Your Work History Doesn’t Speak for Itself

Posted on September 16, 2014. Filed under: Career Management, Consulting/Contracting, Job Market Trends, Job Promotion, Job Search Tips, Personal Branding, Work Issues |

toon282Here’s something we all wish were true. Believe me, as a small business owner, I definitely wish it were true! But a product (or service, which is really what your “work” is) does not and cannot sell itself.


Well, there are lots of reasons for this, but essentially, it all boils down to one thing:

People have short attention spans and really poor memories.

It’s always been true, but it’s especially true today with all the things that beg for our attention. Frankly, your boss, co-workers, industry cohorts, and even mentors are generally not storing away all those little details about you and your work history like they might make it seem so that someday in the future you will get the recognition (aka pay) you “deserve.”

And, really, you don’t want them to.

That’s right. You don’t want them to.

Because if they were, that would mean that your career, your future earnings, your family’s livelihood were in their hands (yikes!).

And you’re too valuable for that.

But let’s face it. We still wish it worked that way anyway.

It would just be nice to have our work history speak for itself.

But I learned really early on in my corporate career, and have been reinforced almost daily in my entrepreneurial one, that my career progression is mine and mine alone.

Sure, there have been many nice people along the way who have “noticed” and “appreciated” me…at least to a point. But I’ve discovered that my greatest accomplishments have come when I’ve learned how to be my own advocate and career strategist, not when I’ve relied on bosses or mentors or career credentials or my work achievements to “market” me or “notice” me or deem me “worthy.”

And I’ve found that when I do that, when I make that investment, suddenly there are a whole host of people more than  willing to “help” or “promote” or “work with” me.

But it was up to me to be the catalyst.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t subscribe to the “positive thinking” movement, at least not in the way that most people mean it. I don’t believe success comes or has come just because I think good thoughts. The good thoughts come out of a solid foundation and…preparation…preparation for the obstacles against me.

95% of people fear the obstacles that might come (so they hunker down and hope for the best). The other 5% expect them to come (so they prepare and have less fear).

And that difference means one group does its best to think “positively” and follow the “right formula” only to be surprised or stunned when the world isn’t all that welcoming. (You know, we’ve all been taught to believe that if we just work hard [and get good grades…and oh be nice!], someone will “notice” and we “will” be rewarded for it. It’s a nice idea when it works [as it sometimes does], but it catches us off guard when it doesn’t.) So this group went into the world of work expecting that if they held up their end of the deal, the powers that be would hold up theirs (life is an “if/then” proposition).

It’s why there are so many depressed positive thinkers out there. 

The other group has members all taught the same mantra (work hard/good grades = good job and nice house), but somehow they never quite bought into it as a guarantee. (Maybe they had entrepreneurial parents who taught them early that life doesn’t always work this way. Or they did believe it but were bit by it one too many times, and they finally got fed up with it.) Whatever the reason, instead of living in a state of stunned stagnation, they start doing what “positive thinking” is really all about, accepting life for what it is and not for what it ought to be and making preparations for it.

Now, I know what you might be thinking…this is all, so, negative! It’s such a poor attitude!

I mean, it’s not exactly the Disney World fantasy we would like it to be, is it?

Listen. Career progression and, more importantly, protection doesn’t come down to optimism versus pessimism. It isn’t about good attitude versus bad attitude.

It’s about having the right attitude:

The one that’s going to give you more freedom and more security than just hoping you get noticed someday and don’t get screwed by your next boss.

So, no, your work history isn’t speaking for itself.

It’s up to you to advocate for it, to position yourself strategically, and to expect/anticipate obstacles along the way. You have a lot more to be optimistic and positive about when you take that approach than when you are just “waiting and hoping,” chasing after this credential and that one, running yourself ragged to fit into the latest management mold, just praying someone up the ladder remembers all the great work you do and rewards you for it.

In my mind, that’s the most negative thinking you can have.


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