Too many of us navigate our careers like we’re paddling across a lake, not sailing across an ocean. We are short-sighted when making decisions. We focus on completing the task at hand, fighting for the next promotion, outperforming a colleague. But there are many seemingly minor actions that can have a major impact on your career’s trajectory. Ignore them and you risk arriving on a shore you didn’t choose, or worse, capsizing on an unexpected reef! Here are 5 career mistakes that can negatively impact your career down the road:
1. Network only within your company. Most people are aware of the value of networking. Not traditional “gladhanding”, attending events just to pass out your business card, but real relationship building. Expanding your horizon with other people’s perspectives. Opening yourself up to new ideas. Building relationships that will make your day-to-day work easier and more successful. But too many people limit their networking activities to within their own company. Cultures can be quite different, as those who have worked in several companies know. Exposing yourself to truly new ideas and perspectives requires getting outside of your culture and the circle of colleagues you find most convenient to interact with. Sail more than one sea! Many of the most influential professional relationships you will have will be with those outside of your company – especially when times get tough. It may not be easy, but investing in these external relationships will pay off.
2. Make decisions based on money. Statistics will say that no matter how much money we have, we always wish we had at least 20% more. Changing course on the promise of an incremental increase in earnings is tempting. We all find it tough to ignore a promotion, raise or even a change in company that will feed our hungry bank accounts. But over time in a career, you are paid for the impact you have had, not your title . Choose the path that provides you the most valuable experiences, develops the most significant relationships, and allows you to learn at the fastest rate, regardless of income. Prioritizing experience over income will lead to dramatically higher earnings over the long run.
3. Avoid Failure. Over the course of a career, you will often be faced with two alternative paths – one with seemingly much higher risk. Many high performers are often frustrated by always being put into very uncertain roles, where others have failed before and success may not even seem likely. But executives manage their high potential employees like this for a reason. Difficult situations lead to accelerated growth—not just in learning about business and leadership, but in learning about yourself. Long-term success is based on gaining a combination of experiences, but also on navigating toward roles that leverage your unique strengths and passions, and steering away from those that don’t. The most difficult circumstances often precipitate to the greatest personal growth.
4. Buy a House. That’s right, buying a house can hurt your career, particularly early on. Organizations value mobility. They want their high-potential employees to gain broad experiences. Even at the CEO level, boards look for candidates who have experience across multiple functions, multiple divisions within the company, and global exposure. It’s hard to collect those assets when you are anchored in one harbor. Buying a house locks you into a location. Sure, you think that if a great opportunity presented itself, you can always sell it. But companies today are much less likely to pay significant moving expenses. And the effort and expense involved in selling a house and relocating can be a significant headwind, causing you to pass up what may have been game-changing opportunities.
5. Miss opportunities to help others. When you do something that creates real value for organizations or others, you will almost always be paid for it, and almost never immediately. This is a fact of life in a professional career, but not one that is widely known. In my first book, The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers, our research found that the most successful professionals were over four times more likely to focus on the success of those around them than even their own success! Winning the long game in a career requires a broad base of support from peers and colleagues at every stage in your career. If you see an opportunity where your actions can truly benefit another, take the time to make it happen, without any expectation of return benefit. Call it positive Karma or whatever you like, but over time the good will you build up will create a groundswell of support when you least expect it, but need it most.
These mistakes are relatively easy to navigate around, once you are aware that they exist. Network broadly; chart your course by experiences, not paychecks; embrace challenging situations; stay mobile and lead with generosity. By setting your sights on the distant horizon of your career, rather than the water at your prow, you won’t have to pay for these 5 career mistakes in 10 years—or ever.