5 Ways to Tell if Your Parents are Giving You Crap Career Advice

Struggling in your day job? You’ve probably heard: Do this.

Unsure of the next step in your career path? Here, let me forward you these 37 articles from HBR.

Can’t get a new job? Take out a giant student loan, go back and get an MBA.

Feeling underpaid? Suck it up buttercup, your dad and I lived on $1,000 a month at your age.

Sometimes, parents give bad vocation advice. And other times, it is truly, truly terrible.

Here are 5 sure ways to determine if the career advice your parents are giving you is total crap:

1. The advice is designed to keep you safe rather than help you grow.

To be fair, “keeping you safe” is in your parent’s job description. They don’t want to see you hurt. Yet, the most satisfying careers require some risk. They involve putting yourself and your talents out there in the face of rejection.

Melody Wilding writes, “People don’t succeed by migrating to a particular industry or job. They thrive by exploring their strengths, motivations, likes, and dislikes.”

Yet finding those matches in the job market requires some experimentation—which means you are going to get it wrong sometimes before you get it right. The reality is: you can’t avoid risk, but you can manage it. Just make sure you are pursuing opportunities based on your own level of risk tolerance rather than being limited by your parent’s.

Other variations on this theme? Advice that requires you moving back home.

2. The advice includes the phrase “to fall back on.”

If your parents ever gave you career advice that included the phrase “to fall back on,” it was crap advice. This is like the theatre major who is told to get a business minor. Or the aspiring chef who is told to study accounting. As long as you have the idea that having a Plan B is more important than giving your full self to Plan A, you slash your odds of success.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be diversified in your pursuits. Sara Benincasa said it best in her book, Real Artists Have Day Jobs: “Real artists have day jobs, and night jobs, and afternoon jobs. Real artists make things other than art, and then they make time to make art because art is screaming to get out from inside them. Screaming, or begging, or gently whispering. Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not a success. Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not good enough. Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not the real deal. More importantly: don’t ever tell yourself any of these things. Believe me when I tell you that no matter how much time you spend at the office, it’s just a side gig.”

Feel free to diversify your income streams, but don’t you dare stop what you love because you need something to “fall back on.”

3. Your parents are broke.

Broke parents cannot help you make money. They may be able to give wisdom in every other area of life, but they can rarely give you good advice on how to build your income.

Want to know how to build a career that will support the lifestyle you want? Find mentors who have done it before you. Read books by successes like Amanda Steinberg or Tony Robbins. Because it doesn’t matter how amazing your parents are at absolutely everything else, if they don’t know how to make money, chances are they have limiting beliefs that they are passing straight on to you.

Jen Sincero, in her book, You are a Badass at Making Money writes, “We’re generally raised to believe all sorts of sober thoughts when it comes to wealth, such as money is the root of all evil. Or that in order to make money you have to work really hard doing stuff you really hate. Or that if you focus on making money, you’re a sell-out, or morally compromised, or a pig-headed greed monger. Even though most of us love, love, love it when we’re flush with cash…”

Want a career that makes money? Get advice from someone who’s done it—even if you have to check that advice out from the library.

4. The advice is based on a 50-year-old economic model.

If you are in the early stages of your career, chances are you don’t have a clear perception of just exactly how much the business world has changed in the past 50 years. Consider a world where Airbnb wasn’t even possible. Where information was obtained by calling people. Where television could only be watched on a certain channel at a certain time, and you had to be home so you didn’t miss it.

There will be jobs 10 years from now that haven’t been created yet, so how in the world could you possibly set a career path on them? Yet someone will be holding those jobs. How will they get them? They will know someone who tells them about the opportunity and they will have the capacity to develop the skills that are needed.

If your parents are telling you to shut down your side hustle because it might be considered moonlighting, just smile and thank them for their input. Then, get busy building your network and your skills while testing things in the marketplace where you can learn if they have value.

5. The advice over-values your talent.

If your parents believe you are the most talented employee who ever lived and that you are too good to intern or require a starting six figure salary, then you can safely assume their perceptions are off. Again, it is your parent’s job to think you are amazing. The problem is that rose colored glasses keep people from seeing clearly.

If your parents give you salary advice based on an industry you are not in, if they think you are above the entry level work that will build your skill, or if they balk at volunteering because you are simply too valuable, it is crap advice. Rose-colored crap, but still crap nonetheless.

The thing about “crap advice” is that you can never, EVER, tell the administer of the faulty counsel that it is dreadful.

Thought leader, Liz Ryan, has better advice, “With practice, you will get very good at saying ‘Thank you so much for that advice — I'll consider it’ and change the subject.”

Having discretion when interacting with parents? Now that is good advice.

Day job not delivering enough profit or purpose? 5 steps to launch a side hustle.

Why is everyone suddenly talking about side hustles?

Because for many they deliver the purpose and profit that isn’t fully being provided by their day job.

A side hustle is a passion-driven product or service that you create and sell without leaving your day job. The benefits are multiple. It gives you the opportunity to grow through experience in an area of passion. You add to your income. And—most importantly—it tends to boost happiness because you spend a little bit of time everyday creating something you love.

Sound like a side hustle might deliver what’s missing in your current day job? Here are 5 steps to help you get there:

1. Pick a side hustle that aligns with your passion--especially if your day job doesn't.

The passion component is what makes a “side hustle” different from traditional moonlighting. It’s for everyone who ever said something like, “I work as an accountant, but I’m really a jewelry designer.”

Whether you love dogs and decide to launch an evening dog walking business, are an artist and sell digital greeting cards, or you make the world’s most delicious pot pies and become the Pot Pie Lady, the commercial aspect to the side hustle forces us to get better at what we do in a way that a hobby never will. We have to figure things out because people are paying for it.

If the side hustle isn’t passion-driven, then we quickly run out of the energy and enthusiasm needed to build our skill enough to make it successful.

2. Don't spend too much time (or money) on the plan. Create something and get it out there.

Side hustles are particularly vulnerable to “paralysis by analysis.” Because side hustles are so uniquely personal, there are few templates. You will be building the bridge as you walk on it.

The best way to launch a side hustle is to put your product or service out there and begin testing ideas. You are looking to launch what Eric Reis defines in the Lean Start Up as a “minimum viable product.” Do the least amount of work necessary to get your offering in front of people so you can start testing what sells.

In our dog walking example, this is the difference between waiting to launch until you have a perfectly designed website, matching leashes, and promotional dog biscuits, or just ordering business cards from Moo.com and distributing them in your neighborhood. Start the work, then let the trappings catch up with you.

3. Set boundaries around your side hustle from the beginning (aka. don't get fired from your day job.) 

It probably goes without saying that working on your side hustle at your day job will get you fired. But what you may not realize is that you need to set those boundaries ahead of time. Pursuing a passion can easily win your affections and make it hard to keep it out of your normal work life.

Define when you will work on your side hustle and carve that time out. You might get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later. You might devote every Saturday morning or every Sunday afternoon to the side hustle.

Make the decision of how it fits in your life at the beginning, then defend those timeslots as essential.

4. Refine your side hustle in real time as you receive feedback.  

One of the best parts of launching a side hustle is that the scale makes it easy to test ideas and respond to market feedback in real time. You then, pivot your strategy until you find what works.

For example, if you launch a line of personalized leather bracelets on Etsy but find more men buy them than women (or that women are simply buying them for their husbands) you might shift your designs toward more masculine styles. Or if you are a copy writer selling resume services, you might find you have more clients interested in recrafting their LinkedIn page than formal resumes and can tailor your website feature that service more effectively. 

5. After you make 1k, get your bookkeeping in order. 

The thing about side hustles is that they usually evolve. In the beginning, you probably won’t think much about tracking expenses or keeping the income separate from your personal funds, but there will come a time when that becomes advantageous.

Once you break $1,000, set up a separate bank account for deposits from your side hustle and begin to track expenses. Whether you use a spreadsheet or a service like Freshbooks which delivers real profit/loss statements and makes it easy to invoice clients, separating your business funds as a real business allows you to make intentional decisions about the extra income and can save you money in dealing with taxes.

