What I Learned About Jobs from My Cat

I know a few of you will read this post and say “That’s not me!”  True enough…for some of you. The lucky ones. The one who’ve figured it all out already. But for the rest of you, there just might be something here to cat-ch your eye. (Sorry about that.)

Because of my strong interest in careers and the workplace, I often meet folks who tell me about their jobs – especially the parts that aren’t working for them. Stuff like not getting the recognition they feel they deserve. Sound familiar?

No special projects. No promotions. Piddly or non-existent bonuses. Not even more than an occasional hello from their boss – if that much. And not surprisingly they are not happy campers. Many dream of the day they can move on to a job where they’re finally appreciated and can get to take on some interesting work assignments.

It’s a beautiful dream for sure!

But here’s the thing…so often when they finally do move to that new job, they find themselves in a similar position. Hey…how did that happen? “Man there are a lot of crappy jobs out there!”  Really? Is it really the job? Sometimes…sure. There are probably jobs out there that, try as hard as you might, just can’t be made better. But is there also another possibility? Again…sure.

And now…the story of my cat

I found Lucie at Kitty Kind, a wonderful non-profit that rescues cats, nurses them back to health if needed, and then tries to carefully place them in a good home.  There were all kinds of cats that day: young, old, shy, playful, aggressive, gentle. But somehow none of them seemed quite right to me. And I took a lot of time going back and forth, looking in all the cages. Still…nothing grabbed my eye – or heart.

And then a woman who volunteered there pointed me to 1-year-old Lucie.  “Her?” I said out loud. “I don’t get anything from her.” In fact, she seemed kind of dull and boring. I was getting over the loss of someone close to me and especially wanted an affectionate cat with a playful spirit. My heart was certainly drawn to this poor, sad cat in the cage, and I tried again and again to get her to play even a little (taking time in between to let her get used to me). I even threw a few toy mice into her cage, but she just lay there doing only the most basic stuff. And she really didn’t look like much to me…all huddled up in a barely-responsive ball. In fact, up until that time I had forgotten she was even one of the possibilities – that’s how much she faded into the background.

Still the volunteer had a feeling she might be right for me and I decided to at least take her home as a foster cat to help socialize her. Cut to the end of the story…Lucie is my cat. And I love her. She’s a wonderful cat. Given the initial time, patience, and much affection I gave her, she now returns all many times over. And best of all, she is one of the most playful cats I’ve ever met. In fact, play seems to be her raison d’être. I couldn’t ask for a better cat. Oh…and she’s absolutely beautiful!

But I almost passed her up because I didn’t notice her.  Because of all she’d been through, she blended into the cage, kept her head down, and just did what she had to. My question to you is…does any of this sound even slightly familiar? Are you blending into a cage?

Unfortunately, bosses don’t have my volunteer lady to point out all your unseen qualities. There’s only one person that can get yourself noticed – and that’s you.

A few hints that might help get you out of the cage

  • Look for ways to improve things or solve problems
  • Dare to suggest your solutions to your boss or team leader
  • Make an effort to speak with folks doing the kind of work you’d like to do
  • Show initiative by asking to work on projects or take on assignments that sound interesting to you
  • Learn new skills related to the job (and let it be known)
  • Stop by and say hello to your boss – they usually don’t bite
  • Ask people about themselves and show a sincere interest
  • Create a network for yourself of folks doing the kind of work you’d enjoy
  • Say hello to folks as you pass them in the hall
  • Find a niche no one else has mastered yet
  • Don’t just sit with your head down counting the hours until end of day
  • Try to keep positive even when things go wildly out of control – and if you have a solution – go for it
  • Be a person who gets things done – but also make sure your boss and teammates know about it…without bragging of course

Not every point will work – or even make sense – for every person or occasion. Use your own judgment of course. But the main thing to remember is that to change things for yourself, you need to take action that adds to the workplace in a way that really matters. And you need to learn to become your own best advocate… or you’ll never get out of that cage!

“Meow” says Lucie nodding her little head. She’s so wise. Uh oh. Where could that little rascal be now?

Lucie the Career Cat

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. You ask a crucial question here, Ronnie Ann: “Are you blending into a cage?” And it reminds me of a billboard I saw some time ago for a stylish new car. The headline was “Blend Out.” To me, that should be everyone’s motto in the workplace. Be someone people notice [for the right reasons, of course, like those you’ve listed above]. Sure, you want your boss to notice you, but you want colleagues to notice you too. Then, when you get the inevitable recognition you deserve, everyone will understand that you in fact deserve it.

