Monthly Archives: June 2014

10 STRATEGIES FOR ACQUIRING NEW SKILLS, EVEN WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE IT’S SOMETHING YOU HAVE TO DO, NOT SOMETHING YOU WANT TO DO

Acquiring new skills can be fun
Photo: zcool.com.cn

Nothing is work unless you’d rather be doing something else. — George Halas

Doors slam tight in the job market, if one is unwilling to embrace change by developing a taste for acquiring new skills.

Even though technology has brought to modern life an almost ceaseless bounty of new experiences, and unlimited possibilities, it can sometimes be overwhelming to contemplate new devices and applications, with more continually looming on the horizon.

Also, quite often being bilingual is a necessary requirement for employment.

It is a knowledge fueled economy, but that sinking feeling that one is almost always ‘a day late and a dollar short’ in the knowledge department, and therefore repeatedly scrambling to compete in the marketplace, can take over and rob us of taking advantage of the potentiality out there.

So it’s carpe diem time. Here are ten strategies for staying on top of the knowledge rat race:

ONE — Take the time to assess your interests so that you aim yourself in the right direction from the start. What gets you fired up? Are you interested in fitness? Do you like working with numbers? Put another way, be sure you are headed in a direction that can keep you going when the more mundane chores set in, rather than heading in a certain direction because you feel some obligation to do so. This is your life — do it your way!

TWO — Assess the skills you already have, and add to those skills in a thoughtful and deliberate fashion. Learning new things randomly, rather than systematically, will not build an arsenal of readily usable skills that can translate into better opportunities. In other words, if you already know Word and Excel, but don’t know other applications in Microsoft Office, check to see what you should learn next by studying online job posts in the areas that interest you. You may find Outlook is next, followed by PowerPoint and Access, if the types of jobs you’re looking for generally list Word, Excel, and Outlook as required, and PowerPoint and Access as a plus.

THREE — Tackle new information in small  increments, in small blocks of time, and do so daily  to reinforce what you are learning. A weekend marathon ‘cram session’ just to pass a test is hardly the road to mastery and excellence.

FOUR — If at all possible, do what you least wish to do early in your day before you have a lot of excuses to procrastinate until tomorrow. If you’re taking evening classes, reinforce what you learned the night before with a review session as early as possible the following morning.

FIVE — Periodically relate what you are studying to your bigger picture. If your ultimate plan is to live and work in France,  studying  French now will help you position yourself to achieve your goal later. When you remind yourself that something infinitely more exciting is just around the corner, you create a ‘carrot’ for yourself and you are motivated to work through any momentary tedium.

SIX — Give yourself further incentive by creating the right study atmosphere. If France is your goal, hang up French themed posters, or listen to music from France.

SEVEN — Remind yourself continually that these new skills you are acquiring are going to translate into new and better opportunities very quickly (unlike, for example, studying something like ancient history which is fascinating but not usually immediately translatable into career opportunities). It is also important to note that your newfound opportunities may be opportunities you hadn’t even envisioned in planning your original goals. In other words, remind yourself that you are likely to reap ‘dividends’ from your efforts.

EIGHT — Think of learning new things as a perk — as a gym membership for your brain. It’s no accident that websites like Lumosity are so popular. Working the brain in new ways improves cognitive abilities, making us better able to reason and communicate.

NINE — Be sure to remind yourself that once you’ve learned the basics, you never have to relearn the basics. Rather, you are poised to continue to build on the basics. Translation? It just gets easier and easier the farther into a new subject you get.

TEN — Make whatever you are studying as fun as possible. Use a special notebook, different colored inks, different colored note cards — heck, use finger paints to hand write your notes — do whatever it takes — be creative and playful in your approach to learning.

What tips do you have for acquiring new skills? Please leave your thoughts in the Comments section below.

In the meantime,

Bestest to all,Cynthia Dalton signature

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ONE GOOD WAY TO HELP OTHERS AVOID DISCOURAGEMENT: BE THEIR CHEERLEADER

 

The intersection between  impossible and possible
Photo: Geralt
 

Few things in this world are more powerful than a positive push. A smile. A word of optimism and hope. A ‘you can do it’ when things are tough. — Richard M. DeVos

Last week’s post was about avoiding discouragement in ourselves by learning to be the first one to cheer ourselves on, especially since we can’t count on others to praise our every effort.

However, it is equally important to supply much needed encouragement to others, even if they don’t return the favor.

