How to Take Responsibility - 3 Tips for Taking Back Control of Your Career Success

By Sarah Marcello

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It isn’t my fault! “They” have passed me over for a promotion. “They” are going to make me redundant. “They” are stopping me from doing what I love most… It could be “my boss”, or “the organisation”, or it could be a co-worker or even a family member. Sometimes, the words will vary slightly depending on the situation, but the issue is almost always the same. It is always the proverbial “they…” isn’t it?

The most important point in this post may not be that these statements are largely untrue and that they are not fact. More importantly, as human beings we react to change in similar ways, and therefore each of these statements are more of an indicator of your own state of mind. And this state of mind is the very thing that is stopping you from achieving the career success you want and you deserve. This phenomenon isn’t new, and it is the biggest barrier to your career success.

I have set out three key elements that you need to concentrate on before you even consider rewriting that CV and applying to every job advertisement you can find. These are:

• Why your lack of career success is no-one’s fault but your own

• What can you control and influence even when decisions have already been made?

• Freeing your mind, getting out of your comfort zone and getting ready to set some career goals

Controversial? Possibly.

Do I believe that you can change your career by changing your mindset? Yes, I do. Because I have done this myself in the past, and I am in the process of reinventing myself again.

Why your lack of career success is no-one’s fault but your own.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard these words as a coach, and each time the person I am coaching genuinely believes that this is the truth. The most commonly heard phrases that career advisors, coaches or recruiters are likely to hear when meeting with someone who isn’t where they want to be are usually variations on the same theme.

I have seen this in some amazingly talented people, who have a fantastic experience and are highly qualified, yet who find themselves questioning their ability and their potential. For some reason, highly intelligent and well-rounded people can find it really difficult to take responsibility for their success and they end up being ‘done to’ rather than proactively making things happen. The first major hurdle to overcome is recognising that the only person who can change this is you.

Despite what your boss, the organisation, your co-workers or your family may have said or done, the belief that you have no control is what will keep you stuck where you are. We will come back to this, as this is an important point. Meanwhile, there are many barriers to building your career success, and the biggest are fear, loss of confidence and stress. These traits are the best friends of stagnation, and until you address these, nothing will change.

How to fix the cycle of fear and loss of confidence

Before you can do anything else, you will need to break this cycle, and the most important thing is to recognise that you are the one who needs to do this, and no one else! How you do this is for you to decide, as there is no ‘right’ way.

Ultimately, it can take some soul searching and hard work to undo the cycle, and take back control.

Everyone’s situation is unique and there are often many contributing factors. To illustrate my point, I will share some of my own experience. I went through some difficult times several years ago, following a redundancy. I was not securing interviews, and I was getting more downhearted and stressed as the weeks went on. I am not looking for pity, nor sympathy here, I just want to share my reflection of why this happened.

Through a combination of counselling and self-reflection, I realised that I needed to take ownership of my own lack of action and I needed to accept that it was in my gift to do something about it. I had not spoken out when things were not right, I was agreeing to things when it would have served me better to say no, and I stayed in the job for far too long. I had lost my confidence and I became fearful. Fear that I was not good enough, not clever enough, not skilled enough… the list goes on. The reality was that I had allowed others to take ownership of my life and career over a period of time, and that it was my responsibility to put things right. It was only when I changed my mindset, and realised that sitting at home in front of a PC was never going to work as a job searching strategy. When I finally started to actively go and speak to people, and do some of the things I had been scared of, I noticed that changes started to happen.

What can you control and influence even when decisions have already been made?

When decisions are made for you, such as in a redundancy situation, or any other major event outside your control, it is very easy to believe that there is nothing you can do about it, particularly when an event comes with a set of rules you have been told you have to follow. To some extent that is completely true; as you cannot control external events or decisions. What you are able to do is control your own emotional responses and reactions, and work out what you can do to influence the situation.

How to take control and use your influence

When you examine your feelings about the external event, how do you feel? What is the impact on you as an individual? If you perceive the impact to be negative, it is likely that you feel a fight or flight response – where your instincts are to fight your corner, or hide away and let things unfold. Rest assured, this is perfectly normal! It becomes a problem when the initial adrenaline surge is sustained and becomes a longer-term stress reaction, which can be damaging not only to your career but also your life and your overall health. At this point, you need to prioritise yourself, selfish though that sounds if others are reliant on you.

Freeing your mind, getting out of your comfort zone and getting ready to set your career goals

In the short term, difficult as it can be to accept that there is a problem, recognising it is the first step towards taking back control. That is why it is much easier, but also far less productive to spend hours applying for jobs online, as that is not going to get you where you want to be.

“If do what you have always done, you will get the results you have always got”

The old adage is true, nothing will change if you don’t make a determined effort to change anything! Now is the time to be getting out of your comfort zone and trying something you haven’t tried before. Now is the time to start doing more of the slightly uncomfortable things that will help to disrupt the cycle of stress. This can be a scary prospect, so start small. Maybe commit to walking a little further each day, come home 10 minutes earlier, or just commit to eating more vegetables! Set yourself a reward when you have achieved your daily goal as an incentive.

Overall, you need to find ways to relax, celebrate small successes and focus on what is really important to you, which at this stage doesn’t include panicking about finding your next job! It is really important that you don’t underestimate the significance of your emotional state. It could be as simple as taking an hour or two away from your stressors each day, taking a weekend break, or a holiday, and spend more time focusing on doing the things that you love doing. For others, it may need more drastic action like a visit to your GP. If you have an employee support service, or a career coach available to you, now is a good time to set things in motion. The point is, you need to find a way to break the cycle of stress, creating head-space to start thinking about what you need to change, and how you can change it. When you start to feel more relaxed, more positive and more open to alternatives, setting your goals for your next career move becomes far easier and more enjoyable. It is also liberating to realise that although some rules may have been set for you, that are outside your control, you still have the power to set your own agenda and then decide for yourself what you are going to do. When you are ready, you can start to tackle your career issues.

Setting your career goals – where do you want to be?

Your plans may already be in place, so ask yourself if they are the right plans? Are you inspired by them? Notice your energy. Do you feel enthusiastic and hopeful? If you do, brilliant! If not, you have some work to do. This is the time to increase your commitment to trying something different, to create and build up contacts and nurture relationships with people you were unlikely to have known before. This will allow you to open up some additional ideas of what could be possible, which may not be what you do now. This can be a really liberating experience, as it is the first major step in taking back control and responsibility for your career.

Are “they” still in charge of your career…? No, I didn’t think so!

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