By far, the 12 biggest career mistakes to avoid are:
- being unhappy in an unfulfilling job,
- sacrificing your personal life for your career,
- selling yourself short – or not at all,
- trying to do it all by yourself,
- not helping others along their journey,
- not building a supportive network,
- avoiding guidance and counsel,
- putting money first,
- shying away from taking risks,
- thinking permanently and,
- placing a stop cork on learning.
These can all have a major impact on your career.
I have worked my way up and across corporate ladders from the 1980s to the current day. From being an Intern and a Junior Clerk to become a Supervisor at the age of 21, career changes provided me with a fast track into the E-Suite and the Board Room.
Along the way, I saw many mistakes being made and I also made a few myself – quite a few, actually!. Making them is fine. That is one of the most effective ways to learn. Recovering from them is another matter altogether. On that topic, I could write an encyclopedia.
From my experience, here are the 12 biggest career mistakes to avoid while navigating the corporate web.
You have spent years studying, sacrificing time with friends and family, missing special events, volunteering for projects no one else wanted, working extra long hours and stretching yourself thin to ace those performance appraisals, get noticed and get promoted.
You did it!
You arrived at one of those important and envious career milestones.
Soon, things start to feel different. Your peers, who are now your subordinates, are no longer as friendly and inviting as they used to be. You do not get invited to the Friday, after-work events.
Things start to eat away at you and you begin to act out in the workplace. You become disenchanted and allow your feelings and actions to impact the people around you and in your environment.
You are not as happy about your success as you should be and things seem to be heading in the opposite direction.
Suddenly, things begin to fall apart or, so it seems.
This is what self-sabotage looks and feels like. It happens more frequently than we care to admit and there is a strong and direct connection to the strength of your self-esteem.
2. Being Unhappy In An Unfulfilling Job
The C-19 pandemic has opened the eyes of many employees around the world. These eye-opening experiences have resulted in what is being labelled as “The Great Resignation“.
Some are even calling it “The Permanent Resignation” because many people are choosing not to return to the traditional workplace. Instead, they are creating their own work or working on their terms.
Because so many of us realised that the work we were doing was unfulfilling, not meeting our needs and was far from satisfying. Now employers are panicking and scrambling to implement some of the changes that workers have been demanding for years.
The majority of work creates bands of unhappy people, plagued by hours of commuting, too many personal sacrifices, low wages and limited opportunities for advancement and improving the quality of their lives.
Choosing to stay in that situation eventually becomes cancer that eats away at the very things you are trying to create.
3. Sacrificing Your Personal Life For Your Career
There is a saying that nothing great was ever accomplished without making sacrifices. The other side of that is the advice that you should never sacrifice your family, your heart or your dignity for anything.
Over the years, I have watched many people devote their best years and times to their jobs, work and careers. Along the way, when things like a new boss, different strategies or redundancy resulted in changes, they woke up to the fact that they were detached from their personal life and relationships.
A career is a means to an end and only one of the landmarks along your life journey. Sacrificing your home, family and personal well-being and interests could be detrimental to you.
And remember this: If you get to the point of retirement, you may leave your work, job and career to spend more time at home. Make sure that you nurture it.
Your career will not be there to look after you.
4. Selling Yourself Short – Or Not At All
If I had to choose one compulsory skill for every employee, it would be this – selling. You may already be doing it but not be willing to admit it. If you are someone like that, chances are you may be selling yourself short – or not at all.
How well everyone sells is another matter but we all sell.
It could be an idea, getting a friend to accompany you to see a movie you like, trying to convince others of your point of view or getting your boss to choose your strategy over your co-worker’s. You are constantly selling.
You would achieve greater results if you understood this and took the time to strengthen your selling skills by learning to present yourself, your thoughts and your words more effectively, assertively and convincingly.
5. Trying To Do It All By Yourself
“No man is an island.”
