You Don’t Have to Figure it Out the Hard Way: 4 Career Mistakes I Made

I’m a firm believer that you can and should learn from others’ victories and their mistakes. Often, I believe we go through things simply so we can spare others the agony of the long learning curve. Here are a few hard lessons I’ve learned along the way that I pray will help you.

1. Don’t let your career take over your whole life. I felt like my job/career was so important and it really demanded a lot from me (don’t get me wrong, I was rewarded well), but that left little time for the 3 things that mattered most (my husband, my son, and my daughter). In the spirit of full transparency, my career nearly cost me my marriage, until I renewed my perspective and started saying no to tasks beyond my stretched bandwidth. Yes, it’s awesome to be the eager employee who consistently takes initiative, but consider the full costs of tackling that big project. What good is another promotion if your biggest fans aren’t along for the ride?

2. Have a vision for where you want to be in 2 years, 5 years, etc… If you are anything like I was, I was so consumed in the urgency of each new day’s issues, that I rarely found time to simply daydream, allow my mind to wander, and seriously give thought to what my next few steps would look like. This is a trap that often causes exceptional professionals to stay put or receive a promotion, but not necessarily the best promotion. Think of it like this…if you don’t know where you actually want to be in 5 years, how will you know if this offer is truly in your best interest?

3. Invest in yourself and stop waiting for your employer to do it. I likely lost a whole year waiting for a decision from my then-employer to approve a few hundred dollars for the PMP exam fees. I knew earning that would help my overall career, but I kept waiting for them to pull the trigger. At some point I finally realized, it wasn’t up to them and it was totally my responsibility to get what I needed. I stopped waiting for them and took matters into my own hands. Once I made the choice, I had prepared for and earned the PMP within a few months.

4. Find time for what matters. Yes, you’re exhausted at the end of each hard day, but you will stay right where you are if you don’t carve out some needed time to read relevant books, attend innovation-focused conferences, stay connected with other people in your industry, and so on. I remember being so tired after 10-12 hour days, 1.5-hour commute, picking up kids from daycare, cooking, cleaning, bathing…that I could faintly even imagine doing more for the work part of my life. But what about the weekends? I could surely have snuck in a half hour of reading on Saturday before the kids started to stir. Perhaps, scanning an article while dinner was simmering. Even listening to e-books on leadership during my commute would have helped me step up my development game. I learned later in my life to find time where I could. To stop waiting for all the planets to be perfectly aligned and to snatch time where it could be found.

One thing I did well and I hope you’ll benefit from this. If you know you’re underpaid or you believe your new role is worth more, ask for more. I employed simple techniques to request a salary that I believed to be congruent with my new responsibilities or recent successes. If you keep encountering “no’s”, then think about presenting a stronger case with actual evidence of your bottom-line impact or seeking greener pastures where your contributions will be more tangibly appreciated.

I hope that you will learn these valuable lessons from me (or others who have already walked miles in your shoes) so you don’t have to figure it out the hard way. Take the time now to really manage your career.  Someone’s got to steer the ship…why not you?


Written by Brenda M. Cunningham: Career Transition Specialist at Push Career Management, LLC! Whether you are unemployed or ready for more in your career, she builds powerful portfolios that capture attention and coaches professionals to land their ideal positions at their ideal pay.