Articles > Ten myths of career success debunked

Ten myths of career success debunked
Globe & Mail, June 17, 2005

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

As people try to figure out how to navigate today's tough work realities, career and motivation gurus have a receptive audience. So they look for easy-to-swallow maxims to preach -- and in so doing, have let loose numerous myths about how to carve career success.

Some myths are based on a misunderstanding of contemporary workplace dynamics, or exaggerate what was once acceptable. Others are gross oversimplifications or half-baked truths.

Here are 10 myths that I hear frequently:

You should know what you want to do

Rare is the individual who has his or her whole life mapped out. Most people will have at least one period, if not several, during their careers in which they will say to themselves "This isn't working. I'm not happy. Now what?"

This ability to question yourself, and live with the discomfort of uncertainty and ambiguity, actually shows emotional maturity and confidence. Even if you don't feel confident, when you ask yourself important questions, there is an underlying assertion that you feel you deserve more and will figure out how to obtain it.

You should be happy all the time

I know of no job where irritants don't come as part of the package. Even people who love what they do can identify things that dissatisfy them, whether it's some unpleasant people they have to work with, excessive demands or unappreciative clients and bosses.

The real test is weighing the balance of the stuff you don't like and the stuff you do. When people do a realistic appraisal of their own work, they usually find that the things that satisfy them outweigh the things that don't.

You should live a balanced life

What is that, anyway? We each have our own priorities and needs, and they change with every life stage. When children are younger, we may be totally absorbed by them, but as they age and grow more independent, we may be more absorbed by our work.

In fact, when we are most engaged, our lives are usually out of balance. Instead of seeking balance, ask yourself what you need to have in your life to feel good.

Everyone you work with, and for, should like you

Just as you don't like everyone you interact with, you shouldn't expect everyone you come across to like you either. It is impossible to be the sort of person who everyone finds equally attractive. That is what makes us human.

Of course, aspects of our personalities may jar others. If you seem to be alienating a lot of people, ask yourself: Is there something I can and should do to change my behaviour? Or, is this simply not a good fit for me?

As a general rule, if you've irritated a lot of people, it's hard to get them to readjust their view of you. You may be better off finding a new work environment, where you can start off anew.

You should always give your boss or clients what they want

You are brought into a job because you have the knowledge and experience to warrant it. And if you're doing your job right and long enough, you probably know more about the problem than they do. Your role is to share your expertise. If your opinion differs from that of your boss or client, share it. This is what you are being paid to do.

You need to be an extrovert to be successful

Here's the thinking behind this one: To be most effective today, you need to be able to work in teams and to market yourself. Extroverts can do this better than introverts.

In fact, neither is true. Most teamwork today can be better described as "wham, bam, thank you, ma'am." You come together to solve a particular problem, then move on to the next project. Gone are the days of the casual social banter -- what extroverts do so well.

As far as marketing yourself goes, there are many ways of getting your name and credentials in front of people other than the relationship-building lunches that extroverts favour.

Strategies that work for introverts include giving presentations, writing for your professional association's newsletter, even sending someone an e-mail commenting about something they are working on.

If you try hard enough, you will be successful

Coach-speak aside ("if you can dream it, you can do it"), we all have limitations as well as strengths. The bar for performance in today's super-competitive workplace is extremely high.

Simply wanting something because it's your passion will not be sufficient. You may not have the aptitude to do what you want. As a general rule, if you think back to your past and find no strong indication of this aptitude, follow your bliss on your personal time and don't quit your day job.

It's hard to find a mentor

About 80 per cent of midlife workers cite a strong desire to mentor someone as a source of career satisfaction and renewal, so there is a large pool of people looking to mentor younger talented people.

Look around at those you work with, previous bosses, consultants selling your company services, people you meet in volunteer capacities. Who do you admire? Ask if you can have a drink with them, or talk on the phone. You are not imposing. Who isn't flattered to feel they have something of value in the way of advice to provide to someone else?

You should focus networking on influential people

Often, senior people are too far removed from the work you are interested in to be truly helpful. As a courtesy, they may ask one of their more junior staff to meet with you, which often annoys the junior staff member. Usually the most fruitful encounters are with people at or just above your level.

More importantly, the point of networking is not purely instrumental, to get a job lead, for example. It is to make a mutual connection and share information and experiences.

Don't assess the value of your networking on its immediate economic payoff or the organizational level of the person. When you make a genuine connection, the long-term rewards are significant.

The grass is greener elsewhere

Most people significantly overestimate how much fun others are having. Do you feel overworked and underappreciated? Welcome to this decade.

Before you jump ship, ensure that you have accurately identified what is bothering you, remember what you like in your work, and carefully assess whether it's truly different across the street.