January 2009

I recently was in touch with a LinkedIn friend of mine, Gail Johnson Morris.  Gail is a top executive in career change mode after a recent lay-off.  I asked her what her top three “to-do’s” were in her career change action plan (if you don’t have one, write one — can easily be a one-pager!).  Here’s what she said….some sage advice I wanted to share with everyone:

1. Determine exactly what components of all roles and assignments thus far put me in the zone where I do my best work. To do this in a disciplined way, I took several approaches; Found Buckingham’s ‘Strengthfinder’ and “Go Put Your Strengths to Work’ (check out the podcast of this work that he did with Oprah) the most comprehensive for role components; Beck’s ‘Steering by Starlight’ is a great method to excavate activities that bring out passion and engagement; and Sonnefeld/Ward’s ‘Firing Back’ provides executive level step-by-step results for recovery from career set-backs.

 2. Clarify personality traits and what brings out the best in me in terms of company culture, opportunity, peer team (if any) and accountabilities/opportunities – Birkman’s Self-Development Report moves way past the 1st generation of these tests (Myers Briggs) & was my favourite for this step. 

3. Create a networking map for my next great assignment that ensures I am getting in touch with business professionals who have advice, counsel and contacts to assist me in landing where I can deliver the most value and have the best chance for future success. Execute the networking in a disciplined, consistent and professional manner and loop in all inputs and learnings from the advice receive to my goals.

Brian Kurth 

Career Strategist, Founder of VocationVacations and Author of Test-Drive Your Dream Job:  A Step-By-Step Guide To Finding And Creating The Work You Love  – Hachette 2008.


Rachel Zupek of CareerBuilder.com wrote a fantastic article about how to make a career comeback (including a NEW career) today.  Fantastic article…please take a read:  HOW TO MAKE A COMEBACK IN THE WORK FORCE.

And, yes, yours truly is quoted.  😉

The British news magazine, The Economist, named VocationVacations a positive trend for 2009 amongst the ashes of 2008 in its article, The Upside Of A Downturn.  This makes me very happy to say the least.  But there’s more to it than just my happiness with The Economist’s article.

Since we’re talking about the Brits here, the article reminded me of two very random things.  Hang in there with me here…as they do seem random at first glance.

First, the article reminded me of a road trip back in 2002. I was traveling back from my family’s vacation place up in the Canadian Rockies with my ol’ British friend, Yvonne Ovey.  Yvonne and I lived and worked in Budapest, Hungary at the same time back in 1997-1998.  Anyway, she and I were traveling to Oregon from British Columbia and we hit major road construction.  Things were backed up forever.  We sat in the car barely moving for over an hour when Yvonne decided to get out of the car and go chat with the road construction workers.  Meanwhile, I called my then-79 year old Dad who lives in Florida just to catch up a bit.  I told Dad what Yvonne was doing.  He replied, “She’ll get it worked out.  Those Brits back in WWII had a way of balancing getting the job done while always staying positive and pleasant”.  Sure enough, Yvonne comes back and she had convinced the road construction workers to take a bit of a break so they could let the large amount of traffic go through for 15-20 minutes.  The Brit took a bad situation and found resolution — with a smile on her face.

The article also reminded me of when Queen Elizabeth II called 1992 Annus Horribilis (it sounds naughty but it’s obviously not or the queen wouldn’t have said it) when her family and the crown seemingly were imploding due to their carrying ons, divorces and tabloid news-making.  The queen admitted it and then went on to say that she was, in a sense, “moving on” (my words, not hers) and ready for 1993.  

I think many of us would consider 2008 Annus Horribilis, yes?

But it’s time to move on.  It’s time to make some lemonade out of lemons.  And here’s how — let’s take a bit of the British approach:

Keep a sense of pleasantness –  no matter how bad things get, stay pleasant and kind.  To yourself, most importantly.  But also to your family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and anyone else you come across.  There’s no sense in continuing to be down.  Stiff upper lip!

Stay Calm – yes, this is a horrible time for many people.  I just read the headline in this morning’s Oregonian here in Portland that we have the highest unemployment rate since 1993.  Yikes.  But stay calm.  Overreacting isn’t going to get you anywhere.  Hard work, planning and strategizing is going to get you somewhere.  

“Never, never, never give up” — Who said that?  None other than British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he reflected back on WWII and was giving some sage advice.  Sir Churchill’s words are mine to you if you’ve been laid off in 2008 or are fearing a lay-off in 2009.  Never, never, never give up.  Fortitude and determination are key.