John Donne explored this at length in his 1624 prose that speaks to how connected human beings are to each other. I have always been a huge supporter of inclusion and opening the doors for others to share and learn. There are numerous benefits to this approach and it goes a long way to boost your career.
No one has all the answers and it is impossible to do everything on your own. You must also consider that no one human being is so fully skilled, educated and able that they can achieve all that is demanded and required.
When you allow others to work with you and alongside you, you also benefit from different perspectives and sharing of the workload. This helps with both efficiency and effectiveness and also contributes to you achieving your goals faster.
The work should go on, even in your absence.
6. Neglecting Others Along Their Journey
Whenever I have the opportunity to share on this subject, I am always open about the help I received as I climbed the corporate ladder. I did not achieve everything I did in my career without assistance.
There were small moments – the thank you note for a job well done and, there were grand gestures – being invited into a training session for Executives because I made sure that my Manager achieved her end-of-year goals.
Every bit of help that I received reminded me that I needed to reciprocate and I did and still do.
Many of the persons I helped along their journey were my juniors and today, now that I have retired as a full-time employee, they continue to express their gratitude for the tangible assistance I extended back then, Not only that, they are more than willing to help me when I need it.
They are now running the show and I am proud of them.
Remember: It takes two hands to clap and one to pull you up.
We are mid-way. Here is a quick exercise for you.
Grab some paper and a pen or pencil. Draw 12 boxes and label them with the 12 biggest career mistakes to avoid.
Now, re-read the first 6 that we have just covered. Slowly. As you read through, reflect on your own experiences and behaviours.
Do you recall any times when you may have made any of these mistakes?
If you do, write them in the appropriate box. We will re-visit them at the end.
Let’s move on.
7. Not Building A Supportive Network
This flows naturally from numbers 5 and 6.
Keep the NET in NETwork in mind. What is a net used for?
You can cast a net into the wild to catch or secure something that you need or want. It can be used to propel you and lessen the time it takes to get from one place to another. You can also use a net as a safety measure if you are in difficulty like falling or sinking.
That is the benefit of having a tight and wide NETwork. You should start building one as early as possible.
Your school friends will enter the world of work with you. Some may rise faster and higher than you do. Others may be gatekeepers to opportunities that you are seeking.
Other persons in your NETwork may also be friends and acquaintances of your parents, siblings, relatives and neighbours.
Always help others when you can, and be kind and supportive. These actions and behaviours will become the knots in your NETwork.
8. Avoiding Guidance And Counsel
I became a Supervisor at the young age of 21 years. All my Direct Reports were older and more experienced than I was. I found them to be slow to learn and adapt and it frustrated me.
My CEO at the time tried to encourage me to adapt my style and not be abrasive towards or, intolerant of, my Direct Reports. I recall him telling me: “To be a leader, you need to have followers.”
Did I listen to his wisdom and heed his guidance? Hell no!
Two (2) years later, I fired myself from that job by storming into his office, totally exasperated because my Direct Reports were not willing to support me. Back then, I did not realise that I was the one who was not supportive of the fact that change does not come easily to everyone.
That decision brought my career in IT to an abrupt halt and it is an experience I learned a lot from.
Learning, guidance and counsel can come from anyone, anywhere. Be attentive and observant and, when possible, ask for feedback. I am certain that it will help you become a better person, Employee and Manager.
9. Putting Money First
There are times when this may be necessary to do but, I am of the opinion that too many of you do this way too soon or too often.
When I started my career as an Actuarial Intern back in the early 80s, I recall my CEO telling us that our career path would be no different from any other “elite professional’s”. By that, he meant a Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant or Manager.
The good ones paid their dues by studying consistently, working hard and raising their hands to help whenever necessary. As Interns, our pay was horrendous by any standards BUT, he constantly reminded us that no one could take our knowledge away from us.
That stuck with me in a big way.
