10 Ways You're Killing Your Career
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There is no universal definition of career success. What matters most is how you define it for yourself — and what steps you’re taking to achieve it.
Unfortunately, you could be sabotaging your career without even knowing it.
In our 20+ years of career coaching experience, we often hear clients express frustration over what they perceive to be a lack of career success. Some feel like they’re spinning their wheels, bored, stuck and unfulfilled. Some feel like they’ve let themselves (or others) down. Some are stressed. Indeed, many feel all of the above.
In helping these clients gain the clarity they need to move forward, we often discuss things they may be doing to impair their own career success — and explore strategies to enhance their career instead.
Are You Standing in the Way of Your Own Success? 10 Career Killers
You may encounter many obstacles along your professional journey. Some are out of your control, but many are of your own making, even if you may not realize it.
Are you sabotaging your own career by falling into any of the following professional sinkholes?
1. You lack resilience.
How do you react to setbacks — both large and small? Failing is part of being human, but your response to failure is one of the most important drivers of your career success. Berating yourself, formulating distorted thinking patterns (e.g., labeling yourself “a loser”) and shying away from taking future risks can all stall your career.
What you can do: Fortunately, resilience is a skill that can be learned at any age, enabling adults to manage stress, meet challenges head-on, and bounce back from failure. Viewing setbacks as learning opportunities and engaging in positive self-talk forge new neuropathways in the brain; the more you train yourself to reframe setbacks in your mind, the more resilient you become.
2. You’re waiting … for something, someone or someday.
Perhaps you’re treading water, hoping that your career will magically morph into something else — something better. You put your career on auto-pilot and simply "do your time" until your boss recommends you for a promotion, or delay taking an evening class to develop a new skill because “it’s not the right time.”
Many people sabotage their career by waiting. Doing nothing usually results in exactly that: nothing.
“I view career — like life — as a sandbox for personal development,” says career and executive coach Nancy Scheel, who runs Jody Michael Associates’ Atlanta office. “If you don’t use your career as an opportunity to continually improve yourself in some way, then you’re always relying on external factors to make it good or better.
“That’s a dicey proposition, because ultimately, only you have control over your own path.”
What you can do: Be proactive about designing your own future, Nancy recommends, both short-term and long-term. Seize (or create) opportunities that move you in that direction.
Career growth isn't always about the big dramatic moves. Every single day, the projects you take on (or don’t), the relationships you develop (or avoid), and the skills you master (or neglect) create the pivotal moments of your career.
“Career growth isn’t always about the big dramatic moves.”
3. You neglect your personal brand.
Most people ignore their personal brand — until it’s time to look for a new job. But that may be too late. Your personal brand is a reflection of how you “show up” in the world; neglecting it — or leaving it to chance — can endanger the future of your career.
What you can do: As our career coaches recommend, creating, developing and maintaining your personal brand makes sense on an ongoing basis. Manage your digital identity by conducting a Google search of your own name, and exercise prudent judgment when posting photos or comments on any social media sites. (See 5 Ways to Build and Maintain Your Personal Brand, below, for specific actions you can take.)
5 Ways to Build and Maintain Your Personal Brand
Your personal brand reflects how you portray yourself to the world. A successful personal brand strikes a balance between consistency and flexibility. The following are a few strategies to create and manage your personal brand:
- Be who you are — Trying to come off as a rock star when you really thrive on classical music is a recipe for failure. Authenticity matters. It drives your interactions and, more importantly, your self-perception.
- Promote your brand — You have great thoughts and ideas; don’t keep them to yourself! Find ways to showcase your insights through industry speaking engagements, trade journals, media opportunities and networking events.
- Stay relevant — As you continue to grow as a professional, your industry will likely evolve as well. You may need to adapt accordingly. Stay on top of news and events in your field. Take advantage of opportunities for professional development through workshops, classes and online courses.
- Manage your online presence — Try to keep your personal and professional profiles separate on social media websites, but know that they often intersect. Be cognizant of the potential reach of the photos and comments you post, as well as third-party content you share. Your digital identity isn’t so easy to erase; once it’s out there, it’s hard to control, even years later.
- Make intentional choices — Your personal brand is the collective product of your decisions. How you spend your time, the people with whom you associate, and the projects to which you give your energy all culminate in your personal brand. Choose with intention.
4. You underestimate the importance of communication.
Across industries and job titles, understanding how to communicate in a workplace setting is essential to career success. Yet, as Maura Koutoujian, a career, life and wellness coach in the JMA Chicago office explains, many people have difficulty navigating differences in communication style. Engaging in meaningful conversations both depends upon — and builds — trust, which forms the foundation for authentic interaction. “Open communication doesn’t mean talking without a filter,” Maura says. “It means putting judgment aside and truly listening to what the other person is saying.”
