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Sunday, November 12, 2017

What "Signing Up" really means

Has anyone ever confided in you about what they really want to do with their life or career?

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Have you noticed that what usually keeps people, maybe even you, from actually doing it, is fear of looking foolish or failing, or looking foolish while failing?

We’ve all imagined and cringed at the thought of someone laughing at us, mocking our fledgling efforts.

If you were to change course, change jobs, become a sculptor, start pole dancing or just decide to set crazy a ambitious objective and really go for it. 

Someone might judge you, even ask, “Are you having a midlife crisis?” 

I bet you can easily imagine scenarios like this.

But, do you ever think about the people who are waiting for you to do what you want?

Hoping you will?

Imagine that unknown traveler who wouldn’t dream of mocking you.

What would your fear turn into if you anticipated relief and gratitude from people instead of mirth and mocking?

What if just your fledgling attempt at honoring your own instincts represented a sign only you can hold, one you probably want to hold, but don’t, for fear of looking foolish while failing.

About 16 years ago, I saw David Sedaris give a reading in Amsterdam where I was living at the time.

It was an amazing performance. He was funny warm, friendly and engaging. He owned that elegant Amsterdam room and every person in it. 

I was shocked at my own extremely positive response to the experience and even more shocked when I thought, “That’s what I want to do.” 

My whole body was humming. It was as if my cells had grown vocal cords and every one of them was yelling, “YES! THIS!” in the tiniest voice imaginable.

At the time, I was working for a large company in the Netherlands, the only writing I did was in email and the only speaking, in meetings.

I had no idea how to change direction, but I couldn’t deny the truth of what I was feeling and I at least had the sense to enjoy the feeling.

Over the years, I read a few more of his books. I never forgot that singular experience or my “This is it.” response.

Despite being moved by his work and his reading of it, I never so much as posted an online review his books most of which I’ve read and all of which I’ve laughed out loud while reading. 

It’s never been my style to get autographs or approach performers, and even that amazing experience didn’t inspire me to make an exception. 

Walking home that night through the streets of Amsterdam feeling alive and happy, the course of my life had been altered by a small measure, so small, it would take years for the change in direction to appear.

This week, I saw David Sedaris again.

He’s become wildly more accomplished in the16 years since I last saw him (and he was mind blowing back in Amsterdam.)

The polish and mastery not only reading his work, but his precise, easy execution of the little things - his banter between readings the short q/a he hosted afterwards. He was flawless and funny.

It was art.

When you see someone doing what they do (extremely well), it’s often the little things that make you think, “WOW, just … wow .” 

The completeness, the details you know they could only have perfected by doing it year in year out - loving it and respecting it.

His comic writing is funnier and he’s started writing more poignant essays and when he read one that night, 300 people collectively stopped breathing for 20 minutes.

When he finished reading, and taking a few questions, he closed by saying if he missed anyone, they could bring their question to the back where he’d be signing books. People went up and there were at least 40 in line when I walked by.

I didn’t hang around for an autograph or a selfie, but once again, I was moved, inspired and motivated.

The people whose lives you touch with your work, may not come up to you after your talk, your set, your class, your … anything and tell you how you changed the very course of their lives. Because what they needed was for you to show up and hold up your sign. The one that says “I did it. You can too. Don’t quit. You got this.”

Or whatever you need to hear at that moment. I mean it could say, “keep pole dancing!” It doesn’t matter. You’ll know it when you see it.

You may never meet them. They may never know you exist. By doing what you want to do, and doing it well and working on it, investing time and energy because you love it, someone out there is getting something from that. A sign.

Some part of what you do, your product, art, your work or even just the story of how you got from point “A” to point “B”, might be just the coordinate they need to continue charting their course.

You matter. Your work matters.

And even if they don’t stay for the book signing, they saw your sign, now they know the next tack to take, which harbor to shelter in and how much further they have to go.

Hold your sign up.

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Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker,  career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for young professionals to find their ideal job. Take a sample class here.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Fortune Cookie for the Underpaid (or how I learned to get paid what I'm worth.)

I held it.

My fortune,

the whole thing was concealed in my hand.

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It was the paper kind from a strip mall Chinese joint less than mile from my house. When I’d arrive home in a cab from the airport after dark on a Friday night at the end of a 5-day 60-hour week, no food in the fridge, I’d order from this place.

