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Career Planning – What You Can Do to Take More Control of Your Career

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I have had the privilege, over 20 plus years in recruitment, of having the permission to listen to and advise a large number of people on how to move their careers forward.  Whilst the conversations have varied greatly, depending on each individual situation encountered, there are a number of common themes which arose that I wanted to explore in this series.

One of the fundamental driving questions behind every conversation I have had with job seekers about their career is how they can proactively take charge of it and influence its pace and direction. In this series we will break this objective down to a number of steps, in a process that will prompt some self-reflection and self-evaluation on what you may be doing well today and where you could improve in other areas.

1. Setting your goals – and knowing what you want:

Job seekers are often motivated by two main driving forces to change their job and seek new employment:

  • One comprises a push factor to leave - often manifesting in a deep dislike or dissatisfaction in their current role or career 
  • The other is an attraction to a new role or career avenue that seems to offer all the personal, social, monetary and career growth rewards they seek, and are not getting in their current position

The best piece of advice I can give to people in this context is to be as honest with yourself as possible and try to determine what it is you actually want. This is harder than it sounds for many people in any decision in life, let alone deciding on a career step. In order to make good decisions it is essential to be able to approach them with an objective frame of mind. It can be difficult not to let the emotional impact of a job or company you dislike cloud your judgement. People tend to over-estimate the degree of their dislike for their current, job and/or attach too much future happiness or job satisfaction to attaining the job of their dreams.

2. Understanding how and why you feel the way you do:

Oftentimes people prefer to ignore complex personal issues in the hope they will go away. Indeed, sometimes allowing the sub-conscious to work on a problem in the background over a period of time can be a useful strategy; however it’s also important to confront yourself with how you feel about your job and to look deeply and honestly at it. Having a friend or someone you can confide in can help with this process by using them as a sounding board and exploring your feelings out loud with them.

Try and understand the power and depth of those “push” motivating forces to leave your job by detailing why you both like and dislike your job. Most people can often articulate what they like about their job, however reasons for job dissatisfaction can be more clouded but manifold. For example:

  • People often confuse a bad experience with one employer as a dislike for their career choice
  • They often bring unresolved issues from one employer to another and consequently pollute and taint the new employment relationship
  • They believe that a move to a new company or a new job will solve their deep seated unhappiness with their job or career choice
  • Sometimes their lack of success in the role, or the relationship they have with their manager, affects their attitude toward a job that may be well suited to them

3. Own your feelings and take responsibility for your attitude:

The key point is to understand your feelings and the facts about your situation, and to be as honest as you can with yourself. Often this will entail some painful self-searching to assess where your attitudes or behaviours have sabotaged your success or happiness in a particular role.

Taking personal responsibility for your happiness and career satisfaction is a great mind set to adopt.  It ultimately means that your enjoyment, success, satisfaction and personal development in a role is not dependent on outside influences, such as your manager or circumstances – but on you and how you choose to think and feel about your job.

Take responsibility for how you feel about your job, and don’t rely on others to set up a job environment or culture where you think you will be happy. Doing this will enable you to take back your control.

From this vantage point you can begin to take ownership of past failures and dissatisfaction, understand the part you played in manifesting them and gain insight into how you can avoid them and protect yourself from them in the future.  Equally you can apply this approach to your successes and thereby reinforce the behaviours and habits of mind and activity which will lead to further success.

4. The power of being aware of your thoughts and how they help or harm you:

Few people reach this point of self-understanding without first blaming others, or circumstances outside their control, for their unhappiness or lack of success in a job. This seems to be a universal aspect of the human condition. You cannot control everything in life – but you can control how you think about it or choose to perceive it.  

For many the glass is half empty and yet for others it is half full. Some see adversity as something to be avoided or endured with pain and suffering attached, others relish it as a learning experience or a challenge to be overcome. 

The difference is only one of perspective and the choice people make on how they will interpret a given situation. Choice is the operative word in this context though. You alone have the power to choose how you are affected by circumstances. 

I used to think it required a whole lot more energy to be a positive person than a negative person.  The truth though is that it takes the same amount of energy to be positive or negative. It will take some energy by you to change your thinking habits from a negative setting to a positive one but once you have done that then you will be free from the power of circumstances to influence how you feel. 

5. Influencing the world one person at a time

Most people I have talked to just want to be happy and fulfilled in their career and job, and to be able to grow as a person enjoying the self-development that comes with positive career challenges.  Money and recognition are also important drivers, but research indicates they are not as valued as the wonderful feeling people experience from achieving something real, lasting and contributes to making their world a better place.

The good news is that I have yet to find a job or vocation that does not have the potential to add great value to humanity in some way, and thereby give you the personal satisfaction and sense of fulfilment you seek. People often ask: “How can I find a job that will fulfil me?” The better question is: “How can I put something lasting into my job that will change the world?”

I’ll leave the answer to that question over to you – but one thing is for sure: you don’t need to make big changes to start to make positive changes. The changes in you will flow outwards and positively affect others like ripples in a pond.

6. Full circle and back to the person in the mirror in front of you

So back to knowing what you want. I encourage you to look hard at how you feel about your job/career, to set aside or come to terms with negative feelings about your work (if you have them) and concentrate on the aspects of your job/past jobs that you really enjoyed and gave you a sense of fulfilment or sense of purpose.

Identify those aspects and reflect on why you feel the way you do about them. Generally speaking if you like certain aspects of your job more than others then you will have become more competent at them and they will be a part of your developed skill base.

Seek out jobs or careers which will tend to maximise the practice of these skills.  Be aware that these jobs may comprise additional activities that challenge or threaten your personal sense of security.  Consciously decide whether you are up for the challenge of mastering these activities, or whether you wish to avoid them altogether. There is no right or wrong answer here but you need to be honest with yourself.

Also be aware that what you seek in a job or career needs to be validated by what kinds of jobs or careers are available in the work force. It may be that you find the perfect job that still has activities in it which you dislike. The choice is yours to engage in it or not.

Whatever job or career course you follow, I urge you to engage in it with all your heart and make your weakness your strength by working hard at it.

You will be thrilled and deeply fulfilled by what you can achieve when your heart and mind agree!