Career Choices: Putting Yourself in the Right Environment

square peg 2A recent New York Times article “A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D” hit on an important point I think many people overlook in considering career choices. Namely, “what am I well suited to?”

In my experience, I see too many people who try to fit their square peg into a round hole career-wise. Professor Richard A. Friedman (clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College) points out is that in many cases the lack of fit is literally hard wired into us.

“Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.”

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Clarity: Your actions speak so loudly…

reflection of manakinRalph Waldo Emerson famously said “your actions speak so loudly, that I can’t hear what you’re saying.” I shared this with my son recently as one explanation for why effort matters. People can see your effort, or lack of. And in the end it shows in results.

But I think Emerson speaks to a broader theme about the games we play with ourselves and with others. I’m going to focus on the importance of being honest with yourself and others, as well as the importance of reading your environment.

Do you really see yourself clearly?

It is incredibly powerful to “know yourself”. It helps you make good choices about priorities, helps you be a strong teammate and in general makes for a happier existence. It’s also a journey, as we all change over time. I am both very much the same and very different today than 20 years ago.

For example, You say you really are committed or love something? Are you really? Continue reading

Career Decisions: Renewal and the Power of Choosing to Stay

green shootsSometimes, almost leaving makes you appreciate what you have even more.

Just recently, I had an opportunity to consider a new role in another organization. The process of working through the decision to stay or go personally and with my family required a fairly exhaustive analysis and a good deal of introspection.

We decided to stay.

In the aftermath of taking what was a fairly emotional family decision I have felt a sense of renewal and clarity at work. I am more encouraged about our prospects, recommitted to several ambitious goals and find that many things that had been irritating me don’t bother me as much. Or at least I’m more patient with them. Why?  Continue reading

Career Exploration Part 2: Test Alternate Realities & Build Bridges to Your Future

fish bowlsIn my last post I laid out a process first few steps to take in finding new opportunities. In this post I’ll offer some advice on how to get going on the ideas you generated.

First a reminder of the process:

  1. Determine motivation: Why am I seeking change? (Part 1)
  2. Define pathways: What are three “alternate realities”? (Part 1)
  3. Get going!: How do I start?
  4. Make progress: How many bridges do I need to build or cross?
  5. Choose: How do I make quality decisions along the way?
  6. Repeat.

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Career Exploration Part 1: Build Alternate Realities to Explore

fish bowlsAuthor’s note – As usual, this post started small and has become a multi-post monster. What began as the concept of “alternate realities” that I often use as a frame for discussing how to move forward in a career search blossomed into how to think about exploration more broadly. So we’ll spend a few posts in the coming weeks on some core ideas and a methodology for how to systematically lay out and begin building future opportunities.

Ever wonder how some things just work out professionally for a friend or colleague? Have you thought about why interesting opportunities seem to pop up for them, often times “non-obvious” ones? Are you looking to find more fulfillment but are reluctant to just jump into something you don’t understand? Continue reading

“It’s Your Choice”

A thoughtful and moving TEDxUMN talk from former student Adam Moen. It’s a powerful message about creating your own internal definition of success as well as finding meaning.  We all get evaluated and that can be important. But Adam’s discovery was that those definitions of success rang hollow and he needed to develop his own sense of meaning.


Life Lessons: Things I Learned From My Parents – Part 3

(Here’s part 3 of 3 on some life lessons I took from my parents. Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 here.)

Lessons from what happened to them:

Dad and his job loss taught me 3 really big things:

Much like a geological or evolutionary timeline where there are breaks between eras, my childhood had a clear break in 1983. The recession led to his job elimination and he never really bounced back. Pre 1983, Dad was all the good things I have related. Leader, athlete, pillar, dynamic. Post 1983 , he was a shadow of himself and it really changed everything for the whole family. Continue reading

Life Lessons: Things I Learned From My Parents

(Author’s note: This is another multi-parter. I couldn’t distill my parents influence down to 1000 words.  Part 2 can be found here and Part 3 here.)

Parents wield a powerful influence on their children. Whether it’s positive or negative, from their presence or their absence, their attention or aloofness; they are dominant figures in each of our development. My folks both passed a number of years ago and as my kids get older (they are 8, 7 and 4 right now), I wanted to capture the impact they had on my conscious self (I assume there are all sorts of influences it would take Dr. Jung or Freud to sort out as well.). What follows is an attempt to disentangle a lifetime’s worth of interactions, love, arguments and ultimately their collective impact with a little distance for reflection.


My dad (Dick Miller) was a wonderful man. He was a leader at every level in his life. A four-year class president in high school, fraternity president in college, rapidly promoted executive and a church and community leader. He was intuitive about others’ needs and how to get a lot out of them. He was a great athlete into his 40s, particularly tennis. Continue reading

Steve Jobs on Following Your Passion

As I’m sure the whole world knows by this time, Steve Jobs lost his battle with cancer this week. In reading through retrospectives and reflections, I saw this quote of his from his much discussed Stanford commencement address in 2005. I wanted to share it because I completely agree and think too few people follow it.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be  truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do  great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.  Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.  And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years  roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

Too true. Be at peace.

Are you my people?

Michele (my wife) was relating a great discussion she was having with a dear friend recently. Our kids are all school age now, so potentially heading back to work comes up. As they were chatting about their priorities, it became clear that both of them cared a lot more about the culture and environment than anything else.

Michele has always called this “looking for her people.”

I think this is a really important thing to consider as you weigh career alternatives, job changes and other transitions. Much of my writing encourages you to figure out what you want and put in place a process to work towards it. I worry sometimes that it comes off as a little too linear or goal oriented, that you could assume I only value easily quantified goals like earnings or promotion. Au contraire. (I like to sneak in some high school French)

This is a perfect example of when values can differ radically. And that’s OK. You need to figure out what YOU want, based on your own definition of happiness and success. Continue reading