Speaking Engagements


I had an amazing time speaking to the Big Ten alumni crowd at Northwestern University in Chicago (sold-out!  Thanks, everyone, for coming…and thanks to NAA and WAA for organizing).  My topic was the 8 Steps To A Successful Career Transition — and Work/Life balance since work and life are not mutually exclusive.

What strikes me most when speaking to university alumni association groups across the US, is that the concept of SIMPLY being HAPPY and attaining a work/life balance is a universal interest.  Last night’s group was comprised of GenY, GenX and BabyBoomer alumni.  It was 50/50 Men/Women.  Being fulfilled in one’s career and being happy are goals that reach across every race.

Happy.  Yes, happiness.  When was the last time you answered in an affirmative that you were HAPPY in your work?  Believe it or not, a 2006 Harris Poll’s result indicated that a full 84% of people are NOT happy in what they do.  Now, I ask “What the ____?” over that.  How can SO many Americans be unhappy in what they do.  Life is so short.  Don’t they get it?  Are you one of them?  If so, time to pursue some happiness.

Well, as it turns out, it’s the “F” word (fear) that keeps people from pursuing happiness.  We talked a lot about fear last night.  People shared their fears of financial insecurity, loss of identity (ie, “I’ve been an attorney for 20 years.  It’s all I know.”), fear of failure and fear of what family and friends are going to think of a prospective career change.  I recommend Dr. Susan Jeffers book, “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway” to anyone who is facing fear.

I’m happy to report that I think several hundred people are starting today with a renewed sense of change and optimism in their pursuit of happiness.  It CAN happen.  I’ve worked with thousands of people over the past six years.  I know first hand.  I’ve seen the banker become a happy dog trainer.  I’ve seen the music executive become a happy hotel manager.  I’ve seen a computer sales exec become a happy yoga instructor.  And the list goes on and on.

But the key to pursuing happiness doesn’t occur in a vacuum.  It’s all about finding a mentor in your chosen field(s) to help you make the transition.  It’s a must.  If there’s ONE thing that I wanted everyone to learn from last night’s discussion is that MENTORSHIP, MENTORSHIP AND MENTORSHIP is the key to pursuing and finding career happiness.  See steps #4 and #5 in the 8 Steps:

http://www.briankurth.com/Career_Change_in_8_Steps.html

With that being said, please join the Big Ten alums in their pursuit of happiness — on the job and in life.

Are you ready?  When are your going to start?  What would hold you back?

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What are you doing to stay sane these days?  You don’t know?  Instead, you ask what am I (!) doing to stay sane through these challenging times, Mr. Dream Job Guy?  Fair enough….touche.

As an entrepreneur, it’s really difficult to stay one step ahead of the times — but, so far, I’m doing it.  It ain’t easy.  And I suspect it’s not easy for you either.  You’ve been laid off.  You worry about a loved one being laid off.  Or you perhaps you have “layoff guilt” — your coworkers have been laid off, but you’ve survived with a good job and benefits.  And you feel guilty.

Now, I’m not a psychologist….and I’m sure not a psychiatrist, but I do feel there are, what I call, “Simple Things” that we all have to do to remain sane during these crazy times.  Yes, HAVE to do.  A mandate, folks.  Now, the Simple Things are completely up to the individual — different strokes for different folks.  You may think that this Cheesehead from Wisconsin has gone all West Coast Woo Woo.  And maybe I have.  But, I’ll tell you what, my Simple Things are helping me to deal with this recession and keeping me sane.

Here are my 7 (my lucky number) Simple Things:

1.  Smile, damn it!  Regardless of how crappy my day might be going and how depressing the news is, I make myself smile.  Even if it hurts.  Make yourself smile.  Fake it to make it, baby.  Just as a frown is contagious, so is a smile.  In fact, you might even force yourself to laugh at something.  I did this morning.  I was walking to the VocationVacations office and a truck was going by with its stereo playing loudly….the news was being read, “This is the worst recession since the Great Depression,” the news reporter said.  I felt like I was in a movie.  Did I just hear that correctly? Were those words really coming from a random truck just driving by?  Why, yes there were.  I smiled and chuckled to myself.  Yes, times are surreal.  Smile, Brian.  Laugh.  Fake it to make it.

