Tidying Up Your Career

Tidying Up Your Career

In the Winter, the cold weather and shorter days encourage us to stay indoors and do less. For most of us, our worklives are quieter in January than in the bustling Spring and Summer months to come. No matter how busy you feel right now, this is an excellent time to clear some space in your career so that when it’s time to plant new seeds in the Spring, you have the energetic space for the kind of work you desire.

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Our Spiritually Impoverished Workplaces

Our Spiritually Impoverished Workplaces

When I was a senior in college, my world came crashing down. Over the course of one panic-attack filled weekend, I had what those in the Christian community call "a crisis of faith." For seven years after that weekend, I rejected anything that felt remotely spiritual. I couldn't walk into a church without feeling a knot in my stomach, I felt angry anytime someone used the word "God," and I thought Richard Dawkins was the shit.

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Dreams as Career Development Guides

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As a young Psychology student in college, I was taught that researchers still don't really understand dreams, but the predominant theory was that they're just how your brain processes information from the day - tossing out what's useless and keeping the knowledge you'll need in order to function tomorrow. No hidden meanings, no prophetic qualities - just an overnight update like the one your computer makes.

I felt sad and conflicted to learn this, and yet, I believed it for a very long time. I'd have dreams and hardly even pay attention to them because I figured that they were just nonsense.

That's unfortunate, because I think I could have avoided a lot of pain and heartache had I paid attention to this vast resource that we have access to every night. 

I don't believe that every dream I have holds some major "aha!" moment, but for me, it's this amazingly easy, simple way to stay aware of what's going on for me at a level below my consciousness.

Carl Jung, one of the most incredible thinkers (and feelers) of our time, believed that dreams were the process by which you become conscious of unconscious thoughts and feelings. He taught that dreams reveal much more than they conceal, and that their interpretation is highly personal - no one can tell you what your dream does or doesn't mean for you.

I think this is why we've poo-pooed dreams in our modern culture. Since we couldn't categorize, measure, and standardize their meanings, we tossed them aside as neurological waste.

That's nonsense, and I believe it's high time we included dreams in our personal and professional development work.

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Since I've reconnected with my own dream life, I've been able to understand personal changes I'm going through, have gained insight into my business, and have been able to process old pain that was keeping me stuck, all of which is pretty amazing.

At this point, I should note that for some people, dreams just don't really resonate with them, or they never remember their dreams when they wake up. That's totally fine, and those people have other ways to access their subconscious, intuitive sides. Jung taught that even if we don't remember our dreams, they're still working their magic and helping us become aware of what's going on beneath the surface.

If you're curious about the dreams you have and are wondering how you can start tapping into their wisdom (your wisdom), I've got one trick that I've found incredibly helpful.

The technique is attributed to Carl Jung's dream analysis method, but I wasn't able to find any hard evidence of that online (fear not: I've reserved almost all of his books at the library and will let you know what I find out later). Luckily, papa Jung encouraged people to just figure it out on their own and not overthink this, so here goes:

My version of a "cut to the heart of the symbolism in your dream" analysis technique:

Step one: When you wake up from a dream, it's helpful to do something that solidifies it in your consciousness since so often we fall back asleep or go about our day and forget the details that were so vivid while we were sleeping. Some people write in a dream journal that they keep by their bed, put a note in their phone, or just try to remember it once they're awake. Do whatever feels easy and light to you.

Step two: As you remember the dream, take any symbol or character from it (it can be a person, animal, stone - whatever interests you) and pretend you are that symbol.

As you take on that symbol's persona, pretend that symbol has a message for you, the dreamer. What does this symbol want you to know? What does the symbol say? What is that symbol trying to make you aware of?

That's it. That's the trick. And it's revolutionized the way I understand my dreams.

