Saturday, July 30, 2005

Achieving First Page Listing on Search Engines

My new blog, Making Career Changes, achieved first page listing on both Google and Yahoo within a week for the key word "making career changes," one of the web's most often searched for terms.

My purpose in writing the Making Career Changes blog is several fold:
  • Viral marketing for my coaching business -- Mapmaker Coaching,
  • Providing a respository of information for people who attend the Job Seeker's ministry I work with,
  • Processing what I am learning as I help people with career change and job searching.
It is also an experiment in determining if what I think I have learned about the power of blogging and podcasting in creating web presence is correct. I noticed that with my other two podcasts, Drawn2Jesus and Retire2Serve, that both got a lot of attention from the search engines. I attribute that to the fact that there are a number of web directories for podcasts, and that listings on podcast directories carry weight with the search engines because many not only provide a link, but reproduce the textual content of the podcast post -- the show notes. Therefore, in addition to traditional text entries in the Making Career Changes blog, I'm including occasional podcast entries, and have listed the podcasts on several of the major directories.

The experimental results seem to be a confirmation of my thesis. We'll have to see if that translates into success in viral marketing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Faith and Loss

Earlier this week I wrote about Faith and Job Loss on my Making Career Changes blog.

I wrote it about job loss, but I was thinking as I wrote it that the discussion really applies to any kind of loss we suffer as Christians -- death, health, etc.

Again and again through the years I've seen people who have suffered painful losses persevere, maintain their trust in God and his provision, and in the process allow God and his power and accomplishments be seen. It's counterintuitive to our world that God's power and accomplishments would be shown through people suffering loss rather than through people whose lives are going great with no apparent difficulties. Yet those that stand out in my memory as amazing examples of faith, and there are many, are are people who have suffered painful losses and persevered through their trust in God. While I don't like it that bad things happen to people of faith, I'm blessed again and again by seeing their faith, and by seeing the power of God working in them.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The "Making Career Changes" Blog

I have begun a new blog specifically aimed at helping people successfully make career changes.

Helping people navigate career change has occupied a lot of my time and energy during the past several years since my early retirement from Texaco, both in leading a between jobs ministry at my local church and through my life coaching practice. Actually, career development was part of my vocation at Texaco, where I was involved with recruiting, screening applicants, managing the hiring process, and serving as a resource development manager, as well as holding line management positions. It's a subject and an activity that I have a lot of passion for, and one in which I have developed a level of expertise.

In trying to help people one-on-one during the past few years, I've learned a lot about the process. There is no lack of information about the process -- in fact, the problem seems to be that there may be too much information spread around in bits and pieces. It's easy for someone between jobs to be overwhelmed by what they read, what they're told, and what they feel. There's also a lot of misinformation -- things that push job seekers in wrong directions and lead to defeating behaviors.

My goal is to try to put together information that will be helpful, encouraging, easy to understand, and which will debunk some of the myths out there. If you know someone facing career change, be sure to point them to the Making Career Changes blog.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

"I have felt your prayers."

Yesterday we attended the funeral of the 22 year-old daughter of friends who was killed last week-end in an automobile accident.

It's been a while since I've attended a funeral of one so young who was taken so suddenly.

Lots of her contemporaries were present as were lots of contemporaries of her parents (like us). It was a somber time for all of us. No doubt, for many of the young people, it was a first serious time of recognizing their mortality, and you could see it on their faces. For those my age, there was not one of us who wasn't thinking "This could be my child just as easily." You could see it on our faces too.

During the week I frequently heard someone say, "I don't know how a parent gets through a time like this."

But I also heard what the first thing was the mom said on Friday when some friends arrived for the viewing. "I have felt your prayers."

What a wonderful reminder that God so often uses us and our prayers to him as the source of comfort and healing for the ones we are praying for. He lets them feel our love and concern that are expressed during prayer. And that's a big part of how anyone gets through a time like this.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Evidence of Change in Job Market

Something very interesting has happened during the last few weeks. I am getting more contacts from people trying to fill positions than from people looking for positions.

For the past couple of years, I have been leading a job ministry through our church. We have meetings twice a month, and there has been a gradual decrease in the number of people coming to the meetings. This year it has generally been only one or two at each meeting, and they have generally been able to find positions within a short period of time. There have been several times recently when no one came to the meetings.

