Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 23

Work With Reality and Move Your UN Career Forward

Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 23

Episode 23 / 22 March 20222


This topic is on the one hand very basic – but on the hand quite essential for how you can effectively and successfully deal with your career. And your life!

It’s about working with the reality you’re in.

Or dealing with the hand you’ve been dealt, you could say.

Many of us spend a fair bit of time and energy wishing that things were different from what they are. Which is very human and natural…

Stuck in a dream about the perfect UN Career?

However, the problem is when you get stuck in dreaming of what the perfect state should be – and then lament about why the world isn’t like that.

That’s just not very helpful when it comes to taking action to move forward in the direction you want to go.

My point here is about how not to get stuck in unproductive thoughts about how things would be much better if the reality was different from what it is. If, for example:

  • Your supervisor was more supportive, or
  • Your organisation provided more career support, or
  • All contract types gave access to the UN Pension Fund

So often, we’re in a situation we wish were different. For example:

  • A colleague got an exciting opportunity that you’d have liked to have too, or
  • You didn’t get the job you applied for, or
  • It’s raining and you have to walk to the station – and you didn’t bring your umbrella!

I’ve certainly done a fair bit of complaining myself about the state of affairs. In fact, I’ve probably complained about all of the examples I just mentioned. And instead, I was dreaming of what the “perfect world” should be.

Of course, that still happens occasionally, but today I make a very conscious effort to try instead to acknowledge the reality I’m in for what it is.

Because when I do that, I’m much better able to take the relevant action that will actually help me move on.

When you fight reality, you lose!

One of my favourite teachers taught me this great sentence that has inspired and helped me a lot:

“When you fight reality, you lose. Not only every time – but every single time!”

Now, that doesn’t mean that we have to like or approve of the reality. Or that we have to keep living with it. But it means that we have to acknowledge – or accept – that the reality is what it is right now.

You have to acknowledge the reality of how your organisation operates, what the rules are, what your supervisor’s choices are, etc. Because only when you do that, can you find out what is the best way to move on – given the reality you’re operating in.

Do you moan about your work – or your organization?

I can easily provide an example from my own work life. There was a certain period when I one day realised that I had turned into a bit of a moaner. Thinking things like:

• Why doesn’t the organization give me more recognition for the hard work I do?
• Why do other people get the positions I’d like to get?
• And why are there so few interesting positions I can apply for here in my duty station?

The reality of my organization and my duty station was what it was. If I wanted this new work experience so much, could I have done more to get it in the UN? Or outside the UN?

Yes, in fact, there were quite a few things I could have done at the time.

For example, I could have applied to jobs in other duty stations. I could have applied outside of the UN. I could have used my network much more actively – and I could have pushed myself outside of my comfort zone much more.

But for a long time, I chose to stay where I was. Because I didn’t want to leave my family. And because, frankly, there were still a lot of benefits in staying where I was!

And there was nothing wrong with my choice to stay at the time.

Except that I didn’t really formulate it as a choice with myself. But instead, I kept dreaming of “circumstances” being different than they were.

Well, you can guess how much that helped me?

So, instead – let’s look at the:

3 Keys to Getting Unstuck

– and empower yourself to deal with the realities

KEY No. 1 – UNDERSTAND and acknowledge the reality

The problem with not accepting reality is that:

  • You lose energy
  • You feel stuck, feeling like you’re a victim of the circumstances, and you risk that
  • The action you do take is not the appropriate one to solve your problem

When you acknowledge that the reality is what it is, you will of course still get upset, annoyed, disappointed, etc., but

  • You will be able to manage your thoughts and your feelings
  • You still feel in control of your life
  • You don’t feel like a victim, but see yourself as someone who can take charge – and take care of yourself, which means that
  • You will have more energy, more resources and creativity to take action

So, when you find yourself “moaning” to colleagues, friends or family about the unfairness of the situation at work, try to

  • Take a deep breath at first. That will help settle the upset thoughts and feelings that are messing with your ability to think strategically and proactively.
  • Tell yourself: “I wish it was different – but I guess this is the reality right now.”
  • And then ask yourself: “How can I help myself move on – within this reality I’m in?”

KEY No. 2 – Find out what you can DO

It is not until you acknowledge that the reality is what it is, that you start getting new ideas and can take appropriate action.

Try to look for as many options and ideas as possible at this stage. For example, think about:

  • What are your resources?
  • Who do you know who might have experience that could support you?
  • Who can help you find a way forward or see different perspectives?
  • How have you solved problems and found solutions before in your life?
  • What are some concrete actions you can take to move in the right direction? Right now?

E.g. if you feel stuck in a job that you’re not happy with anymore.

  • Start thinking about what job you WOULD enjoy
  • Start applying – be serious about looking for the next job. Don’t just wait for somebody to put it under your nose. (Yes, applying for jobs is hard work, but if you make a plan, you can do it.)
  • Start using your network – and be serious about this too.
  • If your dream job is not realistic yet, what can your path towards that job look like?
  • And what can your first step on that path look like?

KEY No. 3 – Take ACTION

Find at least one thing you can take action on. You know the saying: “Action creates traction”!

Take charge of your own professional life and career – instead of outsourcing your power to your supervisor or the organization you work for. Or to “fate”. Define at least one thing you can take control of yourself. And take one small step today. So,

  1. Make a plan
  2. Take action

It’s tremendously helpful to get support from a good friend or colleague, especially when you go through the brainstorming phase. Don’t shy away from asking. Chances are that your friend will also get a lot out of the discussion.

Or maybe you have considered getting professional support?

When I work with clients in my UN Career Breakthrough Programme, some of the things we work on are:

  • Acknowledging the reality. What’s good and what’s challenging
  • Finding everything they’re good at – and making it work for them
  • Making a plan and making sure it’s concrete and workable
  • Sticking to the plan
  • Building networks and improving their networking skills. Making networking enjoyable!
  • Creating a great CV. Finding the right jobs and writing great applications that showcase all their skills and talents.

Have you gotten stuck in thinking: “It’s unfair”?

Is there an area where you have fallen into the trap of thinking “It’s unfair that it works like this … I wish it was different!”? And where you’re not moving on?

Remember that dealing with reality – just as it is – is not about giving in, or not wanting to change things that are not the way you want them to be.

But it’s about taking into account that you cannot change other people or how they think or act. Not to speak of the fact that it’s unlikely that you can change organizations or organizational rules or procedures.

Well, maybe you are in a position to change those things? But probably it’ll take time. And what will you do about yourself and your career in the meantime?

Take initiative and find your way forward

There is just so much more energy and initiative in thinking about how you can find ways to work with the situation you have.

Whereas complaining and lamenting drains you of energy and leave you feeling depleted and defeated. Which are not great feelings! And will not help you get anywhere…

There are things that you cannot do anything about. But there is always something you can do. And you will feel much better once you take ownership of whatever it is that you can do.

You want to feel in charge of your own career and professional life!

Don’t sign over the responsibility to your supervisor or an impersonal organization…

I wish you lots of luck with using reality to help you take effective action steps in your UN career!