July 5, 2012. Written by Susan Bernstein for huffingtonpost.com
Wednesday was Independence Day in the United States. Regardless of where you are in the world. I want to help you gain independence for something that truly matters: Your career.
I know how awful it can be to feel stuck in work that drives you crazy. It’s no fun to wake up in the morning dreading to go into your office. It’s gut wrenching to pour out your precious life energy doing activities that tap you out.
When you’re upset, it’s easy to point the finger at your nasty boss. Or curse your horrendous commute. Or rail against the Byzantine bureaucracy in your company. But please, don’t be a victim of your circumstances.
It’s time for you to declare your independence. To stand up for yourself. To take responsibility for creating what you really want from work.
You simply can’t enjoy independence in your work while being complacent. If you’re saying to yourself, “I’m lucky to just have a job. My employer tells me what to do, and I like it that way.” Sorry, but that’s a recipe for being passive and ultimately getting stuck. Because the economy has been shifting for at least the last 20 years from offering long-term jobs — and is now dishing up more short-term gigs. To land gigs that fit you, you need to know what you want and be able to speak up for it. It’s like being an entrepreneur: You see problems and act on them as opportunities.
You don’t necessarily need to become an entrepreneur. But to gain independence in your work, you absolutely need to think like one. This means that you need to be the authority about why you’re valuable, rather than leaving that responsibility to your employer.
If you want to have greater independence in your work, make it your job to translate your skills, talents and abilities so that you become crystal clear about the problems that you solve. People and organizations will always have problems — such as needing an iPhone app for their new business, managing financial accounts that feel overwhelmingly complex, or struggling to lose weight. These are three out of billions of problems.
What problems can you solve?
Go out and solve problems in a way that boosts your ROLE, your Return On Life Energy. Choose projects that give you back even more energy than you put in — not just financially, but in terms of your happiness. Seek out the activities, projects and people that thrill you and fill you. And move away from those activities, projects and people that sap you and zap you. Move in the direction of the kinds or projects, people and places you truly desire, not what you dread or merely tolerate.
At this point, you may want to shout at me, “Susan, give me a break. Boosting my ROLE is a nice idea. But I can’t shift my ROLE all at once.”And I’m not expecting that. Hold your horses. Let’s look at how you can gain more independence in your work, right now.
You maximize your ROLE by increasing your energy gains and decreasing your energy drains. So let’s start with looking at your energy gains. Make a list of everything you do that gives you positive energy. Your skills, talents and abilities from all aspects of life, work and personal. My list includes dancing, even though I am certainly not a professional dancer. It’s just that dancing makes me feel good.
Look over your list of energy gains and ask yourself a few questions: How could I get more of any of these in my life, right now? Could I do one of them for 30 minutes or less, a few times a week, so I just feel happier? With the professional gains, how can you do more of those things? When will you schedule a time to talk to your manager or your co-workers about adding more gains to your working day?
Also, make a list of energy drains, the things that sap and zap your energy. Your energy drains are signals. They tell you, “Drop it or stop it or at least decrease it.” So look over your list of drains. What’s the first thing you can you delegate? What drains can you drop most easily? Which drains can you do in a new, more efficient way? What conversations do you need to have to negotiate or brainstorm ways to decrease your drains?
One of my clients, who I’ll call Felicia, is a web designer. Part of her job used to be updating minor corrections on web pages. Those nit-picky details drove her crazy. She’s a big picture person. So instead of just “tolerating it,” she declared her independence by saying to her manager, “You know what? This part of my job is draining me. What I really enjoy is writing newsletters. I got to do that last month when a co-worker was on leave. I’d like to do more. How can we make that happen?”
Within two weeks, Felicia no longer had to make the corrections. That task was given to a co-worker who actually liked that level of work, because it allowed her to be kind of meditative. And Felicia is now in charge of a new online newsletter, and she’s loving it.
Declaring your independence at work is about realizing that you have more power than you think. Will all managers and companies instantly answer to your demands? Well, if you make them as demands, probably not. But if you make a request, and you describe it in a way that highlights what you’d love to do — and what you’d be good at, you’ve got a much better shot. Get creative, and make more than one request. The important point here is to take back your power. You’re not a victim. You’re a creator. You get to shape your own working experience.