Within the last few weeks, though, I have found that I'm getting several calls or emails a week advertising openings. I take that to mean that businesses are having a harder time finding people, so are reaching out to all possible sources. That's a good thing for folks that are in the job market.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Vocation: What God Has Given You to Do

"Vocation" is a word that has sort of fallen out of favor. We seem to prefer to use words like career, business, job, or even calling. But vocation is a much broader and deeper concept. It is also much more helpful to us in thinking about our whole lives.

That's because a career or business or job is only a partial, time-bound part of who we are as individuals. While these may span a number of years, even so they only deal with a part of what we do or who we are even for that time period. If, for example, your job or career is a firefighter or an engineer, it occupies 40 or 50 or maybe even 60 hours a week. Taking out 8 hours/day for sleep, that still leaves up to 72 hours a week for other endeavors. When we're thinking about our lives, all of our endeavors are important. Just because one of these is what we get paid for doesn't mean that it should dominate our idea of who we are. In addition, for this generation, career may represent only a third of our lifetime, with retirement and second acts encompassing an equal amount of time.

That's why I like the word vocation, and this particular definition of vocation: Vocation is what God has given you to do with your life.

That certainly includes your job or your career or your business.

It also includes the other things God has given you to do.
  • Being a spouse, a parent, a grandparent.
  • Being a child, a brother or sister.
  • Being a friend and a neighbor.
  • Serving in your church and community.
  • Perhaps even being a family caregiver, or any of the other myriad things we are called to do.
Having spent time observing people, and in recent years coaching individuals, it's often obvious that individuals are uniquely qualified to do what God has given them to do. When they have a good fit in career, they perform well and find satisfaction and success. Sometimes it's equally obvious that individuals have found themselves in careers or jobs for which they are not suited, and they struggle, don't perform well, are frustrated, and unsuccessful.

In some of the other situations, the uniqueness has more to do with the fact that they are in the role they're in -- if they don't fulfill the role, no one will.

When an individual moves into retirement, all these facets of vocation are in play. The career portion is the major change.

Traditionally (at least for the century or so we've had retirement), career has gone away, and the other facets of vocation expand to fill the time and the void. People spend more of their time in their roles as spouses, parents, grandparents, and often increase their time serving the church and the community.

More recently, as lifespans have increased, some have begun "second acts." These second acts may be new careers or starting businesses or they may be significant service or ministry roles, along with more time devoted to other roles as well.

Depending on your individual situation, God may be calling you to a traditional retirement or to begin a second act.
  • Family needs may dictate that your vocation in retirement be largely devoted to family.
  • Opportunities for increased service in a church or in the community may be God calling you to devote more of your vocational time and energy in that arena.
  • The emotional and/or financial need to continue working may dictate a second career.
  • The desire to serve others in a major way may mean that your vocation incorporates a new act in ministry.
Where is God leading you? What is God giving you to do in your retirement? It could be to any one or a combination of these. So what will be the elements of your vocation in retirement?

Monday, July 18, 2005

When the World Crashes In

We learned this morning that the adult daughter of friends of ours was tragically killed in an automobile accident over the weekend. The parents had gone to New Mexico to see her perform the lead in several plays, and after watching her performance, she was on her way home from the theatre when a car ran a light and she died. Our friends emotions went from joy to grief in an instant -- their world crashed in. We are filled with grief for them and their suffering, and with fear that something similar could happen to our world.

In such times, we yearn for rational explanations. If we could just understand WHY, then maybe our suffering would be lessened and maybe our fears for what could be would move to the background. I've been here before. Often enough, in fact, to realize that no one in this life has those answers. I've read extensively on the subject and experienced the paths others have taken. I've looked for wisdom and understanding from the Bible. What I've learned is that there is no nice, simple answer that will reduce our feelings of helplessness and grief or that will make the fears go away.

So I've had to make some decisions about how I react to such events, about what I believe, and about how I deal with what I can't explain. This morning I sat down and wrote out several of these things for my own benefit, and am sharing them here.

1. I choose to have absolute faith in God, his love, his control, and his power. I can't imagine life without God, especially in times of loss and pain and not understanding.

2. I recognize that in this life, no one will be able to develop a satisfying explanation of why bad things happen, especially to good people. I accept that this will be one of the areas of mystery in life -- something without rational explanation.