What should your side hustle be? Here are 40 ideas to inspire you:


  1. Launch an Etsy shop to sell handcrafts. 
  2. Deconstruct old motorcycles and sell the parts on Ebay. 
  3. Upcycle fashion by turning old clothes into something new and sell online. 
  4. Make homemade pet food and deliver. 
  5. Get a table at your local farmers market and sell something in a Mason jar (jam, salsa, homemade beauty products, ready to bake cakes, etc). 
  6. Craft and sell cosplay costumes. 
  7. Create a graphic design around your hobby, upload and sell at CafePress.com. 
  8. Make personalized gifts and signs with vinyl letters. 
  9. Start your own mail-by-the month subscription and craft boxes that people receive each month. 
  10. Make and sell holiday gifts for expatriates (ie. Christmas crackers for Brits, colorful Holi powders for Indian expats, etc.). 


  1. Launch a “Mid-Life Crisis Music Class” (Everyone has an instrument they wished they’d learned when younger.) 
  2. Become a professional mentor. (Certifications are available through ICF) 
  3. Teach fitness classes or become a personal trainer. 
  4. Teach classes on essential oils, herbs, teas or DIY beauty and household products. 
  5. Sell your fashion sense and help people craft an image. 
  6. Launch a YouTube channel with explainer videos in your area of expertise. 
  7. Become a makeup artist. (You can work part-time at a store that offers training like Sephora, Mac or others to increase your skills and take advantage of employee product discounts.) 
  8. Use Kindle Direct Publishing to sell your eBook. 
  9. Become a podcaster and sell coaching as your product. 
  10. Launch a business as a professional organizer and teach people to better use their personal space. 


  1. Serve as a tour guide in your own city and organize day tours around your personal passions of sightseeing, restaurants, wine, hiking, etc. 
  2. Create a space in your home to rent out via Airbnb. 
  3. Design a show for children’s birthday parties, 50th wedding anniversaries, etc. (Once friends of mine designed a 1940’s radio show that was hired by nursing homes.) 
  4. Create cooking experiences in your home where people taste and learn about different foods. 
  5. Host mini spa experiences where people learn to make their own bath products. 
  6. Write encouraging letters that people receive in the mail via paid subscription. 
  7. Organize an experience that lets people come in contact with animals. You could bring your pet to someone’s lunch break. 
  8. Offer ideas to parents for experiences they can do with their kids across summer vacation. 
  9. Organize a retreat around your personal passion: yoga, fitness, writing, meditation, scrapbooking, etc. You take on the details of arranging lodging, food and activities. Participants pay a flat rate—which you set to cover costs and a profit for you! 
  10. Become a sports explainer. Accompany people to a sporting event and explain what is happening. (They pay a fee and buy your ticket.) 


  1. Write resumes. 
  2. Walk or groom dogs. 
  3. Offer party planning services (it helps to specialize in engagement, children’s birthday parties, showers, etc.) 
  4. Become a voice over artist for professionally read audio books. Check out acx.com
  5. Offer graphic design or virtual assistant services on Upwork.com or Freelancer.com.
  6. Become a notary. 
  7. Provide in-home IT services. 
  8. Serve as a weekend nanny. 
  9. Identify a task that people typically don’t enjoy—but you do—and sell it as a service. 
  10. Consult professionally in any area in which you have expertise to offer. 
The beautiful thing about side hustles is that they don't require a big investment to get started. So decide what you want to offer and start experimenting. You might discover that not only do you reconnect to purpose, but you also fund a nice vacation!

Updates: If you decide you want that vacation to last forever, and need side hustles to take on the road, check out Mitch Glass's post: Best Travel Jobs: 107 Killer Ways to Make Money Traveling. And if you are looking to transition from your first career to a second, read Rosemary Bointon's Boomer's Guide to the Gig Economy

The unexpected reason being a working mom might make you a better one

I used to be fairly certain that my kids would have been happier and healthier with a stay-at-home version of me.

Because, let’s be real — it’s exhausting to work full time in addition to , preparing meals, running to the store, , keeping track of permission slips, attending after-school and weekend sports, and maintaining a mental list of everyone’s current shoe sizes.

Do you know why the female audience of the movie Bad Moms was laughing so hard they were snorting popcorn?

It’s because we could relate.

When my kids were growing up, working-mom-guilt was a perpetual feature in my psyche: that voice in the back of my mind reminded me constantly that my kids would someday be on a therapist’s couch, talking about my failures.

But what if working-mom guilt isn’t justified?

What if the truth is that our expectations of motherhood are just wrong?

Television parenting isn’t real.

Remember June Cleaver, from the 1950’s black-and-white TV show, Leave It To Beaver? The one who cleaned house in her prom dress? She didn’t work at all, and I’m pretty sure her husband, Ward, only put in about 20 hours a week.

The parenting portrayed in shows like Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, Family Matters, Growing Pains and Boy Meets World reflect energetic moms who always have exactly enough time to be there for their children. While there were issues to be navigated, they could always be solved in 30 minutes, and the limited bandwidth of the working mom was rarely addressed.

These templates from television shaped our ideas and expectations of “normal” parenting.

Today’s template shapers are the Pioneer Woman, Joanna Gaines, and…well, everything on Pinterest.

Now, not only are we supposed to be awesome at solving our kids’ problems, nw we have to do it in a room paneled with shiplap and homemade cupcakes on the table that look like Minions.

But the templates that influence us aren’t real.

Think about motherhood on a farm in pioneer days. With 12 kids, no one had time to shiplap anything. The kids raised each other while moms made sure everyone was fed, clothed, bathed, and learned to read, n the margins of the hard work of homestead life. Kids on a farm running around unsupervised have time to experiment. They do dangerous — and often stupid — things. (According to my husband’s stories,there are usually very tall haystacks and arrows involved.)

What about the shop owners that lived above the family store? Kids were sorting, helping customers and sweeping as their parents ordered, stocked and kept the books. They were learning skills from a very early age that would one day make them successful in the family business.

None of these scenarios have moms with 100% focus on their kids.

Kids have to make choices in order to learn about cause and effect.

Kids develop an internal compass when the things they’ve been taught are tested. Rules don’t always apply consistently to every situation. Moms tell their kids, “Don’t run into the street.” This is good advice if your ball just rolled off the curb because a car could be speeding past. But this is terrible advice if a tree falls toward you and that’s your best path of escape.

Complete reliance on rules doesn’t develop a capacity for judgment — which is critical in the split second of a tree vs. rules situation.

What if the limited bandwidth that comes with being a working mom is a gift, because it keeps us from intervening on every problem?

In his breakthrough book, Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud shares the conversation of parents who are meeting with him about their 25-year-old son who is struggling with drugs and unable to hold a job. The parents explain they’ve given him everything. They complain the son feels he doesn’t have a problem.

Dr. Cloud responds, “He doesn’t have a problem. You do. He can do pretty much whatever he wants, no problem. You pay, you fret, you worry, you plan, you exert energy to keep him going. He doesn’t have a problem because you have taken it from him. Those things should be his problem, but as it now stands they are yours.”

When we try to recreate motherhood as portrayed in television sitcoms, we interrupt the pattern of cause and effect. We work against natural karma by taking away the results of our kids’ actions.

We worry that learning things the hard way will warp our kids - but we forget that there is no idyllic childhood.

I had my kids start doing their own laundry as soon as they were tall enough to reach the buttons on the washing machine. It seemed a safe task to offload.

Over the first few weeks, as my son got used to his new responsibility, he often complained that he didn’t have any clean socks.

“Didn’t you wash them?”

“No. I forgot.”

“Then pull some out of the dirty clothes to wear for today; then you can wash them tonight.”

Smelly socks do not equal a tragedy, and wearing them all day helped my son remember that he had to plan ahead in order to have clean ones. (My daughter went through a similar experience when she was tall enough to reach the buttons.) But it wasn’t just the aspect of learning responsibility that was good for my kids. Doing their own laundry also gave them a better mom.

By helping with the very simple household chore, they took something off my plate - which gave me the gift of more energy and time.

We never tied money to the idea of doing chores. In our family, you did chores to help all of us. We gave our kids an allowance disconnected from work so they could learn to manage money. The amount was age-appropriate, increasing each year, and it was 100% their responsibility to figure out what to do with it. (As parents, we learned which of our kids was a spender and which was a saver, which allowed us to provide additional coaching.)

Kids who have to live with the results of their own choices become independent and unafraid to make decisions. 

The best tools for alleviating mom-guilt are morning and evening routines.

Childhood isn’t all about learning responsibility. It’s also about learning that you are loved, and that you are part of something.