Stay Positive – Not only do you need to stay pleasant (like Yvonne convincing the road construction workers) but you also have to remain optimistic.  Sometimes you might just have to FORCE yourself to stay optimistic.  Tease yourself into thinking it WILL get better.  And you know what?  It will.  Do you think it was easy for the Brits to stay positive when bombs were falling on London? Of course not.  But with the positive leadership of Churchill and the monarchy, the British people remained positive (the Queen Mum even kept a great sense of humor which endeared her to many for years to come) and determined to win the war.

Luckily 2009’s issues aren’t quite as serious as what the British lived through in WWII.  But we are seeing some serious downturn that is making a huge negative impact on people’s lives, there’s no doubt.  Leave it to the British and The Economist to say, “hey, there is an UPSIDE to all of this!”.  I love it.  Please take the time to read the article in The Economist.  

And take those lemons that you’ve been sucking on in 2008 and turn them into some wonderful 2009 lemonade because that’s just what the Brits would do.

I have to say that if I were to do things over again, I would not have put as much of my own net assets into my dream business, VocationVacations.  

Regrets?  No.  But would I do it the same way again?  No.  I would have reached out to prospective friends and family investors (looking to invest a total of <$1M) and/or angel investors (usually looking to invest a total of $1-3M) sooner.  

Should your fear of “losing it all” prevent you from starting your dream business?  NO WAY!  Here are a couple of really simple things to do as you embark upon your adventure.  They’re so simple that you’re going to want to say “DUH, Brian!” to me….but I’ll tell you what, a lot of entrepreneurs do not follow this advice and end up in one helluva position risking everything they have.  

1.  Establish an ABSOLUTE FINANCIAL THRESHOLD, a financial point you will not go beyond.  I recommend no more than 1/3 of your net worth.  You never need to be in a position to lose everything (and really try not to use your 401K whatsoever as the tax implication is high AND your 401K is also protected under any possible future bankruptcy).  Many factors can cause a job or business to fail, including some beyond your control (Hello, 2008!  Banking system, auto industry, mortgage industry, George Bush, etc), but there is NO reason for you to lose everything in the process.  Establish your threshold.

2.  A minimum of 9 months before you reach that threshold, find outside money.  Friends and family.  Angel investors.  Give them an equitable membership in your LLC or shares in your new corporation in exchange for their confidence in investing in you.

I’ve seen too many businesses fail because the owners had too much pride to ask for financial help.  You also can get financial investment without a ton of strings attached.  Get “grown up” investors (sage advice I received from my friend Loree Misch at the time) who understand what it means to invest in a high-risk venture.  Make sure they, too, are living up to their own absolute threshold.  They should be willing and able to lose every dime they’re investing in your business and still be a-OK financially.  If not, don’t take their money.  

I’ve been very blessed.  I have six friends and family investors in VocationVacations.  I have never once received a call from any one of them asking, “Where’s my return on investment?!”  They understand their ROI is in the works.  They understand that it’s a long-term investment.  That’s the type of investor you want.  PS to my friends and family investors:  Thanks Again!

Anyway, times are scary but you can mitigate your fears and still successfully start and grow your dream business, my friends.  Yes, even in this market.  Just be smart about it.  Don’t be too proud to ask for financial assistance in your endeavor if you start reaching your absolute threshold!

Brian Kurth

Career Strategist, Founder of VocationVacations and Author of Test-Drive Your Dream Job:  A Step-By-Step Guide To Finding And Creating The Work You Love  – Hachette 2008.

Don’t live with career fears.  Sounds easier said than done, right?  Well, it’s not easy….but it CAN and SHOULD be done.

Fearing a layoff?  Prepare for it.  Don’t hide in your fears.  Been laid off?  Now’s the time to react to your situation in the most positive way possible.  Simply hate your job but you don’t want to leave it because you fear you may not find something else?  Nonesense.  There ARE still dream jobs out in the market with your name on it.  You simply need to prepare to stake your claim.

As FDR once said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  That applied to 1941….and it certainly is a pertinent quote for us to live by in 2009 as well. 

One final thing.  Don’t forget to sign up to win “2009:  Bring It On!” free career coaching!

This article in the Scotsman in Edinburgh, Scotland about Gill Roberts is the most inspirational thing I’ve read in awhile.  I want to share with you.

Also, don’t forget to sign-up to win a few career coaching sessions as part of our 2009:  Bring It On! Celebration.

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