2.  Turn off the news!   At least limit your intake.  Now I love watching Anderson Cooper on CNN with the best of them…..but I’ve completely cut back my intake of the constant bad news.  A bit of burying my head in the sand?  Yep.  And I’m damn proud of it.

3.  Make love.  Yep, you read that correctly.  If you’re in a relationship, show that person how much you love him or her by having some good old fashion sex.  Didn’t think you’d hear that coming from Mr Dream Job, did you?  Well, I’m not suggesting you go out on a sexual rampage or anything (um, I’m nearly 43….I’m not having sex every day, believe me), but studies have proven that sex is a great stress release.  So, be a good, loyal American and have some great love-making/sex with your partner.  If you’re not partnered, well, I’m not going to suggest what you do….but I’m sure you can figure something out.

4.  Get some physical exercise.  I’m not a gym rat — far from it.  I was always the last kid picked for a sports team in gym class. But, about 5 years ago, I decided to make a conscious effort to get some sort of exercise every day so I would stop doing my own imitation of Jabba the Hut.  If it’s not the gym, then take a walk.  Go for a run.  Take a hike.  Yoga.  Stretch and do sit-ups on your living room floor.  Anything.  As the folks at Nike say, just do it!

5.  Treat yourself to something nice each day.  Keep it under $5 or $10, or whatever.  For me?  This morning I had a killer work out (see #4) — I even bench-pressed 110 pounds.  That’s a big deal for this geek from Mt. Horeb (Wisconsin) middle school.  So, for $10, I treated myself to my favorite diner breakfast at Fuller’s in Portland.  I just love the folks there.  The owner, Suzy, is the best.  I’m set to be in a good mood for the rest of the day after seeing Suzy and her smile (see #1, once again).

6.  Don’t sit in the dark.  Yesterday the sun was pouring into the office to the point I couldn’t see my computer screen.  I shut the blinds.  And then I was reading CNN news online (see #2)….and I started getting bummed out by what I was seeing on video and reading online…while sitting in the dark.  So, I quit CNN.com and opened the blinds again.  I needed the sunshine — especially here in Portland.  So, yes, I sat at my desk wearing sunglasses so I could see my computer screen while letting the sun shine in.  No, I’m not crazy.  In fact, I’m staying sane.

7.  Help a friend or family member.  We all are feeling stressed these days.  We need each other.  We need community.  My partner (Wade)  my Dad, my siblings, friends such as Carolyn, Anne, Gwen and Glenn (and many more) have all been amazing to me during this last year when I’ve had some difficult decisions to make in order to keep my dreams alive.  I hope you’ve experienced the same from family and friends.  Repay the favor.  Just the other day a friend of mine who’s been laid off was having a difficult day.  I took the time to drive to her place to have a cup of coffee with her — and gave her a hug.  Did I solve her problems?  No way.  But she knows I’m there for her.  Help a friend or family member in need.  They know you don’t have all the answers or their mortgage payment or their kids’ college tuition, etc.  But it’s amazing what that smile (see #1 AGAIN) and a hug can do for someone.

So, there are my 7 Simple Things to keep me sane.  What are yours?  I’m really anxious to hear.

Cheers!
Brian

Brian Kurth is a sought-after career planning and mentorship expert and speaker.  He has appeared on CNBC, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, NBC’s TODAY Show and National Public Radio (NPR), and his career advice has been featured in articles in Fortune Magazine; Men’s Journal; The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, just to name a few. Brian founded VocationVacations (www.vocationvacations.com) in 2004.  He is the author of Test-Drive Your Dream Job – A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding and Creating the Work You Love  – Hachette, 2008.  

I was telling my freelance journalist and author pal, Michelle Goodman, about how we are getting more and more inquiries from people thinking they want to be freelance writers.  Some of the folks have been laid off from corporate jobs and dream of the autonomy and freedom that freelance writing work brings.  Others are stuck in a rut and are dying on the vine at their current job and are considering career change despite the fact they might have a secure position right now — they simply hate it that much.  

