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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

Improve UX design by tracking your users’ eye movements

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Research shows that the fastest way to determine user behavior and predict their response is by watching their eyesight. Use this data to improve your UX design.

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UX design being created by a designer on a laptop.

By design, an ice cream truck is meant to entice. It is colorful, stupidly loud with two whole songs from the 30s (usually off key because no one is left alive who can service those bells), and lots of colorful stickers that depict delicious frozen treats that look nothing like reality. If you need an off model Disney character that already looks a little melted even when frozen, look no further.

This is design in action – the use of clever techniques to drive engagement. Brightly colored decor and the Pavlovian association of hearing The Sting in chirpy little ding dings is all working together to encourage sales and interaction.

These principles work in all industries, and the tech sector has devoted entire teams, agencies, companies, groups, and departments to the study of User Experience (UX) explicitly to help create slick, usable applications and websites that are immediately understandable by users. Tools to improve utility exist by measuring user behavior, with style guides and accepted theories preached and sang and TED-talked all over.

The best way to check behavior is to observe it directly, and options to check where someone clicks has proven invaluable in determining how to improve layouts and designs. These applications are able to draw a heat map that shows intensified red color in areas where clicks congregate the most. An evolution of this concept is to watch eyesight itself, allowing developers a quicker avenue to determining where a user will most likely go. Arguably the shortest path between predicting response, this is one of the holy grails of behavioral measurement. If your eyes can be tracked, your cursor is likely to follow.

UX design can benefit greatly from this research as this article shows. Here’s some highlights:

Techwyse completed a case study that shows conversion on landing pages is improved with clear call-to-action elements. Users will focus on objects that stand out based on position, size, bright colors, or exaggerated fonts. If these design choices are placed on a static, non-interactive component, a business will lose a customer’s interest quickly, as their click is meant with no response. This quickly leads to confusion or abandonment. Finding where a person is immediately drawn to means you should capitalize on that particular piece with executable code. Want it boiled down? Grocery stores put Cheetos front and center, because everyone want them thangs.

Going along with this, Moz found that search results with attractive elements – pictures and video – are given much more attention than simple text. We are visually inclined creatures, and should never undervalue that part of our primal minds. Adding some visual flair will bring attention, which in turn can be leveraged usefully to guide users.

Here’s an interesting study – being that we are social animals, follow the gaze of others. If you’ve ever seen kittens watching a game of ping pong, they are in sync and drawn to the action. Similarly, if we notice someone look to the left, we instinctively want to look left as well. While this sounds very specific, the idea is simple – visual cues can be optimized to direct users where to focus.

The Nielsen Group says we look at things in an F pattern. I just think that’s funny, or at least a funny way to describe it. We follow from left-to-right (just like we read, and as websites are laid out using techniques first developed for newspapers, it naturally makes sense that we’d do the same). Of course, cultural or national differences arise here – right-to-left readers need the opposite. Always be sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Of course, there are several other findings and studies that can further promote idealistic layout and design, and it should always be the goal of designers to look to the future and evaluate trends. (Interestingly, eye tracking is the first option on this list!)

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Opinion Editorials

Easy ways to help an unhappy customer

(EDITORIAL) We’ve all had to deal with an unhappy client or two, and maybe some situations didn’t play out too well. Here are some simple tips that will help.

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unhappy client

Who here hasn’t had a client get aggravated for what seems like no good reason?

(Raise your hand!)

Who here hasn’t had that awkward “I hear what you’re saying, but…” conversation?

(More hands!)

Whether you’re providing marketing work, strategic planning services, graphic design ideas, or basic business advice, you’re going to run into the occasional client who Just. Is. Not. Here. For. It. And it can be so hard to help that unhappy client get back to a place where you can all come together to get the job done.

(Hands! Hands! Hands!)

Especially in this day and age of angry emoji reaction clicks, dealing with confrontational feedback can require a new level of diplomacy and tact. You’ve got an unhappy client who doesn’t have the ability to communicate their “why” to you, so instead, they go nuclear and your inbox is suddenly filled with the kind of unhappy vitriol you’re more used to seeing in your Facebook feed.

How do you handle it?

Because… you can actually handle it.

First and foremost, understand where the negative reaction is coming from. They’ve asked you for help with their cherished project. Maybe they wouldn’t be happy with anyone’s work. Maybe they can’t quite communicate what they want. Regardless of where the sticking point is, understand that the sticking point is (a) not your fault and (b) not going to be acknowledged by them.

So then, the second step… remove yourself from the criticism. Even if they make it personal, remove yourself from the situation. Look at it in terms of the work. The client wants X. You feel you have given them X, but they see it as Y. Can you see it from their perspective? Because if you can, you are way more than halfway there. Where are they coming from?

