In my 20’s, I worked for a boss that would have qualified for anyone’s worst nightmare. Demeaning, demanding, ready to pass the blame, needy and long-winded: check. My first week, I learned that seven 20-somethings who had the role before me had all quit. I was in graduate school at the time, and combined with a 40+ hour work week, I had little time for drama. The fact was that I had dreamed of a career in publishing and now here I was with my first role at one of the most prestigious publishing houses in town. I was determined to make it work. It’s suffice to say that the crazy stories abounded, but in the end, I persevered, and she did not. Lesson learned: persist if there’s a higher goal and you are learning regardless of daily despair. If, however, you are at a dead-end all around, you may need to jump ship!
That said, I would counsel most professionals in their 20’s to stick it out. To keep going. To try to find a way to work with your boss and/or your team to excel, grow, and to acquire mentors along the way. Facing adversity in the work place provides you with a foundation to manage challenging situations as your career progresses. Adversity teaches you how to be agile, innovative, and how to navigate alternate viewpoints. By the time you’re mid-career, if you are unhappy in your job – whether it’s because of poor leadership, no chance of advancement, or a mediocre company with less than stellar goals– then you may need to ask yourself why you are settling. Why you are letting yourself sink. Why you are not seeking a better team, a better boss, a better company – all of which can result in a better you!
Getting Real – a personal inventory
First, there’s getting real. Often, we may not be as great as we think that we are. It’s not fun to admit, but it’s true. Our visions of ourselves are often inflated a la loving friends, parents, spouses. And then there’s social media, in which it’s easy to find tons of acquaintances who think you are a-mazing! Finding people who will lift us up is not a complicated feat. But what about asking the folks who don’t owe you kindness – who may be flat-out honest – to share their views of you in a professional context? That’s where you can often get a glimpse of yourself.
Self-examination, which leads to self-awareness, is critical to our success in both our personal and professional lives. You need to ask yourself if you are giving your job your all. And all is not determined by logging long hours, but by your investment and commitment in the hours you do work. Are you engaged in what you’re doing? Are you passionate about your job? Are you passionate about anything? Are you motivated? And if not, why? Did you get off course, and if so, can you pinpoint when, where, and why? Do you yes your boss and colleagues, or do you really listen to them and connect with them in a meaningful way? Do you have a mentor? Are you serving as a mentor to someone else? Helping others often brings us clarity in unexpected ways. Do you stop for a moment during the week to ask your colleagues about their lives? Your boss? While it’s easy to break our lives into two categories – work life and personal life—really, we live one life, and often, we all go through the same type of issues both in the office and outside of it. Camaraderie at work can make every day endeavors more meaningful. Then there’s the other side of equation: is your company invested in you and your professional growth? Does your company adhere to succession planning? If not, you may be on a career hamster wheel.
Sometimes the companies we work for create obstacles for us to move ahead. Other times mediocre to abysmal managers are our roadblocks. Often, though, we are our biggest barriers in achieving success. We decide we are not good enough, smart enough, or ready for the next level in our careers. We sit back when others receive promotions we were working towards. We complain to anyone in our lives who will listen, without speaking up and having the difficult one-on-ones with higher ups. There comes a time in each professional’s career that you need to tell your boss and/or company what you seek, as you never know what you will learn in return.
Emotions play a role, too. Many of us are sensitive beings by nature. And that’s a good thing, to a point. But you need to ask yourself if you’re allowing your emotions to distort situations. Sure, it’s important to feel what you feel, but emotions sometimes create stories that only exist in our minds. Remember that incidents and issues will arise at work, as they do in families, and in all aspects of our lives, but how you react to them is up to you. I am a believer in seeking the truth, examining it, and then pursuing solutions rather than getting caught up in needless drama.
Once you get through self-examination, then it’s time to create a plan. What is your end goal? What do you hope to achieve along the way? What do you really seek in your life? More time to play? More time to invent, create? The proverbial corner office? A big title? A bigger heart? The chance to impact people in a meaningful way? Where do you intend to be next year? In three years? Five years down the road? Twenty years from now?
There is no wrong or right, just awareness and a deep-rooted commitment to be true to yourself, and true to your dreams. Twists and turns may loom painful, but in reality, they are the gifts we receive along our paths. They are what help us to fine tune, focus, take the deep breathes, and time outs that often assist us in redefining our paths, and jump starting our journeys.
From my perspective, there’s not enough time in anyone’s life to stay in a job that doesn’t promote growth and opportunity, as well as the chance to help others. Dreaming big is not a slogan, it’s an action plan that we should all live by regardless of our stage in life. It starts with taking the time to ask ourselves the big and small questions, believing in ourselves, creating a plan, and going for it!