Linda Mason shares a brilliant strategy in her Working Mother’s Guide to Life. In it, she says that the best ways to create the culture of your family are in your morning and evening routines.

Why routine? Because love and connection are created in the little things we do over and over.
The bedtime stories.

Bath time.

Meals at a table together (even if it’s just pizza delivery).

The things you say to each other before leaving for work and school each day.

How breakfast is done.

Inside family jokes. (My husband and son now have matching tattoos around one of our inside jokes.)

Games played around the table. (Poker had a $1 buy-in at our house — part of the reason our kids needed an allowance.)

The text messages you send.

Holiday traditions.

Repetition creates culture, and with a strong family culture, our kids will know there is somewhere they really, truly belong.

Also - the beauty in the repetition of routines is that if we miss one, it doesn’t wipe out all the other days. Which is important…

Because sometimes, we are seriously going to drop the ball.

Have you ever left your kid at an event?

I have.

I was running from thing to thing on autopilot and Bethany asked if she could go with me to choir practice. Knowing there was childcare, I agreed and took her with me. She hung out with other kids while I sang.

Then I got in my car and went home.

I was sitting on the couch drinking iced tea when my husband asked, “Where is Bethany?”

“She’s in the shower,” I replied hearing the water running.

“No,” he said, concerned. “That’s Chase in the shower. Bethany is with you.”

My heart dropped into my stomach as i jumped back in the car and frantically headed back to get my daughter.

A lady was waiting with her in the lobby.

“We tried to call and couldn’t reach you.” (It was the 90’s. Stupid dial up internet.)

I thanked her profusely and took my daughter home.

Was that experience traumatic for Bethany? Yes.

But now, she loves to tell that story and watch me cringe.

The reality is that we are going to drop the ball as moms. And while our love helps shape our kids, it is the total screw-ups that shape us. (And tend to hang around as family stories…)

Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel guilty about all the times I was on a conference call and couldn’t pick up to answer my kids. (My son, who now has his own career, told me recently he realized just how tough it must have been to field all those kid-calls during a work day because they were bored, didn’t want to eat the groceries I’d purchased, or needed a referee for a sibling dispute.)

I wince when I remember all the times I became Banshee-Mom because the frustration of negotiating with middle schoolers became too much. But the truth is, those aren’t the moments that defined my parenting.

The routines did.

There is no work-life balance. There is just life.

We can’t leave work and don a June Cleaver persona the minute we walk through the door and create a TV sitcom life. And even if we could, we shouldn’t want to.

We can give love without having to solve all the problems in 30 minutes.

So lose the guilt, focus on the love, and come up with some kick-ass morning and evening routines. We need them to counterbalance the screw ups.

And stop stressing about your own limited bandwidth. It might just be that it’s a gift to keep us from protecting our kids from the very things that will make them into the people they were always meant to be.
Want more? Check out Mom Brain is Real! 5 Ways a Journal Can Help You Survive It

Want a better career? Stop chasing jobs.

Did you know exactly what you wanted to do when you graduated college?

I did.

Until I worked at that job for a year and found I hated it.

Are you in a job that you love now? Does it have a sense of purpose?

While a few lucky souls know exactly what they want to do, the rest of us take the opportunities that come our way and make the most of them until we stumble into something that fits us.

What if we don't have to stumble into something better somewhere down the road? What if we can be more proactive than that?

After all, we want to be in jobs we love, working with people we respect, feeling like we are doing something that matters. It's just that sometimes it feels impossible to get from here to there.

Let's change that.

Why we may be looking at this all wrong. 

What do you think of when you think of looking for a job? Scouring CareerFinder? Looking at an industry job board? We've been trained to seek out jobs.

But, jobs are singular. They are competed over.

What if we could go off-road and approach this another way? 

To frame this, I have to ask a question: did you ever get a position through information that came outside of normal channels? Maybe through a "friend of a friend"?

Often, the best positions aren't the ones in a list available to everyone. They are the leads we receive from people who know us.  Leads we might not find on our own.

When we stop chasing jobs and instead cultivate relationships with the type of people we want to work with, we can build a great career. However, it requires a much different strategy than optimizing our resume or surfing through job boards.

If you don't feel like you are connected to the type of people who will connect you with the work you most want to do, here are six ways to change that.

6 ways to get yourself into a career-building ecosystem

The default is to stay in the circle you are already in, connected to people you already know. But, that won't change your access to opportunities. With intention and a bit of action on your part, you can put yourself in a place where you can meet people who will connect you to better opportunities.

1. Join a professional organization, then volunteer to serve on a committee or organize an event.

If you like the industry you are in, but aren't crazy about your current title or position, a professional organization can connect you to people with opportunities. Of course, it isn't enough to just join, you need to place yourself in a position to get to know people well.

The best way to do that is either to serve on a committee, join a task force or volunteer to help organize an event. Whatever the "work" of the organization is, they need volunteers to run it. Signing up puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with people doing the work which not only connects you to those people, but also to everyone they know.

You don't have to be shy about jumping in. Most organizations have more work than they have volunteers. You might be surprised where your service takes you.

2. Find the hobbyists and learn with them. 

Whether you are deeply into rock climbing, tennis, model trains or ukulele music, there are people from a wide variety of careers that share your passion. Hobbies are an easy way for people to connect over shared knowledge or passion.

If your current hobby group isn't full of people who have careers that interest you, then find where those hobbyists hang out. Do you need to invest a bit of money to join a rock climbing gym? Could you volunteer with an arts organization? Hobbies are an easy entry to conversation, and you never know where those conversations might go or who you might meet.

Another spin on this is to invest money in training to build a hobby-skill into a potential new job-skill. Things like coding boot camp, writers groups, and public speaking workshops can offer the opportunity to connect face-to-face with people who have different connections to your own.

3. Ask for advice from someone who is living the life you want to live.

We don't always know where the job-rich ecosystems are, or how to get into them. But if there is someone you observe who is living a lifestyle you would like to live, ask them to share their story.

- How did they start on their current career path?

- What advice do they have on getting a coach or a mentor?

- What are they doing now to get to the next level?

- How did they first start to meet the people who inspire them?

While no two career paths are ever the same, there is a lot to be learned by people who have already traveled them.

4. Make a bold move and radically change your connections.

Jon Morrow, in his post How to Accomplish Big Things Even When You Feel Small, shares that he refused to hang out with other disabled or impoverished people. "Not because I thought I was “better” than them, but because they represented what I was, rather than what I wanted to become. To replace them, I found a real estate club I could join for only $100 per year, and I brazenly asked the top investors in the club if they would take me to lunch and answer my questions. Amused by the cocky kid in a wheelchair, they agreed, and suddenly I was spending 2-3 hours a day with millionaires. By the end of the year, I thought of myself as one of them, not because I was rich, but because I now spent more time with them than anyone else."

5. Create your own internship

Working for free (aka interning) can both earn you experience and get you close to the people adjacent to your dream job. This isn’t about applying for normal internships through normal channels. This is about finding a way to commit significant chunks of time working for free for the people that you eventually want to hire you. Identify the company you want to work with. Tell them of your ambition. And put forward a job description along with your hours of availability on the table.

What does this look like? Well, if your aspirations are to work with animals it might be volunteering to walk dogs or clean kennels. If you want to be a copy writer, it might be about submitting free ideas or articles on a regular basis. If you want to be in marketing, it might be about volunteering to do data entry.

Getting to work for free for someone isn’t as easy as it sounds. After all, there will be supervision investment on the part of the company you are volunteering for and there might be some skepticism about your motives. But if you get in, you give people the chance to see you in action. Being extremely helpful can pay big dividends. When you set it up, make sure you have an exit strategy. Commit to do it for 13 weeks or six months. When they ask you what you want in return, let them know you want to use them as a reference.

6. Recruit a mastermind group

Napoleon Hill launched the idea of mastermind groups about 75 years ago in his book, Think and Grow Rich. People have been creating their own spins on the idea ever since for personal development. The idea is to recruit a group of people focused on personal growth and success, then meet with them on a regular basis for brainstorming, encouragement and creative thinking.

The best mastermind groups are based in diversity so that each person brings a different experience and outlook to the group and they are small enough to support conversation—somewhere between four and eight people. Each person has time during the meeting to bring up what they are working on and to leverage the collective intelligence of the group to help them move forward.

