When I sat down at my desk at PS 90 in The Bronx as a new kindergartener, I remember looking up at my teacher and my mom, each looking at me with that look of adoration that adults have for little children. My mom told me that she would be back for me later and that I should listen to my teacher.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that in addition to being able to read, do math and write, I was being taught to “Be quiet. Do what you are told when we tell you to do it, or else you will get bad grades.” As I got older, the threat became, “Or else you won’t get into college.” Once in college, the threat became, “Or else, you won’t get a good job.” Once working, the threat escalated to “Or else, we’ll fire you.”
There are many other examples of “the conveyor belt of life,” but my question for you is, how happy are you today with what you do professionally? At the end of each day, do you feel exhausted by being in the game or exhilarated by it? Are you part of a working environment that commoditizes you and your work while spouting platitudes about how employees are their most important asset? Are you actively engaged with your work in ways that you feel delighted or fighting with quicksand that eventually devour you or force you to flee?
From my time in executive search and now as a coach, I’ve observed that most employees of organizations have outsourced their career planning and thinking to employers who do not have their best interests at heart. The lesson is reinforced that compliance is essential. “We want to hire team players,” the job posting, HR recruiter, and hiring manager all coo as though this is a good thing. Being docile, like in school, is a valued behavior.
Is it any wonder that employee engagement data consistently shows that more than two-thirds of U.S. employees are either actively disengaged or neutral when thinking about being connected to their employer?
You need to take control of your life and career and start creating your own rules of engagement, starting with small steps in the right direction for you.
Starting with the end in mind, ask yourself: “In 10 years, where do I hope to be professionally?” Define everything about the role imaginable, including location, compensation, workday, industry, etc. Every detail that comes to mind is a valid answer.
Next, start networking with people who are currently doing that work and ask them about their career progression. Listen, learn and ask questions. Set up meetings by phone, Skype, and in-person. Have friends, family, former colleagues, parents, accountants, lawyers, or anyone you know set up introductions for you?
Start identifying common themes from the information you receive. These usually are a launching point for changes.
Ask yourself, “What’s most important to me in my next job or organization? What will I need to see or hear to believe it is a great choice for me?” How can you test for it? Employers, like job hunters, try to put on a good face when meeting people. After all, no one tells a potential new hire about dead-end jobs, working with unmotivated people, or having an environment that sucks the life out of their people.
Ask to spend some time observing what it is like working at a firm before joining. Notice the energy, the attitude people have, and the smiles (or lack thereof) on their faces. Does the energy in the office feel right to you?
Don’t expect perfection with your initial choices. You will make mistakes, but rather than punishing yourself for making them, learn from them. They are all correctable.
From there, start breaking down your objectives into manageable chunks. Set one-year, two-year, and five-year objectives for yourself. Remember, not meeting your objective is not a failure. It is just an indication of an adjustment. You are now playing by your rules and not allowing yourself to be put on a conveyor belt of someone else’s expectations.
Involve your husband, wife or partner, mentor, coach or anyone else who is important to you professionally or personally. After all, making a change like this may be hard. It is better to get support on this journey and get to your destination than do it by yourself. Isn’t easy better?
A lifetime is not a long time. If you are like most people, you invest a lot of energy into your work and want to feel like what you do makes a difference. Why do work that doesn’t feel inspiring to you? Why work for an organization that feels depressing?
I feel great, and I suspect you will too when you feel inspired to do your best, rather than crushed to comply with someone else’s rules that have no meaning to you. Take the time now to start your exploration. It may take days, weeks, or years. It doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that you look for it, find it, and start.
After that, just keep going!
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2018, 2021
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes. He also hosts Job Search TV on YouTube, Amazon and Roku, as well as on BingeNetworks.tv for Apple TV and 90+ smart sets.
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