Category Archives: Career Tips

Workplace Resources for LGBTQ Employees and Their Allies

After my last post on becoming a more proactive LGBTQ ally in the workplace, I received requests for resources on how to find out if a workplace is LGBTQ friendly and tools to become a better ally. Below I’ve included websites with information on finding out how LGBTQ inclusive your workplace is and tips to being a more proactive ally.

Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index

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Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2014 Corporate Equality Index is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.

In the 2014 CEI report, 304 major businesses — spanning nearly every industry and geography — earned a top score of 100 percent and the distinction of “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality.”

Human Rights Campaign’s booklet, The Cost of The Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion

In this follow-up to the groundbreaking 2009 study, Degrees of Equality, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation has studied the national picture of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers’ experiences of inclusion on the job as contrasting with the perceptions of their non-LGBT coworkers on issues. The study reveals that despite a changing social and legal landscape for LGBT people, still over half (53 percent) of LGBT workers nationwide hide who they are at work.

Pride at Work

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Pride at Work is a national non-profit organization that seeks full equality for LGBTQ individuals in the workplace. The site features relevant issues, ways to get involved with legislation, and resources for LGBTQ workers.

Pride at Work also offers information on issues Trans people face in the workplace, including healthcare needs and discrimination.

Out Professionals

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Touted as the nation’s leading LGBT networking association, Out Professionals provides information on finding jobs and connecting with other LGBTQ employees.

Out and Equal

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Out & Equal is committed to creating safe and equitable workplace environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. We believe that people should be judged by the work they do, not by their sexual orientation or gender identity. Every day, we work to protect and empower employees to be productive and successful—so they can support themselves, their families, and contribute to achieving a world free of discrimination for everyone.

Out for Work

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Out for Work functions as a complimentary component in the total educational experience of LGBT students, primarily in the development, evaluation, initiation and implementation of career plans and opportunities. OFW’s programs, resources and services provide assistance to students in the cultivation and enhancement of skills to explore career options, master search techniques and strategies and research employment opportunities.

National Center for Transgender Equality

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The National Center for Transgender Equality is a national social justice organization devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people.

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Becoming a More Proactive Ally for LGBTQ People in the Workplace

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC for the 10th annual Out for Work conference.  Out for Work is a wonderful organization that helps people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) and their allies learn more about navigating the job search, coming out as LGBTQ, and advocating for LGBTQ friendly workplaces.  For university career centers, Out for Work has a Career Center Certification Program that helps identify strengths and weaknesses their offices have in working with LGBTQ students and trains them on becoming better advocates for the community.

If you’re interested in becoming a stronger advocate for an LGBTQ inclusive workplace, I suggest contacting and/or researching organizations like Out for Work and Out and Equal to learn more about how to do so.  I’ve also included some tips here on becoming a better LGBTQ ally in the workplace (some are considered best practices and some come from my own experiences).

1. Recognize your privilege.

At this time, our society (and often, workplaces) is hetero-normative and cisgender (or cis) normative. (Cisgender means that your biological sex matches your gender identity or expression–i.e., you have a vagina, thus “female” is listed as your biological sex and you also feel and identify as a feminine person or a woman. Transgender means that you may have been listed as “male” on your birth certificate because you were born with a penis, but this may not match your gender expression.  You may identify as a female/have a feminine gender expression, etc.) Essentially, this means that from an early age we absorb the belief or assumption that everyone is heterosexual and cisgender and we act accordingly.  People who identify as LGBTQ are becoming more visible, with increased representation in the media/pop culture, society, the workplace, and the news.  Most of us, however, still make the assumption when we meet someone that they are heterosexual and cisgender.  If you are heterosexual and/or cisgender, acknowledge the fact that we live in a society that is set up for heterosexual and cisgender people, which can make the world (and the world of work) more of a challenge for people who identify as homosexual, gay, queer, lesbian, bisexual, bi-curious, trans*, etc.