I'll give you an example that helped me understand where I was getting stuck in my business:

A few months ago, I had a dream that I was in charge of a downtown revitalization project, and one of the larger art pieces for the downtown square was an iron sculpture of an Orca whale. I watched sadly as workers welded on its rusty fins and tried to make it appear alive and majestic even though it was a sorry representation of the whale's true beauty in its natural state.

That was basically it - the rest didn't really feel important to me, so when I woke up, I just focused on that image of the steel Orca and how sad it made me feel (we don't have to conduct a 5-hour analysis on our dreams, we can just take the snippets that really speak to us).

As I sat remembering the dream, I pretended to be that iron Orca. I pretended it had a message for me, and the message came through clearly: the Orca represented my worklife, and while it wanted to be wild and alive, it was becoming a mechanical, stiff shadow of its real nature.

Message received: it was time to loosen the reins, step aside, and stop trying to force my career into a small, lifeless box. This totally resonated with me at the time, and it was exactly what I needed to be made aware of.

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Now, on another day, maybe the Orca would have meant something different to me. Maybe Orcas represent something else entirely to you. And that's all fine and well. You can scoff at this entire idea - part of me does sometimes, too - it goes against what we've been taught about external, "objective" truths, and it can feel silly to try and bring our dreamlives into the professional arena.

But give it a try - even if it's just once. Play around with analyzing a part of a dream you had and see what you find.

Learning how to remember and interpret your dreams is a skill, but it's not one you need to fret over or feel any sense of "not good enough" about.

Your dreamlife is yours, and it's simply a resource that's available to you if you want to tap into it. It will always be there, and if you can just be soft and playful with it, you'll gain the insights your consciousness needs. Trust yourself with this process - whatever feels like the right interpretation is the right interpretation...with one big caveat:

The right interpretation, the one stemming from your intuition, will feel good - it will feel peaceful, clarifying, and calming, even if you get the sense that you need to make some changes, like I did with my Orca dream. Interpretations that make you feel afraid, bad about yourself, or fearful are coming from your ego - the part of you that hates any kind of change.

So trust the sense you're getting, but try to make sure it's from your growth-oriented deeper self, not the fearful part of you that wants to stay exactly who and where you are forever.

I hope you'll give this a try if it fits for you, and I would love, love, LOVE to hear from you if you gain any insights about your career by using this technique!

Reclaiming What it Means to Be "Professional"

Reclaiming What it Means to Be "Professional"

I recently held a webinar with a new software system that I wasn't totally comfortable with. It was time to start the webinar, and I could see that people were signed in, so I went ahead and switched it to "live" and started talking. I knew the chat function wasn't working, but I didn't know how to fix it, and while normally I like to get confirmation that people can see and hear me, I decided to just move ahead since we were recording.

So, I'm talking, sharing my slides, doing my thing...for about twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, so like, almost half of the time I've set aside for this thing.

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One Act That Will Transform Your Next Meeting

Today, instead of a traditional blog post, I'm sharing an audio recording about how to make meetings better, for ourselves and for those we're sharing the space with. One of my commitments to the blog this year is to play around with a few new mediums like audio and video. This helps keep my writing fresh and it also allows readers like you to engage with content in new ways!

It's a quick 5-minutes that I'm hoping will feel really supportive and teach you a practice that you haven't tried before.

Check it out below!

https://soundcloud.com/user-979951385/one-act-that-will-transform-your-next-meeting

Let Yourself Be Seasonal

photo-1445998559126-132150395033Today is the Autumnal Equinox, which marks the official start of fall in the Northern Hemisphere. There are two equinoxes every year, one in September, and one in March, and it's called an equinox because today the day and night will be almost exactly the same length. From here on out, the darkness will subsume the daytime until things change again after the winter solstice in December.

Things are shifting, and I'm sure you've felt it already - the mornings are a little colder, the trees are changing colors or dropping leaves, and school is fully back in session.

This season is full of richness, and it's even more enjoyable if we can let ourselves join in on the changes that are happening around us.

