Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hope Refreshed: Part III

[More Musings on Silver Linings]

Before getting back to the “Coaching Chronicles,” I wanted to report on some recent progress on my job search, in the hope of providing encouragement to folks who may be dealing with unemployment despondency, discouragement, desolation,  loss of confidence or even depression (all familiar experiences that I’ve personally lived through since the lay-off in September).


It has been five months now since the announcement that thrusted me into the world of the unemployed for the first time in my career. And because I had not paid attention to the need for networking while I was still working, it has taken until now to begin to see tangible positive results. But this week, suddenly two very “hot” possibilities have surfaced, both resulting from contacts that I made weeks or months ago either through Linked-In or through using Linked-In as a research tool to find the names of key people at a particular company. One important interview is scheduled for Friday.   As a “newby”  to being out of work, it took me a long time to learn the ropes of networking. So my first word of advice to those who are still working, is:

Please start taking advantage of Linked-In and other networking opportunities while you are employed, even if you believe your current position is utterly secure. Lesson #1:  There is no such thing as “utterly secure” in today's economic situation. Begin to build your network while you are still working. It is SO important to keep records of the contact information of business associates, colleagues who have come and gone, vendors, sales associates, and everyone that crosses your path in your business and your personal life. And stay in touch with these people, if only to say "hello" now and again and to exchange small talk. Should you find yourself unemployed one day, you’ll be able to hit the ground running, and start contacting people in your already established network.  Remember: People WANT to help you!

(Not sure the butterfly wants to help all THAT much!)

For example, last week I corresponded for the first time in about seven years with the owner of the no-kill dog shelter from which we adopted two of our wonderful pets. When I relayed to her that I had lost my job,  she said, “My husband is a physician and he has done work with a lot of pharmaceutical companies. Is there anything he can do for you?” And before I knew it, her husband was making calls to everyone he knew in Pharma and then sending me job descriptions to review!

You just never know who, in your personal circle, might have contacts in your industry and might also be willing to help you out by making phone calls on your behalf. To me, as I wrote in an earlier post, finding out that PEOPLE WANT TO HELP was definitely the silver lining to my unemployment situation. I can’t begin to tell you what a wonderful positive change has come into my life from the uplifting things I have learned about the natural kindness and generosity of  most people. You will be amazed and your spirits will soar. You’ll also be wanting to dedicate yourself to helping others once you’ve jumped back “into the saddle” again!


This post was intended to be about working with a coach  “peeling the onion” of the psyche to discover the inner reasons that obstacles lie in the way of finding happiness in your career. But this interlude lasted longer than I expected ,so I think it has gone on long enough for now. Stay tuned—we’ll be working on that onion in my next post!

  All photography by Michelle Alton

If you have 10 minutes, you might want to listen to the podcast interview that Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Magazine conducted with me, entitled:  "Keeping Your Mojo and Your Sanity in a Tough Pharma Job Market"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

HOPE REFRESHED: Signing Up With a Coach * Part II

Part I ended at the start of my first coaching session, as I was expressing to you a feeling of amazement at Coach Karen's almost magical insight into “me."  It was insight that she had intuited merely from my responses to her “Discovery” questions.


To answer the Discovery Question: “What works for you?” I had listed my two passions:  photography and writing.

And without getting too maudlin here, as one of my most “satisfying” personal experiences I had described the closeness that developed between my mother and me during the period after her terminal diagnosis was made. Finally, though it was also the saddest time of my life, I had been able to make her feel comfortable with her decision to refuse further treatment when chemotherapy had lost its effect. Her guilt at disappointing her husband and sons calmed, she was able to relax and “walk on” peacefully.

Mother and I
Photo Booth

So, to begin our session, Karen gave me something to think about. This suggestion came by way of what she calls an “Energy Hit,” and she would not take any personal credit for having thought of it. Her first such  "hit” concerning me was: “With your talents in photography, photo restoration, and writing, and the fact that you are not uncomfortable being around people nearing the end of their lives, have you ever considered a business of chronicling their stories as a service to their families?”  Hmm…not something I had ever considered, to be sure!   Nor would I EVER have made those connections on my own.  The idea/hit may ultimately not lead anywhere, but it definitely deserves more thought, analysis and research. And that was the major highlight of Session One.

Session Two was even more eye-opening!

Well, if you’re anything like me, you’ve prided yourself on the deepness and clarity of your own self-understanding. And I clearly understood that the reason that I have not been able to take appropriate steps to fulfill my passions is that I lack a key component of entrepreneurial success: Belief that I could succeed ALONE!

