How to avoid getting fired by George Clooney

Reading time: 3 minutes and 53 seconds
Part 3 of the 15 Secrets to Career Success in the 21st Century.

Career Secret 7: Stay in Control (and avoid George)

Up in the Air won a host of Oscars for its potrayal of corporate life in the 21st Century.  George Clooney plays a corporate highway man, jetting around the US with the mission of “downsizing” companies.

The “downsized” employees react with shock, horror and helplessness.

In the 21st Century world of work, there is no such thing as a job for life.  Assuming that having a job gives you security is a dangerous thing to do.  It can lead to complacency and shutting off great opportunities.

The truth is you always have many choices about how to make a living. You could take full-time employment in various sectors (corporate, government, non-profit, academia),  contract, free-lance, be an entrepreneur, volunteer, sit on a board, and sell homemade handicrafts at fairs.

To avoid George Clooney arriving at your office and giving you that speech, it pays to make sure you stay in control of your career and keep making choices.

You can stay in control:

By regularly taking time to set and check in with your career vision and goals, you can have a plan that looks beyond your current work.

By keeping up your skills and developing new transferable ones – you will open more options for the future.

Through professional networking  and building out your contacts  - you can lay the foundations for the next steps of the career journey.

In the 21st Century nothing is certain, except that you always have a choice.

Secret 8: Set your career vision

career coaching, career change, careershift, find work you love, successful life, well rounded life

What's your career vision?

There was a recent story about a man who bought a boat in London and wanted to sail it back to his home in the South West of England.  He didn’t have a map or any navigation system.  He assumed that if he set off and kept the land to his right, he’d get there eventually.  He ended up sailing three times around the Isle of Sheepey in the River Thames before running out of fuel and giving up.

He had no vision, no plan, no map and no compass.  He didn’t think ahead.

Without a career vision and a clear plan, our careers can end up going round and round in circles.

Setting a vision is about creating the long term direction for your 21st Century Career.  A vision is like your guiding star in the sky – it tell us the general direction we need to head in over time.  It also helps you make important short term choices.

Career visions should be big, juicy, motivating and challenging.  They should stretch you and light a fire in you every time you think about them.

Some examples of career visions might be:

  • To become known as one of the world’s best project managers, work with top organisations to help them successfully complete projects and also lecture and write about the subject
  • To become a chief technology officer helping innovative companies to develop technology that can create a sustainable future for the planet
  • To lead a non-profit that campaigns for the equality of employment rights for everyone and changes the face of the modern workforce
  • To build a company that bakes the tastiest cupcakes in the world and delights its customers with the coolest branding in the marketplace
  • To have a successful and lucrative career in finance that allows my to be financially independent by 40

Creating a career vision requires thought and time.  You’ll need to ask yourself some serious questions about what work means to you and what you want to get out of it.

You’ll need to look into the future and visualise how you’d like your life to look in 10 or 20 years time – how will you use your time and talent.

As you develop answers, they’ll need to feel authentic and in tune with your values.

Most importantly, the vision has to be something that is exciting.  It will need to get you out of bed on a cold Monday morning at 5am, get you through the late night with the boss breathing down your neck, get you through the month with no sales.

Secret 9: Write your career story every day

career coaching, career counselling, find work you love, meaningful work, successful life, remarkable life

Write your career story

In the 21st Century, you write your career story every day.  You are a walking resume.

Every action you take and every choice you make at work adds to your professional experience and skills. Future career success is determined by what you do every day.

This point is reinforced by Reid Hoffman, CEO of Linkedin:

“I actually think every individual is now an entrepreneur, whether they recognize it or not. . . . Average job length is two to four years. That makes you a small business. . . . You are the entrepreneur of your own small business. How do you get to your next gig? How do you do your career progression? All these things now fall on the individual shoulders.”

This new career paradigm requires more flexibility, the ability to change course quickly and take new opportunities as they arise.

To do this there are two key elements:

1)   Develop transferable skills

Transferable skills are the skills that are needed to be successful in almost any work. They include turning up on time, communicating effectively, learning to influence others, writing persuasively, delegating, managing others, creating a vision for a project and many others.

Being able to demostrate these skills is the key to jumping into the next exciting role in a career journey.

Being able to execute these skills will allow you to be successful in that role.

You can deliberately plan to develop these skills and this will help you to write your work story.

2)   Write your work story

Our work story is the combination of all our career experiences. We summarize these and create a narrative that tells the world who we are – often through a CV and in an interview.

Our work story tells the reader or listener about the trajectory of our career – it explains why all our experiences to date make us the right employee, consultant, freelancer for the job.  The story demonstrates our key skills through a series of successful experiences using those skills.