We need to let ourselves be seasonal.

Traditionally, this time of year was a time of harvesting and storing up for the winter ahead. Today, in our ever-abundant grocery stores, it can be hard to tell that anything is different, but try to let yourself notice: you'll probably see more squash, apples, and all sorts of warm spicy treats.

You are, of course, being marketed to with Halloween shenanigans and Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but pretend for a minute that you're back in the village with your ancestors.

Pretend you are a part of this harvest - that all of the beautiful oranges and reds and yellows in the food around you really are unique treasures that you only get to harvest once a year.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI know a lot of people dread Autumn or feel ambivalent about it because it means that the cold and wet winter is coming, but that's like clinging to the dead leaves that are falling off of the trees. Why hold on to what's already passed?

Can you let those leaves drop and see the bounty around you instead?

You are a part of this earth, which means that you go through seasons of your own and are affected by the seasons of the environment.

I remember how difficult it was to go to my 9-5 job every day in the dark, come home in the dark, and then try to muster up the energy to do "life" in the daylight I saw on the weekends. If that could be you this winter, then I encourage you to take a cue from your ancestors and try a few tricks:

Get outside while you can and submerge yourself in all of the colors and beauty of the Autumn season.

Dive into the harvest. Go to the pumpkin patch, or make apple cider, or hike in the fiery woods. Be grateful for the fact that the trees can be both dead and alive at the same time, and be grateful that you yourself can go through that same metamorphosis this time of year. This season is happening around you, but it can also happen within you if you'll let it.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantStore up your reserves.

Winter is long and dark and can be rough for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere. And yet, it's one of the most exhausting times of year because we try to pack so much in and pretend like our energy levels are the same as they were in the spring and summer.

In the United States, we've got a slew of popular holidays from late October until early January, and on top of all that, many working folks have major year-end projects to work on like open enrollment, budgeting, strategic planning, a huge retail rush, and on and on.

In my former working life, I was almost always tapped out by late December or January, which made me miss out on so much of the winter holidays - the celebrations that are supposed to lift our spirits and nourish us in the dark.

So do what you can now to store up your reserves. Commit to one less meeting, or event, or volunteer gig. Save some extra money if you can so that you can treat yourself on an extra grey day. Make a few extra meals and freeze them for that week in December when you can't imagine cooking anything healthy ever again.

Remember that you're going to need some extra spaciousness and energy in the next few months, so make like a squirrel and tuck away all of the sweet little acorns you can.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFinally, let the darkness carry you.

A lot of us in the West are uncomfortable with the dark, literally and metaphorically. We hate it. We resist it, and our easy access to light and electronics makes that really easy to do.

Personally, I love this shift toward more darkness and rain because it gives me another excuse to be lazy and not do as much, but I know it's not for everyone. Even if you're someone who loves the sun and is dreading this turn toward night, see if you can roll with it a little more easily this year.

Let the darkness help you do less, introspect more, or release the leaves that are already falling off your branches. Let the darkness give you an excuse to stay in and read a book or throw a Dia de Los Muertos party that brings your favorite people together.

Try partnering with the darkness and see if this time of year can actually be restful and restorative.

Happy Autumn, sweet readers.


Something special is happening this Autumn for working women in Portland who aren't afraid to go into the darkness and come out renewed. Click here to learn more.

5 Ways to Survive in Customer Service

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI presented a workshop recently on how to use time intentionally and effectively in your workday, and the audience I spoke to was a mix of people who had autonomy over the way they worked and people who were responsible for responding to customer issues right away. In my talk, I offered a few different tools for them to use in order to work more effectively and feel less overwhelmed: intentionality, rhythm, and flow. After the workshop, I got some tough feedback.

Many of the people who worked in customer service left feeling frustrated and like a lot of what I suggested just wasn't possible for them. They felt like it was out of the question to get into a state of "flow" when they're getting called, emailed, chatted, or talked to at their desk. They felt like they were the last people who could leave the office to take a walk and clear their heads.

