If you’re like lots of people, you live in fear of making a big mistake at work–not just a run-of-the-mill error like everyone makes, but the kind that ends up making headlines and sending you away in shame.
An embarrassing and highly visible mixup may draw a lot of attention, but thanks to the fail-safe systems at most modern workplaces, they’re actually quite rare.
The career mistakes you should worry about most are the ones that move more slowly–sometimes too slowly to notice. And they’re deadly. Here are 12 of the worst:
1. Coasting. Maybe you’ve been at your company for a few years and you’re feeling pretty comfortable in your job. That’s not a bad thing in itself–unless you’ve stopped making an effort. You may think people don’t notice, but they do. Make sure you do something every day to push yourself. Make an effort and put in the work, and be noticed for that instead.
2. Losing sight of the big picture. Sometimes the busiest and the most ambitious people get so lost in their projects, plans, and processes that they lose sight of the big picture. When you’re constantly bogged down in detail, it’s hard to step back and take in the wider view–but unless you do, you may be channeling all that work in a wrong direction.
3. Thinking the grass is greener. There are some who are always checking out other workplaces and even other industries, thinking that something new will be an improvement. Maybe it would be and maybe it wouldn’t, but job hopping never looks good. If you think you may want to look elsewhere, be strategic and do your homework first.
4. Allowing your skills to become out of date. Especially with technology advancing so rapidly, it’s extremely important to stay on top of your game and not allow your skills to become outdated. As you grow older, you don’t want to be labeled as someone who can’t keep up. Take classes, read, keep your professional network strong–whatever it takes to stay current.
5. Not believing in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect your boss, colleagues, and clients or customers to believe in you? Do everything you can to build up your confidence. Start by shutting down any negative self-talk. Remind yourself instead of your strengths, gifts, and abilities.
6. Burning bridges. When things go seriously wrong, it’s always tempting to say, “I’m out of here” and walk away. Leaving may feel better in the moment, but it ends up costing you later. Learn to stay and work things out. Far better to have the reputation as someone who’s tenacious than to be seen as a quitter.
7. Not trusting your gut. Einstein once said that every major discovery he made happened when he left his rational mind behind. If you don’t trust your instincts, you’re cutting yourself off from a powerful source of creativity and innovation.
8. Wasting your energy on the wrong things. It’s easy to get caught up in being busy but not being productive, working hard but not bringing value. Be strategic. Don’t chase shiny objects–keep your focus on the projects that will drive the most value and move your organization forward.
9. Understating your worth. Don’t be afraid to show that you know your worth. Ask for raises and promotions when you deserve them, and overcome any discomfort with marketing yourself and your contribution. Be genuine and generous toward others so you don’t come off as arrogant.
10. Always seeing the glass as half-empty. The strongest organizational cultures don’t have much room for pessimists who always notice when things aren’t working. That doesn’t mean you have to overlook problems–just make sure you stay focused on solutions and maintain a positive attitude.
11. Job hunting on company time. Get serious. Your online history at work is never private–never mind the danger of email mishaps or someone walking within view of your screen (or within earshot of your phone conversation)–and there are few things you can do that will damage your reputation more.
12. Thinking your job will last forever. Any job can come to an end at any time, for all kinds of reasons unrelated to your performance. Stay prepared for every contingency by giving your best where you are and staying prepared to move to a new opportunity if the worst happens.
Keep your career tuned up and moving forward, and live your work life (and your personal life, too, for that matter) free of regret.
13. Trying to control everything. “If you want to achieve your goals, let go of the common belief that everything is within your control.
Sometimes, you just have to accept the reality of a situation, be decisive and allocate your time to where you can truly make a difference. This is the key to achieving success in both your work and personal lives.”
14. Not leaping into the unknown. “Our office motto is, ‘You either skydive or you don’t.’ Building a company, personal brand, or career demands an ‘all in’ mentality. Step outside of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to fight an opponent above your weight class.
For example, apply for that executive position you really want, even though it requires decades of experience and seemingly unattainable qualifications. What’s the worst that can happen? You might get the job and find that you’re in over your head. But it doesn’t mean you can’t dive in and learn.
In six months, you might grow in ways you couldn’t have otherwise. Even if you don’t get the job, you can still say you took the leap — and that makes you better than all the other people who stayed their cubicles because they were too afraid to fail.”
15. Blindly emulating the most successful people. “When there are many potential solutions for a problem, it’s easy to pick one that worked for someone else. But here’s the truth: It doesn’t matter if it worked for someone else. What matters is whether it’s going to work for you.
The best leaders don’t blindly emulate the most successful people around them. They know that wearing a black turtleneck every day won’t turn them into Steve Jobs. Instead, they look at the components of success and apply them to their own circumstances.”
16. Not scheduling important reminders in your calendar. “As an entrepreneur, I get things done by sticking to one rule: Scheduling and organizing each and every single thing I commit to. It might sound like a no-brainer, but most people fail to do this.
If you can get into the rhythm of assigning yourself tasks and calendar appointments, you’ll never find yourself struggling to remember all the things you already forgot at 3 a.m.”
17. Focusing on too many things at once. “Pick one thing you’re passionate about and do it better than everyone else. Too many people have 1,000 brilliant ideas and never start any of them. Instead, they get involved in everyone else’s business.
If you’re not a lawyer, for example, don’t pretend to be one. Stay in your lane and delegate to experienced professionals. Sign contracts and form your company properly. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
I once left a company because the founder was more in love with his next idea than the success of the business. And while he was dreaming of new inventions, he starved his company of resources and attention. As a result, we lost many breakthrough opportunities.”
18. Not smiling. “The power of smiling is underrated. A warm, genuine smile instantly creates trust, which is the cornerstone of every business transaction. Not only does it add positive energy to your expression, but it also makes you seem approachable.
People want to do business with people they like, connect with and feel comfortable around. Don’t fake it, either; the more authentic you are, the more you will make an impact.
Studies have also found that smiling makes you happier, healthier and more creative. Best of all? It’s free.”
19. Waiting too long to make a decision. “If you can apply the 40/70 rule, you’ll be successful at whatever you choose to do. Years ago, I learned a valuable principle from General Colin Powell: You only need 40% to 70% of the information to make a decision.
If you require total certainty, you’ll miss opportunities. So how do you make a call while leaving potential data on the table? Trust your gut, pull the trigger and move on.
Effective leadership is a blend of knowledge and experience. Often, your ability to make decisions in the absence of information can be your ultimate value proposition.”
20. Having a negative attitude. “When I hire someone for my business or partner with an entrepreneur on ‘Shark Tank,’ I look for one thing: a positive attitude.
I used to think I could change someone with a bad attitude, but I have since learned to fire them. It only takes one negative person in a group of 10 happy people to bring the whole team down. But nothing gets in the way of someone who says, ‘We can do this.’
Even during tough times, you have to be able to bounce back and maintain a positive attitude — no matter what.”
21. Slacking off. “It’s tempting to be lazy. But if you want to achieve great outcomes, you need to put in the work.
I was raised by parents who told me that I could do whatever I wanted to do and be whoever I wanted to be, as long as I worked hard for it. If anything, I probably work too hard — but that’s exactly what it takes.”
22. Failing to show up. “Not showing up is the No. 1 reason most people fail, and it’s a very common and easy mistake to make.
Showing up again and again requires faith and persistence, but it also creates discipline. You’ll never conquer what you don’t move toward. If you don’t make any moves, you’ll become stagnant, unmotivated and ultimately spiral downward.”