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I know it’s snowy, icy and bleak outside right now. So to make your day, let me share with you what a good week I had last week.
The story really starts two years ago when I decided I didn’t need to work like a maniac any more. Instead, I dialed things back a bunch, doing occasional projects for my own company, thinking I’d sleep more, play more golf, and generally relax.
As the old expression says, “we plan, God laughs.” My life instead seemed to keep intersecting with young people who needed help. It usually involved a job, where either the person didn’t have one, or they did have one in a terrible environment. Being a marketing guy, I’d sit down with them and go over their resumes, help them rewrite both that and cover letters, and even redesign both to make them stand out a little more.
In the course of this, I realized there’s an epidemic going on with a lot of younger people. Inept managers are killing the self-confidence of the next generation. This pandemic is making it worse.
I learned this because my personal style when trying to help someone has been to at first, go through someone’s background and focus on what they CAN do well; then I’d come back to the weaknesses that needed work. In virtually all of the people I’ve now met and worked with, it seemed all they heard was the negative part.
It was so bad, in fact, that the first part of the project ended up not working on preparing the person for an interview, but instead focused on getting the person to believe as much as I did that they were really good at certain things and several companies out there would be lucky to have them.
All of them got to hear this story (which my daughter will tell you she’s heard hundreds of times): The moment my career took off didn’t involve a big sale, a promotion or an advanced degree. Instead, it was the moment I got up, looked in the mirror at a rather haggard Italian man, and decided “you know, I like this guy.” I got comfortable with who I was and stopped trying to be another version of a successful person I admired; I instead focused on just being an original Dave.
None of those I worked with had such comfort with themselves. For some, just hearing such positive feedback was overwhelming. On more than one occasion where I had arranged to meet them at a coffee shop, the person started to cry. I must have looked like an old man telling my child I had just cut them out of the will or something.
But in time, they did get comfortable. I think I worked with eight people that first year, and all eight ended up with new jobs. They would somehow cruise into my life, we’d work together for a month or two, then they’d cruise right back out of my life after they got the new job. Someone else, usually via a call from a friend of a friend, would cruise back in.
This past year has been much tougher. The pandemic has taken away the element of human interaction, which to me is crucial to self-confidence. You can read every book in the world about a subject, but you don’t gain any confidence until you actually do it. When you first do, you see and hear feedback not in direct conversations, but through non-verbal cues like body language, a smile, people paying attention and things you’ll only pick up on if you’re face-to-face in the same room with them.
It won’t happen via an email or a zoom call.
So it’s not surprising that the two I’m now working with have had much more of a struggle these last few months. Correspondence involving good jobs many times just goes unanswered when there are any available in the first place. Add in the bleakness of being a prisoner of your own house and a month of weather that makes your front yard look like the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, and it’s hard to be positive about much of anything.
So I help with that. People, I’ve found, are really good at seeing the good in someone else, but only seeing the shortcomings in themselves. I point out the good and remind them that we all have been through this and somehow 40 years later, we’re all still standing and got through it. I ask them questions like “why should I hire you?” when they least expect it, and stop them when they give an answer that sounds similar to “I don’t know.”
I help them look for opportunities, suggest ways to network they hadn’t thought of, listen to them vent, and let them go on during those days they believe there is no hope for a few minutes before logically pointing out all the reasons it’s not true.
They hate that, by the way. One even said to me “just let me feel sorry for myself.” OK, I said, but only for 5 minutes. Then if there wasn’t any change, I was going to drive to their house and smother them with a pillow.
That seemed to make them smile.
But what REALLY made them smile was last Monday, and the reason my week was such a good one. They both – within hours of each other – got notifications to set up interviews regarding jobs they had been chasing for weeks. These days, getting any kind of response is cause for celebration. Getting an actual interview is even more so.
I may have even done a fist pump or two.
It’s now a week later. Both interviews went well. One has already received notification for a second interview, while the other one is waiting to hear. You’ve made the playoffs, I tell both. Now keep believing you’re going to take the next step, because I sure believe it.
I know we are living in a world where so much is said about COVID and how people are sick and dying. But it also seems like there are a lot of people out there who are perfectly healthy, yet slowly dying inside. Self-confidence in some cases, is the first casualty.
I can’t cure COVID. But I can help with someone who is struggling to get through all this.
You can too. All you have to do is listen.
Funny thing about being an "Original Dave." My family sometime back indicated that this Dave wasn't nearly as nice to people as he used to be. I had took that assessment somewhat with a grain of salt understanding that my wife's high school yearbook indicates she was named "Sweetest Girl" in her senior class. For years I've told her that she was too nice to people. She spent her first 9 years out of school working in Raleigh for Ma Bell in their State Government Marketing office. Heck, her office was operating a monopoly and they could do anything they wanted. I, on the other hand, spent my first 11 years out of school working in production management. No time for la-di-dah "How are you today?" conversations. Make a decision, hope you're right and get on to the next problem before the plant shuts down.
I guess for a while I was nicer to people as I drifted into marketing and public relations and really needed folks to subscribe to what I was peddling. Somehow, though, the production management Dave resurfaced. I made some people actually cry in meetings. In retrospect, that wasn't a good thing.
That ability to listen that you preach in your summation is what had made me successful as a Division Personnel Manager in the years before those birds became Human Resource Officers. 9 times out of 10 when an upset employee sat down with me they just needed someone who encouraged them to explain their problem and actually listen. Getting someone talking about themself is great therapy when they know you care. That has to be a terrific high when you are able to celebrate your "clients" successes, pandemic or no.
I worked with her on being assertive, being polite but firm, and not letting people take advantage of her. She found it helpful, but only used what I taught her on one person: me.
I basically created a monster and it ate me