Article by Barbara Reinhold
Stubborn images of crumbling twin towers, the ever-proliferating anthrax scare and the highest unemployment figures in 21 years certainly have not been generating much optimism about careers. In fact, these realities are prompting many to ask: "Isn't this a good time to put up with the job I have and settle in for a long cold winter?" Not necessarily.
This might be just the time to consider starting something of your own, either on the side or full-time. A clear lesson from September 11 and beyond is that life is way too fragile to toil at something you hate or that keeps you in a state of ongoing dissatisfaction. Stress is the number one health problem for working adults, according to the American Institute of Stress. And what is the primary stressor? Feeling that things are out of your control.
The economy is going to do what it's going to do, and your organization is going to continue on its merry way -- either being a good place to work or an uncertain and irrational one. Platoons of organizational development consultants are making house calls to organizations that have become toxic for the people who work for them. But unless you want to join them, it's not really going to have much effect on you.
All that matters is the attitude you take to work each day. What can you do to have a greater feeling of controlling your work? Here are three courses of action you can take:
This can include everything from getting your schedule changed so you can avoid rush hour traffic, to working out a deal with your manager to trade off the tasks that don't match your strengths for a great new project that does. Harvard Business School career directors, James Waldroop and Timothy Butler, assert that all of us have, "deeply imbedded life interests." Managers, they assert, are charged with helping their direct reports figure out how to include the things they really enjoy doing in their daily or weekly tasks. Collaborating with your boss to make this happen for you could give you some of the control you're seeking.
For some, new tasks won't be enough. Beginning your own paid or unpaid side project might help you take your mind (and feelings) off what's going on around you. Here's a tiny sampling of things others have made work for them: writing, painting, dog walking, at-home medical claims processing, practicing Reiki, clowning, computer coaching, car detailing and memoir preparation.
If you have three to six months' basic living expenses in the bank and access to loans or help from others for start-up costs (anything from $25 to $25,000 for most ventures), then the best thing you can do for yourself might be to strike out on your own. Sure, the economy is uncertain right now, but if you look at many companies, you have a better chance of being in charge of your own fate by leaving rather than by staying, as long as you have the stomach for a somewhat rocky ride. At least you'll be in the driver's seat.
Research is clear: The way to drive creatures crazy -- from laboratory mice to executives and everything in between -- is to give them tasks without control over the results and no way to prepare for what might happen to them. That's why it's so critical to take back some control over your life. Traditionally, more than 50 percent of small businesses fail. But when new ventures are carefully incubated, more than 85 percent survive. There's no reason why careful attention to planning and strategy couldn't get similar results for you.
Don't wait another minute to start thinking about how much control you have over what happens for you in your work. If the answer you get isn't, "plenty," then you need to make a move. Perhaps you just need to fine-tune what you're already doing, maybe you need something on the side to keep you feeling in charge, or maybe you need to go all the way. It's up to you. The only thing you shouldn't do is nothing.