Careers are unpredictable and go through many kinds of changes. There is no single path that works for everyone and no single strategy that can insure a perfect career arc. Despite all the advice about what makes a person successful, there is probably more to be said about avoiding the things that undermine success. Some of these actually are predictable, and three are important for everyone:
What these things all have in common is that they can ruin your chance to be happy in the career you’ve chosen, and without happiness, simple as it may sound, work loses its satisfaction, no matter how much you accomplish externally.
Stress: Burn-out, fatigue, and boredom almost always have an element of stress in them. Mind and body are naturally renewing. With enough rest and low stress, we are designed to take each day as it comes. Stress damages your ability to bounce back. Instead, stress puts pressure on you that grinds down the resiliency that everyone needs in order to thrive. Paying lip service to stress management doesn’t solve the problem. The notion that you can use stress to develop a competitive edge is a myth. Low-level chronic stress is actually more damaging in the long run that episodes of high stress. Therefore, you need to take a serious look at achieving a work situation free of excess pressure, grinding routine, constant deadlines, the demand for perfection, an atmosphere of anxiety over competition and advancement, and other sources of stress.
Risk: “No risk, no reward” is true in gambling, but if you gamble with your career, you are probably heading for a downfall. There is a natural way to develop mastery, which involves learning the ropes, remaining alert, constantly being open to new information, building a team, and putting your loyalties where they deserve to be put. Throwing yourself into risky situations accomplishes none of these things. Risk usually has the disadvantage that it leads to short-term or temporary success. Gamblers always return to the table to keep up their winning streak, but in a career, facing one risk after another is psychologically wearing and eventually impossible. Take a close look at yourself and honestly face your tolerance for risk. If taking small risks with your money, for example, makes you nervous, then taking big risks can be disastrous–your ability to make decisions will be eroded by the anxiety risk arouses. Cooperation, team building, and learning from the experience of others is a much more secure path.
Self-judgment: People gain self-worth from what they do and how they feel about it. It’s sometimes said that women are more focused on feelings and men on achievement, but this has long been outmoded. All of us measure ourselves by what we have accomplished and how much satisfaction, or lack of it, we feel. (There are much better ways to gain a strong sense of self, but that’s a topic for another time.) Self-worth is undermined by self-judgment, which arises in predictable ways. Whenever you fell less worthwhile because you can’t get a job or lost a job, when you make less money than someone else, when you compare your performance to a competitor’s and come up short, or when you call yourself stupid, you have fallen into the trap of self-judgment. In reality, every career has setbacks, obstacles, and failures. There will always be someone richer, smarter, and more successful than you. These facts have nothing to do with how worthy you are. The voice of self-judgment is misleading you, and the sooner you stop listening to it, the better.