Career And Leadership Skills

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How to Take Back Control of Your Career

Man Stretching Arms at Work

“But nothing will change,” he told the group.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up.

How could he think that?

It’s like he’s throwing in the white flag and wants to be miserable until he leaves his job.

I didn’t understand.

How could anyone feel so powerless?

Then I thought back to my own career and I felt the same way. It’s why I started Work Happy Now. I wanted to take back my career. I wanted control.

How soon I forget.

The problem is control is all perception. If we feel like we have no control then there is no point in trying. We can just give up and try to stop caring, but the reality is that this is just an excuse. An excuse to coast.

I then went on a rant to the group.

No one should ever feel powerless. Ever!

When you do you stop trying to make things better for yourself and other people, you stop growing. It’s this growth that helps you see progress professionally and personally.

If you are feeling powerless at work then try these ideas.

Believe change is possible

You can’t go into work believing nothing will change if you do then you’ll experience stress like never before. If you can accept that then you are also accepting that you are shortening your life expectancy as well. Then by all means stop reading this article and give up all hope.

I’m writing this article for people who refuse to give up because they believe they can help affect change at work and in their own lives.

The most important aspect of believing that change is possible is that you’ll understand the only thing to do is take action. There is a study in 2002 with 3,000 people that gives insight into this feeling. It showed that people who felt like they were in control of their careers had lower levels of stress, work-family conflict, and job turnover. They also showed that when we stop believing our actions matter we stop taking action.

You need to take action to make improvements at work. Even if that action is to bring in cookies for everyone on your team to show them that you appreciate them. The idea is to start small and build up your confidence. Once you get your mindset back on track that’s when you can take big action to make a big improvements in your career.

Let’s look at some ways you can take back control of your career.

1. Give people a lift

The best way to stop feeling helpless is to help someone else because if you are feeling helpless so are they. This works on several levels.

When you lift someone else’s spirits you are not only making yourself happier you are also making the person you help happier, which also has a ripple effect. This will ripple out into the people they come in contact with.

You can do something as simple as bringing a coworker a chocolate bar or writing then a thank you note. It doesn’t take some elaborate gift to make them happy. Usually showing recognition for someone’s hard work is the most appreciated thing you can do for someone at work.

When you lift other people’s mood you lift your own and help bring back energy to start growing your career again.

2. Take smart breaks

I made a lot of mistakes in my past by ignoring my stress level indicators. I kept powering through, making my muscles more tense.

I went to the doctor because I was having dizzy spells. It was due to increased muscle tension in my neck. Popping Advil wasn’t my best option, so I started by taking more time to monitor the tension in my body.

When I ask people in a Work Happy Now workshop to take a deep breath in they usually breath into their chest.

Chest breathing activates your fight or flight response. Belly breathing is when you are in a relaxed state.

Its when I did a lot of internal complaining that I felt drained at the end of the day. By taking a smart break you’ll be more aware of how you are feeling and how to adjust so you are more relaxed and making better decisions. It all starts with your breath then the next step is bringing more gratitude into your life at work.

When I brought gratitude to a situation I began to bring a more of a positive and resilient attitude to work. It’s this attitude that has helped me feel more relaxed even during a stressful meeting.

At the end of a day try listing 3 things that you are grateful for in a journal.

Here is a sample from last year:

  • I’m lucky to work with so many great people. There are a few wankers, but most are caring and supportive.
  • I’m grateful that I had a nice lunch with my coworkers.
  • I like that my new project is forcing me to improve my research skills.

Give it a try and see how much it helps boost your mood.

3. Rely on your network at work

When you are feeling like your career is falling apart you can go off and hide or you can lean on your fellow coworkers.

The people in the financial industry who leaned on each other after the market crash were able to weather the storm while people who hid from their peers struggled with depression and getting back on track.

You have a network at work that can help you when you are struggling. Utilize their help as much as you can and you’ll be surprised by how much it reduces your stress and helps you get your career back on track.

After stressful meetings are over or whatever stressful event I was in at work I try to talk it through with a coworker.

This simple act of talking about a shared experience helps process the event.

Too many people retreat after a stressful event. They want to hide and try to process everything. When they do this the negative emotions usually take over and this can cause more harm to you than good.

So next time you feel overwhelmed try talking it through with a coworker. Remember to focus on being grateful and not feeding each other negative feelings, bringing both of you down. Using the time to learn from the challenging experience and grow from it will help both of you.

It can be as simple as asking a co-worker to lunch or setting up a short meeting to discuss possible solutions. Whatever you do just remember that they have had similar feelings and can help you feel supported.

It’s these relationships that you build now that can also help you find a new career when you are ready to make the leap.

4. Build your skills

You have an opportunity to get paid to learn. That’s an very important aspect of a career. It’s one I forget to utilize on a regular basis.

