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Lessons from the Learning Annex

By Marty Nemko

Last Monday, I taught a Learning Annex workshop called “Smart Yet Stuck.” Here are my answers to some attendees’ questions:

MYRA, EAST BAY: I was an event planner for a large organization and loved it but then got severe psoriasis. I got let go. Now what?

MN: Ever thought about being a freelance event planner for medical nonprofits, for example, skin disease societies? If your psoriasis flares up, they’ll probably be more empathic.

MARCUS M., SAN JOSE: I’m in school to be a journalist, maybe a photojournalist, but I don’t know what to do.

I asked him a few questions, which revealed that he’d love to travel to Asian resorts.

MN: Save up your pennies and take a trip to Asia, write a few reviews of those resorts, supplementing with photographs. You may be able to get the resorts to comp your room. Use the resulting articles as your portfolio and sell yourself as a travel writer.

JIM CHANDLER, CASTRO VALLEY: I did well in high-tech business development, but high-tech’s dead. What should I change to?

MN: High-tech is alive and well, just changed. Look for biz dev opportunities with companies in big dot.coms such as yahoo, ebay, and google, plus at large wireless and enterprise management software companies.

LARRY FREDERICKSON, NAPA: I loved my job as help desk manager for EDS but my job was shipped to New Zealand. What should I do?

MN: First, look for a similar job in a government agency—they’re less likely to offshore. If that fails, look for management jobs in a growing field such as: financial services, accounting, stem cell lab construction, or health care administration.

LISA, SAN BRUNO: I was an accountant and needed to quit. I need a less stressful job.

MN: First, do a thorough job search to maximize your chances of getting more than one job offer. Pick the least stressful one. Mold the job description to fit your strengths. Don’t work extra-long hours the first weeks—that will create the expectation you’ll always do so. If you have a skill deficit, find an expert to teach what you need and to be available for questions. And stay in the moment, doing the best job you can, moment by moment. After that, the success of your efforts is beyond your control. No use worrying about that.

RICHARD, SAN FRANCISCO: I want a career so enjoyable that work and play are interchangeable.

MN: Even most people with ostensibly cool careers don’t always feel that way. Think about Sandra Dee, who just died. All she needed to do was look cute and she made zillions and was idolized. Yet she was depressed her entire life. I know as many people happy in mundane careers as in so-called cool careers. Yes, at the extremes it matters: being a telemarketer isn’t fun. But above that level, career contentment usually comes more from within yourself than from being in a “cool career.”

KATHY KURK, SAN FRANCISCO: I fell into being a legal secretary by chance. It’s all wrong. I’m a gypsy by nature. Should I try to make it work?

MN: In listening to and watching you, my sense is that you need a major career change--your job is just too discordant with who you are. Spend a half day in a career library exploring the indexes of career guides such as my Cool Careers for Dummies. It will quickly expose you to hundreds of career ideas.

CHRIS, ALAMEDA: My whole life, I’ve been a small business manager. Now I want to move to a large business—more security. How do I do it?

MN: Today, even large companies usually don’t offer long-term security. Unless you’re a star, companies increasingly hire people on an as-needed basis, just until the project’s done. So, you need to think of yourself as the owner of a one-person company who’s making sure he or she has a skill set that’s in demand, and that you spend enough time networking and otherwise marketing yourself so when your current project is over, that employer and others will be predisposed to hiring you for your next project.

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