Mind The Gap

mind the gap photoHave you been out of work?

Many people have. The gap may have been a month while following a spouse for a move across the country or for a year or more to raise children. While shorter gaps are less likely to raise eyebrows, gaps longer than 6 months may provoke questions. Many employers will likely not be overly concerned about gaps in your resume unless they are unexplainable so be prepared with an answer if your time off work is questioned.
Work experience gaps can be caused by a variety of reasons but the reason most people would think of is being downsized (or fired) and not having another job lined up. Having a child and staying out of work to care for it, having an accident or other surgery and needing time to recover, needing to care for an elderly relative, or following a spouse across the country or the world for their new work opportunity are all other situations which you may not plan on occurring until they actually do.

Let me tell you how I experienced three of these situatons. First, in 1994, my husband was asked to work out of his company’s London office for a few years. I was happily employed with a bright future at a great company but I, rather unwillingly, quit to move abroad. Second, when we returned to the US a few years later, we started having children. Several maternity leaves in a row led me to decide to work for myself and from home in order to have the flexibility needed with 3 children under age 5. Fast forward a few years, and our family moved to Munich, and then back to the US, and then to the Netherlands, all for my husband’s job. We arrived back in the US in 2012 and then in April of 2013, a 42′ tree fell on me which required multiple surgeries and 2 years of occupational therapy visits. While I have not been called upon to care for elderly parents yet, I expect that to happen sometime down the line.

Two years in London, a year in Munich, three years in Amsterdam, 2 years for recovering from an accident and numerous years for childcare could have potentially left numerous and large gaps in my resume but they did not. In fact, if you look at my resume you will see no indications of any of these events

When I lived in London, my “gap filler” consisted of working as a consultant and doing many short-term projects for various US Based companies. This is a great way to fill a gap and continue getting experience but usually relies heavily on contacts to make it work and you end up relying on others to be successful. If I had arrived there and not found consulting projects, I would have had a gap of several years.

You can take things into your own hands by creating products. Creating products does not mean you give up part-time consulting efforts or contract work but instead help ensure that you have multiple streams of income which can be key, especially if you are out of work. Even if that income is very small, it doesn’t really matter since this “job” can fill your gaps.

What kind of products are we talking about? The things you are most familiar with are probably eBooks and Webinars but there are many options you can start on right now and that it key. Did you ever hear the saying “Plant Your Seeds Before You Need Shade?” (or the slightly different version of the Greek proverb about old men planting trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in, but I like this version better.) Creating products before you need to fill a gap is key since once you are in a gap, you are going to need at least a little time to complete it. Even if you are not going to go all out and get a product out there right now for people to buy, you can at least come up with the idea, start a website and have a draft so you are ready to go when the time comes.

Need an idea? Use what you already have. If you have been working for awhile you no doubt have gained some knowledge and expertise in a particular area. What topic could you write or speak easily about? You already know more than you think you do.
When developing your idea and product, think about your objectives. Do you simply want a way to keep your skills fresh, fill your resume gap or do you want to make money? How much are you willing and able to finance your product? Are you hoping your product will produce job leads? Will your product help with your personal branding and thereby help you to market yourself? Think about what you want to accomplish through your efforts before you start.

Are you getting excited? Creating products can be a lot of fun especially if you have a creative side and love trying new things but even if you don’t, that’s okay. You can still get this done.

There is another tree related quote by Abraham Lincoln I like to share: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” To translate this into product development, spend double the time preparing to create your product as you do actually creating it. What does this mean? If you take the time upfront for prep work including finding and securing a domain name, setting up a landing page or webpage, gathering a list of possible customers, getting a PayPal account, desiging the packaging or cover and then getting the cover as a 3D image for marketing purposes, you will have everything in place once your product is complete. You can even do a lot of these things simultaneously. Hire someone to design your cover for example and while they work on that for a few days, work on your product. Developing the actual content is likely going to be easier for you than putting all of the other pieces in place since your product is based on your existing knowledge and all of this other stuff is new.

Once your product is complete, decide what you want to do with it. Let’s go back to your objectves. Is this meant to fill a gap in your resume? If so, start crafting a name for this temporary “job” and a description showing off your talents and update your resume. If you hope to make some money, put on your marketing hat and start doing market research in ernest.

