When the road ahead isn’t clear

In 2012, I was sitting in my office at Deutsche Bank, dispirited and disillusioned, wondering what I could possibly do to alter the downward trajectory of my career.

I had a few ideas. I toyed with a startup idea, had begun exploring a topic called “working out loud”, and recently started a blog. 

But what should I do next? Should I try to make the most of my job? Quit and try something new? Do some other kind of work on the side? 

I didn’t know.

Climbing the hill (with your head up)

Around that time I was reading a book called Running Lean aimed at helping startups deal with uncertainty. (The idea for a Lean Canvas comes from that book, and I’m re-reading it now for reasons you’ll see below.)

The book contains a rather arcane reference to a search algorithm that can apply to startups—and also to careers. I dog-eared the page with this text box.

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The author’s conclusion underneath helped me see what I should do next.

While there is no way to completely avoid the local maxima problem, you raise your odds for finding a better solution when you are initially open to exploring and even testing multiple models in parallel.

Making it through the fog

That was it! Instead of just “climbing the hill” at Deutsche Bank, or risking everything to leap onto another hill, the key was to follow multiple paths and remain open to possibilities. So, while I tried “local optimization” in my current job, I also did small experiments with other topics and kinds of work. 

Some of those experiments (like designing an app) turned out to be dead ends. But they didn’t cost much and I learned a lot, so they were still good investments. The experiments related to Working Out Loud led to a book, tens of thousands of people in WOL Circles, and a new fulfilling chapter in my life.

A practical way forward 

Just today, someone wrote me to say that he’s challenged by a situation similar to the one I faced eight years ago. He said he’s looking for a clear path ahead for his career and doesn’t see one.

But do any of us see a clear path ahead, especially now? 

I replied that I still don’t know exactly where I’m heading (which is why I’m re-reading that book). The best we can do is to think of our aspirations and intentions as a kind of compass, not a map. You take a small step, look around and explore and learn, re-check your compass, then decide on a next step. 

The person who wrote to me is in a Circle now, and my hope is that the structure, shared accountability, and support in that Circle will help him to get moving—to take more steps and learn from others who are traveling similar paths.

I hope the road ahead takes him, and you, to some wonderful places. 

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Investing in Yourself

Do you find that many of your friends are either looking for work or looking for a change? The only thing that seems certain at the moment is more uncertainty. 

What can you do?

“Simply astonished”

I found one answer in a student’s thesis that she shared online. Her topic was “Why is WOL accepted by employees?” and she interviewed dozens of people from 38 different companies. Two quotes stood out.

"Many are simply astonished by the number of opportunities that they were offered while applying their WOL practices." 

"The employees indicated that WOL has changed the way they approach and value others as well as the way they treat and value themselves." 

What Nadine discovered in her interviews is exactly what many people today are looking for today. Opportunity, Perspective. Connection.

“To connect on a human level”

This isn’t just an academic issue, of course, but something much more practical than that, something more personal. Andreas summed up his experience this way:

“Not only has it helped each of us to make a massive step towards reaching our growth goals, it also helped in times of remote work to connect on a human level.”

It isn’t selfish to develop yourself. Annette, for example, describes the benefits for her and her company, SAP. She calls it “the magic.”

Practicing WOL had not just an influence on how I approach goals, but how I approach people and challenges in life. It fosters cultural change and makes SAP’s values truly experienceable: tell it like it is, stay curious, embrace differences, keep the promise, & build bridges, not silos."

New Year. New You. 

The new WOL Membership Network makes it easy for you to take a step and realize benefits like these. Daniela described her experience in a Circle this way:

A profound program, the insights and tasks were an inspiring framework to our journey on which we worked, dreamt, and developed all together.

In your annual membership, you get three chances to join different kinds of Circles. Each time, we’ll match you with others, help you with your goal, and offer you coaching & support throughout the entire year. All for less than the cost of a conference or course. 

When will it be the right time to invest in yourself? When will you deserve it? The answer, especially as we come to the end of 2020, is obvious:

“Now.”

When will it be the right time to invest in yourself? When will you deserve it?

When will it be the right time to invest in yourself? When will you deserve it?

The Goal Clinic

The first members of the WOL Membership Network signed up this weekend, and it’s already an amazing mix of people.

Creating this new network opens up possibilities for individuals as well as companies of all sizes. Here’s one of the first things we’ll do together, and the kinds of people who will benefit from it.

The Goal Clinic

All the Circle methods, including WOL Mindfulness, begin with a goal of some kind. It helps you orient your activities throughout your Circle and tap into your intrinsic motivation.

But what should you choose? Though there are instructions in Week 1, I’ve seen how people benefit from getting some coaching to help them choose or refine their goal.

That’s what happens in the Goal Clinic. Before our new membership Circles even form, we will give people the chance to share their goals, listen to others, and explore tips and possibilities with me and others in the network. That will help them get off to a great start with a meaningful goal they can make progress towards.

We’ve been doing this with our biggest corporate customers, and now we can do it for everyone in the new network. Even better, we can offer ways for members with similar goals to continue to connect and exchange throughout their membership, expanding our chances for learning and growing together.

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Five Kinds of Members

Some of our new members work for themselves and some in big organizations. Some joined as part of their personal development program at work and had their company support their membership. Here are five types of members we’ve seen so far.