While I don't totally agree with those sentiments, I will admit that I missed the mark for them. I could have talked more explicitly about the challenges facing people in customer service-type roles and creative ways to meet them.

Since I can't go back in time and re-do the workshop, I'm going to offer some ideas in a blog post instead.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI've worked in a few different customer service jobs, but the most intense, by far, was as a Customer Care representative. My job was to solve some of the gnarliest, messiest, most miserable problems that came up for customers of the company I was working for.

Every day, I would have to reach out to and empathize with angry people. Some of these people were rightfully pissed off, some were just trying to get free work done, and some were just looking for someone to wail on. I got to talk to them all.

My days consisted of managing anywhere from 70 - 100 customer cases. This would entail making phone calls, answering phone calls, responding to emails, trying to come up with solutions with our internal team, and managing vendors who helped us fix problems. When my phone would ring, I would have no idea who was on the other line, but my performance was measured in part by how quickly I answered, so even if I was in the middle of something, I needed to pick up. I'd have a list of priorities for each day that was usually obliterated by the most recent crisis that came up. I had an amazingly supportive manager and team, which was the only reason I lasted as long as I did, but this was the toughest job I've ever had.

There were a few things I did that were helpful, but most of the things I'm going to suggest to you come from my peers, who seemed much more equipped than me to handle the onslaught every day.

Below are five things I wish I'd done differently and that I've seen work for people whose job is to care for customers in need:

  1. Be diligent about how you spend your energy outside of work.
  2. Take regular breaks.
  3. Notice your body.
  4. Let go of the need to fix the system.
  5. Make positive connections at work.

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First, be diligent about how you spend your energy outside of work.

I'm not sure about you, but the customer service roles I've been in have been extremely draining to me. That's not to say they were evil jobs, but they did not energize me. I wasn't aware back then how important it is to manage our energy, and I wish I'd known then that because my job was so draining, I had to be extra, extra, 100% intentional about how I spent my energy away from the office.

If you go from a draining customer service job to a life that also feels draining, you're going to burn out quickly, like I did. You owe it to yourself and everyone around you to make your life outside of work a sanctuary. Don't go to events that feel lifeless to you. Don't meet up with friends who make you feel like shit. Cultivate the things that fill you back up again. If at all possible (and it always is), incorporate a morning ritual that makes you feel grounded and strong before you start your day.

Second, take regular breaks.

Get out of your chair every 90 minutes. You're not going to get in trouble. You will get more done if you leave every hour and a half for 5-15 minutes than you would if you stayed glued to your desk to answer one more call from an angry customer. Get up, stretch, get some water or food, use the bathroom, say 'hi' to Sarah in accounting, and return to your desk remembering that you're a human being.

Third, notice how you feel in your body throughout the day.

You are a spiritual being in a body, and your body has something to say to you when you're stressed out about serving customers. The negative emotions you feel and are exposed to are real, even if you feel like they shouldn't be, and they will get stuck in your body if you don't allow them to move out.

Notice when you're breathing rapidly or shallowly. Notice if there's tension in your back. Notice if you feel sick in your gut. See if you can lovingly bring attention to those areas and allow them to release. If you're on a call with a customer who's totally annoying or rude, hold your heart. Afterward, go to the bathroom and shake it off. Outside of work, get regular movement, even if it's just a walk. Be aware of and protect your body. Let it digest and eliminate the "stuff" you're taking on all day.

Fourth, let go of the need to fix the system you're a part of.

One of the hardest things about my job in customer service was seeing the same issues come up over and over again and having close to zero control over fixing the root of the problem. It drove me nuts. I'd complain to my boss all the time, "But it shouldn't be this way!"

And yet, it was.

Unless trying to fix the system energizes you, let it go. You can notice the issues and keep track of them, but your job is to care for the customer in front of you, and it's not fair to yourself to take on the burden of trying to fix the whole damn process.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFinally, make meaningful connections with positive people at work.