I was under paid. I knew it. And it was eating at me like you can’t imagine. Or maybe you can.

Since many women are underpaid, you might know that distinctive burn,
that combination of “this is not fair” and “dammit, how did I let it happen?” that moves around and settles into different parts of your body like so much energy that if you could just channel it to the right place at the right time, you could hit a salary home run that would take that feeling away.

These days I determine how much I earn, but sometimes,  I remember that  “you’re getting so screwed” feeling like ghost limb.

The time to ask for a raise was around the corner. I’d had a string of victories at work. My hard-nosed, but in my experience, fair-minded boss would do right by me. I was sure of it.  

That burn was being replaced with the giddy feeling you get when you imagine spending money you don’t yet have.

In my previous week’s Friday night Chinese take-out feast, the fortune in my hand, delivered via cookie, prophesized something that fueled my giddiness. It read: “Great wealth is coming your way!”   

“Hot damn!!” I thought.

The series of mistakes I made is clear …. now.  
Then, I was as oblivious as it is possible to be for a person who's not actually unconscious.

Mistake #1 “We need to talk” 
This is how I introduced the salary conversation. Is there anyone on the planet that wants to hear those words from anyone else, ever?

There are countless articles in Cosmopolitan magazine telling you not to do this and what to say instead, like,  “I have a question. Have you got 5 minutes?”

That’s what Cosmo says to say, so the person you’re asking knows that even if you’re going to put them through hell that hell is only 5 minutes long.

I read it in Cosmo, so I’m sure it’s been empirically tested and totally valid.  

Yet, those are the words I chose ,“WE NEED TO TALK.”

My boss put a meeting on the calendar.

I secured a small conference room.

My plan was coming together.

Mistake #2
We ended up sitting directly across from each other,  the logistics of conflict.

Did this occur to me? Of course not.

Why worry about little details like language and logistics?  “Girl, PUH-LEASE. You got this.” I thought. “You earned this raise ten times over!” And I had.

Looking back now there are many things I know I could have done better, but one thing that was unshakably clear then and now, is that by every measure, I was ridiculously underpaid and rectifying it was the right thing to do.

My boss and I had a friendly relationship. I thought he’d appreciate it if I used humor to alleviate the tension I’d inadvertently loaded the situation with.

Sitting across from him, I put that little paper fortune on the table and said, “I got this last week and I’d like to talk to you about my salary.”

He roared with laughter. It made it a little easier.

He heard me out. The meeting was short. In good faith, he made the raise request up the chain. Word came back fast.

I didn’t get my raise. I was gutted.

I’d left it too long. The company was suffering. Budgets were imploding.  

It was a huge blow.

If any of this sounds familiar, here are some things that, hopefully, will enable you to get right, what I got wrong.  

Do. Not. Wait. As soon as you know, prepare and take action to fix it. Don't wait even if you’ve only been there a matter of months. No one is going to "make it right" for you. Things will only get worse. If you’re underpaid it’s more likely to be perceived as “There must be a reason” than “We must do what’s right and fix this terrible injustice!”   

When you don't address it, you lose respect which makes it more difficult to get what you deserve later. And waiting almost always erodes your confidence.

If you’re underpaid because you’ve been with the same company for many years being rewarded with responsibility, but not dollars, as soon as you see it, do something.

In my case, waiting let the gap widen making it easier for people who did not work with me directly to assume there “must be a reason” for my low salary and making it increasingly difficult for those that did believe in me to allocate a large sum in one raise cycle.

It was 100% my responsibility. I taught them how to treat me.  The same is true for you,  we teach people how to treat us.

Maybe you caved on the negotiation; didn’t do your homework or did do it but buckled when they asked “What’s your current salary?” Or when they gave you some slick line like, “We can’t proceed until we know your current salary.” They’re lying. They can. Don’t tell them.

If this is you, you’re not alone,  
but however it went down, if you signed on the dotted line and you didn’t feel right and good about the salary your were accepting, it’s on you.

Don't waste valuable mental energy beating yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes and you probably never got one training or lesson in what to expect or how to manage this type of thing. 

It’s water under the bridge.
Sometimes it’s what needs to happen so you know how you don’t want to feel and you arm yourself with information and tactics, so it never happens to you again. You do what needs to be done, get paid what you’re worth and that burn goes away.

