Your “career path” can seem like this mystical, esoteric thing. After all, there’s no tried and true guidebook that dictates a clear “career path” for anybody. No matter what the industry, there will always be some variation as to how you will get to where you’re going.
No, it’s less of a path and more a labyrinth. Except instead of having to contend with menacing Muppets ruled by David Bowie, you must navigate the nuances of office politics while still making a positive impression on senior management.
It’s no wonder then, that so many of us lose our way when trying to reach our long term career goals. But while some situations are beyond our control, (such as layoffs) we are often our own biggest obstacle to reaching the next step in our career.
If your career goals seem out of reach, check in with yourself to see if one of these three career mistakes is holding you back. Personally, I’ve made each of these three mistakes at one point or another. So if one or more of these rings true for you, rest assured you’re not the first – nor the last – to face these self-imposed obstacles.
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Getting too comfortable
By nature, human beings are creatures of habit. We tend to take a lot of comfort in a predictable daily routine.
Routines are actually a really good thing and can help us foster healthy and productive habits, like exercising or reading. But when we start going through the motions on autopilot, we risk becoming complacent.
This is particularly true at work. If you’ve been doing the same job day in and day out for years without taking on any new challenges, you will eventually become disengaged and less productive. Worse still, you’ll stop growing.
After five years at my first full-time job, I knew needed to branch out to continue growing. Yet, aside from the dreadful commute, I liked my job and the people I worked with. I waffled on the decision to leave for a year and half before finally taking the leap into a totally different side of the industry. Resigning from that first job was one of the hardest (and scariest) decisions I ever made, but it turned out to be the best thing for my career.
It’s easy to get too comfortable, and the prospect of change can be even harder when you have a good rapport with your colleagues. But if you know you aren’t growing as much as you want to be, you need to examine your position closely. It could be time to move on to a new company or job that will challenge and develop you.
To be clear, I’m not implying that you need to change jobs every couple years or else you will become complacent. You can actually stay in the same role for years and never stop learning and growing. (Check out this article on the best tips for growing professionally without changing jobs.) Every situation is different, and only you can determine if there is still room for growth in your current company, or if it’s time to move on.
Putting self-care on the backburner
Even if you’re highly ambitious, you’re not immune to making career mistakes. In fact, it’s ambitious types who tend to burn the candle at both ends and as a result they neglect their health or personal life. Sadly this type of “workoholic” behavior is all too common. After all, society has conditioned us to believe that success is about sacrifice. While I don’t disagree with the sentiment entirely, there’s a point where it becomes unhealthy and counterproductive.
Case in point: There was a time in my life when I was thinking about work all the time. I would check my work emails at all hours and obsess over every detail on projects. I’d bring paperwork home with me on the weekends, just to double check that I’d completed it correctly.
When I didn’t physically take my work home with me, I took it home with me mentally. If I was working on a difficult project, I would lose sleep over it and would get really stressed out every time the smallest thing went wrong.
Unsurprisingly, I started to burn out. I realized that I wasn’t doing the business or myself any favors by not taking the downtime when I needed it. I took a step back and decided there needed to be a defined line between work and life.
While I still work overtime when needed, most of the time work doesn’t actually warrant my attention outside of business hours. And although improving my work-life balance is still a work in progress, I’ve come a long way. For the most part, I’m able to dedicate my time away from the office to working on things I love to do, and spending time with my family.
Prioritizing your physical health is just as important, especially when you have an office job that require hours of sitting. Ever since I’ve started exercising regularly, I’ve felt more energized and able to face challenges at work more positively. (In fact, there’s a whole host of reasons why exercise is vital to career success!)
As Shakespeare put it:
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.”
I’m not in the habit of quoting Shakespeare. To be honest, I can’t stand Shakespearean plays and I don’t care how uncultured that makes me sound. But he hits the nail on the head with this quote.
One of the worst career mistakes we can make is cave to our self-doubt. Yet almost everyone struggles with it at some point in their lives. Sometimes, for most of their lives.
Self-doubt is is essentially a fear of failure, something that’s ingrained in many of us from a young age. There seems to be this unspoken, societal expectation that we should get things right the first time. There’s a social stigma attached to failure; fail at something and you may be seen as unpopular, weak, or stupid.
But in my experience, the embarrassment of failure is not nearly as bad as a lifetime of wondering what could have been, if you’d only tried.
Early on in my career, I had turned down a job because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I ended up working another two years in the same role as a result. A few years later, I was offered a leadership role after just five months at my new company. I was terrified that I wasn’t experienced enough to handle it. For a moment, my fear of failure was so strong that I almost turned it down. But I didn’t want to miss out again, so I accepted and decided I would make it work. Pushing through that fear to rise to the challenge turned out to be a pivotal moment in my career.
Learning from your career mistakes
Everyone makes career mistakes at some point. But it’s never too late to find your way out of the labyrinth and get back on the path. Were there some growing pains when I confronted each of these self-imposed obstacles? Absolutely. But learning from my career mistakes have made me a better professional. Better still, they have given me confidence that I can achieve even greater things!
Growth can only happen when we do something outside of our comfort zone. Just make sure you take care of yourself too, so you can bring your best self to work every day. Like just about anything else in life, it’s about striking a balance!