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Who needs enemies when you’ve got yourself? If it ever seems impossible to achieve a professional goal that should be well within your grasp—whether it’s a plum assignment, promotion or the corner office—you may be committing career self-sabotage without even realizing it. For every blown deadline or botched job interview, it’s easy to be unaware that you’re hitting the self-destruct button.
1) You’re so afraid of failure, you don’t even try
Everyone hates to fail. But for some of us, failure looms as a psychological threat, making our motivation to avoid failure exceed our drive to succeed. As a result, we can unconsciously sabotage our chances for success. After all, you can’t learn a brand-new skill or create a groundbreaking innovation without first being willing to risk failure. In her book Upgrade: Taking Your Work and Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary, Rana Florida, CEO of Creative Class Group, reveals how the willingness to fail is actually a key to success. “The successful entrepreneurs that I interviewed in my book all looked at failure as part of the learning process—as an opportunity to grow, reflect, reinvent and ultimately push forward,” she says.
The Signs: You have another last-minute headache or stomachache that prevents you from being fully prepared before your important presentation in front of management’s top brass. When important projects are due, you procrastinate, becoming distracted by low-priority tasks, until you “run out of time.” Oops, you did it again—you blew a deadline or turned in less-than-stellar work.
The Solution: Embrace risk as a period of experimentation and trial and error and see it as a key to learning and moving forward. In other words, adopt Facebook’s motto, “Move fast and break things.”
2) You don’t know when to fold ‘em
Some people just don’t know when to call it quits. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 30 percent of U.S. employees feel engaged or inspired at work. Among the disinterested 70 percent are the few bad apples who “roam the halls spreading discontent,” says Gallup CEO Jim Clifton. This trouble with tenacity costs U.S. companies $450 billion to $550 billion a year in lost productivity and puts too many professional dreams on hold. “If you feel your leader is stifling your talent, that you could be far more effective elsewhere, or that you’re not growing or developing, it’s time to leave,” Florida says.
The Signs: Your boss is usually in a foul mood, so much so that you make it a habit to avoid him rather than build a good working relationship. You dread performance reviews because they’re always bad news. Your boss is so into the habit of correcting people that you and your co-workers never receive constructive or positive feedback—as a result you feel uninspired and unmotivated in your job.
The Solution: “Recognizing a bad leader is key to moving your own career forward,” Florida says. You owe it to yourself to keep searching until you find a right fit for your talents.
3) You’re known for a “what have you done for me lately” attitude
You’re brand-new on the job, and already you’ve earned a bit of a reputation. You nix the notion of paying your dues or slowly climbing the corporate ladder. Instead, you want it all right now—a private office, the ability to work whenever and wherever you want, challenging and varying work assignments and recognition for all your contributions. Sound familiar? If so, count yourself among the “entitled” employees who really know how to press their manager’s hot buttons. Despite the common stereotype, millennials aren’t the only ones with the trait. There are plenty of senior-level employees who believe age and experience trump contribution.
The Signs: You consistently score low on engagement, initiative, teamwork and follow-through on performance reviews. Co-workers have actually asked, “Do you really want to work here?”
The Solution: Be proactive about seeking out more responsibility and challenging assignments. Ask your manager about unfilled needs at work, volunteer to take on extra projects, and in general go the extra mile. It’s all about adopting an “ownership mindset,” says Ian Christie, career strategist and founder of Bold Career, a career services company.
4) You don’t promote yourself, so your boss won’t either
Even if you’re not a marketer, shying away from self-promotion can leave you stuck in a dead-end career. Christie says professionals often become trapped in a “marketing gap”—they’re unclear about their professional strengths, what they have to offer, their value and where they fit best. They also don’t know how to package themselves—from keyword messaging on LinkedIn to what never to post on Facebook.
The Signs: You botched a job interview because you hedged instead of clearly expressing your strengths and contributions in your last job. After a few of these fiascos, your career or job search has stalled, and you’re not sure what to do next.
The Solution: Don’t wait until you’re between jobs to do a skills inventory, reflect on past accomplishments and review feedback from bosses and co-workers. Next, fine-tune your messaging, including your elevator pitch, resume bullet points and LinkedIn profile. Grow your professional network and tap into the expertise of a mentor.
5) You haven’t learned the hard truth about your soft skills
You may have mastered all of your job’s technical skills, but if you lack good communication, leadership and interpersonal skills, you may never get the next big promotion. “It’s all about how you deal with people, how you work in a team, whether you communicate your ideas effectively, how you develop and maintain relationships, how you give back to your network and how you solve conflicts,” Christie says.
The Signs: You’ve gone through a string of jobs and you’re not sure why. One or more of your bosses has offered tips on how you could show a little more tact in how you deal with people, resolve conflict and communicate during one-on-one or staff meetings—they must be wrong, though, because you think you conduct yourself just fine.
The Solution: Ask for and be open to feedback on your people skills to increase your self-awareness (don’t become defensive). Depending on your weaknesses, you can take classes, read books, learn more about your personality type or spend more time preparing and polishing what you’ll say before one-on-one and staff meetings. “You need to understand what makes you tick and try to become your best possible self,” Christie says.
It can be a real a-ha moment when you realize you’ve been standing in your own way and succumbing to the Saboteur Within. As cartoonist Walt Kelly penned in his comic strip Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and they are us.”
Lori K. Baker is an award-winning journalist who specializes in human-interest profiles, business and health. Her articles have appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, Arizona Highways and Johns Hopkins Health.