Focusing on What You Can Control

Kathleen McDonald

By: Kathleen McDonald - President & CEO, Career Investments LLC

Categories: Career Advancement, Leadership

I'm an energy conservationist. While aspiring to become greener with physical resources, I’m also working with my clients to become truly evergreen with their personal energy — a crucial step as we address the aspects of life and career that are within our abilities to control. While we can lose our jobs, our accomplishments, skills and networks remain 100 percent ours — regardless of economic cycle or logo on our business card. But we often overlook these important assets. Below are four ideas to help you think about controlling the controllables to maximize the energy you spend in your professional life:

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1. Learn how to market yourself. What are you really known for? I have worked with thousands of people between individual sessions and seminars and over 90 percent of responses to this question are “loyal,” “hard-working,” and “honest.” While these are admirable and important traits, they clearly aren’t unique responses. What makes you a stand out personally and professionally? Forget the canned 60-second introduction that sounds stale, rehearsed and fails to allow your personality to come through. Instead, let your introduction be the conversation igniter it should be. I have yet to meet an individual who doesn’t seem fascinating, talented, gifted and interesting when they are being authentic about their real skills, abilities and passions. What is your brand? What truly differentiates you in the marketplace? Vow to your career today that you will eliminate vanilla descriptors of yourself and get specific about the talents you have to share with the world.

2. Discern your strengths and weaknesses and align your career strategy accordingly. Take the time to discern what skills you enjoy using daily. It easy to take your true gifts for granted because it seems so effortless to use them. It might seem unbelievable that you can really translate them into a career path and a paycheck. Also, get very specific about what you can do, but dislike or don’t do as well. This sense of self will serve your career well. It will also be key to avoiding the energy-zapping cycle that happens when we find ourselves in a vicious cycle to shore up our weak areas instead of spending that same energy amplifying our strengths.

3. Don’t let your job become your identity. When this happens we become even more lost than when we actually lose our jobs. If you feel like your job title and company name are your primary source of life satisfaction, then work hard to reverse this. Recognize that you have transferable skills that will apply to another company, or even another industry. Understand that jobs (even held within the same company) are stepping stones in an entire career path. The moment you can’t envision life in your current role you risk becoming stale and devaluing your worth in the marketplace.

4. Shake up your routine. Learn a new skill, meet interesting people, get exposed to different ideas. I recently surprised my family and friends by joining the Chatterbox Jazz Club’s bowling league. This unskilled bowler had the great fortune to meet over 50 amazing people representing so many facets of our great city ranging from the arts, not-for-profit, public and private sector while getting out of the office and my comfort zone to expand my network.

Commit to spending time each week to strategically managing all aspects of your career. This will help you control the factors within your control. Get intentional with your brand management, network growth and create a continuous development program that will benefit you personally and professionally. This is a small investment of time and energy in compared to how much you spend working. But it will provide unimaginable positive returns and transform you into an energy conservationist too.

Along with several others, I’ll be offering insights on these topics as a presenter at the Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) program offered by Lacy Leadership Association (LLA). The six-course series — designed to give participants tools to take leadership to the next level — starts Sept. 18. Register at

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