2. Don’t make assumptions.

Once you recognize and acknowledge that you are part of the more privileged area of society (i.e., you are heterosexual and/or cisgender) work on not assuming that everyone else is also straight or cis. A great way to decrease the assumptions you make about people is to stop asking new co-workers if they are married, have a boyfriend (if they are a woman) or a girlfriend (if they are a man). As a woman who is also very feminine, people often make the assumption that I am a heterosexual woman, especially since my partner identifies as a female to male (FTM) trans person and uses gender neutral (they, them, their) or masculine pronouns (he, him, his).  Based on the assumption that I am heterosexual, I am often asked about my partner with the asker assuming that my partner is a cisgender male or feel “safe” making comments to me about LGBTQ people that aren’t very positive.

On the subject of not making assumptions, make sure that you don’t assume that all LGBTQ people are the same.  Some people who identify as LGBTQ enjoy talking about their non-work lives. Others are very private. Some are liberal, some are conservative, some are moderate. Some want to be married and/or have children; others couldn’t care less about these things. Some are great workers and some aren’t so great. Don’t judge all LGBTQ people by one or two individuals. We are as diverse in our religious, political, racial, cultural, etc. beliefs, identities, and backgrounds as any other large group of people.

3. Be a stronger advocate.

If someone around you makes negative or prejudiced comments about people who identify as LGBTQ, diplomatically let them know that it is not okay to make those sorts of comments around you. Everyone you work with won’t be as accepting of LGBTQ people as you may be, so remember this: Being an ally is not something you are, it is something you do.  (Or, ally is not really a noun, but more of a verb.) Check out your companies’ score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index (an index that measures how LGBTQ friendly a workplace is) and advocate for ways your company can achieve a higher score.

4. Educate yourself on LGBTQ issues.

A lot of people operate under the assumption that the biggest issues LGBTQ people face are religious opposition and/or the right to marriage, or civil unions.  Although these are important issues for many LGBTQ people, they are certainly not the only issues we face. This map illustrates how many states have non-discrimination laws in place for LGBTQ employees. As you can see, many states still have no protection in place to prevent LGBTQ workers from being fired if they “come out” or discuss their identities at work.  That’s right, it is still perfectly legal in many states (including my current state, Kentucky and home state, South Carolina) to fire employees if the employer knows or even thinks they are LGBTQ.

5. Be an active ally.

Reach out to your LGBTQ co-workers. Ask them how their partner is doing or how their weekend was.  Let them know, through action, that you are a safe person for them.  It is wonderful to advocate for a friendlier workplace for LGBTQ employees and to vote for politicians who support equality, but it can also mean so much to an LGBTQ person to simply get to know them as a person, a co-worker, and possibly a friend.

6. Come out of the closet.

If your child, your best friend, your next door neighbor, etc. identifies as LGBTQ, let people know this.  Be proud of the people in your life who are LGBTQ and be vocal whenever you can about your allyship.  Remember the first tip–recognize your privilege? As a member of a more privileged group (heterosexual or cisgender) realize that sometimes you may be in a great position to advocate for LGBTQ issues at work while sometimes LGBTQ people aren’t comfortable doing so.

Picture this: It is 2006.  I am 22 years old and have recently started a job at a library.  “Brokeback Mountain” has recently premiered in movie theaters.  My supervisor, a co-worker, (who is/was an ally) and myself are sorting new magazines.  My co-worker pulls out a copy of The Advocate (an LGBTQ themed publication) and begins talking about how hot Heath Ledger is.  My supervisor glances at the picture and agrees, he is hot.  But then she says, “Ugh. Of course he’s on the cover of that gay magazine.  He’s probably one himself.  Why does everything have to be so gay these days?”  Those three sentences, which were perhaps said thoughtlessly, made me feel incredibly uncomfortable around my supervisor from then on.  I wish I had felt safe enough (and brave enough) to proudly come out to her and let her know that those comments made me feel uncomfortable.  But I didn’t.  I had only been at the job two months and I really couldn’t afford to lose it.  Although it wasn’t my co-worker’s, who was a great person, responsibility to stand up for me and LGBTQ people in general, I would have been so grateful to have an ally in that moment who could have said for me what I was too afraid to say.

