Are you embarking on an IT career? Are you maybe a few years in and looking to make a big move in your career if you can find the right opportunity?

What are your expectations for your next IT job? Perhaps you expect the following:

  • To be treated by management with respect.
  • To have invigorating, exciting work and to feel your work is appreciated.
  • To have co-workers you admire and who admire you.
  • To be compensated well—because you’re worth it!

What you might want to do right now is write these expectations down.

Then, go out in the backyard and LIGHT THEM ON FIRE.

Congratulations! You have just liberated yourself from job disillusionment and career self-sabotage.

Don't focus on what you can't control

The list you burned (now a satisfying pile of ash) depends on a number of conditions that are out of your direct control: That the work will be exciting. That others will show you respect. That you’ll be paid X dollars an hour.

Dedicating yourself to goals predicated on conditions you cannot control is a great way to invite disappointment, anger, helplessness, rage, and depression into your life, more or less in that order.

Now at last you’re ready to write a new list of expectations, one that is focused not on hopes and dreams but instead on service and survival:

  • I will provide great service every day to my co-workers, managers, and the company’s customers.
  • I will take care of my health, get plenty of sleep, and tackle my work each day with a positive energy, no matter what the nature of the work happens to be.
  • I will treat my co-workers courteously, even if it’s hard to respect them and very clear they don’t respect me.
  • I will work hard and hope my obvious dedication is rewarded with raises in pay. If it isn’t, after six months to a year, I’ll look for another job.

Notice the difference? The first list is all about how others decide to act and react. The second list is all about your attitude and performance, things YOU control.

Do focus on what you can control

You need a list that you can follow through on, every day, no matter what others do or what company conditions happen to be at a given moment.

What happens if you insist on following List One? One day you lose your job or quit on a whim, because you just can’t take it anymore. Then you’re swimming upstream trying to find a job, any job.

You’ll try to explain to a prospective new employer why you threw in the towel on the previous one. You can talk all you want in the job interview about what a terrible place to work that company was, but what the interviewer hears is, “This person is self-centered and will think that my company and our clients will owe him something. No way I’m hiring him.”

Fearing eviction, you’ll take the first job that comes along, one that’s likely to be no better—and possibly much worse—than the one you left because it didn’t meet your expectations.

Rinse and repeat.  

I have to reiterate on the pitfalls of expecting respect. It’s amazing to me just how important respect is to some people. Get over yourself! Respect is earned over time—think months and years—and pride comes from a job well done, no matter what others say about you. If at the end of the day all you have to be proud of is your own sense of pride, then you’ve got precious little to be proud of.

Take the long view

Remember, you’ve got the long view on things. Your goal is to build an IT career. A mean-spirited co-worker is just a bothersome fly on your cross-country drive. A manager who likes to see you squirm — he’s just one tourist among many in your own amusement theme park called “Six Flags Over My Amazing IT Career.”

You’ll not likely find the perfect job right out of the gate. In fact you can expect the first job to try you in ways you’ve never been challenged before.

Focus on creating an attitude and frame of mind that can get you through—without becoming discouraged, angry, depressed, and unemployed all over again.

It all starts with setting the right expectations—not for the job, but for yourself. Focus on those, and great opportunities will come your way.

Even when you least expect them.

Larson is the director of the IT Futures Labs, the research and development initiative of the Creating IT Futures Foundation.