All Alone

If I had a partner in an endeavor, I know WE would be a resounding success. For example, last Summer I had an idea to collect poignant and funny stories from fellow photographers along with a few of their best shots, and compile a book about “The Shot that Wasn’t to Be.” All photographers have “fish that got away” stories, and are eager to share them. For example, one of my intrepid friends described his experience of photographing a rushing river scene while standing precariously on a slippery, muddy river bank. Suddenly he lost his footing and his prosthetic leg disengaged.  Helplessly he had to crouch there watching his leg floating its way down the river!

An anthology of such stories, with accompanying photos couldn’t lose, right?

I shared the idea with a fellow “shooter,” and we became so excited about it, that we couldn’t wait to get moving. Unfortunately, that enterprise ended up with her starting a new job and me losing mine, so we never got off the ground after the first tactical setback. But the point is that as a team, I was sure we could have made it work. There would have been no stopping us!

But, faced with the prospect of beginning a project like that all on my own, I become utterly paralyzed by fear. An analogous example is that we all enjoy the fun-filled adventure of getting lost on a country back road in a strange unexplored area. But being lost ALONE produces in me a sort of inner terror that is almost indescribable!


So, although I understood WHAT the obstacles were, until and unless I could understand WHY they block my path, they will continue to obscure the way to personal fulfillment. So our next coaching goal is to begin to peel the onion and expose the WHY.   Please stay tuned:

In the meantime, here’s a question for Karen and for other transformational coaches who are helping people with mid-career changes:

Most of us are having great trouble getting interviews within our own fields because the resume reviewer is basing his/her screening on the presence or absence of perhaps even a single missing tidbit of experience, or some other perceived issue that we won't have the opportunity to defend. How in the world are we to “cast our nets wider" into another industry and hope to be interviewed for a new position?

~~( to be continued)

  All photographs (except "Mother and I") by Michelle Alton

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

HOPE Refreshed: Signing Up With a Coach * Part I

 Ultra High-End Condo

I answered a Linked-In question today: What does “Prosperity” mean to you? Perhaps my response will go largely unnoticed—there were dozens of great answers posed. But answering this particular question meant a great deal to me because I had just today come to the realization that I am finally on the right path to my personal prosperity (and it doesn't have a lot to do with dollars). Oh yes, my little tootsies have only tentatively tickled the pavers so far, but now there is a schedule in place for making my way up the road.

"The Path"

Karen Florence McMullen is my Coach and she found me on Linked-In. Though we were three degrees of separation apart, a chain of L-I introductions brought us together on what will surely become a “Red Letter Day” on my calendar for years to come.

"Red Letter Day"

When we meet a person with unique and special gifts, an “aura” is immediately revealed, even though the light may have to travel through Cyberspace or Cell waves. I thought I had “seen” Karen’s aura during our first conversation, but didn’t want to make a hasty decision based on what I thought was just a “gut feeling.” I signed up during our second conversation, when I returned from a short photo shooting vacation in Arkansas and Texas.


In preparation for our “Discovery” session, Karen sent me a list of questions to think about and jot down responses as they came to me. “Make them brief, if you can—and don’t send your answers until the night before we talk.”


When I read the questions, my heart filled with dread. Some examples:

• What is really working in your life? Where are you satisfied?

• What is not working? Where do you need change even if you fear making that change?

• What do you think are your 3 best natural talents?

• What are you tolerating?

• Tell me about a time that was particularly disappointing.

There were 18 such questions, each one increasingly more soul-searching and difficult than the one before. But, in spite of my dread, and since I am compulsive about completing assignments, I did the best I could, and sent my answers at the appointed time.

The next day, the magic began. And I do mean “M*A*G*I*C .

"The Magic Began"

Disclaimer: This is not an advertisement for Karen’s services. But it is a revelation that even a smart person, and maybe especially a smart person, cannot always see the clear path to “prosperity” without a guide. Karen, and others in her profession, are gifted and trained to be just such a guide; they can help you see and remove the obstacles that block your path.

(to be continued)

All photographs by Michelle Alton
Note: An article about this blog and me "PharmaView: Via the Blog, a Pharma Star is Reborn" by Paul Thomas, Senior Editor, appears in the February, 2010 issue of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Magazine.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

CYCLING: Pedaling Through the Ups and Downs of the Job Hunt

Last month my postings on this blog were very upbeat  -- so much so, that I was being told how inspirational they were for fellow unemployed job searchers. The “Silver Lining” piece received a fair amount of attention (An article about this blog and me, "PharmaView: Via the Blog, a Pharma Star is Reborn"? appeared in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Magazine) and that buoyed me for the plunge into each day’s “Hunt” activity with new energy and hope. Great!  That is what we MUST do to keep ourselves fresh. Most importantly, we MUST keep doing what it takes to preserve the healthy state of our psyches.

So, after 18 weeks of devotion to this mission, I took a week off and flew to Arkansas for a few days of photo shooting. When all is said and done, you see, it is exercising my passion for photography that keeps me sane. I had a fabulous time.