Career Builders who want to develop their skills and access more opportunities.

Joining my first Working Out Loud Circle was one of the best decisions I made.

- Lea on her WOL Circle experience

The Curious who are looking to explore new topics and make new connections.

[WOL Mindfulness gave me] a maximum outcome with a minimum investment of time. It helped me to reduce stress and to realize how much good is happening in my life. My new habits have become an integral part of my everyday life.

- Melanie on her WOL Mindfulness experience

Supportive Managers who want to offer their staff personal development and coaching opportunities that are proven, cost-effective, and easy to administer.

Many are simply astonished by the number of opportunities that they were offered while applying their WOL practices.

The employees indicated that WOL has changed the way they approach and value others as well as the way they treat and value themselves." 

- Nadine Skerlavaj, “Why is WOL accepted by employees?” [Bachelor Thesis]

Small Company Executives who would like the kind of employee and culture programs that large companies have, so they too can foster a more agile, collaborative workplace. 

An ideal method to further develop our learning and working culture.

- Dürr Systems AG, sharing their WOL experience on LinkedIn

Working Out Loud can provide some of that “social glue” that enables organizations to move forward cohesively. Whether it’s a virtual team or one physically together.

- Shirley on joining a Circle as a new joiner

Progressive HR Professionals who are looking for new ways to help employees collaborate and feel connected, especially in a time where more people are working remotely. Some are even looking for cross-company networking.

We are 70 leaders on a journey towards better collaboration culture and decided everyone should start a Circle. 

- Sebastian Kolberg, Leading Digital Transformation & Change Projects, Bayer

The future of corporate learning is self-directed and social. WOL is an important part of our learning strategy.

- Laura Krsnik, Head of Global Learning, Merck KGaA

Can you relate to these roles and these quotes? Are you looking for new skills, opportunities, connections, or ideas? The WOL Membership Network makes it easier than ever to invest in yourself. 

Learn more at: signup.www.africanmango-slim.com.

Anja’s Story (from the new edition of Working Out Loud)

This story is from the first chapter of Working Out Loud. (Which is now available for pre-order in German too.)

Like other stories in the book, and thousands more in WOL Circles globally, it is about the power of making contributions and connections, earning you access to more possibilities. It’s about self-determination, exploring ways to make more of all you have to offer and realize more of your potential.

I hope you enjoy it, and that you will use Working Out Loud to write your own story.

Click on Anja’s photo to see her LinkedIn profile

Click on Anja’s photo to see her LinkedIn profile

***

Anja earns access to more possibilities

Anja grew up in a picturesque small town of fewer than fifteen thousand people. Upon graduation from the local high school, she applied for an internship at a savings bank about fifteen minutes away. She got the job. 

After four years, Anja knew she wanted more from work but didn’t think she could get very far without a university degree. So she enrolled in a college with an evening program, and for several years she juggled working during the day with going to classes and studying at night. Meanwhile, as it became clear that a career in a local bank wasn’t going to be enough for her, she moved to a large company in a nearby city and got an entry-level job as a clerk in the Purchasing Department. 

When she finally graduated, though, after all those nights and weekends of extra work, she was offered a role as a secretary. It was disappointing. She said, “All that effort to get a degree just to sit there in the end and stick receipts on my boss’s expense report made me more and more frustrated every single day.” Then she paused and slowly repeated that last phrase, as if reliving it: “Every. Single. Day.”

It wasn’t that she thought being a secretary was beneath her or was necessarily a bad job. She just felt she could contribute more. “I wanted a job where I could bring in my passion, where my talents could be seen, and where they would be useful for the company at the same time.” Although her new company had many, many jobs that might be more meaningful or fulfilling, she had no idea how to show she was qualified for them, or to get any extra experience she might need. Although Anja was only in her early twenties, she began to feel stuck.  

Being a secretary is usually a behind-the-scenes kind of job, where few people other than your manager know what you do, how well you do it, and what else you’re capable of. But Anja figured out a way to make herself and her work visible. She had seen that the company was promoting their internal collaboration tools and that a “digital transformation” was part of the corporate strategy. So, she started a blog and called it “How to work digitally as a secretary.”

She began by writing about the tools and techniques she used to be more efficient and effective. The point wasn’t to show off, but to be genuinely helpful. A few people read her first posts, then a few more.

She started to get comments thanking her for the tips she was sharing, and wanting to know more about her approach and how she handled her work. Gradually, her writing began to attract thousands of views, and was shared by colleagues she didn’t know. Her network started to grow. “People started to consider me an expert,” she said. One of the people who took notice of what Anja had to offer was her boss, who offered her a different role.

Anja moved from being an assistant in the Purchasing Department to being a community manager for two online groups in the division. From there she took on the title of “agile coach,” conducting training, coaching individuals, and facilitating workshops. Now she regularly acts as a mentor for teams, departments, and leaders, and she actively promotes digital collaboration and networking throughout the division. Recently, she organized a huge cross-company conference, and shared the stage with two board members. 

“It wasn’t easy,” she said. “But it was worth it. I can now show my talents, and live my passion, in my new job.” Anja no longer feels stuck or invisible. Instead, she has found a way to realize more of her potential, and it feels like a new beginning.

Anja is on the far right, together with board members and other managers from Bosch & Daimler, celebrating the WOL Conference she co-organized.