Instead go take the free negotiation webinar, hire the career strategist, go get a black belt from the King Fu Panda if that’s what it takes, but never again accept less salary than you deserve.

I still order Chinese food from time to time. If the server seems friendly,  I ask for extra fortune cookies. I open them, I eat them, I read the fortune and I smile and throw that sucker right in the trash. 

Are you underpaid? Have you ever been? Please share your thoughts and comments here.

There’s more. Subscribe to Courtney’s short list. She delivers exclusive, high quality content right to your inbox each week.

Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker,  career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for young professionals to find their ideal job. Take a sample class here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

This one word will change the rest of your day and if you remember it, the rest of your life.

“Yes! Thank God!” I thought as I settled into an aisle seat and pushed my carry-on under the seat in front of me relieved to have escaped middle seat purgatory.
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I was looking at my phone as passengers filed by me boarding the plane, when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up. She pointed to the middle seat.

“Of course,” I said as I got up and we did the familiar traveler’s waltz. I moved left so she could get her luggage in the overhead bin then right so she could get to her seat. Other passengers waited in that patient-but-not-patient way one adopts for travel.

Waltz complete. Everything in it’s temporary place; we settled in for the two-hour flight in our borderline-Faustian bargain with modern air travel.

I don’t travel as much as I used to, but I talk to people much more.

Because the pairings are completely random and inherently fleeting, there’s something ageless and even a little romantic about travel conversations. Even if they aren’t on fog shrouded train platforms or involving Bogart and Bergman, there’s still … something.

This past weekend I traveled to Baltimore.

On the Amtrak platform at the airport, late enough in the evening that it was dark, I met Tara, a law firm administrator. I noticed her chic  hairstyle and even more chic eyeglasses. She asked
“Are you from here?”
 “No.”  I said, apologetically.

Neither of us were sure if we were on the right platform. She’d been hoping I could tell her. After a joint sign reading, deduction exercise, we assured each other we were probably in the right place.

She mentioned her phone had died and I found a “hidden” power outlet close to where we were standing. We plugged in; laughing. My train came. She helped me get my phone cord untangled. We exchanged “safe travels.” I inelegantly marshaled my luggage onto the train.

Carl's wife dropped him off at the rural Maryland train station where we were both taking the 6:30 a.m. train - me to the airport, him from his southern New Jersey home to his work week home in D.C.

He struck up a conversation and made a pre-dawn train trip back to the airport warm and entertaining. He told me about his sons and their challenges in college and in life.  He fielded a call from his oldest, who’d just been in a fender bender and I listened as he said “I love you.” He told me about his career in the Coast Guard and his favorite postings. We talked about why loving your job matters.

With all the conflict in the world right now, on this trip, I couldn’t help but notice something: we all manage to pile on to planes and trains and get along.

We make it work more often than we don’t, though it’s when we don’t that makes headlines, making it easy to think that we do a terrible job of managing ourselves and our society, but the reality is we do an amazing job most of the time.

Thousands upon thousands of people on train platforms, shuttle buses, ticket queues, security lines and packed like sardines into airplanes, are making it work; helping each other out offering a hand when we can, commiserating when we can’t and laughing ... a lot. 

Not nearly caffeinated enough to think clearly  and uncertain I was getting on the right train at 6:30 a.m., a kind, middle-aged lady in a purple shawl afforded me a smile and assured me the train I was boarding would take me to the airport. 

When I asked a 20-something commuter if there was a bar car on the  Marc train he guffawed and said “Oh, don’t I wish!”  We both laughed.

I saw it on four planes, two trains, three shuttles and countless transactions, interactions and middle seat navigations on this trip.

People are good, generous, funny, and together we have something that I’d forgotten about and you may have forgotten too. 

It was my final traveling companion - who displayed an uncanny knack for using the perfect word - who helped me realize what I’d been experiencing on this trip and helped me give a name to what I'd forgotten. 

She was the one who tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the middle seat, and then tossed a handbag that looked like one I might buy into it.  She was dressed how I might have dressed if I hadn’t left my corporate office for entrepreneurship and daily hikes instead of daily commutes. 

It was the last leg of the journey. I was heading home.

We weren’t even at cruising altitude before my curiosity got the best of me and I asked her “Where are you headed?

