What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do

When was the last time that you took some time out for yourself, by yourself? I'm not talking about getting a manicure or an exercise class, or even curling up for a good book/Netflix binge. Can you remember the last time you spent some time with yourself - alone, in silence, with the iPhone in another room. And your iPad turned off. 

Yeah? Me neither. 

I can't even recall the last time I was able to get through an entire YouTube meditation without interruption. What's worse, I've gotten so used to noise that I can't comfortably meditate in silence. I need someone to guide me, to tell me what to do. (Yes, I understand the irony of this situation - to be discussed in another post.)

I'm not an indecisive person. I also dislike ambiguity-  it's uncomfortable - especially when I should have the answers. Am I tired or sick? Which color dress? Do I want to stay home or go out? Though there may be no right or wrongs here, we're still expected to have the answers. We should be able to identify our desires and follow a plan of action to the desired result.

But what if we can't? I know plenty of my contemporaries who are somewhat unhappy in their jobs. That also means they're only somewhat content. I'm early Generation-Y, and we grew up hearing that we could do anything we put our minds to. We could be happy, fulfilled, if only we wanted it bad enough (and worked for it.) So how come so many of us aren't satisfied by our careers? 

I think it's because a lot of us don't really know what "happy" means - not in the general sense, but the very personal, unique vision that's stored in our hearts. That impossible to articulate piece of a dream.  We know what unhappy looks like - stifled, angry, frustrated - and most of us accept this as inevitable with any job.  In fact, we spend most of our lives somewhere between unhappy and happy - in the "OK" zone. Or "fine." Or whatever adjective you use when someone asks how you're doing today.  It's very hard to be both OK and truly happy at the same time. But it's quite easy to be both OK and hate your job, because you believe that you can and will find something better... Something that looks like job satisfaction.

If only you knew what that looked like! There's a really annoying phrase: "You don't know what you don't know." Here, it's applicable.  What's more annoying - no one is going to fill you in! I wish a fairy godmother had tapped me on the shoulder 10 years ago and said, "Brett, you will be happy as a headhunter and you will adopt a cat."  I would have never guessed that. I would have never even be in this profession unless I resigned from a miserable job without anything else lined up. I knew I was unhappy and I didn't know what my happiness looked like. So I took a leap of faith.

(Edited to add: I am not suggesting you make any sudden moves! In fact, this post is advocating that you do what is right for you. I have often made sudden moves that I later regret.)

Yeah, at first I fell flat on my face. And I couldn't for the life of me figure out what it was I wanted to do. I spent a month or so as a waitress, interviewing for various fundraising positions. I cried- a lot. I asked for advice from anyone and everyone.  I listened to the noise. There was a lot of it, internal and external; it became a classic case of "analysis paralysis." Should I do this or that? I couldn't decide. I was listening to everyone but myself, literally running in circles around the Mall. (I had nothing else to do.)

So I stopped.

I made a point to sit and check in with myself at the halfway point of my jogs. I took out my headphones and sat on the edge of the Capitol Reflecting Pool. I stared at the water until it felt right to close my eyes. I breathed.

And then... Nothing. 

No answers to the secret of life, no epiphanies about the purpose of my existence.  Just a clear mind. A silent mind. And with a silent mind, you can hear something else.

Try it. Be silent. Breathe in, breathe out. Listen... Do you hear it?

It's your heart. It's asking you to do nothing but breathe. You can do that. You don't have to make any decisions or take any action. You just need to breathe. 

Just like you can't make edits before you write, you can't make changes or prepare yourself for eventualities. You don't have to decide right now what you really want or what might make you happy. You only need to ready for it when it comes.  And when it comes, you'll act from a place of stillness, rather than reaction.

Until then, do nothing. (Notice I am not suggesting you leave your "ok" job or make any moves at all.) Really,  give yourself permission to do nothing. Be patient, be still, don't react.  That is all you need to do when you don't know what to do.

Interviews: The Psychology Behind the Questions

Interviews: The Psychology Behind the Questions

Today, I'd like to shed some light on interview techniques and why many recruiters, myself included, use them. Obviously, I am not the first person to write about interview questions on LinkedIn, or the brilliant/maddening techniques used by Fortune 500 CEO's.  But what I'd like to do today is pull back the curtain on the psychology behind interviews - why I ask the things I do.  I know that this won't be an "aha!" moment for many, and some of you may disagree with my approach, so feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments section.

Play to Your Strengths | Career Advice from the HR Frontlines

A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine (we'll call her Fran*) reached out for some career advice. Fran had just moved back to the DC area after a couple of years in Florida, where she had completed law school. Following a devastating breakup, she found herself on her best friend's couch in Virginia, unemployed and with hopes to pass the bar (which, to her credit, is pretty impossible while you're fighting with your ex-boyfriend while packing up your life).