You probably didn’t set out to turn your promising career into a train wreck of Real Housewives proportions. But if you’re not careful, this could be where you’re headed.
While flipping tables may be an obvious sign that you’ve taken a wrong turn, unintentional—even innocent—mistakes can dim a bright career future. Here are a few of the most common career gaffes and some tips on how to avoid them:
1. Make emotional, rash decisions. Go on, act on that impulse to quit without notice. It’ll feel so good … for about five minutes. Then you’ll realize your reference is shot, you’ve burned the bridges you spent years building, and no one learned their lesson the way you imagined.
Emotions are a natural part of being human, but acting on emotions isn’t a requirement. The decisions people most often regret are those that are made in haste when emotions are running high. Slow down, take a deep breath, and think it through. You can end up living with the consequences of a bad career decision for life.
2. Be reactive. Here’s an idea: Why not just wait and let life have its way with you? That’s what being reactive is all about. Maybe the writing on the wall says layoffs are coming. But you just hang out, hold tight, and wait for the ship to sink. Then, months later when you’re “suddenly” unemployed, you can’t help but feel like a victim of this horrible economy.
Maybe if you took action early on, you could have avoided the pain of unemployment. If you planned ahead and took control of the situation, rather than letting the situation control you, maybe you’d be in a position of power rather than victimhood. Instead of scrambling to keep up, aim to stay two steps ahead.
3. Avoid self-reflection. Conflict with co-workers? They must be jealous. Butting heads with your boss? He’s probably a jerk. Whatever is going on that’s holding you back in your career, it’s not your fault. If you believe that, I know of a reality show you’ll love.
No one likes to admit they’re less than perfect, but guess what? You are. We all make mistakes. We all have room for growth. If you’re unwilling to really see yourself (warts and all), take responsibility for your shortcomings, and commit to improving them, your career is on a fast track to nowhere.
4. Wing it. Who needs a plan? Head out in the vague direction of “success,” and you’ll get there eventually, right?
The GPS makers of the world are laughing hysterically right now. They know that if you don’t know where you’re going and you don’t have a map to get there, chances are good that you’ll end up in a bad part of town. The same is true for your career. Just ask the aspiring writer behind the shoe counter at the bowling ally.
5. Get comfortable. Sit back, relax, and put your career on cruise control. Don’t worry about learning new skills or pushing yourself to new levels. Grab a mint julep and find some shade.
And while you’re doing that, the competition will be quietly, steadily outpacing you. The rest of the world isn’t worried about being comfortable; they’re worried about being successful. They know that there are no easy paths to greatness. They’re constantly growing and learning and seeking discomfort—because that’s where the good stuff happens.