Now the time has come to create your product. If you did your prep work and already have a simple webpage set up, and you have your image files, and you have been working on a contact list, you can get started right away. There are so many options for each of these steps that I can’t cover them all here but will try to address them in a future post but if you really want to get going, check out GoDaddy’s website builder. If you get your domain name through GoDaddy, you can get a website for free for 30 days. I have created many websites using many of the free and paid providers and GoDaddy is one of the easiest. You don’t need a credit card to try it out (and it’s fully functioning for the 30 day trial period) so you really have nothing to lose.

The idea behind this post was to encourage you to take what you know, turn it into a product and then use it to fill a gap in your resume. Of course there are ways to make money from products but no one will ever know if you never made a sale. But, you will have something to show for your time out of work and that will show that you kept your skills sharp and stayed in the game. Creating a product as a temporary job will give you something to show on your resume during gap periods plus has the added benefit of providing future employers a way to check out your work too. Of course the best time to work on your products is before you need to benefit from them but the option is yours. Plant your seeds before you need shade, and that gap won’t matter at all.

One Bad Comment

commentI woke up this morning in a pretty good mood, confident and excited to to tackle the day. I started like I always do (but shouldn’t) reading through my email. I had received an email containing the evaluation results of a recent presentation I had delivered in Indiana where I had volunteered to speak at a conference. I was not happy, and somewhat shocked at what I read. Someone did not like my presentation! I know….it happens…and not everyone is going to like you or what you have to say all the time but one bad comment was enough to throw off my day.

For the next few hours, I thought about replying to the email in an attempt to defend myself. Then I got angry thinking about the not insignificant money I spent to attend this conference (airfare and hotel) thinking of course that I would not return. My last 3 presentations since then have gone great (actually I thought the Indiana presentation did as well) but now I felt uneasiness creeping over me. I had not yet received those evaluations and began to wonder what my future holds if others didn’t like me too. I tell myself — not everyone could get up there and do what I and many other presenters do multiple times per year. This does not help and I still feel like I’ve been knocked down a few pegs.

I am a reluctant speaker. I study presentation skills, I practice (and then practice some more) and I spend hours on the details. I am not someone who just shows up and fees entitled to be up on a stage. I still feel like someone punched me in the stomach before I speak in front of a group. In the hours before a presentation, I consistently ask myself why I do this. But I do. I believe in my message and my goal is that what I have to say will help to save lives, or at least prevent accidents, so I volunteer, I prepare like crazy, I show up early and check out the equipment and speaking space to make sure there are no unknowns that coud screw things up, and then I go on and do my best.

Once I’m going I actually really enjoy myself and the audience is usually laughing and engaged. Audience members talk to me afterwards about the content and follow up with email telling me how much they enjoyted being there and that feels great. But, I know that there was probably a person or two who will have sometrhing negative to say and this is what I focus on. It’s like having a giant plate of delicious pasta in front of you but then you see one stray hair on the side of the plate. All of the other deliciousness is gone and you focus on the one bad thing. That one bad thing takes over your mind and it’s all you can think about. The one bad comment is the hair in my pasta.

A few years ago I decided that I was not going to read the evaluations from my speaking engagements. I know, this goes agaist every self-improvement bit of advice I have ever read about the importance of feedback, but that was my answer. For about a year, I would consciously ignore the feedback that came my way. I have to say I think this helped. Instead of feeling deflated for a week after reading one bad comment, I would continue on my merry way, doing the best work I could without going over and over in my mind what I might have done wrong. I slowly started to look at evaluation summaries again but only at the summaries and not individual comments. This method gave me feedback but didn’t affect my psyche as much.

Somehow during the last year, I began reading each and every comment again and I’m starting to think that was a mistake. Inevitably, there is a person who did not enjoy what I had to say or how I said it. Not knowing the names associated with the post-presentation comments, I do not know if these came from someone who sees thrmselves as a competitor, someone who may be jealous that I was chosen to speak at a conference when they were not, or just someone who was having a very bad day. Of course, this person could genuinely believe that I did a bad job but when 99% of the evaluations are positive, I have to think that there was nothing really wrong with my presentation. But still, that one negative comment gets me. Just like a hair in my pasta.

