Raising The Bar

Photo Credit: SD Dirk

 

The disappointment of being published in an encyclopedia

Hidden deep past the second page of search results for my maiden name is a reference to an entry I contributed to an encyclopedia of pseudoscience. My involvement in pseudoscience is fodder for another blog post. What I want to explore here was the impact of being published, and how that shaped my goal setting.

When I was growing up, owning a set of Encyclopedia Britannica was a badge of honour and a source of amazement. I didn’t have to go all the way to the library to get information about the amazing world we live in. I could simply flip through the pages of faux-leather bound volumes to get information about some semi obscure topic. This was a time when we still used catalogues of index cards to find books through the Dewey Decimal System. It was a land before you had a worldwide network of information a handheld computer that also lets you make phone calls.

Early in my career exploration, I had aspirations of making a living from writing. I wrote everything from articles to novellas to scripts for plays that never got produced. I also stubbornly pursued any avenue at my disposal to start a career as a published author.

Defeated Victory

My persistence paid off. I was offered the opportunity to contribute an article about the religious practice of Witchcraft to an encyclopedia of the pseudoscience. I spent a lot of time perfecting my entry and making sure it was readable and accurate. It meant a lot to me  that it was “encyclopedia material”.

Some time after the entry was submitted and edited, I received my “author’s copy” of the encyclopedia in the mail. I excitedly flipped to my entry, then to the credits where my name appeared.

And I was shockingly disappointed.

I realized that someone with no credentials in religious studies and no prior publishing history could have an article in an encyclopedia. In that swift flipping of pages, all of the credibility and mystique of publishing vanished for me. I had attained my goals, and somehow I was profoundly disappointed. What was wrong with me?

It would be several years before I could really understand what happened there. After all, if was bordering on absurd for someone to be disappointed in attaining a goal.

Goals That Matter

It took me a while to admit it to myself, but I was so focused on being published that I didn’t qualify the nature of the publication. I thought that merely being published, in anything, meant that I was making progress. But when I could no longer pretend that I was a girl in a movie who was “making it” as a writer, the reality of the situation settled in.

I wasn’t published in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I was published in an encyclopedia that was borderline self-published. The contributors were solicited in a magazine, and my qualifications for writing the article weren’t heavily scrutinized.

Lesson learned: Attaining a goal is only meaningful when the goal has meaning.

Being a CEO of a multinational company that employs hundreds of thousands of people isn’t the same as being a CEO of a 2-person operation with little market impact. Know what matters to you beyond the first dimension of the goal.

Set the Goalposts

In addition to having a meaningful goal, I also lost sight of what the goal actually was. After I became so stubbornly fixated on becoming published, I lost sight of what it meant for the goal to be fulfilled. Was the fulfilment of the goal the printed publication, or the fact that the editors accepted it? Was it the editors’ acceptance of the entry, or the acceptance of the entry by critical scholars?

Lesson learned: Define how you know you’ve reached your goal.

If your goal is to get a promotion, have you accomplished it when you’ve been offered the promotion? Or is it when you actually start your first day in the new role? These nuances help set expectations so you know when it’s ok to savour the moment and when it’s ok to focus on other things.

Now What?

One of my mistakes was attaining a goal without setting another one. I thought that the completion of the goal was receiving the actual encyclopedia, when in fact the completion was the editors confirming the entry would be included. Without something else to work towards, seeing my name in print felt like the end of my pursuits, when it could have been fuel for me to work harder towards my next accomplishment.

Lesson learned: Always have something to work towards, even if you are waiting for something to materialize. Allow yourself to savour the victory, but don’t lose the momentum of motivation.

Passion, Work and Career Paths

creative-working

Most people who know me professionally know me as a Business Analyst who is fanatical about managing her time and stubbornly determined to fulfill promises. With nearly a decade of defining problems and delivering solutions, my work history is filled with projects I’ve turned around and efficiencies gained despite diminishing resources.

I’ve recently had conversations with people who are re-evaluating or starting on their career paths. They were surprised to learn that once upon a time, I wanted to be a sculptor. Or a screenwriter. Or a movie director. Or work in the field of gerontology. Or work in the field of clinical psychology. Or become a copyright lawyer.

So how on earth did I end up as a Business Analyst and remain dedicated to the practice for so long?

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Motivation and the Job Search

motivation

I recently read Drive by Daniel H Pink on the recommendation of our VP of HR West at Intact, Angela Champ. The book itself is a perspective-changing read on motivation and leadership. If you haven’t read it, there is a great 5-minute video that summarizes it’s concepts in YouTube:

One of the things the book reminds me of is a question a hiring manager asked me early in my career as a Business Analyst: What motivates you to do a good job?

This was not a question I had encountered before the interview. I took a moment to ask myself what truly does motivate me. The answer I came back with was perhaps idealistic, but my inner voice asked me a question back:“Who wants to show up at work to do a bad job? I want to succeed and accomplish because of the virtue of it, unless there are surmountable obstacles that prevent me from doing so.”

I provided my potential manager with a summarized version of this. The look on her face instantly told me that a reporting relationship between the two of us would not work. She wanted to know whether she could dangle a carrot of money, public recognition or promise of advancement to motivate me to achieve goals she had in mind. I wanted a manager who would remove obstacles so that I could charge forward with the inherent fire of motivation that burned within me.

So was my first lesson that an interview wasn’t unilateral. Through this experience, I realized that the recruitment process wasn’t just about impressing a potential employer. It was also about finding a leader, team and company that could support you. It was about finding a leader who you wanted to work for and work with. And before you can properly assess that, you need to understand your own motivations for seeking employment or a new job.

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Overtime: Will It Help Or Hurt Your Career?

Working overtime

Being Introduced to “Overtime”

I was first introduced to overtime at my first job out of university. It was a contract position with a decent starting salary, but no medical coverage and no vacation time. The only way for me to either earn money to cover additional expenses, or to get banked vacation time, was to work overtime.

A few months into my contract, they offered me a permanent full-time position that came with medical coverage and vacation days. Overtime became a careful option for me when my manager requested it from the team. I had to balance between my need for a bit of extra money and my need for time to feed my first love, stone-sculpting.

One week, I was asked to be available on-call for the weekend. They were frantically looking for someone on Thursday, and I offered to do it because I didn’t have plans and my co-workers had families to tend to.

A few weeks later, they again asked for someone to be on call–this time, making the request a few hours before the end of the day on Friday. I reluctantly agreed to help out again, wanting to be a team player.

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Introduction

Blog introduction

We start blogs, articles and books with an introduction, right? I suppose it’s a good a place as any.

This is actually my third blog. Both of the previous ones are no longer online, except perhaps deep in the bowels of The Internet Archive.

My first blog was a personal one I started before Facebook was a common tool for people to keep in touch with friends and family. Run on Geeklog, it was my first experience with building and hosting my own website.

My second blog featured commentary on visual arts and copyright law. I can’t remember if this one was run off WordPress or Drupal, but I do remember it capturing my attention much longer.

I stopped both blogs after they were no longer relevant. So why start another?

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