Career Not Going Your Way? Try Relaxing Your Grip. | Words from the Wise

Feeling stuck? Frustrated? Just plain mad?relax grip 3325065380_252a4c50de_m

Choosing a career and getting the chance to pursuit it doesn’t always happen the way we’d like.

Careers are unpredictable beasts. They come with promise but no guarantees. While they seem to be about us, they’re actually more about others giving us the opportunity to make their organizations successful.

We often start out believing our careers are within our control. Then reality sets in and we hear ourselves saying:

  • “I’m knocking on every door and still don’t get even an interview. Why?”
  • “I’ve been performing at a high level in this job for three years and still no promotion. Why?”
  • “I never thought the work I do would frustrate me like this. What can I do?”

Too often, we can’t answer these questions. They’re too big, too encompassing, and too far beyond our understanding of the conditions that drive them.

So we keep pressing, driving ourselves forward, dragging our frustrations with us. Some just curl up in a ball and do nothing. Sadly, this doesn’t fix anything.

Words from the Wise

Struggles with career choices and direction have gone on for centuries. Human beings generally want to do work that will support them and bring some satisfaction.

Especially in modern times, the hardest part is figuring out what we like and want to do, given our skills. Once that’s somewhat figured out, we set out to find the right employment.

This figuring-out process requires introspection, which many fail to do. It also requires owning what you know about yourself and the career you want, so that  you can set your direction with an uncluttered mind.

I’ve  worked for many years with job and promotion seekers who have been battered by rejection when they’ve pursued job titles, salary levels, and big name companies rather than the work they enjoy. They’ve held on so tight to their preconceived career must-haves that they have tuned out other opportunities.

I use this quote from Robin Fisher Roffer’s book, Make a Name for Yourself: 8 Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy for Success, to help clients (both men and women) get free of themselves:

The universe is waiting for you to say what you want…Everything that you are seeking is also seeking you.

Then I add these wise words from Henry David Thoreau in Walden:

 Men (and women, right Thoreau?) are born to succeed, not to fail.

Just think about how complex it is to get all the parts  aligned just right so that you and anyone else can intersect your objectives at the same time.

That means: The job you want has to present itself when your skills and experience are seen as the right fit for the company and when the political forces see you as having the right nature to meet expectations. Whew!

Your successful career starts with your willingness to “put out there” what you sincerely want and then to allow your conscious and subconscious thinking to work together to connect the dots. Your prospective or current employer is doing the same thing.

Relax your grip.

Lots of good things happen when you take that chokehold off your career pursuits and replace it with a realization that what you are seeking is also seeking you.

The benefits can be palpable:

  • Less self-imposed pressure, negative self-talk, and energy-sapping stress
  • A refreshed ability to see and hear snippets of ideas you might otherwise have missed
  • An openness and excitement that blunts feelings of frustration and isolation
  • A renewed belief that you will get there and commitment to the effort
  • Recognition that your attitude and effort are what you control; success will follow

Your career path is a function of the work you’ve done to offer value to an employer and the initiatives you take to get hired/promoted. Your biggest challenge is to be authentic in the process and prepared to act effectively when opportunities present themselves. Taking your hand off the throttle can help you make a nice smooth turn.

Photo from ladybugrock via Flickr

5 Ways to Avoid Sabotaging Your Career

feet 166161247_9e1be2f4ff_mA job is a building block. A career is what we build. When starting out, we’re never quite sure what we’re actually building, if anything. We could end up with a useless pile of sticks or a really cool house on a mountaintop.

Careers are not built by ourselves alone. So we need to understand the roles we play (including how we play them) and the potential impact of the supporting cast.

All eyes are on you.

It’s often said: “My career should grow because I do really good work.”

But good work is only one part of it. Well-chosen and savvy professional relationships are another. Without a cadre of colleagues at all levels who attest to your competence, value, and ability to “get along,” your career will likely advance slowly, if at all.

The quality and effectiveness of your workplace relationships are noticed and become part of your personal brand. You can shoot your career in the foot easily by saying or doing things at work that  paint the wrong picture of who you are.

5 cautionary steps

These five steps can help you avoid sabotaging your career along the way:

  1. Don’t get ahead of yourself

The way employees move up is different in every company. Start by figuring out what the leadership sees in those who have been given more responsibility. Be alert to what is said about those who have been promoted. You need to know but don’t have to agree.

Advancement is not about when you think you’re ready. It’s about what the decision-makers think. Until you know, for sure, that you have regularly met the company’s performance standards, defer asking to be promoted or given plumb assignments.

