“Lily” hadn’t seen it coming. But she worked her way smack into it.
Career-halting, self-confidence wavering, extremely frustrating roadblock.
In Lily’s case, the roadblock had a name: “Ben,” a boss once enthusiastic about her work who seemed to have cooled on her.
And was now standing firmly in her way.
Recruited by her financial services company a year ago, Lily relocated to accept the job. Not only did she have years of solid industry experience, but she was becoming known publicly, serving on a number of boards, speaking at conferences and actively sharing her career story through mentoring programs.
The new job, at an established brand, provided the opportunity for more exposure.
It seemed a win-win.
Until it wasn’t.
“I am now being told I can’t do things that bring me happiness and joy and development.” Lily reports.
All of those external opportunities that connected her within her industry – the conferences and mentoring and appearances.
Despite meeting all her goals – those, at least, she felt Ben could clearly identify and articulate – Lily found her role downsized, limiting her exposure and stalling her progress. Her focus for the coming year, she was told, needs to be on “internal stuff.” Any external appearances would need to be reviewed and considered by her boss before being approved.
Without any additional information about where her focus should be or where she might have come up short in her first year, Lily is left with one takeaway.
“They just want me to stay in my lane.” she says. “My boss told me on more than one occasion he admires my tenacity. But I don’t think he likes it. He seems bothered by my ambition.”
She feels she’s being pulled back because she’s done too well. And, in doing so, made Ben fearful of his security on the team and needing to appease other long-standing members of the group. At the same time, she recognizes the company has the right to change employee roles and responsibilities.
“Am I just going to have to accept this for now?” she wonders. “If I stop doing this, will I lose the connections I’ve made?”
Lily now wonders what to do with this frustration, weighing her desire to be seen as a team-player and succeed in this particular role with her greater ambition.
When I ask Lily how she feels about all of the turmoil, the impact is clear.
Over the phone, she starts to cry. She admits she’s angry and sad at the same time, “still toggling” through the emotions which mirror the various stages of grief.
“I came to the realization that these were things that were really important to me. Not having this outlet, it’s a huge bummer. I feel like a part of me was taken away from me.”
So, what now?
Many of us will face a roadblock in our careers – someone or something that’s in our way that causes us to reverse course or find a different route.
In those circumstances, we have three choices. Let’s refer to Cal.
Cal is not a person, but an acronym.
Change. Accept. Leave.
Those are the choices. Which will you pick?
CHANGE THE SITUATION
What kind of changes might be possible to improve the situation, even in small ways?
For Lily, that means ways she might impact her relationship with her boss and how she interacts with him. She’s already had a series of conversations with Ben to convince him to rethink his decision.
“I said look, I can do this in a way that’s good exposure and branding for the company. I’m working to convince him it’s not just about me, it’s good for the company.”
She could also attempt to change roles or managers, seeking out a different position or reporting structure with the company or engaging HR to see if common ground can be met between her goals and those of her department.
If you can’t change the situation, you have two other options:
ACCEPT THE SITUATION
“Accept the things you cannot change” is not acquiescing to something untenable, but it can mean reprioritizing. Can you do what you’re being asked to do at work while seeking fulfilling personal opportunities elsewhere?
For Lily this might mean engaging in her conference and mentoring participation separately from her work, on her own time and her own dime. It means finding ways to fulfill her need for connections through volunteering outside of her industry.
If you can’t change or accept the situation, there’s one additional final choice:
LEAVE THE SITUATION
Maybe instead of accepting the things you can’t change, you change the things you cannot accept by simply walking away from them.
Walking away isn’t quitting on yourself, it’s redirecting yourself away from something that no longer grows, sustains or fulfills you in search of something that will. Carefully weighing the pros and cons of making that leap before doing so is key to a successful departure. What are you seeking and where might you find it elsewhere?
“I’d like to find a way to do this and not have to quit my job,” Lily says, while admitting she’s putting feelers out across her industry. She’s found a role that interests her and is actively interviewing though not yet ready to prepare her family for another move.
While roadblocks are frustrating and sometimes soul-crushing, they often lead to revelations – realizations about who we want to be and what we want to do.
In that way, they are great catalysts for charting a new path, changing up the story and starting a new chapter.
To write a new ending, we have to turn the page. What happens next?
Valerie Gordon is a long-time storyteller and presenter whose keynotes and workshops provide career and communication tools for audiences of all sizes, across all industries. A 10-time Emmy winning producer, she founded Commander-in-She in 2017 to give high-achieving women the skills to ascend the leadership ladder.