Customers come and go, but the team you're with day in and day out is mostly there to stay. Value them and treat them with care. Your job will feel much easier and more manageable if you can spend some time building up a network of colleagues who are positive and still have empathy inside of them. Making meaningful connections at work acts like a sort of shield around you, protecting you from some of the emotions coming at you during your job.

Speaking of empathy, that's basically your job: to have empathy for people and then use it to fix problems. 

If the empathy for the customers you serve has completely faded, then you need to find another job. Losing the ability to feel compassion for others, no matter how much of a nuisance they are, is a big, red warning sign that you need to find something that nourishes you instead.

Your job is really, really hard, and it's often undervalued.

That doesn't mean you have to suffer every day, though. If you can focus on these five areas and give yourself permission to take better care of yourself, I think you'll find that you can survive and improve the lives of the people you're there to respond to.

Thank you for everything you do. 

Welcoming and Working with Change

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When I worked in a fast-paced start-up, change was the norm. Everyone knew it, and I think most of us expected it, but when it came, many of us acted shocked and incredibly annoyed (unless the change was our idea, of course). Even if I could recognize the benefits of a change, I was usually bothered and joined in on the watercooler grumblings about it. The assumptions behind those grumblings were generally "we should just keep things the way they are," and "I don't know what to expect and am afraid of what this change will bring."

My resistance to change wasn't a professional issue, it was personal. At this time in my life, I felt completely ungrounded - like I was being thrown around without any kind of anchor. I didn't have a strong sense of who I was, what worked for me, or what I wanted out of my career, so changes in my environment felt like an assault on any semblance of stability that I had.

Sometimes organizational change fails because the plan and execution are poorly done.

Most of the time, however, it fails because so many of the people who make up the organization lack the groundedness needed in order to integrate change in a healthy way.

We all know that change isn't going anywhere, a point illustrated in this quote from shamanic practitioner Lena Stevens:

"We are not going back. Evolution only goes in one direction. The increase in energy and complexity is here to stay. So you can adapt or you can suffer. Your choice."

Instead of being someone who resists, sabotages, or suffers through change, you can be someone who is grounded and healthy enough to work with and actually benefit from it.

A long, but related, side note:

Not all change is good. I hear about a lot of organizational changes that are made simply because people think they have to stay busy or create more complexity. In this post, I'm talking about changes that get your organization closer to its purpose, not changes that are being made simply for the sake of looking busy.

It's also unfortunate that so much change is mandated from the top of organizations - from people and analysts that are separated from the day to day work itself. Sustainable, healthy change is purposeful and generated from the people who are actually affected by it.

Ok, now that that's out of the way, let's talk about how to welcome and work with change.

I see this happening in three steps:

  1. Get grounded
  2. Intend hard
  3. Let go of outcomes
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Getting grounded:

In order to flow with change in a healthy way, we have to get centered on a personal level. As far as I can tell, this means creating a daily practice of getting still, taking regular stock of what's working or not working, and taking full responsibility for our reaction to change.

Intending hard:

Expecting and welcoming change doesn't mean that we stop working on the tasks at hand. It does, however, force us to get clearer about the purpose of our work. I'll give you an example:

One of the biggest projects I've worked on was helping an organization switch to a new phone system for its customers, field staff, and internal staff. This was a tough project for many reasons (namely that it was a top-down approach), but it got even tougher because I didn't push the project team to get clear about why they wanted to make these changes. We all brought our own assumptions about why this major change should be made, but we should have worked through those together and set a stronger, intentional foundation for the project.

Without clear intentions guiding the change, we had a hard time selling it to the organization, our own processes got muddied, and we clung to a prescribed outcome instead of focusing on whatever it took to achieve what we wanted in the end. If I had to do that project over again, my guess is that the outcome would look wildly different.

