The Power Is Yours: Change You or Change It

Talent Management

April 5, 2012

by Marshall Goldsmith

I hope I haven’t scared you too much in the past by coloring the workplace with so many challenges that you now feel lucky just to hang onto your job.

It’s not that bad. If you step back, you’ll discover you are still in control of your life and destiny. You have the power to create significant positive change. What can you change? The answer is simple: You can change either you or It.

By you, I mean how you think, how you feel, what you say, basically everything about you that’s under your control.

It, on the other hand, refers to any influencing forces in your life that are not you. It could be another individual, a group of people, a job, a place, a relationship or the results of a choice you made in the past that needs undoing. It is everything that’s not you.

It’s a stark, unambiguous binary. Yet a lot of us make the wrong choice. We try to change It when we should be changing something about ourselves, and vice versa.

For example, we all know a few people who hate their companies. It’s interesting to watch how people deal with this emotion. Some do nothing. They stoically endure the situation. But doing nothing is not much of an option if your aim is to elevate your spirit. You’re choosing the status quo. You’re electing to stay miserable rather than try to be happy. You’re electing to do meaningless work instead of meaningful work. That’s not change of any kind.

Some people ?nd another job. They remove themselves from the offending employer and seek out a new environment. It’s risky — you never know how your next company will turn out — but it’s changing It in its purest form. If things are bad enough, why not try?

Some people alter their attitude toward the company. They assess why they feel the way they do and try to find a new way to interact with their co-workers. For example, you may resent the fact that your employer calls you about business some nights or weekends. You may initially believe this is rude and invasive, not to mention socially disruptive.

You may choose to change yourself and make peace by accepting that your company sees no other options. You may mentally re-adjust your “working hours.” That’s changing you. If you have no choice, and see no options, make peace with what is.

Some people positively and proactively change their work environment. They treat decision makers with respect, yet “challenge up” on important issues. They make a positive difference in their work environment. They respect final decisions that cannot be changed, yet realize they can impact many decisions that are “in progress” and can be changed.

Many people do none of the above. Instead they whine and complain about their employers, as if voicing their resentment will miraculously inspire the company to change. What are the odds of that happening? Slim to none.

Changing you is not inherently preferable or easier than changing It and vice versa. The best approach depends on the situation.

Once you’re aware of this “you or It” dichotomy, you begin to see manifestations everywhere and you begin to realize its impact. You see that all work and personal situations are a function of the relationship between who you are — you — and your situation, It. If you cannot change you, your spirit is in?uenced by your relationship to It. If you cannot change It, that spirit is influenced by your relationship to you. It’s your choice.

It is your life. If you are is suffering, no one can make the “you vs. It” decision for you. My only suggestion is become clear on your own values and make a thoughtful choice.