3. I recognize that this earth and the events of life will not be fully under God's rule and following his will until he chooses. For now, other powers are in play, and they are sources of evil and suffering and death. Therefore I pray, following Jesus' lead, that God's name will be holy, that his kingdom rule will come, and that his will be done on EARTH, as it is in Heaven.

4. I choose to believe that God can and will intervene in the affairs of men to provide protection, healing, and peace, so I pray for these things for myself and others.

5. I recognize that my perspective is very limited and that God's is infinite. That means that what I see as desirable and pray for may not be what should happen, because I have a limited view. It also means that what I perceive as tragic or unfair may not be so at all. God is God, and I am not.

6. I understand that this life is brief, and that it is not an end to itself. The purpose of this life is to prepare our spiritual selves for the life to come. If our physical life on earth was painless and without tragedy, we would not be drawn to focus on the spiritual.

7. Finally, I seek to follow the teachings and example of Jesus as the pattern for my life -- loving God and loving others. Jesus said that loving God and loving others summarizes all of the law and the prophets -- the core of Bible teaching.

When it's all said and done, all I know to do is love. When a piece of my world or someone else's world comes crashing in, the only answer I know is to love them and to love God. And to look forward to the time when the hurt and tragedies of this earth are past and God's kingdom is fully come.

When the world crashes in, all that there is love, and that's all that matters.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Getting Over What Others Think

I don't think I had ever spent any time considering what Joseph, who accepted the adoptive role as Jesus' earthly father, must have gone through until reading a portion of The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight.

Joseph, being a devout follower of the Torah, had to know what other devout followers of the law would think of his marrying Mary who was pregnant. He would no longer be a respected member of the synagogue. Others would not understand or believe that he had received a divine message and command to marry her. He had to know that by marrying Mary that his reputation would suffer in the eyes of those he lived with and respected. He would never have the same standing in his faith community again.

I have some things to learn from Joseph. I've always been much too absorbed by what others think of me. On the one hand, I often heavily factor in what others in my faith community will think about what I do. On the other hand, I'm just about as concerned about what those outside the faith family think. McKnight's point in the book is that we need to be more concerned about our identity than our reputation. More work to do in that area.

This point also makes me do some thinking about people I know who have taken actions that have damaged their standing in the church. Usually whatever it is that causes them to lose standing looks like sin, or at least breaking written or unwritten rules. So how would we have judged Joseph? Are there things we don't know about these people in our fellowships that might make our judgements about their actions wrong?

Which all reminds me of the inscription on Dave Phillip's pen set that his wife gave him and which sits on his desk. "To thine own self be true." I have to keep reminding myself that it doesn't say "And what would Sister So and So think?"

By the way, here's a link to The Jesus Creed.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Some Data on Poverty

Here's some data on poverty that I gleaned from Dave Phillips, co-founder of Cincinnati Works.

Cincinnati has about 200,000 people who live in poverty as defined by the federal poverty guidelines. By extension, a good estimate for the Houston metropolitan area is that 400,000 or more people are living in poverty.

People living in poverty generally fit into two categories:

1. The Chronically Unemployed -- people that have lots of first jobs that don't work out
  • 60% of these are generational due to welfare -- it's passed from generation to generation
  • The rest are situational -- something happened.
2. The Working Poor: working one, often two jobs at minimum wage, but can't get ahead.

Some other facts:
  • 47% have criminal records
  • 60% suffer from chronic depression or anxiety
  • 30-40% are on drugs
  • 55% don't know how to drive (there is a 25% higher salary for same jobs off bus lines)
  • 95% of the individuals that come to Cincinnati Works are single parents
  • 80% of school dropouts are due to poverty
Economic reasons to care:
  • Lifetime cost to society of a household in poverty: $1-1.5 million
  • Five-year cost to society of a household in poverty: $150,000
Total one-time cost using the Cincinnati Works model to reach self sufficiency: $6,000

Sounds like a good thing to get behind and help spread!

Poverty is a big deal!

Over the past few months, I've been increasingly sensitized to poverty and why we all need to be concerned and get involved in doing things about it.

