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Posted 07/09/24

You have more control than you think

You somehow ended up in your role, team or organisation without quite making a decision to be there, and now you feel stuck…

You’re sick of feeling like everyone else is calling the shots on your life but aren’t sure how to take the reins back…

You’re underperforming because there’s a part of your job that you don’t like, don’t have the skills for or generally just suck at…

In my last post (find that here) I properly introduced the concept of WorkGloom – that feeling of sadness or frustration or just extended meh-ness that follows you around your workplace, either from time to time (that’s pretty normal) or all the time (I hear you and you’re in the right place). I briefly introduced some reasons behind WorkGloom, including letting not-so-helpful habits continue unchecked and not taking action. It got me thinking that another, pretty primary source of WorkGloom is feeling like we’re not in control of the work we do and/or the career being laid out before us. Feeling like someone else is calling the shots can make anyone miserable, but there is light at the end of that particular tunnel. Promise…

I’m Beth Stallwood – coach, consultant, speaker, podcast host, author and creator of all things WorkJoy. In this guide, I offer you a little bit of tough love and a lot of reassurance that you do, in fact, have more control than you think, and therefore, more access to WorkJoy than you ever thought possible.

How to use this guide

Think of this guide like a pep talk from your straight-talking auntie (we all have one right?). She’s not one to mince her words and she’s probably had a couple of espresso martinis but, unlike the friends, colleagues, partners and other lovelies in your life, she’s going to give it to you straight.

Whether you listen a bit at a time (maybe she loves a Whatsapp voice note) or commit to attending the whole lecture is up to you. Because you, my love, are in control. 

Contents:

Know this: no one is coming to rescue you
And another thing: stop expecting people to decide things for you
You don’t have to be great at everything
Focus on your superskills (and forget the rest)
Know this: feedback helps
How to: ask for feedback
How to: overcome problems
Next steps: Decide what level of action you’re ready for
Spread the WorkJoy


KNOW THIS: NO-ONE IS COMING TO RESCUE YOU

Hands up who grew up on the Disney diet. Yup, me too. 

I’m not knocking it. I love Disney. I even married a man who works for Disney. But the fact remains that in those sacred days before CGI, pre-Elsa and pre-Ana, pre-Moana and pre-Mirabelle, our heroines were kinda…helpless. 

They had a nice sleep while waiting for prince charming to rescue them (see: Snow White and Sleeping Beauty). They hung out playing with talking animals until a fairy godmother – or, indeed, daddy – came along and changed their fate (a la Cinderella and the Little Mermaid). And even though we’re all grown up, I do wonder how many of us are just, well, waiting, for someone with more cash or more clout or better ideas to come along and make things okay. 

I know you know this, really, but it bears repeating – especially if you’re feeling kinda…helpless right now: 

NO ONE IS COMING TO RESCUE YOU

There. I said it. No magic wand will be waved. No job of dreams will be offered. Your beast of a boss won’t be transformed into a prince. There will be no ta-da moment here. This is the stuff of fairytales.

Having dreams, ambitions and a thriving vision board is brilliant. But in order for those things to have any chance of coming to fruition, you need to take action. When you wait for the big transformation, you hand control to forces waaaaaay beyond your control. You surrender your personal agency. Then you get stuck. Then you get left behind.  

If you at all suspect you might be suffering from Disney princess syndrome I urge you to do this: take some action and take it now. It doesn’t matter what that action is or what outcome it’s pointing towards. One step forward (in any direction) feels way better than being stuck in a tower, or in a bungalow with several dwarves.

Even if you discover, after a time, that the action you took was in the wrong direction, you’ll be able to adjust for that. You either win or you learn.

In my chat with Entrepreneur Alison Cooper, she suggested you can do anything with this winning combo…

‘If you believe you can do it and you’ve got the energy and the resilience and the determination, you can do it.’

And that

I think the one thing that I’ve learned, that you can’t have a fear of failure. It’s natural, but you can’t let it deter you and you’ve got to remain ambitious’.

Listen to the full episode here.

AND ANOTHER THING: STOP EXPECTING PEOPLE TO DECIDE THINGS FOR YOU

If you’re not controlling your future, someone else is going to control it for you. In my experience, this is usually one of two parties: 

  1. Your boss 
  2. Your folks 

Your boss hopefully wants you to do well and probably wants to keep you, and if you fail to design a career trajectory, they’ll end up designing it for you, entirely by default. Because eventually you’ll need to make a move (even if it’s through restructuring and not personal choice) and if you don’t ask, you’ll get offered something that works for them. Not you. 

Your parents are – again, hopefully – good people who want the best for you. But few parents of the baby boomer generation got the memo about not projecting their own fears, dreams, ideas etc., onto their offspring. How many lawyers and doctors do you think there are out there who actually wanted to be florists and swimming teachers and travel writers? A lot, I bet. 

