Research your job opportunities one company at a time if need be. Dedicate ten minutes on other days to renewing old contacts via email or on a business site such as LinkedIn. Moving forward slowly, ten or twenty minutes at a time, is better than getting comfortable in a rut.

If you want that next job, know you can do the work, have identified the necessary steps and are still hesitating? Encourage yourself. When my energy flags, I send myself a short affirming email, most often with nothing more than a positive quality, quotation or truth as the subject. There is a benefit in both recording and reading such a positive message. Be your own fan. Self-affirmation along with a step-by-step checklist to guide you to your goal will give definition to the dream. Then, it becomes a matter of tackling those details one at a time. Nothing is out of reach for a determined toddler. Tap into some of that focused energy. Good luck, and please keep me posted!

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

Putting in Overtime on a Workplace Friendship

Author, Columnist, Speaker, Voiceover & Video Spokesperson

Salary.com Columnist

Putting in Overtime on a Workplace Friendship

How Much is Enough?

Dear Heather,

One of my co-workers has hit a rough patch in her personal life. She just ended a three-year relationship, is taking it very hard and apparently has little family/friend support. She is a very committed to her job and takes on extra projects on a regular basis. The boyfriend didn’t seem very important in her life (I only met him twice), and I’m kind of surprised she’s taking it so hard. The problem is she has started calling me in the evening fairly regularly. I don’t think she has much going on outside of work and is pretty lonely. I feel really bad for her and consider her a friend, but my husband is getting annoyed and I guess I am too a little. I want to help her but need my family time after work. Any suggestions?

~Mary

Dear Mary,

Your compassion is commendable. Human connection is what makes it all worthwhile, as your friend is discovering in a painfully tangible way. But in this case it’s unacceptable because it is at the expense of your most valuable human connection — your family. Because her present imbalance has the potential of impacting your own work/life balance, you need to sketch in some boundaries fairly quickly.

You are her chosen life preserver. While your empathy is a good thing, keep in mind that life preservers are not intended for use as extended support. They are temporary flotation devices designed to transport a weakened party from an unstable position to where they can stand on their own two feet. The key word is “temporary.” You need to view this as a short-term situation and devise specific steps to help your friend without negatively impacting your family.

You may feel a temptation to set her up with one of your husband’s poker buddies (Jim’s single and hasn’t been arrested in two years). Fight it. This is a very bad idea as it has the potential of doubling those late night phone calls. Bandaging one broken relationship with another rarely does more than create another bandage-able situation.

Instead, help your co-worker begin to establish the balance that has apparently been lacking in her own life. She needs friends and outside interests. Fortunately, those are often a two-for-one. Encourage her to explore the world beyond your office. Offer to accompany her to couple of networking or interest-specific events where she can make new connections to build upon.

Next, establish “help” zones that won’t jeopardize your family life. Let her know you want to talk when you are best able to focus, and that your evenings are too hectic for you to give her full attention. Can you give her your ear at a weekly breakfast or lunch? Maybe meet her for an endorphin-amped workout at the gym?

Finally, do not be afraid to suggest professional counseling: “I really want to help you, but I don’t have all the answers. This is hard, painful stuff. I think you deserve the kind of knowledge and guidance a professional counselor could give you.”

Keep the compassion, but don’t allow it to override your primary obligations to your family. Don’t abandon your co-worker/friend, but don’t be a sled dog either. Your role is not to rescue, but to facilitate your co-worker’s rescue of herself while still retaining that critical balance in your own life.

~Heather

Originally published at Salary.com.

8 Reasons You Should Turn Down That Job Offer

8 Reasons You Should Turn Down That Job Offer

Just Because You Were Offered the Job Doesn’t Mean You Should Take It

The good news is you got the job. Which, in this still-reeling economy, is quite an accomplishment. But the bad news is you’re worried you might be settling for a position that isn’t the right fit for you. So where do you go from here?

Look, the honest truth is there are times when you’ll have to take any job you can get, even if you know it’s a bad fit. Maybe your house is about to be foreclosed on, you can’t make rent, or you have a family depending on you for income. We completely understand there will be times when finding ANY job is a priority over the PERFECT job.

But then there’s the flip side of that coin, which is taking a job just for the sake of having a job even if you have the luxury of holding out for something better. Maybe you’re frustrated because your job search has taken far longer than expected, or you graduated college and you’re the last of your friends to find steady employment. Those situations aren’t ideal, but neither is taking a “filler” job that won’t really benefit your career.

To help guide you, here are some very valid reasons to reject a job offer.

8. It’s a Dead End, Not a Detour
Sometimes we travel a broken career road, but that’s not all bad. Many success stories include colorful chapters where the hero bravely works his way up to corporate glory. But what about the sad dramas where the heroine ends up pausing her career indefinitely in a so-so job that moves her off-target and out-of-sight of her hopes and dreams?

