Category Archives: Career Balance

The Only 2 Keys You Need To Take Criticism Without Getting Defensive

photo: Admit One

When someone criticizes you, whether it’s your boss or partner or friend, it’s hard not to take it personally or get defensive. Usually that’s because the criticism makes you feel threatened or judged by the person making the comment. But when you defend against the criticism without even hearing the person out or stopping to think whether it is warranted, you really are giving the criticism more power because you make it into a bigger deal than it is.

Of course, I’m not talking about someone who is constantly criticizing, always putting you down, or verbally abusive. Those behaviors need to be stopped. But if you immediately get defensive when someone gently points out an error or problem on your part, you might be interested in a couple of easy steps to help  you put down your guard.

To overcome your defensiveness, just remember two things: (1) clarity, and (2) then act accordingly.


When someone gives you constructive criticism, think about getting clarity. Really understand what she is saying. Ask questions, and try to understand where she’s coming from.

If your spouse says, “You never have dinner ready on time,” it comes across as an accusation, and that might make you defensive. So you want to understand where he’s coming from.

  • First of all, do you both have the same definition of “on time”?
  • Why is it important to him that dinner be ready on time? Is his reason compelling? Does he have to be somewhere later, does he just like structure, or is it something else?
  • Maybe he likes having dinner ready on time because to him that shows him that you care and that you’re taking care of him.

As you can see, there are all sorts of places where that criticism could be coming from, and if you just get defensive in your response instead of seeking clarity, you make the argument bigger, and you don’t find a solution – and you’re likely to have the same disagreement again.

At work, if your boss says a project you completed was done all wrong, resist the urge to get defensive or pass the buck. Instead, get clarity.

  • Did you and your boss have a similar understanding of the nature of the project?
  • What parts are right and what parts are wrong?
  • Was there a miscommunication on his part? An error on your part? What really happened?

By getting more information when you receive the criticism, you can get a better understanding of what your boss is really saying, and you’ll know exactly what the problem is. But if you respond instead with, “I did my best!” and then stomp back to your desk, you’re likely to just make the same errors again.

Act accordingly

Once you get a clear understanding of the criticism that was given to you, you can decide how you want to act – if at all. Maybe, now that you know where it was coming from, you do want to change your actions. And maybe you don’t!

In the first example, if you ask your husband several questions to try to see where his criticism is coming from, and the best you can determine is that he likes a rigid schedule and wants you to keep the same rigid schedule, but you really can’t find any reason for dinner to be ready at six on the dot, you can choose not to take any action. Or, of course, figure out a way you can both be happy with the dinner schedule. The point is that the criticism may or may not be valid, and now that you have gathered more information, you are better equipped to know whether it warrants your attention.

The same is true with the situation with your boss. It’s not very helpful for him to just say you did a project all wrong. But when you ask more questions instead of getting defensive, you might find that actually most of it was done right and it just requires a little tweaking, or you misunderstood the project and now can do it right, or maybe the only part that’s wrong was someone else’s contribution and it had nothing to do with you. Regardless, asking questions and then acting is your key to dealing with the criticism.

If you’re the type of person who doesn’t take criticism well, try practicing these two easy steps instead of getting mad, feeling hurt, or being defensive. You’ll probably find you can improve your relationships, even if the criticism wasn’t even warranted in the first place!



How To Set Ambitious (And Realistic!) Career Goals


In my full-time job as an attorney recruiter, I work with a lot of people who are looking for a new job. I often find that job candidates are in one of two positions. Either they spent their entire career moving without much thought from one job to the next and now find themselves in a job that isn’t satisfying and they have no idea what to do next, or they stayed many, many years in a job they didn’t enjoy.

Either way, you’re pigeon-holed. It’s hard to re-define your career after 25-30 years of doing the same thing. It’s possible, but it’s not easy.

One way to avoid that problem is to set career goals and then create a plan to reach those goals. That way you can be sure you are moving along the right path for you, and you will eventually be exactly where you want to be. It’s never too early or too late in your career to set goals.  Even if you are 60, you probably have things you want to do between now and when you retire. Use this guide to set career goals that are ambitious and realistic and to create a plan to get there.

