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Get the Crayons Out and Get to Work

Do you want to be a “good corporate citizen,” occupy the “executive suite,” or go super-charged by taking an “extreme job” to earn the really big bucks? It’s no easy choice. On the extreme end of the spectrum are “over-achieving road warriors,” whose income ratchets them up the lifestyle scale of a champagne chaser. Not bad until you realize it’s a 24/7 job and having a family or social life isn’t one of the perks. On the opposite end is the middle manager, the good corporate citizen. Your life is “balanced and fulfilled,” your paycheck is six figures, but “you have to work your tail off.” In between is the executive suite, wallpapered with perks and carpeted in goodies. Pay is high, but so is the risk of burnout, with most people lasting only five years.

So, how do you choose? Career advice specialist Dr. Ella J. Edmondson Bell offers exercises, worksheets, and tips to set you on the right track. Career GPS: Strategies for Women Navigating the New Corporate Landscape, which Bell wrote with Linda Villarosa, is designed for women negotiating a first job or career move in need of advice not readily available to the matched chromosome set. Let’s face it ladies, despite recent statistics showing that women outrank men by sheer numbers in the United States workforce, the peachiest jobs still typically go to men. Pursuing executive or extreme jobs often entails sacrifices to a woman’s personal life. “Women simply don’t get the same payoff from extreme jobs that men do,” the authors point out, quoting a 2006 Harvard Business Review article. Success frequently comes at the expense of marriage and children. Knowing who you are and what you want to achieve is an important step to building your career. “In order to succeed,” the authors write, “you have to bring your whole self to the table.” So, you must discover and embrace “all of who you are.” And to do this, you have to meet “your eight-year-old.” That’s where the crayons come in.

The eight-year-old in question is your inner eight-year-old – the person you were a long time ago who had dreams, a favorite piece of clothing, favorite activities, heroes and sheroes. To get in touch with her, rent the Disney fantasy movie The Kid, pour yourself a glass of wine, watch the movie, then write a letter to your eight-year-old self using your favorite colored crayon. Imagine what she might say about the person you’ve become. What do you say to her? When you’re done, get out some more crayons and draw your lifeline from childhood to the present.

Now, ignoring the incongruity of pretending to be a child while you pour yourself a glass of wine – not to mention what you’re going to say your spouse when he walks in on you in the middle of this – what can such an exercise offer in the interests of career advancement? According to Edmondson – a lot. “Being sure of who you are and what you want allows you to make sound career decisions.” And, “knowing, accepting, and liking who you are encourages others to do the same.” Doing this exercise, therefore “will allow you to reflect on your whole life journey so you can gain the self-knowledge that makes you more genuine, authentic, and confident.”

Difficult? Oh yeah. Edmondson has even used these exercises on “tough-as-nails male executives,” who have “ended up in tears.”

Despite that endorsement, my advice is to skip the crayons and stick to the grown-up parts of the book. The authors provide valuable insight for climbing the career ladder. Don’t get me wrong. I like eight-year-olds. I’m just not sure that spending time with my inner one will result in the kind of career boost I need. Practical advice on résumés, job searches, developing a winning script for interviews, and other great career tips do have value. So do the many checklists, mini-quizzes, and testimonials from successful women. It’s like having a career coach you can stuff into your handbag. And if it makes you feel more comfortable, throw in a few crayons. FBN


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