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Month: October 2016

Steps to Overcome a Common Personal Fear: Job Security

Steps to Overcome a Common Personal Fear: Job Security

As a father, we need to lead by example, and one of the areas that is important is how we personally deal with fear. We significantly influence what our children fear and how they respond to it. We also need to show them how we deal with it in our lives.

Fear isn’t all bad. It can be a positive motivator. Fear of death can lead to acting in more of a safe manner, for example wearing our seat belts and exercising regularly.

But unfounded fear can be very unhealthy. It can cause stress and anxiety which can have significant long-term negative health effects. Fear can also paralyze us into inaction, preventing us from achieving our true potential.

I have struggled with fear a lot as an adult. One major fear, that is common among men, is that I feared losing my job.

In 2006, I entered the full-time job market, and two years later, in 2008, we experienced the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression. People in industries that I worked with lost their jobs. Projects got canceled. Companies folded. And I watched many people struggle to find a job or who were significantly underemployed. In 2011, I even hired someone who was underemployed.

Right before this economic catastrophe, I also entered the two biggest commitments of my life. I got married in 2006 and we bought our first house in 2007.  What happened next in the economy made me extremely fearful about job security. This led me to avoid what I perceived as taking on risk in my career. For the most part, I just put my head down and did my job. I didn’t stretch myself or make any big changes after these events unfolded for a long while. The energy and enthusiasm I carried coming out of graduate school quickly waned.

For years I plodded along, not challenging myself enough out of fear of drawing too much attention to myself. I wanted stability and I thought that this was how to go about getting it. I spent time worrying about this risk in my head and was paralyzed.

Then almost five years ago I became a father. The added responsibility of financially providing for your family added more weight to this fear. It wasn’t just me who would be impacted by losing my job. After a few of years of being a father and allowing my career to be driven fear, I had had enough. I was stressed and anxious and felt out of control.

So, about two or three years ago, through a healthy self-evaluation process, I started to change how I approached this job security fear and started doing something about it.

Take Action

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”  Dale Carnegie

I was stuck in a cyclical pattern of inaction. I was not learning a new skill. I was not pro-actively networking. I was not asking for new opportunities. I was not really doing anything pro-active to change things. And I was tired of it. I wanted change and I wanted to start doing something that was in my power to accomplish. I finally accepted that action was required. Doing nothing was just going to continue the pattern I was in.

Look for Ways to Add More Value

I should have been actively seeking ways to add more value to the company and clients I was working for.  Even if that meant that I was doing something no one else was doing.

I started by looking for ways to apply the skills I already had in new areas. I started talking to my clients, co-workers, managers, and peers about what their biggest challenges and frustrations were. I learned how others performed their jobs. I looked for processes that could use improvement or added insight that I might be able to provide. And I kept at it until I found some problems to solve.

The best way to remain employable is to have a track record of solving problems for others. You’re only as good as your ability to add value to others.

Invest in Yourself

While I was attentive to finding ways to add more value I made a note of skills that were needed that I did not possess. While making note of these, I did some research on the marketability of them.

I then started a list of potential skills and certifications that I should consider learning. And I started learning new things right away. I learned more about web and mobile technologies and database design. My staff management experience grew.

I learned that it is more important to make yourself indispensable by becoming So Good They Can’t Ignore You as Cal Newport writes. So as I was finding ways to add more value to myself so that I could add more value to others.

Take Some Calculated Risks

As Seth Godin brilliantly points out in his book the The Icarus Deception, flying too low can be just as dangerous as flying too high. I was playing it too safe.

So I started taking a few risks on projects or roles. I wrote memos and emails that were not asked for but provided suggestions and opinions that I felt were needed. Then I picked up the phone and talked to people who I thought were too busy or important to engage with me. I stopped asking permission for every little thing and just started delivering good solutions, strategies, ideas, and technology.

Just like we do when we invest our money, I was looking for ways where the potential downside was big, and downside was relatively small.

