Finding Yourself in Your Work or Losing Yourself in It? | Pursuing Growth

Work has a habit of revealing a lot about you.

Coworkers watch what you do and then draw conclusions like you:

  • Really know how to get stuff done the right way (or not)
  • Are someone who should be promoted (or never allowed to supervise)
  • Want to keep getting better (or only do enough to get by)

You assess yourself too each time you cross a work hurdle, discovering that you:

  • Take to new assignments with relative ease (or struggle with new expectations)
  • Collaborate easily with others (or create conflict)
  • See a future for yourself there (or can’t wait for a way out)

Our career stops can be either greenhouses or dark holes.

It’s your call.

Our careers are what we make them. They’re a product of the work we do.

Career problems arise when we forget that we’re doing the driving.

For lots of compelling reasons, we convince ourselves that the most important things are to:

  • Keep our jobs
  • Get promoted to anything
  • Work endless hours as though that’s a sign of our value
  • Acquire the trappings of success (titles, perks, access, and raises)

To avoid getting lost on a road to somewhere you don’t want to be, you need to keep asking yourself  no-nonsense questions like:

  • Why did I take this job?
  • What am I working toward and is that what I really want?
  • What are my options?
  • What’s my plan?

It’s tempting to set these questions aside when you think you’ve landed your dream job. But one day, you’ll wake up and realize there are other dreams you’re ready to chase.

Career growth is intrinsic compensation. It’s not the training programs your company offers. It’s what you seize when you’ve mastered your job, developed your skills, and engaged in new experiences.

I started my career teaching high school in an upscale school district. I was excited to be learning so much about how to do the job well, handling challenging students, and discovering how schools really worked.

In the mid-1970s I had relocated and was teaching in a suburban school at a time when teachers weren’t held in very high regard. There were strikes and I was becoming disillusioned. After 10 years in education, growth stalled for me. So I moved on.

Instead of growing in that career, I was starting to lose myself.

It happened again when I was a manager at a big corporation. The first 10 years were full of growth, discovery, and ever-increasing challenges, followed by five years honing that growth, and five more on a mammoth change project. When what lay ahead was more of the same, off I went.

Listen to your inner voice.

If you’ve read this far, you know whether or not you’re growing in your career or losing yourself in it.

You also likely have a sense of what the next couple of years will look like for you and what your job will give or take from you. Now’s the time to plan your next steps.

Mike Greenberg, ESPN radio and TV host, offered this advice on the Mike & Mike program (9/25/13):

You can’t wish for things as they used to be. Just go with the way things are.

Perhaps your job used to be what you always wanted, but it’s now changed and the company culture with it. The reality is that you won’t get the past back; you only have the way things are to build from. The sooner you have a plan, the happier you’ll be.

Commitment to your growth never needs to stop.

Former Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, now 87, was interviewed on the CBS Sunday Morning program (10/20/13) upon the release of his new book. When asked about retirement, he answered:

 I don’t know what it [retirement] means. Stop thinking?

When it comes to our careers, there is no reason to stop thinking…and growing.

 

Got a Job That’s Crushing You? Lift the Weight.

As the year winds down, we often get reflective about the career situations we’re in and what may lie ahead. Hopefully, this repost from early in 2010 might help you reset your focus and get out from under.

Oh, boy, it’s exciting to get a new job, especially with a new company. Everything looks so promising. We feel really good about ourselves. You know: validated, reinforced, and successful.                                           

It’s amazing how our careers can start out in one place and morph to another. 

It’s all so gradual that we hardly know it’s happening until one day we realize that we’re someplace that we don’t want to be. Or, more often, a place that’s crushing us. 

I have a talented friend who was hired by a huge company two years ago in marketing communications. After a few months, the department downsized and the work doubled as sales needed more and more marketing materials to cut through the barriers of a tight economy. The demands on my friend accelerated. Other staffers weren’t pulling their weight. So her days got longer and longer. 

Has this happened to you? It has to me. I thought it would be my demise. 

Feeling trapped in your job, paralyzes your ability to make changes. 

Our jobs can’t trap us but we can convince ourselves that they do. After all, we go to work every day by choice. It only takes a letter or a word to say, “Bye, bye.” 

It’s really our personal situations that create the bind. When we have dependents, debts, health issues, and family commitments, we need to keep our jobs, even when they’re wrong for us. 

The demands of our personal lives, coupled with the stresses of our jobs, can drive us to an airless place. Here’s how we often feel: 

  • · Exhausted and unable to think analytically
  • · Defeated and unable to fathom any options
  • · Imprisoned by the workload and the realities of our lives 

Truth is: There are always other options. They may require some creativity, planning, repositioning, and timing, but they exist. 

