Re-framing as a Career Success Strategy: How to Get Things Done in Baby Steps


For an audio-visual version, please click on my YouTube channel:

TL;DR: When overwhelmed, re-frame (decide on one action you can take in the next 15 minutes to 55 minutes, and do it. Repeat.)

Re-framing is one of the most useful tools in career & life success that I had the privilege of learning during my graduate studies in Counseling. It is now a tool I almost daily use to help students learn to implement concrete, doable action steps when they feel overwhelmed by the ‘whole’ picture and are stuck in decision-fear mode.

As the word implies, “re-framing” is about shifting the frame of reference. The idea is to re-focus our thoughts about, and our responses to a situation or experience so that our minds can inhabit a productive, action-planning, decision-oriented place.Think about “re-framing” as the difference between using a telescope and a microscope. With a telescope, we see huge swaths of the universe. With a microscope, we see the nucleus of a single cell. The universe and the cell are both facts of existence, irrespective of which lens we choose to use. If we zoom in to focus on a specific part, this does not mean we have erased the more complex whole that is beyond the purview of the lens. What we have done is re-frame our focus to free up our cognitive and emotional energies so that we are able to take concrete action (what I call “baby steps“).

How does re-framing work? What does this look like in practice? Here’s one example. A student comes into my office, sits down, and blurts out, “I have found this amazing job in Philadelphia that is perfect for me, but I am too scared to apply because I don’t know if I am ready to move out there.” This student’s experience is of both excitement and dread; excitement about this opportunity, and dread about a decision that may (or may not) have to be taken a few weeks, probably months from now on, depending on the action steps she takes NOW.

So, we reframe. Refocusing from the large, amorphous “I am not sure if I am ready to move,” we focus on immediate, doable, measurable, practical baby steps (each of them working on an If <–> Then logic):

1. Have you printed out the job description?

2. Have you read the job description aloud, slowly, a few times to get a solid grasp on the position details?

3. Do you have a draft cover letter where you make a strong case (to yourself, first and then to the hiring managed) about why you might be an excellent candidate?

4. Do you have a draft customized resume that clearly speaks to THIS position and the responsibilities put in conversation with the knowledge and skills YOU will bring to the position?

These concrete action steps may take anywhere between 7-10 days (or more) to complete depending on the student’s schedule, and where in the cycle of the semester we are. But, they are framed more solidly than “I don’t know if I am ready to move.” Re-framing questions shift our focus from the large, abstract, sometimes scary and overwhelming place to a place of concrete action steps in the pursuit of which we can directly channel our energies — emotional and cognitive — more effectively.

Once we have completed steps 1-4, we re-frame, re-focus, and take the next few concrete steps. Then the next few, and then the next few. Re-frame, take action. Repeat.

And when (if) it comes to a point when a decision has to be made about moving to Philadephia (or not), then we do some more re-framing and re-focusing and take a few more decisions and action steps.

Thus goes the process of guiding our (sometimes) unruly minds along the pathways of our career and life journeys.

Action step challenge for my readers: what situation/experience can you re-frame today so you can set up specific, doable, measurable action steps in the next 24-48 hours? Leave a comment in the blog post, or on my YouTube channel (link at the top) and let me know!

Have a wonderful, blessed evening.

With all my love, — Maya   

Instagam: @maya.sanyal; @alka.devika

Finding Courage to Nurture My Voice

I have started an Instagram account. I have started doing short videos of professionals, students, and myself. I have started a YouTube channel. And finally, I have started requesting my friends and followers to subscribe, re-post, and connect their friends and followers.

This is scary for me. I find it hard to put my voice out there, even though I know that what I have to say might help a student or friend get through the day a bit more productively. I am coming to terms with my innate shyness and the barriers it puts up on the path of putting my voice out there. I am learning to listen to its concerns, and then speak to it kindly, and with compassion. Every day, I am practicing a bit more discomfort tolerance, reminding myself why I want to do this work. I wish I had had a mentor like me by my side when I was 15, or 20, or 25. I wish I had had someone who was relentlessly reminding me of my worth, my value, and the validity of my dreams. I wish I had had a person telling me about HOW to do things, and then holding me accountable. I didn’t then, but I do now, both for myself, and my students and friends.

I wrote recently in my Instagram post that the amazing people I have met in the last decade of my life who have been mentors and accountability holders: I don’t know if they changed the world, but I know of one person who’s entire world they changed. Mine.