What happened after that was transforming. Doors opened. New roles and responsibilities were given. More autonomy and freedom were received. I saw an opportunity for my company, used my experience and skills to form a suggested strategy, and then was given the keys to go make it happen. Over the last two years I’ve been able to hire over 20 new employees and now manage a team of 35.

Get Personal Finances in Order

Another important step to help reduce my fears of job security were making sure my personal finances were in order. This started with making sure we were living below our means and we had a proper emergency fund in place. Personally, we have targeted at least 6 months of household expenses in our emergency fund, but that is with two incomes. If my wife or I were to stop working we would probably increase that to 9 or 12 months.

My anxiety around the financial impact of losing my job has diminished since we’ve understood our finances and have cash saved for an emergency. The reality is even if we are the best at what we do, there are things in the job market beyond our control that could lead to losing our job. Being prepared for that possibility through personal finance is a good self-insurance policy.

Fear, whether real or perceived, is extremely powerful. Our media industry knows this all too well. They often prey upon people’s fears about war, economic calamity, the weather, and even traffic. They sensationalize often rather mundane news stories to elicit a bit of fear or insecurity to gather your attention. And we also know how advertising is built on triggering the fear of missing out.

The stories of economic calamity on the news probably negatively influenced my perception on my job security. Looking back, I was young, cheap, almost 100% billable to clients, and often was an out-performer. I probably had very little to worry about with respect to job security.

But unfortunately sometimes fear is based on an incorrect perception of consequence. For example, we fear that if we quit our job even though we’re unhappy that we may never find another one. We fear about losing our job, and have fear about our inability to control that. Some job markets have a lot of turnover, but many do not.  But our fear paralyzes us from taking action, fear of the unknown.

So if you worry about job security like I did for a long time, evaluate that fear, and get started with these actions that you have control over today.

Three Things to Tell Your Children Everyday

Three Things to Tell Your Children Everyday

I tell my children these three things everyday: I love you, I’m proud of you, and you’re a really good boy.

I don’t want my sons to have any doubt about these things. Those sentiments need to be forged as truth in their soul.

I typically tell my sons these things each night before bed. I explain why I was proud of them or give them praise for a good choice they made. The time before bed allow us a rare quiet moment to reflect on the day. These are great opportunities to help reinforce their character development and self-esteem.

I also repeat these things as a reminder to myself the commitment I have made to them as their father. Verbally telling them these things daily forces me to back them up with my actions. Just like standing up on my wedding day and public stating my commitment to my wife through our vows, it is a call-to-action.

I love you.

This is not said enough, period. Our unconditional love, through action, and followed by words, is critical for our children.

Many times, our children, especially when they are young, do not comprehend all of our actions as parents. Whether we are disciplining them or protecting them, we do it because we know what is best for them. Sometimes we pull them out of danger. Sometimes we are trying to build long-term character such as self-control. They may not always be happy about those decisions we make but we do it for good reasons.

Often I will take a minute and explain to my 4 year old why I made some of those parenting choices. A very common example of this in our household is how we limit the sweets our children eat. Often they want more cookies or ice cream and end up in tears when we say no. We do this for their health and well-being but they may be confused about why we do it. They often think we’re being mean and that we don’t love them. I use this time, away from the emotional toil of being denied more sweets, to remind them that we did it because we love them.

I’m proud of you.

I’m proud of who my children are, not just what they achieve. I am proud of them when they try, even if they fail. I am proud of their interests, even if they differ than mine.

I try to find one or two things from each day to cite a specific moment that made me proud and tell them why. While I do praise them for achievement milestones, I usually focus on moments when they expressed good judgment, kindness, generosity, effort, or creativity.

We need to be our children’s ardent fan. Be proud of their character and effort, not just the results.

You’re a really good boy.

I want my sons to know they are worthy of love, regardless of the mistakes they make. Too often we beat ourselves up and question our own self-worth. I want them to understand that all people make good choices and bad choices but all of us are worthy of love.

I tell them they are a really good boy because I want to make a clear distinction between the choices they make everyday and who their core being is. We all make bad choices everyday but that doesn’t mean we’re bad people. This is a huge distinction that is the foundation of our self-esteem.

