Career Talk Live: Jennifer Vidbel Pt. 1

We considered calling this post “Jennifer Vidbel Revealed,” yet we’re starting a new feature focusing on guests of our talk show “Career Talk Live,” and this is the kick-off. The irony of course is that she was one of our most revealing stars to date!

We’re quite proud of ourselves — following our visit to the circus, we reached out to the director of communications at the Big Apple Circus and asked if we could interview Vidbel on the show. His response was yes, and we taped two segments two nights ago.

Through the whole ordeal we laughed, and then we cried. During the taping we giggled at unexpected turns in Jenny’s story, and then we cried when we were dubbing the master tapes to DVD and realized we hadn’t eliminated the tone from the beginning of the second tape. So you can see and hear the interview, along with a deafening ringing from beginning to end. Boo! A transcript of the second show will follow soon.

What did we discuss on air? In the first show Vidbel talked about the elephant who lay on top of her during childhood circus performances; hiking up mountains and going to the beach with her entourage of horses, dogs and goats; and how to run away with the circus, natch. Plus plenty more — her candor was engaging and charming, and she was fearless in answering our prodding questions.

Catch the first segment when it airs Tuesday, January 4th at 6:00pm ET (GMT-5) at on MNN2. Just press play.

Have you ever dreamed of joining the circus?

Photo of Vidbel via. Video footage of Big Apple Circus used with permission.

How to Be Overjoyed at Work

Two weekends ago we went to the Big Apple Circus, which turned out to be a highly enjoyable spectacle. When they carted out the animals, something pretty special happened:  Jenny Vidbel, the animal trainer, appeared. She was fully in charge as she directed the performances of the dogs, ponies, horses and goats that pranced around the ring so delightfully. And we thought we were jaded New Yorkers!

Vidbel seemed overjoyed to be interacting with the furry beasts, smiling broadly and sometimes giggling. Once the formal program concluded, we had the rare opportunity to attend a meet-and-greet with the performers, and Vidbel was the star attraction.

She introduced her favorite horse, who bowed to the audience elegantly, and she talked about her work.  When the floor opened for questions, we jumped at the chance to inquire about the zeal she exudes in working with the animals.

“You seem overjoyed to be training these circus animals. How did you come into your work?” we asked.

Vidbel related how she’s a third-generation circus performer and animal trainer who grew up traveling with her grandparents and their animals on various circuses throughout the country. As she grew, so did her love of ponies. Over the years her herd has grown to twelve, including a beautiful Arabian stallion.

So the job was basically handed to her? Not so much.

A small reception followed the meet-and-greet, and we approached her to continue the thread about her career. She talked about how she wakes up thinking about the animals, and how her role in the Big Apple Circus doesn’t feel like a job. All her siblings, in fact, were introduced to circus animals at a tender age, yet she was the only one to feel an affinity to the animals.

We started thinking about the skills of the circus animal trainer. Among the characteristics of the successful trainer, we noted:

  • full presence in the moment, since she must be attuned to each one of the animals
  • relaxed demeanor, to facilitate improvised interactions with the furry creatures as needed
  • bundles of energy, for endurance in performing in front of large audiences.

It takes so much more, to be sure, and when you love what you’re doing, these requirements come naturally. In Vidbel’s case, it shows.

Video of Jennifer Vidbel in action, plus photo via

Come Out at Work: With Two Jobs

The New York Times recently missed an opportunity to talk about bringing your whole self to work, as writer Michael R. Gordon wrote a piece about the work life of David Richardson, yet didn’t challenge the subject’s assertions that his two professions are mutually exclusive. Here’s the story.

Lt. Col. David Richardson in his own words is a “painter who fights.”  He’s an artist showing his colorful Expressionist paintings in a Georgetown gallery through the end of January, and in February he’ll be deployed to work with Afghan security forces. Unfortunately, he doesn’t view his disparate occupations–artist and Marine–as integrable, even though they’re both extensions of himself.

Directly from “Faithful to Two Worlds: The Marines and the Artistic Life”:

Colonel Richardson does acknowledge the considerable influence of his tours of duty in Asia on his painting. During a tour in South Korea, for example, he had small canvases made for him by a local carpenter, hauled them back to his studio on his bicycle, painted symbols on the individual squares and then clamped them together to form larger works, which comprise part of his “R Series” on display in Washington DC. The faint arrows, similar to the directional markings on a tactical map, are one of the rare carry-overs from his military world.

Interestingly, his mother is an artist who paints landscapes and flowers, and his father had been a Navy diver in World War II.

Now, the catalog for the show mentions his travels to Japan and Korea, but at his request never suggests that his military service took him there. As well, during the long lulls between patrols when he and his Marines were holed up with Iraqi troops in a dilapidated soap factory in Fallujah, he never hinted that he had a passion for art.

By his own account he has long led a double existence. “It’s been pretty compartmentalized,” he said about his two lives.”  “My father taught me to talk the talk. You don’t talk about art with the Marines, and you don’t talk about the Marines with artists.”

So it sure would be tidy to blame his father for limiting his worldview. Yet as an adult, he bears some responsibility to challenge what he’s been taught. At the same time, his gestalt smacks of the restrictions imposed by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Clearly, these two distinct areas of work are related — within Colonel Richardson. Yet it’s difficult for him to work openly as a Marine and a painter. While we acknowledge that the stress of war impacts each troops’ state of mind in complicated ways, we have a hypothesis that if Col. Richardson were to come out in both worlds, his openness and mindfulness would make him a better artist and a better Marine.