Michelle has offered up some great answers to the most frequently asked questions about becoming a free-lancer.   I want to share with you….a very realistic approach to considering freelance writing!  (PS, she really knows her stuff….check out her books, My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube.)

By Michelle Goodman:

1. Do you think that pink-slipped folks who can’t find jobs in their desired industry should freelance? What should they do to get started?

If you like working solo, can crack your own whip, and know how to be flexible when projects take a left turn, then, yes, I do think you should give freelancing a go. (If not, try temping.)

To get started as a freelancer, create a killer online portfolio or website (it can be all of two to four pages), whether you’re an aspiring writer, web designer, producer, or dog walker. WordPress make this simple. So do websites like VisualCV. A website not only shows you mean business as an independent professional, it saves you loads of time in that “So tell me about your experience” dance. If you don’t have relevant work samples, you may have to do a couple of freebies (don’t give away more than a few days of your time though) to flesh out your portfolio/resume.

Send out an email and Facebook blast telling everyone you know you’re now accepting freelance projects and link to your shiny new website. Be specific about the type of work you’re looking for. If you’re not on LinkedIn, Biznik, and Twitter, time to get there. Ditto for industry-related events and happy hours. The idea is to meet as many people in your field as you can, online and off. Learn from them. Trade ideas with them. Charm them. Spread the word about your knowledgable, talented self and your services.

Finally, learn to run a business. Half of working for yourself is wooing clients, negotiating contracts, managing projects, paying taxes, and making tricky judgment calls. So if you don’t know the first thing about running your own shop, now’s the time to learn. Read blogs and books on freelancing (ahem), take a workshop at SCORE (they’re usually under $100), and pick the brains of freelancers a few years ahead of you (you buy the coffee and come to our neighborhood, okay?).

 2. What can people do to hone in on a specialty and make their skills stand out?

Pick two or three topics that interest you most (for example, sustainability, social networking, and mobile technology), and run with them. Make sure these subjects intersect with skills you’ve already begun to cultivate and markets that are still hiring. Read everything you can about your pet topics online and off. Go to industry talks and volunteer at trade shows (to get in for free) — and don’t forget to network while you’re there. Essentially, become an expert. Clients want to hire someone who knows a lot about their MO/cause/business model. Don’t just be a writer — be a business, health, or women’s issues writer. Don’t just build software –build games, ecommerce sites, or social networking apps.

If you’re not blogging yourself, or not blogging about anything other than what your dog did on the carpet, time for a new plan. Use blogging as a tool to show clients how much you know about your pet topic. If you’re unemployed, you have the time, so no excuses.

Finally, if you don’t know how to record a podcast or make a video, time to get schooled. The better your digital skills, the more valuable you’ll be to potential clients.

3. How do you recommend that workers who flee the cube learn find colleagues and learn about industry gossip and job leads?

It’s imperative you connect with others in your chosen field and that you rinse and repeat on a weekly basis. Pick five freelancers in your neck of the woods whose footsteps you’d love to follow in. Check their social network pages and blogs to see what professional events they’re attending and online communities they belong to (as well as what books, blogs, and sites they’re reading). Then follow suit. Find out what free email lists pro freelancers in your field belong to, too, and sign up. These places are often where you’ll find the best job leads, insider gossip, and professional tips. And if you’re not finding the online or offline industry meetups that resonate with you, start one of your own. Banding together with four or five or fifteen aspiring freelancers can teach you a lot. Freelancers Union makes it easy to organize your own face-to-face meetup.

4. How long do you think it would take new freelancers to start making enough money to live on? 

That depends on how much money you need to live, which you should definitely figure out right now if you’re not sure. It also depends on where you live, what field you’re in, how much time you have to look for work, and how hard you hustle. Some new freelancers line up a full schedule in a matter of weeks. This is not the norm, however. For most it takes months, if not a year or more. To be safe, expect that you won’t have a full workload and you won’t have enough money to live on your first year, and expect to spend at least 30 to 50 percent of your time looking for work, unless you’re taking longer-range projects.

