New Beginnings: What a Calendar Can Offer

New Beginnings: What a Calendar Can Offer

The start of a new year can lead us to consider new beginnings and recommit us to pursuing important career goals. But an actual calendar can cause us to feel constricted or empowered. It can point out how little time we have or show the boundlessness of what is before us.

The year 2021 will offer us 12 months, 52 weeks, and 365 days. (You can compute the hours and minutes on your own). The coming year can be ordered, prioritized, and divided as we wish. Now might be the time to think about what the year could look like, recognizing that circumstances change at a moment’s notice, and that the pandemic will continue to keep things in slow motion. For Americans, it should not go unnoticed that we are now led by a new president whose goals and aims relative to international education and global affairs are expected to be significantly different than that of the previous president. This will affect many of us in our work, travel, and international engagement.

Planning can be viewed in different ways. At one level, it can constitute a detailed scheduling of objectives, goals, and events assigned to expected dates when they might be accomplished. Some need and even crave this type of planning. Checklists and worksheets are necessary for them to feel they are moving forward. I tend to think that way. An electronic calendar like that found on Google has been a godsend to the way I plan.

Others find this type of planning off-putting and maybe even oppressive. For them, planning is more in the nature of visioning and thinking about the big picture of things that can be done. They are not tied so much to specific outcomes but rather to an awareness of moving forward without the necessity of keeping a running tally. For them, they might use a calendar as providing some notional framing and think “By the beginning of spring, I might be focusing on jobs overseas” looking to the seasons as a guide rather than specific dates. They might take their muse from the often-inspirational photography that a wall calendar can include.

Each demands time to reflect and consider what is doable and possible in the coming year. Though we can’t predict with certainty in January what our situation will be in July, we can assess some things. We might have a good sense of upcoming expenses. Or we will know where we will be living. Or know certain application deadlines that we need to anticipate. Ultimately, using a calendar involves merging the detail and the visioning. Deadlines for applications must be met and noted and planned for. On the other hand, we can’t really schedule time for the inspiration that spring might bring.

In 2021, use your calendar to optimize the way you plan. Make checklists if you need to. For some an electronic calendar with notifications works, but others are old school and like to write it down. But don’t dismiss the power in being open to using a calendar to spur on deep thinking and ignite your imagination for good things to come.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at He can reached at

January 21, 2021 0

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

I’m not a mixologist or a barista. The only two ingredients I can combine easily are a bottled beverage and ice. But there are people who have innate talent or by training have the ability to create brews that are pleasing to the taste.

Lemons by their nature are sour and for many not so pleasing to the taste, unless sweetened with sugar, as is done with lemonade. The expression making lemons into lemonade suggests the skill to take a bad a situation and improve it, make it a redeeming one, or at least learn from it. As a parent, I’ve reminded my children that even bad circumstances can offer something to teach us.

We might agree then that 2020 has been a big year for lemons. But have we been able to make lemonade?

Upping Your Tech Skills

Did you ever expect to be a Zoom expert? Maybe you are still not quite comfortable with the new means for meeting, be it Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, or Google Hangouts. It has been a steep learning curve for some. But we have learned to chat, raise our hand, and clap virtually. If you are thinking that after the pandemic we will go back to the old ways, think again. Because so many now enjoy and see the benefits of working from home, virtual meetings are here to stay. And how about interviewing virtually? Have you done that in 2020? If so, you’ve probably also learned to create a virtual background and set up your room lighting correctly.

Networking in Virtual Ways

For those of us who enjoy getting out and about making new friends and meeting colleagues, this has been a challenging and unsatisfying year. But, if you are an introvert, maybe the year has been a bit better for you? If you are not the glad-handing type, meeting (virtually), and just basic connecting has been easier and maybe is now within your comfort zone. LinkedIn now has some 700 million active users. Also, the ease in attending conferences and conventions has never been better (and in most cases, cheaper).

Allowing for More Introspection and Visioning

This past year has more certainly allowed us more time to ourselves. Even if you have “bubbled up” with your family or with friends, you still have had more time to yourself. Between Netflix and learning to bake, there has been more time to reflect on your professional life. Have you taken advantage of this time? Has the reflection allowed you to evaluate the type of meaning and purpose you are seeking in work and in your personal life? Has this led to a vision of what you might be doing the future? And what is necessary for you to accomplish that dream?

Planning for a post-COVID World

More introspection might lead to more planning. There have been many things that one could do to advance a career this year: applying online, taking virtual courses, and networking through LinkedIn. But this also has given us a chance to think about what we might do when the pandemic ends. With vaccine distribution starting soon, thinking about how to get back into the game come next summer is important. If you haven’t had a chance to plan, use the colder winter months when you will be inside because of the weather, but also because of the increased concern for COVID spreading, to develop a strategic plan for yourself that includes physical networking.