If this is an external review, on Google or such, just ignore it and move on. It’s done. You can’t argue it. But if it’s feedback you’re getting from a current client and your project is still in play… seriously, take a deep breath and give it a harder look. It might feel personal. But is it?

The best assumption to make is that there is something else going on. If you can keep your cool and work with your unhappy client to determine what’s making them uncomfortable, in a non-confrontational way, and to get them to an acceptable delivery — you’ve won. Because you’re continuing to provide them the service they’ve come to you for.

So take a look at the situation, and figure out the best response.

1. Is the argument clear?
Don’t waste your time trying to establish whether you’re right or they’re wrong. Instead, look at framing it in terms of what the client is trying to accomplish. Ask them to give you specific examples of what they hope to achieve. Allow them to tell you what they feel isn’t good… in fact, encourage them to tell you why they’re unhappy with what you’ve given them. All of this will help frame what they’re looking for and what you need to give them in round two.

2. Is their feedback relevant?
Well, yeah. There are times when you know that your client knows nothing. But they feel the need to demonstrate that They Know What They Are Doing.

Let them.

Just let them tell you, and let it go.

And… keep searching for that nugget of truth in what they’re saying. Their feedback may seem ridiculous. But what’s at the heart of it? Look for that. Look at this negative reaction as a signpost for what they’re truly after.

3. IS IT WORTH DEBATING?
This fits right in with number 2. They feel passionately that you need two spaces after every period. Is this something you really need to argue? CHOOSE. YOUR. BATTLES.

If your client really wants to engage on an issue … two spaces, or the use of a particular phrase … then let them say their piece. Then say your piece. But giving them room for an out. And once again, think about it from their perspective.

Maybe it’s someone who didn’t spend all their time in their first post-college job debating the niceties of the Oxford comma. Does it ultimately matter to the overall success of the project? If it does… go to the mat. Show them, with respect, why it’s important. But if it’s just a point of pride for you, the provider? Can you let it go?

I can’t sometimes. So I get it if you can’t. But still, it’s a good point to keep in mind. A good question to ask yourself, as a provider of a service. Which sword do you fall on… and why?

Clearly, you shouldn’t just roll over because a client has turned nasty. But neither should you turn every unhappy client response into your personal cause du jour. When you encounter negative, hostile client reactions, take a moment. Try to see it from their point of view. At the very least, the shift in perspective will help you handle their concerns. And at best, you’ll re-frame the discussion in a way that gives you both a handle on how to move forward.

You might learn from the exchange. Or maybe you’re just right, dammit. But you still have to think about what’s worth getting worked up over.

Finally, don’t let it bring you down. If it’s serious enough that you have to part ways over their reaction, help them do so amicably. Point them in the direction of someone you think might be able to accommodate their ideas. Stay positive for them, and for yourself. Then chalk it up to experience, and take the lessons on to the next client.

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Opinion Editorials

This website is like Pinterest for WFH desk setups

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) If you’ve been working from home at the same, unchanged desk setup, it may be time for an upgrade. My Desk Tour has the inspiration you need.

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Man browsing desk setups on My Desk Tour

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or reclining your way through the pandemic, you’re most likely doing it from home these days. You’re also probably contending with an uninspired desk configuration hastily cobbled together in 2020, which—while understandable—might be bringing you down. Fortunately, there’s an easy, personable solution to spark your creativity: My Desk Tour.

My Desk Tour is a small website started by Jonathan Cai. On this site, you will find pictures of unique and highly customized desk setups; these desk configurations range from being optimized for gamers to coders to audiophiles, so there’s arguably something for everyone—even if you’re just swinging by to drool for a bit.

Cai also implements a feature in which site users can tag products seen in desk photos with direct links to Amazon so you don’t have to poke around the Internet for an hour in search of an obscure mouse pad. This is something Cai initially encountered on Reddit and, after receiving guidance from various subreddits on the issue of which mouse to purchase, he found the inspiration to create My Desk Tour.

The service itself is pretty light—the landing page consists of a few desk setup photos and a rotating carousel of featured configurations—but it has great potential to grow into a desk-focused social experience of sorts.

It’s also a great place to drop in on if you’re missing the extra level of adoration for your desk space that a truly great setup invokes. Since most people who have been working from home since the spring didn’t receive a ton of advance notice, it’s reasonable to assume that the majority of folks have resigned themselves to a boring or inefficient desk configuration. With a bit of inspiration from My Desk Tour, that can change overnight.

Of course, some of the desk options featured on the site are a bit over the top. One configuration boasts dual ultra-wide monitors stacked atop each other, and another shows off a monitor flanked by additional vertical monitors—presumably for the sake of coding. If you’re scrambling to stay employed, such a setup might be egregious.

If you’re just looking for a new way to orient your workspace for the next few months, though, My Desk Tour is worth a visit.

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