Carol Ross is a career coach, writer, and speaker who helps “crazy brilliant misfits” find their place in the world. She worked as an engineer in the nuclear power and telecom industries for 20 years. Along the way, she landed jobs through networking, created her own position inside a 3,000 person R+D organization, worked part-time as a new mother and became the working spouse of a stay-at-home dad. In 2002, a call came with the opportunity of a lifetime—a colleague gave her a heads up that she was being laid off. Carol returned to school to become a career coach and made the transition from employee to self-employed. Since then, she has helped thousands of professionals grow their careers, through workshops on brand story and networking, authoring articles on LinkedIn and burnout, and individual coaching. Carol lives near Boulder, CO, with her college sweetheart, Chip.
Why does the world need a work revolution? (In other words: the way we’re working isn’t working. Why not?)
There are so many ways to answer this question. Number one reason in my mind is that too many people are burning out. Since I burned out in 2011, I’ve published several articles about my experience (on my blog, NextAvenue.org and Forbes.com). Every few months, I get an email from someone who recognizes their symptoms from one of the articles, and is relieved to find they are not alone. Burnout is a hidden epidemic in our workplaces. It’s not acceptable to ask for help, to get off the treadmill, to stop being available at all hours of the day and night, to restructure your day so that rejuvenation is a part of being productive.
Number two reason is that the world has changed dramatically in the last 15 years, and yet our notion of what work is and how work gets done hasn’t changed all that much since the turn of the century. Managers and employees alike have hated performance reviews for as long as they have been around. It’s a tremendous drain of time, energy, and attention. Does the annual performance review add value to the business or to the customer or to anyone for that matter?
Number three reason is that while the Boomers and GenXers started their careers at a different time, and therefore are more tolerant of practices that no longer make sense, Millennials are a different beast all together. Work/life balance is important to Millennials from the get go. My older son is 22 and graduating from college in a few months. He’s picking first where he wants to live, rather than where he wants to work. He has no intention of buying a car and expects to live in a place where he can use public transportation to get around. That’s a very different mindset than when I graduated from college 35 years ago.
How are you or your organization reinventing work in some way (big or small)?
I mentioned that I burned out in 2011. I stopped working for 6 months, but it was what came after that really changed how I work today. I changed my beliefs about how work gets done and what constitutes the work day. My new beliefs: Faster is not better. A packed schedule is unproductive. How I am being has everything to do with what I can create and the value that I provide. If I had my druthers, every workplace would have places for napping and meditating and no-electronic zones. Meetings would end not on the hour, but 15 minutes before the hour. I can create this for myself because I’m self-employed. But what if you work for a company?
Why do you do what you do?
Oh my, what a question! I work for the joy of using my gifts well, for the satisfaction and gratitude that occurs after I’ve helped a client find their place in the world, for the thrill that I get from learning and trying out something new, for the feeling of accomplishment when I can write that monthly check to myself and take care of my family. Work is a portal for me to enter new worlds, a vehicle for growing myself in new areas, a way to serve others in a deep and meaningful way. Work is essential to the full expression of who I am. It is the framework for how I can fulfill my purpose in life. The feeling of contribution—no matter how big or small, no matter whether paid or unpaid—is critical to my well-being. I suspect that I’m not alone, that this is part of what it means to be human.
What kind of art (any kind) do you like and why? Any recommendations we should know about?
Abstract, colorful. I like art that feels nourishing. I’m not into art that makes me think too much, but it should be interesting, not bland. An example: I have a print of this painting, Swing Landscape in my home, above the fireplace.
What is one specific thing your company does that makes your culture unique and/or different?
Well, the first thing that came to mind is telling the truth. That’s what coaches are supposed to do, right? But it’s not just when I’m working with a client. It’s how I write, whether I’m blogging or responding to an email or marketing a new service. It’s how I am with colleagues and acquaintances. It’s how I try to be with myself—getting underneath what’s happening on the surface of how I’m behaving to the feelings and the thoughts that are really running me. That’s why meditating, journaling, walking are all important. Having time to step out of the day-to-day tumble and reflect is critical to my well-being and feeds into how well I can serve others.
What is one discipline/industry totally different from your own that has inspired you? How does it impact your work?
I love being around social entrepreneurs. I love the energy that comes with solving hard problems that impact people’s lives, in a very tangible, practical way. A few summers ago, I volunteered to help a Fellow at the Unreasonable Institute in Boulder, CO, where I live. A Sri Lankan cheesemaker had implemented an entire eco-system to help rural women earn more money, by teaching them to raise cows that produce milk. The milk is used to produce cheese for restaurants in cities, where new foods, like pizza, are becoming popular. She had figured out the critical factors for success, including vet support for the cows and easily accessible collection points for the milk. As a result of more family income, children are able to go to school and women gain more respect (and power) in their families and community. I admire the resourcefulness and ingenuity of social entrepreneurs. In terms of impacting my work, it allows me to see how much the human spirit can accomplish, with so little in tangible resources. A good life that creates meaningful impact can happen in a multitude of ways, from the most unexpected situations. Who knew that pizza and cheesemaking could help Sri Lankan women send their kids to school?
What’s one tangible and concrete technique other organizations should use if they want to create a more human and/or meaningful place to work?
Implement a meditation room. Our minds are powerful and the more that we can observe our minds at work, the better we can manage them for our own good and the good of an organization. If you don’t have the space for a meditation room, here’s another technique that doesn’t require space. Implement a thank you note program. People remember hand-written thank you notes. Provide thank you cards (yes, real paper that you can touch and feel, not electronic) and encourage people to use them. Recognize the senders and receivers in a public way. Gratitude can be contagious and the science behind gratitude shows tangible benefits to our well-being. I implemented both of these techniques at my last workplace, and they emerged from talking to employees about their experiences and needs.
What is one surprising thing we should know about you?
90% of the clothes in my closet are from consignment or thrift shops or hand me downs from relatives. I like the thrill of finding a diamond in the rough and taking something old and making it new again.
How do you stay productive throughout your day?
I take breaks, sometimes long ones. Like an hour-long walk. Or taking two hours off on Tuesdays to take my 80-something mother to an arthritis water class. I take naps, sometimes short ones, 15 minutes or less. I take a few minutes to meditate before a call or an event.
What is “required reading” or “required viewing” for people who want to understand what makes you tick?
Where in the world are you?
Louisville, CO (just outside of Boulder, CO)
How can people connect with you?