Monday, February 25, 2008

How am I perceived?

I read an article recently about whether you really are a strategist, and one line really jumped out at me:
If you are a strategist, then quit talking about it and do it.

This brought me back to a conversation I had with a senior woman in my profession that I wanted to share here. I've been having a lot of these discussions in the past couple months, trying to get a better handle on my career goals.

This one woman, who I've known for many years but with whom I haven't worked in more than five years, was illuminating about how others in my profession in town view me. She asked about my recent work, and seemed a bit surprised to learn about the senior level of work I've done in the last half decade. Of course, my career has advanced a great deal since last I worked with her, and my projects and clients bear that out. But in her mind, I was not necessarily at that senior level.

She suggested I conduct a "perception audit" -- find out what people think of me. It's a common tactic for public relations, to gain a benchmark of understanding of how the client is perceived by their target audiences, stakeholders etc. But I had never thought of applying it to myself. But when the lightbulb went on, I realized that perhaps I wasn't trying hard enough to project the career image of myself to others that I held in my own head. I've always looked young, and because I've been a freelancer for so many years, I haven't had job titles to build public perception of how my career has grown.

Then there's my physical image. I tend to be a casual person, and I am not a big one for dressing up if I don't have to. But my colleague made the point that it's not about suits and heels, but about how I carry myself and the confidence I project. And I think it's true that when I look more professional and senior (not in age, but in career responsibility), I act that way just a bit more. And that may improve how others view me.

If I want to find either a job or better freelance security, to make the money I think I deserve it will have to be 'senior' work. So it's important that people like her view me at that level. I'm going to do a bit more asking around on this topic when I do more of my 'career goals conversations' from here on out, and I've already begun to dress up for ordinary meetings, if only to boost my own self-confidence.

How would you go about doing a perception audit for yourself, or your own "brand"?

Friday, February 22, 2008

A celebration trip

My husband, not one for surprises, surprised me last month when he announced that he'd arranged for his parents to come to town to stay with our kids for four nights so we could go away as a celebration trip for my big 4-0. He didn't plan the trip or anything, but that in and of itself was a very lovely gesture (are you listening, men?!). Since my actual birthday (March 18 in case you were wondering) falls during a school holiday, which raises the prices and the anxiety of my kids if they were left on that week, we're going two weeks before the big day.

Anyhow, we're off next week for a four night getaway to Sedona, Arizona.

It will be the longest we've ever gone away for without the kids, and while I'm nervous about my in-laws surviving the boys, I'm excited about the trip. Any advice from anyone who's been to Sedona of what to see or do?

Money -- how to charge more

As a freelancer, I've had good years and bad years when it came to money. The last two or three years have been very good years, with some long-term, lucrative contracts. But the last quarter has not been that good. I command a pretty good hourly rate from most of my clients, and when business is good I have no trouble naming that price. But in the lean months, I'm always tempted to drop my rate to find more work. I know bigger business call it "cash flow" or "loss leaders", but to me it's just a lower rate.

I found this article about charging more as a freelancer very interesting. It's got a lot of great advice about believing you're worth the high rate and why clients won't question it if you believe you're worth it. But the final comment was most interesting:
You’ll have a much easier time convincing clients that you’re worth it if your work is outstanding, or if you increase your potential to do outstanding work by building your skill-set and capabilities.

Part of charging your dream rates is a personal transformation into the kind of freelancer you’ve always dreamed of being.

In light of what I learned last week about passion and its relationship to money, this last sentence got me thinking a lot.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Triathlon update

I thought since I've started talking about my triathlon training that I'd keep posting periodic updates.

I found a great website, Beginner Triathlete, and my personal trainer has helped me put together a plan based on the site. Turns out I was training a bit too hard some days, then not hard enough others. I'm using the site's plan as a model and working with it as much as possible.

The weather has gotten better here so I've finally gotten outside on my bike. Of course, the only time I could bike on the weekend was when I had to take care of my five year old, so the bike ride involved pulling about 60 pounds behind me (well, really he was on a third-wheel attached to my bike, but since he didn't add much power, it was like pulling him). And even though I picked a flat route, it was hard. I'm really beginning to think the biking part of the tri might be the toughest part.

