what can’t you not do, part 2

I once wrote an article in Maxim called “The Best Damn Pick-Up Guide Ever.”

It was quite bad, filled with terrible advice and embarrassing animal metaphors (required by my editor). And if a young man ever approaches you in a bar by “accidentally” hitting you with a pool cue, he might be following my advice and I apologize.

I enjoy, though, thinking about the way many people find that certain threads are constantly present throughout their professional lives: in my case, a certain bossiness about whatever happens to be my area of expertise at that stage in my life.

I wrote about this in a post a couple of years ago:
What can’t you not do?

What about you? What are the common threads that keep popping up in your professional life? Are you taking full advantage of them?

{ 13 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I discovered your blog about three months ago and have read every one of your posts since then. I loved the "do what you can't not do" post when I first read it and have decided to make a career change.

    I originally went into HR because a majority of the students who I tutored in economics and statistics in my MBA program complained that they even had to take the courses at all. As HR professionals, they felt that at the level they worked they could just hire someone or borrow someone from another department to do their analyses. Light bulb… I could work for them in HR.

    Turns out, I don't like HR… I like managing projects. In HR, I try to automate all my routine work and prove with numbers why HR should move in a certain directions. I think numbers give me a voice and I can't stop myself from analyzing everything! I interviewed last Friday for an Analyst position within my company and am crossing my fingers that I can get into that role.

  2. Kerry*

    Oh wow. I'm going to be pondering this all week.

    I can tell you one thing–NOT practicing HR was incredibly easy for me. I miss little parts of it, but I thought I would miss the whole thing. I don't. So that has already answered one big question for me.

  3. Anonymous*

    This is so true…At my last non-profit job, I kept updating the old forms and doing things no one else wanted to do (but seemed fun to me). I even offered to start our own newsletter, and was then offered a contract to do the newsletter (and get paid!) for another agency. It all paid off with 3 promotions & raises within 1 year.
    No doubt I got on some peoples nerves with my persistence, but my bosses LOVED it, because it was less they had to worry about, and it made my job a lot more interesting.

  4. Anonymous*

    Guilty as charged. I also think that dealing with employees like us is almost a litmus test for senior managers. The good managers think we are a great resource; in my experience, the ones that want you to climb back into your organogram box are ones that are lacking in all sorts of other areas too.

  5. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous #1: That's awesome! Congratulations on figuring out what you really want to do, and good luck with that position! Let us know what happens.

    Kerry: Interesting re: not missing HR at all. And yet you clearly enjoy writing about HR-related issues (and are awesome at it). I feel like there's something there in that contradiction.

    Anonymous #2: That is EXACTLY what I'm talking about! When you follow what comes really naturally to you, it tends to lead you in good directions.

    Anonymous #3: I completely agree it's a litmus test for good managers. If I ever found myself working for one who didn't appreciate that, I'd starting working on getting out.

  6. class-factotum*

    I really liked baking cakes for colleagues' anniversaries and birthdays, baking brownies for the IT guy who had fixed my computer, and sending tiaras, wands, M&Ms, and thank-you notes (with a CC to the boss) to customer service reps who had done an outstanding job.

    I like giving people food and the implements of royalty. I'm not sure where that leaves me.

  7. Anonymous*

    Maybe you guys can help me with this.

    I love organizing things into functional systems. Not only do I love it, I feel compelled to do it.

    I am NOT the person who can't walk into a room without straightening all the picture frames, or can't have two foods touching on my plate, or has to have 3+ different paper clip holders. (No offense to those who are.)

    But suppose I'm told to go use a couple of files in a particular folder on the computer, and the folder has 500 files in it, and none of them are sorted or labeled consistently. I have to consciously resist labeling and sorting all 500 files immediately. It will continue to bother me until/unless I get a chance to do it. If/when I do get a chance to do it, I really enjoy it.

    The times at my various jobs when I have specifically been told "Go organize things," or have organized things of my own volition, other people have always been pleased with the results and told me how much easier it is to find and use things.

    I get that this is a good skill to have in general and could apply to lots of jobs, but what kind of job or career would really maximize it?

  8. Ask a Manager*

    You are highly organized, neurotically so. Send me your resume! I'm always looking for this skill, and it's rarer than you would think.

    This sort of extreme organization doesn't necessarily lend itself to one career in particular but is something that would help with lots of different paths. For instance, I look for that when I'm hiring for all kinds of jobs at my nonprofit — from grants administration to legislative coordination, to membership work.

    Not very helpful, huh? :) It's easier to have one obvious path, I suppose.

    Of course, you could always become a professional organizer and organize people's closets, lives, etc. I actually think there's some money in that.

  9. Ask a Manager*

    Oh, more advice: No matter what job you're applying for, play this up in your cover letter. Talk about how you're compelled to do it.

    I love seeing that kind of thing in a cover letter.

  10. Kerry*

    Anonymous—I'm like that too. I laughed when I read the part about the files on the computer, because I've had that exact same experience.

    I looked at being a professional organizer at one point, and there IS money in it. I can't do it because I have horrible allergies to the things most people have in their homes (pets, cleaning products, smoke…pretty much everything). But for someone who isn't a ball of allergic, that's a great job.

    When I was an HR consultant, one of the services people really liked was my personnel file audits…I'd leave behind these perfect files with nice labels. One of my first office jobs years ago came from a temp job organizing 30 years worth of old files at a chemical plant. I think there could be a market for a professional organizer for small business as well…everything from files (paper and computer) to the supply closet to bigger stuff like workflow and process management.

    I've found that this skill lends itself to success in most arenas; being organized has always been an advantage for me.

  11. Anonymous*

    Anon@3:00 here. Thank you all for your comments, I really appreciate them. Also, AAM, thank you for telling me to mention that in cover letters. I always thought it was one of those things people say so often in cover letters that readers would assume it was meaningless.

  12. Kerry*

    She's right. Describe it exactly like you do here. People use such fluffy, formal language in cover letters sometimes that it DOES sound meaningless…but if I read what you wrote here in a cover letter, I'd bring you in for an interview for many, many jobs. In fact, I'd look for a place to put you…because having someone like that is always valuable.

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