It's amazing to me how easy it is to go about life and totally ignore that significant parts of our city, country, and world live in poverty. Part of it is that we compartmentalize ourselves. My life rarely takes me to places where poverty is obvious. We have designed our cities to make it easy to avoid. Living in the suburbs, going to church in the suburbs, shopping in the suburbs, etc. tend to keep you from seeing poverty. In fact, we regularly avoid poverty areas because we correlate them with high crime -- places to avoid.

One of the things that can happen when you retire and begin to pursue other endeavors is that you begin to become more sensitized to the world around you. At least that is what has happened to me. Becoming more aware of poverty was not something I planned, but it has happened through several things that I have been led to for one reason or another.

1. When I started blogging, I found Larry James' Urban Daily. I wasn't looking for it, but found it as a link on some other blogs, so started reading it. His parents and my wife's parents were friends, so there is some feeling of connection to him. Larry relentlessly writes about urban poverty. Over time, it's begun to sink in. If you want to develop an understanding of how big a deal poverty is in the U.S., spend some time reading this blog.

2. Since retirement and starting my second career as a life coach, I've become a voracious reader -- primarily related to religion. As a result, I've become much more aware of how much of the Bible addresses serving the poor, the disenfranchised, and those treated unjustly.

3. We attended a dinner for Second Mile Ministry -- a local outreach to those in poverty in Fort Bend County, generally considered an affluent suburban county. My main insight from the event was how many people they provide services for. They are actually one of the largest customers of the Houston Food Bank. I knew there were people living in poverty in the midst of all of our planned communities, but had no idea there were so many.

4. I became involved with a networking group called "The Get-Together." Again, it wasn't something I was looking for. I was an exhibitor at a Halftime event in Houston (for my coaching business) and Barbara Elliott, author of Street Saints was also exhibiting.
  • Street Saints chronicles faith-based efforts accross the country who are effectively serving the underserved. You'll find it encouraging.
  • Barbara is the founder of The Center for Renewal. The collected my business card at the Halftime event and I ended up on the mailing list for The Get-Together. Eventually I attended one of the networking lunch groups. The purpose of the group is to provide "Stuff" six inner city ministries need.
5. Because of being on The Get-Together mailing list, I was invited to a meeting to consider starting a ministry in Houston similar to Cincinnati Works. Dave Phillips, co-founder of Cincinnati Works, came to talk about their success. The Cincinnati Works program provides job readiness and job search efforts that results in a person who is chronically unemployed or a member of the working poor becoming employed within a month. Then extensive effort is given to helping that person stay employed and to career advancement. The goal is to move people in poverty (defined by federal poverty income guidelines) out of poverty, which they define as an income 2X poverty level. Cincinnati Works has helped 3000 people in poverty become employed, and 900 are now at the 2X poverty income level. While they only are able to help 3% of the people in poverty in Cincinnati, their results are 30% of the total for the city. Virtually all other efforts get people ready to go to work, but do not actually place them in jobs or follow up with them for the years it takes to make sure they are stable and advancing. As a result, where average industry retention is 20%, Cincinnati Works can boast of an 80% retention rate.

Dave Phillips says poverty is the cancer of our society. I'll put more information in the next post to reinforce Dave's assertion.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Podcast Results Review -- July 11

Well, I've spent some time again this morning trying to get some understanding about how my two podcasts are doing in drawing an audience. Last week was interesting, because The Drawn2Jesus Podcast became listed on the iTunes directory -- which looking at Feedburner, resulted in a healthy kick in downloads which I think is new subscribers. Feedburner shows me the number of times aggregators ask for my RSS feed daily, including which aggregators, but this doesn't translate to actual downloads -- actual downloads is some factor of this data. I can also look at the stats from the website I use to host the two podcasts and see the actual number of times each specific podcast has been downloaded.

So here are a few numbers:

Individual Podcast Downloads:

6/13 - 6/19: 414
6/20-6/26: 444
6/27- 7/3: 371
7/4-7/10: 540

Total Individual Podcast Downloads: 2669

Most Frequently Downloaded Podcast:

6/13-6/19: Drawn2Jesus for 6/14 (55 downloads)
6/20-6/26: Retire2Serve for 6/20 (59 downloads)
6/27-7/3: Drawn2Jesus for 6/27 (53 downloads)
7/4-7/10: Drawn2Jesus for 6/14 (71 downloads)

Most total downloads: 168 for Drawn2Jesus for 6/09

Note that during the first 3 weeks of this period, the most frequently downloaded podcast was one of the shows produced at the beginning of that week. But with Drawn2Jesus appearing on the iTunes list last week, one of the older podcasts was heavily downloaded due to new subscribers downloading past shows as well as new ones. In fact, the new shows which came out last week only had 41 and 58 downloads -- maybe because they came out in the middle of the week.

