Tag Archives: Conscious Competent


By Cynthia Simmons

Centering is a word now commonly used to describe achieving harmony with one’s own personal values. For someone working with clay, centering is an active process. It is creating a physical  relationship with a lump of clay. As an action, centering is how a potter work begins to work with clay. And the importance of centering is that it requires your complete attention and your complete focus.  Because in that instant when you stop paying attention, the clay will be as honest and true as your best friend, and it will begin to fight you. There will be a struggle where before there was harmony. Centering is about preparing a ball of clay to be shaped on a potter’s wheel, slapping it down on a potter’s wheel, making it evenly smooth and moving the weight of the clay so that it’s perfectly distributed, with the weight radiating out from the ball’s center.

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My porcelain plate, minutes after being thrown.

Centered clay has great potential… If it has been well kneaded to remove any small pockets of air, there will not be air bubbles to fight against the even spinning motion of the clay. It means everything is even, and there are a more limited number of forces to cause the clay to sag or move off center. Centered clay is balanced clay. It knows where it is centered. It respects the core and seeks to maintain its shape evenly.  It acts purposely. With intention.

After the clay is centered, the clay can be opened up, to begin to shape a bowl. Pressure is applied to the center of the mound of clay, first directly down, and then in subsequent movements, the clay is pulled out, up and away from the center and a wall rises.  The clay still requires that you know how to move with it. If you stop paying attention, if you stop acting with your full attention, the weight will shift and your bowl will start to knock toward/against one hand and away from the other one. There may still be adjustments you can make to go back to center. Or this lump of clay may not become a bowl today, but instead go back into the bucket of clay recycling into new clay after some time.

After a bowl is thrown, it is cut off the wheel head using water and a wire. The water will allow the bowl to float after the wire cuts the bowl loose from the wheel. Then your hands, or perhaps a helping tool, will lift up the bowl to place it on a shelf to dry. Later when the bowl is dry enough to hold its shape, it goes back to the wheel, inverted/upside down, and extra clay is trimmed away. A pattern or border may be carved into the clay. The clay still remains faithful. If at any point in the process, your attention wanders, the clay will fight you and the shape may become damaged.

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Porcelain pot, thrown and incised by a master potter.

When I work with clay, I know exactly what I am thinking. If I remember an angry remark, the even force of my hand alters. I can see exactly when that anger held my attention.  Lines or shapes record emotions on the clay. So as I keep centered with the clay, I am myself centered.

Cynthia Simmons is a publishing and communications professional. © 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

The Importance of Being Still

By Cynthia Simmons

Today is Easter. We’re at the end of a beautiful day—our first natural day of full spring. Not the calendar’s delineation of seasons, but the first actual arrival of sweet, warm air, clear skies, and a sense of grace and newness. We were lucky this year—some Easters are exasperating when bright Easter egg colors and images clash with miserable gray skies and unappealing temperatures.

For me, it was a busy day, starting early. The first task was to get up extra early and prepare to ride my bike to a 7:30 a.m. service with my boyfriend. We left at 7 a.m. to arrive at 7:30. Our return journey started at 9:00, for another 30 minutes of slow, out-of-shape riding home. (For me, I was thankful that I had done at least a little bicycle riding the prior two weeks. For my boyfriend, it was slow and tedious because he had ridden through the winter, so today he chose to handicap himself with a slow, heavy, fat-tire bike.)

Back at my place, we began to prepare for Easter lunch. My mom and her boyfriend were arriving at 12:30.  My boyfriend did most of the cooking. I concentrated on setting the table.

The story of the table settings is a story unto itself. The Blue Willow dishes came from three generations back, from my great aunt’s mother. My mom inherited the small collection and she later packed it up and (at great expense) shipped it to me.  She had added four tea cups. I later added six dinner plates from a resale shop. So setting the table for Easter involved going through the collected dishes and deciding what to use or not. Fortunately, those choices had been made the day before Easter; the dishes were already carefully stacked on the table to await the actual setting of the table.