In my early 20’s I fought depression. I’ve also been to more funerals for young male friends that committed suicide than I like to remember. I’m convinced that I never imagined taking my own life because I’ve always known that I was worthy deep in my soul even if my head was trying to convince me otherwise.

The world is full of challenges and at times darkness. This is why it is important to understanding that we are good and worthy of being loved. I hope that my words and actions as a father mitigate the darkness that life brings their way.

I remind my sons that they are good. They are worthy. They are loved. I repeat them so they may come to know this is true and that my conviction of these things will never waiver.

They’ll make bad mistakes. They’ll feel unworthy of love but I hope they always know they’re worthy of it. I have a part in helping build a foundation for them to fall back on when the inevitable dark trials of life appear.

So go, right now, and tell your children you love them, that you are proud of them, and they are good and worthy of being loved. And remember, you’re not just speaking to them for that moment, but as a message to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Why and How to Not Let Your Children Run Your House

Why and How to Not Let Your Children Run Your House

My children are one of the top priorities in my life, but that does not mean my children are at the center of it. I have other important responsibilities as a husband, son, brother, friend, employee, and neighbor.

Therefore, I cannot let my children run my household. It is not good for me, them, or all of the other people in my life.

It appears that many parents aim is to keep their kids as happy as much as possible. The reality is that what make your kid happy at a young age may not necessarily the best thing for them. The younger they are, the more focused they are on the immediate desire. This is where love needs to come in and trump short-term happiness.

Dave Ramsey uses a great analogy to make this point, “If your child really wanted to go stand in the middle of the highway, would you let them?”  The obvious answer is no.  Well what if they started screaming, and jumping up and down hysterically, would you cave and say OK?  The obvious answer is still no.  So why would we cave and let our children influence us with this behavior on more mundane day to day things such as watching a little more TV, staying up a little later, and having another cookie?

It’s tempting to want to make them happy all the time and avoid temper tantrums, but those actions are not loving because we know it’s not good for them.  Some people call this tough love, but Dave Ramsey calls it just love. I agree.

Love is doing what’s best for those you care about, regardless of how hard it is or how unhappy it may appear to make your children. Be willing to say no to many of your children’s unhealthy desires and explain why.

Another reason why we cannot let our children run our households is that we need to make sure we invest in ourselves.  We have many responsibilities in life, many beyond just our children. We need to have the energy, time, and skills necessary to fulfill those responsibilities and if we don’t invest and take care of ourselves we will fail in those areas. I like the term balance with priorities here. Put time for yourself on your calendar and stick to it. This could be time to go to the gym, a date night with the spouse, or even just catching up with an old friend on the phone.

It seems that parents also tend to over schedule their children in too many extracurricular activities. Then they are also responsible for driving them around to attend these activities. Many times this is multiple places every evening requiring 20-30-minute drive times each way. Over-scheduling our children isn’t good for them either. They crave unstructured play which gives their imagination and creativity a chance to run wild.

Try to limit their activities to 1-2 at most at any given time, and find some times throughout the year where they get a break from all activities. Try to find activities that are close to the house where they can walk or bike or it allows you enough time to run home and get dinner on the table.

We need more communities designed for all of us to be able to walk and bike to various places and have less dependency on cars. That gives our children more opportunity to learn responsibility, gives them more independence, gets them more exercise, and it also frees up us parents to take them everywhere in the car.

My wife and I strategically chose a house in a neighborhood where our children will be able to walk or bike to every school they’ll attend through high school.  They can walk or bike to the library, four parks, the community civic center, the recreation center, the bakery, and dozens of their friends’ houses.  This was not on accident.

They are very young now so we walk and bike them to those locations but soon they’ll be slowly allowed some independence and being to start venturing out on their own without needing us. This will liberate many hours of time for my wife and I to invest in other areas of our lives.

Consider moving to a location that is walking and biking friendly. Invest in family bikes and even a bike trailer for the little ones.

I absolutely love my children and they are near the top of my priority list in life. So don’t let your children’s lives dictate everything that goes on in your house.