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7 Career Traps That Can Ruin Your Life, How to Avoid Them

"What’s that old cliché? If you fail to plan, you plan to fail"

7 Career Traps That Can Ruin Your Life, How to Avoid Them

Successful careers don’t just happen and traditional career management advice simply doesn’t work in the professional world of today. There’s no long-term reward for corporate loyalty working for "Them Inc.," although you still have to play the game as though you believe there is. Your real focus must be on securing your own future.

The first change you need to make is to stop thinking of yourself as someone desperate for a paycheck. You are a financial entity, "Me Inc.," which must survive and prosper over what will likely be a 50-year work life. You need to recognize that you are on your own; that either success or failure is in your future and that you have a real choice over which it will be.

Invest in the Future

Successful careers come to those who invest themselves in defining and then achieving the goals that deliver fulfillment and a financially buoyant life. So the next step for Me Inc. is to plan and start working toward your goals with the same objectivity and resolve with which a Fortune 500 "Them Inc." pursues profitability.

Objectively look at where you stand today and where you want to stand 20 years from now, then work backwards from your goal to the first steps you must take on this journey, then plan out the subsequent steps along your chosen path. They may well change along the way, that’s life, but you will still be that much further ahead and in a position to adjust your steps and focus to get on the right track. What’s that old cliché? If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

My doctor came from a poor immigrant family. She worked her way through high school because she had no choice and only got a GED three years after everyone else in her class. She started as a home health aid and invested 20 percent of her income for 20 years as she worked her way upward and through school and eventually became a nurse and then she continued: worked her way through medical school to finally become a M.D. 

You, me, all of us, we can get anywhere we want to go in life, as long as we want it badly enough.

The Me Inc. DIY MBA

If you can afford business school as you work that is awesome, if not, you can give Me Inc. a do-it-yourself MBA over the years as you work. You are smart enough to recognize that at the start of your career you don’t know squat about how business works: how money is generated and maintained in a reliable flow.

Consequently, with whatever job you start with and whatever jobs follow, you are always taking and giving in equal measure. You work your hardest and give your best to your team and the company and with equal vigor, you take the opportunity to watch, listen, analyze and learn how careers grow and companies really function. You will need this knowledge if you want to climb the professional success ladder and perhaps your own business down the line.

Credentials Trump Potential

People get hired and then promoted based on their credentials, not potential. To get what you want out of life, first invest in the skill development that makes you the best you can be at the job you have today. Then go the extra mile to identify the skills needed for your next step upward and develop those skills too, qualifying you for your next promotion.

When you do this you become the best you can be at whatever you do, developing the technical skills of your profession and the behavioral skills that will secure your job and position you for professional growth. These commitments will also make you more desirable to other employers. Your options broaden and your security increases.

Simultaneously, by giving yourself permission to use every job as an opportunity to learn what it takes for a business to function successfully, you are getting to know and understand the work of people in other departments. While this has obvious benefits for your job security and upward mobility, you also expand the reach of your professional networks, which steadily builds your credibility and visibility (your brand) while it continues your DIY MBA.

Appearances Matter

Concern with appearance is often trashed “because the inner person is what counts.” Perhaps, but in your professional life, you are who others see you to be. You are judged by your dress, grooming and cleanliness, by the way you speak and write to others and by the courtesy with which you treat everyone, high or low.

This face you show the professional world is your brand and a commitment to success in life demands that you pay attention to building a brand with guaranteed appeal to its customer base. Success is in paying attention to the details. Rule of thumb, dress one level above everyone else with your title.

If you want to get ahead, identify those who are already doing so and replicate their behavior and the face they show to the world. Looking for and identifying these people, you’ll begin to notice that they all seem to know each other.

Getting in With the In-Crowd

Every department and company has an inner and an outer circle, with the members of the inner circle getting the plum assignments and with them the best chances for raises and promotions. Everybody in the department where you work, or ever will work, stands, consciously or otherwise, in the inner or outer circle of that department.

Which circle you choose to stand in really is your choice and depends on how you behave and are perceived based on the topics we have been discussing above. Your choice will determine your future success through raises, promotions and the opportunities for achievement you are offered  or not as your choices will dictate.

Mapping the Future

Over the years, that vast industry you joined just out of school becomes a small professional community and it is the people in this community who are the movers and shakers of their professional worlds. To become part of the inner circle of your profession, you first must become part of the inner circle of your department, then company, and from company to company as your career progresses.

By the time you have a profession-wide reputation, you should be building entrepreneurial career possibilities for Me Inc., just as you continue to build the options for your corporate career with Them Inc.

Me Inc.? Really?

You, head of your own company? Yes, it is entirely possible: everything we have talked about today involves giving and taking in ways that increase your odds of success with Them Inc. and for Me Inc. simultaneously.

Seizing the opportunity to learn how companies bring money in the front door on a regular and reliable basis offers two distinct benefits:

1. Knowledge that will propel your professional corporate career with Them Inc.

2. Knowledge that will prepare you for Me Inc. bringing money in your own front door.

Short of inheriting your wealth (highly recommended), this latter option is where the only real financial security lies; but getting there will have to be addressed in future blog posts.

Monster Wants to Know: Are you happy with where you are in your career? Share with us in the comment section.

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