It is rare for life to present you with a simple either/or situation.
Normally, life is lived in shades of grey – an almost infinite
set of possibilities. That said, while talking over career problems
with some friends last night, we stumbled across a dichotomy that every
careerist faces today. In your career, and in your life, you can either “do
something” or have something done to you. You can either control
your career or let someone else dictate what you do and when you do
This dichotomy occurs whether you are working in a traditional corporate
environment or for yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you are
the most senior or the most junior member of the staff. We all have
the power of “doing”, but if we fail to exercise that power,
then we give up any chance of controlling our own career.
As my friends and I talked last night, I noticed one important aspect
to our conversation. From the very start, we were focusing on the externalities
of the situation. This person, this company, this organization was
causing these particular problems for us. Once I realized this, I tried
to bring the conversation around to internal strengths, weaknesses
and threats. In the end, we only truly have control over ourselves
and our own actions. If we focus our attention there, we will always
have more effect. This is true for one important reason – while
it is very difficult to change ourselves, it is nearly impossible to
change others. They have to come to their own decisions about their
lives and careers. You can only provide a good example and show them
how life can be different. You can’t force them to change; you
can only show them a path.
Sure, it can be very distressing to realize that you can’t have
a direct impact on a situation that pains you greatly. We all see problems
and injustices of varying levels, but they often require drastic or
dangerous actions to effect them, if you can effect them at all. By
focusing on ourselves and our actions, we can start the process moving
in the best way possible. This also helps to prevent problems from
devolving into acrimonious, personal battles that distract from the
true problem at hand.
Let me be clear, “doing it” has nothing to do with taking
advantage of others or engaging in unethical or criminal behavior.
You are not trying to gain advantage at someone else’s expense,
you a simply trying to build the best career you possibly can. The
fact is, others have the power of “doing” just like you
do. If they decide to abdicate that role, and let life happen to them,
there is little you can do to stop it.
Neither should it stop you from taking those steps that are most
important to you. Otherwise, we become a passive society, each
waiting for someone
else to tell us what to do. I only need point to history to show
how dangerous such and environment can become. When the majority
people are passive, there will always be those who will take advantage
and turn the company, the corporation or the state to their own ends.
So, what form does this “doing” take? If you are in a corporate
environment, there are several ways you can take action. If you are
happy with the company, then you can work to cement your position in
the company by reinforcing and enhancing the company’s goals.
Building the company builds your job and your career. Additionally,
in order to protect yourself against unforeseen changes, you should
also have several independent projects in the works. Perhaps you can
take a hobby and find some way to build this into your own business,
or act as a consultant to other, non-competing companies, or set yourself
up as an expert in a particular field to bring you income and prestige
in your industry. Regardless of the form it takes, like any good stock
investor, you need to diversify your activities and find those places
where you “do” on a regular basis.
If you are already a freelancer, then you have already embraced this “doing,
rather than having done to you” concept in some small way. Otherwise,
you would have never struck on your own. That said, you need to address
this issue every day and in every project or transaction. Your support
structures are limited outside of a large company, so you have to build
them internally, both mentally and in your business. You must always
be “doing” perhaps even more than you do already. I know
this is the case in my own personal career. No matter how much I do,
there is always more I could be doing. Finding these opportunities
for expansion are what drives your career forward.
In business, as in life, you can do something or you can have something
done to you by others. It should be clear where you want to be in
that equation. You have the ability, the talent and desire to do
in your career, but this can only happen when you turn your focus
inward and start doing what truly matters most to you.
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