Consider: Will the circuitous route still allow some sort of progress in your chosen direction? Or will the filler job effectively block the path to your desired destination? The best filler job will still allow you to grow skills and experiences that are resume-worthy, and easily applied at your next position. The worst ones can spiral you into a black hole from which you gain no additional skills or experience, essentially trapping you with no hope of escape.

7. When It Costs You Opportunities
Most jobs are found through networking. A job organizing office supplies in a backroom or basement will offer you few opportunities to rub elbows with anyone save the occasional lost soul seeking a restroom. On the other hand, a retail job selling business apparel might give you the inside scoop on unposted job listings. Remember, the clear majority of today’s employment opportunities are unadvertised.

Consider: If volunteer work or community service puts you in touch with a growing number of business contacts, it might be worth fueling that momentum rather than cutting yourself off with a short-term, bill-paying position. Obviously, if you’re in debt and behind on your bills, you may not have the luxury of timing. However, be certain that wherever you spend your 9 to 5, you remain in the vicinity of connections to your chosen career goals.

6. When It Hurts Your Professional Reputation
On the other hand, while assembling sandwiches in a company cafeteria will likely put you in contact with key decision-makers (even CEOs have to eat lunch), do you want to be remembered for a cheddar cheese mishap when you finally land that interview?

Consider: It’s one thing to wait tables as a new college graduate in search of that elusive first job. However, a displaced IT manager refilling iced teas is doing nothing to enhance that image of technical prowess. There is nothing wrong with honest labor. But aim for labor that won’t contradict your status and reputation as a professional. To wit, waiting tables would be consistent with a hospitality manager looking for her next gig. Web design work might be a better fit for the on-hold IT manager.

5. When It’s Soul-Crushing
How tough is your spirit? Can you retain essential hope and focus while working in the potential filler job? Some people own the sort of resilience that will not be trampled by janitorial duties or irate customers at a fast food establishment. Others have a tendency to link identity to work and their self-worth will deflate like a leaky balloon.

Consider: Know thyself. The purpose of a temporary job is to equip you — financially and possibly experientially — for the real deal. If a filler job is likely to grind down your self-image, perhaps you need to look a little longer. Find employment that will pay your bills without costing you your confidence and breaking your spirit.

4. When It Goes Against Your Morals & Values
The nature of your temporary work shouldn’t make you feel like you’re compromising who you are or your beliefs. Obviously you should avoid anything illegal, but beyond that black and white is a lot of grey. For instance, a vegetarian meat-packer, an environmentalist working for big oil, or a personal privacy advocate making telemarketing calls. These are scenarios that will pit self against self.

Consider: You will be ineffective and personally miserable in any position that requires you to ignore core values. Selling something that is personally disagreeable is a blow to your integrity. How will you sell the professionalism of someone willing to turn a blind eye to his own convictions?

3. When It Costs You Your Family
A great paycheck that takes you out-of-town — or out of family life by nature of the sheer number of hours required — may be a risk to your family connections. Yes, getting behind on your mortgage payment could strain family loyalties as well, but be sure you and your spouse (or significant other) are on the same page regarding expectations.

Consider: How “temporary” will temporary be? Are there other options that might provide a better balance to the financial vs. family stability equation? An indefinitely timed strain on familial relationships (and connections to your support system) should be approached with caution. Do you work to live or live to work? Just remember, no one on a deathbed ever wished they spent more time at work.

2. When the Money Isn’t Good Enough
Sometimes, it really is all about the money.

Most of us work to live. We have mortgages, rent, utilities, car payments, daycare and more to pay for, and we’re working to foot the bills. So if you’re presented with a job that doesn’t even come close to making all the ends meet, it might be worth holding out for something more lucrative if that’s feasible.

Consider: Be clear about pay structures and costs of employment — especially for commission-based work — before grabbing a temporary position. The word “temporary” can ascribe less value to the details tied to these jobs. These details should matter, however, because you are making a trade of your job search time. Be sure it’s a worthwhile exchange.

1. When the Money Is TOO Good
Whoosh. That’s the soul-sucking sound of a lucrative paycheck pulling talent from a long-term goal. It happens. The pay is so good you stay on a little longer. And a little longer after that. Next thing you know you’re completely hooked on your fat paycheck, 10 years have gone by, and you’ve forgotten you used to have other dreams.

Consider: If you’re a “work to live” personality with a goal of retirement, this may not be a deal-breaker. But if your goals are for professional achievement, be wary of temporary jobs that could lull you into career complacency. “Umm, I got busy and forgot” isn’t going to sit well with a bored, stagnated version of yourself, wondering about the untapped potential of your youth.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize. “Any” job is often better than no job, but not necessarily. Measure “filler” jobs against your overall career plan. Be wary of any side gig that holds the power to hamstring you into a permanent sideline position.

Our career paths are rarely straight lines. Sometimes the route to a coveted sales position goes through the mailroom. And there are times that outside pressures and financial considerations force us to pause professional progress completely. These challenges are surmountable and may even provide valuable perspective, as long as hitting the pause button doesn’t cause our motivation to idle as well.

Originally published at Salary.com.

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