Want to be the Product of Your Decisions? Be Proactive!
Want to be the Product of Your Decisions, Not Your Circumstances? Be Proactive!
By Julie Norwell
The start of every new year kicks off with much discussion about resolutions, goal setting, and earnest intentions. In 2022, these conversations have also involved an inordinate focus on job resignations.
It’s no wonder. The number of Americans quitting their jobs in 2021 reached nearly 4 million in April 2021, a historic monthly high, catching many by surprise. Workers were supposed to be going back to work after historic job losses. The news catapulted the term ‘Great Resignation’ into the national dialogue as people debated whether the April figure was an anomaly or the start of a real trend. Since then, the number of ‘quits’ has hit record highs four more times, including in the latest data in which the Labor Department reported that a whopping 4.5 million people left their jobs in November. No one is arguing that resignations are an anomaly anymore.
As impressive as those numbers are, it seems that the high quits rate relates more to the experience of low-wage workers, who are leveraging the opportunity to transition to jobs offering better wages and work conditions, than it does to professionals and ‘knowledge workers.’
At the same time, it’s clear that workers of all stripes are re-evaluating their work life and their expectations of their employers – as they should. Burnout is real. Inflation is rising even when salaries aren’t. Remote working is a game-changer. And sporadic school closures continue to wreak havoc on the ability of parents to commit to a full day’s work.
Work conditions have evolved so much throughout the pandemic that, if ever there was a good time to find a job that better aligns with your needs and goals, this is it! Before you tell your boss to shove it, however, remember this: Your goal shouldn’t be just to find a job, but a job that you really want. How? By being proactive, not reactive, in your job search.
Anticipate the Consequences of Circumstance
Being proactive involves two essential and complementary elements: 1) Anticipating, and 2) Reflecting. First, you should always be aware of problems or circumstances coming down the pike and how they may affect you. Next, you should reflect on how you will respond to those problems or circumstances in a way that is optimal to you. Not doing so leaves you scrambling to react to things after they’ve happened, buffeted by the winds of fate or, worse, the decisions of people who may not have your interests at heart.
Dennis Green is a great example of someone who anticipated an obstacle in his career and decided to make new opportunities for himself. An ambitious transactional accounting manager for a large distributor of automotive and industrial replacement parts in Georgia, Dennis became disenchanted with his job soon after starting because his company made major staff changes that limited his opportunities for upward mobility. The workload blew up and he was asked to do tasks that people junior to him normally do, leaving him little chance to grow in his role. He knew he couldn’t stay.
“They would have let me be a manager for 10 years if I’d allowed it,” he said. “I’ve invested a lot into my career, and I don’t want to stay somewhere if there are better opportunities elsewhere.”
Dennis had never voluntarily left a job before, and he struggled at first to find the kinds of executive roles he wanted. So, he began working with career management firm, The Barrett Group, to help him optimize his job transition. He thought deeply about where he wanted his career to go, created a plan to get there, and followed very specific steps to achieve it.
“In the past, my job searches were reactionary, but this time I felt I was being proactive in my decisions,” he said.
Within a few months, Dennis was delighted to get two competing job offers, ultimately landing as a principal of business advisory services at a consulting firm that offered him great growth opportunities and a 50% boost in his base salary.
Make Things Happen
The lesson of anticipating future circumstances and taking responsibility for how they will influence us isn’t new, of course. Austrian neuropsychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, focused on this topic in his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning. In 1989, Stephen Covey built on this theme in his best-selling business book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But the message bears repeating, especially at a time when millions of people are re-assessing what they value in their lives and careers.
It is notable that Covey listed “Be Proactive” as the number one habit in his book. Why number one? Because the six other habits he highlights in his book “depend on the development of your proactive muscles. Each puts the responsibility on you to act.”
The first and most basic habit of a highly effective person in any environment [is] the habit of proactivity.…It means more than merely taking initiative. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.
– Covey, S., (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. (pp 70-71). New York, NY: Free Press.
Andrew Seaman, senior news editor at LinkedIn, likewise, understands the importance of being proactive. In a recent news spot, he offered this succinct counsel to professionals looking to make a change:
“Make sure to have a plan in place to explore what you want to do and where you want to go. Have conversations about it, so that you can get there faster,” Seaman said.
In short, make things happen!
Six Ways to Be Proactive
Dennis Green would admit that it takes courage to be proactive in a job search. And sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. The important thing is to take action instead of waiting for opportunities to magically materialize. Keep in mind that it’s okay to make blunders because mistakes are learning experiences. Over time, you’ll probably realize that being proactive throughout your career yields the best results when it comes to a job search. But whether your actively job searching or not, here are six best practices to be proactive in your career any time:
Start early – If you want to pay for your kid’s college education, you don’t wait until she is 18 years old. You start saving when she is a baby. So goes career management. Laying the groundwork for a good career move begins well before you’re even considering one. Think hard about where you want your career to be in 1, 5, 10, even 15 years.
Make a plan – Gather information and make a realistic, detailed list of achievable steps that will get you closer to your goals. Then set about ticking them off. Setting timelines for the steps you must take will keep you organized and provide you with guideposts to mark your progress. Be faithful to your plan, and don’t be afraid to re-assess it periodically or whenever your priorities change. After all, life happens.
Build and nurture your network – Think of your network as you would a great friendship. It will be fun, it will take time and energy to develop, it will sometimes call on you for help, and it will support you when you need help with professional advice, career advancement, job searching, and in many other ways that will surprise you.
Seek out mentors – Active mentors can be important aides for professional growth throughout your career by offering crucial guidance and opening doors at critical junctures. But don’t forget that keen observation of people you admire and the methods by which they have advanced their careers is an excellent form of passive mentoring. If you don’t have mentors, consider hiring a professional coach who can help you assess where you are and navigate your career in the way that is best way for you.
Request feedback, offer feedback – Career development may not always require a job change, rather a conversation with your boss. Solicit feedback on your performance and see what you can do to advance your prospects. If you’re unhappy, communicate your needs and ask whether there is a better path for you at your company. Retaining talent is an important concern for employers these days and you could spur company management to up its game in the way of a promotion or bigger paycheck for you. You have nothing to lose by asking, and you can always still leave if you remain dissatisfied.
Be aware of the business–scape – The business world is ever-changing. Keeping your head above the waves is an important way to see developments on the horizon and do what you can to be ready for them. Have you heard the drumbeat of ESG growing? Is there a chance cryptocurrency will wash up on the shores of your industry in the future? It might be worth proactively learning about these or other topics so you can offer value to employers when necessary, rather than reacting with the multitudes to catch up.
If you are among those who kicked off the new year without a thought to career change, that may change soon enough.
Pundits forecast yet more turbulence for 2022. Meanwhile, Derek Thompson, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of the Work in Progress newsletter predicts that a lasting effect of the pandemic will be a revolution in worker expectations. What better time to practice becoming the product of your decisions, not your circumstances?