If this sounds a bit cautious and over-worried, your interpretation would be correct.  My opinion is that many times intergenerational negotiations among adults can cause stress.

But, we were successful today. When the table was set, it was beautiful. The total contributions of the four people at lunch complemented each other with food, dishes, wine, and conversation. We arrived at the table from four separate directions. (Perhaps from the four points of the compass?—I ask myself.)

Afterward, as we separated to attend to different obligations, I found myself thinking about a long list of tasks I need to do. But, I reminded myself of the importance of being still. And that incidentals can hold life together, and give it meaning and direction.

Monday isn’t until tomorrow. Then I will go back to my job search.


Cynthia Simmons has a background in publishing and publications.

© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

Lessons Learned Volunteering

By Cynthia Simmons

I learned important lessons that have stood me in good stead since years ago when I did my first big volunteer project. I worked very hard and had good results to show for my efforts, but the public fame went to someone else. I had a co-chair and partner, who was equally and also ignored.

The first lesson I learned is –Whenever I volunteer, I need to know why I am doing it. I set my own goals. Usually my goals are to learn how to do something new and to support a cause I believe in. As time passes, I check in with myself to judge whether I think my efforts will be fruitful.

Here’s my story:

I had just finished night school classes for my BA and MA degrees and was searching around for my career path. I still needed to finish some research papers and to take my oral exam for my master’s. I spent a couple of months writing papers and studying.

As a treat for myself, I signed up for a pottery class at the local art center. That decision opened up new doors for me. I started hanging out with some artists, got myself a sketchbook, and some time later found myself co-chairing an arts festival.

Over a spring and summer I spent many, many hours working on the production of the arts festival. The event was set for the second weekend in August.

The beginning point was a logo. My instincts told me to look at the portfolio of a textile designer because most of the visual artists I was meeting at the art center created drawings, paintings, clay pots, or sculpture of some sort. A textile designer “felt” right. After spending an hour and a half reviewing her portfolio, there it was–a textile design that totally made sense as a logo for the event–a man and a woman dancing beneath a tree.

Design by Almuth Palinkas

© Almuth Palinkas

The next step was to recruit artists. We advertised our event and stated that artists needed to provide three slides by the submission deadline. We developed and printed an artist recruitment poster and a prospectus. During the summer, my co-chair and I visited local art fairs to informally jury and invite artists to show at our festival. The goal was a fine arts festival rather than a craft festival.

And of course, before the artist recruitment publicity was finished, we needed to begin to publicize our festival to the general public. That meant more press releases, and another poster.

As the event drew near there were long lists of small details to consider. We had about a hundred artists exhibiting, and at least twenty volunteers to run the festival. The art center shared the grounds with a music school; the music school scheduled on-going concerts for the Saturday and Sunday. The building was being restored; another group of volunteers was trained to give tours of the house.

The weekend of our festival, the weather was great. We drew a good crowd. The artists were happy. I was so very proud.

A couple of days afterward, our town newspaper had a full-page article on our festival with photos and thank you’s to…

You know what happened. The volunteers who ran the event existed as a faceless, nameless crowd.  Only the three paid staffers were named as having organized the festival.  And the two official co-chairs were the town mayor and the biggest donor.

(Two paid staffers were very new at working with volunteers and didn’t think to give the reporter volunteer names. Hopefully those staffers grew and learned their own lessons.)

Fortunately, on the Festival Program we had our titles and were recognized.

So here are the lessons I learned:

Know that when you do good work that you believe in, sometimes that is your only reward. If you seek to add professional credentials or projects to your resume, make that clear when you start to volunteer.

Know that people like to be recognized and thanked. Since that experience of being ignored, I have always tried, both publicly and privately, to acknowledge any individual contributions to a group effort and to say “Thank you!” unmistakably, loud and clear!

Cynthia Simmons has a background in publishing and publications.

© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved

Getting It Wrong, and Then Getting It Right.

By Cynthia Simmons

We all hear the tips, tricks, networking secrets, expert advice from executive recruiters and job coaches. And, yes, from our friends, former co-workers, relatives (mothers, parents, older siblings, younger ones), and any authority figures in our vicinities – be they geographically proximate, or daily electronic companions communicating from afar. We are getting a superabundance of help and advice. A superfluity of advice.

Having only one pair of eyes, we can look in only one direction at a time. And we can walk in only one direction at a time. But if we are constantly turning and defying our physical limitations, are we turning in circles? Maybe even standing still? Perhaps even, stuck?

So, today, I am addressing some ways in which the job search can fail. How you can fail your job search.

Here’s how to fail:

  • Not apply for jobs.
  • See a job and sit and think about it until you feel inspired enough to write a convincing pitch letter to send as your cover letter. Wait several days… a week, a month?
  • Not send a cover letter at all with your resume.
  • Write your resume, cover letter, and application, bless them, and send them out into the world, alone, and then never follow up.
  • Never call to find out the hiring cycle. Never even take the time to hunt for someone who knows someone who knows… the hiring manager, or at least some person at the company you are courting.

Speaking of courting—job search is a courtship.

Know that.

And know that, like the reasons that fellow never called you or that girl wouldn’t give you her number, you may never know why you weren’t hired or even called for an interview.

dancing-shoes-v8 crop

St. Valentine’s Date Night Shoes

Your best choices are to gather up your confidence, put on your dancing shoes, and be ready to dance with someone else.

Maybe you feel like a wallflower. That no one will ever ask you to dance. Are you dressed to dance? Is your head up and are you smiling? Do you look like you’d like to dance?

It’s Valentine’s Day. Don’t let some stupid old job break your heart.

Cynthia Simmons has a background in publishing and publications.

© 2014 Blog to Work/Blogging your way to a job. All rights reserved.

Become a Conscious Competent Job Searcher

by John Buckley

September 5, 2013

I am a sales guy who searches out opportunities for a living. I’m pretty good at it in spite of my current circumstances. So, it surprises me to see people (not all but too many) working hard but aimlessly in their search for a new job. They are classic examples of Unconscious Incompetents. (This isn’t as harsh as it sounds; bear with me.) They don’t understand why they aren’t progressing in their search. They don’t know what they are doing is ineffective.  It can be frustrating.  It can be frightening. But it can be better.


First, it’s not their fault; they don’t know what they don’t know. That’s kind of the definition of an Unconscious Incompetent. They need to discover that there is a better way. If the above sounds at all like you, you have hopefully just been enlightened! You’ve just taken the first step; you are now a Conscious Incompetent.  Ouch! This is supposed to be better??

Well, yes. Now you know what needs fixing. You just need to move through the learning process. Next stop:  Conscious Competent! Ok, fine, you say, but how?

We’re not pioneers. People have been searching for work since leaving the farm. Smart people have observed what works and what doesn’t. They wrote their conclusions in books. Read them, do what they say. (The doing is the important part!)

In one very good book, Orville Pierson has written the The Unwritten Rules of Highly Effective Job Search.  In it, he describes and highly recommends Job Search Work Teams. Some people call them accountability groups. This is where you can find people who have walked the learning path to become Conscious Competent job searchers. They’ve developed a good polish on the job search skills taught by Pierson. Part of what they learned is to share what they learned. They will help you move along the path to being a Conscious Competent job searcher.

If you are in the Chicago area, the Job Search Circle (JSC) is a high energy networking group based largely on Pierson’s methodologies led by the charmingly powerful Rosemary Monahan. JSC sponsors about a dozen different Job Search Work Teams. Find one near you, join it, do what they say. If you do, you will become the Conscious Competent Job Searcher. As a result, you will find the right job for you, sooner.

Do you know of a great networking group in your area? Other thoughts? Leave a comment below.