Oh la la! France bans answering emails after work hours-by Barbara Babkirk-April 17, 2014

Need to get a handle on your inbox? Move to France!
French lawmakers just gave us another reason to covet the lifestyle of our neighbor across the pond. In addition to outrageously good food and wine, it offers 35-hour work-weeks and mandatory 6 week vacations for all.
In addition, it can now boast that it protects some unionized employees from overworking by requiring them to “disconnect” once they’ve clocked out for the day. Incroyable!


What do you think you’d need to get more of a grip on your email?
Short of relocating, here are a few ideas that might help create a better balance in your workday:

  • Limit the time you spend on emails and designate an “offline” period of time each day.
  • Assess the emails you receive and remove your name from list-serves and subscriptions you really don’t need—they just add to workday clutter.
  • Whenever possible, deal with emails when you open them, and shrink the number emails in your inbox—just seeing them can bring on a sense of overwhelm.
  • When you feel like you’ll never get to the bottom of your inbox, take a break.

Learn from the French and have a leisurely lunch and come back to work refreshed. Pourquoi pas?

What Stresses You Out? by Barbara Babkirk – April 8, 2014

Stress is an expected part of life, especially these days. You are not alone if you have too much to do, competing demands, relationship conflicts and financial worries that occupy your thoughts or keep you up at night.

When you’re dealing with several issues at the same time, you can easily feel overwhelmed. At worst, you might feel like you’re going through the motions of your life and not in control of any of it.

At that point, stress is more than a frustration or an annoyance—it can be a danger to your health and well-being.  With all of the available articles and published research on that topic, you probably already knew that. Yet, you may feel helpless to change because you are caught up in a non-stop cycle of activity, worry and fear.

One of the key causes of stress is a misalignment between priorities and actions. For example, you may believe that your family is your highest priority, yet you consistently miss important family events or celebrations in favor of work. Or, you may state that your health is very important, but have not scheduled an annual physical or taken action to reduce your blood pressure or weight.

While some factors influencing stress are out of your control (job loss or illness of a friend), there are many more that are within your control.  It can shift your mood or even heart rate and blood pressure to focus on something on which you can take immediate action.

Knowing that you are not living in alignment with your highest priorities is stressful, and you can change that. Here’s how you might begin:

  1. List the highest four priorities in your life.
  2. Rate yourself from 1-5 on how closely your life reflects these (i.e. Are you walking your talk?)
  3. Pick one priority that is out of alignment (rated 1-3).
  4. Identify one small step you can take within the next two weeks to make this priority more prominent in your life. Do not underestimate the power of any step in shifting the whole pattern. The point is to begin the change.
  5. Repeat the exercise every 3 months or more often.

If there are several areas of out sync, check in with yourself and let you heart tell you where to start.

Your Career in Permanent Beta – by Scott Woodard, March 27, 2014

Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, in their book The Startup of You, speak to the concept of your career in permanent beta. Their idea is that change is so rapid and constant that it makes long term career planning and management impossible. And by long term planning, Hoffman and Casnocha means three-to-five years. Instead, they argue, to be successful in your career, to remain competitive, you need to stay “nimble and iterate…always remaining in the test phase – permanent beta.”

As the title of their book implies, Hoffman and Casnocha equate career management with startup technology companies. They advocate that career success need to mirror the entrepreneurial skills characteristic of these startups. In fact, Hoffman is the founder of LinkedIn the online professional social networking site.

Permanent beta connotes that your career is never finished. It’s a continual work in progress and that it is always day one. For many people, 20 year’s experience is actually one year experience repeated 20 times because they have done a variation of the same thing for 20 years. However, in permanent beta, 20 years experience is actually 20 years experience as each year is marked by new challenges and opportunities. Permanent beta is essentially a lifelong commitment to continuous professional improvement.

Your career in permanent beta acknowledges that you have bugs; that new development is constantly required; that you need to adapt and evolve. It’s also celebratory and optimistic, recognizing that you have the power to improve, not just yourself, but the world around you.