I forget because it can feel uncomfortable. I hate to fail at things and it’s held me back from growing. It’s challenging to learn new skills and apply them at work.

A lot of people don’t like change. If you can be more accepting of it and take on new challenges it will help build your resume and make you more valuable at work.

I’ve been able to improve my writing because of this blog. It forced me to focus on writing with clarity and earn people’s attention. Without this skill my career wouldn’t be half as successful without this daily practice.

You can build skills like this at work or in your own. I suggest using both to help you expand out your skill set.

Expanding your skills will help whether you quit or get fired from a job. You’ll be more valuable at work and you’ll be adding skills to make resume stand out.

5. Quit your job

This last option is one I would not suggest unless you have a back up plan. A new job lined up or starting your own business. I was let go at my job in 2011. I had built up a lot of presentation skills at work and website optimization on my own, so I decided to start my own business. A recruiter found me on LinkedIn and this now have a contract with a large fortune 500 company to help them with their user experience on their website and app.

I give Work Happy Now workshops around the country and I consult with companies on their websites. It’s been a very interesting career that I enjoy every single day.

I was preparing myself for my next career adventure, so when I was let go I was already off and running.

You can do the same right now, so when you are ready for your next career move you have skills that make you valuable to other businesses.

Sometimes just the idea of quitting and looking for another job can help give you a more positive perspective. When you see what other jobs are out there you might realize that your job isn’t so bad. You might find pieces of joy in your present job that weren’t there until you thought about leaving.

It’s important to know what options you have to find a better career. The truth is you might be bored and need a new challenge. You just need to be prepared.

An often overlooked positive of leaving your career if you left your job is that it could open the door to bring someone in that would be more fulfilled by your role at work. It’s a win for you because you can find more challenging work and a win for your company because they find someone who is excited by the challenge.


That’s the beauty of leaving your job when you are ready. You grow your career and open a spot for someone to come in and infuse some fresh energy into the company.

Your Turn

These are just a few ideas to take back control of your career. I love hearing about other ways that you’ve grown your career.

How have you turned around your career when you were struggling with it?

Team Building Game – Guess How Many Jelly Beans

jelly beans team building

jelly beans team building

I worked for a company that never had any team building events. When 5pm struck, everyone went home. It was the culture. No fun and no games.

I worked for another company and they loved team building events. We would go to TopGolf, which is a place that has gamified practicing your drives. We went bowling. We would go out to eat once a quarter as a team. It was great. The culture was much more close knit and people would stay later to finish up their work.

It was an interesting dichotomy between both places.

I would suggest building in team building into your culture if you want to encourage people to get to know each other, build trust, be happier at work, and go the extra mile. If you go the extra mile as a company your employees will go the extra mile for you.

Jelly Beans Team Building Game

Start by gathering everyone in the room. Unveil the game and the rules.

Each employee gets to guess how many jelly beans are in the jar. This is just like any other Jelly Bean game, but it’s what you do after that builds a stronger team culture.

Here is what you can do to tie everything back into not only having more fun, but encouraging people to talk with each other. Hopefully improving communication within the company.

So, the first guess is paid by the company. It costs $1 to guess.

Every guess after the first guess the employee should pay out of his/her own pocket. Create a simple shared spreadsheet that will allow the team leader to document each guess. If you want to make sure there is no cheating, you can have team leader put number of jelly beans in envelope, seal it and only open it after the deadline for guesses has passed.

The prize can be a $50 giftcard to a local restaurant of their choice.

There will also be a charity tied to the game. The team will pick 3 approved charities and the winner of the jelly beans guessing game will pick one of the approved charities.

The prize and the charity donation is the incentive for employee to participate. The charity donation is to create goodwill around the team.

You can run this game for a month. I would send out a message once a week and a link to the spreadsheet with everyone guesses. This will get people looking at who is guessing what and start to bid around other people’s guesses. The idea is to get as many people involved as you can so it becomes a talking point around the office.

The final step is to have a celebration around the game. Gather everyone in a room and announce the winner. This step is key because you want to encourage people to talk and share the experience. It’s this part of the game that will do the most good to building a stronger team culture.

Virtual Version (Companies where the employees work from home)

Set-up a jelly been jar and take a picture of it and send to everyone. Run the contest very much the same. You can create a PayPal account or another online account to collect money from each person. You can also collect money before you announce winner. The main difference is everyone will gather on an online video conference call to announce the winner and have the winner pick the charity.


If you would prefer not to collect money, especially if you are a virtual team, you can create jelly bean jar and keep track of guesses. Limit one guess per day per employee. Then the winning employee gets a free lunch.

Review Questions:

  1. How did people respond to the game? (Did they like the game? Did they participate?)
  2. What could be improved about the game when you run it again?
  3. Do you think it helped the team build stronger relationships?
  4. What were the benefits that you noticed to running this game?

If you want a leg up on your competition then here is a cool article for guessing how many jelly beans on are in jar.

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