Advice I Thought I'd Never Give


Jody B. Miller is CEO of C2C Executive Search & Strategic Management and the Author of HIRED! Expert Advice from A Leading Wall Street Recruiter. Her new book, SHIFT - How to Find True Meaning in Your Work and in Your Life, will be in stores in late 2016.

As the head of an executive search & strategic consulting practice, I give advice - all the time.

I give advice to job seekers who want to land the job of their dreams and I give advice to companies on how to keep their employees from leaving. I listen to many stories and, based on years of experience and education, I make an informed judgment call as to what I believe to be the best scenario for each situation.

For example; I recently advised a professional from an Ivy League college that we had to get him out of his current job. He worked close to 100 hours a week and had no life. He saw his newborn son for ½ hour a day - mostly when the boy was asleep. The guy was miserable so we moved him to a firm where his stress level plummeted and his free time increased. Sometimes we have to look beyond money.

I counseled a woman from a top University, who held a high paying position, that she needed to choose the most important quality of life to her. Was it money, title, family? Her choice could affect her promotion down the road. She was at a point where she was second guessing everything in her work and life. She quit a month later to start a family.

I guided a young Vice President to stay where he was for two more years, even though I knew his skills and experience were an ideal match for a position I was filling. I also was quite sure that if he took the role, he would appear to be job hopping. This would haunt him in the future.

I spend time interviewing employees at leading companies to figure out why their people are jumping ship. In one case, I discovered that a division boss was a bully and micro-manager - yet everyone was afraid to speak up because he controlled compensation. I encouraged a key HR figure inside the company to detail the complaints to the leaders of the firm. Since then, the company has completely reorganized. I no longer get weekly calls from employees inside the firm begging me to get them out of there. This saved the company millions in recruiting, on boarding, retention costs and potential lost revenues.

I am a realist and I am honest about the unspoken truths of the job market - from both sides of the table. I do my best to give practical and strategic advice that helps people get ahead or companies beat the competition by keeping top talent engaged.

"While I primarily help experienced professionals and well known companies, I recently found myself in a situation where I had to give the kind of advice that went against everything I believed - and I had to give it to my son."

I flew from San Francisco to Florida to watch my son play in a NCAA tennis tournament, where winning college teams throughout the country are invited to compete. He lost his singles and doubles matches the day I arrived.

I sat quietly in the 90-degree heat and hard word bleachers, doing my best to appear unaffected as he walked away from the courts to a distant picnic table - his head and shoulders practically dragging on the ground. It took all I had not to follow him.

After about 10 minutes, teammates made their way over one by one, said a word or two to him, and left. It was like a choreographed dance. Their timing was just right. This was a real team and they cared.

Eventually my son got up, walked toward me, climbed up the stands and sat very close.

"Hi Mom. Thanks for coming." He hugged me briefly and put his head in his hands. Silence.

After several minutes of nothing, he began to speak in a hushed tone. Words just fell out of his mouth - out of his heart.

"I hate my life. I hate school. I hate the pressure. I hate my routine: I go to class, study, practice, study, play matches, study, sleep and do it all over again. Every day. I hate losing matches. I am not at the top of my class. I am a failure. I have no idea what I am going to do with my life. Why did I major in Economics? What does an Economics major do anyway? I need an internship this summer. This is the summer I'm supposed to have one, the summer before my senior year - and I don't. How will I make money? How will I get a job after college? I don't want to teach tennis again this summer. I don't want to be a lawyer like Dad. I don't know what I want to do. What do I do?"

I was at a loss for the first time in my professional and motherly life - but random thoughts were racing.

OMG, please don't fall apart - life isn't that bad. You have had many struggles and even more successes. You just have to continue to work hard - to show up. You are a naturally likeable person, just keep your nose to the grindstone. Your hormones are changing at this age, so everything seems worse than it is. Talk to your professors. Reach out to alumnae. Do informational interviews when you're not studying or playing tennis (which is never). You're not a quitter. Start worrying - because I surely am.

I left the words in my head.

"One thing I know for sure about raising children is that every single day a kid needs discipline.... But also every single day a kid needs a break." 
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I live just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, and I often see Anne Lamott when hiking along trails in Marin. I have always admired how relaxed she seems - so in touch with life and nature and what really matters. I have read several of her books about life. They're all from the heart. And so, like Anne, I eventually let go and let my heart speak.

"I noticed that each of your teammates came over to talk to you after your matches."

"Yeah. They are good guys."

"Boy, to have friends like that in life, it doesn't get much better." He just looked at me. No lecture? No analysis? No pep talk? No - let me fix this for you?

"Did you meet any of my teammates?" I think he wasn't sure where to take the conversation.

"Actually, every one of your teammates came up and introduced himself to me while you were playing. I was impressed."

"Yeah. We pride ourselves on being gentlemen."

"It's an admirable quality to have. It made me proud to be sitting on your team's bench." He smiled and I continued gently.

"You know, maybe you just need a breather. "My son's head whipped around.

"What?!" I did my best to appear at ease.

"Have you thought about traveling this summer - just giving yourself a break and seeing what comes up?"

It was quiet again - did I blow it? And then...

"Actually, that's what my friend from Princeton did last summer. He has no idea what he wants to do either, so he decided to travel around the world. He said it was the best thing he ever did. He has always had huge expectations put on him and he wanted to figure life out for himself. I've been thinking of doing the same thing."


End of conversation.
What made me want to just go with the flow at that moment, rather than follow my usual way of analyzing, solving and fixing? Somehow, I just knew in my heart that if my son was released from ongoing pressure, long enough to gain his own perspective, he would find happy.

It takes courage to SHIFT from our comfort zone and go to a place, that if we are really honest with ourselves, we know to be true and right:

If you are in need of a SHIFT in your work or life, keep these takeaways in mind:

• Relax, breathe and believe in the process
• Give yourself time and space to figure it out - it's not your fault if you don't know yet
• It's OK not to have the perfect answer at the perfect moment
• Encourage yourself
• Listen to your heart over your head
• Leave your high expectations at the door
• Silence and contemplation can be your best advisors - use them

Finally, as I continue to counsel experienced professionals and corporations, I know one thing for sure...I am going to put happiness at the center in the advice business.

When we are happy in our careers and in our lives, amazing things can happen.

Have you ever felt like you were a failure? How did you come out of it? Or not? Please post your comments because what you have to say is of great value to me as much as my advice is to those I help when it comes to finding the ideal work/life balance.

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