Career challenge No1 - who's the boss?

You know the story about the frog in boiling water, right? It begins with the amphibian sitting in a pot of cold water, which sits on a low flame.  The water heats so slowly; the frog barely registers the change, until the moment of intense discomfort – by which time his options for safety are slim.

The story could be a metaphor for our careers. We join a company; get caught up in its day-to-day, and distracted by responsibilities and glitter. We don’t notice the subtle changes to our environment or the small shifts we make in our personal and professional life to adapt.  And then, bang! A restructure, an argument, a professional slight, a family move and we need to make big changes - NOW! We now realise we've let our careers slide, and our career options are limited and we're at risk of making the wrong move to stabilise. Running away instead of running towards ...

While this situation sounds slight dramatic, it plays out in most of our careers, at least once, often more. Today I'm introducing a 12-week series to build personal control into your career, focusing on awareness and mindset. You won't need everything I write about, but hopefully, you'll find some of the challenges worthwhile. Let's begin.


Early in our work life, it's common to get most of our direction from managers. We learn how the company will use our skills and education, its structure, systems and processes, where our role fits in, expectations about how we'll do our job and what we'll produce.

At some point the intense direction falls away, we remain managed and integrated into a team but otherwise left to get on with our work. We develop interests, explore initiatives, identify with a profession and travel a hierarchical or specialist path.

It's wonderful to work with an organisation or leader that offers constructive career conversations, meaningful performance reviews and valuable career pathing. Wonderful, but not common. And anyway, it’s our responsibility to make plans for where we want to go and how we're going to get there.

Yet many people, experienced well-educated professionals who might know better, fall into the trap of surrendering responsibility for careers to their employers. Employers are oblivious to what's happened, which means no one is watching their careers, and they begin to stagnate. Career stagnation is risky because some significant change requiring a decisive response is inevitable; company takeover, management change, market shift, new company direction, financial pressures, redundancy.

People may talk up their long industry experience, loyalty and work ethic but if they're oblivious to what's happening in their market or their profession, unable to benchmark themselves, can't talk about career direction, professional development and their networks, how can they make good decisions about their next role? The exceptions might be if they're extremely valued in a specialised market or prepared to trade company secrets (boo!) or junior and relatively cheap.

The best way to position yourself for your career’s future is to own all aspects of your career management. No one can nurture it with as much thoughtfulness and attention as you, and you're up for the responsibility to get your career on track.

I'll finish with my current favourite aphorism - it may have come from my dentist, but probably not:

You don't need to floss all your teeth; just the teeth you want to keep.

Additional Reading

8 habits of people with amazing determination and willpower