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Opinion Editorials

What to do when you can’t find your passion and you’re feeling lost

(EDITORIAL) Global Pandemic or not, people struggle to search for job opportunities, their career, and find their purpose. Knowing yourself is the most important part.

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career choices

Feeling lost? Can you relate to this Reddit post in the Career Guidance forum?

Careers that aren’t boring?

I’m really lost right now. I just graduated high school and I really don’t know what I want to do with my life.

At the moment my only idea is to join the military (United States) and see how it goes. I really want to go to college on the side but I don’t know what I want to get into. I tried coding in high school and it didn’t make sense, making me feel like i won’t be successful in the technology field. Medical field costs too much+ time in school. Only other career field that’s on my mind is engineering but I don’t know if I’ll be successful?

Is it okay to feel like I’ll fail? Will college actually teach you unlike in high school? I feel like high school didn’t really prep me and I’ll be behind”

And then you have to love this response:

Is the grass really not greener on the other side?

I’ve been a trucker since I left school 10 years ago. Every post I come across are full of people dreading the office culture, politics, environment etc. and saying how they’d love to be outdoors.

I work outdoors and it’s shit, -5°C in winter and 40+°C in summer. Slogging 12-15 hour days behind the wheel, micro-sleeping and hallucinating just to make delivery times. Getting filthy and soaking wet when working outside.

The idea of being in a nice cooled office, not having to put my life on the line and actually working on a project with a team sounds so stimulating to me instead of being a monkey behind a wheel. But then I see so many people call themselves monkeys in other professions and hate the office.”

It’s alluring how the ego is meant to ensure our security and survival, and unless we learn how to work with it and the messages we tell ourselves, we can often feel alone, isolated and the only one with these feelings. It is when you start exploring others’ stories that you may feel an a-ha moment, or things may seem like they click.

One would venture to argue that many people are sometimes lost in a fog, and not sure what to do. Above was an example of a high schooler who is feeling like the military might be his only option, but if you read through the thread, it does appear that he has other ideas but just doesn’t know enough about them or doesn’t trust himself enough to look further in to them. And if the military is the right option for him, that is okay too.

“The ego is the human consciousness part of you. It was designed to ensure your security and survival. Unfortunately for many of us it has never relinquished its initial purpose. Instead, for many the ego became the master script writer and because of it, everything becomes a drama based on past happenings.” Beverly Blanchard

If you’re feeling in a fog, people may ask you:

  1. What are you passionate about?
  2. What do you love doing that you can make money from?
  3. What company do you want to work for?
  4. Where do you want to live?
  5. Are you living for your resume, or for your obituary?

If there’s a screaming feeling inside that literally feels like you are going to BURST with all caps of “I DON’T KNOW”, then let’s take a breath and see what we can do to work with that. Here are some ideas that may be great activities for you to help move forward.

Kindly note, the first thing is to allow yourself TIME. You need some time to figure it out, do some research, look in to options, have conversations, possibly work experiences, maybe some inner soul searching and spiritual work. If you think you have to have this figured out right away, you may have already put a limit on yourself (sorry to be a buzzkill but you might need YEARS to figure out your purpose). You ideally need to figure out how to get from A to B, not A to Z right now.

