5 common self-inflicted career mistakes

When things don’t go your way, it’s easy to look around for someone or something to blame. You may be right; bad bosses and economic uncertainty are out of our control and the fallout can derail your career. But sometimes the culprit for stalled professional progression could be staring back at you in the mirror.

“People tend to shoot themselves in the foot, and they don’t know that they’re doing it,” says Dr. Eli Joseph, author of The Perfect Rejection Resume: A Reader’s Guide to Building a Career Through Failure. “It’s more common than you may think. If you feel your career isn’t progressing as you’d like, stop and take a look at what you’re doing to make sure you aren’t at fault.”

Before you decide to quit your job due to lack of upward mobility, consider if you’re committing one (or more) of these five career mistakes:

1. Not Knowing Yourself

Many of us have bought into the idea that having a growth mindset is what you need to move up, but that’s an empty vessel, says Marcus Buckingham, author of Love and Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life.

“They think if they showed enough grit or determination, they could acquire any sorts of skills they wanted,” he says. “They think that the problem with their current job is that there’s something wrong with the manager or something wrong with the company. So, they jump from job to job, never really take the time to understand who they are.”

To advance in your career, you need to understand what you love to do, which Buckingham calls your “red threads,” and what you don’t love to do. “Some of those are changeable in small ways, but a lot of them are an enduring part of who you are,” says Buckingham. “You’ve got to understand which parts of you move with you when you move anywhere.”

2. Burning Bridges

Having a solid network is crucial in your career progression. As you move up and gather more experience, it’s important to realize that people in your past are your allies, says Joseph. Be careful about closing the past chapters of your career.

“Your advisors, your mentors, and sponsors—don’t burn bridges with the network that you’ve accumulated,” says Joseph. “It’s always important to bring your allies with you when you’re exploring new opportunities. If you burn bridges and fall out with your network, you’re diminishing your allies, and you don’t have soldiers to fight with you in your career.”

Common ways to burn bridges might be to stop doing good work after you put in a two-week notice. “You might have a nonchalant behavior, thinking ‘I’m going to leave anyway,’” says Joseph. “Or you might think, ‘I don’t need these people anymore,’ so you cut ties. That’s sabotaging yourself because you never know what will happen in the future.”

3. Having a Lack of “Ego Management”

Whether you’re a leader or an employee, you’re part of a team. If you’re unable to take critical feedback in a positive way and become defensive when offered guidance, you’re not only putting the brakes on your own development, you’ll also likely be seen as someone that others don’t want to work with, says leadership strategist and coach Shadé Zahrai.

“Defensiveness and the willful ignorance driven by ego-centricity suppresses the ability to demonstrate humility and to listen to others,” she says. “Instead, these employees are driven by self-interest. While some with this approach rise quickly within organizations because of their self-confidence and conviction, they often soon find themselves plateauing and this behavior harms their future prospects.”

4. An Inability to Navigate Ambiguity

Rigidity around change, which often happens during times of uncertainty, is another career-killer, says Zahrai. Employees who’ve mastered their roles often don’t respond well to having to adapt to new ways of doing things.

“This resistance to learning, to adapting and to embracing new skills that would help them perform better and faster becomes the quicksand that keeps them stagnant and gains them the reputation of being a change-resistant dinosaur,” says Zahrai. “Navigating ambiguity is increasingly becoming a core business competency – if employees aren’t willing or able to demonstrate they can embrace change and ambiguity, they risk their own extinction.”

5. Being Too Punitive

Another way to sabotage your career is focusing on the wrong things, like money, benefits, team members, and company policies, says Buckingham.

“If you have a manager who doesn’t understand you and doesn’t care about you, that is worth looking at, but everything else is not part of what drives successful careers at all,” he says. “Many of the people who joined the Great Resignation are waking up today and finding the grass isn’t greener. The grass is exactly the same. If you moved from one company to another company, and imagined it’s going to be different, it probably won’t.”

The key to stop sabotaging your career is to stop swinging for homeruns, says Buckingham. “Start hitting singles, which really means exercise the freedom you have to create the job of your dreams,” he says. “Everyday wake up and think about the red threads—the things you love to do—you can weave into your day.”

Put your focus there, and over time you’ll discover you’re developing the career you love.