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16 Ways to Reignite Your Career without Leaving Your Company

Do you feel stuck, burned out, in the dark about the big picture? Have nightmares about being trapped? Want to stretch a little, try something new, increase your marketability--without giving up your golden handcuffs. But, you think your company will never change its perceptions of who you are or what you can do?

If you are feeling stymied, should you assume your career is doomed unless you move to another organization? Not necessarily. While there may be firms whose culture and management are so rigid they can't adjust to new ideas, many companies welcome a little creativity and out-of-the-box logic. Before you decide to forego your juicy benefit package, implicit understanding of "the way things work around here," and the credibility you've developed with your colleagues over the years, give some of the following suggestions a try. You may be surprised at the results!

Make the Most of Your Current Position

  • When you've been in one position for a while, it's easy to fall into a comfortable complacency. To broaden your perspective and maximize your contribution, consider borrowing the philosophy of zero-based budgeting. Clear the decks, and take an objective look at everything you're doing. You'll undoubtedly find some of the processes you're using were developed by your  predecessor(s) to fit their personalities or the requirements of their time. If your methods or activities have outlived their usefulness, replace them with ones more in tune with today's needs. While the change may be a little painful, the results will be worth it.

  • Think of your career as a small business and your current job as your most recent consulting assignment. Where do you want your business to go from here? What are your one-to-three-year goals? Are you on the right track to reach them? Because the current corporate climate makes no guarantees for long-term, progressive employment, you must proactively pursue your chosen career path without assuming your employer will take care of you. If you think like an entrepreneur, you can avoid corporate co-dependency and take charge of your future.

  • If you have been wanting to learn a new skill or position, volunteer for a project within your department that will stretch your intellect, increase your knowledge and give you more visibility. Your manager and colleagues may be stereotyping you as someone who can only do XYZ. Working with them regularly on ABC may help them (and you?) perceive you as the flexible, innovative person you really are, while simultaneously offering you the opportunity to grow into a more authoritative role.

Build a Better Relationship with Your Management

  • Try to understand your manager's style, including his little neuroses and idiosyncrasies. Does he assume people who are five minutes late in the morning lack ambition? Even if you think that's ridiculous, get to work a bit early. Does she worry that employees who don't need her help are plotting to take her job? Make a point to check with her periodically, even if her opinion isn't critical to you.

  • You may think going the extra mile to humor your boss is taking valuable time you could be using more productively. But is it? Any successful careerist will tell you there are two keys to getting ahead: superior work and solid relationships. One without the other just won't get the job done.

  • Ask your manager for an informal performance appraisal at least once a quarter. Inquire about how he evaluates your work versus appraisal standards. Invite positive feedback and tips on how you might improve, highlight your successes and brainstorm a plan of action for new and ongoing projects.

  • Soliciting your manager's input will keep her informed about your progress and encourage her to invest in your future. It will also save you from embarrassing surprises during your performance appraisal.

  • Do everything politically expedient to build a relationship with your manager's boss because he has the real power in determining your promotions, raises, transfers, etc. Speak to him on a regular basis, even if it's small talk in the elevator. Send him copies of your attaboy letters from clients or colleagues. Make sure he knows who deserves the credit for your ideas and reports. Use him as a mentor, if possible. Just don't leave your boss out of the loop in the process.

Build Bridges Outside Your Department

If you want to learn more about your company in general or eventually move beyond your current department, getting to know people in other parts of your organization can be very valuable. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Join a company-wide task force. In a time of rampant reorganization and re-engineering, there are typically many opportunities to serve as a department's representative for the latest information systems revamp or diversity initiative. If your manager suggests you for the role, take it. If she doesn't, volunteer. Working with professionals you wouldn't ordinarily meet can open your eyes to the big picture and put you in the running for jobs you have never considered (or been considered for).

    If you are anxious to move to a new position, it's a lot easier to be pulled from your department than push your way out of it. Fellow task force members can remove you

    from your dead-end assignment and put you into a much more exciting arena--but they have to know you first.

  • Get involved in an extracurricular activity sponsored by your company. Lots of organizations have sports teams, annual picnic committees or volunteer groups who work together for fun, contacts and the welfare of their coworkers or community. These company-sanctioned groups can give you the opportunity to meet some fine people, learn new skills and make a satisfying contribution.

  • Sign up for an in-house training program. You'll learn something useful and be a participant with fellow professionals from many departments.

  • If there are no obvious company conduits for developing relationships with colleagues you wouldn't ordinarily meet, seize the initiative to invite some to breakfast or lunch. Ask your manager and coworkers whom they know in other departments. Find out if you can use them as references to introduce yourself. Then, set up a regular schedule for one networking breakfast or lunch per week. It won't take long to get a much more comprehensive picture of your company and make acquaintances who may become lasting friends or eventual coworkers.

Stretch Your Contacts and Knowledge Beyond Company Confines

  • Join a professional organization that represents people in your career or industry. Sign up for a committee, or volunteer to be a greeter. Attend regional and national conventions. Move up through the ranks, if you are so inclined. Trade groups can be a great source of contacts and information about your chosen field, and they offer the opportunity to build skills quickly that might take much longer in your corporation.

  • Register for some classes or an advanced degree. The state-of-the-art in many professions is evolving at break-neck speed. Staying current will help you sharpen your intellect, give you new contacts and increase your marketability both inside and outside your company.

  • Join a generic networking organization such as Exec-U-Net, which attracts individuals from a variety of fields. If you attend meetings regularly, you may be pleasantly surprised at your expanding understanding of global economics and the interest other participants have in your perspective.

Take Care of Yourself

Workaholics generally lead unhealthy lifestyles because they focus too much on their careers. When they neglect their friends and family and forget how to have fun, they relegate themselves to a rigid, one-dimensional existence. If you feel yourself becoming a poster boy for The Puritan Ethic, try:

  • Spending more time with people you love. Schedule them into your week just as you would any worthwhile business activity. Don't change your plans because a client wants you to "save the day." When you are seventy and looking back on your life, you'll regret missing your daughter's All Star game a lot more than refusing to play White Knight for a customer or manager.

  • Make a point to devote some energy to a favorite hobby, sport or volunteer activity. Being committed to a mission beyond your job gives you a healthier perspective and exercises some "mind muscles" you're probably neglecting at work.

  • Workout, eat right and cut yourself some slack.

According to the famous Broadway character Auntie Mame, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death." If her message hits painfully close to home, it's not too late to take your seat at the table.

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