Annie dillard quote

Pivot: Making Sense of Your Job Change

PIVOT: MAKING SENSE OF YOUR JOB CHANGE

Climber dangling against sunset horizon.

For the past seven years, I’ve been on a steep climb to adapt my skills and work experience to the for-profit world. It’s been the kind of pivot you’re supposed to make in your 30’s, when you have time to matriculate through Hard Knocks U, to emerge on the other side with a resume of wins and losses, all of which translate into positions with more responsibility and higher pay. And ideally, deeply satisfying work.  However, this pivot I started when I was 47.

While I don’t know where you’re at today, I know this:  Besides an unexpected job change having the power to deal a death-blow to fear (soup chef Jack Canfield has it right: “everything you want is on the other side of fear”), this transition you may have feared could turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.

I speak of what I know.

My own journey of job transitions has been more a mission of survival than a roadmap for job promotions, provoked more from necessity than aspiration, more from crisis than career advancement planning.

Nevertheless, because of my stubborn optimism and more importantly God’s grace and leading, I have ended up in jobs that have moved me closer and closer to my calling, even while each assignment has been very distinct from the others.

I will unpack these take-aways in the blogs ahead, but this will give you a fly-over view of the land:

Here are 7 Career Truths I’ve discovered along the way (and hinted at in the thumbnail  photo of the climber hanging off a rock):

Climber dangling against sunset horizon.

The setting sun of the Mojave Desert silhouettes a climber clinging to the edge of a rock overhang in Joshua Tree National Park.

1. Don’t work so hard, and make peace with “not knowing”–it is the path to astonishment.
2. Celebrate each person’s unique wiring, even as you come to understand patterns of personality types that help you communicate.
3. When life events shove you down, push back back really hard.
5. Be willing to do things out of order, challenge the status quo. You can do it, or someone will do it for you.
4. Remember “Career” is a trap–just provide for your family and keep making decisions (some of them small and hardly consequential in the moment) that take you closer to your ideal work, and not away from it.
6. Who, who, who. It’s always about who. While revenue goals are important (we don’t have jobs without them), at the end of the day, it’s the growth in people, among people, through people that matters. Everything else, ultimately, fades.
7. It’s what has been trained into you that comes out–not the goals and expectations that you set for yourself. Therefore, goals need to lead to new ways of thinking and acting in order to have their greatest effect, and thinking and acting the right ways have to be practiced–and practiced.

At the time I didn’t fully appreciate how important this decision would be—to “retool” for new roles in the for-profit marketplace—I did have a hunch. In fact, just one day before I found out I was on a massive list of layoffs at Focus on the Family, I started an MBA. With the downturn of the markets in 2007-08, and plummeting donor funds tracking with that decline, I knew I needed to reposition my work experience (from teacher to pastor to non-profit leader/executive).

The fact is, few of us know when we start out in a career exactly where that path will lead. Thank goodness most of us don’t choose the job we’ll have the rest of our lives, when we are too young to know what our passions and skills and talents and values are (or will become).

That was back in September of 2009, and since then I have successfully worked in head of marketing roles, first at a fast-growing software company and then at a financial advisory services firm, and third in a marketing agency I started (www.MKFStrategicMarketing.com).

And now, once again, I am pivoting.

Pivot. That’s something I did cutting inside an offensive tackle as a quarterback on a high school football field. It was move I made planting one foot, and jabbing the other, on the way to the basket for a lay-up on…a college court in the Philippines one summer (a long way from my UC Davis undergrad world in California), an experience I later came to understand was really about
learning to give my life away, one pair of basketball shoes at a time.  All of that was a lifetime ago.

Pivot’s not really what you have to do when your life is progressing along as planned: degree(s) hanging on the wall, LinkedIn network lighting up like a Christmas tree, Facebook photo updates telling your story of exotic places and interesting people. You with family and friends—and sometimes even with famous people—of fascinating places and fancy dinners and smiling family and beautiful friends. Pivot is sometimes the best you can when you find yourself on a career path headed for a big, giant “Caution: Area Under Construction” sign with no detour marked out.

Today, for me, it’s a word with layers, metaphorical nuance, metonymy– Career: Path. Pivot: Career change. It’s the word I use because, frankly, it’s the positive angle on figuring out what to do when  there are not any clear paths emerging.

The fact is often job changes involve the raw emotions that come from uncertain career paths and unpredictable life events and unbelievable turns of events and shake us to our foundations. I’m sharing my story specifically because so many of my friends are going through some kind of career transition, some I would even call a crisis. It’s also true that an especially difficult career challenge isn’t a lot different from one friend’s struggle to pick up the pieces to his life following a divorce he didn’t ask for. Or, a relative’s grappling with how much he loathes his state government job, his 3-year target date to retirement more a prison sentence than a race to the finish line. Or, my friend’s continual struggle to pay the bills with a job that will never provide enough income to meet his family’s needs, even though he is doing something he is passionate about. Or the gal who was unfairly and unceremoniously let go simply because the owner couldn’t make up her mind about a business decision. Or, a guy I’ve known for a while whose addiction is coming home to roost while he frantically buys time in his marriage to address his compulsions, take responsibility for the pain he’s caused, and somehow, someway, make sense of the roots of his addiction, a shattered relationship with his father who’s been gone for many years.

