Your Career: A Day at the Beach


On a rainy day in Southern California (yes, they sometimes do happen), I reminisce about the several beach days I had recently over the summer.  In this reverie, I thought of an analogy to career development that would make sense to anyone who has been to a crowded beach on a hot summer day.  When you arrive at the beach on such a day, how do you pick your spot on the sand?  For me, I am grateful to land on any spot—though I try not to get too close to others, and I prefer to be within sight of the ocean.  Under these conditions, do I wind up exactly where I want to?  Rarely.  But I certainly do not want to walk all over the beach waiting to find such a spot either.  It is much nicer on those fortunate days where it is not so crowded. 
But then there are times when even under the most crowded conditions, I find the ultimate spot in the sand:  a great spot, right near the ocean, where the air is chilled to that moderate temperature that facilitates relaxation.  But even in these circumstances, I might become subject to changing tides.  Have you ever found yourself as such, perfectly situated on the beach when over the hours, the rising tide creeps toward your towels or blanket and suddenly your optimal spot is in jeopardy of being submerged.  A large wave can come from nowhere and make this happen in an unexpected second to one who has drifted into a sun-induced slumber or meditative state.
Think about the correlations here with career experience.  In a competitive and crowded job market, people are also compelled to grab the most immediate job offers that they can land—sometimes less than ideal.  Opportunities that you prefer might not be available.  In a job search, circumstance might not allow us to go for what is ideal, try as we might. 
Additionally, even when we are fortunate enough to find a great job or spot, the landscape is constantly changing.  Optimal for a time, but if we get too comfortable and we are not wary of the implications of these changes, we can find ourselves in a most uncomfortable situation.
My current work allows me to assist many who have been displaced from jobs that they have successfully held for years.  The new economy has been particularly brutal on some, and it is sobering to see individuals accustomed to making six figures participating in a program that compels them to at least consider jobs that pay minimum wage.   I see the greatest potential for success for those who are open to any possibility within their range, and who are also willing to move away from positions that while once were favorable, are now metaphorically submerged.  The winning attitude also contains a sense of gratitude.  Even if we have to settle into a less than ideal spot, or if our once enviable spot is taken; to have a day on the beach, to have that opportunity, is something truly to be grateful.  And thus, I cannot wait until the weather again gives me another shot to hit the sand.

Half full — or Half Empty?

The pervasive bad news spinning through the media right now is really astounding: the continuing drops in the stock market, declining retail profits, the dying automotive industry, increasing foreclosures, layoffs, hiring freezes, unemployment (or underemployment). It has really snowballed over the last few months. The reiteration I continually hear is that we are facing times worse than any faced by generations born after the Great Depression.

The gloomy outlook all might be true, but my argument is: Does it really help to dwell on everything that is wrong, when arguably, there still are things positive or things that we can be thankful for? Am I the only one who is thankful to see gas prices drop to lower prices than seen in five years? But there is more to see, and I am becoming more convinced that the way to get beyond whatever these times continue to bring us is to dwell on what is still good, while also continually seeking ways that each of us can contribute to make things better.

I recently came upon a few sites that help convey this message and have been useful to me in maintaining a sense of optimism that I genuinely believe helps one thrive. And so I now gladly share them with you:

Now might be a challenging time for many, but I believe that we must not despair when facing difficulties. Instead persevere and keep an open mind to possibility. Easier said than done, but survival itself is much easier for those who can manage to keep their cups half full no matter what they are going through.

Invention is the Mother of Opportunity

On a lead from the PSFK blog, I was amazed to find that Daniel Burd, a sixteen year-old kid from Canada, had quite possibly found a solution to a major environmental scourge: the disposable plastic shopping bag.

When you consider that most of these bags are not recycled and thus end up in landfills, and that in the landfills they do not biodegrade, we have a major problem. Moreover, much of this plastic unfortuanately ends up in the ocean, where it endangers marine life, and has even created a shameful mass known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Here’s a video posted by Cryptic Moth:

Hopefully, none of us need to be reminded of the problems created by these plastic bags. What I would like to emphasize is how a young man not even out of high school took the irritation of accumulating bags in his house, and set it upon himself to identify which microbes are responsible for degrading these bags, and resultingly found a natural solution for getting rid of them. It turns out that at the right temperature, some yeast for fermentation, and two microbes, these bags can be degraded in weeks.

Things that can be learned from this kid:

1. Do not ignore problems brought to your attention. Instead, challenge yourself to find a solution. Problems are often opportunities in disguise, but it takes passion, initiative, and dedication. Nobody would have expected somebody this young to make this discovery–and yet he did. Why? Because he took the initiative to solve his problem, and methodically and tenaciously devised a solution.

2. Do what other people aren’t doing. When Daniel Burd researched what other people were doing to solve this problem and discovered that they weren’t doing much, he then took it upon himself to do something. This is the source of invention, innovation, and opportunity. You should always be looking for this sort of opportunity in your life and career.

3. Think big. Daniel Burd could have stopped his experimentation when he identified that plastic in a bacterial culture degraded faster than in a control setting. That alone might have secured his winning a national science fair, but even after winning this fair, he plans to further his study to see if his idea can be implemented on an industrial level. By thinking and devoting himself on a larger scale, this young man made a profound discovery instead of a mere curiousity. The difference may be small, but the results are big.