There is No Bad Weather

IMG_4176 (1)It’s 73 degrees and sunny in New Jersey today, February 21st. (The above photo was taken just 3 days ago.)  That means that dogs that haven’t seen the ground past their own backyard since November will get walked and that wannabe Tour de France racers will be fully decked out and clogging the streets. This small burst of beautiful weather sucks people out of their houses like a strong magnet picking up a box of spilled nails.  I myself am working outside today getting a much needed dose of vitamin D.

I think people truly enjoy being out but they rarely walk the dogs, ride their bikes or push their strollers when it is not so nice. While living in Amsterdam, I learned a very important lesson – There is no bad weather – only bad clothes. What this basically means is that everyday is a great day to be outside if you are dressed appropriately. How true is that? Seriously, with rain pants, a waterproof jacket with a hood, and rain boots, you can enjoy the outdoors with the added benefit of having it to pretty much to yourself.  I have researched and purchased the warmest gloves, the best warm but lightweight jacket and warmest slip and water resistant boots and with this kit, I am free to go out no matter the weather. I love heading into the woods on days like this because no one else will be there. Perfect solitude. It’s great.

Safety often involves some very specialized clothing. There are some jobs that should not  be attempted without the right clothes. Of course you can, but you will likely run into problems, if not today, then eventually.  Think about some of the accidents you may have investigated. Were any of the recommended solutions related to clothing or most likely footwear? How many times have you seen things not go as planned, both in and outside of work because of the wrong choice of clothing or shoes?

When my daughter was young, she was riding a bicycle while wearing Crocs. If you know Crocs, you know these were not a good choice. This resulted in a fall and broken foot. My son decided to take a kayak out into the sea while vacationing in Mexico. Who needs shoes when kayaking right? While kayaking he was fine but when he stepped out near the shore – and onto a pile of very sharp coral – we all soon realized how helpful proper footwear would have been.

Have you yourself ever stopped an activity because it was either too hot or too cold? Whose fault is that? Certainly not mother nature’s. With the proper clothing you can enjoy whatever it is you like to enjoy outdoors without any hesitation. Remember, there is no bad weather – only bad clothes.

Burn Baby Burn

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I recently read “212 The Extra Degree : Extraordinary Results Begin With One Small Change” by Sam Parker and Mac Anderson. (It’s a small, short book you can easily read on a bus or train ride to work).  The premise of this book is that the difference of just one degree – 211F to to 212F – can make a huge difference.  The back cover states:

At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive.

It’s a good idea.

The idea of just doing a tiny bit more can make huge differences. Applying this and the authors’ examples to our lives as safety professionals could have huge rewards. Consider adding an hour a week (12 minutes a workday) to studying a topic that particularly interests you. At the end of the year you will have added an equivalent of a full week of dedicated study to that area.  When volunteering your time, if you gave 15 minutes more per week,  that’s about another full day and a half of service you are providing to an organization that likely really needs it. If you are a runner/jogger, going an extra .5 mile everyday would mean you ran 183 more miles in a year – that’s the distance between New York and Baltimore and more than the horizontal distance across all of Ireland.  If you got into the office 30 minutes earlier than you already do, that’s 2.5 extra hours of time per week you could use to work on your career, your side hustle, your professional development, your book – whatever. Think about it. If someone came to you and said you could leave work 2.5 hours early every Friday, what could you get done with that newly found time?

In my role as Vice-Chair for the American Society of Safety Engineers Foundation, I always wonder why some safety professionals donate and some do not. If every ASSE member just gave a little more (that one extra degree), that would mean $37,000 more dollars for scholarships, professional development grants for our peers and funding for research – and this could all happen if members gave ONE extra dollar, even if their current giving is zero.

I think it’s hard for us to see how seemingly insignificant actions, such as giving a dollar here or there, can add up. If everyone did a little extra, whether it be in volunteering, studying, exercising or donating to good causes, the benefits would be remarkable.

My Digital Detox

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Could you give up all social media for 1 month? If you did, how much extra time would you have? What would you do with that time? Those are the questions I tried to answer during January 2018.