In each challenging circumstance, while it might be an analytical way to describe deeply personal challenges, a pivot is exactly what’s needed to create a new direction, with new momentum of hope and purpose.

For me, the circumstances certainly have been unpredictable–messy at times. Even as a tenacious optimist, I have to admit the past seven years have been disorienting: Sleepless nights despite exhaustion. Too often desk-bound and sedentary, resulting in inevitable weight gain. And seasons of being dispirited, my optimism beat down.

After writing The 2:10 Project in 2011-12, my life took a marked turn away from non-profit and ministry work. Instead, I found myself launched like a rocket into 50 to 60-hour work weeks, week-in and week-out a series frenetic sprints of problem-solving and hiring new team members and campaign building and new website launches and email newsletters and trade-shows and webinars and new print collateral and KPI dashboards and innovation retreats and market research reports and spreadsheets and budgets and training employeees and strategic off-sites and PR plans and social media blitzes and senior management discussions—and debates and arguments—and lots and lots of coffee and eating out and late nights and early mornings.

And, for the most part, while I was in it I loved it.

Why? That is something I am thinking and praying a lot about these days. I have a couple of good hunches I’m tracking down. The answer is deep, and it’ll bring vibrant, colorful and distinct images of clarity and insight, that I am sure. Like so many times of transition in the past, It will be what God has been after to change in my life. Primarily, that is what the pivot is for–to figure out who you are on the inside, which is far more important than yours or my next career step.

For now, I am focused on the circumstances, the pivot, and while I can hear God’s invitation to come away with Him to talk about adrenaline and bosses and goals and paycheck amounts and retirement accounts and credit card balances and margin and electronic devices and…and…fruitfulness. At the heart of it all is God’s determination to make me more into His likeness, and to be fruitful and to flourish.

Flourishing.

This career pivot is learning what it really means to grow and bear fruit, to flourish.  What does it tell me about my Creator, who He is and what He is like, that He has created me to bear fruit that is for heaven AND for earth, for the now and the not yet.

And get this, I am understanding that God is really, really practical about all this fruit-bearing.

When I get up in the morning, go to work, and expend my time and energy–the two resources every person has been given in life–am I living for a kind of flourishing that is tied into God’s grand Kingdom epic story of intrigue and honor and adventure and significance? Or, instead, am I living in a default setting that makes the investment of my time and resources all about a my own or even others” “personal value” scorecard that has to do with business accomplishments and profits only.

As in the past, God will uncover for me the “interpretive keys” to this time of my life. And just as He has done in the past, He will heal and strengthen. And I will be different again–in fact, I’ll be more myself than the day before.

So, my pivot now comes after the painful and disorienting experience of the job loss in 2009. And, it comes after parting ways with my last employer, amicably for sure, but not without a conviction on both sides that the relationship just wasn’t what it was at the beginning. This last one happened about 4 months ago.

So now I am back to work 110% and loving the work I have–mainly to be involved in building the follow up to The Truth Project. Compared to the Focus down-sizing, this one’s different. Maybe, it’s that I’m different.

The pivot I made last month was in rejoining Del Tackett for the follow-up to The Truth Project. I’m grateful that this time my return to this work also catalyzes a core calling in my life: helping others find their place in God’s story. That’s what the follow-up to The Truth Project, called The Engagement, will be about. Helping people be right where God has called them—and to live fruitful and flourishing lives, giving themselves away for what is most important to Jesus. No small order. (If you are interested in reconnecting with Del and the TP community, visit www.DelTackett.com, a great site for resources, connecting with other TP folks, and hearing the latest updates for the creation of The Engagement and other resources underway.)

It’s not that the marketing work I was doing in for-profit settings was less valuable than the work I’ll be doing in the days ahead. I am convinced the most valuable work any of us can do is the work God gives us to do—whether that is farming a section of land, or building marketing campaigns for a software company, or working out the engineering specs for a new office building, or laying a pipe, or welding a trailer, or counseling a young couple, or balancing a budget, or serving a restaurant patron, or designing a new brochure, or teaching a class of 5th graders, or… you get the idea… it is God’s gift of work that is the truly valuable investment of our time.

That is some context. Next blog I’ll get on to unpacking the “7 Career Truths I’ve Discovered Along the Way.”

