Friday, April 13, 2007

Take control: A tale of two presidents

One of the central themes in one of my next books, Should I Sleep with the Boss? is around the idea of taking control. That you can't necessarily control what happens to you, but you can of course control how you respond to it in shaping your career and life.

So even if you are made redundant or don't get given a promotion or suffer some more truly terrible life event, you can choose whether to let it get you down or whether to pick yourself up and get on with finding a better job or developing your skills or whatever you need to do to get on and succeed.

In my research, I came across the tale of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Of course, many Americans will already know of their childhoods, but as a Brit, I have to admit that I was somewhat under-informed about them.

So we all know that George W. Bush grew up in a wealthy family in Texas as the son of a former president. So he had all of the right education and background to enable him to succeed.

Bill Clinton's childhood was a rather different story. His father died when his mother was still pregnant with him. And he grew up in poverty with an alcoholic and abusive step-father. So fate had stacked the deck against him. Yet Bill still managed to claw his way out of poverty and to become a president of the most powerful country in the world.

I'm not trying to make a political point. What I do think this shows is the power of self-determination. That people who experience bad stuff in life don't have to let themselves be knocked down by it.

Psychologists have a fancy name for it. People who feel in control have an internal locus of control (i.e. they feel that the power to respond to their circumstances lies within them, inside of them). People who give up and feel helpless have an external locus of control. And there is plenty of research to support that people who have an internal locus of control are happier and more successful.

So whether you are trying to set up your own business, striving for a promotion, trying to reduce the number of hours you work - or whatever else your career goals may be - I would urge you to take control. While you may not be able to control what happens to you, you can decide how you respond.