Charting Your Course Across Weirdish Wild Space: 5 Career Lessons from Dr. Seuss

Once upon a time, pre-COVID-19, a colleague of mine was having some issues with one of his employees who seems to be struggling and not very happy in his job.  He asked me for some recommendations for career guidance books that he might be able to share with his employee to help him figure out a better path and/or offer some inspiration. I looked over all the books on my bookshelf and then took a look at some books recommended by other career professionals. That’s when it hit me. The ultimate life and career guidebook, the best book I could recommend, was Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. So I thought I’d share with you 5 lessons I’ve learned in charting my career course from the dexterous Dr. Seuss.

Hakken-Kraks Howling 

“On you will go
though your enemies prowl.

On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.”

Have you ever heard a Hakken-Krak howl? I’ll bet you have. They are negative or misleading messages we receive from advertising, societal expectations, and sometimes even our own inner voices that can impact our career paths. For example, when I decided to join the Army there was quite a bit of howling. The Army is not a place for women. You’ll never make it. You don’t know how to follow orders. And so on. Those were some of the messages I received. Fortunately, my youthful exuberance and natural willpower enabled me to turn those messages around and actually use them as motivators. I was determined that not only would I make it, but that I would succeed. And I did!

Not everybody is that lucky though. I had a friend who ran an office like a drill sergeant and never encountered a situation she couldn’t handle even though her actual title was secretary. However, the howling in her head prevented her from applying for an actual office manager position. She was convinced that because she didn’t have a degree they would never hire her. Maybe you’ve heard a similar howl?

You have to learn how to deal with those Hakken-Krak howls. Sometimes a little positive self-talk can help. If positive self-talk is difficult, you can also try keeping a compliment file. Any time you receive an email with a thank you, land a good job review, or snag a LinkedIn recommendation, put it into your compliment file. Oddly enough, giving compliments or recommendations can also help clear the howling from your head. If you know of someone who has done a good job, take a moment to let him know or send an email to her boss recommending her good work. Getting rid of or blocking out the howling will help you better navigate the streets on your journey.

Not-so-good Streets

“You’ll look up and down streets. Look ‘em over with care. About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve encountered a number of not-so-good streets on my career path. Sometimes you can tell from the way the job ad is written that it might not be such a good deal. Maybe the position requires someone to have two left hands or wear bright orange pants. It is easy to avoid those kinds of streets. Sometimes you know during the job interview that the position is not for you. 

I once arrived at an interview only to discover that I would be interviewing with 7 different people, including a vice president! The interview lasted over two hours and none of it had ever been mentioned to me when setting the interview up. I normally enjoy interviewing and am energized afterwards, but after this one I felt completely drained. When it came time to do the thank-you’s, I also had difficulty. These were all signs that this was not a good position for me. So I politely withdrew my name from consideration.

Maybe the issue is that when you originally went down the street it was a nice, cheerful street. Now you’ve noticed that are some pretty big potholes and a few shady-looking characters lurking in the shadows. The street lamps don’t work any more. Or that flower vendor who used to be quite friendly now gives you dark looks. Maybe your gang has moved on and it’s time to reevaluate.

Left in a Lurch

“You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch.”

What’s happened here is that your once wonderful job has changed. Maybe you got a new manager. Maybe the company changed its policies. Or maybe you’ve gotten out of synch with your team/gang. It’s not fun. It’s not pretty. It’s not easy. But it’s time to move on.  It happens to most of us at some point. 

I had landed my dream job. It incorporated almost all of the elements I was looking for at the time, including public speaking, and event management. I loved my job! However, as time went on I kept having these little bumps and miscommunications with my supervisor. I kept trying to do things differently, feeling hurt and resentful and wondering what I was doing wrong. Finally, I found out from someone who had worked with my supervisor before that it was not my fault and that there had been a lot of turnover in my position. As much as I loved the job, I knew there was no way for me to change my supervisor so I moved on.

If the dynamic has changed at your workplace, you need to evaluate it carefully. Maybe it’s a matter of changing your approach or your attitude. If so, then your street may once again become a cheerful, friendly street.  However, if the change is something you have no control over then you probably want to start investigating other streets or even consider going straight out of town. Be careful that you don’t get stuck in the waiting place though.

Escape the Waiting Place

Oh, the waiting place. Wow, Dr. Seuss nailed that one. I think I can safely say that we’ve all gotten stuck in the waiting place a time or two. Waiting for a promotion. Waiting for a new manager. Waiting to be recognized for your hard work. Waiting for the weekend. 

When you realize you are stuck in the waiting place you need to come up with a plan to escape.  The first thing you will need to do is figure out what exactly you are waiting for. Once you know that you can come up with a plan.

If you are waiting for a promotion, find out if there is actually a position you can be promoted to. What are the requirements for that position? Do you meet the requirements for that position? If not, what can you do to meet those requirements? Find out who makes the decision on promotions. What is the process? Let your supervisor or HR know that you want to grow and ask what you can do to move up.

If you are waiting for the weekend, you may actually be in – what Dr. Seuss called – a Slump.

Un-slumping Yourself

“You’ll come down from the Lurch
with an unpleasant bump.

And the chances are, then,
That you’ll be in a Slump.”

As Dr. Seuss says a slump is a time when you are confused, indecisive, impatient, and maybe deep down inside scared as well. So how do you get out of a Slump? First, you have to realize that “Bang-ups and Hang-ups” can happen to anyone and most often do. Second, don’t let the Slump stop your life. Keep moving. It’s easy when you are in a Slump to end up back in the waiting place and you don’t want to do that.

In fact, one of the things you can do both to escape the waiting place and to un-slump is to seek out help. Who better to help you get back to the “bright places where Boom Bands are playing” than a career advisor?  A career advisor can be your co-creative collaborator to help you deal with the Hakken-Krak howling. She can help you evaluate those streets. A career advisor can give you a different perspective on your Lurch or gang and help you figure out if it’s time to move on or adjust your attitude. You don’t have to go it alone.

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Morgan O'Donnell


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