Lessons about job hunting from my mom: Getting out of the car
(* I am stretching my wings a little and starting this series of articles. *)
My mother was a car hop at the Dubl R Drive-in. The shock I felt when I learned that at 12 years old. My mom? A car hop? It was long before I was born, but she was, and she was good at it, apparently, earning large sums just in tips.
What shocked me most, I suppose, wasn't that my mom had been a waitress, but that she had ever worked at a job. My aunt was a career woman at Sears, and my sister and female cousins all worked, but Mom? That was just too strange.
But that day, I was soon hit with another whopper. My mom had never received her high school diploma. That one truly blew me away. My mom was one of the most intelligent people I knew, and read books like her life depended on it. She had been a member of the town council at one point, managed all kinds of volunteer projects, and regularly gave members of our family career advice. How was that even possible?
The reasons behind it are too personal to share here, but it always made me sad that my mom never graduated or had a chance to go to college. It felt quite unjust. But one day, when I was a Jr. in high school, my mom asked me to go with her on a special errand. We drove to the school district's Adult Education office, and she sat in the car for a while just staring at the door.
"What's wrong?" I asked. "Why are we here?" She turned to me, and took a big, deep breath. "Well, I'm here to register for the GED program, but right now I'm feeling a little overwhelmed." I grabbed her hand and told her, "You can do it, Mom. I know you can." She gave me a slightly mysterious smile and replied, "Well, the next step is getting out of the car." I laughed and gave a typical teenage response of, "Duh."
It took a lot for her to drive over there, but the courage she showed getting out of that car...I didn't really understand it then, but I sure do understand it now. In The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman discusses so many things, but one thing that struck me was that his Seven Stages of Action apply when it comes to doing anything, not just design. Those seven steps are basically:
1. Determining your goal
2. Setting your commitment to pursue the goal
3. Name a specific action that will move you toward the goal
4. Actually doing that action
5. Examining the new state your situation
6. Determining what that means
7. Evaluating your new situation and determining the next goal (which may be a re-do of the previous goal if you were not successful)
The interesting thing is that a goal will often need several actions - not just one specific action alone - to be completed to get you there. In Mom's case on that fall afternoon, her next action was to literally get out of the car. Nothing more would happen with her pursuit of her GED if she didn't get out of the car. That was the moment. Get out or go home.
She put her hand on the door handle. "Let's go," she said, and opened her door. Over the next several weeks, my mom attended classes and studied like a maniac. As her sometimes tutor, I was proud of her progress; as her daughter, I was wowed with her resolve. I cried at her graduation ceremony, like she cried later at mine.
Later, she would refresh this core advice by expressing it as "One step at a time," but I always heard it as, "The next step is to get out of the car." Getting out of the car can mean a lot of things. It can mean literally getting out of your car and walking in to apply for a job (or sign up for classes, etc.), or it can mean stepping out of your comfort zone. Either way, it means to get moving...to take action. Very little will happen until you do.
What is your big goal? Have you broken it down into actions? What's the next step? Got it? Great! Now...get out of the car.