  1. Keep your wants close to your chest

Managers are generally the ones who create opportunities or obstacles to your growth. You may want to assume that your boss is on your side, but that isn’t always the case. So it’s important to build a strong, credible performance portfolio.

Once you tell your boss what you want from your career, s/he has the leverage to help or hinder. So be prudent about how much you let on and when. Timing can be very important.

I once had a client who, at each job change, told his boss that he was “title sensitive” which was also code for wanting to be a big player. In each case, his career stalled.

  1. Don’t screen yourself out of opportunities

Too often, I’ve heard job seekers and careerists express an interest in positions and job challenges that are a notch up. They say, “I read the duties but I don’t meet  all of them, so I don’t think I should apply.”

It’s not your decision to (de)select yourself. That’s what management’s paid to do. It’s rare to find anyone fitting all the requirements of a job or assignment. What companies are looking for is the one who brings the best blend of knowledge and experience to the role. That may very well be you.

  1. Don’t follow someone else’s plan

The most important person to please with your career is you.

Lots of careerists pursue paths that well-meaning others have suggested or chosen for them. Then they wonder why the work doesn’t make them happy.

The first sign of self-leadership is our willingness to identify a life plan and then to start putting the  building blocks together, including those that construct our careers. When you don’t follow your own plan, it’s easy to go adrift.

  1. Don’t get seduced by the glitz

The trappings of better pay, high-sounding titles, greater authority, and any number of perks have a price. I’ve seen many people chase those things without seeing the personal and professional tolls that go with them.

There are advantages to career growth, but you need to make sure you understand how important they are to you…not to someone else…to you. Sometimes we need to see what’s behind the big door before we choose it.

Avoid self-sabotage

None of us ever sets out to make a mess of our careers. Sometimes we just do because we weren’t paying attention or had lost confidence in our ability to turn things around. By taking hold of your career, you can avoid self-sabotaging it.

Photo from davemendelsohn via Flickr

Bankrupt or Flush with Transferable Skills? A Telling Story


Transferable skills get us hired or promoted. They’re our career currency. Without them, there’s no deal.

The more transferable skills we have the more valuable we are. Resumes market them. Interviews showcase them. 

Can you list your top ten, most marketable transferable skills, right now?

Bankrupt or flush? 

Transferable skills are attached to us all the time, not just at work. It’s time to get a handle on your bank of skills.

Pick a recent life event and write it down.

As you uncover your transferable skills, insert them like I’ve done here.

Casey, down for the count 

I start every day (dependability) in the barn, feeding my horse, cats, and Casey, my seven-year-old, Lab-golden retriever mix. Casey’s a busy dog, full of energy who, as a puppy, wouldn’t tolerate being a house dog. The barn was way more interesting. So she got her way.

About two weeks ago, I noticed that she wouldn’t eat (attention to detail) her breakfast. That happens sometimes, so I went about my other chores. Then I noticed that when she tried to go into the horse stall, her back end faltered. Three minutes later she was down and couldn’t get up.

My large animal vet was at a conference, my small animal vet on vacation. I suspected I didn’t have much lead time (problem assessment) to get help for Casey.

There is a veterinary hospital about four miles from me where I had never been a client. I called (decision-making) at 6:30 AM to learn they opened at 7.

I lifted 79-pound Casey into my car, drove to the vet hospital, and waited in the parking lot for someone to show up (assertiveness).

The receptionist was the first to arrive. I explained that I wasn’t a client but had a dire need (communication). She looked at me kindly and explained that she didn’t have an appointment open until 10:40, but she’d let the doctor know when she came in at 9:30. I scheduled the appointment as a back up (planning), took a deep breath (stress management), went home and waited.

I parked the car in the shade and brought Casey some water (safety and initiative). She lay quietly. I took a shower so for my next appearance at the vet hospital, I wouldn’t look so shabby (brand management).

At 8 AM the phone rang. The veterinarian was there and would see me. Relief.

It took me and a technician to carry Casey into an exam room (collaboration). The veterinarian examined and then admitted Casey. After some blood tests, it was clear she had Lyme disease (big surprise, I had it and my horse too) plus a seriously low potassium count.

The decision was to keep Casey overnight with IV fluids. I received several update calls from the veterinarian and one that unnerved me a bit. Since the hospital didn’t have 24-hour coverage, did I want them to transfer Casey to a monitoring facility about 35 minutes away (risk assessment)?

