There’s a saying I’ve heard in self-help and twelve step programs that basically means you will learn more about yourself if you continue to do the work: “More shall be revealed …”

I’ve always been a very confident person when it comes to my ability to adapt to work, and always felt that as long as there were challenging problems to solve, I’d have no problem finding work. And while I am highly skilled, I have come to believe that I have been very lucky, and I may have therefore been a bit arrogant about my abilities.

Recently I recognized the fact that intentions and actions don’t always meet. I was flying home and the overhead bins were full next to my seat, so I walked back and placed my bag in a bin a few seats back. As I turned to go back to my seat, I saw a woman who obviously had been ready to put her bag in that spot. I work very hard to be a nice guy, but in this instance, I just continued back to my seat. My intention hadn’t been to upset this person, but my actions did so.

Last year, in October, I was released from a contract that I’d been on for a few years. I had been brought in to temporarily fill a vacancy, but was able to keep extending the contract by doing good work. The organization I was working for was worried about cash flow due to some expansion they were doing, so it seemed like this would be a temporary cost cutting measure.

Immediately after that, the market tanked, and jobs started disappearing. I wasn’t too worried, knowing that typically when jobs get scarce, contracts become more plentiful. I hadn’t had any time off for years, so I decided not to look too hard for the rest of the year.

Even though I wasn’t working too hard at finding a new job, I started to become a bit worried. I was only seeing contracts that had rates lower than salaries for the same work, and often were all inclusive out of state jobs. I did the math on a couple of these and found that I would be working for free by the time I paid for airfare and hotel.

So after the first of the year, I figured I better step the search up. I started working full time on my job search, and spending a lot more time on networking. I went to Job Connections nearly every Saturday, called and emailed friends and former coworkers, and talked to every recruiter that called. I spent hours trying to redo my resume to make it work for a couple of different types of jobs.

And during all this, I took advantage of my time off, studying for, and getting my PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. The silver lining in being out of work for many months, was that I was spending a lot of time on self improvement.

The biggest downside was watching the dwindle, and trying not to panic. We reviewed finances and realized we spent way too much money on a lot of things, and cut our expenses neatly in half. We dropped our burn rate enough to extend our expected “run out of cash” date to be somewhere around the end of the year. Somehow, even though we’d both lived in the paycheck to paycheck mode before, it was almost scarier to see the cash reserves disappear. There was that unfounded fear that we’d lose everything and be homeless.

Luckily for me, my network did pay off, and I picked up a contract that a friend of mine found me. Seemed like things were rolling again. But my lesson wasn’t yet over: I underestimated some politics and made some mistakes at this contract, and I was quickly out of a job. My intentions were to help improve a less than optimal process into one that was efficient, making the lives of nurses and patients better. My actions however only gave a politically charged situation more ammunition.

I lost that job because of two bits of arrogance: not paying attention to the inner voice that told me I should uncover my stakeholder’s needs early, and overestimating my abilities. The contract was supposed to have taken me through the end of the year, instead it lasted only a few weeks. I had been humbled again.

In the mean time, people in my network continued to struggle with the job market. The average time people were unemployed was beginning to stretch out beyond a year. People with more impressive backgrounds than mine were having trouble finding jobs. Companies that really needed employees weren’t hiring to minimize risk from another downturn, or were doing things like taking advantage of the downturn to replace expensive people with less expensive ones.

So after losing that job, I really came to the conclusion I had to take whatever came along, as long as it was something I could do. I started working on equity projects for startups, splitting my time between several of them. I went to meetups, and any free networking events I could find. I took a short contract doing development work. Still the bank account dwindled.

And then out of the blue, I got a call from a woman I had worked with a couple of years ago. I work really hard to stay in touch with people, but I’m definitely humble about my abilities in that area, so I was really happy that she thought enough of me to give me that call. It was perfect timing. It was a salaried job, which I haven’t had for years. I’ve always looked at contracting as just a different way to be compensated however, so I gladly took the job.

As it turns out, it’s a huge job, that I’m sure will challenge the limits of my abilities. I have confidence in my abilities, but humility about my ability to mark the boundaries of those abilities now, which I think will help me grow and meet these challenges.

And I’m sure, as they say: “More shall be revealed …”

This Saturday, Joel Deceuster presented his 7 strategies for planning your career. Joel created these seven focusing strategies as something he’s learned in his business. You can learn more about Joel and his work at http://www.focusyourbusinessnow.com/

Listening to Joel talk about these strategies, I was struck by how similar the first strategy was to the steps in a 12-step program. The 12 steps are a process for going from a spiritually bankrupt position to an action plan that ultimately works by spurring the hopeless addict to a place where they can find the promise of a better life. By following these 12 steps, the goal of “the promises” is achieved, and addiction (and hopelessness) is left behind.

