Businesses often ask their consultants how to make more money –e.g., grow revenues, develop new products, expand market reach. A good consultant first asks why: does the company want to be a certain size, go public, or make itself an acquisition target? It might seem obvious that a business wants more money, but the actual goal is not about money.
Likewise, individuals desire to make more money. Does being a member of the six-figure salary club mean a level of achievement for you? Does a certain level of cash tucked away mean security? Do you want enough to quit your job because you crave more time off? Achievement, security, and time off are the real goals then. It’s not about money. By focusing on your bottom line in each case, you actually distort your focus.
This doesn’t mean that money does not play a role in achieving achievement, security, or other goals. However, by focusing exclusively on money, you miss other opportunities to work towards your goal. Security means having the right insurance, people to support you, and good health. If you focus on hoarding cash, you may not invest in any of the above. As you work towards getting your target cash, you leave yourself completely insecure. If you miscalculate, you may find out you don’t even have the right amount of money.
Therefore, it’s what you want money to do for you that needs to be your focus. Then, you can work on getting the money and other means to that end. What would you do with this money? Be specific in your goal. Then double-check: is the amount of money enough to get that goal? Do I need to be doing other things than making money? Minding your bottom line is not just about working for money, but also about ensuring that money works for you.
I attended a lecture on happiness by a master yogi from India. On the topic of certainty and uncertainty, he noted that the only real certainty we have is how every one of us with each and every step is walking to our grave. We may have lots of steps left, or we may have few. We may have an idea of how many (if we have a diagnosis of illness for example), or we may be taken by surprise. The point he made was to choose happiness each and every step of the way.
Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. – Elbert Hubbard
That quote is a funnier take on the same idea: if living life to the fullest is our goal, then we all end in failure because we all die. So don’t worry too much in-between. I don’t point this out to minimize any concerns you have. You can’t wish your fears away and be carefree on demand. Your business idea may fail. Your career may stagnate. You may be entering 2008 with the same resolution from 2007 because you haven’t achieved that pesky goal yet.
But it won’t be better to not even try or to wait till a better time or to pick a lower standard. You’re dying! You’re dying figuratively, if you believe (as I do) that giving up on your dreams is a form of death. You’re dying literally, since barring a medical miracle (and cheaper healthcare to afford the miracle) we all are going to die.
What do you want to do before you die? If you had one year left, what would be your priorities? If you had two, what then? Since we don’t know, fill in your list for more — five, ten and twenty years from now. If the business idea or career promotion or pesky goal is not on the one-year list, drop it for now and pick something that resonates more immediately. Turn fear on its head and paralysis into action, and take a step. Then, as you’re walking to your grave, pick up as much happiness as you can along the way.
We all know someone who looks good all the time –who knows how to dress for any occasion, who looks fabulous effortlessly. Do we admire that skill (because it is a skill) or do we disdain it and criticize (oh, she’s so vain)?
The same example can be made about other skills, such as money management. We all know someone who’s good with money – frugal, disciplined, knowledgeable about finance. Do we learn from this person or do we demonize her (oh, she’s greedy)?
We all have weaknesses, and we all want to improve them. However, some weaknesses are blind spots because we don’t recognize them or we don’t admit that a particular area is actually useful. A good way to identify if you have a blind spot for fashion sense or money management is to see which opinion you shared for each of the above examples. When we have a blind spot, we resent people who do well in our weak area or rationalize that the skill is not important. Blind spots are energy drains, and blind you to ways to bring out even more of your talents.
Instead of envying the fashion queen and begrudging the financial guru, learn from them. Why shouldn’t we look better, have more control over our money, or ___________ (fill in the blank with the skill that you know to be useful but currently don’t have). Pay attention to moments where you find yourself judging someone negatively for doing something well because these are probably your blind spots. Obviously, different skills vary in importance for different people, but a financial genius won’t get clients by looking like a mess, and a supermodel can overspend herself into financial ruin. A breadth of skills is useful to everyone.
An established executive lamented to me how much he was dreading the job search at his age (past mid-40’s). I have heard other preconceived fears that paralyze jobseekers– my school isn’t a top 10, my education wasn’t business-related, my experience isn’t analytical enough, there is a glass ceiling for women anyway. The subtext is, “Why bother trying?”
When fear inhibits action, it is not helpful. However, it is not feasible or even desirable just to ignore fear. In fact, fear can be quite useful. It sends a signal that something needs attention. There is age discrimination out there. Sometimes companies require quantitative experience. A second-tier school, unrelated major, lack of analytical experience, and, yes, gender discrimination (and other forms) may also affect a search. Therefore, rather than dismiss a fear outright, a proactive candidate anticipates possible outcomes and develops strategic responses to combat these.