I opted to keep her where she was, thinking it would be less stressful  (decision-making and accountability).

The next day the vet called saying that Casey was a “new dog,” on her feet, hungry, and wagging her tail. She could go home with medications and a few restrictions.

The technician hugged me when she brought Casey to me. I struggled to hold myself together (self-control).

Next I wrote a commendation letter to the veterinary hospital owner, the case veterinarian and technician who cared for Casey (communication).

I admit I was braced for the worst. I’ve been through other events here at the farm that didn’t have a happy ending. Each time I have to face uncertainty, I need to draw on those experiences and transferable skills for strength.

Finding yours

 You have your own transferable skills that you undoubtedly take for granted since you’re using them without thinking.

It’s time to make your transferable skills part of your consciousness and your conversation. They are the building blocks of your career and your business fitness. Uncover them and use them well.

Think Every Promotion Is a Good Thing? Think Again!

Promotion is a kind of corporate knighting. Get enough of them and one day you end up King or Queen. I’ll take a scepter with that! 

What you see isn’t always what you’ll get! 

Is a promotion always what it seems? Do the granters really know that we’re ready to take on more? Do we? 

We all want to be recognized for our capabilities. The sound of “s/he has so much potential” is alluring music. So we work hard, learning all we can and showcasing what we’ve got. Every day we watch for the signs that there may be a chance for us to move up. 

When we finally get tapped for a position with more responsibility, we’re ecstatic! Being chosen heralds that we have the right stuff. We celebrate, though with great humility! 

Sometimes we forget: Things are rarely what they seem. What if there’s an assassin behind the curtain? A bait and switch scheme at work? A misread about what we’re ready for? A debt being paid?   

We tend to believe that whoever has promoted us knows what we’re ready for and what lies ahead? On both counts, we may be very wrong. 

Anticipating the pitfalls 

Here’s the deal: A bigger job comes with situations that are likely new to you. 

If you accept a promotion that is over your head, your career will suffer or even crumble. What a waste! 

A promotion is a deal, a business transaction, so treat it as one. Don’t accept a promotion just because it’s offered. Remember: The manager making the offer is counting on your ego to take over, delivering the “yes” answer s/he wants. 

There is always something in it for manager too—a buffer for problems or a prize “catch,” a valued collaborator or an eventual fall guy or gal, a short-term placeholder or a succession candidate. 

It’s up to you to take control of your own career. Make sure every step you take is part of your plan. I know that’s hard to do. We believe that if we say “no, not now” to a promotion, we’ll never get another offer. If you’re good, that likely won’t be the case.

Just remember, if you take a promotion and blow it because you failed to look below the surface, a lot is on the line. 

What to do! 

Start by assessing what you’d be getting into. Then ask direct questions to the person making the offer like: 

  • Is the department ready to have me in this job? What will be the push-back from employees? (This will get at any age, diversity, experience, credibility, and personal brand issues.)
  •  What are the internal politics connected to this job? Was the incumbent let go, displaced, or disliked/favored? Where are the loyalties in the work group? 
  • What are the gaps in my experience that I will need to overcome? 
  • How does the scope of these new responsibilities compare to my prior work? Who is my go-to person for advice and insights? 
  • What are the immediate performance expectations I will face?  
  • Why have you selected me? 

A promotion is not about doing your old job in a new place. That’s why you need know exactly what you’re getting into. 

How it can go! 

On his deathbed, the CEO of the Fortune 500 I worked for promoted one of his managers to vice president, making her the first female executive in the company’s history. Although she was brilliant and capable, the organization was not ready to accept her as part of that club. So her peers didn’t. 

The same company promoted a renowned subject matter expert to supervisor. Her talent was complex issues analyses. She had no faculties for supervising others, a fact widely observed. Her career dead-ended there. 

Take charge! 

Business fitness is about being savvy. So, always ask the question, “What’s really going on here,” before you take that promotion. The right one will set you up for what you want from your career! What could be better!

Do you have a “bad promotion” experience to share? It may have happened to you or was something you witnessed! Please share!

Outgrown Your Britches? Check With Your Tailor. | Advancing Your Career in Good Style

Remember “The Emperor’s New Clothes” story by Hans Christian Andersen? Two weavers promise to make the Emperor a suit of clothes invisible to people unfit or incompetent for their positions. The Emperor slips into his new outfit and while parading before his subjects, a child yells out, “He isn’t wearing anything at all!”

