professional development

Eight steps to take control of your career

Eve Ash /

Work for most of us is survival. It means the difference between simply existing, keeping food on the table and bills paid, and more importantly enabling us to progress. 

Work gives us meaning

We spend most of our adult lives working. Work provides us with not only money to live, but a sense of identity and mastery. For many of us, the work we do plays a major part in giving our lives meaning. For better or worse, we develop our sense of self through the work we do.

Many of us blindly stumble through our careers, not sure how we got to where we are, or how to get to wherever we think we should be going. Too often, we let work happen to us, or it happens regardless, and then we find ourselves either out in the cold or forced to navigate alternatives. 

Take control of your career

There are mechanisms that allow us, nevertheless, to put ourselves in control of our careers. They are not short-cuts, but do guide us to an emotional place where you feel strong, empowered, and able to take charge of your work and create the conditions for a career you’ve only ever dreamed about

1. Develop your self-awareness  

Self awareness is a foundation for emotional intelligence (as Daniel Goleman and others in the field will attest) and without it, you are insufficiently noticing the decisions you make, the reasons you make them and the impact they have on both yourself and others. It’s a form of self-honesty, being able to think critically about your thoughts and actions (without adopting a hair shirt) and knowing your strengths and weaknesses.

2. Be confident and assertive

Many confuse this with being noisy and demanding, but it’s better to develop and hone your talents, and to know their worth (both intrinsically and in the market).

You will need confidence for when times are rocky in your line of work as well. Many people are confident and assertive when the going is good, but crumple in the face of adversity or critical feedback. It’s understandable and human to do so, but there comes a time when you need to pick yourself up and consider how best to advance your cause once more. Do you have what it takes to continue? Does the market currently want what you have or is it time to try for some new directions? Your worth is twofold: you are worth something to yourself and your “worth” springs from how others perceive you, too. The latter is not infallible; irrespective of who’s paying what for your services, retain the knowledge that you continue to invest in what you have to offer.

3. Define your vision

Drill down to what you really want from work and your life; the years do slip by quickly. There’s a great saying, “you make your decisions and then they make you”. At some point, you must ask yourself where you really want to go and what you may need to get there. You need to think it through and it will change, so refine and adjust as you change. There’s plenty out there to worry and hinder us, but stay focused on what you want — even if it’s just for a few minutes each day while you go about the business of making a quid.

4. Get organised

Those who seemingly stumble on good fortune have usually planned a long time in advance, and taken the necessary steps to get there. Make the most of your days, galvanise your energies (the first kick is the hardest, but after that you will begin to move), and refuse to let life simply happen. Be interested in what’s going on, widen your reading and your contacts. Where are the openings likely to be? What can you offer? What “fuel” do you need for your journey? What don’t you need (for example, negative, naysaying acquaintances)?

5. Improve your communication skills

Even the most talky and ebullient amongst us have their bum days. We’re never as clear or self-evident as we think we are, which requires some humility and willingness to listen to others. Trust the advice of good friends and colleagues and seek training where needed. Learn to present with influence to work colleagues. The aim of great communication is to make life and dealings more straightforward, relationships easier and teamwork fun — so see how you can contribute to this.

6. Manage stress

It comes to us all, and not everyone copes well. Cut yourself some slack, and have compassion for others. Look after your physical, mental and emotional health by eating well, getting rest and being around people who love you and who make you happy. By keeping your eyes open and self-caring, you will be in a stronger position to manage what comes your way.

7. Conquer bad feelings

These can fester, and in fact they do resemble ugly grazes, often inflicted by others. You don’t want them to get worse, so out comes the antiseptic and bandages. There’s redness, pain and tenderness for a while, but gradually the wound improves. Take steps to find constructive outlets for anger and sadness, ranging from talks with loved ones, exercise, doing things that make you happy or seeking advice. Don’t brood alone too long, and if you are falling into a black hole, get help.

8. Change can be valuable

Yes, change brings discomfort and uneasiness, not to mention fear. Study it instead and see how you might able to adapt to what’s going on. Keep your perspective, where possible, and better still, some humour (try finding some old comedies you loved on YouTube to brighten your day with some laughs).

Once you find your driving force, there’s no limit to what you can achieve and your identity becomes assured!

NOW READ: Eight ways to boost motivation

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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