Stuck Working in the Corporate World? Here’s How to Win Back Your Freedom

Very few people want to be trapped in a corporate job where you feel like you’re just putting in your time and doing what you’re told. Some people think the only way to escape this feeling is to become an entrepreneur and become your own boss. But not everyone is cut out for entrepreneurship, and many people would rather stick with the comfort of a steady paycheck.

Fortunately, it is possible to maintain your professional freedom while working a corporate job. Working for “The Man” isn’t a way of life — it’s a state of mind. I know plenty of freelancers who drive themselves harder then any boss would, and they don’t feel any sense of freedom. I know many people who are thankful to show up to the same job at 9am every day, feeling freedom in leaving any work drama behind at 5pm.

It’s no secret now that many companies are providing freedom and flexibility to help you grow within your career. With an improved work environment and company culture, happiness and productivity also improve, and you’re less likely to feel trapped.

Essentially, you have to become your own professional development advisor. Here are 10 ways to do that, and free yourself without changing careers:

Be a Leader

You don’t have to be a manager or an executive to be a leader in the office. If you do supervise other employees, take an active approach to their personal development to encourage them to grow in their roles. Even if you don’t manage others, you can still practice in other ways. Take initiative on a new project, step in to help other employees whenever you can, and go above and beyond within your role to set yourself apart from everyone else.

In his book “The 360 Degree Leader,” John C. Maxwell explains that it’s a myth that employees who don’t have the title of “manager” or “supervisor” can’t lead.

“In reality, there is no need to possess a specific title to exert influence and become a successful leader,” he writes. “People can move beyond the boundaries of their position by building respectful relationships and valuing each person as a unique individual who gives something positive to the organization.”

Read Books to Stimulate Creative Thinking

Rather than focus only on current events or topics in your specific field, keep your reading material varied. You never know what might spark an idea, so broaden your horizons beyond just business books.

Try books that might be a little outside the box, such as “Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try,” a book by Dr. Srini Pillay that offers techniques for unlocking creativity through practicing less focus, not more.

There are several other books that some of the world’s top CEOs cite as “required reading.” Bill Gates, for instance, recommends “The Myth of the Strong Leader” by Archie Brown, and Piera Gelardi, cofounder of Refinery29, says that “Creativity, Inc.” — written by Pixar president Ed Catmull — is a must-read for anyone interested in how a creative work culture can thrive.

Attend Conferences in Your Field

The best employers are intentional about encouraging personal and professional development. Making time for employees to attend conferences — and covering conference costs — can be an important part of meeting this goal.

“I try to get my team to participate in any conferences or conventions available in their respective fields, and the company covers expenses for these types of events,” says Daniel Wesley of “We also encourage everyone to take advantage of workshops, classes, or continued education, which is also covered for the employees.”

Conferences and workshops provide education that can apply to both your work and personal lives, and they’re beneficial networking opportunities as well.

Save Your Money

Managing your own professional life sometimes means making the hard choice to leave your job and search for a better fit for your talents. Making this transition smoothly requires the financial security of a savings fund to keep you afloat until you’re bringing in regular paychecks again.

Even if you’re happy in your current job, it’s always wise to put some money away for this possibility. You never know when you may face a job loss, and by having enough money in a rainy day fund to last you some months, you won’t be forced to take a job that makes you miserable just to make ends meet.

Write Out Your Goals

It’s always important to know exactly what you’re striving toward. Writing down both short- and long-term goals gives you a clear idea of why you’re doing what you do every day and keeps you on track.

Bestselling author and entrepreneur Gary Keller explains in his book “The One Thing” (written with Jay Papasan) that everyone should have “big specific goals.” These are goals that are big enough to push you out of your comfort zone, but specific enough that you can make a clear action plan to achieve them.

Keep Asking Questions

One key trait that many of the most successful people share is deep curiosity, and getting into the habit of asking good questions is an excellent way to bolster curiosity. Asking questions will prove that you are interested in the big picture and want to help the company succeed.

Keep in mind, though, that your questions should always be genuine.

“We’ve all been in situations where — maybe we’re wrong — but we perceive that an employee is merely trying to show off with their question,” international business speaker Michael Kerr says. To show that you genuinely want to move the conversation forward, he suggests asking questions such as “What can my team do to help contribute to the success of X project?” or “What does success look like for X project?”

Stand Up to Your Boss (When It’s Not Too Dangerous)

It may seem counterintuitive, but telling your boss “no” is sometimes the very best thing you can do. Always back up your “no” with a solid reason, though, along with the willingness to take on the project at a different time or in a different way.

Knowing when you can’t meet deadlines shows knowledge of your job, and having clear boundaries lets your boss know that you value your professional and personal lives. Many supervisors value an employee who is confident and knows the importance of keeping a strong work-life balance. Having said that, sometimes being able to push those boundaries and deliver on a request anyway, even if it means staying at the office a little longer, doesn’t hurt.

Seek Out a Mentor In Your Industry

Having a good mentor is important, but this can be hard to find. Spend some time learning what makes a good mentor, and find one who will be truly dedicated to helping you improve in your career.

High-quality mentors are usually those who have more experience than you and are good at giving clear, short instructions rather than long, rambling speeches. Most importantly, they are more concerned about improving your skills than keeping you happy. A good mentor may seem a little off-putting — or even frightening, at first — but the improvement you experience as a result is worth it.

Solicit Feedback

If you haven’t gathered feedback from co-workers, supervisors, or any employees you manage, you should. Having an outside perspective always helps you recognize what you’ve been overlooking, and your openness to improvement has the potential to impress employees at all levels of the organization.

Jeff Lawson, CEO of Twilio, explains that younger employees, in particular, thrive on continuous feedback. He says they’re not necessarily looking for constant praise; they just genuinely want to know how they’re doing.

“If you get into the habit of regular feedback, it’s not confrontational; it’s just the ebb and flow of conversation and a constant tweaking of how you work with somebody,” he says.

Cultivate Peer Relationships

“Networking” may sound like a corporate buzzword, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Forming relationships with those who work for your company — as well as others in your industry — provides you with important resources. Talking business with people in your industry can provide you with information on the newest developments and trends in your field, which is knowledge that will often give you a leg up in your professional journey.

No matter your job, taking charge of your own professional development can revolutionize your workplace experience. You don’t have to become your own boss or launch your own company to escape “The Man.” You just have to learn how to grow and create your own dream within whatever job you have.

Read more about breaking out on your own at TechCo

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Written by:
"A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked at TV, print, radio and Internet companies for 20 years. He's an advisor at StartupGrind and has written for BusinessInsider, Fortune, NBC, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur and Venturebeat.”
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