So where do you plan to start? 

How is your current ecosystem? Do you need to do some work? Of all of these ideas, which one do you feel like you could begin right now?

Crafting your own career-building ecosystem is a much more powerful way to build your career than being at the mercy of whatever is posted to a job board. And sometimes, the actions don't even move you to a different company.  Sometimes, it helps you build something great with the resources you already have within reach.

Five Things to Do This Week if you Suspect a Layoff is in your Future

The signs are there.

The company announced dramatically reduced earnings. There are rumors of “restructuring”. You have a boss who is too busy to meet with you.

While an impending layoff can make us feel helpless, there are things you can do to give yourself options if the “pink slip” is inevitable.

Here are five things to do this week if you suspect a layoff might be in your future:

1. Assess your career capital.

What skills and experience do you have that people pay for? Most of us can list four easily. 1) The role we’ve been filling. 2) Our education. 3) Software we know how to use. 4) Some internal quality like “self-motivated” or “great with people.”

Then we hit a hard stop. What else are we good at?

There are some great assessments, like Gallup Strengths Finder or the more in depth (and more costly) Johnson O’Connor Aptitude Test, or the free Career Enjoyment assessment, but what if another method is simply to sit down and figure out how what we do that creates value?

Here are four targeted questions to help you name the skills you have that bring value:
  1. What do you do that directly contributes to money being earned by your firm? 
  2. What have you done that improved efficiency? (Helped your firm bring in more money with less resources) 
  3. What do you do that helps other people bring in money to the firm? (This might be training, support, administrative, research…anything that makes others more valuable.) 
  4. What do you do that would be difficult for a company to replace? (This will help you identify things that are niche and hard to get.) 
Assessing your career capital will give you the content you need so that you can update your resume—and it is better to do this now. It gets harder to think about once you are actually laid off. 

2. Document your network—then reach out.

While stealing your company’s client list is unethical—and potentially illegal—documenting your own business relationships is a different story.

One of the best ways to maintain your own professional network is through LinkedIn. Hopefully, your connections are curated (ie. you didn’t just “friend” everyone.) If not, now is your time to focus on the people you’ve actually met that could help you professionally.

Go broad with who you reach out to. All you need is a quick check in. Something like, “We haven’t spoken in a while. How are you?” Then connect again with those who respond and ask for advice. Depending on their role they may have industry intelligence on who is hiring—or if they know you more personally—they may be able to write a recommendation or serve as a reference.

It is easier to make these kinds of inquiries while you are still employed, so jump on it. 

3. Check your wardrobe.

People are swayed by how they perceive you, so pay attention to your professional image—including the way you dress. Right or wrong, we all form impressions based on what someone is wearing.

While it may not affect whether your name shows up on the list of cuts, it can subtly influence how people recommend you after the cuts are made. It can also influence what leads are given to you by people outside of your company. Professional clothing won’t make you a better employee, but it can make you look like one.

It would be unwise to run up your credit cards in the wake of an impending layoff, so simply focus on the best of whatever is already in your closet, or hit a thrift store to upgrade some basics.

4. Write a single paragraph that describes who you want to be in two years.

We all get locked into ways of seeing ourselves based on our current surroundings. Take the time to write about yourself as if you are two years in the future. It needs to be true, but aspirational. For example, if you are marketing manager who wishes you did more graphic design, your paragraph might begin with: “I’m a skilled graphic designer who enjoys working in a fast paced agency environment.”

This can be a powerful exercise to help you identify what you want, and it will change your vocabulary when you talk with people about the type of work you want to pursue next.  You might even use it as your summary paragraph on your LinkedIn profile.

5. Leverage your social media.

Social media can be a powerful tool in getting you to your next position. How many times have you met someone who got a job through a friend of a friend? You can make those connections work for you with a few simple steps.

1. Communicate with your profile picture. Use a profile picture that communicates how you want people to see you professionally. (This doesn’t mean that every picture of you needs to be in a suit, but it might mean you lose the one of you in a swimsuit toasting with a beer bottle.)

2. Search your name.
Open an incognito browser (Ctrl+Shift+N) and search for your name. What comes up? Chances are that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn come up on the first page. Click the links. If you didn’t know yourself, what would you think based on what you see? Do you need to post better content? 

If something comes up that you would rather not have associated with you, drown it out. Purchase your name as a domain (.me is a popular option), then make it your online resume.  It will usually come up on the front page, unless you share a name with a pop star--in which case you probably don't have to worry about something unflattering coming up about you at all.

3. The day you are laid off, let people know. In the event you are actually one of the people cut, make an upbeat post about it. (Desperation drives people away. Optimism makes them think they can recommend you and you won’t bleed on their contacts. Weird, I know.) Everyone knows that layoffs are hard. You might be surprised at who steps up to help you.

Four Surprisingly Effective Strategies for Dealing with Difficult People at Work

You know the one.

That person whose name you dread reading in an e-mail. The one you let go to voice mail so you can brace yourself before talking with them in real life. The one who makes your blood pressure rise just a little when they take a chair at a meeting next to you.

Most of the time, we don't get to pick the people we work with. Difficult clients and co-workers are just part of the equation.

And they come in a variety of types all designed to suck the life out of us. A few examples:
  • Steve, the obstructionist. Steve is a big ball of "no." Regardless of what your team is trying to achieve on a given day, Steve will be the obstacle.
  • Judy, the complainer.  Her dripping of negative commentary makes the world feel like a terrible place to be.  (Judy is closely related to Playwright Mike, whose every story is a tragedy starring him.) 
  • Rachel, the master manipulator. Every conversation winds up with you accidentally committing to something that meets her priorities while sidelining your own. 
  • Kevin, the incompetent. You need to be able to throw the ball to him and have him catch it, but that is never going to happen. Not only that, but Kevin is full of excuses as to why he didn't get things done. 
  • Kassandra, the rager. You never know what is going to spring her trip wire. 
  • Carl, the critic. Regardless of how amazing the idea is that you just put on the table, Carl will zoom in to highlight the insignificant item that isn't absolutely perfect. Almost every move Carl makes is designed to make himself look good and others look inferior. 
While dealing with difficult people is an unchangeable fact of life, there are some surprisingly effective strategies to switch the game regardless of the variety of difficult person you are dealing with.

1. Narrow your focus. Identify your goal. 

Making your goal to get a difficult person to change is a Herculean task—one that drains your energy and has a negligible success rate.

Dropping the fantasy that it is even possible, changes how we come up with solutions. So narrow the focus to what you have influence over and identify your goal.

Here's what that looks like in different contexts:
  • With Steve, the obstructionist, you want to be able to get things done. 
  • With Judy, the complainer (or Playwright Mike), you want to work in a positive environment. 
  • With Rachel, the manipulator, you want to quit being railroaded. 
  • With Incompetent Kevin, you want to prevent mission failure. 
  • With Kassandra, the rager, you want to not have to walk on eggshells in meetings. 
  • With Carl, the critic, you want collaboration and contribution in healthy ways. 
If we can narrow our focus to zoom in on what we actually want, we stop the futile brainstorming on how to make the difficult person better (an impossible task), and begin to put energy toward meeting our actual goal.

2. Solve for what you want, but treat the person as a fixed variable in the equation. 

If you were solving the problem of getting what you want without the emotion attached to it, what would you do? Remember that the person is a fixed variable in the equation. They are not going to magically get fired or suddenly move to Morocco.

What are your options if there is absolutely nothing you can do to impact the difficult person?

