Build Your Career: Get Out of Your Own Way

While it’s impossible for any of us to know exactly what the future holds, the more I work with my clients, the more convinced I become that some of biggest stumbling blocks about our careers are sometimes of our own making. Yes, there is uncertainty related to a job market that is volatile as well as an economy that seems unpredictable. But there are ways of quelling your own career fears and moving past them.

What Are You Afraid of?

  • Topping Out. You are afraid that there is nowhere for you to go in your career. Maybe your boss isn’t planning on leaving and there aren’t any other departments available for you to move to for new opportunities. You aren’t necessarily afraid of losing your job—but you are terrified of becoming stagnant in your role. Realize this is a common fear. I would advise you to first explore the idea of adding variety to your role. Can you switch clients or partner with other teams? Or, do you have an opportunity to add variety outside of the workplace? For instance, think about leading a professional development class, conducting seminars in your field, or positioning yourself as a leader or consultant on an independent level.
  • Settling. You think there might be a great opportunity elsewhere, but you aren’t pursuing it or investigating it and that scares you. Is this somehow a reflection on your ambition? Do you lack confidence? First, explore your thinking and understand if this opportunity or path is something that you really want, or just something you perceive that you should want. Maybe your mother-in-law thinks that you need to be further along in your career. Or maybe you have a friend who just received a big promotion. Don’t let these outside influences challenge your level of comfort and contentedness with your current position or question what you enjoy doing.
  • Failing to Secure a Promotion. You work your tail off every day and are going above and beyond the call of duty—but you aren’t getting promoted. You worry that maybe you are at the wrong company, or that this is some sort of personal slight. Realize this is probably not the case. Taking the next step and moving up the ladder is about more than just doing a great job. Have you asked what is required to get promoted? Then, look at what you bring to the table. What skills do you have? What results have you achieved? How do you fit in at your company? Relationships matter and frequently impact who gets promoted. Therefore, in addition to doing great work, put effort into building great relationships.
  • Feeling Underpaid. Comparing yourself to your peers, and feeling that you don’t make as much as everyone else, is also common. The first question to ask yourself is have you asked for one? It is unlikely you will get a promotion based on tenure; and nor because you want to move to a bigger place that costs more. Your lifestyle is not of concern to your boss; your work product is.   Similar to getting a promotion, ask yourself what more you bring to the table or what your accomplishments In addition, do your research. Gather information about typical pay at your organization and in your industry. Then you can advocate for a raise when presented in terms of your accomplishments and salary norms.
  • Experiencing Imposter Syndrome. This fear comes into play when you have achieved something, been promoted, or realized the career change you were dreaming about. But now, it’s time to get to work—you have to deliver. That’s not to say that you are incapable of performing, or that you bit off more than you can chew—rather, you might be worried about failing, or being unable to live up to your boss’s expectations of you. In a situation like this, get support. Ask for more resources, more information, or clarification. Begin with having a rational discussion with yourself. Is this more ‘in your head’ than based in any reality? If it is more in your head, then you may need to confront self-esteem issues. Perhaps consult with a mentor for encouragement. If it is based in a lack of knowledge, determine if you need outside training or coaching, or on-the-job training may be all that is required. Finally, realize that Imposter Syndrome is largely based on fear of the unknown and that you are nervous because this role is new and unfamiliar. Therefore, focus on the known factors of your role, identify gaps, and plot a course for addressing those gaps.

What has been your biggest career fear? What are your tips for moving past it?

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