May 6, 2012

Knowing When to Call It Quits

I think I wrote a blog post about this same subject last year. My focus then was knowing when the path you are on appears to be a dead-end, and realizing that all the work you have done up to the point of "knowing" has left you wondering why you stayed so long, kept on trying, and refused to give in. There is nothing wrong with being disciplined. In fact, this is a Godly characteristic that the Holy Spirit develops within us. Discipline is a good thing, but using willfulness in the place of Godly self-discipline is another matter entirely.

Willfulness or stubbornness is anathema to self-discipline. It says "I will do it," even when the odds, the opportunities, and the abilities are against you. Sure, we all love a good underdog, champion story. We love to see the weak triumph over the strong. This is the stuff of good movies and books, and it is the stuff that makes our heart pound and our minds think -- "if they can do it, so can I." In some cases, this is very true. Some times our failures are the result of a lack of self-discipline. In other cases, we can be extremely focused, but it is our plan that is faulty. No matter how disciplined you are, if you are working on a faulty plan, then in the end the plan will not succeed.

However, some people see the plan and assume that what is more important than the details of that plan -- is their own attitude and willingness to do the work. Yes, sometimes we can overcome poor planning and bad logic -- but more often than not -- nothing we do can turn a bad situation around. A bad plan is a bad plan, kwim?

I have experienced such bad planning personally, and I am the first to admit that there were many times when I should have given up and called it quits. My pride kept me in a bad situation far longer than necessary, and as a result, I suffered greatly for that sin.  I learned my lesson late -- and in hindsight, wish I would have been more willing to let go, then to drive on and 'keep on keeping on.' Personal experience aside, I have also seen the efforts of family and friends who work to the bone to save something that really should never have been born in the first place (I am talking about work, livelihood, a business venture, etc.)

Working in a job that goes against your personality and your abilities, is hard work. Not only is it harder for you to do, to be successful, but in the end there is little satisfaction for you efforts. Most of the time, you end up feeling worn out, used, abused, and frustrated.  You see yourself as a failure or the job as too difficult -- when in reality -- neither was to blame.  Poor planning, poor logic on your part put you in a job that didn't suit your skills and abilities. Furthermore, you took the wrong job for the wrong reason. Again caveat here -- sometimes you have to do a job because it is the only job available -- I get this -- I've been there, and I know that this is often the case. However, you don't have to stay in that job forever. You can move to another place, you can go back to school, you can change any number of variables to make your situation better.

Going back to school is an option open to many people, and for some, it can literally change their lives for the better. In the example of the person who has a high school diploma or GED, going back to school to get an AA degree can mean the difference in a pay check or even a career (if they complete an AA in an applied field). For the employee with that AA, getting a Bachelors degree can often open doors for them to move up, take on more responsibilities. It can also start a new career, change a career, or be the next step in the process towards higher education. Likewise, the person who sees a Masters degree as potential income generator can often take that next step and secure a far better job, earning thousands of dollars more each year, just because they hold a Masters level education.

The same is true for other types of job training or skill-based programs. There are so many ways to change a person's life through education and training. The problem is that often people get so focused on completing on task, on doing one thing, that they are unwilling to deviate from the plan. And, those that have been on that same plan or path for a long time, often have become so comfortable that they cannot see themselves doing anything else.

This was me, well WAS me, two years ago. I worked as a website designer, was modestly successful, and did the job so that I could stay at home. I didn't want to work at all. I wanted to be SAHM, and I wanted to raise my son and home educate him. My husband was acceptable to this, but due to his business being up/down, felt we needed more income. My choice was to work from home or go out to work. I chose to work from home. Even though this job was not a good fit for me personally, and it took its toll on me physically, I stuck with it so that I could remain at home. I did my best, but it was a horrible job, and one that I finally came to loathe in time.

When after 25 years, I found myself single again, I had to rethink my career choices. I needed a job that would pay the bills, and a job that would provide stability for me and my son. I looked in my field -- web design -- but found nothing. I looked in other fields, cross overs such as customer service, sales, etc. where I thought I could use my other skills. This proved successful for me, and last year, I was hired at the University of Phoenix solely on the basis of my customer service skill.

