"You control your destiny. You don't need magic to do it. And there are no magical shortcuts to solving your problems." - Merida in the movie Brave.
Merida is right. To regain control over a career does not take magic, but it does take an investment in yourself. And it is an investment that is worth it.
I have been most upset about my career when I felt helpless and that someone else controlled my destiny. I discovered the key to changing this was to take that power back in some way.
I had an aha moment about control when in an improvisation class meant to improve communication skills. I volunteered for an exercise where the instructor told me I was holding an imaginary ball and I had to interact with her about the ball.
Once in skit mode, she refused to acknowledge the imaginary object was a ball and shut me down at every stance. Finally, I realized the rules were not what the instructor told me and I could use them to regain control. The next time she told me the object was not a ball, I said, "You are right. It is a pie" and I threw it in her face.
While I did not achieve open communication, I regained control of the situation and felt great.
Here are some steps to take to reclaim control of your career.
Understand the Reasons Why Your Career is Standing Still.
Your career can stall for many reasons, such as:
- An inability to generate clients
- A corporate reorganization
- Several of your client contacts decide to retire
- A new boss who has a strong relationship with a peer
- Your sponsor leaves
- The type of work you do is not as needed
- There are no openings above you
- The perception is that your work product has peaked
While the reasons can be varied, you must do a deep dive to understand the what and the why - because without that understanding - you cannot create a plan to address it.
During this process, do not solely rely on your perceptions - talk to trusted peers or others who can observe what is going on to understand the next steps.
Assess the Ability to Move the Dial.
Being blocked from further opportunities because there are four people ahead of you for promotion is very different than a failure to bond with critical stakeholders. Just like losing a few clients is very different when you have been building a sales funnel than when you have been taking your clients for granted.
Depending on where you stand may impact the type and amount of investment you need to make to get your career back on track. One may be able to be remedied in the short run - the other may not.
It would be best if you determined the reason for the standstill and how likely it is that it will change on its own.
- Are the four people in front of you at almost retirement age or are they only a few years ahead of you?
- Is there is promotion freeze in place? And has the company been reducing the number of senior roles?
- Did you receive your clients as part of a succession plan and you never had to build a relationship with a new contact?
- Does your firm require more client business than other firms?
- Is your specialty on the wane at your firm or the industry in general?
Understanding your internal circumstances is important but understanding the external environment is also critical. For example, have you generated enough business to switch firms or develop the necessary skills to move organizations?
Create a Plan or Maybe Two.
You then need to create an actionable plan to take control of your career or business development.
For example, if your current boss is not giving you the plum assignments or developmental opportunities - get involved in a bar association or other committee where you can grow and network. You can also volunteer to work with another group within your organization.
If your business development is waning, it is time to develop a plan to pump up your brand, expand and strengthen your network, and convert contacts into clients.
If your sponsor has left, is there a way to cultivate a new one internally or can you use your former sponsor for external opportunities? Be honest with yourself.
One gentleman I knew aligned himself totally with the CEO and did not cultivate relationships with his subordinates. When the CEO left and one of the once ignored subordinates took the reins -- that gentleman's career trajectory waned.
Your plan may be both internally and externally focused if you want to maximize your opportunities for change. This means working to solidify your position where you are while exploring and strengthening yourself for an external search if needed.
To regain that feeling of control, you must execute your plan. You do not need to do it all at once - but you must start taking steps. There is an old Irish proverb that you'll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.
You should review your progress weekly. I recommend writing down what you have accomplished so you see that you are on the path to success. We often go to the negative about what we have not accomplished rather than what we have. Focusing solely on what you have not done can lead you to disappointment and stop you from taking more actions because it seems hopeless. Remember, taking control of your career takes time.
Another way to help you with execution is by asking a friend to be an accountability buddy. You want an accountability partner who will ensure that you are working on your path and provide you with honest feedback and encouragement.
Finally, periodically assess how your plan is working and if it isn't, figure out what you may need to modify and do it.
Creating and executing a plan takes your career development back into your own hands and gives you options. Remember, no one should care or invest as much in your career as you. So control it so you don't end up with pie on your face.
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