The struggle is: If you’re exhausted from your “work life,” the idea of exploring options, solving problems, and firing up your smothered optimism at the end of the day is too much. 

So what to do? Start small and focus on yourself. 

  1. Make a list of the little things that make you feel uplifted (15 minutes of quiet time, an outing with a friend, a short walk, a few flowers in a vase). Give yourself at least one daily.
  2. Make two lists about your job: Things I Have to Do and Things That Can Wait (Maybe Forever). Smart employees negotiate work output with their supervisors. If you don’t explain what can and cannot get done reasonably, your supervisor will expect it all. We are not mules unless we agree to be. Heehaw! 
  3. Take a hard look at your personal situation and come up with ways to reduce your obligations and a timetable for how long you believe you need this job. Doing this will help you feel more empowered, since you’re now staying for your personal business reasons. (Your life is your business, remember?) 
  4. Then, develop a career change strategy—one that you will implement while you still have a job. Do this with your timeline in mind and a focus on work that fits you. 

You always have options and choices. 

None of us much cares for change because it’s disruptive. We operate too often on the principle that “The devil we know is better than the one we don’t.” This can make us our own worst enemy. 

Small steps are important steps because they add up. The more you take, the farther you get. Each one helps you get more business fit. 

Getting help can be a really worthwhile investment. You’ll probably only need a leg up and then you’ll be on your way. I’m rootin’ for ya’! 

Do you have an “I feel trapped in my job” story to share or an “I escaped” one? Your story might help others.

Photo from sevgi.k via Flickr

Career Going Nowhere? Ask for What You Want

Do you keep repeating the same old lines about your career?

“I work hard but I’m going nowhere. I want to: 

  • Earn more money
  • Be promoted
  • Get interesting assignments
  • Work somewhere else.” 

Who are you actually saying this to? Yourself, close friends, coworkers, and even strangers at a party (how sad is that?). Is it helping? My guess is, “no.” 

Exactly what do you want, anyhow? 

We have an easier time saying what we don’t want than what we do. 

At work, no one is assigned to read our minds. (Where’s Johnny Carson’s Carnac when we need him?) 

We’ve likely spent little or no time thinking, planning, or positioning ourselves to be considered for real opportunities. On top of that, we haven’t told anyone specifically what we want or asked for help. 

Now what? 

We have to plan our own course: That includes making decisions and acting on them, being fully invested in outcomes, and not being afraid. 

Start with these steps which aren’t as easy as they sound: 

  • Decide on the kind of work you want to do and where
  • Find out the salary growth potential of that work
  • Understand the progression line of jobs that you’ll need to follow
  • Look at growth opportunities over the next 5 years
  • Commit to developing your knowledge, skills, and experience 

This is the front work that hardly anyone does. 

Be decisive. Commit to a specific career path for the next 5 years, even though what you want may come sooner or a little later. Follow your plan, capitalizing on opportunities and learning everything you can.  

Now, ask for what you want! 

“Asking” makes what you say you want real. That scares some people.   

It also means meeting face-to-face with the people who can help you, saying the words, and committing to a course of action. You’re now entering into a unique kind of partnership. 

Your first “asking” conversation would likely be with your boss or an influential colleague and should be big picture focused like this: 

“I want to grow in my career and be recognized for my contributions. I’m committed to doing the work that’s necessary. I specifically want to position myself for opportunities (like______) and am looking for guidance/support/mentoring (depending on whom you’re talking to) from you. Would you be willing?” (The follow up ask: “If not, can you suggest someone else?”) 

As things start to unfold, you’ll want to have targeted “asking” conversations with your boss and others like these: 

1. “I would like to create more stretch goals for myself this year so that I can continue to demonstrate my value. I would appreciate your input/support on these 4 new goals.” 

2. “During the year I took on additional duties outside my job description which was a cost-savings to the department. I would like to be considered for a raise and/or an exceptional contribution award for that work. Is that feasible?” (The follow up ask:” If not, what will it take to get a salary increase?”)

3. “I would like to be considered for an XYZ position when a vacancy opens up. What additional knowledge/skills/experiences should I work on to make me the strongest candidate. Would you be willing to give me routine feedback?” 

4. “I’ve always wanted to participate in the development of a new product launch. I see that the company will be forming a team this summer. Would you be willing to appoint/recommend me?” 

Asking is the first step: Reminding (not nagging) is the next. We need to keep our wants and expectations visible and in the right context. 

Remember, it’s your career 

We don’t always get what we ask for, but that doesn’t mean we give up. However, if things don’t progress according to our timetables, we may need a change of venue! 

It never hurts to ask. The worst that can happen is that someone says “no,” an important bit of information for your on-going decision making. 

How about taking a fresh look at the direction of your career? Then ask specifically for something you want. You might actually hear “yes”!