The first step is to think big

You might have to do a little brainstorming in order to figure out your career goals. Ask yourself these questions, and remember this is the time to think BIG! Be ambitious as you answer these questions:

1. What would my ideal career look like? Is your current job in line with that ultimate ideal career? Do you need to shift industries or get more training or maybe get licensed?

2. Do I like what I’m doing now? What are my most favorite and least favorite aspects of my current job?

3. What kind of money do I want to make? Be realistic, but ambitious.

4. What’s my ideal setting? Large office with lots of people? Small, close-knit group of co-workers? Do you prefer a fast-paced environment or deliberate, methodical work? Maybe you’d like a job where you can work from home, or one where you travel a lot, or one where you’re out of the office a lot to meet other people.

5. What specific job do I want? The Million Dollar Question!

Give yourself enough time to really think about your answers to the above questions. When you are through, you should be able to have a good idea about your ultimate job goal.

Now turn that big dream into a realistic goal

After you’ve done some brainstorming, it’s time to make your goals very clear. Ask yourself the following questions to help you determine whether your ultimate goal is realistic:

1. Do I have the time that’s needed to achieve my goal? Keep in mind your other commitments and really take a hard look at how much free time you have now and whether you can free up some additional time.

2. Do I have the right education or training to achieve my ultimate goal? If not, is there a way I can get that training? What kind of time and money commitment would that require?

3. Is my ultimate goal one that would fit well with my ideal lifestyle? For instance, maybe your ultimate goal is to be a motivational speaker who travel the world to give speeches. But if you have young kids or want to be available to aging parents, that goal might not fit well with the type of lifestyle you envision for yourself. It’s important to envision the whole picture as much as you can.

4. Can my goals be achieved in the time frame I’ve set? If you’re 28 years old and want to be a doctor by the time you’re 30 but you never went to college, that’s not realistic. But it might be realistic to get there by the time you’re 38. Think about both best case and worst case scenario, and try to set a time frame that seems reasonable.

 Create your master plan

Now that you’ve taken some time to dream big and also to make sure those dreams are attainable, you need a plan to get where you’re going. One of the best ways to do that is to make a list of all the intermediate steps you need to take to get from where you are today to where you want to be to reach your ultimate goal.

Think of those steps as mini-goals. For instance, if you currently have a job delivering papers, and you want to eventually run the whole newspaper, what would that take? You’d probably have to finish high school, graduate college with a journalism career, start working as a journalist, ask your boss for more administrative responsibilities, earn enough money for a graduate degree, go back to school, network with the higher-ups, etc.

Once you have an idea of your mini-goals, write them all out in chronological order. Put today’s date at the top and the date you want to achieve your goal at the bottom. Then next to each mini-goal, make a note when you want to have that step achieved and what you need to do to get there. Write down as many details as necessary and be sure to include a time frame for each mini-goal.

You have now created a road map to reach your ambitious and realistic career goal! You’ve already done more career planning than most people do in their lifetime. Keep your road map handy and refer to it often. Tweak it when you must, but also push yourself to reach the goals by the dates and deadlines you set. Keeping on track is the only way to get where you want to be.

Many studies have shown that people perform best when they set goals that are both specific and challenging. They perform much better than people who have goals that aren’t clearly defined such as “do your best” or “do what your boss asks”. Push yourself toward clear and ambitious goals, and you’ll be more highly motivated, do better at work, and move closer to your dream job. Good luck!

4 Life-Changing Steps To Find Your Passion & Create Your Dream Job


Do you ever feel like you’re stuck in a rut? Or you’re not really living your life, but just going through the motions? Is the life you’re living now the one you always envisioned for yourself, or do you groan when the alarm goes off, drag yourself out of bed, and then spend the day making other people happy?

Today I want to give you some simple tips for finding your passion and then some ideas on earning a living once you figure out what it is that you love. Now, they’re not easy tips. This is going to take work! But, in the end, if you’ve uncovered your passion and you’re moving toward living a more fulfilled life, it will all be worth it – trust me.

Discover your passion by asking yourself these questions

What am I good at?