Let's go back to one of our examples:
  • Judy is a huge complainer—and she sits right next to you.  Every day her dripping of negative commentary drains your energy.  What do you want? To be able to work in a positive environment. 
While you have the option of confronting Judy, most of the time negative thinking is so ingrained in people that they can't see it. (As a general rule, telling someone they are not self-aware isn't helpful.)  If Judy is always going to be toxic, what can you do to get to a more positive work environment? 
  • You might be able to rearrange your office space to have less physical contact with Judy. 
  • You could apply for that promotion. 
  • You could try working from home.
  • You could throw on some headphones and stream more positive messaging.
  • You can create strong psychological boundaries at work and limit your interaction.
  • You could walk away when Judy starts in on her whining. (We are programmed socially not to do this. It isn't nice. But complaining isn't nice either.) 
  • You could look for a new position with a different company. 
Another example: 
  • Kevin is just incompetent. You need to be able to throw the ball to him and have him catch it, but that is never going to happen. Not only that, but Kevin is a blamer and is full of excuses as to why he didn't get things done. What do you want? To prevent mission failure.  
Hopefully at some point Kevin gets fired—but you can't count on that, especially if Kevin is the owner's nephew or if he is really good at playing a shell game with his responsibilities.  If Kevin is always going to be incompetent, what can you do to prevent mission failure? 
  • You could get creative with your budget and find a way to outsource some of Kevin's tasks. 
  • You could go around Kevin and do it yourself so the mission is met. 
  • You could check your bias and see if Kevin is really incompetent at everything, or just some things. 
  • You could be proactive put redundancies in place to protect from failure. 
  • You could implement reminders for the team that happen to help Kevin out (or out Kevin). 
  • You could speak with your boss about where the points of failure are without actually complaining about Kevin.
  • You could look to transition to a different team. 
Solving for what we want without attempting to "fix" the person, gives us far more possibilities. But it isn't easy. By the time someone gets to "difficult person" status in our head (or more disparaging terms that probably shouldn't be typed out here) there is already a lot of emotion attached. The brainstorming is more effective if you can minimize the angst you feel while doing it.

3. Figure out why it triggers you.

Tony Schwartz in his HBR Article, "The Secret of Dealing with Difficult People is About You," writes, "Our core emotional need is to feel valued and valuable. When we don’t, it’s deeply unsettling, a challenge to our sense of equilibrium, security, and well-being. At the most primal level, it can feel like a threat to our very survival."

The reality is that we deal with difficult people all the time, and often, it just slides right by us. Yet, when we encounter someone who especially triggers us, it often touches something that makes us feel threatened in some way.

For example,

Rachel, the manipulator, might make us feel stupid, like we've been tricked. Or she might cause us to feel powerless. Whereas, if we were less emotionally triggered by Rachel, we would likely go back after committing to something and let her know that after more evaluation, we can't take on that project after all. We wouldn't care what she thought about us, and we wouldn't be intimidated by the hard conversation.

Kassandra, the rager, might tap into experiences we had as kids with bullies or with an abusive parent. If we weren't triggered, we would likely see Kassandra as foolish for being so tossed about by her emotions rather than feeling threatened by her rage. (We might also be brave enough to stand up for ourselves and call her on her BS.)

The Momentous Institute has a strategy they teach young children: "Settle Your Glitter." Remember the bouncy balls filled with water and glitter that would get shaken up when you bounced them? Look inside a shaken glitter ball and you can't see through it, but once it settles, you can see clearly to make a good decision.

Noticing why we are being triggered can help us settle our glitter. (As can three minutes of deep breathing.)

4. Find your growth edge. 

If we keep running into the same type of "difficult person," there is a good chance that we are encountering a normal person who just happens to uncover a place we need to grow.

In the examples of Steve, the obstructionist or Carl, the critic, we may need to develop a black belt in communication skills.  Or we might need to improve our process so we weed out concerns before they become objections. Or we may just have to improve our professionalism to a point where we can let the work be the work without feeling like critiques are a commentary on our soul.

Since the difficult person is a fixed variable in the problem, then often the only power we have is to get better ourselves, so that it has less impact. Difficult people can be an invitation to our growth edge as a signal that its time to make a change.

How to Craft a Go / NoGo Strategy for Your Career

Imagine walking into work on a Monday morning feeling the anticipation of doing what you love to do. You are skilled. People value your competence. Not only that, but you feel connected to a purpose bigger than yourself.

Now contrast that with coming in late to work and feeling overwhelmed. Not only do you not feel valued, but you aren’t even sure if the people above you know what you do. Purpose is limited to a mission statement on a wall filled with so many catch phrases that it is difficult to feel you are connected to anything at all.

Smart B2B companies have Go/NoGo protocols to protect them from the kind of work that will take their company under. The Go/NoGo is a list of questions or criteria that help teams decide if the work they are contemplating pursuing is “good work.”

What if you could do the same?

Having a personal Go/NoGo career framework can help you evaluate the opportunities that come to us to help get to work we love.

Go/NoGo protocols can keep us from getting stuck:
  • Working with terrible people. 
  • Working in a way that is contrary to your core wiring and prevents you from growing in competency. 
  • Working in a way that creates misalignment with your time and resources. 
  • Doing unprofitable work. 
  • Feeling discontent because you are disconnected from a mission. 

Here are five things to consider as part of a personal Go/NoGo Protocol:


How do I find a company with good culture?

1. Build a network in order to find the people you want to work with.

While we can do a “best places to work” search on Google and figure out what companies have good corporate culture, it is trickier to find which companies have a great corporate culture for us personally.

Building a network in an industry leads to conversations over drinks or coffee that can connect us with opportunity. Think about it. Every great opportunity that comes to us usually involves a conversation.

It's not enough to know the influential people in our industry, we have to seek them out. If we don’t have a starting place for this, we can join a professional organization. While networking events can be torture for introverts, serving on a committee can give us an easier way in. Organizations are always looking for volunteers and because we wind up volunteering with others, it creates a softer path for relationships rather than shaking hands and exchanging business cards.

2. If you don’t have good culture where you are at, can you become good culture?

While we can’t change bad culture, we can often influence it. Gandhi had a point when he said to “be the change you want to see in the world,” and just as one person can take good culture and sour it, one person can also sweeten it.

The challenge with this strategy is that it takes giving energy in a place that drains it. If you decide to take a position where the culture isn't great, focus on strategies that recharge you outside of work. This is going to become an art on your part where you recharge outside of the office, and use your energy to improve your environment while you are there.

3. Level up your people skills.

One of the big blind spots we have to navigate in our life is how our actions and attitudes impact our experience of the people around us. We can't land in a place with good culture if we won't be a fit when we get there. For most of us, it takes effort to grow our people skills.

People questions that might be part of our Go/NoGo:
  • Is this culture a fit? 
  • Is my network strong enough to get to a better culture? 
  • Can I influence the culture I’m in? 
  • Am I part of the problem? 


How can I be in the right position if I don’t know myself well enough to figure out what makes me valuable?

Self-assessment can be one of your strongest tools in finding the next right position for your career. Knowing yourself—where you are right now—can help you assess the position you want to be in.

1. Figure out what is hard-wired. Some things in us are part of our biology or are hard-wired into our psychology:
  • We are Tiggers or Eyores (optimists or pessimists).
  • We are introverts or extroverts. 
  • We are night people or morning people. 
  • We love to launch new projects or we take great pride in the craftsmanship of finishing one. 
Knowing these hard-wired tendencies in ourselves can reveal if a position isn’t a fit because it violates our core wiring. For example, an introvert with an outreach job gets drained really quickly. For a launcher of projects, the last 20% can feel like torture. Spend time assessing the things you know to be true about yourself that would be very difficult--if not impossible--to change.

2. Figure out what is soft-wired.  Often our skills are soft-wired and just like software on a computer. We can improve our programming. There are multiple ways to do this:
  • We can say yes to opportunities that stretch us.
  • We can get training.
  • We can read books that expand our ideas of what is possible.
  • We can seek a mentor. 
  • We can ask for honest evaluations from our co-workers and use that feedback to make us better. 
Position questions to include in your Go/NoGo evaluation:
  • Do I know myself well enough to understand what position I want? 
  • If there is a mismatch with the opportunity, is it hard-wired or soft-wired? 
  • Do I need to acquire skills to be a match for the opportunity? 


How will I allocate my resources with this opportunity?

Work has an impact on our most important resources: time and energy. Consider that most of us invest the best hours of our day and our highest energetic output with our day jobs. But some commitments take more time and energy than others.

1. If this opportunity is demanding, do I need to free up time and energy resources to pursue it? 

The only way I know to evaluate this is to pull out a spreadsheet and list every single time commitment for work, family, hobbies, friends, organizations, volunteering, etc on a spreadsheet and rank them in terms of if they drain or energize you. Then do your best to get rid of the embezzlers to be able to pursue the opportunity you want to pursue.

2. Figure out your essential “one thing” and de-prioritize all the other things. 
Taking the path of essentialism is liberating. Defining the most important skill we need to acquire, project we need to launch, battle we need to win, or relationship we need to foster keeps us from feeling diluted in our efforts and is the biggest secret for getting off the hamster wheel we feel like we are running on. 

