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How Survival Mode Shows Up in Your Career

Jun 15, 2022

Over the past 3yrs of running Propel On Purpose, I've noticed a pattern. Most people get desperate to make a career move when they're not growing because they haven't learned how to manage their career. When we're hired into the workforce, we're taught how to do the job, we're trained on the systems & technical skills needed, and hopefully given clear expectations on what it means to perform well. 

Most of us are not taught how to manage our career.  Many folks learn that through their network, family members, colleagues & mentors. When you're a first-gen professional (the first in your family to work in a corporate profession) you don't have family members who work in these workplaces, likely have a smaller professional network and a growing imposter syndrome. We figure it out along the journey. So when something feels off, we get stuck and our natural instinct is to gear into survival mode.

Here's how it plays out and what to do instead...

  1. Fawn: people pleasing to avoid conflict - if you're saying YES to more work when you should be saying NO, working extra hours without being paid & not raising your work concerns, you're managing your career through this lens.  Being the yes person or the "go to" doesn't always translate into higher raises or promotions.  To navigate your fear of ruffling feathers, practice saying NO and invest some time in building your self-advocacy muscles.
  2. Freeze: unable to move or act - you're so disengaged that you're doing the bare minimum. How long do you think you can sustain spending that many hours of your week feeling meh? Even if it doesn't lead to negative consequences at work, it'll start to have a negative impact on your health both mental & physical.  To push yourself out of apathy, reflect on what kind of work or projects would be interesting or exciting to work on and ask your manager for the opportunity to do so. If an internal opportunity isn't possible, take free online courses to learn more and see what external opportunities exist. This will start to inform what career move you can make.
  3. Fight: facing perceived threat aggressively - if you're the person on your team who constantly complains (even if it's in a passive aggressive way), can't play nice with others, needs to be in control & therefore raises hand often to lead, or competes heavily to outperform/outshine others, you may be feeling threatened.  Ironically enough, if you're an overachiever like me, it may be because your fight instinct is triggered; we often feel like we have to work harder from that need to prove we're good enough.  Contrary to popular belief, this one can't be solved with mindset work.  When aggression is activated, it permeates through our nervous system into our bodies.  A way to shift from not making aggressive career moves is to move that fiery energy out of our bodies; breathwork, meditation, dancing, exercise...create some endorphins first, then pause to reflect on your feelings through some journaling.
  4. Flight: running away from the danger - you're the person who's brushing up your resume to move onto the next role or next company.  Chances are that you haven't taken the time to reflect on the real source of why you want out. When you don't make a strategic career move that is based on clear direction and desires, it can lead you to another dead end job, poor leader or employer that makes you feel just as undervalued.  There are many times when employees have blind spots, skills gaps or haven't learned how to navigate the workplace politics; those things will persist if you haven't figured out they're the source and work through improving on them. 

 Regardless of which survival instinct gets triggered at work, you can start to manage your career differently. If you feel stuck, get a piece of blank paper and pen. Brain dump all of the things that come up for you. Then go back at a separate time to see if you can find some themes or patterns.  I suspect the source of your unhappiness at work might be related to one of the P's - but more on that on a different blog.