It’s a classic story of being afraid to confront the truth, even when it makes us look stupid or compromises our brand. The more we want something to be true, the harder try we try to make it so.

This happens in our careers. 

If the shoe fits, wear it! Just don’t wear it out! 

A job that fits us is like fuzzy slippers. We don’t want to give it up. But a career isn’t about just one job. It’s about a family of them, one job after another that keeps stretching us, building our skills, and testing our abilities.

It’s a problem when we get so comfy in those slippers that we don’t want to take them off. After all, we can’t wear slippers in the snow or rain. We eventually need shoes and boots.

We can outgrow our footwear and our jobs. When we do, we need to make a change, even when it means an uncomfortable or imperfect fit at the start.

I once worked with a group of people I loved. They were like family. Coming to work everyday was really fun. After I’d spent five years with them, my boss told me there was position open that was perfect for me, a promotion. I adored my boss too and didn’t want to leave him or my colleagues. I told him so.

“There’s nothing left for me to teach you,” he said. “You’ve outgrown me and need to work for someone who will take you to the next step in your career.”

That advice always stuck with me. Even though it was hard to accept, he was right. It wasn’t that he was out of knowledge to impart. He just didn’t have enough organizational leverage, position power, or influence to help my growth.

You don’t have to have a generous boss like him to make that next step. You just need to remember his message and put it to work when the time is right for you.

Keep a mirror handy and check your reflection. 

We aren’t always lucky enough to have someone helping us see when we are or are not ready to make a smart career move.

Shakespeare wrote that seeming is not reality. Most of us have little real understanding of what is required to be successful in the jobs we’re after, especially ones with leadership requirements.

All we really know is what we think we see the incumbent doing. But that’s an illusion just like the Emperor’s new clothes.

That’s why you need trusted people to give you the straight scoop about your own capabilities. People like:

  • Mentors
  • Your boss, if you’re lucky enough to have a good one
  • Colleagues in your own and other departments
  • Friends outside of work who know your skills 

Then you have to be brave enough to ask them to tell you the truth…the naked truth!

In time you will also outgrow the insights these people can offer as you advance in your career. So you need to constantly seek others who can fill their role.

Be smart. Develop a winning style. 

Business fitness is about being prepared and ready for the challenges and opportunities that will help you attain the kind of success you want. Part of that readiness is having good people at hand to give you the right cues when it’s time to take center stage. So keep your britches up, your shoes tied, and your shirt on as you take on your next big role!

Have you ever been in a position where you outgrew your job? What were your next steps? How did it all work out?

Sizing You Up | Dependability Ratings Matter

Being there when expected. Stepping up when needed. Always delivering the goods. Dependability counts big time for getting a  job, a good performance appraisal, and a promotion.  So, are you? 

The way we perform is a measure of the standards we bring. 

Dependability showcases commitment. Are we as good as our word? When we agree to do job, will we give it our best no matter what the circumstances? This can be a big test. It sure was for me. 

A farmer friend of mine was in a pinch. He had about ten acres of alfalfa hay that needed to be baled one Saturday afternoon but had no help available. So I agreed to fill in even though I was no farm hand. 

At that time, I co-owned a three-year-old thoroughbred gelding that was being trained as a show horse. My partner, who trained him, came over that same morning to give him a light ride.

 It was a muggy, buggy, 90-degree day. The horse performed so nicely that the trainer suggested I hop on to get a feel for his easy gait. 

He was a big horse so I needed a leg up to mount. When I was in air, he shifted suddenly because the bugs were annoying him. Instead of landing in the saddle, I came down his rump. He bucked, flipped me in the air, and I landed face first on the ground. 

Although I was wearing a helmet, that didn’t cover my jaw or the rest of me. I heard my neck and back crunch at landing and knew I’d loosened some teeth. I lay there for about 15 long minutes before I could get up. 

My trainer friend was relieved when I was upright. So was I. But all I could think of was that hay laying.

After resting a bit, although I was unbelievably sore, off to the fields I went.

The farmer couldn’t understand at first why I was limping toward the tractor and baler. When I told him, I don’t think it registered. Ten acres of alfalfa that, if not baled at exactly the right time, are worthless. That was his priority.

 His job was to drive the machinery (there’s an art to that) and mine was to hook each bale off the chute and stack it five rows high on the wagon. It was a terribly hard and hot job for me, especially under the circumstances! But we got that crop baled at its peak, ensuring its market value. 

Dependability builds our brand and makes our value visible. 