I follow the Study Hacks blog which is written by professor and author Cal Newport. I have also read his books Deep Work (which I have also gifted to several people) and So Good They Can’t Ignore You, so when Dr. Newport sent out an email in December asking for volunteers to attempt a digital declutter, I readily volunteered.  After reading Deep Work while on vacation in September, I was already onboard the “social media is a waste of time” bandwagon and had cut back on my usage, particularly Facebook, quite a bit so giving up all social media, or at least putting parameters around it was something I was happy to try.  My social media world consisted of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn, with the time spent on each roughly in that order.

After reading Deep Work, I had decided to stick to a 9-9 rule with respect to my activity on Facebook. I only allowed myself to check it before 9 AM and after 9 PM. Since I go to bed before 10:00PM each night, this didn’t give me a lot of time to catch up on friend and colleagues’ lives. (I prefer Facebook to LinkedIn for professional networking – actually I prefer anything to LinkedIn but that’s another story). I work at home and alone so my only face to face conversations during the day are with the mailman and UPS guy (sad, I know). I have moved around a lot so my friends and family are all at least an hour away so Facebook really is my day to day social life.  Cutting myself off from my Facebook newsfeed was going to be hard.

I started trying to write a few notes for myself as the experiment started but after a week or so, I stopped because I really had nothing new to add. All of my urges to post something or mindlessly check a feed somewhere had mostly gone away.   I was occasionally tagged in a post by a well-meaning friend or colleague and in those instances, it was very hard not to run and see what was written about me. I am very active in a professional Facebook group so when I received notification that I was mentioned there, I did allow myself to see what was mentioned (but only after 9PM). In several instances I did need to respond and did so through email though so I would not break my goal of not posting.  I also have a Facebook page for my business (I am self-employed) so I really could not ignore that 100% so checking comments and messages there still occurred but only within my 9 to 9 rule.  I was also very tempted to log on around the time of the SuperBowl since I am an Eagles fan and it really was a huge deal that “my” team had finally won a Super Bowl. Growing up and attending college in Philadelphia, I still have many friends there and I wanted to share in their happiness and excitement.  (I now live in a suburb of NYC so I am surrounded by the exact opposite of Eagles fans).

 

Coming Back

To my surprise, I didn’t run to the computer and log into Facebook and my other social media sites on February 1 as soon as my detox was over.  It wasn’t such a big deal anymore.  When I did check out my feed, I instantly had some of the stress I used to get while skimming through my posts in the past.  There were posts about boycotting the Super Bowl, politics and the latest school shooting.  I can get all of this news by turning on the television. I just want to stay connected – share in the accomplishments and the not so great moments of my friends. I actually like to see where they vacationed and I like to offer suggestions or help if anyone needs it.  Facebook in this way helps me feel connected.  Unfortunately Facebook has become the place for way too much drama. Who needs it?

I have not been back on Twitter yet and I’m not sure if I’ll regret that. I had found myself running to twitter every time there was “breaking news” (just about all the time now) and checking Twitter’s trending topics for new news that hadn’t made it onto the big media outlets yet. Why? Why do I care? I recently read something that said most of what you read today will mean nothing in a week. That is true for a lot of what I read on Twitter. While checking the “news” I would also get sucked into reading some truly vile and nasty posts tweeted by normal people with radical opinions who brazenly say online what they would never say face to face. This would add to my stress levels and more importantly, my level of distraction.

Snapchat is something I don’t think of as a distraction and I am using it as before which isn’t much. I have three children. Two are away at college and one is senior in High School. The 5 of us (don’t forget my husband) have a group SnapChat that all of us use throughout the day. If my son gets a great grade or a college acceptances, he will “snapchat” it in our group and it’s a mini-family celebration. My oldest daughter is a student-athlete and if she gets put in an ice bath after a brutal morning workout, she will put a photo of that in the group snapchat as well and we all feel more connected.  My younger daughter will snapchat a photo of what she cooked herself for dinner. It sounds like a distraction but I can’t imagine staying in touch with my family ever a distraction.

Instagram is another app I enjoy but I do not spend much time on it so giving it up was not a big deal. I do enjoy scroll through the newsfeed and seeing some beautiful shots from my friends from around the world. For some of my friends, particularly younger ones I have met through travellng, Instagram is my primary way to stay in touch. I still look at it occasionally.