“To a conference in Chicago,” she responded, and we fell into conversation and chatted easily for the rest of the flight. She told me about her sons and her husband. I told her about leaving corporate life and my big dreams. We talked tele-commuting and retirement. I confided I was thinking about giving up my Facebook account she told me she already had and didn’t miss it at all. I enjoyed another moment of philosophical sychronicity with a stranger. 
We chatted while everyone around us stared into their technology or slept.

As the plane touched down, before I even knew my new friend’s name, she made a salient and beautiful observation about the world:
“Grace. We need more grace.”  

Then we were deplaning. The magic travel conversation transom closed, everyone moving forward again.

By the time the power of her comment dawned on me, I was halfway down the concourse.

Grace is what I had been experiencing in every conversation, every accommodating answer that eased my fear of going the wrong way.  The shared moments with Tara, Carl and the many whose names I never learned, what was beautiful about those moments was that they were full of grace.

Grace isn't a headline grabber. When my friend named it, I was reminded that every day is full of it.

l the simple acts of kindness, beauty and consideration from strangers I’d had only the briefest exchanges with were acts of grace.

Here’s to you and the grace you bring to this world. 

Thanks for traveling with me and sharing in the conversation.

Travel weary but anointed with grace, 

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Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker,  career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for young professionals to find their ideal job. Take a sample class here.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Should you stay or should you go now?

Think back to a time when you doubted yourself at work, maybe even felt nervous or scared. Was there someone there to build you up? To remind you of all your wins and that you’ve had more successes than failures? To nudge you forward to triumph?
Here’s something I witnessed at work more times than I can count: people will tell you you're "not ready", when you are.  This is something I hear a lot from people seeking career advice:
"I want this and I'm willing to work for it, but I'm beginning to doubt myself because they're telling me to wait, that I’m not ready. I’m not sure what to do.”
This makes you question your judgment when you shouldn't and it can derail your career, because it kills momentum. And momentum is the unsung hero of many a triumph. It’s critical to your career and it’s hard to get back once you’ve lost it.    
At work, you're usually a little more susceptible to the power of suggestion than in your personal life, because work gives you security and peace of mind you're reluctant to disrupt.

On the field of your personal life, you might say “Oh, yeah? Not ready you say? Hand me the bat and let me show you what 'ready' looks like.”

And you swing for the fences. At the office you're more likely to yield to the assessments of others. You don’t want to upset the apple cart. You may have heard one of these greatest hits:
“Maybe next year."
"We need you to step up first," or
"You’ve only been at your level two years …” or some number they deem universally insufficient. If that or any similar rhetoric has come your way, I'll let you in on a secret, most of the time, it's complete rot.

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The road to hell is paved with good intentions and people will tell you, "You're not ready" when you are ready.

The usual career advice: "Work hard, keep your head down, you'll get noticed" serves your employer brilliantly, but it puts you in the position of waiting for other people to tell you when they’re ready for you to move up, which has nothing to do with whether or not you’re ready.

When you get impatient (understandably!) and push, maybe you'll get some actionable feedback, usually not; classic Mushroom School of Management method.

And it can feel like you have no other option, but you do.

If you take their word for it, you can, and likely will, waste years. The call on your readiness is yours alone to make.
Success won't come from being someone else’s version of "ready." Make that call for yourself and surround yourself with people who believe in you and make your move before being anointed with "readiness," not after.
Sure, there are a few areas where this is ill advised, cardio thoracic surgery comes to mind, but for most people in most careers, you’re better off pushing the limits of what you’re allegedly “ready” for than waiting for someone to sign your permission slip.
All too often, you buy their  “you’re not ready” version.
And one of two things happens:
You get more work without more money or authority or
told to wait, or both

Imagine what your world would look like if you got overwhelming encouragement instead of underwhelming doubt; someone saying to you:

“You got this, and I've got your back.”
Who wouldn’t want Obi Wan to hand them a light saber and say: “you can do it. The Force is with you.” He didn’t say: “Luke, hang out in this sand trap a little longer, you’re not ready.”
No one gives you the schematics to navigate the house of raises, promotions and career glory; they open the door and say, “In you go! Work hard, keep your head down ... until you get noticed.”  
And the years pass.
Being told "You're not ready" can hit you like some kind of professional stun gun. It's can make you feel like you don't have a play and it's paralyzed many a hard working employee with the potential to lead and influence. You find yourself thinking you have two choices wait or quit. In my experience most people wait, because it's easier. It's almost always the wrong call - now you can wait for the market or for reasons of convenience, but don't wait because you value their assessment of your potential over your own.

