“I don\’t know,” the Gen-Y acquaintance mused. “I\’m thinking about grad school, but it\’s more work than I thought to prepare for the GREs. Then if I do all that and don\’t get into the program I want, it\’s a waste of time. Plus, did you know it could cost more than $40,000 to get a masters degree? I don\’t want that kind of debt, especially since I\’ll never make it up in a starting salary.”

By the end of answering my question about his post gap-year plans, this young man described several options he was pondering for his future. But woven into threads of indecision and idealism, I recognized limiting beliefs punctuating his words. It\’s “too hard.” It\’ll take “too long.” It costs “too much.” I also recognized he hadn\’t yet discovered who he was doing the work for.

He\’s right. Getting the work you want, creating your future, developing your skills can be hard, take time, and cost money. But this isn\’t a generational issue; it\’s a life-potential issue. We can hold these self-limiting beliefs whether we\’re Gen-Y, Gen-X, Boomers or Traditionalists.

When we think we work for other people instead of working for ourselves, we\’re less likely to make the investments in self-development, put in the time and determination, or make the trade-offs necessary to achieve the goals we desire.

When we think we work for “the boss” we\’re less likely to push ourselves, take on the challenging project, volunteer for extra assignments, or offer the best of who we are to our work, whatever that work may be.

When we work for other people, we\’re less likely to use our unique gifts to make a difference in our work group, community, or world. And we\’re less likely to have the internal drive and passion to sustain us through those workplace potholes.

Working for yourself is not about being an entrepreneur, owning your own business, or being self-employed. It\’s a vision, not a vocation.

You can give away the power over your future to bosses or other influencers in your life, or you can keep that power to fuel your dreams. As Nashua Cavalier put it, “Man\’s biggest mistake is to believe that he\’s working for someone else.” When you believe you are, that\’s when work becomes work.

People who are winning at working work for the right person – the one looking back in mirror. That differentiation changes everything. It\’s easier to know what jobs to seek, skills to enhance, and opportunities to seize. It\’s easier to know when you should change paths, companies, or bosses. And it\’s easier to weather workplace stresses when you\’re the one holding the compass for your life.

People who are winning at working accept the accountability for inventing their future, realizing it\’s not the boss or the work or the company politics that stand in the way of their success. These can be obstacles to maneuver certainly, but the real obstacles are self-inflicted: fear, limiting beliefs, victim thinking or misplaced perspectives. These are what hold your life-potential in check.

Want to be winning at working? Start working for the right person.

(c) 2008 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of “Work Matters with Nan Russell” weekly on webtalkradio.net. Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan\’s “Winning at Working” tips and insights at www.nanrussell.com

Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, and speaker. Her career insights column, Winning at Working (www.winningatworking.com ) regularly appears on over eighty websites; and her life-reflections column, In the Scheme of Things (www.intheschemeofthings.com) is published in six states and Canada. Her work has been selected to appear in several anthologies. To sign up for Nan's free eColumn(s), or read more about Nan or her work, visit: www.nanrussell.com.