What are your talents? What are the things you know you do well? Are you a good organizer? Do you write well? Do you have a gift when it comes to explaining complicated concepts in simple terms? Take an hour and look back on your entire life (I said this wasn’t going to be easy!). Even from the time you were a little kid. Did you like to bake with your mom? Did you prefer time alone to read? Were you the one who organized all the neighborhood kids for a kickball game?

Think over your teen years, your college years, and your whole adult life until now. Think about what you accomplished, and what skills you have that lent themselves well to those accomplishments.

Now make a detailed list of all the things you know you do well. As a kid, I know I was good at making friends, and I also played piano well. In college I was surprised to learn that I was pretty good at time management, balancing a full load of credits with work to pay my way through school (not to mention lots of social time). After law school, I worried I wouldn’t have much self-discipline studying for the bar exam without my study partners from school, but it turned out I was really good at making a study schedule and sticking to it.

You get the idea. This list of skills, ideas and talents is your starting point to finding your passion.

What excites me?

Are there small parts of your day that really excite you? Maybe there’s a certain part of your job that’s always “the fun part” to you. Or maybe it’s that small window of time after dinner that you get to go outside and go for a long walk. Or is it the time you spend learning about something, engaging in a hobby, or planning a trip?

Think about the typical course of your day, both during the week and on weekends. Write down the parts that are the highlights to you, as well as the ones that are truly exciting to you. Add them to the list of things you are good at.

In my job as a legal recruiter, I get pretty excited when I land a new client. That’s not even the part of my job that earns me any money, but it’s the most exciting part as I strategize ways to complete the job for the client and envision the fun part of talking to candidates and finding the perfect fit for both the employer and the employee.

Another thing that excites me is taking on a big project that I have no idea how to handle. I don’t know why – I think I just really enjoy the whole process of learning something completely new.

You can see that when you make your list of what excites you, it doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking – or even anything that makes sense! Just try to really drill down to figure out what the little things are in your day that get you excited, and those are the things you want to add to your list.

How can I learn more?

Go through your list of things you do well and things that excite you, and pick the five that most appeal to you. Make a new list for each of those five items with details about what you know about those things, and what you’d like to know.

For instance, maybe one thing that excites you is learning about how cars work. Make a list of what you know about how cars work, and then make another about what you’d like to know. If it’s specifically the engine that interests you, learn more about how engines work, different types of engines, engine components, and how race car engines are different from the typical family car.

Or maybe you’re really good at managing the family calendar. Make a list of the things you do that really help your family run smoothly, and then make another list of the things that don’t work as well. If you’re good at keeping track of everyone’s appointments and your son’s choir rehearsal schedule and your daughter’s basketball practice time, but you have a hard time getting everyone to be ready to go when it’s time to leave – research that. Look into ideas on getting your kids as invested in the schedule, ways to keep everyone updated on where they need to be, and how to plan rewards for your family when everything goes smoothly.

This next step might take a few weeks depending on your schedule, and that’s okay. Go through that same exercise with the five things you chose from your primary list. The idea here is that once you start learning more about the different things you didn’t already know about your favorite things, you will see which ones you most enjoy learning more about. This will give you an even clearer idea of which thing is the most exciting to you.

Based on this exercise, narrow down your five interests and potential passions to just two things.

What do I want to try?

Okay, you’ve done the toughest work now, and you have an idea or two about what your passion might be. The next step is to experience something totally new to you that is based on your two main interests.

You know the old saying, if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same result. Now is your chance to make different choices, look for new opportunities, and try different approaches.

If you love cars and learning how they are built, plan a trip to an auto assembly plant and see it up close. If you love baking and trying new recipes, register for a cake decorating class or plan a bake sale as a fundraiser for your favorite non-profit organization. If you are passionate about politics, go to your state capitol and see it in action!

The more you experience your passion in different and new ways, the better understanding you will have of the thing that interests you the most, and you will also be able to further define what particular aspect of your passion really excites you.

After you try some new experiences with your two main interests, narrow it down. Pick the one that really gets you the most excited, and get a clear understanding of what it is that most intrigues you about that subject.