Lots of people heard that story. It validated me among the hard working, career farmers whose world I was coming to know. It also taught me a lot about how important my “word” was to me. 

Everyone sees or hears about what we do, especially against difficult odds. It can become lore, dubbing some people heroic, angelic, or mythic.   

Think of the people you’ve heard of who: 

  • Never miss a day of work
  • Take assignments that are difficult or high risk
  • Speak up when there’s an injustice
  • Lend a hand to a colleague or customer who is struggling
  • Give up free time to cover a shift
  • Set personal challenges aside to get the job done   

If we can’t be counted on, we’ll soon be counted out. 

The backbone of any career strategy is to build a reputation of dependability. It can come with positive brand labels like selfless, dedicated, and team player. 

Being indispensable is a by-product of dependability, especially when you step forward to solve problems, create remedies, and anticipate issues before they become nightmares. 

When our resumes looks like we’re running from the law, our time off records like we’re a magnet for germs, or our performance appraisals like we’re asleep at our desks, it’s time to reexamine what we’re really committed to.

Business fitness is about being prepared and ready to move forward. Being ready is about being committed—dependable, reliable, trustworthy, and responsible. High standards are good reasons for you to feel proud. 

Have you ever had your dependability tested? How did it go? What did you learn? These moments can be eye-opening.

Know When to Fold ’Em | A Smart Career Strategy

Have a job that isn’t going anywhere? Reluctant to leave your work mates? Nervous about changing jobs? Join the club! 

A lot of people stay where they are, taking the avenue of least resistance. Unfortunately, it’s also the road to nowhere. So if you’re on it, get ready to exit. 

Being in a dead-end job isn’t the worst that can happen. Staying there too long is. 

We let ourselves get stuck in our jobs because of naïve or faulty thinking like: 

  • If I do a good job, my boss will give me more challenging work.
  • I work well with my co-workers, so I’ll probably be promoted to supervisor when there’s an opening.
  • More training or college courses will advance my career.
  • The productivity of my work team would suffer if I moved on.
  • There really isn’t any other job that matches my skills and interests. 

These “beliefs” and our resistance to change paralyze our ability to move on. We worry that disrupting our own status quo could hurt not help our careers. Fear of the unknown is a powerful force. So we stay. 

Don’t measure “too long” by time. Measure it by the toll it’s taking. 

I confess. I am famous for waiting too long. Maybe that means I have a high pain tolerance, but I suspect that it’s simply my flaw. I’m getting better which is some consolation. 

When a job is hurting you, you need to get out. Here’s how I know: 

1. I took a desperation job as a switchboard operator at a brewery when I relocated to PA after five years teaching high school. I used an agency to get it. I was over-qualified, the job was brain-numbingly tedious, and the environment crushing to my self-esteem. I became so depressed that I’d come home from work and sleep for twelve hours.   

I stayed 4 months. If I could have stuck it out for 6 months, the company would  have paid the agency fee. I tried but couldn’t.  What a waste! (Even the beer was bad!) 

2. After the brewery job, I worked for a great non-profit with a dynamic executive director. I was responsible for grant writing, supervision of cooks and bus drivers, volunteers, parent meetings, and government surplus food. I averaged 50 hours a week, ran myself ragged, made a pittance, and knew it wasn’t right for me. When I thought about leaving, I felt guilty. 

I stayed for almost two years. When I left for a teaching job, five people replaced me. That was a lesson too. 

3. I was hired by a big utility company after another five years of teaching. I started as the energy education coordinator, built a department from scratch, hired terrific people, and became the manager. I was content there. 

I was offered a promotion as training and development manager in human resources. But I was reluctant to leave the program that was my “baby” and my work “friends.” 

My boss told me, “Being too attached to things you’ve done is a career trap. Don’t let that get in the way of your own growth. By moving on, you position yourself to continue to make a broader impact.” He was right. 

So after five years there, I moved on. 

It’s your career, so it should be good for you. If it isn’t, bolt! 

Remember: A job that:

  • Crushes your spirit or makes you physically sick isn’t worth it. 
  • Fails to compensate you for the value you add is a bad investment.
  • Clouds your ability to embrace other opportunities is limiting.

 Jobs are about work that businesses need to get done to be profitable. It’s up to us to make sure that the jobs we accept fit our capabilities, work style, and expectations. If they don’t, then we have to decide to stay or go. Keep your business fitness bags packed! 

Do you have an “I stayed too long” experience to share? What held you back and then pushed you forward? Any words of encouragement?