Reinvent Yourself To Find Passion in Today's Job Market

Sitting Pretty at Hidcote Manor Garden

Whether you are employed or unemployed, there are really only two types of work:

1. Busy work

2. Real work

The ability to look and feel busy is a trick many people pull on bosses when gainfully employed, and also use when trying to convince themselves they are truly looking hard for new jobs. When trying to land a new job, as well as prove your value to hold on to a current job, it's important to know the difference.

Mark Sanborn, noted speaker and writer on world-class customer service in his 2004 best seller "The Fred Factor" writes:

"So often we live our lives on autopilot, unable to distinguish between activity and accomplishment."

Here's one way to distinguish between the two:

1. Activity = busy work

2. Accomplishment = real work that results in real changes. In football terms, it's called "moving the ball forward."

When unemployed: If you're waking up every day, checking job board listings, sending out the same resume, and getting the same results -- no interviews -- that's busy work. You can tell yourself and your family that you're actively looking for a new job, but you're not being effective. Yes, there are larger factors at play like the local unemployment rate, your skills or lack thereof, and the economy, but sending out the same 2-3 resumes in the same way, or filling out numerous online forms is just an activity to make you feel productive rather than being productive.

When employed: If you go to work each day and do the same rote work, file papers, answer e-mails and do repetitive tasks – that's busy work. Yes, there are other factors at play like your job description, your boss's inability to challenge you, his ability to feel threatened by genuine talent, and the lack of time in an 8-hour work day. But not growing in your current capacity -- even as an Accounts Payable Clerk -- can be the easiest way to become unemployed the minute the company needs to reduce head count.

In both scenarios, there is only one person responsible for your career prospects -- you. The only way to secure a career or protect the one you have is to constantly enhance and prove your value.

Here's where people frequently get confused. Your value is not the amount of clients served, or pieces of paper pushed, but rather what you do to make the company grow, the boss look better, or move the ball forward for the team. It can be done at any level in any job function, but frequently people do themselves a disservice by thinking they are not that valuable to a company.

Ironically, it is frequently the people at the lowest levels who provide the greatest value. It's what Sanborn references in The Fred Factor, his book on the value a postal worker provides to his local community.

Frequently in today's industrial world, workers and the unemployed feel powerless, hence relegating their actual power to others. As Sanborn writes:

"...the most exciting thing about life is that we awake each day with the ability to reinvent ourselves. No matter what happened yesterday, today is a new day. While we can't deny the struggles and setbacks, neither should we be restrained by them."

For one friend of mine that meant going for a new Network Solutions Certificate after he was laid off. For me, it meant regaining a Digital Marketing Certificate. For a family member, it meant investing in equipment for a new entrepreneurial venture. What does reinvention mean to you?

If you're not sure, try reading the latest edition of Pamela Mitchell's book The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention: Essential Survival Skills for Any Economy. I had the opportunity to hear Mitchell speak in NYC many years ago. She was inspiring and had instant credibility as she reinvented herself from a successful entertainment executive to CEO of the Reinvention Institutes, a concern she created. If you sign up on her site for free at, you can receive her starter kit for free. Or, go to the local library and get the book out for free.

Here's the trick of reinvention: it's not immediate. It's a process that usually starts with exploring and training in new skills while you continue to do what you do. Reinvention is rarely a light switch where one day you're an accountant and the next day a renowned artist or vintner. If you care to reinvent, give yourself the time needed to explore and train in new skill sets.

One of my favorite reinvention stories is J.K. Rowling, world-renowned author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling was working as researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International when she first thought of Harry Potter. It then took her seven years, including time she worked as single parent and wrote while commuting on public transportation to her day job, to finish the first novel.

Reinvention for most of us is not about becoming rich and famous, but rather about just being happier in our work and productive. For far too many people work is a soul-sucking experience. It's one reason career coaches advise against taking a job too quickly when first out of work. Even with financial pressures mounting, it's an opportunity to rethink how you want to spend your working years. It shouldn't be in busy work.

If you're unemployed, look at the jobs you've been applying for and how you've been applying for them. Are they jobs you really want? If not, your cover letter probably smacks of robotic language rather than the passion a hiring manager wants to see. If you're employed, take a look at yourself objectively and see if you bring any passion to your next assignment, or just sigh when a supervisor asks you to do a project. As Sanborn writes again:

"The goal is ongoing improvement. Reinvention is positive change. Benchmark where you are against how far you've come and where you want to go."

Reinvention is a personal occupation -- one that can stick with you long after your current work occupation disappears. It starts and ends with passion.

Passion won't always protect you from a layoff, but it can make executives at least sad to see you go and willing to give you rave reviews in references. Passion always won't always get you the job, but it can make you more memorable in the interview process and gain a recommendation for a different position. Passion will give you a better lease on life and let you start to pursue things you really care.

As any reinvention coach will tell you -- Sanborn, Mitchell, or any other -- reinvention is an interesting path that can lead to untold adventures in your life and working life ahead.

Don't settle for less in either.
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