While most of us are giving and generous on an ongoing basis, what I’m talking about here is cultivating in one’s self a consistent generosity of spirit toward others that goes beyond heartfelt compliments or obvious acts of kindness, such as volunteer work or periodic charitable donations.

Just as people need food every day of the year, not just on Thanksgiving Day, they also need words of encouragement on a daily basis.

There are so many interesting traits and talents people display on a daily basis that we often take such an ‘embarrassment of riches’ for granted. Stepping back and taking a fresh look at those around us, we can come away with a newfound appreciation for their personalities and abilities.

People do amazing things everyday. They might:

  • Ace a driving test for the first time
  • Plan a great meal on a tight budget
  • Reorganize the layout of an office for greater efficiency
  • Handle a difficult conversation with diplomacy and tact
  • Banish a monster from under a frightened child’s bed

Taking a cue from how cheerleaders deliver their upbeat message, we can develop the habit of looking for, and acknowledging, these daily triumphs on a regular basis. In the process of doing so, we create a repetitive pattern that multiplies the positive effect we have on others.

If we couple this with ways to exaggerate our appreciation, a colorful ‘thank you’ card, or some freshly picked, fragrant flowers, we also create a mini ritual moment. Through these well placed words and gestures, we help to reinforce in others their own faith in themselves.

And, it is faith in ourselves that is often at the intersection between what we view as possible for us to accomplish, and what we view as impossible for us accomplish.

Please leave your thoughts on this topic in the Comments section below.

In the meantime,

Bestest to all,

Cynthia Dalton signature

 

 

 

ONE GOOD WAY TO AVOID DISCOURAGEMENT: BE YOUR OWN CHEERLEADER

Being Your Own Cheerleader
Photo: Anja Petrol

You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection. — Gautama Buddha

Being the first one to cheer youself on avoids discouragement. Think of it as self-prescribed, preventative medicine.

Why? Because, there are many (employer, parents, or peers) who may be well intentioned, but  unfortunately,  all too often point out to us our short-comings, while forgetting to also point out our strong points or provide us with positive feedback when we’ve reached a milestone of one sort or another.

Most of us, most of the time, are in fact, over-criticized. It is so common place, that we start criticizing ourselves, possibly in a sort of ‘do unto myself before anyone has a chance to do unto me’ misguided attempt at self-defense. Self-deprecation is fine to a point if we use it in a way that applies a healthy dose of humor to our perception of ourselves, in order to find that perfect balance between our pluses and our minuses.

But after a while, it gets downright annoying that our triumphs often turn out to be the proverbial ‘sound of one hand clapping’ whereas our less than stellar moments are virtually announced on the Universe’s PA system or dipped in bronze and put on permanent, public display!

This is where discouragement can set in, unless we take preemptive measures.

You Need a Ritual

I do realize that cheerleading as an analogy is pretty hackneyed, but one aspect of the analogy I do find most useful is the implementation of ritual.

Rituals serve a variety of purposes, and one important purpose is the reinforcement of belief. In this instance, I’m referring specifically to believing in one’s own self.

If we are going to ‘do unto ourselves’ before others can, than we might as well make it a positive experience in which we praise ourselves for all the things we’ve done well, and cheerleading offers a great template for this. Two elements are essential:

  1. Exaggeration 
  2. Repetition

We’re looking here to reinvent for our own use the theatrics of all that gymnastic choreography, the pompoms in constant motion, and the affirmative chanting so familiar to sports fans everywhere.

Exactly what one devises as a personal ritual is up to one’s own taste, but it should include:

  1. Exaggeration of supportive emotional content — really allow yourself to drink in the feelings you associate with your accomplishment — let the ribbon break across your chest — you won the marathon! Wallow in it until it is an actual, physical sensation, and give yourself a strong mental image that you can call upon later to again invoke the same feeling when you’re ‘down a quart.’
  2. Repetitive and exaggerated physical movement — Maybe you like to dance or hop on the TreadClimber or work those kettlebells or you could just lift your arms up and down in praise — what’s essential is to put some physicality into the moment to trigger nature’s original ‘happy pill’ endorphins, so that your association with the moment is strong and pleasant.
  3. Loud (or at least imagine it loud if your neighbors are too close by) verbal repetition of simple and affirmative phrases — exclaim your triumph using action oriented terminology and say something like, “I am strong, capable, and successful at whatever challenge I invite into my life!”