  2. Great advice as usual, Ronnie Ann! I particularly appreciate how universal your approach is – so much career and job search advice reads as though the entire universe works in the marketing department of an international corporation and doesn’t scale down to smaller work environments in varied industries, but yours does!

    Based on past experiences, I have one caveat to the (excellent) “Look for ways to improve things or solve problems” advice. If and when you observe the problem you’d like to propose fixing, don’t communicate your dissatisfaction about the existing situation until you are ready to propose the solution. If people (who might have put the current arrangement into place) sense that you are being critical about something (however even-handed and constructive you may be), then your proposed solution (however good) may be disregarded as complaining/ungratefulness/pushy, etc. Kind of short-sited and unreasonable? Of course, but that’s par for the course in some work environments!

  3. Hi Terry B!

    “Blend out.” Love it! So true. We don’t want to act as if we’re still kids looking for parental attention. It’s how we handle things. It’s the attitude we bring to the workplace and to each task and collaboration. And it’s the way we treat others. Basically the whole package!

    Thanks for adding so nicely to the discussion – as always.

  4. Hi Amy!

    Great comment. I sometimes depend on the kindness of commenters. While I want to be comprehensive, just to keep a post a readable length, I might not go into every aspect I’d want to.

    Your caveat is right on. Finding a problem (as clever as a person might feel having done so) just feels like complaining or dumping more work into the general pile. See a problem? Find a solution. And then bring it forward. I can’t emphasize this enough. So very glad you did!

    Oh…and pshaw. Thanks for the very kind words, Amy. Much appreciated!

  5. Thanks for the reminder. Some times you know these are the things you need to do to stand out but forget about them. It gets comforatble to just get your job done and go home.

  6. I know what you mean Brittany. Good luck. And have fun being seen. 😉

  7. Ronnie Ann, really a beautiful story about your cat and all of the insights you gained from her were spot-on. Thanks for that. And oh, give my regards to Lucie.

  8. Hi Ronnie Ann,

    Love the cat wisdom and the cage analogy. I too hear lots of “what’s not working in my job” stuff from people I work with and coach. I find that the ‘cage’ is an inner construct of our own thinking. It is not surprising then to find we are still in the ‘cage’ when external circumstances finally do change, either from our action or someone else’s.

    Moving through blame to self-empowerment takes a change in thinking.

    I find Byron Katie’s “The Work” to be a powerful tool to shift. It provides the ‘How’, which I find more useful than the ‘Why’ or the ‘What’. For me ‘The Work’ is like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy on speed. Her process has us ask ourselves 4 questions about our thought and then think up 3 turn arounds and give examples:

    1. Is it true?

    2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

    3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

    4. Who would you be without the thought?

    Then turn it around (the concept you are questioning), and don’t forget to find three genuine, specific examples of each turnaround.

    Pls see http://www.thework.com/thework.asp

    Cheers, DJ

  9. Such a great analogy! I think so many people expect their bosses to hand them opportunities. It’s amazing what can happen when you just ask for more responsibility or to be included on a more interesting project. It’s pretty rare that a boss will say no when you ask for more responsibility. More likely, she will think, “thank goodness someone is finally volunteering to do more!” and also, “What a go-getter that person is!”

  10. Ronnie Ann,
    This is a wonderful story and your writing is fantastic.
    Is your site created on a blog platform? I am looking for a good web designer that is honest and not overpriced. Know anyone?
    Keep up the great work. Very impressive!
    Arlene Hauben
    Robert Wagner School of Public Service 1994

  11. Sorry everyone for the delay in getting back to you. What great comments. Let me answer them one by one:

    Hi Hardin! Thanks much. Lucie and I both appreciate the kind words. Please drop by again.

    Hello DJ McLean! Much appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to share Katie’s work with us. Good luck in your own coaching practice.

    Hey Jen! Great comment. Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by. I always enjoy your blog.

    Hi Arlene! Really appreciate what you said, especially since you’re a writer. Means a lot to me. Took me a long time to let me think of myself that way. As for your questions…I use WordPress.org and Blue Host. Will send you a bit more privately. Happy to help.

    Thanks again everyone!

    Ronnie Ann

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