Joel’s approach starts with becoming accountable (the first strategy).

#1-Focus your commitment to be 100% accountable for your career.

  • Follow the steps to accountability
    • See it (admit / recognize the problem) – In a 12-step program, the first step is admitting that we have a problem.
    • Own it (know it is your problem, and remove denial)  – We realize that what we’ve been doing before isn’t working, and that we need help (steps two and three)
    • Solve it (plan) – We take inventory of our wrongs, and make a list of what we need to do to correct them, and share that with somebody else (steps four through eight)
    • Do it (take action) – We make amends, and take action on a daily basis to correct our mistakes (steps nine and ten)
    • Don’t play the blame game (be responsible for your own career) – In the recovery programs, they often preach about being responsible
  • Find and accountability buddy – Joel recommends finding an accountability buddy.

This is somebody to whom you can keep track of your progress (very similar to a sponsor in the 12-step programs) as you progress through your plan (work the steps).

In a 12-step program, you need a sponsor once you get past the first three steps, which also seems to work for Joel’s list above.So for me, his first strategy is a way out of the doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results (the definition of insanity).

His next strategy is to focus your goal. This is to overcome the lack of planning we put into our job search, which is also the point of the 12 steps: focus the effort on achievable goals by breaking things down into manageable pieces.

#2-Focus your primary objective to envision your ideal job.

  • Visualize your ideal job
    • One year from today …?
    • Discover your unique ability
  • If you can see it, you can acheive it- Joel suggests reading this book immediately if not sooner.
  • Transform your limiting beliefs that hold you back
    • They’re stories not truth

#3-Focus your employment strategies to direct your search.

  • The Goal Implementer Process
    • Obstacles inspire solutions – In the twelve steps, we take inventory of all of our wrongs, and plan to make amends.
    • Milestones – Setting milestones helps you to recognize progress.
  • The Core Employment Strategies
    • Assessment; What’s working, not working? – In the twelve step process, we continue to take inventory which helps us find out what is working and what is not.
  • Prioritize your strategies
    • Create a one page employment plan
    • Vision/mission/goals/strategies/action plans

#4-Focus your actions to optimize your efforts and resources.

  • Create prioritized action plans
  • Always know what’s next

#5-Focus your week to make it powerfully productive.

  • Use planning tools
  • Weekly planning ALWAYS
    • 3 crucial results (what do you want to feel by the end of the week)
    • Top 20 phone calls/connections (identify 20 people who can help you get to your goal)
    • Top 10 Strategic projects

#6-Focus on measuring your progress to stay on plan.

  • Daily dials (success indicators)
  • 3 Personal guidelines – rules for yourself, lessons learned ( e.g. – stay networked) around biggest disappointments
  • Positive focus

#7-Focus your energy to demonstrate your best you.

  • Physical fitness
  • Spiritual development – the twelve step programs are all about spirituality, and the process is really focused on achieving a spiritual awakening to guide us toward our true purpose.
  • Mental growth
  • Social engagement
  • Financial stability

I recently had an experience that reminded me that you truly can negotiate anything.

I got a call from a buddy telling me that he his manager was looking for a contractor to replace somebody who wasn’t performing to the level they needed in a business analyst type of position. The person they were replacing was a low-range contractor, so the rate they had been paying was substantially lower than what I’ve been making (as a program manager), but they also expected they’d need to pay more to get the skill-set they were looking for.

That set my expectation to expect that there would be some serious negotiation around rate, so I tried to take my usual approach: avoid discussing rate with the client. In general I was able to succeed, and and instead talk about the job and how I would be effective in helping them (particularly in areas that the prior person had failed).

I do have another rule, however, which is that I will honestly answer a question put to me directly, so inevitably the question of rate did come up. The dreaded question of “what was your last rate?” comes up, and is always uncomfortable for me. I thought I did a good job of answering the question by letting them know that rate is not the deciding factor for me, that I expect a fair rate for the work being done, and that I wasn’t expecting anything like my prior rate. After that preface, I did let them know my last rate (as a program manager on an implementation project), and tried once again to set the expectation that I wasn’t expecting to recieve that sort of rate on this engagement.

