Ten Tips to Take Control of Your Career
Given the overall importance of our careers to our well-being and the amount of time and energy we put into our careers, I am always amazed (and sometimes dismayed) at how passively many accept a “less than” career. I see individuals who trudge to work every day, do their best and come home defeated and depleted. I see others who tell themselves they will just do this until the kids are through college or the retirement fund is stronger, even if that might mean another decade of drudgery. I see many who feel trapped in a career but can’t get clarity on any other options.
At the most basic level, our careers provide us a livelihood, a way to pay the bills, put food on the table and a roof over our heads. For many they provide an Identity. And for some who are in careers that are well matched with their skills and passions, careers provide a sense of accomplishment, contribution, meaning and purpose.
Let’s face it. There are no perfect careers or jobs. But without doubt, there are some that are much better than others. For there are some careers that are terribly ill fitted to your skills or life situation, there are some workplaces that are toxic and there are some professions that feed your family and not your passion.
I’ve been there. Several times in fact. And now I’m not. Using these ten tips worked for me– I now have a career that feeds my family and my soul. That makes an income and makes a difference. That fits me perfectly instead of me trying to make an ill-fitting job work. And while it is not “perfect”, it is pretty damn good!
Taking control of your career is a bold statement. Deep down we know that we don’t “control” anything other than our attitude. Yet I find that there is power in the notion of “taking control” of our careers – especially when so many of us feel “out of control”. Taking control does not mean you can control the outcome, but it does mean that you can control the actions you take to increase the likelihood of an outcome you desire. It does mean that you can take ownership of your work and livelihood and not abdicate that work to your boss, the HR department or to happenstance.
Getting to a better place in my career required time and effort and focus. It didn’t happen overnight and there were plenty of missteps. For me it was worth the effort. So if you are serious about taking control of your career, here are my ten tips on how to build a career that works for you.
- Don’t allow (or expect) someone else to manage your career.
For too long I made the mistake of looking outside myself for answers, hoping someone else would be able to uncover my unique talents and match them to a job. What I’ve learned is that career coaches, HR professionals, college advisors, friends and family can provide guidance, but these are only possibilities, not a plan.
I find this propensity to be even stronger in organizations with strong career pathing programs. Professionals abdicate control over their career to central planning – moving from one job to the next in a series of career progressions that may or may not get them to the promised land.
So stop it! Don’t take your hands off the steering wheel. Allow HR and coaches and advisors to advise – and then follow your internal guidance.
- Find your why.
Work is work but is does not have to be drudgery. It should not be a place where you are diminished and depleted. It should be a place where you bring your best self, do your best work and feel good at the end of the day.
Finding your “why” or the purpose that drives your best work brings clarity to your career. Working from your why centers you, enriches others, and provides motivation and focus. Simon Sinek describes this beautifully in his Ted Talk: The Golden Circle.
- Get clear.
It’s amazing what happens when you get clarity about your why and combine that with your skills and passions. Do the hard work to understand yourself. Take assessments. Reflect. Get feedback. Try things out. And then take the time to distill all that information into a crisp distillation of who you are and what you want to do.
This is where career coaches and assessments and books can help. For example, the methodology in What Color is Your Parachute helped me make a major career switch. Gallup’s Strength-finders has enabled me to continually shape my work around my strengths. There are many resources out there – find them, use them, and apply them.
- Invest in yourself.
Funny to me that after spending exorbitant amounts of money for college, professionals enter the work force and expect a free ride. Don’t get me wrong – your employer should be providing ongoing development for you and I strongly advise you to take advantage of every opportunity they offer.
But don’t be the person that is making a solid salary that won’t open their own wallet to spend a few bucks on their own professional development. I see some who don’t think twice about spending hundreds of dollars a month on eating out, but balk at an opportunity that costs half that. I shake my head in disbelief when others won’t invest their own time in taking a course or attending a professional association meeting.