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There have been many wonderful allies throughout my career who made me feel like I was in a safe environment, who advocated for LGBTQ issues in the workplace, who asked me how my partner was doing.  I am forever thankful to them for not only respecting me and my sexuality, but working to make the workplace better for everyone.  I hope that this post encourages you to become a stronger ally.  If you have any questions about other ways to be a better, more proactive ally, feel free to send me a message, comment, tweet, etc.

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Review of New York and Company Clothing

First, I must say that it breaks my heart to have to write this review.  I discovered New York and Company clothing a few years ago when I was a grad student and fell in love. They offered fashionable clothes for work at incredibly affordable price points–particularly if you combined their prices with the almost weekly coupons offered.  My favorite line of clothing from NY&Co was the Seventh Avenue suiting collection which offered tons of quality work wear for women with hips.

In the last year or so, unfortunately, the quality of NY&Co clothes (and my beloved 7th Avenue brand in particular) has decreased with every season. In late July, I bought a pair of 7th Avenue boot cut slacks in a dark blue shade. Not only did I have to go up a size (inexplicably, they’ve changed the fit and sizing of many clothing items) but discovered the seams of the pants were ripping and turning white(??) after approximately two wears. I went to the NY&Co website to find out if anyone else had experienced this same problem and read review after review from shoppers who were dismayed to realize that the fit and quality of their favorite pants had drastically changed.

I’ve since found that the drop in quality isn’t just limited to NY&Co pants. This beautiful leaf dress that I discussed in a July post shrunk after ONE WASHING (gentle cycle, cold water, air dried) and became faded. I’ve been searching for great fall/winter pieces that were not from NY&Co since I’ve heard complaints similar to mine from friends and colleagues, but have few cute, professional items at an affordable (for me) price.

So when I got an emailed coupon for $100 off a $200 purchase, I decided to ignore the (many) negative reviews and give the brand one last try. I purchased this, this, and these.  I’d heard fewer negative comments about NY&Co skirts and hoped that the company had once again raised the quality of their pants for fall.  They were labeled “tweed” which has always struck me as a durable fabric, so I gave it a go. Last Monday, three hours into wearing the gray “tweed” pants, this is what a co-worker pointed out to me:

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After sitting at a desk for three hours, the pants were already piling and ripping–as though I’d had them for three YEARS! The adorable diamond skirt, so beautiful in pictures, was so thin that I knew I’d never be able to wear it on a brisk fall day and the brown “tweed” pants were the same shoddy quality as these gray ones. I returned the brown pants and the skirt, having never worn them.  When I mentioned to these salespersons who were processing my return that the gray ones had already pilled and ripped, they replied “Hmm…weird.”  No apologies, no explanations.

Additionally, I’ve had to return two pairs of pants to the store after security tags were left on them. In fact, I was in the process of having Pants 1 fixed when I saw and bought Pants 2 and they did the same thing–left the security tag in them! When I visited the store for the second time in two weeks to have the pants fixed, I received a short, lackluster apology but little else.

On a final note, I’d like to add that I stopped shopping at New York and Company stores and used their website instead about two years ago when I was accosted by every sales associate in the store at least three times about applying for the New York and Company credit card. The last straw for me was going into the store with my fiance and being badgered by every sales person about the card as I attempted to exchange a couple of items.  I realized I’d forgotten my wallet outside and as we had a (private) discussion about going back to the car, a sales person stepped IN BETWEEN US and said all of our problems about the wallet would be solved if we applied for the credit card (??????).  I’ve been in the actual store about ten times in the last year–things had gotten better regarding the card, but the last few times I’ve had go in the store the incessant credit card pitches have returned.

So, do you guys have any suggestions? I’ve polled friends about new stores, but I think it’s time to let go of the hope that New York and Company is going to come to their (collective) senses and begin producing quality clothing again.

Sad times.

