|According to the International Herald Tribune and other sources: In theory, astronauts can get all the psychological help they need with no stigma. But a NASA flight surgeon says no — there can be consequences.
In my experience, anyone who’s in a senior military, government, corporate or other position will be reluctant to seek psychological support, and with good reason.
(1) We’re used to having insurance pay for everything. And if insurance doesn’t cover a medical problem, we want to take it off our taxes.
Reasonable. But sometimes it’s better to pay out-of-pocket, in cash, to get confidentiality. No insurance, no records.
(2) Coaches and consultants are popular because there’s little or no stigma.
A corporate consultant with a PhD in organizational psychology can have meetings alone with the CEO to discuss “strategy.” Chaplains and clergy also can be consulted, and some are trained to offer more than simple bromides. Remember the soldiers who were involved in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal? Military chaplains would have been a good choice: no black mark for visiting and they could document thir concerns for the record.
(3) Employee assistance programs can be staffed inadequately for senior managers.
I once worked for a university that proudly announced a new EAP — with counselors who would be paid $35 an hour in the late 1990s. No professor with a PhD would consider seeking help from someone at that level. I’ve been told that some EAP’s have separate counselors for executives — a good idea.
(4) Often workplaces just create stress.
You don’t have to be in NASA. One of my students had been a nurse for a financial company that was widely hailed as a great place to work. We even watched a film about “great companies” where her firm was featured prominently. But, she said, the pressures were extreme. Managers would come to the nurse’s office to get aspirin and sometimes they would sit and shake or cry. It was okay to be sick but not okay to be stressed.
(5) When it comes to taking care of yourself, you’re on your own.
Time to relax and rejuvenate has to be a priority. Eating junk food and giving up sleep…well, if you’re 22 and motivated, you can last a while. But most of us pay. The words “sacrifice for a career” have to be taken seriously.
Certainly most of us would say it’s worth the risk to be an astronaut or a company CEO or US president. I’m amazed when people sacrifice for so much less. The lesson from the tragedy of Lisa Marie Nowak is to find ways to stay centered in a challenging life.
If you haven’t seen the movie Notes on a Scandal, and you like all your movies to be surprises, stop reading now! Otherwise…The movie Notes on a Scandal made me cringe. Cate Blanchett’s character (“Sheba”) made two career mistakes. First, she decided to become a teacher without realizing what was involved. We’ve all met idealistic career-changers and often they get burned (though not as badly as this).
But what was worse: Sheba was quick to confide in the first person who showed a friendly interest. When you arrive in a new place — career scene or geographic location — the first people you meet often will be the neediest. They have the most time to spare because often they have few other friends…for a good reason.
Sheba went way beyond the norms for new acquaintances. She told “Barbara” all the gory details of her life. As Barbara said, she felt like a Mother Superior hearing a novice’s confession.
If you’ve seen the previews you already know: Barbara was a dangerous woman with an agenda of her own.
Most of us don’t have lives as interesting as this Sheba character. And very few people we meet will be as evil as this Barbara.
But they’re bad enough. I just read the book Snakes in Suits.
And even if you confide in a benign, kindly person, your information can be misinterpreted and misused.
So I cringed as I watched the horrors of this movie unfold. Sheba was needy and vulnerable. She needed a real friend.
This morning’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an article about outplacement services, a newswire story that originated in Providence, RI.
The story’s theme: Companies try to help laid-off workers get jobs by offering outplacement. These services do an inventory of skills and interests, then try to help laid-off workers find new jobs.
Company spokespersons note that about 2/3 of lower-level managers and half of senior level managers within 3 months.
So are they successful? What I tell my clients
(1) Outplacement firms work for your employer, not for you.
Their goal is to defuse emotions so you won’t sue (or worse). They want to place you as quickly as possible so you’ll move on and, incidentally, have no reason to make a claim on your previous employer. If you’re earning a good salary, you can’t claim financial loss or hardship.
(2) Let’s get real.
Most outplaced workers are employable and even marketable. If you’ve got a good track record with Firm Blue, if you’re not above the age norms for your field, and if your industry isn’t about to go belly-up, then you have a good chance to win a similar position in Firms Green, Yellow and Orange. A few job hunting strategies will go a long way.
(3) Most aptitude and interest tests are a waste of time and money. See
my article on this topic.
Outplacement firms use them to gain time: you’ll do well on these tests and get into a better mood, so you’re more likely to do well on the job market.
But when push comes to shove, your outplacement firm doesn’t care if you’re happy. They want you employed so you make them look good.
Is this goal bad? Not necessarily. Getting on a payroll — any payroll — often makes a lot of sense. Just don’t kid yourself about what’s going on.