Priority questions to include in our Go / NoGo evaluation:

  • Are my resources aligned with my priorities outside of work? 
  • Will this work bring me balance or take me further out of balance? 
  • Do cuts need to be made so I have more bandwidth? 


Am I receiving a good return on my time investment?

1. Find out what is custom in the marketplace. Many professional associations offer salary surveys for their industry. If there isn’t a recent one available for your area pitch the idea to association leadership and organize a team to create your own.

2. We can negotiate other forms of compensation besides money.
What would it look like to ask for:
  • Reimbursement for cell phone, mileage, childcare or education. 
  • Paid attendance at events or conferences. 
  • Unpaid time off or a paid sabbatical.
  • Creative control.
  • Flexible work hours or more control over where you work.
  • Gym membership.
  • Transit passes or tickets to cultural events.
Alternative compensation can sometimes be easier for companies to provide because they can come from different budgets. The company may also be in a position to purchase some alternative compensation items at a heavy discount because of volume and provide them to employees.

3. Sometimes our ideas about salary are way off. We have an intense emotional connection to external valuations of ourselves. After all, someone is putting a hard number on our worth. Take a look at how you feel about the way you are compensated and see if there is any work you need to do internally to shift your mindset. We can easily under or over estimate our value. It pays to take the emotional component out of it.

4. The best way to ask for a raise, is to ask what we need to do to become more valuable.  The best way I know to get to the income level you desire is to ask what the steps are to get there. No company wants to pay more for the same work. Consider how we feel when our cell phone bill goes up with no change to service. Asking might be a bold move, but it is better than asking for a higher salary without being willing to offer more skill. Once your supervisor gives you direction, go for it. There is no opting out once you’ve put it on the table.

Profit questions to include in your Go/NoGo: 
  • Have I researched comps to make sure the opportunity is aligned with market? 
  • Have I looked at the non-monetary compensation in my career? 
  • Is my internal dialogue keeping me from making more money? 


What about this job would connect me to a purpose bigger than myself?

Everyone wants to do work that matters. But there is a big difference in finding purpose in your career and throwing all of your career capital away to “find your passion.”

Our purpose may be to the company’s highest goals, to the team we work with, or maybe just about growing our skill or influence through an opportunity so we can take the next step. Whatever we are working at, having a sense of purpose gives us more satisfaction in our day jobs.

Sometimes we have a dream or a cause we are committed to outside of our day job and feel frustrated if the job is using up time and energy resources that we feel should go to the dream.
When we are really committed to a purpose outside of work, the best path is to take the smallest possible viable step we can toward our dream and see what happens. We should also consider that our day job may simply be “fund raising” for our core purpose. 

Purpose questions to include in our Go/NoGo:
  • Am I test driving things so that I learn what I really want? 
  • Is there tension between my dreams and the day job? 
  • Could there be creative overlap where I could live a version of my dream in this opportunity?
  • Do I need to launch a minimum viable product for the dream on the side in order to test drive it while still pursuing my career? 
Evaluating career opportunities based on people, position, priority, profit and purpose can help us make decisions on whether an opportunity could be a good fit. And while we don’t know everything about an opportunity until we take it, having a framework to evaluate it can help us better make a decision about taking a leap.

The Epic Post on How to Create Your Personal Branding

While most of us spend our day jobs building the brands of the companies we serve, we also have a personal brand of our own—whether we pay attention to it or not. This post starts from scratch to cover everything from how to win at search, crafting a tagline, deciding what to feature, to identifying personal messaging.

It doesn’t matter if you are freelancer, solopreneur or serve as part of a larger firm, you can create big impact by building your personal brand.

What is your personal brand?

A personal brand is the image people associate with you. While celebrities and starchitects have crafted personal images for years, the digital world has made it more essential for each of us to craft our own.


Because pragmatically, our personal brands are whatever a Google search turns up.

Want to know your current “brand”? Google yourself.

Open an incognito window in your browser [CTRL + SHIFT + n] so that the results aren’t colored by your location and browsing history.

What came up in the search for your own name? Was there anything about you on the front page of the search listing? Did you show up in the images? Does a celebrity own your name eclipsing you from the search entirely?

What would someone who didn’t know you think about you based on what they found?

What if you could shape that?

Improve how you show up in a Google Search (4 quick fixes)

If our personal brand is determined by what shows up when people search for us, then we need to do everything we can to influence it. Here are four quick-fix ways to improve what shows up when someone searches your name.

1. Control Your Headshot.

One of the most immediate influences you can have on your personal brand is to get a single great headshot (or 3-4 related headshots) that captures the image you want to communicate and use it everywhere—for every social media platform you have a profile on, for your website, whenever you have to submit a headshot professionally.

Ideally, you would get this taken professionally, but with some good lighting on your face, you can often get something that works from a smartphone.

When crafting your headshot:

  • Consider the mood of your clothing, hairstyle or any accessories you wear.
  • Consider your expression—is it warm and friendly, cool and serious, whimsical?
  • Consider the backdrop—what associations does it have?
  • Consider what the overall shot communicates to someone who has never met you before.

In order to have the image come up in search, it matters what you name the file. By consistently using firstname-lastname.jpg (or png, or tiff), you improve your chances of having your image come up in organic search. After all, search bots don’t look for images. They see names of files.

2. Buy your name domain and put something on it.

In a perfect world, you would be able to get firstnamelastname.com. But the world isn’t perfect. You may have to settle for .me, .net or any other list of extensions. Search engines prioritize keywords in domain names because typically it means the whole domain is about that topic.

You can purchase your domain through a service like GoDaddy, Google Domains, Host Gator, SquareSpace or another service.

Then, because this is a “quick fix” exercise, you can start with a one-page website. Wordpress, Blogger, SquareSpace, Wix and a few other services are easy-to-use ways to launch your site.

Here are some ideas for great one page websites:

Strong header image with a paragraph linking to the clients or projects you’ve worked with: vikramgandhi.com
Powerful statement, personal image and a list of current and previous projects. http://www.erondu.com/
Your name and a single paragraph with no images: http://jasonbriscoe.com/
Simple and unexpected (use scrollbar to see full design) http://baddesigner.by/
Lighthearted illustration http://redrussak.com/
Large image, call to action and a CV https://rafaelderolez.be/
Custom header, a headshot and some bullet points http://www.cathyhutchison.net/

3. Maximize your LinkedIn profile

Because LinkedIn is such a linked-to site, it will often be the first site that comes up when someone searches for your name. Build out your profile and grab your custom URL so that your name is prioritized. For more advice on how to maximize your LinkedIn profile, sign up for 8 Ways to Maximize Your LinkedIn profile to get a Job You Love.

4. Do something with your Google+ profile.

I know that you probably aren’t using Google+ as your dominant social media profile, but it doesn’t hurt to create your profile since there is a good chance your favorite search engine thinks it is important.

Craft Your Tagline

Most strong brands have memorable taglines that captures the essence of who they are:

  • Apple. Think Different.
  • L’Oreal. Because you are worth it.
  • BMW. The Ultimate Driving Machine.
  • De Beers. A diamond is forever.
  • Lays. Betcha can’t eat just one.

But they also spent a lot of money with agencies crafting those memorable taglines. If you can’t think of a phrase that embodies who you are, you aren’t alone. Luckily, there’s an exercise that can help. The 3 Word Exercise.

You can craft a “for now” tagline based on three words that help communicate what you want people to know about you.

Scan the lists below to see if you can find 3 words that might work well on a social media profile to communicate either who you are or what you do. They can all come from the same list or different lists to craft a 3-word descriptor. (This isn’t an exhaustive list, but is intended to help get you started.)


