ADDING ENTREPRENEURIAL "PUNCH" TO YOUR CAREER PATH: The Crisis, Art and Power of Transitional Transformation
In this era of organizational restructuring and budget cutting, euphemistically called "right-sizing," there are many threats to that once secure career path. It's not just downsizing...it's downright "fright-sizing": from axewielding politicians looking to chop up allocations and shrink governments (some of those pols could use some head shrinking) to a ravenous managed care monster scaring away patients, subverting vital procedures and eating up health care jobs - sometimes entire institutions - while burning out or spitting out professionals, especially those no longer tender and inexperienced.
For many, it is a depressing and uncertain workscape - whether you are a "survivor" (tied down by "do more with less" resources or cost containing shackles) or have been "outplaced" (outcast sounds more honest as a seemingly bit player in this trauma drama). I can still recall the plaintive cry of a federal employee at one of my stress workshops: "I once had a career path. Then this boulder fell from the sky and crushed it!"
Yet, even unexpected boulders can become stepping stones not just be stumbling blocks. This "dangerous" career context contains its own seeds of "opportunity" for people exploring their passion and experimenting with ground-breaking ideas and approaches...that is, for individuals and groups cultivating new pathways. Especially in a reorganized or downsized workplace and marketplace, there is a critical need both for traditional support and alternative service delivery - whether from roving entrepreneurs, home- or office-based professionals or in-house providers or consultants.
Here is my compact vision for repackaging your experience, knowledge and skills, along with strategies for enhancing your career independence and/or options. Finding "the pass in the impasse" is the key to harnessing the transformational energy of this double-edged, "transitional crisis." And I speak from personal experience.
From Burnout to Break Out
In the '80s, I was living in New Orleans when oil went bust. Louisiana was definitely burnt out; the whole state downsized during this economic depression. Actually, I had also burned out, struggling unsuccessfully with a doctoral dissertation, shortly before the bottoming out of the economy. (Call me precocious. Hey, there's just no substitute for timing.) To survive, I could not be dependent on one client base (in my case, private psychotherapy clients) or a sole income or funding source. Hard times for many companies and organizations, as well as my own latent desire, challenged me to jump into stress management training and organizational consulting. From personal burnout to stress consultant...how's that for turning a lemon into lemonade!
I had to diversify and to discover which groups had what needs in these turbulent times. And then, the key question: how to customize and actively sell my experience and expertise, as well as dynamically deliver my services, to this traumatized marketplace. I was exploring and grappling with the brave new frontier of "Entrepreneurial Social Work." I would even garner a new professional title -- "hired mouth." (Actually, I prefer "A smart mouth for hire." My business card: "Have Stress? Will Travel!")
I wasn't just lucky, that is, being in the wrong place at the right time. Ten years later it's "deja vu" all over again: now I'm in Washington, DC where wave after wave of political/economic budget cutting and downsizing is transforming (or, perhaps, disfiguring) the government and corporate landscape. With unprecedented, "lean-and-MEAN" pressure for management-employee productivity and collaborative team work, the demand for my reorganizational stress, communication skills and team building services has never been greater. And clearly, organizational restructuring is neither a transient phase, nor a localized or regional phenomenon.
PUNCH Up Your Path
One personal moral from these two turbulent decades is that a professional has career options - including becoming a self-sustaining consultant - even in, and sometimes especially in, the most trying times. Let me anticipate a potential concern. While there are financial uncertainties being self-employed, chronically worrying about a RIF (reduction in force) or downsizing certainly is no stress bargain. Nor is it a base for real security. (Temporary or part-time work can ease the entrepreneurial transition. Or, get a philosophy or some ideology. Mine is "existential capitalism": an attitude of detached yet focused frenzy in the face of not knowing where that next dollar is coming from.)
So here are my key components for converting and promoting one's experience and expertise into a lean, market responsive educational/product-service delivery system, i.e., for becoming more entrepreneurial as a professional, no matter your venue. Explore and pursue the following five broad skills and strategies and you will be less vulnerable to political or economic vagaries of the market, a management team or, even, the managed care monster. And you will definitely add "PUNCH" to your uncommon or singular career path, whether inside or apart from an organizational structure.
1. Public Presentation. Perhaps the most powerful tools I've added to my professional and business repetoire - one I'm continually honing - are public speaking and workshop leadership. For many people the thought of public speaking is even more frightening than contemplating their own death. I understand. In fact, I've wrestled with both...simultaneously. I've died many times as a speaker!
But seriously, with practice and support one can even confront "The Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure." Consider a support group like Toastmasters. Better still, turn your knowledge and skills into a classroom/learning laboratory. Teaching "Crisis Intervention" as adjunct faculty at Tulane University School of Social Work was invaluable preparation for my subsequent role as organizational trainer and consultant.