7 Steps to Getting Unstuck | A Career Rescue Plan

Have you hit the wall? That’s how it can feel when we’re in a job that’s taking us nowhere. 

One day you wake up and realize that your growth opportunities are zilch because:

  • No one leaves your company
  • The workforce keeps shrinking
  • A zillion employees have a leg up on you
  • You’re not positioned for advancement 

This all comes with a gnawing sense that the longer you stay in your job, the more mired you’ll become, like being in career quicksand. 

Overcome panic with brains 

Nothing gets us out of a “stuck” pattern faster than a smart plan. Here are seven steps to start digging your way out of the muck. 

First, answer these “assessing” questions: 

1. What do I want? It’s one thing to say you’re stuck in your career and another to be honest about what you want. Maybe it’s an assignment that builds your skills, a lateral move, a promotion, or a job rotation. Write down exactly what you want next from your career. That becomes your goal.

 2. What’s in my way? Answer this question with your goal front and center. If you want a job change and there are no openings soon, then you need to find out when conditions might change. If you aren’t qualified for that opening or don’t come across well, then you need to fix that.   

3. What are my options? Be realistic. Look at what’s going on in your company and make your best guess at future growth opportunities that fit your time schedule. If you have to wait five years for someone to retire to apply for the job you want, decide if you want to risk waiting. 

You also need a good sense of whether or not you are someone the company views favorably. If not, weigh that data too. 

4. What am I willing to do? Getting yourself unstuck requires action. Again, be honest with yourself about how much you’re willing to do to expand your capabilities, build broader relationships, look outside, re-brand yourself, increase your visibility, follow leads, and redirect your career. It all rests on your shoulders.

Now take these “actions:” 

5. Prepare your plan. Write down what you intend to do and by when. Hold yourself accountable. Treat your quest to “un-stick” your career like the business initiative that it is.

Effectively managing your career takes the same skills as managing a work project. So if you want to achieve specific career movement by a certain date, write down exactly what you will do to make that happen. 

6. Assemble your support team. We all need a support system—the people who will provide us with insights, ideas, information, encouragement, and feedback. This may include a mentor, your boss, a friend, local entrepreneur, and/or a career coach. Pick people who care about you and can provide concrete help. Engage with them appropriately and often.

7. Keep yourself on track. It’s terribly easy to get discouraged, lose your momentum, and give up. No one ever got unstuck by quitting. Your stick-to-itiveness is the measure of your desire to more forward. That’s why you need to track each bit of progress you make and mark it on your action plan.

Watch for signs that your efforts are making an impact, even if your goal hasn’t yet been reached. Acknowledge your progress.  If you know others who are also trying to un-stick their careers too, consider getting together as a group to support each other. 

Pay attention 

Anytime we take action to move forward, we invite discovery. We learn new things, meet new people, and see situations with fresh eyes. These actions release insights that we would not have seen otherwise. 

Just at the moment when we’re ready to pack it in, something will appear in an email, someone unexpected will call, and some opportunity will present itself. If we’re not in the game, playing full out, we’ll miss these chances. So it’s important to pay attention to the little things since they often precede the big ones! Yeowza! 

How have you felt when stuck? Any steps to add?

 

 

 

The 12 Ways of… Business Fitness! Checkin’ Your List?

 

The things we want always come with a price, but not everything delivers results worth the cost. Accumulating stuff is easy. Creating the life we want isn’t. 

What’s on your list? 

It’s time to ask yourself if you’re where you want to be in your career.

Are you: 

  • Unemployed and looking for the right spot
  • Working at a job you hate
  • Yearning to be your own boss
  • Frustrated by slow growth in your business
  • Uncertain about your career options after school

When our work life doesn’t fit us, the rest of our life can pay a serious price. 

Checkin’ your list! 

It’s time to become your own personal “business fitness” trainer and/or find a career coach to help you. Then start building the career you’ve always wanted. 

Begin by taking an inventory of where you are right now in your quest for control over your career and your future. 

For each of the 12 items below, rate yourself using this scale: E—excellent (got it nailed), G—good (the pieces are in place), F—fair (just starting on this), O—oops (never thought of it). 