If you do things for yourself and decide things for yourself, you have control over where they take you. If you let other people decide things for you, not only do you run the risk of having to start from scratch in mid-life (I’m not saying it’s not worth it, but it is harder), you run the risk of people thinking of you as one thing, when you’re really another.

So in the words of the Spice Girls: 

TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT, WHAT YOU REALLY, REALLY WANT.

Bosses, parents, teachers, partners – they’re there if you need support and advice. But the big, brave decisions that get you from where you are to where you want to be: only you can make those.

HOW TO: CONTROL THE CONTROLLABLES

Chances are you couldn’t take control over absolutely everything in your working life, even if you wanted to. You likely can’t decide that you’re going to create a new job for yourself, because you’re not in charge of organisational structure (unless you are, in which case – knock yourself out). But sitting around and worrying that there might not be the right job for you in the organisation probably isn’t the best use of your energy. It’s also a profoundly gloomy state of existence. 

In this example, and many others, I recommend shifting focus to what you can control. Can you superskill yourself so you’re ready if an opportunity does come along? Can you talk to people in and beyond your squad so they know what you’re looking for if they see an opportunity? Can you start looking outside your organisation so you know what the market is like? 

Shifting from a passive to an active state heralds a shift from WorkGloom to WorkJoy. Doing just feels good. 

Reflection questions:

If you’re feeling stuck, can you identify anyone or anything you’re secretly hoping is going to step in and help you out? 

Are you in your chosen job or career because it’s where you wanted to be or where someone else thought you should be?

What one action could you take to feel more in control of your life/work? 
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE GREAT AT EVERYTHING

I’m like a bad admin fairy. Did you know that? It happens to be true. 

If there’s a booking to be made or some kind of little detail to be ironed out, I think about doing it, I actively consider doing it, perhaps I even plan some NEXT LEVEL doing. Of. The. Thing. And yet, never get around to it. Or else I do, and I resent having had to do, pretty much inviting a great big cloud of WorkGloom to scoot on over and park on my head. 

But you know what? This is fine. Because people value me for a lot of things (speaking gigs, facilitation, consulting, coaching…) and they expect me to be good at these things. And I am (#let’sownoursuperpowers). Admin, as you might have noticed, is not on this list. It’s not in my job description. It was once, and I hated it. And then I gradually reconfigured my working life until it wasn’t any more. Now everyone I work for sends their requests for bookings and my time and all the bits and pieces to my lovely PA Ellie (who ROCKS my world), stuff actually gets done and WorkJoy abounds. 

My point is this: a lot of WorkGloom comes from worrying about not being good at stuff, or resenting having to do stuff you’re not good at. My question to you is: is this really something you need to be good at? And something only you can do? Perhaps it is (in which case see below). But if it isn’t, please let me emphasise something briefly: 

YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE GOOD AT EVERYTHING (and nobody is…) So…

Once you’ve considered the questions above, ask yourself, ‘Is this a goal I am serious about pursuing?’ If the answer’s no, pick something else you’re interested in and work through the steps again. This process will help you rule out goals that aren’t what you really want! If it’s a resounding yes – get it defined!

FOCUS ON YOUR SUPERSKILLS (AND FORGET THE REST)

Disclaimer: You might not be able to completely forget the rest. More on that later.

For now it’s, question time: 

What if you didn’t feel the need to get better at the things you’re not good at (or don’t like)?

What if, instead, you focused your energy on getting greater at the things you’re already great at (or love)? 

Our superskills – the things we’re great at or love doing – are what give us value in the workplace. When we appreciate them, they bring us WorkJoy. When others appreciate them, they can bring us admiration, recognition, progression and remuneration. 

So it makes perfect sense to me that we should all, where we can, spend our time and energy on developing these superskills even further, rather than those we’re less gifted at. Never stand still with your skills guys! Become great at what you’re good at, and brilliant at what you’re great at, until you’re the number one, go-to person for that thing. That’s a surefire recipe for WorkJoy as well as for CareerJoy (just coined that term. I think it’s a keeper 😉).  

But what if there’s a skill you’re not good at that’s absolutely essential for your job and it’s limiting your performance? There’s no question – being an underperformer is not joyful. If this missing skill accounts for 5% of your job, you might be able to get away with it; if it’s more like 20% (so, one day a week) that’s a problem.

As I see it, you’ve got two choices: 

  1. You can develop that skill until you hit minimum competence
  2. You can find a different job that doesn’t require that skill

There might be a sneaky option three, though. Ask yourself if there’s any way you can use your superskill to overcome it? I mean, if your superskill is mentoring, can you mentor someone in your team to take over this task for you (with suitable recognition of course)? Or if your superskill is learning, can you micro-learn your way into up-skilling yourself in a way that feels enjoyable?  

