This past weekend I attended the Houston ALT.NET Open Spaces Conference and was reminded of one of the most important productivity and career management techniques that I've ever learned. I had never been to an Open Spaces conference before, so during the Friday night planning session I learned the one law of the conference.
The Law of Two Feet: If at any time during our time together you find yourself in any
situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two
feet. Go to some other place where you may learn and contribute.
Related to this is an idea from the book Radical Careering: 100 Truths to Jumpstart Your Job, Your Career, and Your Life: Being in a crap job isn't your fault. Staying in a crap job is.
Both of these ideas represent the concept of personal choice and responsibility nicely. It's important to remember that you choose the work you do. You choose the skills you have. And you choose who your employer is. But a lot of people I meet don't realize that they're choosing. They feel stuck doing what they do, knowing only what they know, or working for a company they don't believe in. This leads to feeling victimized and a host of career-impeding behaviors. Once you recognize the choice, however, you are freed from those feelings and can eliminate the bad behaviors.
This is a particularly good time to write this post because I know plenty of folks out there feel that they have no choice about their job due to a difficult market. You may expect me to say, "Go ahead and leave that job anyway. Face what will come like I did!" but I won't. I'm not saying that you need to do anything new. What I'm saying is that you need to recognize that what you're doing is your choice. You may choose a job you don't like rather than face a scary job market. Or you may choose to leave anyway and face what will come. Either way, you'll be much better prepared to deal with whatever difficulties arise simply by telling yourself, "I asked for this".
As somewhat of a footnote, I took The Law of Two Feet and turned it into The Law of Four Wheels when I left the conference after only two sessions. It's not that the conference wasn't good, it was actually very well done: great people, interesting topics, surprisingly effective self-organization, the works! I chose to leave, however, because this is one of the busiest and most exciting times in my career. I simply wanted to be doing something else instead, so I made the choice to go to work.