Strategy and Decision-Making: Reflection

Recently I spent a couple of days at our annual leadership team strategic planning retreat at a cabin on Lake Tahoe’s west shore.
This year the gray sky heavy with moisture, the wet snow falling on the cabin’s sky light window, and the icy wind chill all reminded me of the past 16 winters we’d just spent in Colorado—up until a year and a half ago when we moved back to Sacramento for me to join a great firm and, importantly, to be near family.

Lake Tahoe–what an idyllic setting to dream about the future.

So, this strategic planning session is my second time through with this talented and dedicated team, and just like last year, I know that these two days will shape the decisions we make over the next year.

While we don’t have all the details worked out, and likely there will be many pivots in the months ahead, this is the time when we commit. At the end of the day, the most important thing that comes out of a successful strategic planning process is the commitment of leaders:

  • First, we commit to an agreed-upon understanding of today (i.e. what happened this past year that has brought us to today), and
  • Second, we commit an agreed-upon picture of tomorrow (what does the future look like a year, 18 months, 3 years from today).

The strategy is how we are going to get there. At the core, strategy is about decision-making.

A strategic plan’s power is imbued by the commitment of each team member to the core approaches (strategies) regarding how the team will arrive at the destination.screenshot_508

One of the approaches I’ve had as a part of the proverbial “leadership toolbox” has been a decision making approach based upon double loop learning (Argyris and Schon, 1976).

In double loop learning a commitment is made to getting stakeholder(s’) input at every step of the process. Because we have (at times) a lot of leadership involvement in marketing tactics (a good thing as there is 20+ years of experience contributing to successful execution), it’s been important to try to structure the learning process in a way that captures all learning. Before I unpack that, a couple of explanations.

An illustration might be helpful here. If single loop learning is a thermostat set at 68 degrees, the question the thermostat asks to solve the problem is,”What is the room temperature?” Double loop learning, however, asks a different question–“Is 68 degrees the right temperature?” The first kind of learning solves the problem based upon a set of assumptions. The second kind of learning takes into consideration the assumptions themselves.

Which leads us to the heart of this approach: First, you need to recognize the difference between 1) the Espoused Theory and 2) the Theory in Use.

An example would help here (coming from one of my previous jobs): At a company where I used to work some 5+ years ago, we talked a lot about a new brand promise, and the importance of each employee’s contribution to the success of the company. The effect was brilliant for new employees especially, as they understood that they were part of “reinventing” this 20 year-old organization.

screenshot_509However, for a variety of reasons, over time the individual team member’s contribution became less and less important. Stifled growth put a tremendous strain on the company’s belief in the future, and an increasingly stressful work environment. This reality is what defined the implicitly stated “Theory in Use.” In the case of this company, it went something like this, “The fear of the company’s future (the company story) short-circuited the day-to-day employees’ experiences, leading to an organizational crisis.

Double loop learning adds an important step to the process of feedback, called “Reflection in Action,” or “Reframing,” and is built upon a very simple notion—that experience is the best teacher (told you it was simple).

A purposeful step back, with probing thoughtful questions, often exposes the mental maps we have, then affords us the opportunity to objectively evaluate them–how effective are these assumptions for making decisions that will help us reach our goals (what we want to accomplish) and will reinforce our core values (who we are).

OK, so some of you have connected the dots: Isn’ this just a fancy, business consultant-speak way of saying, “Look, we are going to approach strategy and execution with a brutal kind of honesty where WHAT is right is more important than WHO is right?” And, well yes, you would be right. This approach–double loop learning–takes a hard run at making sure there is deep learning.

Courageous learning where anyone in the room speaks up to offer a good idea.

Bold learning where past success doesn’t obfuscate the revolutionary ideas of tomorrow.

Passionate learning where all team members are invested in both the process and the outcome.

The key is to reflect on the action in ways that help us see the situation from a different and more effective or efficient point of view—whereyounggirloldwoman we experience paradigm shifts. It is similar to the psychology textbook examples like the young woman and the old woman (included here—you see both women, don’t you, in the same picture?).

Here are the kind of questions we are working through right now:

  • Our brand promise today for our company is, “We serve YOU.” This is a straightforward brand promise, but it prompts discussions about what is the heart of service, the role of humility, the nobleness of serving, and how often the person serving is getting as much or more from the action than the person being served.
  • The Reflection-in-Action/Reframing raises the next set of questions, Are we really serving our clients? If we aren’t serving them every time, why not? Are we serving each other, from the top of the organization down? And, we recognize there is a big idea here, if we give enough space for the process of building it out.

These questions flush out the Espoused Theory from the Theory in Use.

So, as we are building the strategies and tactics for next year’s plan, we are also working hard to make time for and valuing the outcome of Reflection-in-Action. While it requires courage throughout the organization and a dogged determination to align what we say with what we do, it also promises to integrate what we say with what we do, and that is the best objective of all, to integrate, which as the root word implies, at the heart is INTEGRITY. Now, there’s a strategy.

(For more information, see https://hbr.org/1977/09/double-loop-learning-in-organizations)