Accounting, Aerospace, Analytics, Agriculture, Architecture, Brand, Business Development, Client Experience, Communication, Computer, Connection, Construction, Content Creation, Creative, CRM, Design, Digital, Education, Emotionally-Intelligence, Engineering, Event Planning, Financial, Graphic, Healthcare, Illustration, Influence, Information, Language, Management, Manufacturing, Mechanics, Medical, Ministry, Operations, Photography, Productivity, Programming, Promotions, Proposal, Public Relations, Publishing, Pursuit, Revenue-Generation, Programming, Repair, Research, Sales, SEO, Social Media, Software, Team-Building, Technology, Transportation, Troubleshooting, Visualization, Web Development, Writing

Attribute Based

Accurate, Achiever, Adaptable, Adventurous, Analytical, Aspiring, Athletic, Big-Picture, Candid, Caring, Cheerful, Confident, Connected, Consistent, Cooperative, Courageous, Creative, Delightful, Devoted, Direct, Disciplined, Dynamic, Empathic, Energetic, Enthusiastic, Flexible, Focused, Friendly, Funny, Futuristic, Generous, Gregarious, Hard-Working, Harmonious, Helpful, Honest, Hopeful, Imaginative, Inclusive, Individual, Insightful, Intellectual, Interesting, Intuitive, Involved, Joyful, Kind, Loyal, Mature, Motivated, Objective, Observant, Optimistic, Organized, Patient, Perceptive, Persistent, Personable, Positive, Practical, Professional, Quirky, Realistic, Reliable, Resourceful, Responsible, Self-Assured, Strong, Strategic, Systematic, Tenacious, Tough, Trustworthy, Truthful, Upbeat, Vibrant, Warm, Wise


Actor, Adept, Administrator, Advisor, Advocate, Agent, Analyst, Artist, Associate, Attorney, Blogger, Catalyst, Cheerleader, Chef, Commander, Consultant, Curator, Creator, Designer, Director, Entertainer, Entrepreneur, Evangelist, Executive, Expert, Extrovert, Facilitator, Farmer, Geek, Genius, Guru, Hacker, Ideator, Introvert, Jedi, Journalist, Leader, Learner, Maker, Maximizer, Negotiator, Orchestrator, Planner, Producer, Programmer, Speaker, Specialist, Storyteller, Strategist, Teacher, Technologist, Trainer

Some examples based on these lists:

Jane Doe
Creative Digital Design

John Doe
Tough & Trustworthy Attorney

Joe Schmo
Medical Operations Geek

Sally Sixpack
Athletic, Motivated, and Disciplined

The most important part of selecting your tagline is to not worry about perfection. Get something that is close, then one day—when you have a moment of brilliance and something pops in your head—you can update it. Everywhere.

Develop your Differentiation

Have you ever gone to a conference where you met a sea of people, only to get back and not remember anyone? Well wait. Anyone except that one woman in the hat. Or that man who was a Navy SEAL. Or the one from your hometown.

While we all have difficulty remembering names, some details are remarkable because they stand out.

Seth Godin is famous for saying, “Be remarkable or be invisible.” In his book, the Purple Cow, he tells the story that no one talks about brown cows. They are common. But if you are driving past and see a purple cow…well, that you might comment on and remember.

Here are some places you can look for personal differentiation:

Physical Characteristics. Consider how both Danny DeVito and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are known for their stature. Painter, Bob Ross for his afro. Sarah Jessica Parker’s curls. Marilyn Monroe for her bleached blonde hair and mole above the lip. (I didn’t say you had to be born with the characteristics). If you have a physical characteristic that is different from the norm, don’t play it down. Celebrate it and feature it as part of your brand.

Dress and Accessories. Madeline Albright is known for her lapel pins. Michael Jackson for a glove. Prince for the color purple. Elton John and John Lennon for their glasses. The reason they became known for these items is the consistency of use. Even well-branded people who don’t align around a single accessory can often claim a consistent color pallet or style of clothing such as Tilda Swinton’s androgynous neutrals.

Unique History. Jane Goodall is always associated with gorillas. Loretta Lynn was a coal miner’s daughter. Bob Marley embodied Jamaican culture. Jennifer Lopez sang about being “Jenny from the Block.” Sometimes the best place to look for differentiation is in something in our history that defines us.

Personal Quirks. Comedian, Eddie Izzard often has a nod to cross-dressing in his publicity photos. Ellen DeGeneris is always dancing. Miley Cyrus repeatedly sticks her tongue out. Stephen Colbert raises one eyebrow. Quirks can very easily become a trademark.

Hobbies You Are Into. Whether you are obsessed with Bullet Journaling or weekend circus arts, you have the option of wrapping that personal passion into your branding whether it is in the photos that you post, the stories you tell or the descriptors you use on your personal bio.

A niche of people you relate to. Yogis, runners, slam poets, food truck owners and fly fishermen create tribes around their interests. Professionals connect in organizations. You can also have a more serious group you relate to like recovering addicts, survivors of abuse, or people connected by overcoming a disability or disease. There is power in belonging to a tribe and making that part of your personal branding.

Craft a personal message

While differentiation may make you memorable, you have the opportunity for people to associate that memory with a message. You can pick a signature issue—but it has to be authentic to who you really are in order for it to ring true as a personal message.

Look for your personal messaging in:

What you are committed to. Kenneth G. Williams became America’s first vegan bodybuilding champion and Alicia Silverstone also aligned her brand to animal rights. Rapper, Common seeks to empower underprivileged youth to be strong citizens, and Patricia Arquette is focused on equal pay for women as evidenced in her Oscar acceptance speech.

Pain you’ve overcome. Three-foot-tall, Sean Stephenson built a brand around ‘ridding the world of insecurity.’ Monica Lewinsky speaks about the price of shame. Robert Downey Jr, broke the serious drug addiction that kept him from being cast in movies in his younger years.

Challenge that shaped you. Professional surfer Bethany Hamilton-Dirks never hides her missing arm in publicity photos—it is a badge of proof that it is possible to keep doing what you love even after an unthinkable setback.

Way that you help others overcome their challenges. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg (aka. Notorious RGB) broke through glass ceilings at every level of her career inspiring several generations of young women.

Why develop your personal messaging? Because people love stories of possibility and accomplishing good in the world. Besides, we can’t resist a good origin story. We tend to remember them.

If you are having a hard time with this, think back to the stories and ideas you share often that people tend to respond to and connect with. Let that be a clue for where your personal messaging starts.

Work for alignment

The thing about brands is that they are created through consistency. You don’t know the Nike swoosh or “just do it” because you were exposed to it once. You’ve heard that phrase and have seen that swoosh hundreds if not thousands of times.

You will get tired of your photo, tagline, differentiation and message long before it has fully taken hold as a brand.

How to get alignment:
  1. Use the same headshot (or series of closely related headshots) everywhere.
  2. Create a tagline and/or short bio for yourself and use it on every profile you ever create online.
  3. Develop your differentiators and make them part of every image of you.
  4. Decide on your messaging and post around it frequently. Bonus points if you boil it down to a phrase and it either becomes your tagline or shows up in your bio.
  5. Make sure that whatever you post to yourname.com captures your image, tagline, differentiators and messaging.

Examples of normal people with strong personal branding

While it is easy to identify the personal branding of celebrities, to be fair, most of them have stylists and publicists who help. The best examples of “normal” people who are rocking personal branding are the podcasters, bloggers, and new media gurus.

Here are some examples:
  • Seth Godin – note the bold glasses, consistent color pallet and fun expressions
  • Kris Carr – note the natural settings, pink swatch in hair and consistent color pallet
  • Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (The Minimalists) – the brand embodies the message
  • Jeff Sanders – note the consistent tagline, message and images
  • Drew Canole– note the consistency of personal image and a brand aligned around vibrancy
  • Kara Benz (aka BohoBerry) – note the consistent color pallet and the simple tagline "get inspired."

Inspired to upgrade your personal brand? Get started!

Actually implementing your personal brand is the place where many of us get stuck in “paralysis by analysis.” The beauty of the digital world—however—is that you can do this incrementally. Best of all, getting started is easy.

  1. Sit down with a piece of paper and write down some ideas.
  2. Test drive the ones you like.

The thing about personal branding is that it doesn’t have to stay static. You can shift it over time.

And the best part? If you try something you decide you don’t like, changing it is only a click away.

So what's the point of all of this? Why do we need to shape our personal brand? 

Because if you don't.  Someone else will do it for you. You are at the mercy of the search engines.

Owning your own image gives you more control over the impressions that people see and consequently, the opportunities that will come to you in your career.

  • Your personal brand can make you attractive to potential employers. 
  • Your personal brand can make you known in an industry. 
  • Your personal brand can make you a better business developer. 
  • Your personal brand can shape how much clients will pay for your services. 

So what are you waiting for? Upgrade your personal brand.