(4) If you’re over your industry age norms, outplacement firms may not help.
Above a certain age, you need to consider self-employment, whether you have the aptitude or desire. By all means continue looking for a real job with benefits. But insist on an interview with your local Small Business Administration. I have a list of resources to help my own clients and website visitors get started on the Internet.
(5) You may get lucky.
Some outplacement firms have superb consultants and wise leadership. Others do not.
Several years ago I met a displaced executive who had no luck with the resume his outplacement firm had put together — a functional resume that did not show off his superb track record. I made a few suggestions and he was soon happily employed.
OK, I am tooting my own horn here, but many career consultants could do the same. I find that outplacement services seem to recommend functional resumes, which turn off employers. Experienced career consultants rarely recommend them. See my own ebook:
Irreverent Job Search Guide
Bottom Line: If your company offers outplacement, don’t turn it down! But stay aware of realities and don’t surrender control of your job search to anyone, ever.
|I’ve been reading Carly Fiorina’s book, Tough Choices. She’s the H-P CEO who was fired after 5 years of missed targets. A fascinating glimpse of corporate life and I’d love to hear what readers think.
After years of living with cluttered offices, I finally feel vindicated. Last week the New York Times ran an article, “Say Yes to Mess,” by Penelope Green. New experts urge us to embrace clutter and stop beating ourselves up. About time, I’d say. Read it here:
We need more books about mid-career, midlife transitions. Recently I came across The Age Advantage: Making the Most of Your Midlife Career Transition, a paperback by Jean Erickson Walker, Ed.D.
Walker writes straightforward “advice” with no attempt to create the jazzy style common among self-help books. It’s easy to read, although I winced at the clichés (“It’s not over till it’s over”). You’re definitely out of the “dream-it-and-do-it” mode here. Look for action tips, not inspiration.
The best part of the book comes at the beginning, when Walker describes what it’s like to go through a midlife career crisis. Walker differentiates beginning, middle and endings people, i.e., the stage of a transition where people feel most comfortable. This scheme resembles Martha Beck’s four stages (Finding Your Own North Star) and my own distinction between jumpers and clingers .
Midlife career change is defined as a change “when age is a factor.” Walker claims that attitude determines whether age is an advantage or disadvantage, although I never figured out the advantages that were actually created by attitude. She later acknowledges that discrimination is a reality that “should not be tolerated,” but in fact is hard to fight through the legal system. Here are some quotes that led me to ask, “Where’s the advantage?”
p. 204: “My coaching clients often tell me they’ve been advised to show more enthusiasm. Your calm demeanor may be interpreted as a lack of energy.”
p. 208: “Don’t be competitive. Your age advantage is that everyone expects you to have expertise and knowledge. You can afford to be generous.”
p. 294: “[C]companies do not hire someone over age fifty with the expectation of ‘developing’ them. Promotions may come, but they’re rare…”
I also suspect midlife career changers will benefit from the discussion of networking, one of the few directed to this career segment. She points out the need to come right out and ask for help, instead of putting on a front of, “Everything’s great.”
Her discussion of resumes is excellent, especially the emphasis on “accomplishment statements.” She suggests leaving off the “objective;” I encourage clients to run their resumes past someone who is active in their field. There is no way any career consultant can learn the idiosyncrasies of each industry and career field.
I also like Walker’s reality checks. Finding a new job, especially if you are changing fields, can take a long time. People often need to acknowledge and mourn career losses. There is indeed a downside to setting up your own business or consulting firm. Her advice about learning a firm’s culture seems basic — until you realize that someone who’s been in a job for twenty-plus years is like a fish who stopped seeing the water.
That said, I believe Walker underestimates the effect of identity on midlife career transition. She argues against hiring an “overqualified” employee and urges the midlife applicant to be careful not to intimidate employers during a hiring interview.
Being overqualified does create stress among employees and their coworkers and, if you have to worry about intimidating others during the interview, you’ll be tippy-toeing around for the remainder of your career!
I also question the value of a detailed assessment program. I find that people in their forties and fifties tend to be self-aware and that abstract values and interests rarely help them align with real careers.
Most people have a secret (or not so secret) dream or idea of what they want to do. When they don’t, they’re usually blocking themselves and standard exercises won’t help. The self-knowledge exercises here are commonplace, even banal: I hope the author saves more dynamic tasks for her “live” clients.
Finally, I find that many people would do better to start a business instead of job-hunting, or as a parallel activity to job-hunting. If you’re a high-profile person in your community or you’ve had a very senior position in a narrow area, you may not be able to find a new job — certainly not a good one — unless you’re a superb networker who’s flexible about relocation.