I don’t have to change the world. What I want to do is nurture the change that is happening inside of me, and nurture the growth that I see possible in each and every single one of my students. To pursue that want, I have to speak. So yes, Instagram, blog posts, YouTube channel. If I’m going to find the courage to speak, I might as well take that courage in the palm of my hands and go for it.

Yes, it’s hard. It’s scary. It’s daunting. And then again, if it weren’t any of those things, how much would I really value it in the first place? Things easily gotten are easily forgotten. Things hard earned keep their value, deep in our hearts if nowhere else.

I’m planning to do videos on my YouTube channel. If I get a 100 subscribers, I get to have a customized URL which will make it easier for me to share the links. If you have a moment, please go to my channel and subscribe. 🙂 AlkaDevika-Maya’s-Channel

Also, please follow me on Instagram: @maya.sanyal; @alka.devika.

Challenge yourself to do one small, scary task a day. Repetition builds our resilience muscles.

(Next daunting task: taxes 🤣)

Love, – Maya

Career Success: Finding Reasons to Say Yes (and then taking Action) (Feb 18, 2020)

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TL;DR: Be a lawyer and make a case for saying ‘yes’ authentically, based on data points from your resume and life experience. There will always be reasons to say no. Find the reasons to say ‘yes’ (with facts).

Students walk into my office, show me a job posting, and say “I really want this job, but I read through the requirements, and I don’t have (…) (fill in the lack here). Often, this is about the “Experience of X number of years preferred” bullet point, but the second-most common reason for a candidate’s trepidation is there are items on the list that she feels she doesn’t have competence in.

My response to this starts with: “there are always, always reasons to say no. How about we flip the narrative and see why you can say ‘yes’ with confidence and authenticity regarding your fit for this position?” (I really do speak like this often. 🤣)

There are, of course, valid reasons to say no when making a decision about what action we want to put our cognitive and emotional energy into. We do need to learn to say ‘no’ a lot more — to soul-sucking activities that give us instant gratification but leave us feeling guilty (or worse, ashamed) inside, driving us to repeat the dysfunctional behavior to avoid said feelings of guilt/shame/letting ourselves down) (2 hours on social media when that paper/project is due in 6 hours, anyone?)

We need train and practice our decision making skill: become competent at deciding, INTENTIONALLY, when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no.’ This intentional decision making capacity is about practicing emotional and cognitive intelligence, cultivating self-awareness, and trusting our innate wisdom born of experience and reflection. 

In the specific case of the narrative that goes: ‘I want to apply for this job but I don’t think/feel I am qualified,’ let us practice stepping back from our obsessive focus on the result (getting the job) to taking ACTION STEPS:

  1. Print out the job description.
  2. Get a pen.
  3. Read out the job description ALOUD, 3 times, from start to finish.
  4. Underline keywords (words that feel important and resonate with you).
  5. Pull up online 2-3 cover letters online for that role. Read them carefully to see how other professionals structure their sales pitch.
  6. Open your cover letter draft. Write a cover letter that makes an argument for “here’s why you would want to interview me.” Be a lawyer. Make your case.
  7. Review with a career counselor /mentor.
  8. Revise.
  9. NOW make the decision about applying.
  10. If yes, review and customize resume to this specific posting.
  11. If no, save the resume in your “Effort” folder.
  12. Move on to the next job description.

REPEAT. Again, and again, and again, and again.

Most of the time, the student candidate is surprised at how strongly s/he CAN make a case for why an interview is a valid ask. If the cover letter really makes them realize the job isn’t a good fit (yet), then we have data points to make the decision to put it into the ‘Effort’ folder and move on to the next task.

There are always reasons to say “no.” Start by making an argument for saying “yes.” Then, decide. Based on verifiable, actual data points.


Doing Career Success: Campus Student Leadership Panel

FDU Career Development held a workshop with 4 STEM Student Club Leaders (ASCE; IEEE; MCAA; & SWE) to discuss with students strategies for professional success, leadership practice and succeeding at internships/jobs. Takeaways from Student Leaders:
– start early; don’t wait to be ‘perfect’
– take initiative to grow your club
– interdependence
– commitment
– authenticity
– responsibility
– courage
– time and priority management
– networking
– paying it forward
– listening
– make tough decisions with compassion
– go to interviews
– ‘fail’ over and over again until you succeed
– learn by doing
– ask questions
– connect with new people you’ve met within 24 hours
– follow through on commitments promises
– take on new roles; explore; struggle; grow.
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Career Toolkit: The Informational Interview