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Taking Care of Yourself Like it’s Your Job

Working on a college campus at the beginning of fall semester is not for the faint of heart.  I’m currently juggling new classes, two major staff changes, practice interviews for students, an LGBT career series and general advising/career counseling appointments.  When your partner also works at said college, every day feels like it’s packed with last minute appointments, weekend events, and random crises.  When you factor in that we also recently bought a new home (that had a major leak this weekend) and adopted a puppy, (who, as a Great Dane, is really more like a very small horse) you can imagine that I want to spend my weekends napping or zoning out. 

So, how does one take care of themselves while also managing work/home/life responsibilities? Personally, I try to prioritize and organize every single thing. When we realized this weekend that our A/C unit was leaking and destroying our downstairs storage closet (along with our floors, walls, etc.) finding said leak and figuring out the next course of action suddenly took priority over cleaning the kitchen or putting together the last of the IKEA.  

While home and work emergencies occasionally happen (and subsequently head to the very top of the “To Do” list) its also important to prioritize mental and physical well being and happiness. It’s so tempting to feel guilty about making relaxation a priority and to just keep going and going, but that leads to burn out pretty quickly.  I can always find something at home to do, clean, organize or unpack and I can sometimes find myself feeling bad that I didn’t get everything accomplished at work.  But I know that if I don’t schedule in time for me and the relationships important to me, I become exhausted and cranky.  This sometimes leads to forgetting to do things at work which ends up taking more time out of my day which stresses me out further. The cycle can be endless.

So, how do you de-stress when life gets busy? 

1. Delegate.

I remember that I have a partner who is also capable of handling the puppy, the house, or random errands. Sometimes it’s hard to let go and allow your colleagues or loved ones help out with things, but utilizing your support network is so important.

2. Make yourself a priority.

At 7pm on almost any night, you can find me in the bath. 7-8 is my time to read a book, get online, or nap. Sometimes life happens and I miss this time, but I can usually tell the next day.

3. Take 5 minutes.

Smoking is a terrible addiction, but one good thing that comes from being a smoker at work is taking 5 minutes out of your day to go outside, get away from everything and do something you enjoy. We non-smokers don’t often take those few minutes because we don’t have the call of addiction beckoning to us outside our office doors. Take the time anyway. Walk around the building, talk about your weekend with a co-worker, have a cup of coffee. There’s a reason that service jobs are required to provide employees with 15 minute breaks and it’s because everybody needs one.

4. Give yourself something to look forward to.

Next April, my partner and I are getting married in Chicago. Happily, these means we need to take a trip there in a couple of months to taste cakes, finalize a location, etc. When I don’t have time to take a bath or even five minutes, I remember that soon I’ll be doing something I love–traveling–and I can push through to finish what I’m working on.

5. Keep your eye on the prize.

Whatever reason you’re doing the work–to pay for your house, to take trips, to help people, to keep food in your mouth–try to remember it when times get tough. When you’ve been asked to pull an extra shift or work the weekend, when an event goes badly, when someone is rude…keep in mind why, on a larger scale, you do what you do.

I hope these tips help you! I’m not an expert on relaxing, though, so if know of other ways to de-stress or get away from it all, let me know!

Make yourself a priority.

Make yourself a priority.

 

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Recognizing My Privilege

During the last week, I’ve been unable to come up with any decent writing topics.  My first thought was writer’s block, but I’ve realized it’s more than that.  It is difficult for me to write about being successful or having a disagreement with a co-worker or finding the perfect career when I know that it is a privilege to have those problems.  It is a privilege to be able to do work you love, to have access to the education and cultural capital that is so often needed for one to be successful.  It is a privilege to worry about whether your interview outfit is right when so many people worry where their next meal is coming from.  It is an absolute privilege to have time to think about our career paths when so many people are spending time taking care of children, working two jobs, dealing with violence…It is all such an absolute privilege.

The reason I became interested in career counseling and development is because I spent a lot of time observing, and then living, what it is like to have so few choices.  I was raised by a single mother for most of my childhood, living hand to mouth with food stamps and Angel Trees in government housing projects.  Neither my mother nor my stepfather graduated from high school and I saw them come home from work exhausted each day from manual labor jobs.