(Click on photos to enlarge; Click again to reduce to original size)
Cedar Falls Overlook
Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas

BUT…yes there’s a big “But” coming (not mine this time…giggle)!

Angus Butt

The night before flying home, I awoke at about 2 a.m. in a raging panic. My heart rate rapid  and irregular, I was filled with a feeling of deep dread. The facts were: I still had no job and no hot prospects for one, and the severance period was rapidly coming to its end. The household expenses were high and the house was still far away from being ready for the market. And two of the three calls I received while in Arkansas had been to notify me of positions for which I had already applied. The third call was one that I had been expecting to turn into an opportunity. But alas, the caller wanted to offer advice on tools to aid the search. A sincere and helpful expert he was, but his advice, frankly, felt like just another let-down at that point.

All the flights were on time and without incident, and I arrived in Philadelphia on the night of the 24th, quickly found my husband (who is prone to losing me in airports) waiting in the baggage area, and my luggage was soon popping up on the carousel! ALL GOOD!

The next day, I lumbered back behind my desk, and attempted to nudge myself slowly but directly into the pace and high spirits I had attained only weeks before. There had been two hot prospects for great positions. One had been “simmering” since October, and the other had materialized a couple of weeks before my vacation. But now, neither of the hiring managers was returning my calls or emails. I had no idea what, if anything, had happened  and still I do not. That night I went to bed exhausted and maximally down-hearted.

If you’re thinking this is leading to “Good News,” I’m sorry to say that there was more—way more BAD NEWS to be dealt with!

Tuesday morning, after showering, I went into my office and was shocked to find my computer DEAD, displaying the familiar and dreaded black screen with scary white words on it.  By midday, a Dell technician had determined that the only feasible solution entailed completely wiping out the hard drive and starting over from scratch, with a clean slate. It took most of the day and part of the evening with Dell to reload the Operating System and then install all of the original software from the CDs that had been bundled with the computer. No glitches.

At about 8 pm, drained to my last drop, I hooked up my one terrabyte external drive and began the process of restoring all the documents, photo editing software, and a year’s worth of photographs that I had backed up studiously each night since purchasing the laptop.  But WAIT…the files were NOT TO BE FOUND ON THE BACKUP DRIVE!    How could it be?  I was devastated.
What next ensued was an emotional breakdown of huge proportion.  The normally calm, collected, and resourceful  and hopeful me was hanging on my last nerve…or past it.

I spent the night hyperventilating, whimpering softly, and yes, praying for a swift life-ending blow.  I was through -- finished, and losing ground rapidly. Honestly, I could see nothing positive at all in life that night. Nothing at all.  My good fotune was that there were no 200-foot-high canyon ledges in my bedroom!  My poor husband was planning the emergency room trip for the next day. I’m SERious!

Ledge at the Palisades
Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas

But somehow I pulled myself together and, Wednesday afternoon was able to get in touch with a Data Recovery Specialist from Seagate. He connected remotely to my computer, and within several minutes of my plugging the external hard drive into a USB port, he had uncovered all of the missing files. Too easy!! And there was no charge.

While all of my other issues were still issues, the condition that had nearly sent me catapulting out a twelve-story window (good thing there wasn’t one handy), had been resolved. It took me until Friday night, however, to restore all the files, and to re-calibrate the monitor (after another session with Dell because the video adapter turned out to be broken). My mood began to lift again. But alas…I had lost FOUR MORE days of job hunting…and there had been no activity on Linked-In.  And no phone calls from recruiters.  Still, I was buoyed, and over the weekend I planned to get some very needed rest and prepare to start in again on Monday.

And now there WAS some HAPPY news: The horrid ordeal had taken FIVE POUNDS OFF my rotund little body! YIPPEE!

Utter Exuberance!
(Final dance recital of my Step Granddaughter--second high kicker from the left)


At 10 a.m. I had my first two-hour session with a remarkable Transformational Coach that I had been conversing with before the trip. What an incredible woman! I won’t go into detail here, but to cut to the chase: HOPE IS REFRESHED!

So the takeaway message is this: The HUNT is a PROCESS! Expect it to move in cycles of highs and lows, ins and outs, ups and downs. This morning, a photographer friend of mine posted the following excerpt from an anonymous poet. It’s worth repeating here: Never Quit!

Life is queer with its twists and turns,

As every one of us sometimes learns,

And many a failure turns about,

When he might have won had he stuck it out;

Don't give up though the pace seems slow--

You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,

It seems to a faint and faltering man,

Often the struggler has given up,

When he might have captured the victor's cup,

And he learned too late when the night slipped down,

How close he had been to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out--

The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,

And you never can tell how close you are,

It may be near when it seems so far,

So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit--

It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

(--- to be continued)

-- All photographs ("except Never Give Up") by Michelle Alton