  1. I’m knowin’ where I’m goin’—I know exactly what career success I’m after, where to find it, and how to get it. (E-G-F-O) 
  2. It’s game time—I have the skills, knowledge, and experience I need to handle the challenges that my next move will put in my lap. (E-G-F-O) 
  3. I’m ready to rumble—I have the courage, commitment, and energy to face the unknowns that go with new territory, including the potentially difficult people. (E-G-F-O) 
  4. I’m strong—My physical health, self-confidence, and stress tolerance are solid; I can count on them going forward. (E-G-F-O) 
  5. I’m resilient—When I hit a wall or get discouraged, I don’t stop or slow my efforts because I know success will come if I press on. (E-G-F-O) 
  6. My course is set—I’ve got a written game plan for the next couple years, including SMART goals that I hold myself accountable to each month. (E-G-F-O) 
  7. I’m on top of things—I keep up with information on the marketplace, my company and others, industry trends, and opportunities. (E-G-F-O) 
  8. I expand my network—I stay in contact with business friends and allies, adding connections routinely, always ready to lend support.  (E-G-F-O) 
  9. I share my talents—I let colleagues know that I’m willing to help them, sharing my capabilities and engaging followers. (E-G-F-O) 
  10. I’m your wo/man, Coach!—You take the lead on assignments that position you for the kind of career growth you desire, even asking for the opportunity to be the designated leader. (E-G-F-O) 
  11. I reveal my ideas—You step forward with solutions to problems, in whole or in part, even when you may not be the person expected to know, always showcasing your value. (E-G-F-O) 
  12. I own my career—I make choices about opportunities I will or will not pursue based on what’s right for me, not because it’s what the company or outside influences want me to do. (E-G-F-O) 

Business fitness is your gift to yourself. 

The E’s and G’s you’ve given yourself are your launching pad. They are the platform you will build on. Your next steps are to: 

  • Keep expanding the breadth and depth of your E and G ratings
  • Take one step each day to move your F and O ratings up a notch (Bam!) 

The most important step you take is committing to the kind of success YOU want, accepting that you deserve it. 

This checklist is a jump start. My book, Business Fitness: The Power to Succeed—Your Way, gives you more of the how to’s. Each step you take will  increase your momentum until you feel like you’re flying! Please keep a parachute handy! 

What do you want most from your career? What’s been in your way? I’d love to hear from you.

Got a Job That’s Crushing You? | Start to Lift the Weight

Oh, boy, it’s exciting to get a new job, especially with a new company. Everything looks so promising. We feel really good about ourselves–validated,  reinforced, and successful.                                         

It’s amazing how our careers can start out in one place and morph to another. 

It’s all so gradual that we hardly know it’s happening until one day we realize that we’re someplace that we don’t want to be. Or, more often, a place that’s crushing us. 

I have a talented friend who was hired by a huge company two years ago in marketing communications. After a few months, the department downsized and the work doubled as sales needed more and more marketing materials to cut through the barriers of a tight economy. The demands on my friend accelerated. Other staffers weren’t pulling their weight. So her days got longer and longer. 

Has this happened to you? It has to me. I thought it would be my demise. 

Feeling trapped in your job, paralyzes your ability to make changes. 

Our jobs can’t trap us but we can convince ourselves that they do. After all, we go to work every day by choice. It only takes a letter or a word to say, “Bye, bye.” 

It’s really our personal situations that create the bind. When we have dependents, debts, health issues, and family commitments, we need to keep our jobs, even when they are wrong for us. 

The demands of our personal lives, coupled with the stresses of our jobs, can drive us to an airless place. Here’s how we often feel: 

  • Exhausted and unable to think analytically
  • Defeated and unable to fathom any options
  • Imprisoned by the workload and the realities of our lives 

Truth is: There are always other options. They may require some creativity, planning, repositioning, and timing, but they exist. 

The struggle is: If you are exhausted from your “work life,” the idea of exploring options, solving problems, and firing up your smothered optimism at the end of the day is too much. 

So what to do? Start small and focus on yourself. 

  1. Make a list of the little things that make you feel uplifted (15 minutes of quiet time, an outing with a friend, a short walk, a few flowers in a vase). Give yourself at least one daily.
  2.  Make two lists about your job: Things I Have to Do and Things That Can Wait (Maybe Forever). Smart employees negotiate work output with their supervisors. If you don’t explain what can and cannot get done reasonably, your supervisor will expect it all. We are not mules unless we agree to be. Heehaw! 
  3. Take a hard look at your personal situation and come up ways to reduce your obligations and a timetable for how long you believe you need this job. Doing this will help you feel more empowered, since you’re now staying for your personal business reasons. (Your life is your business, remember?) 
  4. Then, develop a career change strategy—one that you will implement while you still have a job. Do this with your timeline in mind and a focus on work that fits you. 

You always have options and choices. 

None of us much cares for change because it’s disruptive. We operate too often on the principle that “The devil we know is better than the one we don’t.” This can make us our own worst enemy. 

Small steps are important steps because they add up. The more you take, the farther you get. Each one helps you get more business fit. 

Getting help can be a really worthwhile investment. You’ll probably only need a leg up and then you’ll be on your way. I’m rootin’ for ya’! 

Do you have an “I feel trapped in my job” story to share or an “I escaped” one? That would be a big help all around.