When people talk about wanting to work for themselves, the first thing that comes to mind is opening their own business. That’s the dream for many who see it as the only way to be their own boss. But that’s not necessarily the case. Anyone can be their own boss, even if their dream is to continue working for a large or medium-sized company. That’s because it’s not about the job. It’s about how they manage the bigger part: their career — and that should always be up to them.
The problem is that most people feel they don’t have the time to become the manager of their own career. You have probably felt this too: The job you currently have likely takes all your time and energy, especially if there’s a commute involved, along with meetings and interruptions — all of which mean any remaining energy you left after work must be given over to returning emails. It’s exhausting.
But the world has changed a great deal in the past few years. Even prior to Covid, the potential people have for overseeing their own career story has never been greater. All that’s required is a little bit of time to invest in the art of managing the “business” that is you.
Here are five actions you should start doing — and continue to do regularly — to help you really work for yourself.
1. Know what else is out there.
This is a crucial first step. If you’re too busy to know what other opportunities are out there, it’s easy to get trapped in your current job for longer that you want. Read and research about what else is going on in your current line of business, or even in related industries. Smart companies like to hire people with diverse backgrounds and knowledge since it adds more skills and fresh ideas to their culture. Don’t wait to find out what else is available until you’re ready to quit your current job. You’ll have greater bargaining strength when you know you can actually walk away from the table.
2. Build and maintain your network.
Opportunities most often come from referrals, and most great business success stories always include an element of “it’s who you know.” Your greatest network tool is still LinkedIn — a platform that works best when used regularly. Simple things like congratulating people in your network on their recent achievements, posts, or birthdays will keep a person’s memory of you alive, while simultaneously exposing you to others who are commenting — some of whom might become new acquaintances and referral sources as well. A well-maintained professional network is your greatest career safety net.
3. Learn something new every day.
You can learn new information about the industry you work in by using Twitter the way it was intended to be used. Follow thought leaders, journalists, and even your company’s competitors to see any new trends, innovations and developments in your marketplace. Social media gets a bad reputation for having offensive or incorrect data, but hidden behind that are genuine, reputable experts with important ideas and links to articles that you need to read. Daily learning about industry-related news will enhance your value within your current company’s marketplace as well as give you a heads-up on the types of problems other potential employers currently have — problems you might be able to solve.
4. Establish a “managing” up relationship with your boss.
Just because you work for a manager doesn’t mean that person gets to do all the managing. The best professional relationships are based on a symbiotic arrangement in which an employee feeds a manager the information they need, and also asks for information that a manager may otherwise forget to share. This contributes to a productive and trusting relationship. This is a far more productive and enjoyable alternative to the command-and-control dynamic that most managers and employees expect.
5. Get to know the new normal.
The new normal is here to stay, and it’s not a return to old normality. It includes options to work from home, replacing meetings with asynchronous conversations, ditching the 9-to-5 structure for an anytime, anyhow approach. Generally, it personalizes the work environment in ways never done before that actually improve productivity as well as life balance. You have the opportunity now to devise a working plan that fits your ideal life scenario, and then introduce it to your employer.
You may love where you currently work, and that’s great if you do. But the time has come to flip the dynamic. Your job is just part of your overall career plan, which belongs only to you. These five techniques can dovetail with technology and with your awareness of the new normal to guide your career story as you see fit. Wherever and however you choose to work, you can be your own boss.
Steve Prentice is an expert in the relationship between humans and technology in the workplace. He is the author of books on time management and career management. His new book is “The Future of Workplace Fear: How Human Reflex Stands in the Way of Digital Transformation“. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Education and Digital Technology.