I had this conversation with the Director of the group that was looking for help, and everything went well there. We connected well on our phone screen, and he turned me over to his hiring manager to complete the process (since it was her group and I’d be working for her).

At the end of the process I asked my usual questions about how I did, and whether they had any concerns that would keep them from offering me the job. It seemed I had done well, and that the next step was for them to complete their interview schedule, and check references. The Q&A about prior rates came up again, and I thought I once again responded with rate not being the deciding factor for me.

I diligently followed up with a thank-you email to each member of the team, and continued to ask my buddy about my chances. Eventually I got an email from the hiring manager telling me that it was between me and one other candidate. My friend told me there was no comparison, and that the only reason I might lose out would be on rate, since I was more qualified and had his backing.

After another weekend, I got an email from the hiring manager telling me that they had decided to go with the other candidate based on rate. This surprised me a little since I didn’t really think we’d ever discussed rate. So I dropped an email back to the Director (cc’ing the manager) asking why they thought my rate was too high when we hadn’t discussed it. I carefully crafted the email as a question about my communication skills and helping me to improve them:

I heard  from <your manager> and my friend that the decision was to go with  another  candidate based on rate.

I was a little surprised since I   didn’t think we had gotten to the point where a negotiation of rate  had  started, beyond my responding to questions about my rate on prior  engagements.  My experience in the past has been that if the  rate is too high,  they simply ask me if I’ll take less.

If you  could help me out in  understanding if I set an unreasonable  expectation, or if this was instead  just a matter of the other guy  being a better fit, I’d appreciate any feedback  you could give me.

Interestingly what the net result of this email was, was that the negotiations were reopened. He replied to me that they had compared the rate I had told them from my previous work, to the rate that the other contractor was asking for, and simply assumed that I wouldn’t be happy with a reduced rate. We traded emails back and forth a few times, and we agreed on a rate that was the same as what they were looking for with the other candidate, and it felt like there was a chance I’d won the engagement.

In hind sight, I think one mistake I made here was sending this email to the Director instead of to the hiring manager, since she was the one who would ultimately make the decision. That said, I did re-learn a valuable lesson about negotiating: it ain’t over until it’s over ….

It’s all about getting to yes, and by asking these people if they could help me understand why we hadn’t negotiated on rate, I helped them understand they could have negotiated for a more valuable resource a little better, and kept the negotiation open.

I was sitting in an interesting presentation tonight that was about managing your career called “8 Essential Levers for Job (Search) Success” by Chani Pangali, and as part of his talk he mentioned the pardigm shift that is going on with how careers need to be managed.As we moved from small villages to an industrial society, we evolved from a barter economy, where you traded what you do for what you need, to a market economy that was based on doing work that supported the industry.  To me it seems that this resulted in huge shift where many relationships were replaced by intermediaries.

Way back when I was first working at Excite in the heady days of the early web, we used to talk about how the web was going to result in disintermediation (removing the need for intermediaries between businesses). Interestingly enough, that really didn’t happen, rather we saw an increase in intermediaries with all sorts of new web ventures springing to life and placing themselves in the middle of the supply chain by adding value to the transaction. That’s not to say they didn’t change businesses, they just didn’t change the paradigm: witness eBay connecting buyers and sellers, changing the business and creating a new way to sell your goods. But while the business was new, the paradigm was still placing trust in the intermediary.

The web has helped drive a shift in this paradigm with phenomena like blogs and social networking sites. By giving us new ways to network and connect, we are finding once again that the relationship is king. Similar to the way eBay connected buyers and sellers, these electronic interactions connect people by allowing them to find common interests and fill needs that would have been far too costly in the past. I can write this web post, and somebody who I would never have met may find meaning in my words and benefit from them in a way that would not have occurred before. In addition, because blogs are two way conversations, I might be introduced to an opportunity that could change my life by somebody who has read my blog.

This scope of this change is similar to what happened with the beginning of distributed newspapers (and before that the printing press). The press allowed an idea to be readily shared to a more distributed audience, and the distribution allowed that audience to become even larger. With the web, the cost factor is essentially removed from the distribution, so that same idea is accessible to the entire world (and the barrier to two-way communication is effectively removed too).

The paradigm shift which seems to be going on is also related to the competition and change in the market. While our parents may have been able to find a company that they would commit their work to, and in turn receive some assurance of stability and a partner in their professional development, the global economy no longer supports this sort of relationship. Companies have found they can no longer afford to commit or invest in their employees the way they used to, and have (in general) placed the responsibility firmly on the worker.