Early birds vs. Night owls (or, the False Dichotomy strikes again)

Owl eyes photo © Tony Hisgett | Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0

Owl eyes photo © Tony Hisgett | Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0

Are you an early bird, ready to get up at the crack of dawn? Do you look forward to the first hour of the day when no one else in your house is awake yet? If so, then you're like me!

On the other hand, do you get your best work done at night? Do you tap into more creative juices at 9 pm than at 9 am? If so, then... you're also like me. Wait, what?

At times in my career, I truly enjoyed getting up early. I'm particularly nostalgic about the years when I worked for an environmental conservation group, The Nature Conservancy. I would get up before the sun, load the chainsaw or weed whacker into the truck, and drive 2 hours to a nature preserve to lead a volunteer workday. The sunrise was breathtaking, there was a delicious dewy scent in the air, and I felt so productive!

However, in my current role as a career development writer and coach, I do a lot of my best work at night, researching workforce trends or writing client proposals. As I type this post, I'm the last creature awake in my house and it's marvelously quiet.

I'm using this example to illustrate a larger point: Beware the False Dichotomy! Banish the "either/or" mentality from your thoughts, especially if you are currently in a career transition. The "both/and" mindset leaves you open to more possibilities, which is always a good thing when considering career alternatives! Here are a few specific traps to avoid:

Reject labels. You can be analytical AND creative. You can be the plan-ahead type AND still be great at handling crises. Whether crafting a cover letter or answering a question in a job interview, don't succumb to the temptation of portraying yourself as one-dimensional. If you are asked a false choice question, such as "Do you work better alone or with a team?" it's perfectly OK to respond by saying, "Both actually, and if you'd like, I'm happy to give examples of each."

Silence your inner critic. Take care with your own internal monologue, as it is a key component to your self-confidence. "If I get laid off, I'll NEVER find a better job than this" is negative self-talk that leads you to feel as if you are out of options. If you're already a bit anxious about your career change, you can easily become discouraged by this kind of thinking. Instead, tell yourself that more chances will come! You can't predict what new opportunities will present themselves.

This too shall pass. In some cases, you really are boxed in by limited options. I've talked with students who agonize over choosing whether to get a job or apply to graduate school. (In some programs, the two are mutually exclusive due to the schedule and expectations of the institution.) Remember that in time, your options will grow. Even if you are stuck in an "either/or" situation now, it is only temporary and you'll get more freedom in the future. Which leads me to the last "false dichotomy trap."

The future holds infinite possibilities. One alum at my previous institution, a Class of 1944 poultry husbandry graduate, and started out as a turkey farmer. He later went back to school and had a long, satisfying career... as an electrical engineer. You may have a career in microbiology mapped out, and 15 years from now you'll be a business manager for Beyoncé's daughter. (How cool is the name Blue Ivy for a vocalist!?) Anything really is possible.

You are quite possibly the exact mix of spontaneity and planning, creativity and orderliness, self-starter and team player that your next job requires. You can be an "all of the above" answer on the multiple choice test. If your only options appear to be turn left or right, remember you can sometimes go backwards... or over... or through obstacles that force a "false dichotomy." If you don't have enough choices now, be patient and they'll appear.

It often helps to talk to someone who can be objective about the choices you're wrestling with. If you'd like, drop me a note to explore the idea of career coaching. You are invited to sign up for my weekly "Career Authentically" newsletter as well.

Since it's nearly 1:45 am, this early bird is turning in. G'night all!

Reject labels. It's OK to be a permanently exhausted pigeon.

Reject labels. It's OK to be a permanently exhausted pigeon.