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Op/Ed

Burn out might be a signal calling for your attention

(EDITORIAL) Many people face a burn out in their career, but what are the signs, and are you able to pivot into a new career, and is that a good idea?

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woman experiencing burn out

It’s not something they tell you when growing up that you may experience burn out and to be honest, it almost feels like our society raises us to march in a straight line and be careful not to ask too many questions (i.e. Go in to business or engineering to get a job but there are PLENTY of people with Liberal Arts degrees working too). As a former marketer on big name brands like McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, NAVTEQ, for example, my path was pretty fascinating and not anything I can pretend like I manifested into existence while sitting in my dorm room, sorority house or apartment senior year of college.

I chose a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising from a Big 10 University, I moved to the big city after graduation (Chicago) and worked my way through agencies and corporate environments. My parents were teachers – amazing and award-winning – and I felt they didn’t get paid enough for how hard they worked which is why I ignored my 8-year old self who REALLY wanted to be a teacher.

I found a thrill in it all – the constant stream of “problems” from our clients or internal departments and I felt lucky to be on teams who were always up for the challenge of finding “solutions”. I am not super sure what I was chasing other than it seemed to be totally normal to climb the corporate ladder and want more responsibilities and higher pay. I did decide to pursue an MBA in 2008 as a personal goal to achieve a graduate degree (I also had an Education grant from doing an AmeriCorps program that I wanted to use) and yes, I utilized that degree to request higher pay. By the way, at every job, I really loved my coworkers. Some of the most fascinating, amazing and talented people I have ever met (they tell you it’s about the people you work with and I’m not sure really believe it until you’ve experienced it.)

Check out this list of intelligent reasonings behind a burn out from Frank Chimero. Do any of them strike true for you?

His #2 and #4 really resonated with me:

2. Achievement culture: believing that identity and safety are only available through high achievement
4. Visibility leading to hyperactive comparison: passivity and visibility locking together to invite comparison and create a debilitating scarcity mindset. Comparisons leading to feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, or fear of failure. Constant self-reproach and self-aggression.

I was completely caught up in the above – constantly trying to improve, be better, move into the next company or position. I also tripled my salary in ten years and finally was like “is this enough?” I’m not sure my mentality could keep up with going from not much money after taxes to plenty.

I’ve started to question a lot of the things I thought I knew to be true. The research articles that say the magic salary number of $75,000 annually is what will make you happy. There is no more happiness beyond that point and hell, you must be crazy if you’re happy making less than that. That’s what marketing and advertising tell you. Don Draper establishes himself as an Advertising genius when he states in Mad Men, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.”

Look, please don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for my 12+ years working from Assistant Account Executive to Senior Manager, Digital. I am grateful for my 10-month AmeriCorps Service Leader position with City Year Chicago right out of college. I am grateful that when I reached burn out in 2012, when I realized that I didn’t give a schhhh if anyone bought more of my client’s product (sorry), I was part of a lay-off of 5% of the staff and forced to take a step back and figure out what I wanted to do. What I did learn is you cannot imagine the amount of research, passion and intelligence that goes into marketing when you are 19 years old or if you’ve never worked in it. There are so many incredible things that come from marketers and I do believe they help make the world go around.

I will say thanks to my burn out, I made a career transition and now I’m a big believer in that. I became a Creative & Marketing recruiter and I loved it. I also became an Adjunct Instructor and I loved that. Those two combined is what lead me to my ultimate career switch where I work in Career Services in Higher Education (which I could not have the job I have without a Master’s degree).

That burn out from what I refer to as “Marketing & Advertising world” lead to a beautiful new career where I feel fulfilled and excited and engaged. But for transparency sake, I took a pretty significant pay cut to switch in to Higher Ed, and this has angered me a bit about the values in our country as it relates to education. I know they say money doesn’t buy happiness, but I will say that I think it’s ok when it allows you to buy experiences and do things that make you happy and share that with your friends, family and community.

As a Career Coach and talking to hundreds of people about what they want to do professionally…honestly, we have a lot more in common than you would think. We want to do work that we feel passionate about, interested in, constantly learn and contributing to a bigger picture – while be compensated fairly for what we do and able to afford lifestyles that matter to us.

In these new times, where many have lost their jobs or been forced to work remotely and/or work while also taking care of family members, I’m just going to say it. Are we finally going to realize the value of skilled and/or tenured employees, our teachers, healthcare workers, grocery store clerks/stockers/managers and restaurant/hospitality folks, local artist and makers (to name a few)? Because they may be wondering about the $75K/year thing. And as for small business owners and entrepreneurs, they give us their passion and craft and many that I have met don’t go touting around their financials.

