February 11, 2000
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The best you can do with the mistakes in your
life is learn from them. It is even better, though much harder, when you
can learn from the mistakes of others. Mistakes happen to us all, but
when we make mistakes in our career it can effect all aspects of our lives.
When mistakes happen it is important to review them, quickly, learn what
we can and then move on. Unfortunately, too many people skip the middle
step and repeat the same mistakes over and over. Here are a few of the
biggest career mistakes and how you can avoid them.
Being too important (or thinking you are.)
One of the largest career mistakes is believing you are more important
to your employer than you really are. Even the best companies view their
employees as interchangeable parts that can be easily swapped in and out.
Most companies will resist the idea of your being overly important to
Acknowledging that you are important puts them
in the unpleasant position of being dependent on you. No company wants
to feel its fortunes ride on one person. In some cases, companies will
actually fire someone who is becoming too important to remove this dependency.
Certainly not a smart way to run a business, but it does happen.
Over time you can develop of sense of arrogance even if that is not your
normal -personality. You like to be needed, but there is a time you must
be humble and seek to include those around you in your success. An old
saying goes, "those who stick their heads above the clouds are the
first to be struck by lightning." There is no problem with being
important, but sometimes you have to act as if you don't know it. Arrogance
can often lead us to make outrageous demands or threaten to leave. Any
time you make a threat to leave the company you had better be prepared
to take that step as companies will often use that threat as reason to
let you go.
Finally, you want to avoid truly becoming indispensable in any one position.
The more identified you are with a certain area or position, the less
likely you will ever be promoted. In a case like this you want to insure
that you are developing your own replacement. Then when you want to move
into a new, higher, position your company will have less of a reason to
worry or deny the promotion.
Choosing the wrong job
Don't take one position in a company as a stepping stone to another unless
there is a clear career path. Too often people are so eager to get a "foot
in the door" that they will take any job available. While this seems
like a good idea the reality is not as pleasant. Once you establish yourself
in one position or department you will be identified with that job forever.
It is not fair nor right, but this is the way it works in most companies.
Moving from one department to another is difficult. Moving from one discipline
to another is nearly impossible. In most cases, I have seen people leave
the company so that they can work in their new discipline and gather some
experience. Only then can they return to their original company having
divorced themselves from their previous work label. Choosing the wrong
job can delay your career goals for years. It is much like choosing the
wrong path in a maze. It doesn't stop you entirely, but it certainly slows
you down while you retrace your steps and start over.
Staying in a job you hate
Too many careers have been ruined entirely by people who remain in a job,
or even a career, that they have grown to hate. If you are constantly
dissatisfied with your job this will be clear to your managers and co-workers.
It is better to find a new career that you do enjoy rather than building
up a host of bad evaluations, poor promotions and personal enmities that
will follow you around for the rest of your life. Granted, it is both
difficult and frightening to find a new job or career, but isn't it more
frightening to know that with every passing day you are digging yourself
deeper into a hole; a hole from which you might never be able to crawl
Too often the relative comfort of having a job, even one that you hate,
can override making decisions that are in your own best interest. If you
are constantly unhappy at your work you need to do some very hard thinking.
Is it the job? Is it the people? Is it the career? Whatever the cause,
you need to remove yourself before you get trapped there forever.
Carefully evaluate the career mistakes you make and learn from those around
you. Your work is a major portion of your life and it should be treated
with the same clarity of thinking you apply to your personal life. Mistakes
are one of the most important ways we learn. Don't ignore them. Take them
as the hard-knock lessons they are intended to be.