I spent my late teens and early twenties in a variety of positions that often garner little respect–waitressing, telemarketing, working as a gas station attendant, and being a customer service representative.  I didn’t know anyone who attended college and the only professionals I met were my doctors and dentists (whenever I was able to have health insurance). When I was 22, I met a friend, Emily, who was in college and encouraged me to get a degree.  From there, I became dedicated to making my life what I wanted it to be and helping others do the same.

I didn’t get an education to become a career counselor–for most of my undergrad years, I didn’t even know career counseling existed.  I never forgot, however, what it was like to be at the whim of a horrible boss, to be yelled at by customers, to go without health or dental insurance for years a time.  I will never, ever forget what it is like to go to a job I hate because the bills need to be paid.

So many of the things I write about now come from a place of privilege–not necessarily privilege I was born with, but privilege all the same. Though I came from a low income background and am not heterosexual, I have many forms of privilege: I am white, I am cisgender, I am now educated, I do not have any physical disabilities, and honestly, I read as straight in most situations.  I can’t say how much more difficult it would’ve been to get where I am now had I been of color, transgender, a single mother, or born into a country where I wasn’t allowed to pursue an education.

Everyone is on a different journey and have varying levels of privilege and disprivilege.  I don’t write about dressing appropriately for interviews, negotiating salaries, or following your professional passions because I believe it is easy for everyone to have those things.  I know that it’s not.  But I believe everyone deserves them.  Everyone deserves to make a living wage, to wake up and not dread going to work, to have time to spend with their families and friends without working two or three jobs.  Everyone deserves to be treated with respect in the workplace.

Like the rest of the world, I’ve been watching the events in Ferguson, MO.  When lives and liberties are literally on the line, it’s hard to give a damn about job satisfaction.  I believe it’s important, but I know there are so many other issues in the world.  So my career advice for today? Recognize your privilege, if you have it.  Help others if you are able–I don’t know where I’d be without Emily’s help. Seek help where you can–and that includes me.  I am willing to help anyone because I know what it’s like to need help and not even know where the resources are.  If you are working in a job that allows you to spend time with your family and friends, if you are content with your work, if you are respected in your workplace–please, please be grateful.  Not everyone has those things.

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Giving Back as a Professional

When I think about some of the outfits I wore to my earliest job interviews, I cringe a little on the inside. For example, the get up I wore for my first job interview–a baby pink turtleneck, sparkly flared jeans with pink on the sides and pink sneakers–oy! I was in high school at the time and didn’t start college until I was 22, so there were years where I had no real professional mentors or a university career center to seek out.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to discuss topics like dressing appropriately for job interviews with students, but knowledge can only take one so far. Dressing professionally is not always feasible for everyone–specifically people who don’t have extra income, single parents, those on a fixed income, or students who don’t have their families’ financial support for one reason or another.

For example, my partner AJ works with LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) whose families have sometimes withdrawn financial (not to mention emotional) support after learning of their child’s sexuality.  These are college students who are working to educate themselves and find the careers they want who face significant challenges when it comes to dressing professionally for a job or internship interview.

Additionally, there are people (often women) who are leaving violent or unhappy relationships and getting back into the job world.  Starting over is difficult no matter what, but not having the tools to do so–proper work clothing, interview skills, etc., makes it feel near impossible.

As someone who didn’t have a lot of money growing up who has had to learn important skills–like how to dress professionally, business etiquette, etc., as an adult, I ask you to consider giving back.  Do you have clothes that you no longer wear just sitting in your closet? Consider donating them.  Do you have the time to take on a student once every few months who could shadow you at work? Consider reaching out to your local college’s career center about offering job shadowing (or even internship!) opportunities.  Are you a great presenter who knows what it takes to succeed in a specific career field? Give presentations to local women’s shelters or university career centers.

Giving back doesn’t always mean donating money to a specific cause or volunteering for hours each week.  For students, new professionals, and people with low incomes, an outfit could change their outlook on life in some small way.

