What You Can Control

First, The Bad News:  What You Don’t Control 

When you’re feeling stuck in your career and you’re trying to make a change, it can feel like you’re at the mercy of circumstances outside your control.

Examples of external circumstances that you don’t control include:

  • Which companies are hiring
  • How many positions are available
  • Who else is applying for the same jobs
  • What your boss will say if you ask for a promotion or raise
  • Whether the partnership committee will nominate you up for partner

New career opportunities often require the approval of an external gatekeeper and many people start to get discouraged if they are putting themselves or their work “out there” and aren’t getting the response they wanted.  This is because they start to make the external response mean something really bad about them. But I highly recommend that you don’t do that.  Because you don’t need to.

Now, The Best News EVER.

The truth is that you have a choice about how you’re going to think about external circumstances and realizing that you have a choice will change your results and, ultimately, your life.

First, let’s get clear on some definitions.

Circumstances are facts that everyone would agree are true.  They are neutral and outside of your control.  In addition to the circumstances listed above, circumstances also include:

  • Anything that happened in your past
  • Anything that other people say, do, think, or believe about anyone (including you)

Although we’ve been conditioned to believe that our circumstances make us feel a certain way, it’s actually our thoughts about our circumstances that create our feelings.  Our thoughts are just sentences in our mind upon which not everyone would agree.  For example:

  • An attorney is pregnant and is about to take time off for maternity leave = circumstance
  • This is going to put me behind in my career = an optional (unhelpful, stress-inducing) thought about the circumstance.

Our thoughts are always optional.  In other words, we control our thoughts.  This is hugely important because our thoughts create our feelings.  And our feelings drive our actions, which determine our resultsThis is the Best. News. EVER.

It’s the best news ever because it means that, even though we don’t have control over our circumstances, we do have control of what we’re going to think, how we’re going feel, what actions we’re going to take, and what our results will be.  It means that you don’t have to be the victim of your circumstances or of what life hands you.  You can decide how to respond.

Warning:  You May Not Want To Be Happy All The Time

When my clients learn that they can control their thoughts and feelings, they sometimes try to feel happy all the time.  But sadness, anger, and other negative emotions are part of the human experience.  You may want to feel negative emotions in response to certain circumstances.  For example, most of us want to feel sad when someone dies.  When something happens that you don’t like, as yourself how you want to feel.  If you want to feel negative emotion, let yourself feel negative emotion.  Just realizing that you have a choice in the matter makes all the difference.

Case In Point

A client whom I’ll call Sherry was on the verge of tears during our first coaching session.  She was desperately unhappy at her current job and had been applying for jobs for months without a single job offer.  One of the jobs she had interviewed for ended up being offered to a younger candidate with much less experience.

Here is what was happening in Sherry’s mind:

  • The circumstances (facts upon which we can all agree) were: Job search for five months + five job interviews + no offer + one employer made an offer made to younger candidate.
  • Her thoughts (the sentences in her mind) about those circumstances were: No one wants to hire me.
  • That thought created the feeling of helplessness.
  • The feeling of helplessness drove inaction, rather than action. When she felt helpless, her mind shut down and started spinning in a downward spiral, and she was more inclined to rock in fetal position than keep looking for jobs.
  • When her mind shut down and started spinning in a downward spiral, her result just compounded the original thought: no one wanted to hire her because she wasn’t getting out there and talking to people.

When I showed her how this was happening and asked her why she was choosing to think that no one wanted to hire her, she was baffled and responded, “I didn’t know I had a choice.”  This happens to everyone.  We get so tied to our thinking that we believe our thoughts are facts and there is no other way.

I asked Sherry how she wanted to feel and she said “hopeful.”  We brainstormed thoughts that would help her feel hopeful and came up with this one:  “I have so much to offer and I’m committed to finding the right job for me.”

I asked her if she would be willing to go on 100 job interviews to find the right job.  After gasping at the number, she realized that she would be willing to go on 100 job interviews, if that’s what it took.  In her industry, going on 100 interviews would pretty much guarantee the result of getting a job offer.  (Other industries might require fewer or more interviews.)  Suddenly, the five previous interviews didn’t seem like so much.  She was ready to get busy and take massive action.  She was ready to start tapping into her network more and going on informational interviews (which is far more effective for job searching than her prior method of applying for job postings on the internet).  And that massive action would lead her to her desired result.

Although this commitment felt uncomfortable to her, I pointed out that she was already uncomfortable in her current job.  She might as well embrace the discomfort as part of her journey to success, instead of letting herself be paralyzed by it.  She left our session feeling hopeful, motivated, and empowered.  Her circumstances had not yet changed.  But she now realized how much control she really did have and she got back in the driver’s seat.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Go forth and bloom!



P.S.  If you need help figuring out how to change your thinking about your current circumstances, contact me to schedule a free mini session and we’ll figure it out. You have more control than you think!

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