Your Career: Are You a Hostage or a Captor?

It’s easy to point fingers to explain why you didn’t get that promotion at work or didn’t get assigned that big project you were hoping to take the lead on—but maybe it’s time to take a realistic look at how you approach your career.

From a high-level view of the U.S. workforce, it’s easy to divide employees into two categories: hostages and captors.

Hostages are those who consider their career paths (in part or completely) in the hands of others. They believe they will only be called for a job interview or hired if there’s a position available. Once they have the job, their career advancement plan is to only do what their bosses allow and assign. Promotions, increased responsibilities and climbing the corporate ladder hinge on others.

Captors, on the other hand, don’t believe they’re at the mercy of others. They set goals and don’t believe in limitations set by others. They understand that their career outcomes are as a result of their own actions and decisions. These people tend to be the ones others are drawn to because they have a great attitude about everything.

But before we tattoo your label on you, it’s important to point out that these labels are not exclusively divided between business owners and employees, and they can be changed. It’s just as possible for an entry-level employee to be a captor and the boss to be a hostage.

Consider the job-hunting techniques of a hostage versus a captor. First of all, a hostage would be looking for a job, while a captor would be looking for an opportunity. A hostage would search job postings for an “appropriate” job, while a captor would be setting up meetings and not feel confined by job posts. Captors would use their contacts to explore new opportunities that allow them to showcase their skills and contribute to an organization even if there isn’t a readily posted opening. As part of an organization, a captor will always be looking for new ways to contribute by taking challenges and turning them into opportunities. A hostage would see a problem and wait for direction from higher ups as to how to best handle the situation.

If you are a hostage, you could be putting your career and the stability in your life at great risk as you could be setting yourself up to be the next layoff victim unable to secure a new position. But it’s not too late to change. You can get out of your own way and start doing some things right now to become a captor:

First, acknowledge that you're acting like a hostage. It’s time to face the music. Unless you realize what you’re doing to harm your career, you will stay stagnant and continue to blame others for your own actions. Then ask yourself, "Do I have the power to be as successful as I want to be in my career?" If your answer is not immediately "yes," then you are a hostage. You are absolutely capable to be as successful as you choose. The problem is, you are currently unwilling to do whatever it takes. Only you can change that.

Next, change your attitude because attitude is everything. Ask yourself why you have this hostage mentality and how much longer you are willing to tolerate it. Stop worrying that you’ll fail or that you could be wasting your time if you try and get nowhere. If you believe that you can achieve a goal, you will find a way. Failure is just part of the journey.

Then, fake it until you make it. Think of every hurdle you face as a challenge to overcome. Before becoming defeatist, visualize the hurdle as an actual brick wall standing in front of you, blocking you from your goal. Your job is to figure out how to maneuver around or through the wall to get to the other side as efficiently as you can. Then go for it with confidence. Know you have the knowledge and skill to make things happen, and be open to learning along the way. While you want to exude confidence, you don’t want to make the mistake of acting like you know everything. Let’s face it, no one likes a know-it-all.

And finally, take others along for the ride. While you want to do whatever it takes to succeed don’t do it at the expense of others. By enrolling others to join your efforts and then promoting them for their contribution, you become the leader.

Lindsay Broder, The Occupreneur™ Coach (on Twitter @occupreneur), is a certified professional coach based in New York. A Wall Street veteran, she specializes in Occupreneur™ coaching, strategy and crisis-consulting services for executives and organizations who strive to improve their businesses or careers.