Back to that disclaimer. ‘Forgetting the rest’ really means having a plan for the rest. It means taking back control where you thought you had none

KNOW THIS: FEEDBACK HELPS

Argh, I know. Asking for feedback can be a bit of a sweat-fest (and getting it can be a bit of a gut punch as well), but it’s one of the surest ways I know to take back control of your WorkJoy. Here’s why: 

  • Feedback can tell you which skills to turn into superskills (see above)
  • Feedback can tell you which skills to develop to minimum competence
  • Feedback can tell you if you’re on the right track
  • Feedback can tell you if you’d be better off elsewhere

It almost doesn’t matter what the results of your feedback are. The point is that if you felt out of control or like you were flailing around in WorkGloom, feedback can give you something – anything! – to work on. As I mentioned in my last post, WorkGloom is often a direct result of a lack of action (of ‘stuck-ness’ as some people call it), and of not knowing what action to take. Just one piece of useful feedback can unstick you, put you back in control and give you something to work towards, even if it’s leaving your current workplace.

HOW TO: ASK FOR FEEDBACK

You don’t need feedback from 100 people, you need a few feedback friends (FFs) who are able to observe you in the real-life situations you encounter. Think about the people you either trust or admire (or both). Pick people who will be both honest and direct with you, not those who will fluff it up to avoid hurt feelings. You want people who are on your side and want to help you be even better at being you – not to change you into someone else. You may find certain people in your squad are ideal for this role. 

You would be wise to avoid:

  • The Fans – they will be too influenced by their rose- tinted spectacles and their impression that you are just wonderful to be truly honest with you.
  • The Foes – they will be too influenced by their less than impressive perception of you to consider that you could ever do anything well.

Don’t be afraid to ask people directly and in advance, being as specific as possible to enable them to focus their feedback. Make your request small and related to your situation. Sometimes you might worry that you’re asking too much of someone, or you’re taking up too much of their valuable time. Remember that it’s a massive compliment to them that you respect their opinion on your performance. If they don’t have time or can’t offer you what you need, the ball is in their court to say no. You’ll likely find people say yes more than they say no if you ask.

Oooh and if you’re on the hunt for more on feedback, why not read this article from Stylist that I contributed to? list.co.uk/life/careers/power-of-positive-feedback-workplace-culture-success/826218 

HOW TO: OVERCOME PROBLEMS

The problem with problems is that they’re masters of disguise. You might be convinced you know what’s causing your problem, but look closely and it might be something a bit different. It might actually be something solve-able. 

For instance, you might think your job is the problem. Let’s say it’s crept into every waking hour of your life and is affecting your wellbeing. It’s easy to think the problem is the job itself; that you’re not the right fit, or perhaps (since we’ve been on the subject), you don’t have the skills to be able to do it within working hours. This way of looking at it robs you of agency. It gives you two options: work even harder or leave. 

But look again. Do you have a job problem or is the problem the way your job is interacting with the rest of your life? From this perspective, your job isn’t the whole problem. In fact, you might be able to see some great aspects of it – perhaps the people or the learning opportunities. You might then be able to see that if you could work on this one thing, it could be a great job. And you might set about taking action on that. 

It doesn’t matter what that action is (but following on from what we’ve already talked about today you might choose to super-skill yourself or ask for feedback). The point is that now you’ve got agency. Now you’re back in control.

FREE DOWNLOAD

If the problem you’re facing is that you’ve fallen out of love with your job, and you’re not in a position to leave (or really want to make it work), download my free ‘How to fall (back) in love with your job’ experiment here.

NEXT STEPS: DECIDE WHAT LEVEL OF ACTION YOU’RE READY FOR

Well, I promised you a bit of tough love. Some of us love a little talking to. Others not so much. So this is where I’m going to respond to what I call the ‘But Beths…’. i.e., reasons that the bad fairy on your shoulder is super super sure you cannot take action, cannot take responsibility, are not in control and cannot possibly move forward. Let’s go. 

But Beth…Things really are sh*t
Yep, sometimes things are, and sometimes you’re just in it up to your eyes. Let’s not paper over it with toxic positivity. Let’s just take the tiniest action we can. This blog post should do it. 

But Beth…I just don’t have the time
My 21-day GloomBusters audio guide pops a five-minute highly motivating, highly not-annoying audio lesson into your WhatsApp every day for three weeks. Everyone has five minutes. 

But Beth…I need more inspiration
Tune into My WorkJoy Jam podcast archive, which is full of guests chatting about goals, motivation, limiting beliefs, habits and more. Think of it like absorbing WorkJoy by osmosis. 

But Beth…I think I need a proper talking to
Luckily I specialise in those. Book a 1-1 coaching call with me.  

 

SPREAD THE WORKJOY

Know someone who’s struggling to find their WorkJoy sweet spot right now? Pop this guide into their inbox…and maybe buy them a coffee to go with ☕


Cover Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

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