How to know when you’re ready to own your career

You’re never ready for doing great things until you eliminate all of the B.S. that’s really holding you back.

Yeah, you heard me.

Take this from someone who pissed away countless career opportunities for advancement during his 20s. So, what do I mean?

After college, I scuttled around in jobs for three years with no real compass of what I wanted to do. Do I regret it? Yes, largely because even though I was doing some things well, I was doing many things poorly. I slept in. I’d show up late to work. I did the bare-minimum. I partied too hard. And it showed.

I wasn’t putting in the time that — even though no one actually words it like this — is required for succeeding. I was wasting time.

Here are some examples:

  • I spent far too much time texting on my phone about nonsense
  • Ignored the feedback given for improvement, and turned down offers of help from leaders at my organization
  • Went out on week nights and drank too much. And thought that was acceptable behavior “every once in a while.”
  • Thought of myself far too much as an employee and not an owner.

What I’ll tell you is, no matter who you’re working for, you are always the owner of your career

  • Watched far too much news and sporting events that didn’t contribute to my greater good. I’d fall asleep with my head tilted back snoring on the futon. Yup. Hadn’t upgraded to a couch, yet.
  • Spent my money on things I didn’t need rather than reinvesting that money into coaching, training and programs that will lead to a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle

Look — I’m not here to lecture you on how never to have fun. Far from it. I had my share, and I encourage you to do the same. Just try and use your time more to your advantage. Don’t sacrifice all of it to the gods of no return. Invest. Find your fun in the enjoyment and fulfillment of doing things that add value to your life — and have lasting impact. As Richard Branson is fond of saying,

“Fun is one of the most important — and underrated — ingredients in any successful venture. If you’re not having fun, then it’s probably time to call it quits and try something else.”

Finding Your Way

The thing about finding your way in life and business is that so many people think — rather intuitively, I might add — that it’s all about playing “offense.” In other words — just focus on the high-growth and value activities and you’ll be set. Sure. You can go and do that. But what about when you negate those things by taking steps backward?

What about when you don’t apply consistency to the value-add activities like journaling, reading and gaining new skills, and delivering work that exceeds expectations? Well, then people start to wonder.

Who is this woman?

What’s up with this guy?

One day he’s on his game, the next it’s like he’s not even there.

Defense Wins…

I’m a huge proponent of playing defense. If you don’t yet know what that means, allow me to explain:

Defense is how you protect and shield your valuable time from all of the time-wasters and negative things that threaten to derail you. This means that you have a keen self-awareness for knowing what is good for you and what isn’t.

So, how do you know it? Look at the times where you haven’t gotten the results that you wanted. Was it because you didn’t try hard enough? Was it because you didn’t have all the answers?

Or was it because you didn’t mitigate enough of the things that hold you back? I can tell you with clear eyes, every time I haven’t achieved success, it’s almost always come down to poor time management or a lack of discipline. When you gain mastery in these areas — through planning, structure and focused work — you find your breakthroughs.

Playing defense is what smart, productive people do. It’s how successful millennials like Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger were able to co-found Instagram and transform the social media landscape.

They eliminated time-wasters. They focused on ways to refine and improve the quality of their products. And in doing so, they’ve completely reinvented the way we communicate with one another.

Playing defense is wise, and yet not everyone does it. It takes discipline. This means focusing on several areas that can really affect you if you’re not self-aware and good at self-managing:

  • Laziness
  • Resting on your accomplishments — thinking they’re enough
  • Anger directed at a lack of progress — primarily around not yet seeing the results you think you deserve
  • Worry and unnecessary stress over things you can’t control

So, are you ready to play defense?

If you are, set up a list of high-value activities, and then a list of things that will take away from you spending time on those activities. Put your goals together and watch yourself flourish as you emphasize the offense, and stand-up with authority to play defense.

As you look at your day and week — what are you willing to cut out? Making the turn of owning your career begins with cutting out the B.S., and removing barriers. This helps you gain clarity and renewed energy and optimism that power you forward toward building the life and career you desire most.

This article first appeared on Medium.