This guy worked construction and every day he and his buddies would sit in a group and eat lunch together. He’d open his lunch and complain, “Argh! Tuna salad. I hate tuna. Want to trade with me?” Of course, with that ringing endorsement no one wanted to trade. He’d grumble and eat the sandwich. Next day, he’d open his lunch again. “Geez! Tuna salad AGAIN! I can’t stand tuna. Does anyone else want my tuna?”
This went on for a while until his manager pulled him over one day. “Bill, you’re making everyone uncomfortable with your constant complaints and grumbling about lunch. If you hate tuna so much, just ask your wife to make you something different.”
“Wife?” Bill said, “I don’t have a wife. I pack my own lunch.”
Are you making your own tuna sandwich at work?
While your company’s culture and your manager each play a large part in your career satisfaction, you hold tremendous power to drive your own engagement. Every day that you make one of these common career complaints, you give that power away:
“It’s hard to grow here, everyone is stuck in a rut and no one is open to my new ideas.”
Really? Who are you approaching? A diverse group or just your inner circle?
How are you expressing those ideas? Are you making a casual mention in meetings or hallway conversations, or are you writing a business case and sending it to someone with influence?
Have you probed into why people think it won’t work? What challenges are they seeing that you haven’t talked about how to overcome yet? What benefits would outweigh the risks?
“My manager sucks.”
Okay. What behavior is the most challenging for you to deal with? How does his/her personality type offer insights into how s/he normally behaves? How can you react differently and change the dynamics of your relationship?
Most importantly, once you get some answers to these questions – have you talked openly and respectfully with your manager about changing how you relate? She might not know she’s the boss people hate.
If you’ve tried it all, who else can you get feedback from in addition to your manager? A mentor, a peer to your manager, someone on your work team? Build your own professional network of people who can and will give you regular feedback to help you develop.
“I’m bored with my work.”
Great! Let’s figure out ways to increase your challenge or your skills in the activities you most enjoy (everyone has something they like to do in their job, no matter how small a part it is). What are those activities?
What can you volunteer to do that will bring it to a different/higher audience? How can you get even better at the activity? What can you do outside your organization that will allow you to build a broader reputation in that domain?
Stop making your own tuna sandwich
In the end, you are responsible for your own career satisfaction. You can’t have it without taking action and taking risks. It takes self-knowledge, courage and an attitude of entrepreneurship to build a great career.
What’s your version of the tuna sandwich? What will you commit to making instead?