Start doing what you love

Whatever it is that you discovered to be your passion, start doing it. Immerse yourself in it, learn all you can, and experience it in new and exciting ways. Do this even if you don’t yet have any idea how you might monetize your passion.

This accomplishes a couple of things. One, you start building a network in your chosen interest. You will meet a lot of people with similar interests, and you can learn from people who are actually earning a living doing it or doing something related to it. Second, it gets you out of a place of complacency. Where you previously just had a vague inkling of something that interests you, now you have a clear and precise picture of your passion. This is the time to keep learning and growing and building your expertise in the area that you love the most!

Schedule these activities into your day or into your weekends, and make it a priority. Once it becomes an integral part of your life, start thinking about how you might turn it into a way to make money. When you’re already doing something you’re passionate about, it’s not such a huge leap to find a way to make a living from it. Maybe with all the things you’ve learned and tried, you might already see where there is a need you can fill.

There are countless ways you can turn your passion into an income stream. Think about:

  • Making a website about it (earn money through advertisements and affiliate links)
  • Starting a consulting service
  • Doing freelance work
  • Writing a blog you can monetize
  • Authoring a book or an e-book and self-publishing on Amazon

The more you immerse yourself in your passion, the more you will become an expert on it. Turn your expertise into an income stream, and you will soon be living your dream!

If you have uncovered your passion or have an idea what yours might be, why not share it with us? Tell us about your passions in the comments, and we can learn from each other.

4 New Ideas for Better Work-Life Balance

Work-Life balance isn’t just about balancing your time in the office with your time out of the office. It means balancing work with all the other things in your life that are just as important. I previously wrote about the importance of identifying your personal values and then making decisions based on the real you. This means when you are able to have better balance between office time and personal time, you want to make sure your personal time is productive too – not in terms of getting chores done or zoning out in front of the TV, but in terms of nurturing what’s important to you.

So how do you go about better managing your work time, so you can get more personal time? And once you do, how do you make sure you use that time for the things that are truly important to you?

First, remember what you know. I’m sure you’ve often read suggestions such as setting goals at work in order to keep on task, learning to say no to projects you don’t have time to take on, and limiting the time you spend at work, so you aren’t always trying to get one last thing done. You’ve heard that all before, right? If those aren’t working or you need something more, read on…

Delegate – Some of us are control freaks, some of us believe the only way to get things done right is to do it yourself. Whatever your reason, let it go. I’m sure if you thought about it, there are a few small projects (letters to write, appointments to make) in your office right now that you could delegate to someone else. If you really want to create some work-life balance, this is truly the best place to start. Until you are more efficient at work, you won’t be able to spend less time at the office. Efficiency at work is the key here, and delegating is the foundation.

Delegating is also a useful tool at home. If you have small children, they can help with clean up. Older kids should have chores (and let them pick up some extras to earn spending money), and if they have their driver’s license, have them run some errands. You can make it fun or give them extra rewards, as long as you are freeing up some of your own time – everyone’s happy!

Maintain Your Energy – Unless you take good care of yourself, you won’t be able to maximize your time at work or at home. There’s no point in  learning to be more efficient at work if you’re just going to crash once you get home, right? Keep your battery charged by eating nutritiously as often as you can, exercising, and getting enough sleep. When you take care of yourself and are able to maintain a high level of energy, you’ll be more efficient in your time spent at work, you might be able to sneak out a bit early, and you’ll be more present when you are home.

Rethink Your Errands – I know a lot of people spend a fair amount of running errands. Nobody likes them, but they need to be done, right? Think about your work errands. If you have a job that has you running out to do things occasionally during the day, think about whether that’s the best use of your time. Would your company allow you to hire a courier? Can an intern pick up supplies for you? Rather than running out to get lunch, can you bring your meal from home? If you spend part of your work day running in and out of the office, it really won’t allow you to be efficient even when you are there.

You can also rethink your personal errands. Just about anything you need to go somewhere to purchase you can also order online. Groceries can be delivered. You can avoid the bank, post office, and pet store by banking online, ordering stamps, and even ordering dog food online.