Even though this may feel awkward at first, both because we may feel silly and because we’re supposed to take care of everything and everyone else first before we take care of ourselves, it is worth doing habitually. It’s true that tending to our own needs is often viewed by some as selfish, and childish. But taking care of ourselves is not optional. It’s mandatory if we are to be truly at our best when others need us.

Please share your thoughts on this topic in the Comments section below.

In the meantime,

Bestest to all,

Cynthia Dalton signature

 

 

A 3-STEP APPROACH TO OVERCOMING SHYNESS

Shyness is Isolating
Photo: Lucrecia Beatrice

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou

In the 1949 classic, The Heiress,  starring Olivia de Havilland, de Havilland’s plays Catherine Sloper who is homely and painfully shy, spending most of her time slumped over her needlework. She stands to inherit a pot-load of loot once her father, Dr. Sloper, played by Ralph Richardson, finishes his stint in this world in which he spends a great deal of his time berating Catherine for her lack of style and wit.

Enter a dashing opportunist, Morris Townsend, played by Montgomery Clift. Morris is persistent in his less than sincere attentions, but Catherine is duped by the constant flattery and is soon madly in love. She agrees to elope with Townsend. In the meantime,  Dr. Sloper makes it clear to all, that if his daughter marries the social-climbing Morris, she will be disinherited. Naturally, she’s stood-up on the night of the planned elopement. Shyness limited Catherine’s options so drastically, that she was now resigned to a lonely, empty life, with needlepoint one of her few pleasures.

When I was a teenager I remember watching Carol Burnett parody the movie on her variety show. I remember watching The Lady Heiress, now so shy her father, played by Harvey Korman, reports that when company comes to call she hides in the grandfather clock. By the time “Norris Townly” shows up for a visit, she is so insecure, she retreats to the inside of the grand piano.

Funny stuff.

But being shy is no laughing matter if it cripples us to the point that we shun learning new things that might enrich our lives, causes us to hide the talents we already possess because we’re too self-conscious to promote ourselves for fear of drawing the spotlight to ourselves, or avoid social situations where we might encounter new and unfamiliar people, places, and activities that might prevent us from having to settle for our own version of Morris Townsend, with all that that implies.

I was painfully shy as a kid, and so I know from first hand experience that shyness always makes things worse, not better. I probably missed out on a lot until the day I had a little epiphanette that changed everything.

It was in Junior High and I was in a class where we were divided into teams of two in order to do some project, the subject or purpose of which I no longer remember. What I do remember is that I finally encountered an individual who was shier than I, and this kid was so uncomfortable trying to have a simple conversation with me that I really felt just terrible about his discomfort. I wanted to make him feel better. That’s when it hit me. Forget my own discomfort and concentrate on making the other person feel better.

Eureka!

Through trial and error and a lot of intervening years, here’s what I remind myself to do when shyness strikes:

Step One — Go into empathy mode. This means I drop caring how I feel in the situation in favor of caring about how the other person feels. This shift in focus takes me out of self-conscious mode because I’m no longer focused on poor little me. So, say I’m in the produce section at the grocery store and I see some kind of vegetable I’ve never seen before. I go over to the guy unpacking a crate of apples to ask him what this exotic bit of agricultural product is that I’m holding when I realize he has a pained expression on his face somewhere between “Please don’t ask me something” and “I wish I was in the backroom.” Too late not to say something, so instead, in empathy mode, I can ask something like, “How’s your day going so far?” That’s a question easy to answer, and a simple ice breaker.

Step Two — Go into curiosity mode. This mode is really good for me because it gets me even farther away from being self-conscious. The trick in this mode is to keep the topic of discussion away from anything heavy. This isn’t the time to discuss anything controversial or personal. Instead, I can maneuver the conversation around to questions like, “When you’re not working, what’s your favorite pastime?” If you’re a naturally curious person, you can learn a lot this way, such as learning about a neighborhood haunt you knew nothing about. Or you can give the other person a heads up about a neighborhood haunt they didn’t know about. It’s all good!

Step Three — Go into host mode. I remind myself that even the simplest encounter is actually akin to being a good host or hostess. If we invite someone over for dinner we want to make them as comfortable as possible, right? So even if it’s just standing in line at the bank, we can be gracious and go into host mode with a light-hearted comment to relax the people within earshot. That it isn’t on our own turf matters not! So if the line is exceptionally long, and there are lots of people in front of us, I might say something to those immediately around me like, “They must be having a sale!”

