(1) I am a reader. I am a library-loving, constant tome-carrying, unapologetic bibliophile. (2) If there's anyone you will meet who can connect what she's reading to the world around her, it's me.
As such, I want to dedicate my time in this space to sharing with you what I'm reading, and how it could inform a budding professional's daily life.
I can't tell you how many times I've been told that the job search and quest for a work environment that "fits" is like dating. The first dates that feel like interviews, the seemingly interminable waiting by the phone, the dress code that seems to go with the "courting" process...the similarities go on and on. And as I read Harlan Cohen's latest offering Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed & Totally Sober), I couldn't help but draw connections to my professional life. And not just because the pursuit of a job should always be done fully clothed and totally sober, though I do highly recommend that. Consider the steps that Harlan recommends for finding love, and think about how they could look like the same ones we use to find jobs that will make us happy.
Step One: Embrace the Secret Truth
In Harlan's estimation, the secret truth is that there are thousands of people in the world that could love you, but millions will not. The secret to navigating that sometimes gratifying, sometimes terrifying notion? Being accepting of the "millions" part.
So many of us have trouble with job searches because we find one job posting, "fall in love with it," and let our confidence and momentum shatter if we don't get offered the job. But Harlan's notion of being accepting of the millions means that we don't let what we don't get bring us down. There are many jobs in this world that we might not want, and we're perfectly okay letting those go by as we pursue the right opportunities. But if you can get equally comfortable with the idea that some jobs you're interested in will pass you by, and that's okay, you'll have a far easier time focusing on finding the position that is right for you.
Part of Harlan's Step One discusses "putting yourself in rooms." You're never going to meet people if you don't start putting yourself in rooms- dating events, online chat rooms or dating sites, group activities and networking socials, etc. Similarly, job opportunities don't (generally) show up on your doorstep in the pouring rain, proclaiming that they just have to have you. To embrace the secret truth, you have to fight the urge to wait for the right opportunity to "show up," and go out looking for it.
Step Two: Train In Your Thong
Harlan's book refers to three "thongs": physical thongs, emotional thongs, and spiritual thongs. He provides guidance to put on each one, stand in a mirror, and speak honestly to yourself about what you see. Why a thong? It's easy to be self-conscious in a thong, and very very difficult to hide in one. You can see everything, and it therefore is the best attire for pointing out vulnerabilities.
Not enough people talk about the vulnerability associated with the job search. But incorporating "thong time" into your search and periodic evaluation of yourself forces you to address it. What do you see, when standing in front of a mirror in your thong, that you like, that you're proud of? Conversely, what do you see that you don't like, that bothers you? Emotional and spiritual thongs are likely more relevant in this discussion, although jobs with physical components such as lifting, standing, or other manually laborious elements may require a try-on of the physical thong too.
Harlan says: "accept what you can't change, and change what you can't accept." The thong exercise is all about identifying priorities. Do you need to stay in a certain geographical area? That's part of what you accept. Not pleased in the field you're in and want to switch to do something new? That's a part of what you change. Take this time in front of the mirror, letting it all hang out, to decide what you need, what's important to you, and what steps it might take to get there.
Step Three: Stop Making Excuses
We all do it. We look at a posting for a job, feel that moment of elation and excitement, and then allow ourselves to be brought back down to earth by any number of things: "I'm not qualified." "I'm too qualified!" "I'm too young/too old." "I don't want to live there."
Harlan's advice? Stop. Just stop. Humans have a tremendous ability to talk themselves out of things they're not sure they can't do, but an equally tremendous ability to talk themselves into things they do want to do. Steps two and three are intimately connected: if a specific excuse comes up more often than others, it may be a vulnerability you need to return to the mirror to look at more closely. The trick here is to turn that doubt around. Find the pieces of that description you're sure you could do better than anyone else in the environment required, and focus on that.
A great tip for this? Use storytelling. Think of a time when you've completed a task or held a role similar to what this job is asking you to do, and spend some time thinking about how those lessons could apply to the task at hand. And if you've never done something they're asking you to? Tell a story of going into a situation with little knowledge or experience, and talk about what strategies you employed to be successful in that role.
When you decide to stop making excuses, a funny thing happens. Opportunities that might not have seemed surmountable, suddenly seem possible. Similarly, if something is truly out of your reach, you are more likely to recognize that fact.
Step Four: Take the Risk
Write the cover letter, then ask a friend or a career counselor to look over it for you. Get dressed up and head to a networking event. Look at a job board you might have never seen before. Apply to a job that you're mostly qualified for. Simply put, step into those "rooms" that Harlan spoke about in step one. All this self-work on preparing to take risks, and learning how to navigate them, is useless if you don't eventually do something with that knowledge.
It should be noted that much of this advice will hold as you ascend the ranks of your career. If you find yourself yearning to ask for a promotion, these same steps can be taken. Accept the possibility that it may not happen, truthfully assess your needs and vulnerabilities, explore the excuses you might make in your head, and then go for it. This advice even holds if you're looking to find a new career. Accept that it could be difficult, truthfully assess what you'll need in front of a mirror, examine the root of any excuses you might make to talk yourself out of it, and then do what needs to be done to make that dream a reality.
Step Five: Celebrate, Reflect, and Repeat
Congratulations! You put yourself out there! Regardless of outcome, I'm of the belief that such a step deserves celebration, and so is Harlan.
Now, let's address the outcome.
If your risk didn't pay off, it's okay to take time to mourn the loss of an opportunity gone by. You did invest time, energy, and some of your spirit, and you are well within your rights to feel badly about it...for a time. However, you then must return to the lesson of step one- remember that there are thousands of opportunities that will be a fit for you and your talents; there will also, statistically, be millions that will not. It might seem cold to dismiss failures as a numbers game, but if you truly went forward with your best effort it may have not been a fit for you. But let me be clear, you should always seek feedback with goals of improvement. Request feedback from the employer, share materials with friends, colleagues, and mentors, and seek professional guidance if needed. And most importantly, you'll need to start back at one and continue getting naked to pursue your goals. Eventually, the process will pay off when the right opportunity comes along.
And if you were lucky enough- nay, prepared enough- for your risk to pay off, congratulations! Your calculated and methodical efforts have paid off. Enjoy the success that you've found, but be prepared to return to the "getting naked" process to continue your upward trajectory. Continued career prosperity isn't the product of luck, any more than getting your foot in the door is. Success at any stage of your working life takes work- don't ever forget that!
If you're nervous about your job search, and in need of a new way to approach it, Harlan Cohen's Getting Naked is a surprising, but ultimately effective, way to consider your process. If you're willing to embrace the harsh but very real truth, incorporate and accept your needs and vulnerabilities, throw away your excuses, and act on your desires, you could very well find a job you truly love- all while fully clothed and completely sober.