If you don’t know where to donate time or clothing, here are a few resources:

1. Contact your local colleges and universities’ LGBTQ and women’s centers about holding a clothing drive or simply donating some of your own pieces.

2. Contact local women’s shelters and Dress for Success centers.

3. Contact homeless shelters–in many cities there are shelters specifically for homeless men where your old suits/business casual clothes would be greatly appreciated.

4. Ask your young colleagues and interns if they’d be interested in some of your clothing.

5. Contact local university career centers and workforce readiness programs to find out if you could talk with students about your experiences or invite them to your workplace to job shadow.

6. Contact local non-profits such as food banks and soup kitchens to see how you can help.

7. Ask churches, synagogues and other houses of worship in your area if there’s anyway you can help their members professionally.

No matter who you are, or what fields you’ve worked in, you have the ability to help someone else. Meet with a student interested in your career, donate some clothes to women getting back on their feet, or come up with your own ideas of how to help.  Most of us have had some help along the way–an interested teacher or professor, a good boss or mentor, or a cool aunt who bought us our first interview outfit.  Perhaps its time to pay it forward.

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What Kind of Life Do YOU Want?

When choosing a career, most people consider these things: What they’re passionate about, how much money they’ll make, and what they’re good at. These are great starting points, but they are not the end of the career exploration journey. The following questions will help you determine not only what you’re good at or will get paid for, but what kind of LIFE you want.

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Questions to Consider When Choosing a Career:

  1. Where do you want to live?
    1. Close to family? In a rural setting? Somewhere international? Determining where you want to work geographically will help you determine what kind of work you want to do.
  2. What kind of people do you want to work with?
    1. Laid back? Introverted? Type A? People who joke around? People who take their work very, very seriously?
  3. What kind of supervisor do you want?
    1. Do you want a supervisor who doesn’t mind when you take a couple of hours for doctors’ appointments or your kid’s recital? Do you want a supervisor who is quick to praise? Do you want a supervisor who gives you honest feedback? A director who is very clear about expectations?
  4. What do the hiring trends for the careers you’re considering look like?
    1. Considering a PhD in 1840s British literature? Great. Will you have a job once you get that doctorate? Maybe not…
    2. Know how fast the jobs you’re considering are growing and what the education requirements will be in the future.
  5. People, things, or ideas?
    1. Meaning, do you want to help people? Come up with new ways to do things? Work with your hands or use machinery?
  6. What DO you want to do all day?
    1. Do you want to be behind a desk? Working outdoors? Networking with lots of people? Do you want a job that ends a 5pm?
  7. What do you really freaking like to do?
    1. Confession: I really like to sing. I have fun singing with my friends or just in the car by myself. Problem is, I’m not so great at it AND I don’t have the passion to devote to a singing career. We often think that, just because we like to do something, or just because we do something well, means that we should turn it into a career.  Hobbies are great—they provide a wonderful break from your 9-5 job. So maybe I’ll never be a famous rock star—I’ll always have my car radio…
  8. What are you really freaking good at?
    1. Like I said, I like to sing. Sadly, I’m pretty certain no one will ever pay me for it. Why? Because I’m no Christina Aguilera.  You can really love anything: soccer, psychiatry, mechanical engineering, but if you don’t have the talent for it, you should probably consider another career path.
    2. Speaking in public? Taking care of children? Conducting chemistry experiments? Racing motocross bikes?
  9. What kind of life do you want during the workday?
    1. Do you want to be outside most of the day? Are you perfectly happy sitting in front of a computer all morning? Do you want to attend daily meetings? Do physical work? Have close friendships with your colleagues? Never come out of your cubicle?
  10. What kind of life do you want, period?
    1. Do you want a big house, expensive vacations, and financial security? It’ll probably require working 80-90 hours a week as an investment banker or a surgical intern? If you don’t mind, then you may have found a great career path. Do you want 4 kids and plenty of time to take them to Little Gym? Perhaps you should find a company or career that provides more work/life balance. Are you a night owl who’d prefer to work 3rd shift? It’s important to understand yourself, your needs, and the needs of those you love when considering a new job or a career path.

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