I guess it all boils down to which is more comfortable, feeling like a lonely, isolated, scared little child when one is supposed to be all grown up, or taking a few easy steps to get outside of one’s own discomfort and in the process, help another human being do the same.

Please share your thoughts about overcoming shyness in the Comments section below.

 In the meantime,

 Bestest to all,

Cynthia Dalton signature

 

WHY SOMETIMES BEING A SUBORDINATE IS ACTUALLY SUPERIOR

Just like hard-working bees, if you put the time in and are willing to learn , you can benefit from even the worst job
Photo: PixelAnarchy

It’s not about money or connections. It’s the willingness to outwork and out learn everyone. – Mark Cuban

Sometimes in our society, we tend to have an attitude that this or that form of work, such as an entry level job, is somehow beneath us. Tedious grunt work isn’t dignified enough for us.  After all, doing such work requires us to be subordinate to another individual. We often feel that because we are well-educated, sophisticated citizens of the Information Age, we have an entitlement to skip through anything menial and advance right away to some position of rank and respect.

We can especially feel this way if we’ve been down-sized from a better paying position of some authority, or have been the ‘victim’ of changing technology and have to retrain for new employment realities.

Whether starting out, or starting over, many times people feel that their work is at best humbling, and at worst, degrading. However, there’s an old adage among actors that there are no small roles — just small (meaning petty) actors.

Smart performers realize ‘there’s gold in them there hills!’ Indeed, this philosophy can be applied to even the lowliest of jobs. Viewed from this perspective, our worst job is often an outstanding opportunity to jump-start a whole new life with a fresh perspective.

As Claude Bristol writes in his book, The Magic of Believing:

Many employees hold to the idea that their work is given to them merely to further their employers’ interests. They never entertain the thought that they are actually working for themselves, with the employer merely furnishing the tools and a place for them to work. There is an old saying that unless a man has learned to take orders, he can never learn to give them. How true this is, but few people, working day after day, ever realize it is within their own power to sit some day in the executive’s place and give orders.

What Bristol is talking about is a fundamental mind shift in which we envision in detail where we want life to take us, reframe how we view our role at work with our ultimate goals in mind, and adopt an industrious, forward momentum-generating mindset that makes the greatest possible use of just about any job. In the process, a job we dislike can change from a near punishment into a viable, strategic part of achieving our longer range goals.

Of course, this way of processing our world and our place in it does require a willingness to work harder than others (insert bee analogy here), and to ‘set our cap’ to life-long learning as perpetual connoisseurs of new information, ideas, and modes of thinking.

Built into this approach is action. Action is what fuels forward momentum, and forward momentum unlocks opportunities that otherwise might have remained out of reach.

Of course, there is always the boss or supervisor from Hell and that is problematic. But in most instances, a stint under someone else’s dominion can be the best preparation and schooling out there.

SOME OF THE BENEFITS OF A STINT IN SUBORDINATESHIP:

  • You can be a virtually incognito observer of human nature. And as calculating as it may sound, knowing what makes people tick can come in mighty handy when you need to ‘sell’ an idea or a product
  • A lower profile and less responsibility is useful in the beginning because you can observe and learn from the mistakes in interpersonal communication, negotiation, and tactical decisions you see others who are in authority make
  • You can make note of the behaviors you admire in those around you who inspire others and who are themselves inspired, and begin ‘modeling’ those behaviors
  • You can make notes of bad practices you intend to avoid as you form your own ‘code of conduct’
  • You don’t need to ‘take your job home with you’ to the same extent as you would with more responsibilities and a greater workload. This gives you evenings and weekends to ‘hone your own craft’ assiduously
  • The whole organization is your ‘textbook’ and you can learn the business from the ground up, eventually becoming the acknowledged expert in your field
  • You can leverage your expertise into other entrepreneurial ventures such as marketing your own information products. Such endeavors will provide you with both additional income, and invaluable experience
  • Because expectations for you are automatically lower in the beginning, you can make properly timed, valuable contributions through useful ideas and personal initiative which will set you apart from the crowd. Utilizing a certain degree of ‘the element of surprise’ can get you noticed for promotion.
  • You can enjoy the intrinsic reward of knowing that even the most basic job contributes to the smooth functioning of the organization, which in turn helps you and your fellow employees stay employed

As Little Richard once sang, “It ain’t what you eat, it’s the way how you chew it!” Put that way, being a subordinate, for awhile, is actually superior.

Please leave your thoughts on this subject in the Comments section below.

In the meantime,

Bestest to all,

Cynthia Dalton signature