This can be one of the most important moments in your career. And too often you don’t realize how important this decision is. You’re deciding if you're going to own your career or be owned by someone else.

To a make this choice, look at your career outside of the context of your company's needs; 99.9% of the time they see whether you're ready for advancement in terms of whether or not it suits them. Don't take it personally, that's their job. Your job is to take 100% responsibility for your career and choose for yourself.
Don't squander your time, talent and good faith not getting this.

Here’s the reality:

You’re ready.
You’re ready.
You’re ready.
If you’re a little scared, that’s normal. In fact, that’s not just a good sign, it’s a fabulous one. Pick up the bat. Swing for the fences. You're ready.
Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker, career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands in her talks and workshops. Get a free sneak preview to Courtney's career strategy program here until Sept 30. Get the first of the three video workshop here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How an eclipse changed my vision forever

At an Exxon station in the middle of nowhere Wyoming I was using towels to cover my car windows from the inside, so I could sleep without every trucker in Wyoming being able to peer in.

This wasn’t turning out as I expected.

It was nearing midnight. Behind me, on I-25 South out of Wyoming, a hundred-mile back up was snaking forward,  slowly.

It had taken five hours to go 60 miles in the company of other eclipse viewers who were now all as eager as me to leave Wyoming behind.

Cars were backed up on the exit and were 10 deep at the gas stations waiting to fill up and creep a little further along.

I was thankful to be out of it and welcomed the opportunity to sleep in my car in a field adjacent to an Exxon station, a field whose claim to fame less than 12 hours earlier was to host other people like me who'd driven to the southeast corner of Wyoming for the unique privilege of seeing a total eclipse.

I managed to make it into the path of totality in time to stroll the streets of a small Wyoming town waiting for the interesting part to begin. 

I peered up into the sky through my certified American Optics cardboard glasses.

Sure enough, there was a semi-circular black chunk missing from right side of the sun, like someone had nipped it with nail clippers or one of those tools designed to get perfectly round scoops out of watermelons.

Shopkeepers and waitresses would pop out onto the street and quickly glance up at the sun through their glasses and then dart back in.

The eclipse was progressing, but without the benefit of these glasses, there was no way you would have known. It was sunny with barely a cloud in the sky and Wyoming is nearly all sky.

This went on for over an hour, the moon was 25, 50, 75% over the sun without any discernible change on the streets of Wheatland. But it was happening.

I began to wonder: “When will I be able to see evidence of progress with my own eyes?"

It remained imperceptible on the ground until the moon had eclipsed the sun by about 90%, then a strange twilight emerged, swallows appeared, streetlights blinked on. The “open” sign in the laundromat was suddenly visible and I could see some stars.

And then, totality. It was safe to view without glasses for less than a minute. It went by unbelievably fast

I waited … to feel…  something... to experience some or all of the things I’d heard about in the media leading up to the event.

I'd heard about people bursting into tears, having life-changing transformative experiences and  … feeling … something.  Animals acting strangely and all this cool, you’ll-never-be-the-same, because you-just-saw-a-total-eclipse epiphany stuff.

I’m standing in Wheatland Wyoming and I don’t feel anything but let down and eager to leave. Hmmm.

At midnight, in my car trying to sleep while the thousands who had to be at work, or somewhere, the next day, crept down I-25,

I asked myself, “Why did you come here? Why are you sleeping in your car in a field next to an Exxon station?”

And as if on cue, at that very moment, a stock tractor-trailer full of loudly bleating sheep pulled in right next to me. I thought, “oh, this must be the eclipse related crazy animal behavior I read about.”  Finally!

I fell asleep counting sheep, albeit in a way I hadn't expected.

I awoke to a stunning sunrise in an uncrowded Wyoming with barely a trace of the exodus from the night before.

As I eased down the now near empty interstate, the sun rose unobscured.

I thought about what I'd seen through the special glasses I and thousands of others had purchased to protect our vision.

I considered the sun was 90% covered by the moon and it had been invisible to the naked eye, even dangerous to observe.

We were so close to the thing we’d all traveled to see and when it was literally a breath away, we could not tell it was happening with our own eyes.

And then, suddenly, that flaming, white halo exploded around the moon; I had been surprised that it was white. That white incandescence must have been there all along. It took an obstacle to make it visible.