What you can do: Developing empathy can help you appreciate other people’s perspectives, even — especially — if they are on a different page than you are. It can also help you engage in crucial conversations over high-stakes issues in the workplace. Learn how to formulate effective requests, make strong promises and offer genuine apologies.
5. You’re not accountable.
Accountability is one of the most critical elements of personal and professional success; at the same time, it’s also one of the most overlooked. Avoiding responsibility, procrastinating, complaining, failing to accept ownership of mistakes, and falling into the “victim” mentality all have the potential to sabotage your career.
Unfortunately, many people are oblivious to their blind spots. When you’re not accountable, you tend to over-promise and under-deliver, setting the stage for a downward spiral.
What you can do: Accountability isn’t limited to the promises you make to others; it starts with the promises you make to yourself. Developing an awareness of the thoughts that drive your moods, influence your behaviors and, ultimately, impact your results is the first step in becoming more accountable.
6. There’s never enough time.
Time is a limited commodity; there are only 24 hours in every day. Everyone has responsibilities, deadlines, appointments and commitments, but some people seem better able to manage their time than others.
While it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of your to-do list(s), it becomes precarious when you spend your time in ways that aren’t in alignment with your goals.
What you can do: Clear the mental clutter. Identify the distractions that pull you off course. Not all time needs to be spent in productive mode; in fact, many successful CEOs schedule “thinking time” as a way to boost their creativity and productivity. Find time management tools and techniques that work for you and make prudent choices about how to spend your time based on your priorities. Be flexible; as the demands of your job (and life) are constantly shifting, you’ll have to make adjustments along the way.
7. You avoid conflict.
Does it make you uncomfortable when someone voices a different opinion than yours, or criticizes your work? None of us works in a vacuum — every workplace has the potential to breed some sort of conflict, whether internal (among co-workers) or external (with clients, vendors, etc.). Few people enjoy confrontation, but failing to work through conflicts can not only hinder your own performance, it can also result in resentment and cause dysfunction within teams.
What you can do: Ignoring conflict doesn’t make it disappear. The first step to effectively deal with conflict is to diffuse an emotionally charged scenario. Take a deep breath and think before you speak. Try not to fear conflict, but rather use it as a way to learn and grow. Just as empathy helps you become a stronger communicator, it also enables you to approach conflict with greater understanding.
“Few people enjoy confrontation, but failing to work through conflicts can not only hinder your own performance, it can also result in resentment and cause dysfunction within teams.”
8. You put yourself last on the list.
Many people think taking care of themselves is selfish. People-pleasers tend to have a particularly tough time saying “no,” and wind up overcommitted, stressed out and exhausted. As we tell our career coaching clients, being depleted robs you of the opportunity to be your best self — in your career, relationships and life.
As Michelle Obama recently said, “If you don’t prioritize yourself, you constantly start falling lower and lower on your list.”
What you can do: First and foremost, get over the notion that self-care is selfish; it’s actually the opposite. Make self-care a priority. It may feel odd at first, but the payback will be almost immediate. When you’re energized, you perform better. You feel better. You relate to others better. And you’re better poised to achieve career success.
9. You don’t have executive presence.
“Executive presence” isn’t reserved for executives. Your somatic communication transcends the words you choose to impart your message. Your presence — evidenced in your posture, expressions, gestures and tone of voice — often speaks louder than your words. It not only affects how others see you; more importantly, it impacts how you feel.
Your resume may outshine the competition on every level, but if you walk into an interview slouching your shoulders, averting eye contact and speaking so softly that it’s hard for others to hear you, you may as well kiss that job goodbye. While it’s particularly critical in an interview setting, your somatic presence is vital to your long-term career success as well.
What you can do: Pay attention to how confident people stand, walk and even position themselves in meetings. Then, practice those yourself, even if they feel incredibly uncomfortable at first. Fake it and, in time, you will start to actually feel and exude more confidence.
10. You base your success on external measures.
Do you have a clear sense of what success means to you? If you measure your own accomplishments using someone else’s yardstick, you’ll likely come up short. Is “success” measured by the size of your paycheck, the location of your home or the title on your business card? You could be unwittingly killing your career by evaluating it from a skewed perspective.
What you can do: Reflect on your own values and priorities. Define success in your own terms.Then, take steps to achieve it. If you feel like you’re not reaching your potential in your current career, think about whether or not it may be time to make a change. A career coach can help you through the process of exploring what it is that’s making you feel unfulfilled. Is it your job, your boss, your company, your career — or something else?
While it’s never too late to make a change, sometimes the only change you really need to make is in your perception.