The mindset of permanent beta and being the entrepreneur of your own life and career requires critical skills that include determining your competitive advantage, then iterating and adapting to remain competitive. It also includes building real and lasting relationships into a powerful professional network, creating opportunities by tapping your network, and taking intelligent risk as you pursue those opportunities.

You need to draw on the strategies employed by entrepreneurs to survive in times of rapid and constant change and to break out from the pack and flourish as a globally competitive professional.

Whether you’re looking to move up in your organization, start your own business, or transition to an entirely new career, you need to adopt entrepreneurial career strategies that will help you thrive in the new normal of work.

So, are YOU keeping your career in permanent beta? Can you articulate your competitive advantage? Do you have strong relationships that can help steer you to key opportunities when they arise?

What’s On Your Mind Can Make (or Break) Your Day – by Barbara Babkirk, March 17, 2014

There’s a quote by the French writer, Blaise Pascal that you can live by:

“In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind.”


Whether you’ve recently lost your job, feel discouraged by the lack of developments in your job search, or you’re just having a bad day, you may benefit from something else to focus on instead of your troubling circumstances.

In his book, Beauty, the late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue talks about the essential place of beauty in our lives. O’Donohue in a voice that is confident and inviting, states that beauty “stirs passion and urgency in us”, and “awakens the heart.”

If you were to embrace the notion that summoning, or merely noticing beauty in your life, would transform your day or a difficult moment, what would you focus on?

Think simple or extravagant beauty, go on a hunt or turn your head to notice what is around you, the choice is yours.

You need only shift your attention and see what new perspective you might experience.

Do You Know Your Calling? by Barbara Babkirk, March 9, 2014

Calling, purpose or vocation—these popular terms refer to work that gives you a sense of meaning and fulfillment and draws on your innate gifts. A calling connects your inner strengths and natural inclinations with outer needs and opportunities.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who wanted to discover her calling. She longed for the passion her husband had for his career as a physician—a profession he’d imagined since he was 10. She thought that this was how it was supposed to be—you “just know” at a young age what you’re meant to do in the world and then achieve it.

She saw her lack of clarity about her direction or calling as a character flaw. In response, I shared my perspective on the different ways that a person might experience and develop a calling.

Individuals who “just knew” early on what they wanted to do when they grew up and actually accomplished it are actually few and far between compared to the rest of us.

Far more people grow up clueless about their calling than those who knew it from a young age.

But, that does not mean that the majority of us have to move through life aimlessly without a sense of how we might contribute to the world.

In spite of no clear career direction early in life, most of us live our lives and find an array of work options that suit us in one way or another.  As our experiences accumulate, we may begin to recognize an unfolding pattern—one that slowly develops a path of its own, not based on a preconceived goal with prescribed steps.

Take for example Barbara Allen, a Purpose Prize winner of the Encore movement, who, in her second half of life, was “called back” to the art world after being a stay at home mom for 20 years. Barbara founded “Fresh Artists”, an organization that engages students in the giving process by using their artwork to raise money to buy art supplies for their public schools.

In reflecting on her new and unplanned career, Barbara talked about seeing the “threads of everything I’ve done before, woven in a new tapestry”.

The clues to a life calling are present in many ways and reveal themselves in your particular interests, talents, attributes, and chosen activities.

Here’s an exercise that might help you discover clues to a calling:

  1. Make a time line of your work history from your very first job to your current one. List each job title and when you did it.
  2. Under each job, indicate what you brought to it that seemed different from others doing this job (e.g. for one of your early jobs… “I was always on time.” or “I was the one who asked a lot of questions.”)
  3. Indicate the part of any job that made you feel alive and engaged.
  4. Note the parts of any job that were right for you (met your needs at the time, tasks were easy to do, received positive feedback…)
  5. When you’re finished, review your responses and determine if there is a pattern to your responses.
  6. See if this pattern reveals a clue to your calling.

You may find that you’ve been pursuing a calling for sometime, but did not recognize it.

A true calling comes from listening and paying attention.

What’s calling you?

