Hoping to move up the ladder, but feeling you’re stuck on the same rung? Success itself is not some big mystery that people haven’t figured out before, even though when we’re struggling it can seem like an arduous, unknowable process. Very often, it is self-limiting thoughts, feelings and behaviours that put the brakes on success. The 5 mindsets, below, can hurt (or even halt) your career growth. Correcting course will not only give you a leg-up on the ladder of professional success but can also help your personal life to boot.
You are afraid to take risks
Taking a risk carries with it the unspoken fear, “What if I fail?” And ‘failure’ is one of humankind’s least favourite words. In fact, it’s still a dirty word in our society. The reason is that most people immediately associate the word, “failure”, with who they are, and that’s where it hurts – at the level of their ego.
The fear of failure can paralyze you, gluing you to a dead-end job or an inappropriate career because you prefer the unhappiness of the unknown to the terror of the unknown. But risk-taking is an essential part of professional life. Anyone who shrinks from taking risk won’t advance because high-level positions demand some degree of decision-making in which the outcome is often unknown.
You’ll have to be proactive in learning how to cope with risk. One way is a shift in thinking. Instead of thinking of a setback as ‘failure’, think of it as feedback. It gives you information on what went wrong, where you could have done better; it can prompt you to alter your expectations in case they were unrealistic. The important thing is what you do with that information, how you re-frame the problem, how you ask and answer some powerful questions, how you take what works and adjust your aim.
Another way to cope with the fear of risk is to do a comparison study. Make up two lists, one titled, “What I Lose by Taking a Chance” and the other, “What I Gain”. Then see which side looks better, not only in terms of absolute numbers (how many things you lose vs how many things you gain) but also in terms of value. For instance, if “”Self-respect because of making a job change” is on your gains list, then that alone may make the risk worth taking.
You shrink away from the ‘P’ word
Standing at the speaker’s podium, the celebrity actress recalled how, as a five-foot eleven teenager, she was a “living metaphor for what had always held women back.” She said: “I was afraid of my own power, afraid that it would threaten people, intimidate people. And it’s a great sadness wishing to be less than you actually are. And it’s hard to take on the world when you’re constantly in a battle with yourself. I worked through it … I’m working through it.”
That celebrity actress was Nicole Kidman, and she went on to explain how fearing her own power led her to turn down a role in a Jane Campion film, because she was required to kiss a girl onscreen and she “wanted to be the kind of actress that had long, flowing hair and kissed boys.” The decision to avoid work that “threatened,” she said, was the beginning of a long process of learning how to reject the industry’s expectations and honour her power as a woman.
But celebrity actresses are not the only ones afraid of owning power. Millions of people either fail to reach out and grab it or they don’t know how to use it when it’s theirs. The reasons: they are afraid that people will not respect that power, or they are afraid that people will feel insecure around them, or they feel that they don’t deserve that power and that it will be taken away if they make a mistake. The fear of power causes these millions to stay put on one of the lower rungs of corporate jobs where they make other people’s dreams come true while sidelining their own.
But a person who’s successful will always wind up with a degree of power, so fearing it can be a fatal trap. First, recognize that you deserve power, because your talents and skills have led you to it. Then, project that competence to others, and don’t be afraid if they lean on you for support and even for inspiration in reaching out for power themselves. Marianne Williamson, in her poem, “Our Deepest Fear”, encapsulates this so well. She writes:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?”
And, later in the same poem, she says about power:
“It's not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we're liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.”
Knowing that your power can help others liberate themselves can help lift you out of the mind trap that shrinks from power.
You’re a robot on the job
Far too many career-minded strivers think it’s all about working hard at their job. An ideal day for them would be to come in a little early, sit at their computer, work their way through an ever-growing to-do list like a super-efficient worker bee, barely leave their desk, and go home late. On the one hand, it is true that employers treasure workers who work with dedication and can be depended upon to meet deadlines. On the other hand, it is also a fact that robot-like efficiency is not enough to keep your career graph rising. Without alliances – effective work relationships – at the office you can submarine your career.
Building such relationships is an important premise for all the benchmarks of success –promotions, salary hikes, goal accomplishment and job satisfaction overall. Take time, therefore, to say hello, embrace small talk, spend time with your co-workers, catch up with your department head, and stay abreast of what’s happening in the company at large, too. Coffee breaks are not just about getting a caffeine perk. If you spend your break socializing with your colleagues – rather than staying hunched over your desk and taking sips of coffee in between organizing data on an Excel sheet – you’ll find the coffee break is a great way to build camaraderie, enhance the work environment and make a small getaway from the sedentary rhythm of office life.
And don’t ignore the virtually seminal connection between downtime and overall performance. Research has established that work breaks enable our brains to re-charge and top up with fuel, leading – among other things – to fresh perspectives and creative new ideas.
You are a people pleaser
It’s admirable to be pleasant and ready to help co-workers. But there’s a thin dividing line between being helpful and kind, and wanting to be all things to all people. Someone who’s so ready to go overboard for others that he says “Yes” when he really wants to say “No” – that’s the definition of a people pleaser. And it can become virtually a defining trait.
Where does that addiction to being a people pleaser come from? From two wellsprings: one is a neediness, a craving for others’ approval. The second is fear: a debilitating fear of confrontation and the anger of others, which impels people pleasers to use “niceness” as self-defensive camouflage. Saying “yes” is an effective way to avoid potential conflict.
People-pleasers often confuse assertion with aggression. They are not the same thing. Assertiveness is being able to speak up, politely but firmly, when you want something or when you feel wronged. Aggression, which is often thinly-masked hostility, will generally take the form of an angry reaction. Both, assertion and aggression, say “no”, but in very different ways.
Being a people pleaser is not a benign problem. That seemingly simple “yes” can come back to bite you. For example, to please others, you may go along with the majority view in a departmental meeting even when you have a better solution. You might agree to unreasonable requests, like working late nights and weekends to cover for your co-workers’ tardiness. Spreading yourself too thin at the workplace and assuming an unrealistic amount of additional responsibilities just because you can’t say no can leave you overloaded and feeling overwhelmed and under-appreciated – and that can lead to frustration and burnout.
Striving to make everyone happy all of the time is also not sustainable over the long term. Instead, a perspective that takes others into consideration but puts the emphasis first on pleasing yourself and gaining your own approval is the clearest path to success and happiness.
You might want to begin by taking a “baby step”, one that derives its inspiration from toddlers – yes, those “terrible two’s” who have that innate ability to say “no” – willingly, freely and frequently – to almost anything without reservation. Adapting that ability, as an adult now, to saying “no” – politely but firmly – when the answer is no, can start you on the path to becoming an assertive person.
You are a lone wolf
May be you’re driven by the motivation to shine as a stellar employee. Or maybe you’d rather tackle every job alone, instead of delegating, pitching in with others to meet a goal, taking collective responsibility, and working at conflict resolution and compromise. But, accomplishing the objectives of an organization doesn’t happen in isolation because no single employee possesses all of the skills required to get the job done successfully; it takes several employees, working in cohesion. So, if you are to succeed at the workplace, one of the biggest skills needed is “getting along with others”, being a team player in other words. That is the reality of corporate politics and anyone who ignores this basic tenet may find himself locked out of the top office forever.
This does not mean you have to like everyone on the team. That has no bearing at all on the work of an organization. But if someone (or some people) have the power to help you complete a task, you need to get along with them. Of course, being reasonably open and friendly towards people not only helps to propel you on to a higher rung, but also keeps you a lot happier while you’re getting there.
(The author is a former editor of 'Health & Nutrition' magazine, and now works as a counseling therapist)