When you aren’t obsessing over pumpkin spice flavored… everything, or planning your travel back home for the holidays, you might be finding it difficult to keep your career goals in focus. The exuberance you may have experienced early on might be fading away as the leaves turn and the temperatures drop.
Just as the weather pulls for the world to begin hibernating, we can unconsciously start easing off the metaphorical career gas pedal as well. We start to entertain conversations with ourselves like “I’ll get to it later” or “well companies aren’t really doing much hiring between now and the end of the year” or worse, “maybe I should pick up a seasonal job to bring in extra cash for now.”
I’m not saying not to do what you must to take care of yourself and those you support. However, the last thing you want to do when you’re building something new is giving up on the momentum.
Here are 4 career traps NOT to fall into – read closely:
High-performing professionals are committed to excellence and producing extraordinary results. That’s why they’re called high-performing! It’s the way we think, the way we view the world. It’s encoded into every fiber of our being. We know how costly even the tiniest errors can be. We have trained ourselves, and others in most cases, to review our work, to triple-check everything, to get second opinions, etc. all to ensure that the final product is nothing less than perfect.
This is what has us be great at what we do and when it comes to advancing your career we’re unaware that it’s keeping us from the results we desire.
When I coach people, I let them know that thinking things through and planning their work is crucial. But at the same time, if that becomes a form of “analysis-paralysis” you would be crazy to expect results! Sometimes the most difficult thing for people is just getting started or taking a shot with what they’ve worked out so far. If I’ve learned anything from my 3-year-old Nephew, trying things out to see what happens can actually work in your favor.
How to avoid the trap:
1. Make daily promises and work it out in your calendar. You might have promises you’ve made to yourself like applying for 10 jobs each day, but there’s room for mischief if you are not specific with the daily results and don’t schedule time for it in your calendar. Doing this will get you grounded in reality and provide an opportunity to identify where you get stuck so you can hone in on those areas.
2. Remember this is not going to kill you. Our brains are literally programmed for our survival. But if you notice, you are not being chased by a sabertooth tiger right now. Mostly our fears are not connected to reality and at the moment, it really feels like a threat to our very existence to take certain actions we wouldn’t normally take. Worst case scenario, you’re going to have the same results you do now by not taking that risk. So take a breath and go for it. You never know what you might accomplish.
3. See the forest for the trees. You have to be able to determine for yourself when you are tackling quality assurance items or conducting research from just plain avoidance. Catch yourself keeping busy, a.k.a. distracted from taking action. This is a common behavior when people are scared or uncertain.
A few years ago a client of mine was going through a career transition and she had always known herself as ambitious with a clear direction. If you had a question, she had the answer. This was the first time in her life that she didn’t have THE answer for what she wanted to be when she grew up. Simultaneously, her husband was thriving in his career. This left my client regularly doubting herself and her future because this was not the case for her.
Your path is yours and yours alone. It’s not going to look like your parents’ or siblings’ or friends’ or spouse’s. It is yours to design and yours to discover. When we compare ourselves to others, we get into a mindset of good and bad, right and wrong, over there is better than over here, what I should/shouldn’t (fill in the blank). Doing this will set you up or upset and disappointment.
How to avoid the trap:
1. No snowflake is the same. You have a unique set of talents and experience that you have accumulated over the years. Your top skills and favorite activities are what you want to highlight when interacting with potential employers. If you don’t know what sets you apart from the pack, how will you convey that to someone else?
2. Create a winning environment. Celebrating “wins” is important because that little voice in your head does not want to shut up and it rarely has something nice to say. The more you acknowledge your accomplishments, and the accomplishments of those around you, the greater the atmosphere of positivity and…guess what! A positive environment makes it easier for you to accomplish your goals. Boom!
3. Utilize your resources. One of the most difficult things for people to do is ask for support, whether in making a connection or practicing for your next interview. You’d be shocked at how much people genuinely want to help. You get to decide, do you want to struggle on your own or do you want to take advantage of every opportunity to get a leg up, get the interview, and land that job?
POSSIBILITY VS FANTASY
In 1961, JFK stood before Congress and proposed that the United States should ensure we successfully send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. This was a radical statement. Even NASA came back to him and said, “But we don’t have the science for this yet.” To which the President responded, “I don’t care, get it done” (more or less).
One thing we say is yes, shoot for the moon! Go for it! But make sure your feet are firmly planted on the ground.
How to avoid the trap:
1. Work your way backward. Ideas, visions, and goals are wonderful – as ideas, visions, and goals. I want you to continue dreaming but it’s far more important that you fulfill the dreams. You have to do the work. Plan your work and work your plan. This will give you direct access and a clear target to those intended professional outcomes.
2. Be wary of expectations. What you are committed to and what you are expecting are two different worlds. When you “expect” that life will go a specific way, life now has to measure up to you. Life is not designed to measure up to your expectations. This is distinct from setting a goal while you are playing the game.
3. Know when to pivot. Most executives will tell you that the path that led them to where they are today did not look how they thought it would. Successful careers tend to move in an organic way and you need to be ready to pivot as demands shift. Yes, there is what you want to do in an ideal world, but perhaps that is what you can contribute to a company once you meet their needs as they are right now.
FEELING LIKE A FRAUD
As a top performer, you probably review your performance against your goals regularly. What worked? What didn’t work? How can I improve this for next time? How can I maximize my productivity?
You also know that nothing gets accomplished in a vacuum. I wouldn’t be able to get my job done without the support of my CEO, COO, and strategy team. Just as it takes being responsible for your failures, the same is also required for your accomplishments. This can be difficult as our upbringing, culture, and society have forever whispered in our ears “Don’t brag, be humble.” It can leave you doubting that you’re really as great as your resume says you are and sometimes you feel like a fraud. It’s even worse if this “fraud demon” attacks while you’re interviewing for a new job.
How to avoid the trap:
1. Remember it isn’t personal. Everyone in every city across the world experiences this from time to time when a passerby yells at you for being in the way. You are human, my friend, and there is no more significance to that negative self-talk than having the hiccups. Really!
2. Get your attention off yourself. If you look at your career goals, see if you can articulate what lights you up about what you get to do and the difference that makes. People discover time and time again that making a difference with others (including at the organizational level) builds confidence and satisfaction.
3. Hire an expert. All great athletes, performers, and artists have had a coach or teacher of some sort who would intently look for what special ingredient was missing that would elevate performance and make it magical. Having someone who is an expert in their field to do the analyzing for you will give you some peace of mind so you aren’t losing sleep trying to assess things yourself. Save yourself the time and effort. You’ll be grateful.
If any of the above rang true for you, try out a few of these tips and see what happens. And if you have your own “special sauce” that you used to overcome challenges, share with us in the comments. It will be a contribution to everyone.