  • Do some research on Design Thinking.
    Spend some time with a journal getting out some of your thoughts so you can move them from the emotional part of your brain to a more logical and rational place (usually once you’ve put something on paper or even said it out loud). You may like this Design Your Life workbook based on a Career Exploration class at Stanford where you explore your interests, and how they can align with work and your purpose. The workbook is great because it gives you writing prompts that help guide you (they also give ideas on how long to spend on an activity so it could be 10 minutes or 30 and you can decide if that is something you can do at that point in time). They also just released a book, Designing Your Work Life. How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work.
  • Make a simple list.
    Spend 5-10 minutes just writing out things you really like or love (no explanation, just the name of the item). There is no judgement to this list and nothing is too silly (Iced coffee, video games, tennis, music, dogs, photography, favorite subject(s) in school, friends, family, reading…) Walk away. Come back to it. Do any of these things give you clues on what type(s) of professions fascinate you? Then make a list of what you need to do from here (more school, internship, volunteering, pro-bono projects, part-time or full-time job). Stop and ask yourself how you can get more of these things in your day to day.
  • Consider yourself an Investigative Reporter, and talk to people about how they chose their areas of study and/or careers.
    The hope is that you are pleasantly surprised to hear many people have had this feeling and they moved forward anyway. They made decisions with the information they had, and their career and projects grew from there. This could help you recognize what is that next step you need to take.
    I would tell that high schooler to go meet with military recruiting offices and see what they have to say. I’d also suggest they reach out to mechanical engineers and learn about what they work on and what they had to do to get there. If they are unsure of how to find any, check out LinkedIn to start. Many people look at those that they consider to be successful and see where they ended up – often we miss the part of the story about what they had to do to get there. This is what we should be looking to uncover, and that may give us insights on what our next steps can be.
    In job searching, a great tool is conducting Informational Interviews and speaking with people that are in jobs that you think may interest you and they can tell you more real details. Whatever you find to be really intriguing and makes you want to know more about, that could be a good sign of a career/job you’re interested in. Ask them about education and skills requirements and take notes.
  • Consider your life like a flight of stairs.
    Each step is leading to the next one. You don’t have to know or see the entire staircase, and you may not even know what’s on the second floor.
  • Write your Eulogy.
    This sounds really morbid and maybe slightly is, but a plane doesn’t just take off on a flight plan without knowing where it’s going and landing. If you write out your eulogy, you may discover what you want to be remembered for, and start living a life that includes those types of efforts, endeavors, and projects. This also may take a little bit of pressure off of you that everything in your life will not be solely based on your job or career. Then, maybe hide it so your family doesn’t think you’ve lost your mind.

Whatever you do, please know you are not alone and the more you think everyone else has it all figured out, the better acting you are witnessing. Yes, there are people that have known what they wanted to do since they were little but even their job/career has had it’s twists and turns.

Erin Wike is a Career Coach & Lecturer at The University of Texas at Austin and owner of Cafe Con Resume. Erin is fueled by dark roast coffee with cream AND sugar, her loving husband, daughter, and two rescue dogs. She is the Co-Founder of Small Business Friends ATX to help fellow entrepreneurs + hosts events for people to live a Life of Yes with Mac & Cheese Productions.

Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

4 simple tips to ease friction with your boss while working remotely

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Find it challenging to get along with your boss while working from home? Here are a few things you can try to ease the tension.

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Woman stressed over laptop in remote work.

Most people probably feel like their relationship with their boss is fine. If you’re encountering friction with your boss for any reason, though, remote work will often exacerbate it—this is one instance where distance doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Here are a few ways to remove some of that friction without adding to your boss’ overflowing plate.

According to CNN, determining the problem that exists between you and your boss should be your first step. There’s one caveat to consider, however: Your boss’ boundaries. Problem-solving on your own time is fine, but demanding more of your boss’ time—especially when you’re supposed to be working—may compound the issue.

An easy way around this is a low-impact communique—e.g., an email—sent at the beginning or end of the workday. Since that’s a more passive communication style that takes only a minute or two out of your day, it’s less likely to frustrate your boss further.

If ironing out the issue isn’t your prerogative for now, examining your boss’ parameters for success is another place to start. Does your boss prefer to receive multiple updates throughout the day, or do they want one summative report each morning? Do you respect your boss’ preferred communication styles? These are important questions to ask during remote work. If you find yourself reaching out more than necessary, for example, it may be time to cut back.

It can also be difficult to satiate your boss if you don’t know their expectations. If you’re able to speak to them about the expectations regarding a project or task, do it; clarifying the parameters around your work will always help both of you. It is worth noting that some supervisors may expect that you know your way around some types of responsibilities, though, so err on the side of complementing that knowledge rather than asking for comprehensive instructions.

Finally, keep in mind that some bosses simply don’t communicate the same way you do. I’ve personally been blessed with a bevy of nurturing, enthusiastic supervisors, but we’ve all had superiors who refuse to acknowledge our successes and instead focus on our failures. That can be a really tough mentality to work with during remote periods, but knowing that they have a specific communication style that hampers their sociability can help dampen the effects.

As always, communication is key—even if that means doing it a little bit less than you’d like.

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