If you want to be someone who can flow with organizational change, you need to do the work to a) get grounded, and b) get clear about what you intend to create through your work.

Letting go of outcomes:

Let's say you intend to create a supportive environment for your team members. You're very clear about that guiding intention, and it informs the work that you do. In order to realize this goal, you start working on a new initiative to build out quiet spaces for staff members to use for yoga, meditation, or to just get a break from the busyness.

As you're working on this plan and moving it forward, you find out that Rick over in Research & Development is planning to use the same space for more laboratory storage. Old you might have gotten into quite a tizzy about this - talking to your office-mate about how Rick from R&D is such a spoiled brat who gets everything he wants - but grounded, intentional you is more skillful.

Staying centered and committed to your intention of creating a supportive environment for your team members, you can recognize that there are thousands of ways to achieve your intention. You're aware that building out quiet space is one of those ways, but it's not your only option, and you're able to approach Rick and have a conversation that is collaborative and solutions-focused instead of one that's desperate and accusatory.

Being a critic of change is easy - anyone can do that. Our organizations are full of naysayers and people who are clinging to "that's the way we've always done it."

The question is, can you be different? Can you be grounded, intentional, and creative amidst the change and show the rest of us how to work with it more gracefully?

I have no doubt that you can.

How to Say "No, thank you."

  megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantYou know those lessons you have to learn again and again in life? One of my recurring lessons is about how to graciously but firmly say "No" to things that make me feel heavy, uncomfortable, or unsure of myself.

Since I've had to revisit this issue many times and am in yet another cycle of learning it, albeit at a deeper level, I thought I'd share a quick 'n dirty cheat sheet on how to authentically and clearly say "No." Or, if it pleases you, "No, thank you."

Step 1: Take every opportunity you can to get clearer and clearer about what does and doesn't work for you in life. Notice what feels easy and what feels like a total slog. Notice what feels good and what doesn't feel good.

Step 2: When confronted with a choice, feel it out. When you think about saying "yes," how does your body feel? Are you tense? Are you clenching your jaw? When you think about saying "no," do you feel free and calm? Your body is a compass - use it.

Step 3: If steps one and two have made clear to you that you need to say "no," then you would be well-advised to say it. Say "No." or "No!!!" or "No, thank you." or "Thanks, but no." Say it in whatever way fits for you, but say it clearly and succinctly - even if it's just in your head at first. Start getting comfortable with acknowledging and accepting your "no" response and, when it's time, say it out loud.

Step 4: Stop yourself from going on and on about why you have to say "no." Here's an example of what not to do: "Hi Harry, thank you so much for your offer to give me this opportunity. Unfortunately, I have to water my plants this weekend, and we're having visitors in town, and I have a medical appointment, and I don't have the bandwidth, and....."

Instead, you can just say "Hi Harry, thanks for considering me! This isn't something I can take on right now, but I hope you'll keep me in mind for the future. Best of luck."

Now, I know people don't like it when we just say "no," and depending on your relationship with someone, you may want to give some reasoning behind your "no." But do it from a place of self-respect and personal power, not a need to please and justify your every decision.

Step 5: Move on to "yes." Don't wallow in did-I-do-the-wrong-thing-by-saying-no-land. Dive into something you really want to say "yes" to instead of spending energy on analyzing what you just did. Try to trust that you drew the boundaries you needed to.

Those are the steps that have worked for me, and I hope you'll call them to mind if you're ever feeling stuck between choices or pushed into something that doesn't fit for you.

In today's world, with its massive amounts of information, activities, obligations, and demands, I think many of us need to say "no" more often than we're comfortable with.

Fortunately, with some practice and a lot of courage, it can be a quick, easy, and graceful action instead of one mired in doubt, guilt, and fear.


If you're in Portland and are feeling the need to say "no" to some toxic work dynamics, I hope you'll consider joining me for a class on June 27th!