My 5 worst career mistakes (& how you can avoid making them)

Below are the five lessons I learnt, under each lesson is the story of the mistake I made in order to learn each lesson. Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes :-)

1. Being right when it didn’t matter (inability to be strategically humble)

Sometimes Hollywood movies have it right. I do believe that sometimes life (at least in the short term) does come down to a single moment where you can say and do one thing that will change your course significantly, here is one of mine…

My mistake: I was in a meeting with a C-level executive in a project steering committee. The project was struggling and my role was to help ensure the benefits were realised. What needed to happen was for the project sponsor (the C-level exec) to clear some roadblocks, I had repeatedly told the executive this but my requests had gone unheeded. In front of the committee the C-level executive questioned me on the lack of results and I thought it was a good idea to let everyone in the room know that I had repeatedly asked for assistance, which in effect shifted the blame back onto her. There was no need to do this, as a consultant I could and should have “taken one for the team” and been strategically humble instead of being “right”. More importantly this helped no one and added no value. This event caused a lot of fallout for me on this project.

2. Being mentally resilient and persistent whilst ignoring my body

There is a myth out there that is I think partly fed by motivational speakers and naive young Olympic athletes that if you just persevere for long enough you will succeed. Believe it and you can achieve it; Anthony Robbins type of mindset. Well recently there has been a lot of opinion and writing saying that this is a load of rubbish and you need to think more in terms of whether to persevere or pivot (change direction) until you validate your premise (see The Lean Start-up for more on this).

If you attempt to use willpower to achieve a career outcome that is not the best use of your skills and does not tap into your passions then guess what..? You’ll probably get sick, burn out, be super-stressed due to using a disproportionate amount of energy in order to get an ordinary result.

My mistake: I am not the type of person who is suited to long term detail roles. I work top-down preferring to prepare a strategy and framework and then govern others to manage the detail. There I said it… for a long time I was in denial about this due to an expectation that consultants have to be able to work “end-to-end” from project start to end. I tried this and got horribly sick… Look to what you are good at and do more of it, be mindful of the warning signs that you body is trying to tell you something. Signs include:

  • Frequent colds
  • Getting sick as soon as you go on holiday
  • Ongoing muscle pain, headaches

3. Not noticing that my personal & career values have shifted

This one is simple. When I was 30 I wanted money and a big corporate consulting role, so did my wife.
My Mistake: As I turned 40 what I wanted from work/life slowly shifted, and I failed to adjust my work to reflect my new values (family time, helping others etc.).

I advise you to simply list the five top things you value and make sure that they are in the correct order. Here are mine in order: Health, Family, Home, Fun, Work, Future. This order simply means that my health needs to be in place for me to serve the world. Providing for family (money and time) comes second, creating a home comes in next. Note that the future comes last so that I do not get too caught up in what may happen and continue to focus on what I need to do NOW. To learn more about your values go here

4. Working to my weaknesses (for too long)

This relates to the previous point about listening to your body but is more specific. Take the time to really understand what you are really awesome at and do more of it. Peter Drucker the guru of gurus says this is THE best way to manage a professional career.

My Mistake: I for too long attempted to be good at everything, getting sick and frustrated when I failed. My current work fully utilises my strengths in strategically assessing a situation and helping others to make sense of their world. I still consult and do other activities but not for too long and not too much.

5. Trying to think my way out of an emotional situation

I have saved the best for last. Myers-Briggs is a psychological assessment tool to help you know yourself. There’s a scale in this tool that rates you as either a thinker or feeler. Using the wrong approach for a situation led me to a very poor career outcome.

My Mistake: I was being managed by a person I clearly did not have a lot in common with. Our world views were worlds apart. There was no connection. This led to a confrontation and I felt bullied. I responded to this with logic and reason attempting to argue my way out of it. I tried to be right and prove the other person wrong. This was a waste of time and energy, I would have been better off accepting the situation and dealing with my emotions. I needed to self-manage and not react. Although I did some great work for the project I ended up leaving earlier than I would have preferred.

How you can avoid making my mistakes

Self-awareness is key in avoiding these mistakes. Knowing about yourself dramatically reduces the biggest risks to your career and personal life.

To conclude I want to provide you with some information and associated tools that will raise your self-awareness and help you to avoid some of the above mistakes that I made. To learn more click here.

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Posted in Career, Change behaviour, Improve attitude, Mistakes

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