The Most Common Career Path Trap You Can Easily Avoid
Just because you CAN, doesn't mean you SHOULD. . .
When Jenny*, a well-regarded lawyer and director, was offered a place in her firm's highly coveted ‘Fast Track to Partnership’ program, her manager, colleagues and family told her she'd be mad not to take it.
It was an amazing honour that offered so much. Completing the program would result in partnership, job security, a hefty pay rise, business class travel, increased profile and autonomy.
But Jenny wasn’t quite so thrilled...
It wasn’t sitting right with her and the more she thought about it, the more anxious and pressured she felt.
Meanwhile, Senior IT Security Solutions Manager Mark* was 6 months into a new executive role and floundering. The CEO and other executives had actively encouraged him to apply and everyone knew he’d be a ‘shoe in’. Highly skilled, knowledgeable, respected and liked, Mark was the obvious choice.
On reflection, Mark realised this wasn’t the right role for him.
His previous roles involved work he loved - trouble shooting, collaborating with other technical gurus and designing IT solutions.
But life as an executive came with endless bureaucracy, tedious meetings, a relentless inbox and constantly ‘herding cats’, as his teams and executive colleagues pulled in different directions.
Like many successful professionals, Jenny and Mark had unfortunately become victims of their own success.
This often-hidden career trap happens when you’ve worked hard, built a successful career and established a great reputation as an expert in your field. Key influencers and decision makers believe you are capable of more and are giving you an opportunity you should be grateful for.
Well intentioned, they push you forward along a pre-ordained path.
Being selected for a coveted opportunity is flattering and validating. It feels good to be recognised, knowing what you do and how you do it is making a positive difference. What’s more, we all need a hand up, support and encouragement to advance our careers.
What's Wrong with This Career Path?
But here’s the problem…
- This isn’t a path you have consciously chosen.
This is a path others have chosen for you. As you’re swept along, under pressure to accept and do what’s expected, you feel increasingly weighed down by the imposed burden of responsibility. Declining the offer would seem ungrateful and be seen as letting everyone down.
- It’s based on assumptions that might not be true.
Well intentioned bosses, mentors, colleagues and family assume this is the only path to success – yours and theirs! Assuming you’ll automatically take the opportunity stems from a widely accepted belief that professional progression can only be achieved by climbing the leadership ladder.
- Doing what’s expected, rather than what is right for you, can have long-term negative consequences.
Just because everyone else thinks you’d be great at [insert opportunity], doesn’t make it the best choice for you.
As the reality of following a career path well-meaning others sent you down sets in, work seems harder, without the compensating job satisfaction. Frustration, stress and self-doubt set in. Where you previously felt competent and confident, now every day is a struggle and you begin dreading going to work each day.
Rest assured, if you’re facing a ‘Shiny opportunity others want me to take, but I'm not so sure...’ dilemma, there is a way out. Here's how to
Take Control of Your Career Path, Without Letting Others Down.
1. Heed the warning your intuition is giving you!
If your heart isn’t in it or the opportunity doesn’t feel right, there’s a good reason for this. The first step is to become consciously aware of what’s driving that gnawing feeling.
Be honest and ask yourself,
- What exactly is it that doesn’t feel right about this opportunity?
- What am I actually afraid of?
- What’s the worst thing that might happen if I say ‘Yes’ and how could I prevent that?
- Is my fear based more on a fear of failure or a sense that this simply isn't right for me?
- What’s the best thing that could happen if I say ‘Yes’ and is that possible?
If you’re not compelled, excited and motivated by this opportunity:
2. Identify what you’d love to do instead...
Create a Career Path Vision for yourself. Based on your strengths, interests and passions, knowledge and skills, ask yourself:
- If there were no limits what would I love to be doing 5 years from now?
- Picture a day and a week where you're immersed in work you love. What's happening? What am I actually doing and why do I love it?
- What could this alternative career path give me that the current opportunity won't provide?
Uncover needs and desires you may not have realised before.
- What do I need and want from my work and what would that give me?
- How could this new opportunity meet my needs and desires?
Take time to flesh out what your ideal career path could look like, involve and include.
3. Make Your OWN Decision
- Identify and weigh up the facts – what you know is true. List all the pros and cons.
- Consider all your feelings about the opportunity. Where the facts will tap into your left-brain logic and reasoning, your feelings acknowledge your intuition, hopes and fears.
- Create alternative career paths that could provide the growth, challenge, fulfilment and reward you need.
- Gather different perspectives from those you respect and trust. Some you may accept, others you may not and that’s OK. Remember, it is YOUR decision!
- Narrow your choices to create the 2 best options and compare them. Once you have a clear winner - make your decision and map out next steps.
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4. Share Your Decision and Enlist Others’ Support
Once you’ve decided and are comfortable with your choice, it’s time to tell your family, boss and colleagues.
Acknowledge the opportunity, explain the decision you’ve made and why. Rather than defend or justify it, share your reasons in a future focused, positive and confident way. The conversation could go like this:
- When you’re accepting the offer – Thank you so much for the opportunity. I appreciate the faith you’re showing in me. I’ve thought about it carefully and know this [decision] is the right path for me. To be successful, I will need [insert what you will need – eg mentoring, coaching, weekly meetings with your manager etc.] and hope you can help me with that... Thanks again, I’m looking forward to getting started.
- When you’re declining the offer – Thank you so much for the opportunity. I appreciate the faith you’re showing in me. I’ve thought about it carefully and on balance, have decided this isn’t right for me at this time. I see myself more as [insert alternative career path] and being offered this opportunity has helped clarify that for me. Thanks again and I look forward to adding more value in my capacity as [alternative career path].
Taking time to carefully consider the opportunity from all angles will help you decide what’s best for you. You’ll gain fresh insights and uncover alternatives that may be even better.
Working through this process with Jenny and Mark enabled them to take control of their careers and create career paths that are right for them.
Jenny realised her anxiety about the Partnership path opportunity was driven by a fear and dislike of selling and making the transition from ‘doing’ to ‘leading’. She underwent a 6-month career development coaching program to overcome her fears, build her leadership skills and increase her confidence. As a Partner, Jenny is now thriving and loves the satisfaction of leading her team to help her clients.
Mark decided he was better suited to being a technical expert and thought leader, rather than pursuing a conventional executive leadership track. He’s taken on an advisory and mentoring role within his company and enjoys being the ‘go to’ expert on IT Security. His future Vision includes speaking at conferences and one day starting his own consultancy.
Conclusion: It's YOUR Career Path!
Whether you take the opportunity or not, you can move forward confidently knowing that no one pushed or co-erced you into it.
YOU made the decision, based on what’s right for you.
* Names changed to protect privacy.