Do you lead two or more distinct professional lives? What are the challenges you face in integrating them?

Image via

Craig Ferguson Fully Revealed! [video]

We wanted to call this “Coming Out at Work: as an Alcoholic,” but which headline are you more likely to click among the Internet hoards?  Exactly.

Back in February 2007 the host of The Late Late Show came out as an alcoholic. In a heartfelt monologue, he described the plan he had to end his life by jumping off the Tower Bridge after a night of binge-drinking in London. A few months later, he entered rehab and at this point has been sober for nearly 19 years.

We love that Ferguson accesses a part of him self that could seem irrelevant to late night television, and uses it to comedic and humanitarian effect. He no longer wants to make fun of celebrities and others having a tough time in life.

For example, early in 2007 Britney Spears made big news by shaving her head, and he vows not to poke fun at her circumstances because he’s been there himself. He candidly explores the way his alcoholism informs how he relates to people, a significant component of his work as a talk show host.

His revelation brings him out as strong, grounded and more handsome.

Do you identify as an alcoholic? How does this part of you influence your work?

23 Essentials You Have to Work With

What do you have available, concretely, to use in service of your work?

Earlier this year we went to see the Broadway production of “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” which prompted us to think about the essentials that nearly everybody is able to access on the job.

In the middle of Act I, Claude sings “I Got Life,” a stirring song of affirmation. Naturally the song’s sentiments translate to work-life, too. He sings:

I got my hair
I got my head
I got my brains
I got my ears
I got my eyes
I got my nose
I got my mouth
I got my teeth
I got my tongue
I got my chin
I got my neck

Later he continues,

I got my arms
I got my hands
I got my fingers
Got my legs
I got my feet
I got my toes
I got my liver
Got my blood
I got my guts (I got my guts)
I got my muscles (muscles)
I got life (life)

We love how James Rado and Gerome Ragni, writers of the book and lyrics, pinpoint the fundamental parts of our bodies that facilitate our life, and thus, our work. In expressing this idea, Claude is grounded in his corporeal existence, affirming that so much of what we have extends from our physical selves.

Among the 23+ body parts Claude lists, he references our resources to think, to see, to listen, to sense, to create and to build. Our human potential when using these faculties in concert with one another is pretty staggering!

In the career counseling arena, to be well-attuned to the people with whom we work, our ears are arguably the most important faculty for us to engage. Our brain, tongue and hands come in a close second. In standing in front of the classroom, for example, or sitting one-on-one with a client, we necessarily need to engage every single internal resource we have.

Look at how much we learn from Broadway musicals.

What are the most critical faculties you use in your work?

Come Out at Work: As HIV+ [video]

Gretchen Jones won Season 8 of “Project Runway,” and still Mondo Guerra came out on top.

Heidi Klum looked ravishing wearing his “bubble” dress at a recent screening of “Black Swan,” and Mondo collaborated with Piperlime in designing a t-shirt for World AIDS Day. How could he be so successful so soon after the season finale?

Guerra left an indelible mark on the judges, his fellow designers, and perhaps on the “Project Runway” franchise itself when he came out as HIV+ near the tear-filled end of episode 10.

The project that week was to incorporate something about one’s past into the design of a textile pattern. Guerra used positive and negative space to vibrant effect:  he designed a pattern with purple, gold and black geometric shapes, and with inspired subtlety, the black negative space was in the shape of “+” signs.

During the judging, he revealed that the plus signs represented his HIV+ status. Tears ensued, naturally. Take a look:

Mondo displayed real courage in revealing a part of himself that others could readily disparage, sometimes with painful consequences.

Through his confident proclamation, he demonstrated that other people’s reactions are less relevant than one’s own sense of self. Upon divulging his HIV status, he said “I feel alot better. I feel free.”

To which one of his fellow competitors responded “We love you.”

Our friends at Gawker have additional video on this heart-wrenching story.

What would it take for you to let free a part of your self you’ve been hiding at work?

Image via

Indra Nooyi Speaks About Bringing Your Whole Self to Work

Bringing your whole self to work isn’t a brand-new idea, people have been talking about this concept for years. What’s often missing from the discussion, and which this blog addresses, is how specifically to bring your self to work. It’s a subject dear to our heart, and the title “Whole Wide Work” captures some of its essence.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi often speaks of the concept of engaging your full self on the job, and at the 2008 Catalyst Awards Conference she dove into some detail . She says:

You absolutely have to bring your whole self to work. You cannot create a persona for yourself [at] work that’s different than the person that left the house. You just can’t do that because if you try to do that you’re living a lie and I’ll tell you from my perspective maybe it’s PepsiCo, I don’t know but I don’t believe that I walk in to work and sort of a shield comes in front of me because if I have an argument with my daughter at home, okay and I have lots of run ins with my older one, I’ll walk in to the office and tell everybody “half an hour decompression. I just had a blow up with my daughter. Leave me alone.” So they say fine…

It may be easy for her to proclaim these sentiments, because she’s the boss of everyone at PepsiCo! Yet her words feel genuine, and she makes a compelling case. From her story, we see that sometimes bringing your whole self to work relates directly to productivity, and other times it’s a prompt for support or accommodation. In every instance, feeling free to reveal your whole self helps keep you grounded in the present.

Does anybody in your workplace talk about the benefits of bringing your whole self to work?  How do their ideas impact your job?