Remembering that you are writing your career story every day can help to make good choices that expand our skill base, create another great example of success and develop the stream of our career narrative.

Secret 10: Collect People

No man is an Island”  John Donne

career coaching, career counselling, find work you love, successful life

Who are you connected to?

If you’re planning to become a holy person, live in a cave and commune with god, you can skip this secret.

For those of us who measure success on this temporal plane, everything we do relies on other people for success. People hire us, work for us, work with us, buy from us, sell to us, inspire us, collaborate with us,  recommend us, connect us.

More than 50% of all new jobs come through networking and informal connections rather than direct advertising.

Most 21st Century entrepreneurs use affiliate marketing and collaborations to build businesses that transcend their size as one man operations.

Getting a project done can become much easier if we can call on the right people to help think it through and make things happen.


Even more important is that our networks have networks too. If you have a network of 100 people, who each have networks of 100 people, you are connected to 10,000 people.  That is a lot of people to help you succeed in your career journey.

Collecting the right people is a key to career success.

For this reason, we should become people collectors and develop a network of great people.  So what makes a good network?

A good network needs a wide variety of different people who can fill different roles.  In my case, I think about people who are supporters (they energize me), inspirers (they help me create new ideas), advocates (people who actively champion me), connectors (those who have great networks and are prepared to share), mentors (wise folks who have trodden my path and can guide me).

The key in filling out your network is to fill it with people you like and have a natural affinity and connection with.  If you’ve ever tried to build a relationship with someone you don’t get on with, you’ll know that this seldom seems to work.

I think of a personal network a bit like an archery board.  As the level of intimacy and frequency of connection with a person decreases, you tend to have more of those people in your network.  You may only have 1 or 2 people in your absolute trusted inner circle who you speak with almost every day.  Yet you may have a broad network of hundreds of great people who you are Linked In to, and maybe connect only every couple of years.

In the 21st Century we can use technology to keep track of our networks. We can use social networks (and Linked In is great).  We have the tools to connect with and meet anyone across the globe – we can email, IM, Skype, video conference and telephone.

The only limit to building a 21st Century network is your imagination in what is possible.  So get collecting and reap the benefits.

Photo credit: Kennymatic, VestmanAli Brohl

How to Keep Going

Reading time: 3 minutes and 23 seconds

career change, career coaching, find work you love, do what you love, find your passion, find your vocation

Keep Climbing Life's Mountain

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You catch yourself staring out of the window daydreaming.

What challenges are you thinking about?  Finding work that feels worthwhile?  A happier life?  An exciting project?  A big life change?  Finding love?  Getting fit?  More balance? Turning your passion into a living?

Daydreaming means Thinking Big about the future – then we need to take actions to make that dream a reality.  Getting going is tough, keeping up the momentum is even tougher.  I’m sharing six powerful ways to keep going once you commit to a big project and make your dream into a reality.

Eighteen months ago I was daydreaming about making a living working for myself as a professional career coach.  The vision was exciting.  When the dream became a reality, everything changed.

Suddenly I was faced with a big mountain to climb.  I felt a combination of intense excitement mixed with deep nausea.  I was climbing my own Mount Everest – what an amazing undertaking.  Looking up at the top, I saw the sun glinting on the mountain top, a beautiful peaceful place.  I knew that I had to get there.

Getting started wasn’t easy, and in the end I just had to cross my fingers toes and everything else and just go for it.   As several of you pointed out, the challenge is how to keep going.

Once the novelty wore off, I sometimes found myself slogging through the foothills.  After weeks of hard work, the peak only appeared a little closer, and my starting point teasingly close.  The temptation to call in the rescue team and go home teased me.  No harm, no foul.

I’ve learned a lot about how to keep going during the last 18 months. It has been a steep ascent, with some rocky patches.  Yet there have been some breathtaking vistas and milestones that have kept me striding slowly forward one step at a time.  On reflection, here are six big lessons I’ve learned about how to take on any or challenge and keep going:

  1. Keep the dream alive – I’ve kept that glinting ray of light at the top of the mountain burning bright in my mind.  My motivation is to make a living helping others find satisfaction, peace and happiness through meaningful work.  When the going gets tough, remembering this re-energizes me and keeps me going.
  2. Break up the journey – when I started out, the mountain looked huge.  I set up some intermediary targets along the way.  Creating this blog was one of the legs on my journey.  These camps on the mountain provide short-term objectives – to make it to the next station.  Breaking up my dream into achievable chunks makes it seem realistic.
  3. Get support – no one in their right mind would climb a huge mountain alone.  I’ve assembled a great support team of supporters, mentors, advisers, collaborators to help me on the climb.  They carry my pack for me when the going gets tough, share their oxygen when the air is thin, give me a pep talk when I’m despairing.  Without this team, I know I’d have no chance.
  4. Stop and enjoy the view – at first I often saw the climb as an endless trudge without end.  I felt tired and drained.  I’ve learned that to stay motivated I need to enjoy every step of the journey.  I try to do things that I love as much as possible (still have to do the admin though!).  I regularly stop and enjoy the view along the way – looking back on what how far I’ve come and reflecting on how the world has changed already.  Enjoying the climb makes it worth continuing.
  5. Prepare for setbacks – Setbacks are inevitable on the climb.  I’ve had my fair share of challenges – workshops with no attendees, prospects who aren’t interested.  Now I think ahead to try and see what pitfalls may be ahead and try to plot my path to avoid these.  I also have learned to prepare myself mentally for these moments and to find the good or opportunity in them.  The setbacks don’t stop me in my tracks and bring the doubt that they used to.  I can reflect, find the lesson and move on up the hill.
  6. Be flexible – there are many routes to reach the top of most mountains and they may be more or less difficult depending on the conditions.  I’ve realised that doggedly following the planned path doesn’t always work.  I’m more flexible and open to different directions as long as they keep me moving toward the summit.

So where am I on the mountain now?  I’ve helped lots of people to find work that they love and am making a living doing work I love.  The summit of the mountain is much closer than base camp now.

After all the climbing I’ve done so far, I’m starting to become a life mountaineer.  I’ve got through many days when I didn’t know if I could keep going.  I know that I’ll reach the summit now.

Are you a life mountaineer?  How do you keep going?  What motivates you to climb your mountain?  How do you maintain progress when the going gets tough?

Think Big – Four Steps to get unstuck and start living life to the full

Before we start, thanks for reading Less Ordinary Living and I hope you find some inspiration.  I’m Thinking Big to get 1,000 subscribers for Less Ordinary Living (currently 72), please click here and subscribe to never miss a post.  Thanks to every one of you for reading. Enjoy!

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We’re all human and change can be tough.  Its easy for us to get stuck in a rut, or in our comfort zone – and this can lead to our good intentions and Big Thinking dying on the vine.  Nasty things like fear and emotion can sometimes block us from action.

Getting unstuck and out of a rut is challenging.   I always start out by taking baby steps.  For example, looking at my personal vision and goals, my first step is to identify my most urgent goal.  Currently this is getting more involved in my community and building out my network of friends.  My goal in 5 years time is to be a leader of a community organisation, and to be an active member of a two other groups focused on areas of personal interest.  The next question is – what can I do this week to move forward with this?

I’ve learned that to successfully achieve goals like this I need to take two parallel tracks – taking actions in the world around me, and working on what goes on between my two ears in my internal world.  To achieve my goal I came up with the following plan that covers both areas:

  1. Actions in the outside world – I’ve already researched community groups that interest me on the internet and identified an organisation called Slow Down London and a local running club.  I’ll commit to calling a representative of Slow Down London to find out more about how I can be involved.  I’ll also commit to going to the running club next week to see how I enjoy it.  Making these real life commitments and keeping them moves me towards my goal and vision.
  2. Actions in my inner world – Although I’m a sociable and outgoing person, I have always avoided joining groups and societies.  Something inside me has held me back from this for all of my adult life.  I’ve been meaning to attend this running club for nearly a year now and haven’t done it.  To successfully achieve the goal in a sustainable way, I need to understand more about this and overcome this issue, or the initial actions I take will probably quickly fade away.  I’ll commit to observing the thoughts and emotions that come up this week as I take my first steps.  Perhaps I’ll identify a fear of rejection if I turn up to the running club and no-one talks to me the first time.  I know that I have a tendency to think I can do things better than anyone else (I’m wrong of course), and get frustrated in group situations, so I’ll look out for that feeling.  I’ll record the thoughts, emotions and stories I’m telling myself about groups, and spend time analysing them to see what is working for me and what isn’t.  I’ll come up with different ways to think about clubs and different stories to tell.  If I commit to this and work hard at it, it should make it easier for me to happily commit to clubs and societies in the future.

I know that joining a new group is hard for me and the physical action of doing so will help.  However, unless I can get my head straight, it will never get any easier.  So taking the first step, actually involves taking two steps and each is vital.  At the beginning, I said that making change is hard for us, and this explains why.

So how can you take your first step?  Follow this simple process to design your actions this week:

1)   Identify your most pressing challenge or area that you want to work on (for me, my community)

2)   Identify the specific area for development (for me, involvement in community groups)

3)   Design some specific actions to take that are realistic over the next week.  Remember that great journeys start with a single step, so don’t overdo it

4)   Think about how your thoughts, emotions, fears, beliefs and stories might be impacting your ability to be successful.  Determine to observe these over the next week without judgment and write these things down.  When did you feel fear and what was behind that?  What stories did you tell about yourself (I’m not good with new people) that might stop you in your tracks.  Consider which thoughts might be holding you back and analyse them – is that story, fear or emotion realistic?  How could you think in a different way or tell a different story that would be more helpful in achieving your goals?

