I attended a talk some time ago by Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson who recently published a book called The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives. The authors, a clinical neuropsychologist and a motivational coach/test-taking company CEO, both agreed that there are ways to reduce anxiety, depression, isolation, and lack of motivation in today’s children. I thought about that tagline, “Giving your kids more control over their lives.” Then I thought, “Doesn’t everyone want more control?”
Throughout our lives, we struggle to be independent and self-directed. When a baby learns those first words, “No!” the baby is looking for autonomy. As we do battle with our teenagers over technology use or homework, they are trying to command their own way of doing things. Later in life, we fight to keep our driver’s license even after it’s unsafe for us or others, but losing that right curtails our freedom. This can be a huge blow that some people don’t recover from, that loss of independence. The ideas about control and being self-directed can also be applied in the workforce and when it comes to managing your career.
There are critical moments in the development of our brain, according to Bill Stixrud and Ned Johnson. We as parents can help our children develop into healthy “self-driven” people, by not hovering, rescuing, or solving all our children’s challenges. If we can give them the tools to take “more control over their lives” they can become healthier human beings throughout their lives. If we translate the parent-child role to the workplace, we can also see how this plays out in a manager-subordinate role. We are faced with several challenges in the workplace with multiple generations who have different styles trying to work together. If we teach our children to make healthy choices that give them back their sense of control early on in life, then later on they will be more successful in the workplace. With more confidence, an individual can be more self-directed and this results in greater success throughout the life cycle.
Raising self-motivated children and building a more motivated workforce, are just two aspects of a healthier society or economy. In the arc of our working life, we can learn to be more proactive with managing our careers too. We aren’t all going to be entrepreneurs or the CEO, but we can be proactive or be our own advocates in the workplace. Again, these are skills we need to teach our children while they are young or as they grow up, so they can be healthier members of society. What this looks like in the workplace could take several forms.
When you start your first job, you are often just thrilled to have a paycheck. If you’re more focused, maybe you land a role at your target company or doing exactly what you wanted to do. Regardless, what your title is, what you do on the job is key. Plus, you can influence your career pathway. Here are several important tasks to do as you get oriented to a new job and beyond.
- Learn the corporate culture and the spoken and unspoken rules of the organization.
- Build clear communication with your immediate supervisor and don’t forget your peers.
- Master your tasks and gain new skills that will allow you to progress within your firm.
- Find a mentor in the firm or outside the firm, someone who can give you sage advice or perspective on any given situation.
- Identify what you need to do to progress as a professional, and set goals to achieve these skills, experiences, or abilities.
- Learn how to self advocate for yourself and the organization promoting change, growth, or new ways to do things.
- Notice a way you can positively impact the organization, pitch your idea!
All of these tasks allow one to take back control and have a say in your own future. It feels better to have control of all ages when we are a kid, a young adult, middle-aged, and aging. How do we retain it in the workplace professionally?
In Teddy Roosevelt’s stirring speech, about the lazy critics in our lives, he said,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…”
Like Stixrud and Johnson, Roosevelt felt strongly that by acting or participating we are already taking back our control. If we silence the critics who are not in the arena with us and focus on the experience of being there, then we are already ahead of the game. How this plays out for each person can vary, but it is clear that by regaining our control we lessen our anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, or sense of isolation. As we replace these destructive feelings, we now have room for confidence, positive energy, possibilities, connection, and the ability to map our own future. We can’t all be in charge of the company, but we can be in charge of our own lives.