But undeterred, I even got out for a run Monday night with my run clinic. it's good to have people to push me along.

26 days till 40!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Searching passion

Sorry I haven't posted in a few days -- assuming anyone is actually reading what I'm writing. It's kind of strange to put this out there without really knowing if anyone is following. But I started this more to help myself by putting it all in writing and committing to the process, so even if no one is reading, I'm still writing.

Anyhow, in my last post I explained how I figured out how important it is to figure out what I'm passionate about. The problem is, I'm having a lot of trouble with that.

I've spent a lot of my career as a generalist, and while there are a lot of clients I've really enjoyed and others that really speak to my heart, I'm not really sure where my passion lies. And it's been pretty heart-wrenching to realize that at 40, I don't know where my professional passions truly lie. I have some ideas though, and have been doing a lot of mulling over. It's why I haven't posted for a few days.

For some people it seems easy to find their passion. But for me, it's been a big soul searcher, and I'm not close to an answer yet. I guess I'm grateful at least to know that once I figure it out, the rest might be easier...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What's my passion?

I had a coffee this morning with another person, a man this time, in my field to get an opinion from someone who's been in the PR business longer than me. I've been doing this a lot, asking for input about what I should aspire to if I stay in this field for another 20+ years. And his take was a bit different than the others.

Mostly to date, I've been hearing that I'll need to take a job, either with an agency or a corporate job, to build some specific expertise and contacts. The advice I've heard a lot is that I should go in-house for a couple years, try for as much flexibility as I can but expect to work regular office hours without much time for the kind of work-life balance I have now as a freelancer. And after I pay my dues, so to speak, then take steps to either gain more flexibility from my employer (who now will be willing to make concessions to keep me) or to go back to freelancing but from a position of more strength.

But today I heard something else. My collegaue today told me that if I could find my passion, the thing I like best about my work, and become the best at doing it, I could find the money and security that are perhaps more illusive in my current freelance career. He drew me a picture, which he credits to this book:

His point was that if I find my passion and it's something I can be or am the best at, I can find the money. And to me, this says that maybe, if I can figure out the passion part, I can stay as a freelancer for another 20 years.

But figuring out my passion is easier said than done. I've had a career primarily as a generalist, so to narrow it down is hard. But I do have some ideas, which I'm going to give serious mulling-over time to now.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Doing a trialathon

One of the work-life blogs I've been following ran a post last week titled "Go do a triathlon, yes you!"

Ironically, I'm already training for one. Not that this is really about my work dilemma, but it is related to my turning 40.

Many years ago I promised myself that the year I turn 40 I would do a triathlon. This is a big thing for me, because I'm not very athletic, I carry around extra weight and my commitment to exersize has been spotty in the last five years.

But a promise is a promise, and that year is here, so I'm going for it. I've got a trainer who I see every few weeks for a check-in, and I'm starting to gear up. My goal is just to finish a 'tri', not to get a great finishing time, and I'm looking to do one of the shorter ones, a "sprint" distance so I can compete with all the other middle-aged ladies instead of the Olympic athletes.

And now that I've admitted it here in writing, there's no backing out. I guess I'd better get out for a run tonight, rain or no rain! What crazy commitments did you make with a milestone birthday?

Discrimination against older workers

Not that I think that at 40 (well, 39 for another mon I'm "older", but this post from LifeTwo was still an interesting read.

I really like how it listed the way younger and older workers are perceived:

Stereotypes exist for workers of all ages. Generally speaking, younger workers are considered:

Physically more able and healthy
Easier to supervise
Lower salary expectations
Willing to use new technology

While mature workers are considered:

Have good practical knowledge

As I examine myself and my personal growth over the past two decades, I'd say the latter list does apply. That said, I'm pretty fit at 40, creative and open to new technology, so maybe I'm really part way between the two. Where do you fit?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Selling yourself

When I started out on this quest for new career goals, it probably had a lot to do with my current work situation. As a freelancer, we get used to work coming and going, ebbing and flowing, raining and drought -- okay, enough metaphors, you get my point. Well I had a few really great years, lots of ebbing and little flowing.

