How to Take Control of Your Career … Now! When it comes to your career, it's a big mistake to ignore what you think you can't control and focus on what you think you can.

By Steve Tobak

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


We live in a crazy, fast-paced world. We want what we want and we want it yesterday. That goes for everything from the latest iPhone and bestselling business book to a venti nonfat cappuccino and a hot new car.

It also goes for a successful career. We read about how others are making it big, living the lives they've dreamed of, and we want that, too. And, yes, we want it now. We want it so bad we're willing to try almost anything to get it.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn't work that way. It's on its own schedule, its own timetable, and that doesn't usually have a whole lot to do with what you and I want. And while having a sense of urgency and being insatiably hungry are both very good traits to have, you have to balance them with patience and perseverance.

Of course, we all know you can't buy personal fulfillment like you buy a smartphone, but that doesn't change the fact that we've become overly impatient. We want too much too quickly. And while Facebook's mantra, "The Hacker Way: move fast and break things," may be a great product strategy, it's not the best way to achieve long-term career success.

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My perspective may run counter to popular wisdom, but when it comes to your career, I think it's a big mistake to ignore what you think you can't control and focus on what you think you can. Let me explain the logic behind this.

More and more, it seems that folks are ignoring the big picture – the long view – and overreacting to what everyone is telling them to do. For example, the common meme of the day is that you'll get lost and stomped on in the corporate world so take control and start your own business.

That may be a great strategy if you have no goals, no plans, and simply want to "move fast and break things," but if you want to achieve great things in life, not so much.

Look at it this way. If your goal is to have a successful and fulfilling career – and whose goal doesn't sound at least something like that – you have to take risks. You have to get out in the big wide world where the work is, the jobs are, the innovators are, the customers are, and, not surprisingly, the opportunities are.

If you don't put yourself out there, you'll never find opportunity and opportunity will never find you.

It may sound counterintuitive, but if you don't give up control, throw caution to the wind, and give in to the chaos of the real world, you'll have zero chance of ever taking real control over your career and achieving everything you've dreamed of.

If you follow the online crowd and spend your days staring at a little screen reading blogs and books that tell you to work on your personal productivity, follow the daily habits of the rich and famous, focus on your strengths, stay positive, and other minutiae, you'll have control, all right … over trivial nonsense.

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Look, you can't go from 0 to 60 in a career the way you can in a sports car. That's because a car is a machine designed and controlled by man. I have no idea who designed the universe, but I know it wasn't you and me. And while the universe is a chaotic place, it is, after all, the place where we actually live and work.

There are all sorts of factors that influence your career and your business. Some factors we can control and some factors we can't. But the idea that we should focus on what we can control and ignore what we can't is a big mistake.

If you think you can somehow knock your career out of the park by inventing some cool personal brand and faking it until you make it online instead of putting yourself out there and going for it in the real world where all the real players are, you're in for a real surprise. Yes, I know I'm mixing metaphors; cut me some slack, will you?

When people feel they can't control big things in their lives – when they feel anxious and out of control – they start focusing more and more on trivial stuff. Stuff that's easy to control. That's human, but if you want to kill it out there, it's the wrong way to go. It's taking the easy way out.

You have to fight that urge. Don't take the easy way out. Don't give in to the trite nonsense. If you really want to take control of your career and do great things, you have to resist the urge – and the deafening drumbeat of the online hordes – to control little things. It may sound counterintuitive, but it's true.

Related: How to Build Your Brand the Right Way

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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