5 Ways to Avoid Sabotaging Your Career

feet 166161247_9e1be2f4ff_mA job is a building block. A career is what we build. When starting out, we’re never quite sure what we’re actually building, if anything. We could end up with a useless pile of sticks or a really cool house on a mountaintop.

Careers are not built by ourselves alone. So we need to understand the roles we play (including how we play them) and the potential impact of the supporting cast.

All eyes are on you.

It’s often said: “My career should grow because I do really good work.”

But good work is only one part of it. Well-chosen and savvy professional relationships are another. Without a cadre of colleagues at all levels who attest to your competence, value, and ability to “get along,” your career will likely advance slowly, if at all.

The quality and effectiveness of your workplace relationships are noticed and become part of your personal brand. You can shoot your career in the foot easily by saying or doing things at work that  paint the wrong picture of who you are.

5 cautionary steps

These five steps can help you avoid sabotaging your career along the way:

  1. Don’t get ahead of yourself

The way employees move up is different in every company. Start by figuring out what the leadership sees in those who have been given more responsibility. Be alert to what is said about those who have been promoted. You need to know but don’t have to agree.

Advancement is not about when you think you’re ready. It’s about what the decision-makers think. Until you know, for sure, that you have regularly met the company’s performance standards, defer asking to be promoted or given plumb assignments.

  1. Keep your wants close to your chest

Managers are generally the ones who create opportunities or obstacles to your growth. You may want to assume that your boss is on your side, but that isn’t always the case. So it’s important to build a strong, credible performance portfolio.

Once you tell your boss what you want from your career, s/he has the leverage to help or hinder. So be prudent about how much you let on and when. Timing can be very important.

I once had a client who, at each job change, told his boss that he was “title sensitive” which was also code for wanting to be a big player. In each case, his career stalled.

  1. Don’t screen yourself out of opportunities

Too often, I’ve heard job seekers and careerists express an interest in positions and job challenges that are a notch up. They say, “I read the duties but I don’t meet  all of them, so I don’t think I should apply.”

It’s not your decision to (de)select yourself. That’s what management’s paid to do. It’s rare to find anyone fitting all the requirements of a job or assignment. What companies are looking for is the one who brings the best blend of knowledge and experience to the role. That may very well be you.

  1. Don’t follow someone else’s plan

The most important person to please with your career is you.

Lots of careerists pursue paths that well-meaning others have suggested or chosen for them. Then they wonder why the work doesn’t make them happy.

The first sign of self-leadership is our willingness to identify a life plan and then to start putting the  building blocks together, including those that construct our careers. When you don’t follow your own plan, it’s easy to go adrift.

  1. Don’t get seduced by the glitz

The trappings of better pay, high-sounding titles, greater authority, and any number of perks have a price. I’ve seen many people chase those things without seeing the personal and professional tolls that go with them.

There are advantages to career growth, but you need to make sure you understand how important they are to you…not to someone else…to you. Sometimes we need to see what’s behind the big door before we choose it.

Avoid self-sabotage

None of us ever sets out to make a mess of our careers. Sometimes we just do because we weren’t paying attention or had lost confidence in our ability to turn things around. By taking hold of your career, you can avoid self-sabotaging it.

Photo from davemendelsohn via Flickr

8 thoughts on “5 Ways to Avoid Sabotaging Your Career

  1. I loved your #5 — don’t get seduced by the glitz! There are many people who find out that the best paying jobs require a time commitment many aren’t willing to give. And it’s not only time — it’s energy too. Good post!

  2. Hello Dawn,
    This is the type of advice I wish I’d heeded when I was a fresh grad, diploma in hand, with little real understanding of what the ‘real world’ of work was like.

    The recurring theme I hear in your message is to be selective of your words and to be a sensitive listener and observer to the activities around you – and to add VALUE to your work place. As well, being ‘prudent’ and keeping your wants close to your chest is super advice.

    I also love #4: Don’t follow someone else’s plan. Yes, you should listen and learn from others and then heed the advice that’s right for you (and also, try out tips/strategies to see if they fit), but at the end of the day, tailor your own plan!

    Another fleshy post – I didn’t know where to start with my comments (so much good meat!).


    • Hi! Jacqui

      Thanks for much for your wonderful and typically affirming comment. You are so right that organic to my message here is to tune into the dynamics of the work environment–the actions others take, the things they say, and the behaviors that are rewarded or not–including how they apply to us. Too many careerists allow themselves to be carried along with the tide, failing to be aware of threatening currents and dangerous creatures beneath the surface. We all need to own our careers which means actively navigating all the potential pitfalls. It’s never mistake free, but we sure can minimize big ones.

      Your thoughts always enrich the message, Jacqui, turning it into a deli special piled high with pastrami!

      Merci, my friend,

  3. As usual, sage advice Dawn. Advice that it’s hard to understand until you’ve been working for a while. How you present yourself, how you speak about yourself and others – it all matters.

    Great article!

    • Thanks so much, Daria. So glad the post hit home. You’re so right…it often takes time in the roil of it all to “get” what’s really going on. Then we canmtake more informed actions. So nice to hear from you! ~Dawn

Leave a Reply