Whatever the case may be for you, I hope your journey is bringing you to what really makes you happy and that you don’t feel that happiness has been unjustly sold to you. If you’re experiencing a burn out, I’d like to think it could it be a signal calling out for your attention.

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.

Op/Ed

Your career depends on you, and the mentors you select

(EDITORIAL) Moving up in your career can be dependent on your drive to be better, but improving does depend on who you choose to teach you

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career mentor

Remember when you were younger and were encouraged to join extra-curricular activities because they would “look good to colleges”? What if the same were true for your career?

While applying to a university may be a thing of the past for you, there are still benefits to having extra-curricular activities that have to do with your career. Networking is a major piece of this, as is finding mentors who will help point you in the right direction.

These out-of-office organizations or clubs differ for every industry, so for the sake of this article, I will use one example that you can then interpret and tailor towards your own career.

The Past President of the national Federal Bar Association, Maria Z. Vathis, is someone who has taken the extra-curricular route throughout her entire career, and it has paid off immensely. Working as an attorney in Chicago, Vathis joined the FBA shortly after beginning her legal career and now is the Past President of the almost 100-year old organization.

She started working her way up the ladder of the Chicago Chapter of the association, and eventually became the president of that chapter. At the same time, she was also becoming involved in the Hellenic Bar Association, and would eventually become national president of that organization, as well.

“Through these organizations, I was fortunate to find mentors and lifelong friends. I was also lucky enough to mentor others and to have opportunities to give back to the community through various outreach projects,” said Vathis. “As a young attorney, it was priceless to gain exposure to successful attorneys and judges and to observe how they conducted themselves. Those judges and attorneys were my role models – whether they knew it or not. I learned how to be a professional and how to work with different personality types through my bar association work.”

Finding people in your industry – not just in your office – can be of great help as you go through the journey of your career. They can help you in the event of a job switch, help collaborate on volunteer-based projects, and help collaborate on career-advancing projects (like writing a book, for example).

And all strong networks often start with the help of a mentor – someone who has once been in your shows and can help you handle the ropes of your new career. Most importantly, they’re someone who you can seek advice from when you’re faced with someone challenging – either good or bad.

“I have been unbelievably fortunate with my mentors, and I cherish those relationships. They are good people, and they have changed my life in positive ways. I still draw on what they taught me to help make important decisions,” said Vathis. “My career success is due in large part to the fact that my mentors took an interest in my career, had faith in my abilities, and supported me while I held various positions in the organizations. Not only is it important to continue having mentors throughout your career, but it is important to recognize that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. You never know who you will learn something from, so it’s important to remain open. Also, after you become seasoned, it is important to give back by mentoring others.”

When asked why it’s important to be part of organizations outside of the office, Vathis explained, “To build a book of business, you need to be visible to others.” She also stresses the importance of putting yourself out there for new affiliations and challenges, because you never know where it may lead.

If you’re unsure of how to start this process, try asking co-workers and other people in your professional life if they have any advice or recommendations of organizations that can help advance your career. Another simple way is to Google “networking events in my area” and see what speaks to you. In addition, never be afraid to reach out to someone with a bit more experience for some advice. Take them out to coffee and pick their brain – you never know what you may learn.

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Op/Ed

Kakeibo: The Japanese art of spending wisely

(EDITORIAL) If regardless of how much money you make, it seems like you’re always short a buck, take a hard look at how you are spending. It could save you a lot.

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control your spending

Raise your hand if you have cash in your wallet.

What is a wallet you ask.

I jest. I know you know what a wallet is. (I hope.) But, sometimes I wonder if cash will go the way of the rotary phone. Seems most folks I know use debit cards, Venmo or their phones to pay for things nowadays.

Ever notice when you go to the store and have a debit or (worse) a credit card at your disposal, your plan to spend $20 ends up more like $50-$100. For example, anyone who shops at Target knows that when they ask you at the checkout, “Did you find everything you needed,” the answer is “ugh… Yes, and then some.”

Living in a plastic economy has made us less cognizant of how we spend money. But, leave it to the Japanese to have a system for putting the thought into buying. It’s called Kakeibo (pronounced kah-ke-boh) and it translates to “household finance ledger” and it’s something most Japanese folks learn to use from the time they are wee children.

The system began in 1904 and was “invented” by a woman name Hana Motoko (also known as Japan’s first female journalist), according to an article on MSNBC. The system is a no-frills way of approaching finances, whether personal or business.