This approach was difficult and frustrating when I first tried it, however over time and with practice it has become more instinctive.  If you can stick with it, you’ll find it gets easier to take the actions in the external world as you remove the mental and emotional blocks you’ve built up.  Week by week you’ll start to get unstuck and make steady progress towards living your vision and achieving your goals.

So now you have the three steps that I use to think big and make it happen– creating a vision, setting a 5 year plan, and taking external and internal steps to achieve this.  The world is your oyster, so think big and make the most of your life!

For the rest of this year, Less Ordinary Living will focus on making the most of 2010, so please subscribe to make sure you don’t miss a post!

Thinking Big – Creating your Vision

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Find your vision

Find your vision

The next three posts on Less Ordinary Living, are about Thinking Big and creating a powerful, clear vision for the next decade (and beyond).  At the end you’ll have a no-holds barred plan for the future, which will help you make the most of your personal and professional potential, and feel happier and more confident.  Please take part over the next three posts and encourage all your friends and family to do the same.

I’ve been trying to think big over the last few weeks and the biggest challenges I’ve faced are my own thoughts and emotions.  I’ll suggest a big dream like running a marathon and raising money for charity and… BOOM – I start thinking about how hard the training will be.. POW – I feel afraid that I might fail and let all my sponsors down.  It’s easy to think ourselves out of the life we’d like or to get afraid of failing.

A technique I’ve found particularly helpful in overcoming these challenges is to create a vision of the future.  Most of us like to daydream and start imagining what life could be like.  We create an image of a life where we are fabulous happy and have time to do all the things we’ve always wanted to.  I’ve found that if I can grant myself permission to dream for half an hour without any critical thoughts I can really start to think big.

Visualisation is an incredibly powerful tool in preparing for the future.  Professional sportspeople use visualisation to prepare for a big race or tournament.  Neurological studies have found that the same parts of the brain fire in the sportsperson’s brain when they visualise as when they actually compete.  So visualising helps us practice the future and train our minds to focus on what we want to achieve.  I’m trying to take time to visualise my vision as much as possible and finding it helps to quieten some of the negative thinking and fear that arises.

One exercise I’ve found particularly helpful for this process is the Party.

In this exercise you find somewhere comfortable and set aside 30 minutes.

  • First, you make an agreement with yourself that you’ll allow yourself to dream without judgment or fear.
  • Now close your eyes and start to imagine that you are at your 90th birthday party and are surrounded by the most important people in your life.
  • Everyone has gathered together to celebrate your life (so far!) and to talk about you.
  • Start to imagine who is at the party, where it is being held and take a minute or two to walk around and just soak it all in.  Don’t worry if it takes a while to see it – that is natural.
  • Once you are ready, let the toasts begin, as the most important people in your life talk about you
  • Some people might talk about the amazing things that you’ve done in your life – how you travelled the world, gave your time to a charity, were a loving family member or parent.
  • Others might recall some of the great times they spent with you – the parties, the holidays, the projects, the businesses they worked on with you, or just the quiet times.
  • Others will talk more about the kind of person you are – your best qualities – kindness, love, compassion, dynamism, sense of humour.
  • Take some time to enjoy the party and listen to what everyone is saying – what are the most important things that are coming through about you.
  • Once you’ve heard everything you need to hear, call the party to an end by thanking all the guests and being grateful for their role in your life.
  • Now take a little time to write down the key ideas in a notebook or journal – think about some of the key achievements, the good times and importantly how you applied your best qualities.

This exercise helped me to really get an understanding of the vision for my life.  It clarified my priorities, identified a few really key things that I’d like to do, and helped me to work out what kind of person I’d like to be today.  I’ve used it several times to firm up my vision and to get a clear picture of the life I’d like to lead.

So, step one of the Thinking Big process is to create your vision of the future.  Don’t feel you need to get out your crystal ball and get every detail right – and don’t feel that this will tie you to achieving the exact vision you create.  The vision is guide for how to act each day and the direction to take – but just a guide.  Often life will create opportunities we couldn’t even have dreamt of.   As your vision develops, spend time with it and learn to quieten the doubts and any negative emotions that arise.

Congratulations – you have taken the first step to creating your vision for the future.  Next time, we’ll look at how to plan for the next five years.  Take a minute to subscribe by clicking here to make sure you don’t miss the next two parts.