Will You Be A Retirement Pioneer? by Barbara Babkirk, February 18, 2014

I visited with friends who moved from the Northeast to Colorado a few years ago. During my time at their new home in the Rockies, I met a cadre of their friends, most of whom were retired from careers of many years. But, unlike retirees of past generations, these 60-somethings are leading very active, vibrant lives after ending their dedication to primary careers.

Some have launched new careers and reinvented themselves in totally different areas of the marketplace; some are finishing degrees they never completed; while others are traveling far and wide to offer disaster relief through their churches; or leading the charge locally on pressing community issues.

Most are transplants to Colorado from other areas of the country, abandoning the trend of settling into Arizona or Florida retirement communities in favor of a more active lifestyle and community engagement.

These baby boomer retirees are today’s social pioneers who are redefining retirement. Their increased life expectancy is allowing them to not only dream about a bucket list, but systematically check off the list as well.

The life and work choices boomers are making in the second half of their lives are based increasingly on a significant desire for meaning and purpose. While the direction their desire for meaning takes them is as varied as the individual’s interests and values, boomers are clearly expanding the notion of what’s possible in retirement. With their pursuit of giving back and contributing to the greater good, today’s retirement outlook is a far cry from past generations.

What path will you take for your retirement?

Responses That Could Ruin Your Job Search – by Barbara Babkirk, February 9, 2014

If you’re engaged in a job search, the adage: “honesty is the best policy” is a good one to follow. However, it is important to be discerning and thoughtful about what and how much to reveal. Everyone has a big story to tell. But, don’t tell all when a snippet will do.

Here are a few examples of questions that could come up during any job search and real-life responses that could cost you your next job opportunity:

  • Why did you apply for this particular job?

Honest, but not the best reply:  “I love Maine and have always wanted to get back to sailing.”

While this may be true, your personal motivation should not be stated as the first and primary reason for applying. Be prepared for this commonly asked question by indicating a strong match between your skills and experience and the qualifications required for the job.

  • Why did you leave your last job?

Honest, but not the best reply: “Well…Let’s just say that my boss and I did not get along.”

Whenever possible, keep your comments positive, particularly when it comes to past employment experiences. Even if you did not see eye to eye with your supervisor, stating this might cause the interviewer to question your ability to get along with authority figures. Instead, find a way to say that it was time to find a job that offered different working relationships where you had more autonomy (or whatever else might be pertinent to you).

  • What are your salary requirements?

Honest, but not the best reply: “I’m flexible.”

These days, employers seem to want a ballpark figure of an applicant’s compensation expectations. While you may be somewhat flexible about what you’d accept for compensation, you need to do your homework.

Research what this type of position pays in the marketplace and indicate a salary range that is consistent with your experience and expertise. When you’re offered the job, then negotiate a specific salary that’s aligned with your relevant competencies and the value you will add.

  • What are your weaknesses?

Honest, but not the best reply: You respond with a list of shortcomings only your mother would know!

A brief and concise response is key to this question. If you are confident that you have what it takes to do the job, focus on that, rather than any weakness that is not relevant to your getting the job done.

  • What do you want to do? (Asked during networking, informational interviews, or by someone who wants to help you out.)

Honest, but not the best reply: ” I really don’t know.”

When someone offers to help you with your job search, they need to have some clues about your goals. It is not necessary to name a specific job title (in fact, this could limit and narrow your search); instead, state the key competencies you want to use along with some thoughts about the type of work environment or interest area in which you’d like to work. Let them tell you what comes to mind as possible matches for you. Then ask for an introduction to someone they know who would be a good contact.

In order to put your best foot forward during your job search, anticipate these types of questions. During conversations or job interviews, breathe, and pause a few seconds before answering difficult questions.

Being reflective might allow you to discern between an honest, but naive response and a frank, but wise one.

What Would You Do With More Sleep? – by Barbara Babkirk

A poll cited in Spirituality and Health magazine asked Americans to choose among the following activities if they had more time in a day: sleep, rest and relax, work, socialize or play. Now what activity would you choose?

If you responded like the majority of those asked, you’d head for bed. That’s not surprising, given that over 60% of us are sleep deprived. Americans, overall, are sleeping one hour less per night than our parent’s generation.