I’ve been told that a former mayor of my town found himself in need of a job after his wife left him, taking the assets (mostly from her side of the family) with her. Nobody would hire an ex-mayor. He ended up selling cars.
The Age Advantage was written about a year before 9/11, when employees were in short supply, so some of her suggestions seem dated. That’s inevitable when you write practical guidebooks instead of inspirational self-help.
A major gap is the lack of discussion of career resources available besides her own book. These days, it’s important for people to realize that they may not need a coach or counselor — it seems like “everybody’s” got one! On the other hand, if you’re feeling isolated or stuck, the right support person can make all the difference.
I recommend The Age Advantage, especially for those who have enjoyed a long career in corporate America Take what you find useful and ignore the rest. But first I recommend you take a look at Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star.
A great quote from The Age Advantage:
P 156: “Note: the high tech industry has dramatically changed the look of corporate America, where ‘cool’ and ‘laid-back’ are the right look. If you don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb, lose the pinstripes. It’s not necessary to go directly to rumpled blue jeans and tennis shoes, but you should look like you could do so comfortably on a moment’s notice. Nothing says you’re from a different generation quicker than being too formally dressed.”
My own comment: I love it! I’ve always been able to “do so comfortably on a moment’s notice.”
During a midlife career crisis, many of us experiment with new ideas. Nearly everyone considers applying Law of Attraction principles to our lives.
Attractor Factor was recommended by someone I respect, and of course I’d heard of Joe Vitale,
so I put aside my skepticism and began reading.
If you’ve been walking around feeling negative, this book may help. When you feel positive and in control, you’re more likely to think clearly. That’s psychology of mood.
And if you always turn right instead of left, you can change your life. Natalie Goldberg made that point in her excellent book, Thunder and Lightning . And if you’re not feeling desperate, you have more power and more confidence, which in turn brings clearer thinking.
Parts of Vitale’s advice can be difficult for an ordinary person to follow.
For instance, we’re encouraged to be open to new ideas. As an example, Vitale says, he decided not to pursue a mail order advertisement for a self-improvement product. But he soon decided he was resisting a message, so he ordered the product. (pp. 31-32)
So how do we interpret this story? Do we order everything that’s advertised? We need a discussion on how to use our intuition to discern the value of what we’re offered.
And selling an e-book or e-course on the Internet can be a great way to make money … if you’ve got a topic and a great marketing strategy.
It also helps if you have a big mailing list and copywriting skills. So how do we get these advantages? Vitale acknowledges — rightly, I think — that most of us make excuses when we need to roll up our sleeves and go to work (p. 75), investing time, money and energy in our dream. It takes more than attraction to attract these rewards!
I agree with Vitale: “Intention” can be powerful.” Once we set a firm goal, we often figure out ways to get there, if we genuinely want the goal.
For instance, I’ve met many people who found jobs just as their unemployment payments were about to end. The combination of positive mood and clarity of goal can be very powerful. But you don’t have to explain these effects as “law of attraction.”
Parts of Vitale’s book were quite disturbing. Twenty-two pages — nearly ten percent of the book — fall into a chapter labeled “The Proof,” which is nothing but a list of testimonials for Joe Vitale and the first version of this book.
Second, Vitale acknowledges that his guru, Jonathan, molested a woman who was close to him at the time. On page 181, he writes that the “situation with Jonathan…was a gift of freedom.”
But the woman who was molested (p. 182) never recovered. Although “she tried to forgive him,” writes Vitale, she “only found peace in death.” And in the very next sentence, Vitale writes, “Meanwhile my adventures continue…”
Frankly, I don’t get it. Some psychologists believe the human mind may be wired to explain negative events in terms of some greater good.
But I would expect to see some evidence of the author’s compassion for the woman and perhaps some revised thinking — maybe even some activism to prevent other women from being harmed by gurus they trusted. I would encourage readers to look up Natalie Goldberg’s memoir
The Great Failure
, where she describes honest feelings about being betrayed by her spiritual father and her birth father.
Finally, the notion that we’re responsible for everything that happens to us can be traced to early New Age philosophies, including the “est” of the seventies. We’re dealing with values that are nearly religious. For instance:
- Do you believe soldiers in Iraq attracted death and dismemberment?
- Do you believe the starving poor of Third World countries attracted poverty?
- Do you believe that three-year-old children attract disease into their lives?
Some Law of Attraction theorists say yes; others hedge.
Still, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from trying Vitale’s exercises in a spirit of playfulness. And if it’s easier to take a message of “Work hard!” when it’s couched in this language, no harm done.
These authors are down to earth and realistic about what you can expect (at least in these books). Best of all, you can follow their advice even if you don’t buy into their world views.