It sneaks in innocently while chit-chatting over a cup of coffee. It becomes a random addition on a slow day to your Whatsapp chat group with close girlfriends. It can also present itself as thinly-veiled anger at a company town hall discussing the latest changes to employee promotion policies.

“I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere in this job.”

“My boss doesn’t care about what I do, as long as I get the job done for him.”

“I’m never ever going to get promoted in this company. Man, I do so much but it’s not fair no one takes notice of me.”

Whether you call it burn-out, workplace frustration or overall career dissatisfaction, it all boils down to a mismatch of career aspirations, expectations and the true reality of organisations everywhere today.

In recent years, employers have launched career development programs to retain employees. Companies like American Express, Google and many others have invested US$130 billion [in 2014] worldwide in corporate training for employee development.

But is it enough?

Given that statistics show that the average office worker receives a whopping 121 emails a day, of which they probably spend about one third of their day reading and answering emails among their other responsibilities, it is safe to say that your specific career aspirations and specific career growth trajectory aren’t on the top of HR’s/your boss’s urgent to-do list.

So what’s a woman to do in that sort of situation? Well, there’s one of two things:

One, accept the general direction and undefined promotional timing the company has planned for you and perform it to the best of your abilities, without complaint or blame. [If this is you, then you’ve pretty much reached the end of this article.]

Two, take an active role in defining that “general direction” to suit your strengths, abilities and key career aspirations and work closely with your company to get where you want to be, or find alternative paths to get to where you want to be.

If you want to be known less for your constant lamenting and more for your foresight, planning and professionalism, here are five ways you can take charge of your career skillfully and professionally.

1. Know yourself well, very well.

It’s been said time and time again over countless career help books and articles that you need to know your strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. Why? If you understand where and what -

  • you naturally excel in

  • you need improvement in

  • naturally energises you

  • you don’t like to do

you will waste less time saying yes to work that drains and demotivates you and devoting that time to work that gives you the best results with the most satisfaction.

Tracey Edwards (former Chief Knowledge Officer at Deloitte) used to encourage her team to map out this information on a 2x2 matrix

(Click here for a version of the matrix you can download and print.)

You’ll notice that passion has been left out of this equation. Here’s why we don’t think passion should be a major part of your career growth plan.

2. Reflect on what you want to achieve in your career.

As you step into the different stages of life, your career wants and goals will change.

If you are at the beginning of your career, you may be looking to scale the corporate ladder, or create something that will benefit others.

If you have worked for a bit and have started a family, you may be seeking for a career that fits in with your family commitments.

If you’re returning to work after a while away, you may be seeking to build up your credibility that corroborates with your age.

Whatever the case is, it is necessary to decide what your measures of success are. Some typical measures of success include salary earnings, job responsibilities, job rank / title, employee benefits, flexible working hours and career advancement opportunities.

It would be helpful to take some time with a pen and paper to write down what you think success looks like in your career, both short-term and long-term. Be very honest in general about who you are and what you want.

3. Have a conversation with the person in charge of your career advancement.

Many women do 1 & 2 but they stop short of completing this necessary but often difficult task.

It’s not easy to march up to your superior and pretty much tell him/her that you’re not satisfied with current state of affairs and you want a change. It’s in the same realm of asking for a pay raise or a promotion - you feel like you deserve it but you don’t want to come across as over-confident and possibly suffer the humiliation of rejection.

So what’s the best way to go about getting this conversation to happen?

  • Ask yourself, “Have I earned my stripes?”
    This type of conversations usually start better if you have a certain number of achievements / years of experience under your belt. Before talking to your superior, make sure you can list and quantify the contributions you’ve made to the company.

    If you’re brand new to the job, wait a while till you’ve earned some credibility in your current position.

  • Don’t ambush your superior, don’t choose a bad time
    If you know certain times of the month/year are chock full of deadlines, avoid those. You want your superior in the best frame of mind to be open to what you have to say.

    When you’re making an appointment to sit down with your superior, you can say,

    “Hey (Name of Boss), I’m planning my work for 2018 and I would like to share with you some areas that I feel I can contribute to the company. Do you think we can sit down for 20 minutes next Wednesday to go over some of these plans I have?”

  • Plan what you’re going to say in advance
    You may want to bring in your 2x2 matrix and or other documents that will give your superior a better idea of how you want to shape your job scope.

    Planning what you’re going to say helps you practice away annoying habits that dilute the impact of your message.

  • Don’t be afraid of failure or rejection
    Your superior has the right to say no without actually explaining to you why. It may be because of behind-the-scenes plans that you may not be privvy to. If it is clear that your plans cannot happen, accept the answer gracefully and try again a few months down the road.

4. Seek out opportunities to be trained in what you aspire to do

Whether or not you get the opportunity to do what makes you happy and satisfied in your job, you should try to seek opportunities to be trained in the career you see yourself in. If what you want to do is within your current line of work, maximise company funding for training to stay abreast with current trends. If your company isn’t going to fund your training for whatever reason, take it as a personal investment to train yourself for the job you want to do.

Don’t wait till you’re about to step into the position / career you want to start training. Playing catch up isn’t something you want to do when you should really be getting results in your first hundred days on the job.

5. Celebrate your successes and review point 1 & 2 every six months and draw up alternative career paths if necessary.

If we began to practice the art of seriously celebrating our wins, both big and small, we would be infinitely happier.

It’s something I find terribly hard to do but celebrating wins is more important than we give it credit for.

By recognising what we’ve done and are capable of, we can clearly see whether or not we’re making progress on that career journey we want. We can even see if what is on our 2x2 Matrix and measures of success are still relevant.

By seeing progress, we can accurately gauge whether or not our current circumstances still provide us room to keep growing.

If it does, we continue. If it starts showing signs of not being as fulfilling as we initially thought it would be, then we start planning for alternative pathways.

Taking charge of your career doesn’t have to involve too much drama and over-promotion. With these 5 steps, you can actually appear more professional and credible to your superiors, no matter where you are in your career.