I was lucky to work for a company that did invest heavily in my skills and development. And I’ve been intentional about continuing to develop my own skills and abilities even when I am the one paying for it. I engage coaches, I read voraciously, I take courses, I work with others to help me learn what I don’t know. Do the same!
- Ask for what you need and say no to what you don’t.
In far more situations that we realize, the terms of a role are negotiable. See if you can find ways to do more of the work you are good at or want to do and less of the work that drags you down. For the interesting thing about humans is that for every job that someone hates, there is another person who finds it just their cup of tea.
Even when I had a full-time job with an employer, I would take on volunteer assignments and even got agreement for a few years to spend 25% of my time on a project that was an ideal fit for me.
Balance seeking what you want with saying no to the things you don’t, even though some “no’s” seem risky. It may appear risky to say no to a small raise to do a job you don’t want to do (but could), but in the long term, that no will allow you to focus on where you will thrive.
- Explore your options
Today’s world offers more options than ever – and thanks to the internet they are easier and easier to find. Don’t be locked into thinking your only path is traditional employment with a company. It may be, or it may not be. You might develop a side hustle, freelance, consult, sub-contract, combine two part time jobs or any other creative combination.
And don’t ignore the options you may have with your employer – to move to a different area, try a new role, take on a temporary assignment. My observation is that far too often we box ourselves in – and don’t take the risk to step out of our comfort zones. It can’t hurt to ask!
- Don’t settle for less.
It’s one thing to make do for a month or so; to shoulder through adversity for a short time. It’s a whole other thing to suffer for years or decades. If you’ve been in a bad place for over a year, it’s time to take action!
Transforming your career does not happen with the wave of the career fairy’s wand….it happens step at a time. We get stuck when we think we must make a big move. Or when we think that there will be one grand change that fixes it all.
Instead, take a series of small steps to get to a better place. They can be as small as exploring or volunteering or adding a new certification that qualifies you for that next job.
- Remember that Money isn’t Everything.
While the amount of income you make is important, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that more money equals more happiness. Research would tell us that there is a positive correlation between income and happiness, but it is not a straight line. At lower income levels, happiness climbs quickly with more income. Then, as income rises, happiness does increase, but not in proportion to the amount, in effect, it loses it’s salience. We can all think of very affluent individuals who are also perfectly miserable.
As such, income potential is a consideration in your career path. Yet keep money in perspective – as it is by far not the only factor nor the most salient. An interesting exercise to work with is to ask yourself how you might eliminate or reduce spending to live comfortably if you are pursuing a career that represents a drop in income. Be the person that loves what they do – and wouldn’t do anything else for no matter what amount of money.
- Culture matters.
Your career choice is important – and so is the culture in which you practice that career.
- If you are in the right career, but in a toxic culture – find the right place with a healthy culture that values your contributions.
- If you are in the right culture, but wrong role, wiggle your way into the right role. Take a lateral (or even a demotion). Find what you need to do to move into a more fitting role, and then do it!
If both culture and career are wrong for you, I’d encourage you to resolve the culture situation first and then tackle your career. Because the right cultures will give you latitude to try experiences and roles – and because a toxic culture often colors our perception of our careers.
- Build your network.
A strong network will help you surface options. It will provide you with ideas and options, It will provide you with perspective. And it will provide you with support.
Think more strategically about your network. Build one inside your organization so that when opportunities surface, you are known. Build one outside your workplace so that you get fresh thinking and exposure to other opportunities. Build one with other professionals in your career field (even if it is aspirational) – to learn, to grow, to explore.
Want to jumpstart taking control of your career? Invest in yourself (Tip #4) by attending the January 16th “Design Your Career with Purpose” event where you will:
- Get clarity on your career (Tip #3)
- Explore options using design thinking (Tip #6)
- Plan your next steps (Tip #7)
- Connect with other remarkable women (Tip #10)
So in one day, with one action, you can jumpstart taking your career to the next level! This is truly an investment that pays huge dividends over time!
To learn more and register, go to www.remarkablewomenleaers.com