If a company is going to discriminate by age or school or major or gender, they can do this easily via the resume. Knowing this, a candidate who fears having a red flag should spend more time and energy getting to know decision-makers directly. Take the resume out of the picture. Besides, relying on someone to read your resume and select you, even if your credentials are outstanding, is ceding control over your search to whomever happens to see your resume. Network and make your pitch. Craft a compelling letter that entices an employer to want to meet you. Conduct an informational interview with intelligent, business-savvy questions that show employers that you know their industry and their company and therefore you deserve to be their colleague.
By taking action around your fear, you move past the paralysis and empower yourself to be responsible for your search and your career. An empowered candidate is confident, and confidence attracts. In a down market, a candidate with a positive, can-do spirit is especially appealing. You may not even encounter resistance around the fears that you have, and you may never know whether what you feared was ever an issue. But don’t just try to ignore it or convince yourself not to care. You fear what you fear, so use your fear to make yourself a better candidate.
When I was young I used to think that money was the most important thing in life. Now that I am old, I know it is. - Oscar Wilde
Did you read that and think Wilde was too cynical? Should he have acknowledged family or community or accomplishment? Should you focus on following your dreams, and money be damned? Well, dreams often require money. Certainly if we didn’t have to work for money we could work exclusively for our dreams. So, in that way, money gives us time. Furthermore, if we didn’t worry about money we could focus that energy towards our dreams. So, in another way, money gives us energy. Thus, money matters: it provides the capital, time and energy for our dreams.
Everyone earns, spends, and pays taxes. Therefore, everyone needs to understand money. If you’re a creative, that is no excuse for not mastering your money. You still need to understand royalties, licensing, and pricing. If you’re a finance professional, you still need to master your personal bottom line. Are you as good at cost-cutting at home as for your employer?
If your life is your business and you are its CEO, then money matters. It is not greedy or superficial or wrong to appreciate money. Your bottom line deserves time and attention. You need to know how much you’re taking in, how much is going out, what is left, and how to make whatever changes necessary. You need to know what your product is worth and how to price it and sell it. You need to know how to allocate your money to the different clients in your life. You need to put money aside for branding, research and development, and all those easily overlooked investments in yourself. There is a lot for you to do with money and a lot that money can do for you, and the first step is to just admit that money matters.
I first wrote about parallel careers six years ago when I mainly coached artists. I used the term “parallel careers” to refer to the artist who juggles the creative career with the money job (e.g., waiter/ actor; office by day/ comedy club by night). Today, not just artists have parallel careers. There are people who start their own companies evenings and weekends while continuing to work as an employee for someone else during the day. There are consultants or freelancers, who are really looking for another long-term job. So knowing how to juggle parallel careers is something that artists, entrepreneurs, and jobseekers all have to do, and we all increasingly find ourselves in at least one of those categories.
There are different reasons for having parallel careers. Sometimes it’s by choice and sometimes it’s by circumstance. The most common reason is that one career provides the money and stability, and the other career provides the upside and personal fulfillment. If these are your parallel careers, here are some tips to meet the challenges:
Clarify your motivations for each career. How much money do you need to make from your money job? How much scheduling flexibility do you need? Depending on your requirements, your money job may mean temping, a traditional 9-to-5, or an entrepreneurial venture. What is your ultimate artistic/ entrepreneurial/ job search goal? Do you ultimately want just one career or do you plan on keeping both? If your money job is truly just for the money and you are not intent on making this a career, then you focus on the short-term benefits and less on the long-term investment.
Follow the business protocol for each career. Take the example of an actor who supplements with temp work. Acting resumes differ from corporate resumes. Audition clothes differ from interview clothes. Interviews vary at a casting office versus a corporate office. You need to understand the required marketing materials, dress code, and work environments of each career. As an entrepreneur, you need to have different skills than as an employee. A job search is different from a consulting assignment. Do not assume your knowledge in one area translates to the other career.
Maintain perspective about the benefits of both careers. The benefits of an artistic career include doing what you love every day, not just the roles you book or gallery sales. On the flip side, whether you are an artist, entrepreneur or jobseeker, your current money job is not just about money. Your money job is an investment in your art, your business and your long-term career. Your money job sustains you in the immediate term to give your other pursuits a chance to succeed. Your money job develops different skills and introduces different people and situations into your life. Resist the trap of begrudging your money job. Remember that both careers contribute to your ultimate life goals.
I posted an article with CNBC.com recently on asking big questions.
I wrote it because, in today’s turbulent market, there is a risk of getting caught up in the minutiae: where is the Dow; what is the unemployment rate; which company is next to fold. But wherever the stock market is or the job market is, our long-term goals should extend beyond these markers and should not be subordinate to them.
If the unemployment rate is 4% or 40%, do you have a job? For you, unemployment is 0% or 100%. More importantly, do you have the job you want? Do you know what you want? Do you have a plan to get there?
If the Dow is at 9,000 or 19,000, what part is yours? Are you saving enough? Do you feel rich? Do you have a plan to get comfortable about your finances?