Why is public presentation vital to a successful entrepreneurial health care track? Here are four key factors: a) you make a difference by sharing needed information and ideas, skills and strategies with large numbers of people, b) successful presentations are the most potent marketing vehicle I know for establishing quickly your credibility and for generating future business and new collaborations, c) you receive (like it or not) immediate feedback for sustaining the relevant focus and vitality of your message and presentation style, and d) you create an additional revenue stream from the sale of books and tapes.
Just remember: make it interactive! Use engaging and meaningful group exercises. Also, consider my "Four 'E's for Effective Presentations." Be an educator who brings "expertise," an entertainer who projects "expressiveness" and an evangelist who conveys "empathy." And for the final "e"...don't forget your "energy"!
There are plenty of professional groups and associations, including your own, looking for both local meeting and conference presenters. And, "freebie," especially when starting out, is not a dirty word.
2. User-Friendly. Whether presenting your ideas in a workshop or through a direct mailer to potential clients, distill your message to its essence and purpose. Yet, keep it lively, visual or vivid, and easy to grasp - make it memorable!. This is powerful, user-friendly marketing. Think of the runaway success of those basic, illustrated self-help computer books, such as Windows for Dummies.
Actually, your own writings - including articles and a marketing brochure - are critical components for blazing an entrepreneurial path. Those professional associations all have newsletters that are constantly on the lookout for good "hands on" or "how to" articles. (Hopefully, like this one.) Being a published author - just about anywhere - won't hurt your credibility.
Include these articles in your professional portfolio - a mix of slick brochure, (if necessary, seek consultation from a professional business writer) eye-catching program fliers (that clients often help develop for free) and, of course, the growing list of testimonial letters that you religiously solicit after your successful presentations. (I've even had a public affairs professional attend a stress workshop and then write a "review" for her federal agency newsletter.) Your marketing packet will definitely attract attention, like an Olympic torch bearer, running along the path and ahead of the pack.
3. Networking. In a 1980s New Yorker cartoon, a well-tailored businessman is riding a New York subway. He's focused on a warning sign itemizing subway etiquette and prohibitions: no running, no loitering, no open radio playing...no networking! Did this cartoon evoke a tinge of guilt or sheepish laughter? It should. Networking - the mutual sharing of ideas and skills, passions and goals - is the springboard for entrepreneurism, and you can't dive in often enough.
Networking needs to be both purposeful and spontaneous. A latter example is when, new to Washington, DC, I joined the YMCA. At a new member orientation, I learned that the "Y" held health-related classes for its members. I suddenly asked the Director of Membership if they had any stress classes. When she said, "No" I quickly convinced her of their value. To shorten this story, I'm now the "Y"'s Stress and Sports Psychology Coach, providing free quarterly classes (which often spinoff people into my own stress and anger support group) and paid individual stress coaching.
Collaborations are not just spur of the moment, but need to be cultivated. Getting involved in professional association affairs, especially committee meetings, provides a networking nexus. (As a member of the National Association of Social Workers-Metro Chapter Program Committee, you know I have an inside track lobbying for my own association-sponsored workshops.) Marketing my services to Employee Assistance Programs has also provided a steady flow of training work. Their organizational clients often desire a variety of health-related educational/skills programs. (Marketing Tip: Encourage reputable others to market you whenever possible.)
In a similar vein, recently I led a "brown bag" lunchtime stress program coordinated by the Federal Occupational Health Nurses running the medical unit of a government agency. About forty people turned out. The nurses remarked that the only time they had more participants was for a program on menopause.
Finally, hang out with "alternative" folks to support life on the "cutting edge." I've become a provider for an evolving, "New Age," Metro-Washington, DC-based Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) called Wholeness for Humanity (WFH). It's led by a dynamic alternative medicine promoter and entrepreneur. For a very reasonable provider fee, I get bookings for organizational health fairs and speaking/workshop engagements. WFH is a natural resource, as well, for expanding a private practice. (At first, if you feel uneasy at provider meetings, don't worry. Just "knowingly" nod your head with a look of deep understanding when colleagues start discussing "auras" and the "chakras." Nobody will question you.)
Actually, for many, this career crisis/transition will be a catalyst for pursuing a long-standing or deep-seated passion in the arts - healing and otherwise - or for embracing, despite some initial panic, the new technologies. For example, hobnobbing with solo home-based business folks at a social network called "Home Alone" inspired me to explore the "World Wide Web." And before that, facilitating and participating in an artists support group helped overcome old fears, enabling me to finally lose my computer virginity (as well as encouraging my pioneering work in the field of humorous rap music. But more later.) We're now ready for the "C" words.
4. Communications and Cyberspace. When it comes to "C & C," it's not mandatory having a 301.81 DSM diagnosis - Narcissistic Personality Disorder - but it probably helps. Or, in my case, it probably can't be helped. Don't ask what motivated my exploring Cable TV when it started up in New Orleans in '83; clearly, ego won out over rationality. I certainly didn't have any mass media background or training. But it was a start up situation, which means very little is cast in stone. (Marketing Alert: Seize the start up situation.) And with persistence, especially with an executive producer who was under great stress, a weekly feature, "Health: The Mind-Body Connection" was conceived. (My favorite recollection remains the closing line: "This is Mark Gorkin, the 'Stress Doc'. Goodnight...and good connections!")