It occurred to me that as we’re walking around at street level, working, waiting, wishing and striving, we’re all a little closer to our moment of incandescence than we probably realize.

If you keep working and keep faith, what you seek will appear and when it does, you’ll realize it had been happening all along, too powerful for your naked eyes to see.

It’s an obstacle that gives the sun an opportunity to blaze with an incandescence millions stop to look at, and that unchallenged, it could never achieve.

It’s the same with us all.  Your dreams are closer than you think.

Shine on.

Make your move,

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Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker,  career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for young professionals to find their ideal job. Take a sample class here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How much of the "Real You" should you show?

This is repost of an "Ask Courtney"  response from last year.  I think it's timely. Hope you agree.

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Here's the question. 
I'm currently looking for position in the international development field. I'm about to send my job application to a nondenominational Christian international organization. I know the organization is looking for Christ believers to join their team. Although I'm a Christian, I'm hesitant to include anything on my personal website that will show my religious beliefs since I'm applying to organizations and companies that do not incorporate any religious views into their missions. 
How much do I share?


First of all, good luck on your job search.

Let me pose this question:

How happy and successful do you want to be?

To the degree that you're hiding something that you'd prefer to be out in the open and honest about, you’re going to impede your own advancement and burn up energy concealing your "secret."

If you felt that your religion was a private matter, I would say, keep it private, but this sounds like something you want to put out there and stand behind it.

So hiding it may not feel good or right for you. If you conceal it for fear of how you’ll be perceived, it will weigh on you and while it may weigh less than the job you’d like to have today, over time, it’s going to become heavier.

Find the courage to show up as your authentic self.

Not showing up as my authentic self was a mistake I made early in my career more times than I'd like to admit. It cost me a lot - respect, and probably advancement.

That might sound like I was a massive fraud, but I wasn't at all. It was early in my career and I was inexperienced and a bit insecure. I wanted to be a rock star, so I thought I had to fit into some “ideal candidate” mold.

It’s not uncommon to feel this way when you’re starting out in your career.

Eventually, I realized I was only hurting myself. I was not trying to deceive anyone; I thought I was being "diplomatic" and "professional." I thought, “This is the way it’s done.”

When you make even small alterations in who you are, it becomes harder for people to understand where you’re coming from and connect with you.

The great thing is that the more comfortable I became in my own skin and showed up as myself, the happier and more successful I became.

Yes, in case you’re wondering, a few people did not like the real me, but that ended up being a blessing, because these weren’t people I wanted to work, partner or hang out with, and the people I did want to be with welcomed me.

You'll be spending a lot of time at your job, so if there’s something that would stop them from hiring you if they knew it, you probably don't want to be there.

I know that’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re completely over the job hunt and just want someone to hire you, but it’s true nonetheless.

We're all subjected to being judged for race, religion, what school you attended, what car you drive, state you're from, for being a refugee, wearing a headscarf, listening to country, rap, bluegrass music, etc.

I had a boss who once told me that she was all set to hire this great candidate she'd interviewed, and then she found out the candidate owned a pet rat. That was it for my boss who is deathly afraid of and disgusted by
rats. She did not hire this person -- because she owned a rat. True story.

The winning card to play, always, is to show up as you.

It's easy to be cynical, but people will pleasantly surprise you with their goodness and decency.

Most importantly, they will respect you for being honest. If you alter or water down what and who you are to get in the door, you deny yourself the chance of being respected, appreciated and hired for who you are and what you believe in.

Hold out for people who will appreciate and celebrate you as you are. They are out there and they're looking for you as hard as you are looking for them.

Have you ever concealed some part of yourself to get a job? How'd it work out? Join the conversation on the Facebook page.  Share your story.


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Courtney Kirschbaum is keynote speaker,  career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines. A TEDx Speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for young professionals to find their ideal job. Take a sample class here.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Cherokee Princess and the Rodeo Queen

 I was sitting on the front seat of the school bus. I was in the seventh grade. 

I was the only kid on it. I was always the first one on the bus, probably because I wanted to get away from school more than anyone else.

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I'd chat with my bus driver while we both waited for the bus to fill up. 

I liked her a lot, mainly because she treated me like the adult I longed to be.

Her name was Judy. 

She’d known me from practically the day I was born. She knew my mother, father, brother, grandparents. It was a small town

Another reason we got on really well because she was a horse crazy adult and I was a horse crazy kid.