I was thankful for the job -- it solved my problem. I had stable work, and a career. However, after a time in the position, I realized that the job didn't fit my personality nor my abilities. I could do it, and at times, I could do it well. But, I am not a sales person. I am not a cold-caller, and I don't like counseling people. These are tasks that are outside my comfort zone, and while I am open to trying new things, these specific tasks are on the bottom of my skills summary (ranked from strongest to weakest). They are in short my weakest links (pun intended). I am not a good advisor, I am not good in this position, and the longer I remain it, the more clearly I see that the job doesn't suit me. Now, there are many Advisors who are excellent in this role. I work with ten others who are better than I am at this particular job.They do a fantastic job, and they love the work they do. I, on the other hand, loathe it.

It has taken me eight months to figure out why I find my job so difficult to do. I realized it last week, after I had my bi-weekly meeting with my supervisor to discuss my performance. My supervisor is great, and he is so willing to help me improve. I appreciate that about him (my former boss was the same). The problem is that no matter what I do, still I struggle with the "process" of conversing. Conversation and I, well, we are not a good fit. I can have a good conversation, but the majority of the time, it is with myself (LOL!) More on this in another post...

The Keys to Successful Conversation

I have realized that to be a good conversationalist, I need to ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions solicit a longer response than yes or no. They are conversation starters, and they can make talking with someone new easier, more natural and more friendly/casual. They also indicate interest, so if you want to show you are interested in someone, ask them open-ended questions. Open-ended questions usually start with Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. The most powerful of these typically begin with Why and How. For clarification, Who, What, Where and When are follow ups (to add information).

They say that the mark of a good conversationalist is to be an active listener. Active listening involves paying close attention to what the other person is saying to you. You do this by focusing on the speaker, nodding or giving some verbal clue such as "uh-huh." You also demonstrate active listening when you feed back what the other person has said to you. An example is to say, "What I am hearing you say is...." You will know if you got the message right when the speaker tells you so. If not, then ask for clarification to demonstrate you are listening to them (a follow up such as "Help me understand what you are saying..."). It is also a good idea to summarize what the person is saying -- at least once, but perhaps several times during the conversation. Finally, don't interrupt, and let the speaker finish before you respond.

I read that the criteria for active listening is listening 80% of the time, talking 20% of the time. Therefore, other than your conversation starter or open-ended questions/follow ups, the majority of the time should be spent listening to the other person. Just think if we all engaged in active listening -- how many relationships would be intact, how many divorces staved off? I ONLY can imagine that the number would be significant.

As I progress through my role as Advisor, and as I consider other career fields, I know that I must learn to understand my own personal communication style, so I can become a better listener and a better conversationalist. Not only will this provide increased opportunities for success, but it will enable me to become more comfortable in my own abilities, in my own skills. I will be successful in relationships -- be it work, personal or other. I will be a good communicator, and I will be a good friend and counselor to others in need.

The truth for me today is that I am not an active listener. I am a strong and persuasive speaker. This is a Holy Spirit area of gifting for me, and He intends me to use it for His Glory. In life and in my work, however, it is paramount that I learn to actively listen when I am not asked or called to speak. This is something I believe I can learn how to do, and that in doing it, my conversational skills and my abilities to listen will greatly improve -- regardless of my work or personal life.

Communication skill is one of the number one job requirements these days. Employers what to know how well you communicate with other people. How sharp are your communication skills? Are you an active listener? Do you ask open-ended questions of your friends, family and co-workers?

I think we tend to shy back from asking questions, feeling that we are prying into someone's personal life. Yet, when we do ask these type of sincere questions, we actually are showing we care, we are interested in them, and in their feelings. It can be an empowering way to begin or start a relationship. I believe it can also save a relationship that is failing. The key is to learn how to ask the right kinds of questions, and how to do so in a non-judgmental way. Active listening requires that we demonstrate we care about the other person, so if we have hard feelings or distrust, then it will be difficult to come across as sincere.

Lastly, I think that we can all benefit from actively listening to one another. I know that I lack this ability, and it is my prayer today that I learn how to listen and not talk all the time. I am going to start practicing my active skills today. In conversation, I am going to consider the other person's words, feelings, and intentions as being worthy of my time. In doing so, I hope to proactively demonstrate that I care about other people, and that through listening, I can share my sincere love of Christ with them.

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