Here is what to do with your unused potential
‘There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,’ said Maya Angelou.
A similar agony is created by your unused potential. You know you can do more. But somehow you are stuck. A dead-end job? A micromanager boss?
I hear it every day. From friends and coaching clients. They have been ‘juniorized.’ They lack autonomy, and their unique gifts remain unused. They can help their organization more, but they feel they are not allowed.
Let me go ahead and say it.
You do not have to wait for permission to give what you have in you to give.
Find a way to give it. For your sake, your company’s, and the world’s. Here are some ideas on how to do just that.
1. Move from asking permission to informing
A lot of times we give the control away ourselves. Out of fear of criticism or failure. You may ask for permission just to be covered. You magnify the potential risk and minimize the rewards of owning your decisions. Start by announcing what you are going to do, instead of asking if it is ok. See what happens.
I remember when I made that switch in my job. I loved to bounce ideas about my presentations with my boss. I would share my thoughts with him and ask for his opinion. As an extrovert, I think better by talking things through. I did not believe there was anything wrong with it. I thought we were just brainstorming. Behind this ‘brainstorming’ though, was hiding my fear of making decisions without checking in with my boss first.
It was during one important presentation that I decided not to do what I usually did. I executed on all my crazy ideas. It felt risky to start with but when I delivered the presentation, it felt good. Nobody was stopping me from stepping up and owning my work. Nobody but myself.
After that point, the satisfaction I got from my job increased exponentially. I felt like an intrapreneur. I had the freedom to go and pursue my crazy ideas in my domain. Nobody gave me that freedom. I just stepped up and took it.
2. Give more to your company
You can take the initiative to create more value for your organization. Try acting as you have already been promoted. Start a new project that solves a problem. Lead.
Chade-Meng Tan was a Google engineer who decided to create a course for his fellow Googlers about inner peace. He brought together Zen masters, meditation teachers, psychologists and even a CEO and created the program ‘Search Inside Yourself.’ He was just doing something he believed was good for the company on top of his day job.
Not all companies are so open to 20% projects like Google, you may say. That is true. But, I would argue that few companies will stop you from doing a project that adds value to the business. Provided you do not drop the ball on your day job.
According to the Pareto rule, 20% of your efforts produce 80% of your outcomes. Use that principle to open up some space in your work day for your passion project.
3. Give more in your spare time.
You can use your spare time to do a passion project that is not related to your organization. It is another way to use your unique gifts. If you are passionate about something, pursuing it will recharge you.
It does not need to take away time from your loved ones. Given the statistics on time spent on TV and social media, we have more spare time than we realize. You can do more fulfilling activities like writing, creating, volunteering and helping people in need.
A colleague of mine, Melissa Poulos has a high profile job at Google. Yet, she had more in her to give. She partnered with some friends and created Nasty Hands: a hand-cream for fighting back. 100% of the proceeds go to causesthey believe in, like Civil Rights and LGBT youth.
4. Change jobs to be able to give more
‘The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either.’ -Benjamin Franklin
Sometimes you need to leave your job. Find a new boss who appreciates your gifts. A new role that better matches your skillset. For some, the best way to give is to start something on their own.
What if you are in a toxic work environment and find it difficult to leave?
I noticed that sometimes people with abusive bosses find it difficult to change their jobs. I used to think that those who stay long in an unfulfilling job, are cowards. Now, after my coaching experience, I realize that the problem is more complex.
A toxic work environment shatters your confidence. You will believe that you cannot find a better job. And that somehow abuse is what you need to tolerate to make a living.
I see people in abusive work relationships develop a kind of Stockholm’s Syndrome. They get used to the control and the emotional outbursts. And surprisingly, even if the door is wide open, they do not dare to step out and leave.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, I suggest the following:
- Do not victimize yourself: Retaliating, ignoring the boss or doing half-hearted work may worsen your boss’s behavior according to research. However, another study found that fighting back has a benefit. It will make you feel better. People admire those who stand up to bullies. And you will feel less of a victim. Another interesting finding is that being empathetic or going the extra mile does not make an abusive boss treat you better. Find your way not to feel like a victim. It will protect your health.
- Save money. I often notice a vicious circle. People in abusive work environments tend to overspend, to help themselves get by. They travel to disconnect from work and pamper themselves to boost their self-esteem. However, the lack of savings makes it more difficult for them to leave their job. And the cycle continues. I understand it is tough. But please think that saving money can help you find your way out quicker.
- Meditate. Observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment can help you deal with an abusive boss. It will help you not take things too personally and see the wider picture. Imagine a buffer around you that protects you from the emotional harm coming your way.
- Build your confidence elsewhere. Find a space where you can shine, preferably outside work. Remind yourself of your successes in that space.
- Nurture your body: Sleep, exercise and eat healthy.
- Take some time off to get some distance, even if it is a non-paid leave.
- Get some help: Sometimes talking to your friend, your mom or your significant other is not enough. Find more ways to support yourself that work for you whether it is therapy, coaching or a peer group.
- Job-hunt: Apply for other jobs, even if you do not feel you are ready. Nobody ever feels completely ready for job-hunting.
- Take risks and manage the trade-offs: Maybe you need to take a pay cut. Or move to another country. Do not underestimate the cost of staying in this environment.
If you feel you have more in you to give, do not waste your unique gifts. Think about asking for forgiveness rather than permission at your job. Take on an interesting project at work on top of your day job. Follow your passion outside work. Change jobs if you have to. Get all the support you can find if you are in a toxic work environment. And remember:
‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.’ Neale Donald Walsh
This article was originally published on Thrive Global.