As just about anyone over the age of 21 knows, what happens to you and how it happens to you when you’re young shapes how you approach life and interact with the world later on. 

You don’t realize how some people influenced how you turned out until later in life.

Judy lived close to town and was raising three children. They kept horses and had a stable and little grazing pasture and a truck and horse trailer that she managed to hold together with determination and duct tape.

She was real, some people would say, salt of the earth. Her smile lit up the room and she had that energy that made you feel like there was no one she’d rather be talking to.

She was one of those no BS people who spoke with a combination of  candor and kindness that leaves you feeling good in the way that people who call bullsh#t on the stupid stuff in life often do.  

Her daughter, Hannah, was a few years younger than me. Hannah was a small girl but a fearless rider. She had a little brown and white pony named Cherokee Princess.

They showed their horses at local western shows on the weekends

In a city about 40 miles away, there was a big venue called the Coliseum - big by back-then standards anyway. When big name bands came through town, this is where they played. The Barnum and Bailey circus was still around and it came through there too. If something big was happening, it happened at the Coliseum.

Every spring, the professional rodeo came to the Coliseum.

Barrel racers, calf ropers and bull riders on the rodeo circuit came in and competed for a weekend and then moved on to the next venue. These were adults, professionals with horses that cost thousands of dollars and many of them sported endorsements from big companies. It was not some local horse show I was used to.

It was the show, the kind of place that seems similar to what you know,  but everything is amplified and out of your reach, so ... more exciting.

To my small town mind, this is where you ended up when you “made it.” And no one I knew in our two stoplight town ever had ever “made it” or even gotten close.

That afternoon, Judy said, “guess what?”

“What?” I replied. 

“I’ve registered Hannah to compete in the rodeo."

“At the Coliseum?" I asked

“Yes!” She was smiling ear to ear.

She went on,

“She’s a member of the Cowgirls Rodeo Association, we both are, so I registered her and she’s runnin’ barrels. Why not? She’s a member just like them. I pay my dues just like them.“

She was right, of course. But it took a minute for me to realize that a person could just do that. No one had to give them permission she didn’t have to have a $10,000 champion quarter horse or a fancy truck and trailer rig. 

It’s hard to explain how this announcement made me feel, what it made me realize.

The things that I thought were for “other” people … someone I knew was doing them.  I. COULD. DO. THEM

My little seventh grade mind was reeling.

The rodeo went from being something that “other” people from “other” towns did to something that people I knew could do. That I could do.

And if someone could just do that then what else could someone do?  

That Friday night,  they hooked up that truck and trailer and hauled Hannah’s brown and white pony to the rodeo and Hannah and Cherokee Princess burst through the gates at full speed just like the rest of those professional cowgirls on huge, expensive quarter horses with big fancy truck and trailer rigs and competed. Just. Like. That.
Now to put this in perspective, Hannah’s pony was a small Shetland size pony competing against grown women on big, fast quarter horses.

When she finished her run, the rodeo announcer asked everyone to give the little lady on her little pony a big hand and they did. The crowd went nuts. They got it. They loved it. 

When someone believes you’re good enough to play in the big leagues, it changes things.

It changes how you see the world. It tells you in a way that nothing else can:

You have the right to be here.

When you hadn't even realized you'd been doubting it. 

It straight up settles that question. You have the right.

Because a lot of what holds us back life is we don’t think we have "the right."

And we don’t even realize we've bought into it. 

It's other people telling us the things we long for or want or dream about are for “professionals only”, or people “with money.”  It’s only for … you can fill in the blank.

What Judy taught her daughter was that she had a right to be there and anywhere else she had the notion to put herself.  

And so do you, where ever and whatever you have your eye on, what you’re thinking about ...

You have a right to be there.  It’s not just for other people, it’s for you.

See you at the rodeo,


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P.S.S. Was there a time when someone believed in you, opened the door for you to go somewhere you thought was out of bounds? Tell your story on our Facebook page and give props to them.

Courtney Kirschbaum is career strategist and advocate. Her advice has been featured in Fast Company, CIO, Business News Daily Magazines.  A TEDx speaker and award-winning presenter, she’s inspired and empowered thousands to get a career and lifestyle they love. She’s the creator of Job Hunt School an online program for professionals to find their ideal job.
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