So what I can surmise from all of this is that my podcasts have reached at least 168 people, and that maybe half or more are listening on a regular basis. Further, the numbers seem to continue to grow with time and with ease of access (iTunes). I think that's encouraging.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Spyware Now Less of a Problem

Spyware is the stuff that gets installed on your computer when you visit certain websites. I regularly run spyware removal software. It dawned on me today that since I've switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox for my web browsing, that I find very little spyware on my computer. What caused me to realize this nice change was an article on CNN's website.

If you're still using Internet Explorer, I'd recommend a change to Firefox. It's free, and you can download it here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

10,000 Steps?

So with all the hype about taking 10,000 steps a day that's been on TV and in magazines, it turns out that it's not the result of any research. Common sense, maybe -- but not research. The AARP Bulletin this month points out that it came from the name of the pedometer developed in Japan in 1965.

So, if you name it, they'll come?

Subscribing to Podcasts Using iTunes

You can now use iTunes to subscribe to my podcasts. iTunes is free software from Apple that is downloaded to your desktop. iTunes is Apple's software that allows you to purchase and download music to your computer and in turn to your iPod. The ability to subscribe to podcasts to listen at your convenience and have them automatically downloaded to your iPod is a new feature of iTunes.

Here are brief instructions for subscribing to my podcasts using iTunes:

1. Download iTunes version 4.9 if you haven't already done so. Note that if you have an iPod and want to automatically download podcasts, that there is an update for the iPod software -- also available at Apple's website.

2. When you open iTunes, you will notice that there is a new category called "Podcasts." When you click on "Podcasts," you will notice a link to the iTunes Podcast Directory. Click on that link.

3. To subscribe to Drawn2Jesus, which is included in the directory, click on "Religion and Spirituality" and then on "Christianity." Scroll down to "Drawn2Jesus" and click "subscribe."

4. To subscribe to Retire2Serve, which is not yet listed in the directory, click on "Podcasts." Then select "advanced" from the menu, and "subscribe to podcast." Then type in or paste this link:

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Trips to Abilene Make Me Think

Trips to Abilene always put me into a reflective mood. It's sort of like going home. We went to school there, we have relatives there, and in a lot of ways feel ties to Abilene. But I think part of what makes me reflective about trips to Abilene is that I recognize that it's not home.

There are differences that seem to jump out at me. People tend to dress differently -- more of a western cut to their clothes. The news is about very local things -- and small things get attention. The sports reports are about Class A football in all the surrounding small towns. The big squabble in Abilene is over redistricting between the two high schools -- and the impact that seems to have had on football fortunes. Conversations often turn to the difficulties Abilene and the Abilene School District are having because of all the development outside their boundaries -- and the population shift to the suburbs (if Abilene can have suburbs). And part of it is also that I'm reminded of the differences that are accented between churches -- whether between groups wearing the same name (churches of Christ, Baptist, etc.) -- or the distinctions between the larger groups themselves. It's not that any or all of this is not good -- it just seems magnified, which sets me to thinking.

Here are a few of the questions that moved in and out of my mind on the drive home:
  • Why do I feel uncomfortable when things are a little different?
  • Why is there such a focus on creating controversy -- about schools, about football teams, about churches -- rather than seeking to find agreement and middle ground?
  • Will there be controversy in heaven? Will we focus on what's different and not feel comfortable?
Well, more questions than answers. But I'm glad to be home where I can immerse myself in my own little universe.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Cows and Horses and Shade

We made a trip to Abilene and back over the weekend, and the temperature was near or above 100 all the way up and back. You get to see a lot of cows along the way, and they were all clumped up everywhere you saw them under trees. Where there were cows, they were standing in the shade, even fairly early in the morning. Horses were a different matter. They were standing out in the sun eating.

Now cows are maligned as being very dumb. And we usually think of horses as being smarter. Have cows been misjudged?