An online review of a popular career book supported its low (two-star) rating with the comment, “Just another do-it-yourself career book.” I found this to be an interesting criticism. I mean, who other than YOU would you want dictating your next career steps?
The person who has the most power over your career is, well…you.
This is, and always has been a reality. But, I’ve met many professionals who resist it. If you’re among the resisters, I have great news – you’re wrong!
And by changing this small part of your mindset, you’ll open a world of new possibilities that you believed didn’t exist just a moment ago.
I’ve heard every “Yes, but…”, “What if…?” and “It doesn’t work that way.” I’ve also seen job seekers make incredible career switches, skip two levels in the promotion process, and become the sole person to earn a certain accolade.
So, if you’re not where you want to be in your career, maybe the answer lies within. While there are two sides to every coin – a silver lining and a dark cloud – which one you focus on each day will influence your trajectory.
So, how are you getting in your own way?
- Ego. A healthy dose of ego can boost confidence, but too much ego can prevent you from trying new things. Continuous learning and professional reinvention are imperative in a market that’s changing at warp speed. If you’re constantly worried you’ll damage your reputation or look silly if you take risks, it can negatively impact your value and relevance in the job market.
- How it shows up: Not asking questions/for clarification for fear of looking dumb, avoiding publicly displaying skills you don’t feel you’ve mastered, being critical of others.
- What you can do: Tune into when you’re avoiding something helpful due to fear of being judged.
- Comparison. Comparing yourself to others, especially if they’re experts and you’re just starting out, can be the kiss of death. First, there are many variables that can’t be accounted for, so the comparison is likely invalid. Second, it’s more likely to discouragethan inspire you. If you’re focusing on an expert as a role model or guide, great. But draw the line when you start comparing.
- How it shows up: Keeping score against someone you perceive as more skilled, giving up because you’re not as good as someone else, striving for perfection.
- What you can do: Compare yourself to yourself – comparing your performance last year to your performance this year offers a useful gauge on how you’re progressing.
- NGE Syndrome – “Not Good Enough” Syndrome may motivate you to practice a little more, or spend extra time preparing, but it can also destroy your confidence. Also, be careful of NGE’s close cousin “Impostor Syndrome,” which can cause you to believe that it’s only a matter of time before others learn that you’re a fraud who doesn’t deserve what you’ve earned.
- How it shows up: Not making time to celebrate accomplishments, difficulty taking compliments, feeling like you need to achieve more to be worthy, or feeling like a fraud.
- What you can do: Own your achievements and let go of perfection. If you keep moving the finish line, you’ll never find peace.
- Fear. Fear is a basic emotion that all living things experience. It’s a critical survival mechanism for keeping us out of danger. But most things we fear in the modern day are self-imposed and only serve to prevent us from taking sensible risks that will help us grow in our careers.
- How it shows up: Avoiding challenging projects or roles, spending much more time on something (mentally or physically) than necessary, consistently choosing a convenient path.
- What you can do: It’s okay to be afraid, but do it anyway. Acknowledge your fear, prepare for the worst case scenario (which rarely happens) and dive in.
- Distraction. We all need breaks to re-charge, but when distraction becomes an avoidance technique, your career is at risk. While you’re not paying attention, change is happening, and you may wake up one day and realize you’ve been left behind.
- How it shows up: Lack of reflection and self-awareness, multi-tasking, always being the last to know or feeling blind-sided.
- What you can do: Schedule time to reflect, journal, get a coach, schedule meetings with your boss, meet with cross-functional teams – anything to remain engaged and aware.
- Isolation. It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know. It’s always been this way, and won’t be changing anytime soon. Many of the decisions about your career take place while you’re not in the room, which means it’s critical to consistently build your network and ensure others know your expertise, goals and value.
- How it shows up: Skipping opportunities to participate in office events or industry activities, lack of curiosity, not building relationships outside of your team or company, avoiding social media.
- What you can do: Share your accomplishments with your boss/team, attend company events, strive to participate in groups outside normal circles, engage online.
- Ignorance. As it turns out, it’s not bliss after all, at least where your career is concerned. If you keep your head down believing this will keep you safe, you may find your skills to be irrelevant when you come up for air.
- How it shows up: Not investing time staying attuned to the market, economy or news, believing lay-offs and other involuntary career shifts could never happen to you.
- What you can do: Take a class, read industry journals, get active in an association, put yourself in environments where you’ll be exposed to new ideas and information.
The messages we tell ourselves have a great deal of power, and ultimately drive our actions. Successful people are not luckier than the rest of us, but rather spend time every day focused on their careers in some way. They have the same fears, concerns and distractions, but push forward anyway, through the ambiguity, risk and trip-ups.
It’s easy to redirect blame for a lifeless career onto our boss, the market, bad luck or some other external circumstance. But in the end, we’re the person with the most control to move ourselves in the direction of our goals.