How to take control of your pathway
Alison Rood
How to take control of your pathway

How to take control of your own career path

21st Feb 2019
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Maintaining relevant skills in a time of digital revolution is crucially important and having a responsible job can leave you feeling overwhelmed. To be an effective colleague and leader you must prioritise your own continuous professional development.

In our roles, we are often placed in situations that require us to give more of ourselves than might normally be appropriate. This can be experienced in all areas of business but is particularly true for those working on projects.

When a project has fixed deliverables and deadlines, teams are often left having to work additional hours to get results on time, within budget and at the quality defined at project launch.

Learning to put ourselves first is necessary, if only for self-preservation.

This can leave project team members prioritising their careers over their personal lives, where a job is often seen as the means by which to fund our personal life. We’ve all heard (and ignored) the phrase ‘work to live, don’t live to work’.

It goes without saying that learning to put ourselves first is necessary, if only for self-preservation. Individually, and as organisations, we often overlook the benefits to our careers and businesses that putting ourselves first can bring. This is not always attained as you might think, and goes beyond lunchtime yoga and a jog once a week (although both are beneficial).

It was Arianna Huffington who offered her perspective on self-care in her book Thrive:

“If you've flown recently... you'll remember that you should always put on your own oxygen mask first before helping anyone else with theirs. The logic being that if you can't breathe, you won't be able to assist others, and no one will survive… a fitting metaphor for less morbid circumstances, and for life in general: Take care of yourself before trying to take care of anyone or anything else.”

Applying your oxygen mask

Put on your oxygen mask first

The simplest way you can put yourself first is to understand what actions you can take regularly - be that daily, weekly, or monthly – that have a positive impact on your health both physically and mentally.

One way you can achieve this is by identifying key ‘habits’, then tracking your achievements against them. This process should help to identify the core necessities, such as the amount of sleep you need, and therefore what time you should go to bed, the food you should eat, how much water you should drink, and the amount of exercise you should take. These are things we all know but often fail to do.

Providing yourself a creative outlet, now more important than ever.

Beyond these core necessities are additional actions you can take that improve your physical and mental health, such as regularly connecting with family and friends.

Providing yourself a creative outlet, now more important than ever, as creativity is one of the required key skills industry research has identifed to survive in a digital age, specifically in the digital arena. 

Top 10 skills

Once you’ve identified these core areas you should begin tracking them, with the goal of delivering them regularly enough that the unconscious brain accepts them as habits.

Make these processes for which the unconscious takes responsibility and holds you accountable for delivery. Psychologists and self-help gurus alike agree it usually takes most people 21 days to form a habit. 

Understanding the route

The concept of your locus of control works as well in your personal life as it does in your professional life and can bridge the gap between the two. The aim of the locus of control is to reduce your stress by accepting responsibility only for those things within your control.

When facing a challenging situation, in any area of your life, seek to identify the actions, behaviours and thoughts for which you have control. One key learning for you, and everyone who develops this skill, is ultimately you only have control over you and your response.

The aim of the locus of control is to reduce your stress by accepting responsibility only for those things within your control.

Once you’ve identified what you have control over, seek to make changes to impact your overall control of the situation. Let go of anything outside your control and move forward.

Locus of Control

Source: Dunwoody Es Counselling:

The role of project management has changed significantly in the digital age, and this has also greatly altered the parameters which fall within your locus of control.

Things that are outside your control are essentially other people. There is no point in trying to change other people’s behaviour; instead, concentrate on what you can directly change, for example your words and actions. 

Piloting the plane

If you are a project manager, you have the ability to influence team members by your words and actions. To be one step ahead and be respected by the team around you, you will continually need to upskill. 

According to a recent study, some of the top 20 must-have skills for a DPM in 2018 include: copy/content writing and editing, HTML/CSS, information architecture, knowledge of content management systems, SEO and having a positive outlook. 

Each person, regardless of their career, is responsible for improving their career capabilities; this is often referred to as CPD (continued professional development) and is often misunderstood as something which an organisation is solely responsible for.

Our focus needs to shift to gain a deeper understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, first in relation to our current role, and then in alignment with the next role we are seeking to work towards. Focus on playing to your strengths whilst you move to develop your weak areas, particularly if these will form an assessment of your ability to do your current or future roles.

Each person, regardless of their career, is responsible for improving their career capabilities.

Develop a CPD plan that identifies what actions you can take in order to satisfy your development needs. Commit to these actions and document the results. By logging this you’re holding yourself accountable, celebrating your success and offering evidence for any performance reviews or interviews.

By focusing on your career and future proofing yourself for the transition into the digital age it will reduce your stress levels. Those who are individually leading the race are always less stressed than those who are running behind. It was Malcolm X who stated: “The future belongs to those who plan for it today.”

Your oxygen mask on first

By putting ourselves first, focusing on our personal wellbeing (that which is within our control) and the responsibility we have for creating our careers, we should not underestimate the positive impact this has on those around us.

Leading by example creates a team of those also focused on their personal and professional wellbeing and development, leading to an increase in performance (not at the cost of the individual’s life) but because of how they are choosing to live it.

Further resources

Daily vitality checklist:

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