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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

5 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Career Success

Your inbox is empty, your to-dos crossed off, and your weekly report is in your boss’ hands a day early. Let’s face it: You’re the picture of success.

But while your day-to-day work is under control, and it might seem like your career is on track, you may want to take a closer look. Because, as it turns out, it’s pretty easy to make a few big-picture mistakes that can derail your chances for success.

How do I know? Well, as you’re about to find out, I’ve put my career and myself at a disadvantage a few more times than I’d like to admit. So, learn from my professional missteps and make sure you’re not sabotaging your success by making any of these five common mistakes.


1. Not Exploring the World Outside Your Department

In a big company, it’s easy to fall into a rhythm in your own department and stay there, where it’s most comfortable. That’s where you’ll make your first and closest office friends, get to know the management team, and really find your niche. It’s certainly where I was most at ease.

But, as I realized after taking on a series of cross-departmental projects, if you’re not actively networking outside of your team, you could be seriously hurting your success. Because when you need, say, a list of leads from the sales department and a flyer designed by marketing, your progress will grind to a halt—because you won’t have any contacts to immediately approach.

And think about the future, too: If you take the time to become well-known throughout the company (for your willingness to help and cooperative demeanor, of course), you’ll up your memorability—which means that when there’s a project in need of a leader or a promotion up for grabs, it’s much more likely that your name will come up first. On that note:

2. Not Applying for That Promotion

While the promise of a better title and more money always sounds nice, sometimes it can be hard to get the guts to actually go for it.

I’m a prime example: When my boss quit a couple months ago, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to volunteer to take the reins as department manager. But, I didn’t. There was no way I was prepared to fill my former boss’ shoes, I thought. And so, they brought in a manager from another department, and my chance at a speedy promotion was gone.

Of course, you’re not only sabotaging your success if you don’t jump at the chance for a promotion. You’re also setting yourself up for failure if you’re not preparing for that promotion right now. Even if the next step in your career seems far off, you should be taking advantage of training and professional development courses and looking for ways to pitch in and expand your current role. Otherwise, even when the opportunity comes up, you won’t be ready to take advantage of it.

3. Talking Yourself Out of an Internal Move

As I’ve begun to steer my career away from management, I’ve been on the lookout for a more creative position within my company. And recently, the perfect position came up: a writing position on the marketing team.

But even as I read the job description and knew it was a perfect fit, I questioned everything about the switch. How would I tell my boss that I wanted to apply to another department? If I didn’t get the position, would I get fired? Was I even qualified for the role?

By the time I’d convinced myself to apply, the job posting had been removed.

Internal moves can definitely be tricky to navigate. But if you spend too much time deliberating about whether you’ll get the position or what will happen if you don’t, you could seriously miss out on a great opportunity that can propel both your success and your happiness. (Turns out, when the job was posted again a few weeks later, my boss was 100% supportive and encouraged me to apply!)

4. Saying No to Big (but Scary) Opportunities

A few months ago, I was approached by one of the senior executives in my company, who said that he was looking for someone to spearhead a high-profile project, and that I had come highly recommended. As he pitched me the project idea, he warned that it would be a lot of pressure and a lot of risk—but in the end, it would put me on the fast track to a senior-level management position, in a company where advancement is typically slow.

He gave me the weekend to think about it, and I hemmed and hawed for two long days. While I wanted that promised promotion, the project terrified me. I would be in a completely unfamiliar environment with all eyes on me—including the CEO’s.

In the end, I said no. My self-doubt got the better of me and I assumed I couldn’t do it—I wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure and responsibility, and I surely wouldn’t have succeeded.

And as I watched another manager take over the project, recruit volunteers, and lead the team to success, all I could think was, that could have been me.

I know—it might seem obvious that I should have taken it. But in the moment, I couldn’t gather the courage to take on a new, uncomfortable position when I’d just begun to feel confident in my current role.

The lesson, obviously, is this: When you’re offered a big opportunity, consider it carefully—even if it scares the heck out of you. In the end, high risk often leads to high reward. But if you turn down every opportunity that comes your way, you won’t even have the chance to succeed.

5. Refusing to Ask for Feedback

In the working world, no news can seem like good news—meaning that if your boss doesn’t offer up negative feedback about your performance, you must be doing OK, right?

The thing is, waiting for your manager to bring up an issue puts you at a huge disadvantage. While you may be doing enough to keep your head above water, you’re not taking the initiative to really excel.

On the other hand, if you consistently ask for feedback—and brace yourself for the good or bad—you’ll be able to pinpoint areas where you need improvement. Then, you’ll be able to hone in on the most applicable trainings, take on projects that challenge you to use new skills, and, in general, become a better-equipped professional.

And that means, you’ll be much more prepared when it comes to applying for a new position or moving upward within your current company.

In the end, advancing your career comes down to being proactive, getting out of your comfort zone, and pushing yourself past feelings of doubt. It’s not easy (believe me, I know), but when you’re not holding yourself back, you’ll soon find that you have every opportunity to succeed.

Photo of woman at work courtesy of Shutterstock.