Ideally, you want at least six months’ living expenses (if not 12) before striking out on your own as a freelancer. (Admittedly, I only keep about four in my savings account, but I have a lot of employment options.) I realize saving even two months’ living expenses for someone who’s barely scraping by sounds next to impossible, which is why I suggest keeping your day job as long as you can and freelancing on the side at first. If you do find yourself freelancing without a net (due to a layoff or the fact that you never had a day job to begin with it), you may have to rely on temp work or odd jobs to supplement your income during those early lean months or years.  

5. Anything else you want to add?

To beat the recession as a freelancer, diversifying is key. Don’t let any one client dominate more than 30 percent of your workload, and don’t limit yourself to one type of project. Maybe you want to write personal finance stories for the mainstream media. But writing copy for creative agencies and newsletters for business associations too helps ensure you have more clients (and checks) to line your bank account with. Ditto for writing for both print and digital outlets, especially now, when the print media is suffering such heavy layoffs. The more toes you have in the client pond, the more work you’re have access to.

Likewise, the more skills you can offer, the more employable you’ll be. The freelance writer with translation, proofreading, editing, tutoring, or production skills has more job security than the freelance writer who only knows how to write. Likewise for the graphic artist who can also code and host her client’s websites, or the virtual assistant who knows a thing or two about web research, social media marketing, and SEO. 

 

Brian Kurth is a former “Dilbert” who worked for the phone company in Chicago.  After realizing there was more to life than telecom calling plans, he founded VocationVacations in 2004.  He is the author of Test-Drive Your Dream Job – A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding and Creating the Work You Love – Hachette, 2008.  Brian is a sought-after career planning expert, strategist and speaker.  He has appeared on CNBC, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, NBC’s TODAY Show and National Public Radio (NPR), and his career advice has been featured in articles in Fortune Magazine; Men’s Journal; The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, just to name a few.

 

I don’t know about you but I’m tired of the doom and gloom.  Yes, times are indeed tough.  But there IS hope out there.  

For instance, I love hearing from friends working in the sustainable energy sector.  They tell me that their firms are HIRING!  In fact, one company, Vestas, plans to expand its number of employees here to Portland by HUNDREDS of people.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Engineer?  Marketer?  Have construction experience?  Check out Vestas’ job openings!  And that’s just one company.

But there are other areas of hope.  I speak first-hand that now may be the BEST time to start your own business.  If you can make it through these challenging times, you’re going to be golden when the economy turns around again.  You feel entrepreneurial but starting a business from scratch just seems too scary?  Then perhaps buying into a franchise is the best option for you.  

Another expanding field is education.  People are going back to school in droves.  Now, I’m not quite sold on getting more education is always the right answer — see a great blog from Brazen Careerist, Penelope Trunk on that, but working FOR an educational institution may be just the right answer!

Obama’s stimulus plan is all about pushing dollars out to the masses for the public need — road & bridge construction, education, healthcare, etc.  Even if you’re not an engineer, a teacher or a doctor, there will be more jobs in these sectors — including project management, finance, marketing, etc.  

Don’t despair.  Stay focused and targeted.  As I said to a client yesterday who wants to go into venture capital, obviously now may not the right time for that.  Many venture capital firms are actually laying off.  BUT….I suggested to him to look into a targeted strategy that will allow him to attain a skill set foundation for his dream job further down the road once the economy turns.  So, for him, my best advice is to work for a start-up.  What better way to learn about venture capital and entrepreneurialism than by working for a stretched start-up during the worst recession in decades?  His experiences now will be invaluable to becoming a better venture capitalist a few years down the road.

Anyway, I could go on and on.  Just keep the light on, folks.  It is NOT all doom and gloom out there.  Don’t allow yourself to think it is.  Stay focused and determined.

Brian

Brian Kurth is a former “Dilbert” who worked for the phone company in Chicago.  After realizing there was more to life than telecom calling plans, he founded VocationVacations in 2004.  He is the author of Test-Drive Your Dream Job – A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding and Creating the Work You Love (Hachette, 2008).  Brian is a sought-after career planning expert, strategist and speaker.  He has appeared on CNBC, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, NBC’s TODAY Show and National Public Radio (NPR), and his career advice has been featured in articles in Fortune Magazine; Men’s Journal; The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, just to name a few.

