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Golden Guide Career Advice: Control Yourself!

Lydia Lazar

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Golden Tip No. 24: Life is Random, But Your Response Is Not

Golden Guide Career Advice is a series from the AMA in partnership with Lydia Lazar, author of Dean Lazar’s Golden Guide: Pragmatic Career Advice for Smart Young People. A new tip in the series will be posted each Tuesday—all tips are available here.

Do you have a career question? Contact Lazar at deardeanlazar@gmail.com—the answer may appear in a future post.

Life may be a series of random occurrences of incalculable odds, but how you marshal your intelligence and energy to respond to life’s challenges is totally up to you.

Successful people maintain control over their reactions to both good and bad news, and don’t let the inevitable setbacks of life stop them. It can be hard to get up the next day and go back to work after a bad day, but you can—and must—find ways to marshal the strength within yourself to go on.

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Aristotle tells us that “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Developing this habit of excellence will not protect you from bad bosses or bad experiences, but it will help you maintain your self respect and give you the energy and discipline to prevail another day or in another job.

The real power of positive thinking lies in being able to frame and re-frame your experiences as you go through life. We constantly tell ourselves stories about our lives—short-term, long-term, Plan A, Plan B—your “self talk” is important to your mental well-being. You need to take control of what you tell yourself, as well as what you tell others about your career.

Be mindful of how you frame employment experiences and consciously tell a progressive story. No matter how bad an experience was, there is some lesson you can draw from it, and some positive way you can describe it. No one likes to work with a person who speaks poorly of themselves or others. If you badmouth previous colleagues or bosses to new or potential colleagues, they will consciously or unconsciously think, “Is this how they’ll speak about me in the future?” This will cause them to be wary of you.

So no matter how bad your old boss was, or how crazy the work situation, be cautious in how you describe it to others. Don’t dwell on the negatives; pivot conversations to future-oriented questions and positive observations. As you frame your experiences for yourself and others, keep reminding yourself that:

  • You are a good, hard-working person.
  • You have succeeded in the past (rewind your greatest hits in your head).
  • With a good night’s sleep, you can face any challenge with grace.

Remember: You cannot control what the world will do with you or to you. The only thing you can control is how you react to the world: You can control yourself.

Photo by Ethan Kent on Unsplash.


Dean Lazar's Golden Guide

For more career tips, read Dean Lazar’s Golden Guide: Pragmatic Career Advice for Smart Young People, available on Amazon and at your local bookstore. Do you have a career question? Contact Lazar at deardeanlazar@gmail.com—the answer may appear in a future post.

Lydia Lazar is founder and president of LHL Consulting. She is the former associate dean for recruitment and career services at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and previously, dean of international law and policy overseeing international student admissions (LLM) at Chicago-Kent College of Law.