Now, some folks are great at keeping a budget and knowing where the money is going. My mom, for example was the best bookkeeper. Unfortunately, her skills with money didn’t pass down to me. So, I actually purchased a Kakeibo book to try and get my finances in better shape.

You don’t need some special book (save your money), though you can find lots of resources online, including these downloadable forms, but in actuality all you need is a notebook (preferably one to take with you) and a pen. No Technology Required.

If you have been spending money and not knowing where it is going, then it’s going to take some work to change your habits around money.

In her article on MSNBC, Sarah Harvey says what makes Kakeibo different than using an Excel spreadsheet or budget software is the act of physically writing purchases down – it becomes a meditative way of processing spending habits. “Our spending habits are deeply cemented into our daily routine, and the act of spending also includes an emotional aspect that is difficult to detach from,” Harvey says.

As a business owner or entrepreneur, it is also easy to get sucked into believing you have to have new technology, systems and bells and whistles that maybe you don’t need – just yet. Spending goals for a business, just like a personal budget, are important if you plan to stay on track and not lose sight of where your money is going. Lord knows the money flies out the door when starting any new project.

Based on the Kakeibo system, there are some key questions to ask before buying anything that is nonessential (whether for your home or business):

• Can I live without this item?
• Can I afford it? (Based on my finances)
• Will I actually use it?
• Do I have space for it?
• How did I find the item in the first place? (Did I see it in an IG feed? Did I come across it after wandering into a store, am I bored?)
• What is my emotional state today? (Calm? Stressed? Celebratory? Feeling bad about myself?)
• How do I feel about buying it? (Happy? Excited? Indifferent? And how long will this feeling last?)

For Harvey, who learned about Kakeibo while living in Japan, using the system forced her to think more about why she was making purchases. And, she says it doesn’t mean you should cut out the joy of buying, just possibly making better choices when needing retail therapy on a crappy day. She found the small changes she was making were having a positive impact on her savings.

How to be more mindful when spending:

• See something you like, wait 24 hours before buying. Still need it?
• Don’t be a sucker for sales.
• Check your bank balance often. Can you afford what you’re buying?
• Use cash. It’s a different feeling having that money in your hand and letting it go.
• Put reminders in your wallet. What are your goals? Big trip. Then, do you really need new headphones, a bigger TV, a new iPhone, etc.
• Pay attention to what causes you to spend. Are you ordering every monthly service because of some Instagram influencer or, because of some marketing you get online. Change your habits, change your life.

Using the Kakeibo system of a notepad and pen or a Kakeibo book for the process can help you identify goals you have for the week, month and year and allow you to stay on track. Remember, cash is still king.

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Op/Ed

5 Things your home office may not need

(EDITORIAL) Since many of us are working entirely from home now, we are probably getting annoyed at a messy desk, let’s take a crack at minimalism!

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desk minimalism

COVID-19 is changing our behaviors. As more people stay home, they’re seeing (and having to deal with) the clutter in their home. Many people are turning to minimalism to reduce clutter and find more joy. There are many ways to define minimalism. Some people define it as the number of items you own. Others think of it as only owning items that you actually need.

I prefer to think of minimalism as intentionality of possessions. I have a couple of dishes that are not practical, nor do I use them very often. But they belonged to my grandma, and out of sentimentality, I keep them. Most minimalists probably wouldn’t.

They say a messy desk is a sign of creativity. Unfortunately, that same messy desk limits productivity. Harvard Business Review reports that cluttered spaces have negative effects on us. Keep your messy desk, but get rid of the clutter. Take a minimalistic approach to your home office. Here are five things to clean up:

  1. Old technology – When was the last time you printed something for work? Most of us don’t print much anymore. Get rid of the old printers, computer parts, and other pieces of hardware that are collecting dust.
  2. Papers and documents – Go digital, or just save the documents that absolutely matter. Of course, this may vary by industry, but take a hard look at the paper you’ve saved over the past month or so. Then ask yourself whether you will really ever look at it again.
  3. Filing cabinets – If you’re not saving paper, you don’t need filing cabinets.
  4. Trade magazines and journals – Go digital, and keep your magazines on your Kindle, or pass down the print versions to colleagues who may be interested.
  5. Anything unrelated to work – Ok, save the picture of your family and coffee mug, but clean off your desk of things that aren’t required for work. It’s easy for home and work to get mixed up when you’re working and living in one place. Keep it separate for your own peace of mind and better workflow. If space is tight and you’re sharing a dining room table with work, get a laundry basket or box. At the start of the workday, remove home items and put them in the box. Transfer work items to another box at the end of the day. It might seem like a little more work, but it will give you some boundaries.

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