6 ways to screw up your career

Navigating your career path can be extremely hard as there are a lot of traps and obstacles that can cause real problems you won’t see until it is too late. In this episode, we will explore six of the most common career mistakes that I see creatives make too often and explore a few different ways you can be sure you don’t make them in your career.

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I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately from people asking for career advice. A lot of my answers surround a similar theme – how to not screw up your career. This is a hard subject because it is yet another thing people won’t talk about with each other. So how do we know when we are making mistakes and how do we know what not to do? This show is me wanting to do a show to consolidate that advice in the hopes that it can help more people not makes these mistakes and make some better career choices.

1 and 2: Chasing a salary or title

I have seen so many talented creatives who get to a point in their career where they think they want a certain title or a certain salary no matter what. So they find a job that gives them that salary of that title. The problem is that when you just focus on a salary or a title then you ignore a lot of other factors. You will watch as they get their title or salary but the team isn’t any good, the work isn’t any good, the opportunities aren’t there and much more. Those things start to take their toll and they slowly realize that the title or the salary can’t help any of those things.Their career progress crawls to a halt, their portfolio stands still and then all of a sudden it is years later and they can’t find anything new so they have to start over or drop back a level on their career ladder.

Don’t be blinded by things like this. The more you do this the more you realize that titles don’t mean much. I respect experience, creativity, leadership and work ethic over any title. I know plenty of people with big titles who can’t fall out of a boat and hit water. And usually, the more they want the title the less they know.

I have talked before about salary and about how to know your value in episodes 31 and 36. Just know that if you jump for a higher salary beyond your experience there will be consequences down the road when you are held to the standard of that salary by future employers.

3: Taking the first thing that comes along

This problem happens all too often. You aren’t happy with your career so you decide it is time for a change. The problem is that once you make this decision then you really want to leave your job even more. Little things annoy you more. People annoy you more and you really want to find something new. Then a new opportunity comes along and you are so excited by the possibility of a change and leaving the job you are so ready to leave behind. The problem here is that you need to stop and see if you want this new job because it really is fantastic or do you want to leave just because it is something new. This is the problem all too often – people want to leave because it is new. But since they don’t really think it through the problem is that they quickly see that the new job isn’t any better and sometimes it is even worse.

4: Not knowing when to quit

There is another thing that screws up a lot of careers which is a bit of the inverse of the other problems we talked about. This one comes from people who instead of getting too frustrated are infinity patient. As a result, they stay at a job far beyond when they should because their career has stalled, their work is stale and then they have no prospects. It happens when people ate too afraid of change and so worried about what that change might bring that they become paralyzed to the point of inaction. You need to be able to step back on a regular basis and take stock of your career and see if you are making progress and if you can still make progress.

5: Thinking apps or technology are a career path

Technology is a critical part of being creative these days. But it is just a tool like a pencil and nothing more. I watched an entire generation think that knowing how to program Actionscript was going to be their ticket to success only to watch to get crushed by Apple in one keynote. If all you do is focus on the tools for execution then your career is going to flatline before long. Even if you can become an exceptional individual contributor those roles are extremely rare and you are going to have to be one of the best in the world to truly become successful at it. You need to base your career on your ability to have great ideas, lead people and deliver results because those things are timeless and every company needs them. Those are the things that lead to better positions, more pay and more control and there just really isn’t any way around it. So I will be honest with people who say that if they are unwilling to learn those things or grow beyond execution then their options are going to be really limited.

6: Not understanding what makes a successful leader

Not thinking apps are a career path is very tactical but this last one is a bit more esoteric. The other place where I have seen too many careers stall is when people get to a leadership position. We have talked at length before about how leadership requires a totally different set of skills from being good at execution. The biggest thing that most people don’t seem to understand is how little of your success as a leader has to do with the actual work. Don’t get me wrong because the work is an extremely important part of the team’s success but if you want to be successful as a leader you will have to excel at a lot more. Things like politics, relationships, alliances, power structures, budgets, team dynamics, and SO MUCH more. All of this stuff has nothing to with what you traditionally think of leadership but it is so critical to your success – especially if you are a part of an in-house team.

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