Finally, LinkedIn was not hard to ignore since I could easily not look at it for months at a time. I know as a self-employed business owner I should have been more active on that platform but I never had great success. If people want to check me out before hiring me, I need to have a profile which I do, but I could probably benefit from being more active by  commenting on posts and sharing valuable information of my own.  I guess the goal here is visibility and I agree that is something I should work towards. That being said, I have been trying to be more active on LinkedIn since coming off the detox and I have had mostly good results. (The bad results include two “love letters” from strange men but this is not all that uncommon, and thus my dislike of it, on LinkedIn.)

LinkedIn has a problem. Men around the world think it is a dating site.  Yes I can report these people and block them but there will be new ones popping up soon. Besides creeping me out, these emails (they end up in my inbox) are a major distraction. They get past my spam filter so I read them. And then I am bothered by them. Even with this problem, I will stay active on LinkedIn and will make an effort to post snd comment – more than I have before – for all of 2018. If I see no benefit by December 31st, I will stop using it.

With my new found time added during my digital detox, I decided to take the steps to finally start a blog (I should say re-start because I have had many starts at a blog and a podcast for many years) to share things with the occupational safety community (my field). Before, I would find or create something and then I would share it on a variety of platforms – Facebook, Twitter, via a website, through a newsletter, etc. I figured a blog would let me post everything in one place and then share the link to the blog when I felt necessary.  I have a lot of old materials from my previous blogs that I can pull into my new effort (safetydance.blog) and during my digital detox I was able to create at least a dozen posts to use in the future.

I also had time to read a lot more. I finished several books including one by a Catholic Priest (Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship) and one by Ex-Navy Seals (Extreme Ownership: How US Navy Seals Lead and Win). I also read many long form articles in Medium. (I hope to start publishing on there myself so stay tuned).

In addition to all of the above, I learned two things.

First, once friends heard I was doing this, several jumped on the “No Facebook Wagon” for a variety of reasons. It seemed that once they realized they would not be the only ones missing out, they were eager to take a break. My oldest daughter just realized she needs a break too and has removed all social media apps from her phone – pretty impressive for a 21 year old who has grown up in that world.

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Finally, I quickly realized that my Apple Watch is a HUGE distraction. Every text, Facebook comment, new email, snapchat and worst of all, breaking news alerts, would appear on my wrist and cause me to look away from whatever I was doing. I eventually figured out that I could use theater mode (I never knew what those little masks were for before) to silence all notifications. Mission accomplished.

Overall, I am glad I took part in the digital detox. As I add back my social media accounts,  I have to keep Paracelsus’ wisdom in mind – the dose makes the poison.  All social media is not bad but spending mindless hours on it when I could be productive elsewhere is the problem. If I stick to my 9-9 rule, I think that will be a happy medium. I can quickly scan my feeds and only read the kind of things that are important to me. With such a limited amount of time to spend on social media, I will not be tempted to read the junk that so often gets posted.  I will likely not go back to Twitter but I will maintain a very minimal presence on Snapchat and Instagram as I described above.  I am planning on spending more time on LinkedIn but even this use of social media will be confined to my 9-9 rule.  Social media is under fire in so many ways these days but it also provides a lot of benefits. The key is to use social media in a way that’s best for you and not let social media become a major part of your day.  This will probably take practice and self-discipline but most good things do.

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Go Another Click

73.6%of all statistics are made upThe Financial Times published an article by  called “Tim Hartford’s guide to statistics in a misleading age” in which he includes the quote  “go another click” which was the advice of Ed Humpherson, a UK Statistical Regulator.   “Go another click” refers to the advice to go a step further when reading a “fact.” Don’t just take what you see as the truth but do a little research to see where the information came from and if it is accurate. The author proposes simple guidelines to keep in mind when we are reading any type of statistic since it is so easy to be mislead by “facts” as they are often presented to us.

“Be open-minded rather than defensive; to ask simple questions about what things mean, where they come from and whether they would matter if they were true. And, above all, to show enough curiosity about the world to want to know the answers to some of these questions — not to win arguments, but because the world is a fascinating place.”

If you want to check out the full article, click here.