I recently asked some vocationer alums in our LinkedIn Alumni group what words of wisdom they had for people who were newly heading into career transition — by choice or by lay-off.  Here’s some great words of wisdom from vocationer alum, Mark Solomon:

Dear New Vocationer, 

Congratulations! You are about to have an experience that may change the direction of your life. Here’s one alum’s story: 

I was a trial attorney for a Fortune 500 insurance company. This past April, they announced that they were being acquired. I was familiar with the new owners, and as it turned out, I accurately predicted their timetable for eliminating my position and closing my office. 

Since the age of about 8, I have been a musician; I started playing paying gigs with my band at age 11. For me, being a lawyer was about having a stable and secure source of income for my family, while I pursued music on the side. For the past several years, and certainly in today’s economy, I no longer believe that any profession is stable or secure. 

Last spring I met with a career coach and read the usual self-help career books. Almost by accident, over the summer I recalled a long forgotten interest I had in sound engineering. I enrolled in a sound design certificate program offered at NYU’s continuing education division. 

Then, as a surprise birthday gift, I received a Vocation Vacation to work for two days in September at a television production company as a music director. My VV coach, Harry Rodenhi spoke with me at length about the best ways to approach my VV and how to maximize its potential. Following the VV Harry introduced me to another VVer who successfully realized his dream to become a songwriter. My mentor at the TV production studio offered invaluable advice about the career in general, professional organizations to join, what equipment I needed to get started, and where to find it at the best prices. 

As a result of my VV experience, my contacts and experience in the field of professional audio grew exponentially. Two months after my VV, I am the owner of Aural Histories, a mobile recording facility for music, sound design, spoken word, and visual media. 

It won’t always be easy, and it won’t always be fun. But as you explore a new career path, try to look at the current economic climate as an invitation and an opportunity for you to write a brand new chapter in your autobiography. 

I wish you the best of luck, 
Mark

Frank Szivos of the Fairfield (CT) Minuteman wrote a great article yesterday (OK, it includes some tips from yours truly…I’m a bit self-promoting…ha):

Strategies for job hunting in a down economy

Money.  It is by far the thing that is on most minds these days — especially if you are facing a career transition.  How should you finance your career transition whether it’s being forced due to a layoff or if you’re planning ahead in advance of a possible layoff?  Good question.

Here are my thoughts on how to finance your career transition in difficult times….but I look forward to hearing your suggestions as well….please feel free to comment:

1. In transition, do some part-time work.  Anything that drives your passion.  It doesn’t matter that it may not pay big bucks, it’s going to serve two purposes:  helping you reduce “your burn” and it’s going to get you OUT of the house, more motivated and will force you to manage your time better.  Love dogs?  Go work part-time at a dog daycare facility.  Love kids?  Go work part-time as a teacher’s aid.  Love chocolate?  Get a part-time job working at your favorite chocolate shop.  Even if it’s just 5-10 hours a week.  It’ll help you think more clearly about what you really want to do — while earning a few bucks exploring.

2.  If you think that some course work or a more advanced degree is needed, then look into a variety of ways to finance it:  loans, grants, etc.  If you’ve made too much money and you can’t get student loans or grants (yes, even if you’re 50+ you might be eligible for loans and grants!), then still consider taking the coursework needed to change careers but first chat with your accountant.  It depends state by state, but there may be some tax write-off opportunities in April 2010 for you, based on what you do now in 2009.

3.  One quick “don’t”.  Don’t touch your 401K.  Don’t!  It’s tempting.  But don’t!  If you touch your 401K, you’ll realize up to a 40% tax/fee liability.  First there’s a 10% penalty fee for early withdrawal PLUS you have to then pay taxes on what you’ve withdrawn.  Don’t do it.  Go get a part-time job before you touch your 401K.

4.  Get paid to make the switch!  There ARE job training programs out there.  They are offered at a federal, state, county and even city level.  Check out organizations such as VISTA, the Peace Corps, Americorps, Transition to Teaching and the list goes on and on.  Explore your options!

Those are just a few of my quick thoughts….what are yours?

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