Taking Care of Yourself and Others

Taking care of yourself and others is important right now. We have been given a chance (if we took it) to focus on our physical and mental health. Have you made an effort to get more exercise? Eat better? Meditate? Have you made more efforts to stay connected with family and friends? There has been much isolation as a result of the pandemic. If you feel isolated, rather than wait for someone to reach out to you, you reach out! The psychological benefits are often immediate and powerful. And if reaching out can support your career networking, then you have the added benefit of creating a connection to someone to help advance your career.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful end of a year like no other! Hopefully, you were able to make some lemonade (or at least a nice lemon meringue pie) with your lemons. Keep baking and looking forward to 2021.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at He can reached at

December 10, 2020 0

Blustery Winds and Cold Days as Career Motivators

Blustery Winds and Cold Days as Career Motivators

Probably the most popular small talk topic is the weather. Even though we have much to lament about including the pandemic and polarizing politics, these topics can be controversial. The weather usually isn’t.

Sometimes a weather conversation can be observational – “Wow, it’s cold today!” – or predictive – “I think we are getting snow on Friday.” Your decisions that day – to take a long walk, rake the leaves, or put up some outside holiday décor – might be in the balance because of the forecast. But even if bad weather, you should still get outside. Being outside is very important right now.

Like the weather, there are disruptions and distractions when looking for work. Sometimes it’s easy to find an excuse not to do something that you should be doing. “I should be working on my resume, but I’m not in the mood.” Or, “I know I should send an email to this person asking for an informational interview, but it’s Friday afternoon, so she probably won’t read it.” It’s easy to put off to tomorrow, what you should be doing today.

But you need to push through right now. The fact that it’s cold outside should not cause you to not take that all important walk or rake those leaves. It just means that you must dress better. Don’t let a bit of bad weather, inhibit you from doing what you know deep down you should be doing.

The same goes for looking for work. Hesitancy by rationalizing an easy way of getting out of something related to career work needs to be overcome.

Even though I know it’s raining, I also know that once my walk is completed, I will feel better than when I started. Since I calculate steps when I walk, I will see something tangible to point to that I have accomplished (including expending some calories).

When you are stuck, taking a break can be helpful, but if you view a break as an easy way of putting something off, it is not good. Push through. Set yourself a goal, or maybe reward yourself when you are done. Maybe treat yourself to a latte when the task is completed. I recommend setting daily or weekly goals in your career strategy. Maybe you seek two informational interviews per week or spend 30 minutes a day looking online for work. Is this any different than a goal of 10,000 steps – rain or shine?

Don’t let bad weather stop you from getting outside. And the same with working on your career.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at He can reached at

November 23, 2020 0

Take Someone Else’s Advice (Please!)

Take Someone Else’s Advice (Please!)

Usually in this space, I offer my insights as a career coach and someone who has participated in the Fulbright Program.  Hopefully through my writing, I have provided some helpful views and suggestions that might help you in pursuing a career or other professional interests.

I thought this month, I’d let others “do the talking” so to speak.  I regularly read articles that I receive through online publications and listservs that I subscribe to.   Some of these pieces offer valuable recommendations or sometimes just good ideas to ponder!   So here are a few I’ve read recently that I feel are worth passing on.

Flexjobs posted a noteworthy piece written by Adrianne Bibby on 10/12/20 about “How Fresh Air Can Help with Your Job Search.”  Get out and take in the fresh air!

Are you using the right “sign-off” in your emails? Jacob Took writes in Ladders, “20 Email Sign-Offs So Compelling They’ll Have to Write Back,” (9/2/20) that a better sign-off can motivate the receiver to answer back.

Sociologist Tracy Brower in Fast Company offers some basic advice on “How to Use Your Network to Survive a Bad Job Market,” (7/31/20).

I’m really tired at the end of day.  How about you? Could it be Zoom fatigue? Read “Zoom Fatigue is Real – Here’s Why Video Calls Are So Draining,” by Libby Sander (5/19/20) in Ideas.Ted.Com.

Does your resume beat the Bots?  This piece by Amanda Augustine in TopResume (N.D.) provides some good advice.  Read “What Is an ATS? How to Write a Resume to Beat the Bots.”

Networking is not so easy today.   This piece by Kristi Faulkner in Forbes provides some good advice: “How to Network Gracefully in the Time of Social Distancing,” (5/27/20).