11 Ways to Say No Professionally

Common advice says that if we want to alleviate stress, we have to learn to say 'no.' But often we feel like we can’t say 'no'—especially at work.


For one thing, we are programmed to say “yes.” We each have at least a 12-year history of completing term papers, handing in homework and—in general—finishing all of the tasks assigned to us if we wanted to pass.

Not only that, but most of us who are successful at what we do didn’t get there by refusing to do the job. We stay late, work through lunch, answer e-mails on the weekends--never noticing how much the lack of boundaries impacts how we feel about work until we are really, really miserable.

If being able to manage our lives is essential to our happiness, then we have to up our game when it comes to declining things that use up our personal resources of time and energy.

Here are 11 ways to say 'no' professionally:

I would like to help you with that. I have some competing deadlines [this, this, this]. Could you help me prioritize them?

There is a good chance that when a superior asks us to do something, they have no idea how much time it will take us to complete the task, nor do they understand our other responsibilities (even if they are the one who assigned them). Agreeing we are willing to do the task diffuses any sense of resistance in our response; and asking for help, enlists our boss in aligning what needs to be done with the resources available to do it which creates understanding.

I don’t have bandwidth to take that on. Let’s brainstorm another way we could get this done.

Sometimes no amount of prioritizing is going to help us fit a task into an already overburdened production schedule. Just saying 'no' can launch a negotiation with the other person into how you might possibly fit it in. By redirecting the conversation to focus on other resources, you create new possibilities that don’t involve you. Plus, you get the added benefit of being seen as a solution rather than a closed door.

I am honored that you thought of me for that, but in order to do it I would have to say no to some other things that are a priority right now.

Being presented with good opportunities that are not aligned with our highest priorities, can be tricky--especially if it is an opportunity that might be advantageous in the future or if we are being asked by someone we respect. Our tone has to acknowledge, the value of the opportunity and placing the qualifier “right now” in the mix lets the offerer know that we aren’t dismissing it completely. (Of course, if we know we are never going to be interested, we should leave that qualifier off.) If appropriate, offer to come up with ideas of comparable candidates and send the list the same week.

I don’t have time to chat right now, want to have lunch later? Or, I’m working on a deadline right now. Could I come talk with you in a couple of hours? 

One of the most important uses of the word 'no' at work is in preventing random conversations from impacting our ability to complete tasks during work hours. That doesn’t mean that social conversations aren’t important. In fact, they can be vital in maintaining healthy relationships on the team. We simply need a strategy for keeping them in check when we need to. So, defer the conversation and keep getting things done.

Thanks for sharing those suggestions. For this project, we need to follow a prescribed path. [Describe the path, if appropriate.]

When we are leading something, we have the responsibility of making the call, and that requires saying 'no' to all of the other options. (Did you know that the word ‘decide’ is from the Latin root decidere, which is a combination of two words meaning to ‘cut off’? We literally cut off the other options.) When we have to say no to someone else’s ideas, it helps to start by verbally recognizing that those ideas have value. However, we don’t have to refute those ideas or argue the merit of ours. We simply have to highlight the path that has been decided on.

I am so sorry. I have really overcommitted myself and I have to withdraw. (Don’t just drop this. Walk in with a plan.) 

Have you ever committed to something only to realize it was a huge mistake? Many times we just soldier on, building resentment when the better strategy would be to quit. The key to this method of saying 'no' is to walk in with a plan either with the agreement of someone who will take our place or another creative solution that eliminates our position entirely. This path requires some time to execute, but can produce the biggest win in alleviating a time and energy drain.

While I can’t create this, I’d be happy to review it.

Sometimes the best way to say ‘no’ is to offer to participate without being the creator of something. We trade a large time commitment for a smaller one. Other versions of this strategy include: While I can’t lead the big project, I’d be happy to contribute this small task; or while I can’t organize the event, I’d be happy to promote it to my friends; or while I can’t chair the committee, I’d be happy to serve as a member.

What would my role be on this project? Or, what would you like my role to be at this meeting?

People can wind up including us on projects and in meetings when it isn’t actually strategic to do so. And while we may not have a position where we can say ‘no’ to the assignment, we can ask to clarify what it is that we are expected to produce. Sometimes the conversation reveals to us a big picture angle we didn’t see and other times the conversation reveals to the requestor that we don’t really need to be part at all.

Send me the details so I can make a decision.

Often we don’t know the full impact of what we are committing to in the moment that it is being asked. We need some time to read and process the fine print. Just because someone asks for a commitment in real time doesn’t mean we have to give the response in real time. In fact, it is often to our benefit to delay. (Such as in a car dealership.)

Is this the best investment?

Rather than saying ‘no’, we can sometimes just ask a better question than the one we are being asked. I once presented a marketing initiative that required a $10,000 budget. My boss was brilliant in his response. He didn’t say ‘no.’ He simply asked, “If we are going to spend the $10,000, is this the most strategic way we could spend it to reach our goal?” The answer to that question? No. The difference was, that I was the one who supplied the ‘no.’


Far too many times we are not being asked to contribute anything at all, yet we jump in with a solution that contributes our time and energy when we really don’t have those resources to give. Just because we have the skills that are needed doesn’t mean we have to be the one to supply them. Sometimes, the best way to say ‘no’ is simply by not volunteering.

Lost a passion for your job? Here are 4 proven ways to recapture meaning.

Remember that first day in your new job? It was so full of promise. In fact, you were probably thrilled when you learned you got the position.

Over time, we can lose that sense of possibility and feel trapped by the very job we were excited to get.
If you find that you’ve lost the sense of meaning in what you do, here are four proven ways to get it back:

Recapture areas of autonomy.

In Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he highlights the example that children play and explore all on their own. That each one of us is created with inner drive. He also shares in his book that one of the keys to maintaining our inner drive is having a sense of autonomy in our work.

Susan Fowler writes in the Harvard Business Review, “Autonomy is people’s need to perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions.”

While few of us have complete autonomy in our jobs, the more we have, the easier it is for us to experience meaning and engagement. If you are suffering a lack of autonomy, look for the areas where you can recapture it. You may be able to ask for greater creative input, more influence over your schedule, impact on how certain things are done or even the ability to make changes to the space you physically work in. Often, it isn’t even a matter of asking for permission. We can identify an area and take responsibility.

Take a hard look at the tasks you do.

It is hard to feel connected to meaning when our days are eaten up by seemingly meaningless tasks.

Pulling back and thinking through what the real need is that we are trying to meet, then doing a “task audit” usually reveals a number of things we give energy to that don’t serve that high purpose. Of course, it helps if you have a sense of the mission for your job. If your company is convoluted in that area, you can craft your own. For example, if you are in marketing, you can see your job as helping provide for the families that work there.

Taking the time to figure out which tasks would serve the high goals takes some creativity. But if you are going to have the conversation with your team about making changes to the tasks you do, it is essential to be able to walk in with possible solutions.

Reframe your role.

“When it comes to purpose at work, there are three core drives that will determine whether we feel fulfilled in what we’re doing," writes Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy, "who we serve, how we serve them and why we serve them.”  

We can get in a rut of just seeing our little piece of the world forgetting that it fits into a bigger picture.

“The happiest people feel like they’re needed,” says David Brooks, an NY Times Columnist who studies satisfaction at work. Brooks shares the story of a study of hospital custodial workers where some described their work as cleaning up after people, while other workers described it as creating a safe environment for patients. “If your attitude is about that service, you just have a happier job and a more meaningful job,” Brooks says.

How we tell the story of what we do matters. Not only can it influence our own mental view, but it can also shift how others see us as well.

Tell the voice inside your head to 'shut up'

Most of the time the stress levels of high achievers are internally generated. All of the self-critiquing and judgmental thoughts we have about ourselves create unnecessary pressure--and frequently have nothing to do to with what has to get done or the way the people we work with see us.

We can get caught up comparing ourselves with friends at other firms, co-workers, people with more experience--or even just what we see on a daily basis via Facebook. That critical voice draws attention from the meaning in our job and puts it squarely on us--shifting our reason for working from meaning and purpose to our own egos. (Yes, I may be writing from personal experience here.)

And ego-driven service almost always burns out.

So, the next time you start to feel that anxiety, shift the focus back to the people you are serving. That shift forces us to stop defining our identity based on our performance and has the power to reconnect us to the meaning of why we do what we do.
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