Also consider that some businesses will run your errands for you. There are dry cleaners who have drop off and pick up services. You might even hire a local college kid to be your personal courier – no more running to the library to return books, to blockbuster to return movies, or to other stores where you might have to return a purchase.

It doesn’t have to be pricey either. You can pay a flat fee for a set amount of time, and then only give her the errands that are reasonable to get completed in that time.

Change Your Scheduling Habits – If you work eight hours per day and sleep eight hours per night, that means you’ve got an additional eight each day plus the weekends to schedule however you see fit. Try this: pull up your calendar and block out the times that you’ll be at work or sleeping. Next, pencil in other things you would like to do. Not the laundry or the housecleaning or other things you need to do, but what you want to do. That means after you block out work and sleep, write in when you want to watch a movie with your partner. Next write in when you’d like to build a blanket fort with your toddler. Schedule a time to bake some cookies with your teen or a bike ride by yourself or whatever it is that you really want to do but never seem to get around to doing. After you schedule all your priorities, then write in the chores and errands that you want to get done.

It’s a great exercise that can really help you shift your priorities. After all, isn’t good family bonding time much more important than cleaning out the closets?

The point is to think outside the box as you work on creating work-life balance. There are a lot of different ways to do the things you do. You just have to find the most efficient way that works for you.

Being more efficient at work leads to having better balance between work and everything else. Once you have that in place, make sure you are using your time for the good stuff – the things that most matter to you, that feed your soul, that reflect your values.

One last warning: In researching this article, I came across a column on work-life balance that ended with this: “Know when to seek professional help.” Wow! Don’t let that be you! 🙂

Have more time-saving ideas? What tips do you have for ensuring your time is well-spent on the things that matter? Let me know in the comments, so I can learn from you too.

Wellness and Life Balance – What is it, and where do I get it? Part II

In yesterday’s post, we talked about the first three dimensions of wellness – social, physical, and emotional. Today I’ll explain the last four, which are career, intellectual, environmental, and spiritual.

Career wellness (or occupational wellness) is about finding work that is fulfilling to you, while also maintaining balance between work and the other parts of your life. When you want to make an impact in your career, you make an impact in the organization where you work, and then in turn you make an impact on society.  The impact can be positive or negative, and the best way to make a positive impact is to find work that you find fulfilling. In future posts, we’ll discuss how to find a career in which you gain satisfaction, unique ways to make a positive impact in your place of employment (and the effects that can have), and new ideas on balancing a demanding job with the other important parts of your life.

Intellectual wellness covers a lot of ground. Part of it is being open to new ideas and experiences. When you have the desire to take on unfamiliar challenges, learn new concepts, and improve your skills, you can move toward intellectual wellness. Critical thinking is also a component of intellectual wellness – when you examine your own thinking and judgments (and those of others), you build your ability to see things differently. We’ll talk more about how to keep an open mind, how to challenge yourself when you feel stuck in an old rut, and how to build on past experiences to learn in new ways.

Environmental wellness is the process of making positive choices relating to your impact on resources such as air, land, water, and energy. Positive environmental choices will contribute to sustaining or improving quality of life for people, animals, and plants. I look forward to talking about how to limit toxins, chemicals, and pollution. We’ll also talk about food safety, how to make a positive environmental impact, and anti-consumption movements.

Spiritual wellness is not about religion or how to live your life according to your religion. Regardless of whether you believe in a specific organized religion, you can move toward spiritual wellness by working on discovering your meaning and purpose in life, identifying values that are important to you, and then behaving in ways that are reflective of those values. These skills will help you develop peace and harmony in your life. We’ll talk more about calling on your personal belief system to help cope with both daily hassles and life crises, how to use your values and beliefs to elicit a relaxation response, and how to let go of worries, pain and stress to focus instead on hopefulness and satisfaction.

That’s it – you now know the seven dimensions of wellness. As you work on balancing all seven, think about what you are working toward. The highest and most important goal of your wellness journey is to attain peace – inner peace. And, in the words of The Dalai Lama,

“Without inner peace, it is impossible to have world peace.”

Let me know your thoughts about career, intellectual, environmental, and spiritual wellness in the comments! What areas do you want to work on?