Many years ago, Mike the Mentor as he is still known, told me that if a frog (let’s call him Frank) is placed in a saucepan of hot water it will leap out of it; which seemed very sensible to me. However, if the frog was placed in cold water and the water is slowly brought up to  the boil, the frog would stay put in the saucepan, unaware that it was ultimately being cooked from within and dying. I obviously doubted that the story was true, but it didn’t matter. The metaphor really resonated and made me think about myself and my career direction; was I playing small or being too comfortable in a job or company and in danger of being cooked from within?   That night I got home and re wrote my CV.  I realised I was a frog, sitting in a saucepan of warm water and I had to leap, whilst there was still time. 

How many of us at some time or another, ever feel “stuck” working in the wrong job and/or at the wrong company?  Surveys repeatedly show that more than half of all workers do feel they are either in the wrong job or company. Often people never do anything more than complain about it. Often they fail to think about what they really like to do or what are their talents and are they being used? What do they really dislike? How do they work best? What are their patterns of success – are they motivated to work on complex projects where there are challenging goals and instead find themselves doing routine work, in a job that can suck the life out of them? We can get used to the gradually warming waters in the saucepan and a sense of numbness.  We can get comfortable for all sorts of reasons – maybe the job is close to home or we like the people we work with. So, how often do you do a self-assessment of your needs, values and work performance; an MOT like a car?  

We often forget to give our career direction as much attention as we give to all the business projects we work on. Even though our lives seem to be in constant motion, very little of that motion actually moves us forward in our career.  So what are the things we can do to keep making real progress and seize career opportunities?

  1. Build and keep a strong network of contacts inside and outside your company. Many people tell me that they don’t have the time to do this. But most networking events are full of people who have busy schedules. They make a choice. Your network can help in many ways, such as sharing ideas, hearing best practices or identifying job opportunities. If we only talk with the same people week after week, the advice and challenge we receive is limited. Networking can expand your knowledge base and resources.
  2. Keep Developing.  There are lots of free e-learning resources or workshops or monthly association meetings (often free) to keep abreast of trends affecting your job or industry or to develop new skills. This new knowledge and insight may help you get that next promotion or be the reason why another organization offers you a better opportunity. Think about these 2 questions – What new skills have you developed in the last six months?  What have you done to expand the scope of your job duties?
  3. “We are what we think” – Buddha. This can get us into trouble. I read that the average mind has about 60,000 thoughts a day and most of us believe about 99 percent of what we think. We cling to beliefs that may no longer serve us. Being told at the age of 13 that I couldn’t paint meant that it was another 25 years before I picked up a paintbrush. I recently exhibited a painting and finally shook off this belief! What a waste of time? What thoughts are holding you and your career back?
  4. Self-promotion. You may be a star, but who knows about your talents and achievements?  A key part of managing your career is letting people know what you have done by marketing your talents and achievements.  So, how effectively does your CV tell your story? What would you say if you only had two minutes to convince someone to select you for an important assignment or job?

You own your own career direction. Before you accept your next job offer ask yourself “what impact will this position have on my long term goals? Will it strengthen my marketability or weaken it?”

Frank the frog is a story – but it is a story with a warning; it reminds us of the consequences if we fail to react or be aware of threats that arise gradually to our career, our self-esteem and our talents.  

Lastly, think about it: what would your life be like if you got paid to do what you do best and really enjoyed?! If you are already there, I would love to hear your story and your patterns of success.

Claire Dickson is a qualified Executive and Leadership Coach, who helps leaders reboot their leadership, performance and career approach.

Read more blogs from Claire: Playing Politics Authentically: The Paradox