Self-Directing Jobs: Being On a “Work Island”

When I explain my job situation to people, I often say that I’m on an island. What I mean by this is that my job tasks don’t fall under any one office. Of the three large projects I currently have, each of them is headed by a different director. Not to mention that my current supervisor does something that is totally unrelated to me as well. This makes me feel like I’m a bit of a loner, hanging out on a work island all by myself.

Oh, if only this is what I meant by being on a work island!

Oh, if only this is what I meant by being on a work island!

Being on a work island is both awesome and annoying. It gives me the ability to work with tons of different types of people, rub elbows with some of the big wigs who are doing some amazing things, but also causes confusion in terms of supervision and my role within the agency. While I enjoy working on my own and don’t need constant supervision, it can pose a problem when questions do arise.

All in all, though, this isn’t an awful situation for me and I’ve learned to embrace being a (sometimes) one man team. Maybe you’re in a similar situation, though, and don’t feel quite the excitement (or at least the okay-ness) of being “stranded” at work. Here are some tips to help you get through it (and yes, I am using island analogies because that’s just the type of mood I’m in and I can’t help it when creativity, or weirdness, strikes).

Embrace the fact that you can be independent. Want to know the best part of being alone on an island (both at work and in real life)? There’s no one there to bother you. While you will obviously have to collaborate with others at some point, there is a nice feeling knowing you’re taking care of your own stuff. I’m slightly Type A (ok, very Type A) so I enjoy knowing things are being done the right way, by me. Embrace this ability to be independent because many others are micromanaged to the point that it becomes a difficult working environment.

Dip your feet in the water. Based on the flexibility of my position, I have the option to work on many diverse projects. This benefits me by allowing me to work with new people, learn as much as possible, and highlights my skills in multiple areas. If you’re in a similar situation, try out new projects that aren’t directly outlined in your job description (with proper approval of course). It’ll give you the chance to dip your feet in the water and see what other types of duties might interest you.

Climb that palm tree to reach the highest coconut. Being an island gives you room to reach your lofty goals. What I mean by this is that you have the flexibility to move around more, possibly work with upper management, and advocate for yourself to be placed on a variety of projects. When you are placed in a situation that is ambiguous and relies on self-motivation, aim to reach your highest potential. Others will notice the initiative you’re taking to be part of the biggest and best projects. Once you succeed on one project, you’ll be golden!  

Send out an SOS. Sometimes this whole independent worker thing just isn’t for you. It can get frustrating, especially when you’re new and you need a little bit of direction. If that happens, talk to your supervisor. Explain that while you are more than capable of self-directing, you feel you would benefit from having more direct supervision at times. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. It is not weak or showing that you are incompetent. On the contrary. By asking for help you are portraying that you are confident, knowledgable about how you work best, and a team player that likes to collaborate. Nothing wrong with that!

Now it’s your turn! Are you in an ambiguous work role or are you micromanaged?

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