An Informational Interview is one of the most underutilized tools in career success. In this video, I talk about what it is (a conversation that you, the candidate engages in with a professional to ask about their career trajectories and lessons that can teach you on your path to success) and what is it not (a pitch to get hired for a specific position). Please let me know what you think! 🙂 Best, — Maya


When Contract Managers, Software Engineers, and Finance Directors Hire

[TLDR: The variety of human “success” journeys is never-ending and yet, at the core, the same values abide when it comes to defining success strategies: trust; honesty; genuineness; caring for the group as much as for the self; seeking community; and finding purpose in one’s work. ]

Dear Readers:

I had the privilege today of talking to three different groups of professionals at a career fair hosted by Harris Corporation ( My area of training, education, and counseling is career success/life success. I asked 2 questions of professionals across fields of specialization, including Engineers in their late 20s/early 30s, Directors in their early 40s, and Executive/upper-level Managers in their mid-60s.  To various extents, from a single project to holistic oversight/reporting to the company board of Directors, each of these individuals is involved in project management, including hiring, training, and onboarding. Across their range of experience and responsibilities, the professionals talked about the following characteristics as being vital to success in the 21st century global workplace.

Question 1. What are 2-3 key characteristics that make young professionals successful when completing internships and first few jobs after graduation?  

  1. Having a hungry and thirsty mindset, and being willing to constantly,  passionately learn. The successful candidate embraces her project and is willing to absorb information and input from every source. “Be into your work.”
  2. Showing up. The successful candidate comes to work with whole spirit, body, mind, and enthusiasm. She becomes known for her high standard of work ethic and accountability, and for being dedicated to the task, the project, and the team. “Be focused. Be honest. Be driven.”  
  3. Taking ownership of the project. The successful candidate owns her project. She is willing to see it from start to finish, not take no for an answer, ask questions, find answers, and take responsibility not for the product alone, but for her part in the team and the overall mission of the company. “Don’t make excuses.”
  4. Developing high proficiency in communication skills. The successful candidate hones his listening skills, particularly the ability to accept constant feedback as an inherent, vital part of professional growth (rather than a personal commentary). He develops the ability to assess his audience and talk to various people across the table (literally or metaphorically). He also masters the ability to be specific, cogent, and concise. “When asking about the status of a project, I need to know the salient points in 2-3 sentences.” 

Question 2: What is one thing you wish you knew then (when you were a college graduate/young professional yourself) that you know now? 

  1. Be open to change, and to taking risks. Careers almost, almost always take convoluted routes and take time to be set up. Take chances. Explore. Do tasks that “feel” boring. Explore opportunities so you can find out what it is that you really like doing every day. Seek out opportunities and work hard at each one so you know when the “right” opportunity comes along. Lateral shifts might not make sense now, but a new project, new learning, new skills, and additional experience will help you move vertically in a few years. Don’t say “no.” Say “yes.” Teach yourself. Figure it out. Become known as the problem solver.
  2. Be adaptable and flexible. We work today in multi-faceted contexts, with different people, different cultures, different demographics, different generations. Having a mindset that seeks out the positive and the connections is key. Explore yourself, and understand others. Be passionate about people.
  3. Be a smart worker. Learn to bring everyone forward. When the team and the project wins, everyone wins. Every time. EI (Emotional Intelligence) matters. “Build alliances. Collaborate. Learn to help others leverage their best skills.”
  4. Failure is a key to success. Put in your 100%, every day. And then be ready to face (perhaps even welcome), and process failure. Do not let failure paralyze. Return to the drawing board. Ask for feedback. Find mentors. Learn from the experience. “If you don’t fail, you won’t grow. Experience cannot be speeded up.” 

My own takeaway: The willingness of professionals to help others, to patiently talk with pesky Career Advisors like myself, and share knowledge, strategies, journeys, and hard-earned wisdom with no direct ROI (Return on Investment) in sight — is truly humbling and inspiring. Days like today (as do most days) remind me of why it is that I am in love with what I do. Because, for the most part, my work keeps me in constant touch with the best parts of humanity.

To each and every one of the Harris Corporation professionals who took the time tonight to share their insights and help new(ish) professionals in the making: THANK YOU!

Questions for Readers: 1. What is a key professional (human) skill in your field that you have found to be vital to career success? 2. What is one thing you wish you had known ‘then’ (when you started your life in the professional work world) that you know now?

Looking forward to your responses. And here’s to staying warm!

— Maya