Are You Really in Charge of Your Career?

For a healthier and happier career, know what aspects of your career are within your control and which aren’t.

Published on May. 01, 2024
Are You Really in Charge of Your Career?
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Many professionals unwittingly surrender significant career decisions to their employers, underestimating the extent of control they possess. If you are like many, you probably have more control than you think over some aspects of your career and less than you realize over others.

5 Things You Control About Your Career

  1. How you use your talent
  2. Your work ethic
  3. Your goals and ambitions
  4. Your professional brand
  5. Your network

Let’s take promotions, for example. You might think you are in control there, given that you do the work to advance your career, but your employer decides who is promoted and who is not. And you may write part of your performance appraisal, but your boss gets the final say.

For career fulfillment, it’s crucial to discern between what you control and what you don’t control so you can spend more time engaging with what you do control. 

Understanding what is and isn’t under your control will also enable you to guide your career journey toward your professional goals. It can also help you have greater work-life harmony, more motivation, less work-related stress and a greater sense of purpose.   

More for Your CareerHow to Become the Best Candidate for a Promotion


What Your Employer Controls

Understanding the dynamics between your control and your employer’s control is essential for effectively handling your career.  Let’s start with the aspects of your career that are out of your control.

Job Design and Tasks

Employers craft job roles to advance the organization’s overarching goals. Your daily responsibilities, tasks and projects are aligned to help the company meet these strategic objectives. In other words, your employer owns the work. True autonomy in task selection probably means you are self employed or the one in charge of setting the strategic direction. What you are asked to do is not within your control. 

Development Opportunities

Employee training, development, rotational assignments and the like are viewed by many as professionally desirable. Desirable doesn’t mean that they are within your control. Please remember that when employers offer development opportunities, they are enhancing employee skills where they will benefit organizational success the most. If the development opportunities are aligned with your desired career journey, this is a win-win.


Who isn’t flattered by being offered a promotion? It is seductive to be chosen over others. Keep in mind that, while promotions are rewarding and affirm your hard work, they are primarily driven by the company's strategic needs and perceptions of who can best meet them. Be flattered but decline opportunities that do not move you along your desired career journey.

Performance Evaluations

We don’t know anyone who likes performance assessments, a report card of what you have done over the year. Keep in mind that even when you find your work satisfying, your assessments measure your contributions against the company’s strategic objectives. The company is not in business to assess your happiness. Because performance evaluations can affect your promotions and compensation, you’ll want to be sure your professional goals and employer’s goals are aligned.

Corporate Culture

The workplace culture is set by your employer, varying from highly supportive to fiercely competitive. When considering a job offer, evaluate the company's values, particularly those of your direct team, as they will have a significant influence on your work life, not the other way around.  Unless you are a solopreneur, it is not likely that you will personally alter the organizational culture. It is your employer’s house. They make the rules.

More career adviceHere’s How a Personal Board of Advisors Can Help Your Career

What You Control

Your career is a substantial part of your life; manage it with intention and respect. If you think you don’t have control, think again. You control all of these aspects of your career.

Self-Awareness and Use of Your Talents

Your unique talents and competencies are yours alone. Recognizing and valuing these attributes is the first step in using them to forge a career path that truly reflects your strengths. Self-initiated learning and skill acquisition enhance your independence and career mobility. You never need to wait for your employer to give you an opportunity to build a skill you need for your career journey. Own your own development.

Work Ethic and Ambition

Your dedication and effort are yours to command. How you allocate your time and resources reflects your priorities and drives your professional success. If you find yourself in a situation where you are unmotivated, we encourage you to change roles to find an employer that ignites your enthusiasm.

Your Professional Network

Building and maintaining a professional network is entirely within your control. Effective networking can unlock new opportunities and provide essential industry insights that are not accessible through your immediate work environment. You never know who might open the door for your next career act. If your professional network is all within your employer, then you have relinquished control. 

Your Professional Brand

The way you present yourself in the professional world shapes your career narrative. A strong personal brand, cultivated through platforms like LinkedIn, speaking engagements and publications, can open doors to opportunities beyond what your employer can offer. Be certain your brand maintains the values of highest ethical standards, dedication and excellence.

Your Career Choices

Every day, you choose to stay with your current employer or seek new opportunities. You have the power to make proactive decisions about your career transitions, ensuring they align with your long-term goals and values. You own your career journey every step of the way.

Understanding the dynamics between your control and your employer’s influence is essential for effectively managing your career. Stay aware of who holds power over various aspects of your professional life and use this knowledge to make informed choices that align with your personal aspirations.

Your career is a substantial part of your life. Approach it with intention and respect. Every decision, from staying in a job to exploring new opportunities, should be guided by a clear understanding of your personal priorities and professional goals within the context set by your employer. By maintaining this balance, you will not only navigate your career more effectively but also tailor it into a journey that is uniquely yours.

While your employer may hold some of the cards, you are the one playing the game. Play it wisely, make strategic moves, and truly live for a living.

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