Some may argue that this was a weak strategy however, I have never put money first when making a career decision. The knowledge and experience that I have acquired are what I leverage today to grow my businesses and create sustainable streams of revenue and profitability – on my terms, all around the world.
10. Shying Away From Taking Risks
Your appetite for risk may be hurting your career more than helping it. On the other hand, if you are a 10 on the risk-taking scale and not investing adequate time in each role, frequent moves could also be hurting more than helping your career.
Having said that, I have moved my career path from Actuarial Science to IT, to Sales, to Marketing and then to Human Resources. In between, I dabbled with a few other roles and functions but all with good reason.
I knew where I wanted to end up and that is exactly where I am now – building my own business and working across the globe.
To achieve that, I had to take some major risks and I admit that I did push the envelope hard on a few occasions.
Simply put, if you want to move across or up the career ladder, you will have to take a risk or a few to get there. Be discerning though and make sure that you always have a Plan B – and C.
11. Thinking Permanently
This should be one of the most obvious mistakes to understand, especially as we are now trying to reinvent so many things following on from the pandemic of the past 2 years.
Truth be told, there is no permanence. Everything, (and everyone), is in a constant cycle of change. What you know today most likely will not be here tomorrow. The future will change and so will your work, your job and your career.
Many organisations that are over 100 years old are having to reinvent themselves and the work that they do. Our reliance on computers and technology continues to reshape all that we now know.
The recent pandemic pushed the boundaries of how we work, when we work, where we work and what work is important. This added more fire to the Great Resignation and resulted in many organisations and people rethinking what work meant to them.
We have learned that careers will come and go. They will change. You must be able to flex with them and adapt to the changing times, situations and demands.
12. Placing A Stop Cork On Learning
To close this list off, I have placed the most important of the 12 biggest career mistakes to avoid last. With good reason. It connects to every one of the career mistakes that I have shared above.
I always like to point out that when I speak about “learning“, I am not referring to academic qualifications. My reference to learning includes our education, experience and flexibility of competence. This includes development strengths such as the effectiveness and appropriateness of your behaviours, your resilience, how actively you listen, your creativity and, how congruently you are able to function in your roles.
Gone are the days when a Diploma, Certificate or other “piece of paper” will ensure your career longevity and the corner office with 180-degree views. The only window view that you may have control over is your own, from wherever you call home.
Times are changing and you must be able to change with them if you want to stay in the game.
Closing Thoughts . . .
Careers have changed fundamentally since I joined the workforce in the early 80s. Maybe, because there were fewer of us, doing less, it did not feel so competitive and challenging to navigate. There was greater ease in performing, gaining recognition and rewards and progressing up the corporate ladder.
Today, as I continue to work with individuals who are trying their best to understand the constant changes, demands and expectations, I am better positioned to see the mistakes being made.
From where I am positioned, I have a broader and deeper view of all the scenes being played out. From my observations, these 12 of the biggest career mistakes to avoid, if only because they are the ones I see and hear the most.
Let’s Complete The Exercise
Re-read 7 to 12. Again, Slowly. As you read through, reflect on your own experiences and behaviours.
Do you recall any times when you may have made any of these mistakes?
If you do, write them in the appropriate box.
Now, you have a development script of 12 aspects of your functioning that you may want to explore and start working to improve.
Prioritize them by numbering them, from A (most important) to L (least important). Then, it is time to do some research and explore how you can begin to strengthen these aspects of your functioning.
What Did You Discover?
If you found this article and simple exercise helpful and would like to receive tips and tools about how to begin the work you have identified, leave a comment below.
Let me know what you discovered and I will be happy to share some ideas with you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cassandra Patrovani is the Founder and Managing Director of LaMP International Limited. She founded the organisation in 2000 in New Zealand. Today, she lives with her daughter in her birth country, Trinidad, and leads a team of Consultants and Coaches around the world.
She has a keen interest in human behaviour and helping individuals and organisations to befriend change, live well and travel light.