Many of my clients think too big when they execute and too small when they dream. When we make a career action plan together, with every step they want to see it is leading to a new job. They want to execute big instead of paying attention to the important small details in-between. Conversely, when we draw out career and life goals, it’s hard to get them to think beyond what’s feasible in the short-term. It’s hard to even get them to imagine their ideal life in the future or to talk about their legacy. Yet, it’s the big dreams that will pull us and make those small steps worthwhile.
Turn off the news. Look up and see that the sky is not falling. Allow yourself to see farther into the future than you might be used to. Then, dream big.
Because my background is financial services and media, the last few months have been steeped in bad news. Many of my former colleagues who have been laid off are hunkering down for a protracted search in a bad market. My other colleagues who haven’t yet been laid off are hunkering down and counting their days. It’s always good to stockpile cash reserves and to take a step back and get refreshed, but that’s good defense. To win their next job, they need to put themselves out there. Success requires that you play offense and focus on winning, not on not losing.
In baseball, you see a lack of offense when a pitcher doesn’t use his best pitch because the hitter might hit it (thus causing a loss), instead of using his best pitch to get the hitter out (thus sealing a win).
In job searches, you see a lack of offense when people focus foremost on what’s available – what industries are hiring, what jobs are suitable to their skills. Playing offense requires that you focus foremost on what you want and then focus on getting it. It’s a risk if your desired industry is not hiring or if you need to augment current skills. But the win is getting what you want and not just settling.
In careers, you see a lack of offense when people decline challenges – e.g., turn down a high visibility project, postpone a job switch. Playing offense requires that you take shots at your goals.
In life, you see a lack of offense when people do not follow their dreams. You may want a different life – a different career, more family time, new friends, a new location. Playing offense requires that you move in the direction of your dreams. If everything remains status quo, you may protect yourself against failure, but you also preclude yourself from success.
When you say yes to something, it means saying no to something else. I am currently coaching a downsized accountant who had always kept his rock band, songwriting, and record producing as a hobby. With no day job, his new free time has been quickly usurped by more practice time, a flurry of inspiration for more songs, and research into sound engineering to take his production skills to new levels. Yes to music, but no to his job search. With the few job leads he cobbled together not panning out, savings running low, and expenses increasing as he invests more into music, he knows he needs to add the job search back into the mix. But how?
What are you saying yes to? For our accountant by day/ musician by night (it’s like the geeky version of Flashdance), he has said yes to music taking a bigger priority than before. He now is saying yes to his job search taking a bigger priority.
What will you say no to? For “Flashdance” he simply must say no to an equivalent amount of activity somewhere in his schedule where the new job search activities will go. This might be some music activity – maybe he can’t practice or write as much, or he needs to take the part-time sound engineering program – or it might be other activities that just don’t matter as much anymore.
Can you make this decision now hypothetically so you build your self-awareness and take time with your choices in case something wonderful unexpectedly falls in your lap?
I have never met anyone who doesn’t love happy surprises. But if you’re flat out with your time and energy and have no idea which activities are priorities and which are extraneous, then how will you say yes to these happy surprises when they arise? We all have extra room, but in the rush of busyness, we may not take the time to prune. Then we miss these happy surprises because we are too busy to notice them or too exhausted to grab them when they alight in front of us.
Flashdance had resisted the job search earlier, but his newfound energy from the increased music engagement has inspired his search. He “found” the time by finding more inspiration and energy and admitting that there was a lot of fat in his schedule.
We must say no to say yes. We must say yes wholeheartedly to make an informed decision on when to say no. What are you doing that is extraneous? How can you say yes to more of what really matters to you?
A Dateline Survival Story featured a young hiker, caught in a blizzard, who survived for days with only his lunch and water bottle. (He didn’t sleep to prevent freezing to death and used the snow to refill his water bottle, first warming the bottle with his hands.) The story illustrates an important point: when you want something that badly, you will find a way.
This man wanted to live. When he spoke about his ordeal, his strategy was to stay alive and give himself a chance to be rescued. He couldn’t do everything on his own (i.e., rescue himself from the mountain), so he focused only on what he could do: stay alive – not alive for a certain time, not alive with all his belongings, just alive.
So it should be with our goals. When we have the same life/death clarity, goal or no goal, we focus on what we can do. However, sometimes we pick a goal and assign extraneous conditions to it. We don’t just want to be a successful actor; we want to be a successful actor by a certain time (typically a short time). We don’t just want a fulfilling career and family; we want them both now and moving in lockstep each and every day.
Goals are often messier than that. Goals push our mental, physical and emotional limits. Goals conflict with other things that we want – when we go after them, we may not have as much time to sleep or money to spend on other things.
You need life and death clarity about your goals. If the goal is as meaningful to you as staying alive was to that hiker, then keep scrambling. You just may be rescued and have your dreams come true.