Many factors contribute to our inability to get enough zzz’s—the availability of the internet has made work a 24/7 proposition and our attachment to the accumulation of “things” has kept most of us working to support our habit.  Economist, Juliet Schor, wrote about this increasing phenomenon in her book, The Overspent American.

So, what is the impact of our lack of sleep? To quote Professor of Medicine, Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago, “Lack of sleep disrupts every physiologic function in the body”. Lack of sleep has been linked at one extreme to driving accidents and fatalities to an inability to focus or develop clarity in solving any number of life’s problems.

Everyone needs a certain number of hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. That number varies per individual, but the articles I’ve read indicate that the magic figure is between 7 and 9—or perhaps gauged by whatever time you would normally awake without an alarm clock. Erroneously, many Americans believe that if they can “make up” the lack of sleep in any given day or week, all will be fine.

But, that is not the case.  Research shows that if you don’t get the hours of sleep you need, you begin to create a “sleep debt”. Lost sleep accumulates and you grow a larger sleep indebtedness that does not just go away with a good night’s sleep. You can only reduce your sleep debt by sleeping over and above what you normally need.

Perhaps a way to sleep well at night is to slow down during the day, rather than expect your body to immediately doze off once you come to a screeching halt at bedtime. For more tips on improving your sleep, read the Huffington Post article: “How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep”.

Good Night!

How Winter Can Impact Your Life, Job or Career Transition – by Barbara Babkirk

Winter has come upon us with a vengeance. Since the season began on December 21, the winter solstice, there’s been no mistaking that it’s here.

Whether you truly enjoy winter or merely put up with it, this season remains a predictable aspect of life in Maine.

Understanding the significance of this season that ends one year and begins anew, can give new meaning to your experience of freezing temperatures, snow covered terrain and icy footpaths.

At this time of year we tend to remain inside much more and, consequently, we may become closed off to the outside world. During this insular time, we experience the long, dark wintry nights as daylight slowly begins to lengthen.

With the backdrop of the winter solstice, and the inward focused nature of the season, you might gain insight into some of life’s challenging questions or simply find answers about your next career move.

Here are some questions to reflect upon that recognize the season and its passage from darkness into light:

  • What does the darkness of winter evoke in me?
  • What belief or attitude might I release, strengthen or change in order to embrace a purposeful aspect to this time?
  • Like the seeds deep within the dark, winter ground, what lies dormant within me that may want to sprout as daylight slowly but surely increases? (What implication does this have for my work, my family, my life?)

“Without darkness nothing comes to birth,

without light nothing flowers.” – May Sarton

Keys to Job Satisfaction – Barbara Babkirk – January 16, 2014

Imagine…It’s Sunday night and, even though you’ve had an enjoyable weekend, you’re feeling down, even a sense of dread.

At first your change in mood takes you by surprise, but then it hits you: tomorrow is Monday and you’re not happy about returning to work.

If you can relate to this scenario, you are not alone. It’s estimated that more than half of all Americans do not enjoy their jobs. To paint an even bleaker picture, more people suffer heart attacks on Monday mornings than on any other day—a sobering statistic.

So, what does it take to find work that is satisfying and that shifts your attitude about Mondays?

The keys may be in a simple formula that seems to consistently result in sustained job satisfaction.

S+I+V=Job Satisfaction

  • Skills: Your work predominantly calls on the strengths, competencies and proven abilities that you currently enjoy using.
  • Values: The work you do and the mission of the organization for which you work align with your values. Your work is meaningful to you in some way.
  • Interests: The topics surrounding your work as well as work-related discussions and professional development activities are ones that engage you.

To have one or two of these factors in your job may seem adequate, but over time, it’s likely that you’ll lose interest and motivation. Typically, all three need to be part of your work experience to sustain a sense of satisfaction.

So go ahead; assess how your job stacks up against the formula. You might discover what’s missing in your current job and have a tool with which to evaluate your next one.

Heart At Work Associates offers career counseling and outplacement services for your life stage in Portland, Maine and globally.

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