After two seasons I moved to radio, spinning out twice weekly, fast-paced, two-minute, drive time "Stress Brake" features. Radio is a medium to which I now return with regularity as a guest expert on various shows. (Suggest hot or unusual topics to station or program managers.) Talk shows need people who can succinctly and imaginatively convey health-related information and engage with on-air callers. And don't forget to ask for an audiocassette of the show, before the interview begins. The tape can be a wonderful marketing tool and an addition to your portfolio.
Finally, in the last four months, I've started exploring the world of cyberspace - the internet and the "World Wide Web." I've teamed up with a computer maven from Howard University. (He had coordinated some training programs I led for employees of their Medical Center. Again, you establish credibility and collaboration through presentations.) I provide him material from my marketing portfolio, he designs and updates the web page. Actually, we work together on the layout, wording, graphics, etc. But he has the computer savvy and equipment. He knows how to place me on those internet search engines or directories, like Yahoo and Web Crawler. (Trust me, I've not become a computer nerd. I know much less than it appears.) We've agreed on a formula for sharing whatever moneys the web site generates.
Already, a public relations firm from Minnesota discovered my web page. Their client - a Fortune 50 company - wanted to develop a "Stress Tips" brochure for college students. I was selected over other health experts because the client liked my humorous approach to stress. Also, I've been interviewed for a <I>Business Startup</I> article by a national business writer living in Idaho and, out of the blue, someone from Belfast, Ireland e-mailed requesting information on my self-published books and tapes. (Presentations and articles are good ways of announcing your web portfolio: http://net-site.com/gorkin/ .)
The web is where an individual can compete with the big companies on a somewhat equal footing. You can establish a national and, even, international information resource and marketing presence. So, to update Horace Greeley, "go web" young cyber-ite. (What's nice, when it comes to the internet, almost everyone is still youthful.)
5. Humor. The ability to poke good-natured fun at life's absurdities, along with tweaking one's own flaws and foibles, enhances credibility both as a speaker and marketer (actually, in almost any professional or personal role). Helping clients gently laugh at themselves increases their own comfort level and their comfort and confidence in me. People are more willing, even eager, to open and receive a serious message when it's gift-wrapped with humor. For example, the most dramatic part of my speaking presentation occurs after I outline "The Four Stages of Burnout." The room gets progressively quiet; a tension hangs in the air. And then I apologize for "depressing everybody" while assembling my costume of Blues Brothers hat, black sunglasses with black tambourine. Suddenly, I break out into my pioneering psychologically humorous rap number called, of course, "Stress Doc's Shrink Rap." I know you want some lyrics; be thankful you don't have to listen to me singing them:
You get the picture. Upon finishing, with applause dying down, I state, "You can't fool me. I know when an audience is applauding out of relief." More laughter follows the self-effacing observation. I then proceed to a group discussion and drawing exercise, one that normally might induce anxiety. However, by previously lowering the group tension level and modeling a license for playfulness, if not silliness, resistance recedes quickly. (In fact, research indicates folks are likely to be more creative problem-solvers upon being exposed to warm-up humor. And my participants' serious play seems to support this point.)
Which gets to my final and fundamental reflection on humor. You don't have to be a natural stand up comedian to integrate humor in your repertoire. It took months of practice for me to be comfortable with rapping and costuming in public. (Probably the Mardi Gras years in New Orleans helped me lose some inhibition.) But you can begin sharing stories of your imperfect humanness or embarrassing moments that will lighten the load for others. And you can read the comics, watch funny shows, experiment with impersonation, while practicing looking at and reframing experience using multiple, uncommon and exaggerated perspective. Or, try your hand at writing humorous lines or stories. Maybe even enacting them, as I did years ago, performing my own monologues with a very informal, home grown theatre group.
A psychiatrist whose name escapes me, pithily observed, "What was once feared and is now mastered, is laughed at." And the inverse applies: "What was once feared, and is now laughed at, is no longer a master." I call the former self-effacing or "self-preserving" humor; the latter, "other-deserving" lampooning. Be generous with the first type of humor and judicious with the second. This is the key to healing humor. (Too many management teams and managed scare plans, though, have earned some skewering.)
So build mastery and independence by having a good laugh over those managers or monsters and job career fears. Keep the faith, of course, and develop a strong "PUNCH" with a flourishing finish. Seek the higher power of humor: "May the farce be with you!"
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc," is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, national speaker and training consultant specializing in reorganizational stress, managing anger, team building and humor. His motto: "Have Stress? Will Travel!" Reach the "Doc" at (202) 232-8662, e-mail Stress Doc@aol.com or hit his web portfolio at: http://net-site.com/gorkin/ .