But those years are not now. Right now I'm feeling insecure about my ability to keep generating freelance work. It's not that I have no work, but after doing really well for so long, it's disheartening to not be raking in the dough or the projects.

I know I should just be out there selling myself, but that I think is the problem. I love doing the work I do, and I really enjoy the work-life balance I've had by being self-employed. But I have always hated knocking on doors (figuratively speaking). I'm great at giving proposals and winning business when someone asks me to bid, but not so great at cold calling.

I wonder if I wasn't having this current work crisis if I'd be in such a rush to redefine my work goals. I guess it's a blessing to happen to me now so I can rethink things now, rather than later when I might be even more entrenched and unwilling to make a change. The only thing I've decided for sure so far is that I don't want to be trolling for work like this for 25 more years. There must be a better way...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Who do you ask for career advice?

Via the Globe and Mail, I read a news blurb that said that for most people, their spouse is the preferred person to offer career counsel.
Who's the first person you'd go to for guidance on a career change? Your spouse, a survey finds.

Forty six per cent of 150 senior executives said they'd turn first to a spouse or significant other when evaluating a potential job change, up from 42 per cent when asked five years early, the survey by staffing service Accountemps finds.

Next up: a mentor, chosen by 41 per cent, up from 28 per cent in 2002.

After that, the executives opted for a co-worker or other family member, chosen by 4 per cent each, then a friend, selected by 3 per cent, or someone else, at 2 per cent.

I don't know if that's true in my case. I talk things like over a lot with my husband, but he doesn't work in my field at all, so has no idea what I'm talking about when I discuss my options. Of course, asking the blogosphere for advice is probably not the best thing either, is it?

I guess by making my list of women in my profession who I admire and picking their brains one at a time, I'm consulting mentor types. Who do you ask?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Aging is depressing (until 50)??

I read an article recently in the Globe and Mail that discussed a new research study about being happy in mid-life. It said that aroudn the world,
most of us bottom out in our mid-40s, describing ourselves as unhappy or even depressed.

But here's the good news: We bounce back and describe ourselves as happier in our 50s and 60s.

Does this explain my mid-life crisis? If it does, at least there's a bright side in the next decade...

Monday, February 4, 2008

When is it too late to change careers?

When is it too late to change careers?

Via U-Turn Ahead, I found an interesting website called Life Two, which is all about mid-life crises, personal and professional. Some of it hit home.

I like this article about when to change careers. It quotes from a newspaper article that says essentially, if you're going to change, do it before 50, because after that you're too old.

I guess I'm not alone then in thinking that career goals seem to extend only as far as middle age. We grow up with a focus on the first 20 work years -- get a job, build a career, earn good money, then settle in and keep it up for the next 20 years. That's the part I find unsatisfying. There must be more to it for the second half of work life.

When is it too late to find new career goals?

Friday, February 1, 2008

Another take on agencies

I had lunch last week with another senior woman at a different PR agency. She's been with them for more than a decade, and is even in charge of recruitment for the agency now. This lunch wasn't quite as flattering as the last one. She didn't think there was a place at a PR agency for someone over 40, and was steering me more towards a corporate job.

I asked her what was my best bet to sustain a career into my latter decades, and she went right for the full-time, corporate gig. Basically, take a full-time job, work it for a couple years, then either convince the employer to relax my hours for more work-life balance, or take what I learned on the job, contacts and all, and go back to freelancing.

Not what I really wanted to hear, but it's certainly an opinion I've expected.

On a brighter note, however, she did say that my career to date isn't really missing anything I'd need to get that kind of job. She gave me a real pep talk about finding the right fit if I do take a job.

I do realize a full-time job is in my near future, but I'd like to put it off for a while if I can. My youngest kid starts kindergarten next year, and I'd really like to freelance for a few more years to have more time for the kids if I can.

But when do you become "too old" to be hired for a job like that? Do I have more opportunities at 40 than I would at 44 or 48?