My colleague and friend (and Fulbright ETA alum!) Sarah McLewin writes in PCDN.Global about onboarding in the virtual world: “You Landed a Social Impact Job in a Pandemic…Now What?: How to Make the Most of Remote Onboarding in “These Uncertain Times,” (10/7/20).

And are you thinking about a great idea now? You must be!  Read this piece by Laura Vanderkam in Forge to consider where to take it next: “The Perfect Conditions for a Great Idea,” (7/16/20).

And the last piece of advice (my advice here!) is that if you participated in a U.S. Fulbright program (or any other State Department sponsored program or the Peace Corps) as a U.S. citizen and are between 18-35, you should join the Career Connections Program.  Career Connections brings together U.S. alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs with expert career coaches, professionals from diverse fields, and international leaders. Whether you’re changing careers, looking to advance, or just starting out, these seminars provide invaluable opportunities to network.  The starting point in joining is visiting the International Exchange Alumni site ( and making sure you are a member, then going to the U.S. Alumni page. Career Connections events are all online right now!

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at He can reached at

October 29, 2020 0

Use Your Superpowers

Use Your Superpowers

If you are a superhero, you most certainly have a superpower. Though I’m no expert, it seems that most superheroes have various formidable abilities, as well as a few unique powers that set them apart. Captain America’s powers are strength and agility while Spider-Man’s is his ability to jump and climb. Jean Grey can control minds and the Invisible Woman, can, you guessed it, become invisible. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been home with Netflix learning a lot about superheroes lately.

Superheroes are not limited to those on the big screen or from DC Comics. In all walks of life there are individuals who have special abilities that can be used for the greater good. I’m reminded that Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who passed away recently and was a U.S. Supreme Court justice, was thought of as a superhero based on her life’s commitment to advancing women.

Of course, you might not feel like a superhero sometimes – maybe a super flop. But your worst day is probably not as bad as a superhero’s: you didn’t destroy a planet, right? We all have a superpower, maybe more than one. And these powers are important to use to promote a career and find work. You just have to find it, practice it, and of course, only use it only for good.

Here are a few superpowers and how you might use them to your advantage:

1. Writing Like a Superhero

We all can write of course, but some of us are really good at it. For some their strength is in writing fiction such as stories and narratives about experiences and characters that capture our imagination. Others can write business prose and hammer out precisely worded reports and studies.

For many positions, writing is the sine qua non – the indispensable requirement – for hiring (and some writers are even good at showing off a bit of Latin once in a while). If writing is your thing, emphasize it in your application. Make sure your resume is peppered with citations and hyperlinks to your best writing. If you are submitting your application in paper, include a hard copy article or research piece that highlights your abilities. More importantly, apply for positions where good writing is required.

2. Networking and Making Presentations Superpower

Maybe you are a natural. You easily connect with people and are not intimidated when meeting new colleagues and professionals. Not everyone is comfortable in their skin (and some superheroes do have a particular skin!). But for you when you meet people for the first time, you don’t trip over your words: you can make a good impression and say what is needed in the moment.

Increasingly companies and organizations require every professional to be their own “PR” department. A job might require that you might communicate in person or online much of your day. With your superpower, you are able to make a passionate, relevant, and personable case for your employer. Make sure when you apply for a job where making connections and presenting are important, that you show or provide examples of your efforts. Maybe you are on YouTube giving a talk? Or have been interviewed by a news outlet?

3. Tech and Social Media Superhero

Maybe you are a wiz at social media and keep up with the latest trends and apps. You know what forms of social media are most effective in a particular situation. Your familiarization is not only with traditional means like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn, but with novel new means that are tailored to younger professionals — Instagram or Snapchat, for instance.

Today, every professional needs to be social media competent. But you are an expert. So be sure to show a prospective employer what you have produced, and more importantly, the impact of the social media you have used. Have you increased sales? Brought in new members or clients?

4. Superhero of Multitasking, Quick Learning, and Rapid Response, or Just Getting it Done!

Many places demand quick response and the anticipation of changes and disruptions. You are a multitasker, but more importantly, are flexible and a quick learner. You can adjust to any situation – in the moment! You can put a fire out (literally and figuratively!). You also have the ability to anticipate problems around the bend.

It is a fast-paced world where businesses and organizations need to react and respond quickly to changing conditions and crises. Taking advantage of opportunities is critical to being on the cutting edge and producing good work. If you a person who can stay on task, work on deadline, respond quickly, and get it done, you are a superhero.

When you apply for a job make sure to share stories of how you have used your superpowers to save the day (or maybe even the planet)!

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at He can reached at

September 22, 2020 0