The 7 Mistakes That Are Keeping You From Having The Career Or Business You Want

Is your career everything you’d like it to be?  If not, are you taking action to get your needs and wants met?  

There are seven mistakes that hold you back from going for what you want.  They are basically motivational barriers because if you don’t resolve them you won’t be able to optimally engage. 

By being aware of these mistakes or “action-sticking points," you can look at where you are and what you can do to resolve the obstacle(s).  Otherwise, you may feel stuck;  you’ll feel frustrated that you don’t have what you want but you’ll feel unable to make your situation better. 

Breaking free is about aligning your desires, opportunities, thoughts, and behaviors to work together to get what you want.   

These are the seven mistakes:   

Mistake #1:  Not Knowing What You Want

Mistake #2:  Not Being Intentional At Work

Mistake #3:  Not Appraising Yourself And How You Can Strengthen Your Position

Mistake #4:  Not Considering Strategies To Get The Results You Want

Mistake #5:  Not Resolving Conflicts That Keep You From Fully Committing To Action

Mistake #6:  Not Creating A Structure For Action

Mistake #7:  Not Getting Relevant Information To Adjust Your Approach 


Mistake #1:  Not Knowing What You Want

If you don’t know what you want, you don’t have a focus.  In a world of possibilities, nothing will stand out as desirable to capture your attention.  

You must know yourself well so you can be laser-focused on what you do want to spot opportunities that will be right for you.

Although motivational and other career assessments can offer some insights, you need more than bits of information.  You need to examine the stories of your life and look for experiences that evoked emotions in you.  For example, what made you feel engrossed, happy, enthused, angry, sad, proud, connected, etc.?  Whereas logic is needed, emotions take more precedence in identifying what you care about.

So, do you see any patterns where you felt moved to do your best work, or vice versa?  What made you feel fulfilled?  Does something stand out that calls to you?  What work conditions let you fully engage in tasks?  What activities did you gravitate toward?  What kind of people did you want to be around?  What’s the contribution you wanted to make through your work?  Take some time to reflect and journal about it.

If you’re still not sure, then you can start by paying more attention to how you feel as you go about your work and reflect on what your work experiences mean to you to discover what you do want.  

Figure out how you want to be, what you want to do, and what impact you want to make to develop a guiding vision which will serve as your north star.


Mistake #2:  Not Being Intentional At Work

If you don’t look for opportunities to get what you want, you’re likely to overlook them.  As a result, you could miss out on chances to do more of what you like, grow personally and professionally, and create the outcomes you desire.  

To be more proactive, assume more of an entrepreneurial mindset.  As you go about your daily activities, remind yourself to actively look for organizational or client needs, problems to solve, ways to improve things, etc.,  and consider how you could meet those needs by applying your Deeply Engaged Life Interests (DELI).  DELIs are your preferred activities.  Using them creates a win-win situation: you provide needed value while enjoying what you do while building a record of accomplishments.

At the same time, keep informed of upcoming learning opportunities, projects being discussed at work, and ways you could partner better with others.  Perhaps, you can sign up for training, ask to be assigned to a project you want, or collaborate with colleagues in ways that might be fulfilling to you.

How could you engage in job crafting to make your work more appealing?  You might be able to redesign your tasks to use your preferred skills, exchange tasks with others to do more or less of what you want, or work with others differently to accommodate your preferred way of interacting to make your work more enjoyable.  You can also reframe the meaning of your tasks to connect them with a more powerful reason for engaging in them.

To remember to do this, you could incorporate a habit of scheduling reminders to consider these opportunities during the day.


Mistake #3:  Not Appraising Yourself And How You Can Strengthen Your Position

You won’t take action if you don’t believe you can succeed.  What would be the point?

So, consider what it would take to engage in your opportunity.  What thoughts come up when you think about taking action?  Are you raring to get going, or do you have some concerns you need to address?

a.  What do you need from yourself?  

Do you believe you’re up to the task?  What knowledge, skills and abilities will you need to succeed?  If you don’t have them, consider how you will get them.  Perhaps, you have unique strengths you can apply to the current situation to give yourself an added edge.  What kind of person do you think you need to be and how do you see yourself now? 

For example, if you want to be in charge and you’re currently a worker bee, how do you feel about being a leader?  As another example, if you want to be an entrepreneur and you’ve never done anything on your own, how can you see yourself as the entrepreneur you want to be? 

If there’s a gap, you either need to find a way to develop the things you need, or find an alternate path that’s more aligned with what you have to get the results you want.  

If you don’t feel ready, you’ll have self-doubts that will cause you to put a metaphorical foot on your brakes to hold yourself back - so belief in your ability to succeed is essential.

b.  What do you need from others? 

Others play a valuable role in helping you get what you want.  This is especially true with significant others because you want to feel that they want what you want.  People in general can give you encouragement, provide a sounding board, suggest ideas, offer informative feedback and expertise, provide accountability, and assist you to boost how effective you’ll be.  

There’s a science to influencing others.  Leaders know that first-hand.  People who have similar goals want the same things, so they’d be more willing to support you.  In general, reciprocity is key.  People are willing to give to you when you’re willing to help them as well.  What’s in it for them if they support you?  In the case of a supervisor, he or she could benefit from your superior performance.  Colleagues and others might want to help you just for the sake of feeling good about helping you.

Consider how your success will meet others’ needs and resolve any concerns they might have to request their full support.

c.  What do you need in your work situation?

What constraints exist in your situation?  Perhaps, you need additional resources so you’ll have to influence those who control the resources to support you.  You might need to make a case for changes in policies, structure, processes, procedures, etc. or even get funds in order to do what you want to do.  If so, identify who the stakeholders are and plan how you will get their support.  If it’s a good idea, then show them the benefits and how you can get it done.


Mistake #4:  Not Considering Strategies To Get The Results You Want

How are you going to achieve what you want?   Some things you can plan for, but often things aren’t so clearcut.  You may be operating in an uncertain environment and you’re not sure how things will turn out.  How can you increase your chances of having a good outcome?  

In business, people talk about coming up with a minimum viable product and testing it with clients so they can adjust before they invest a lot into something that might not turn out.  It seems a corollary would be soliciting input from others at periodic intervals to get agreement on what’s needed as you build on your idea.

You could consider how similar problems or needs are addressed elsewhere.  You could adapt those solutions, make them better or do it a different way, such as in using the Blue Ocean Strategy.  In the Blue Ocean Strategy, businesses choose to operate differently so as not to compete with big established players.  They succeed by doing things uniquely so they stand apart from potential competitors.  What's unique about you and what you choose to do?

Finding role models and reading stories from those who have succeeded in doing what you want would be helpful to learn the strategies that worked for them.  Trying on the behaviors of role models could also help you build a work identity for the work you want to do so you’d come to see yourself as that kind of person.  Identity motivation is a strong form of motivation to support your desire to act.

You could just ask people for suggestions.  This could be informational interviews to ask others how they’ve done what you want to do and ask if they know of resources or other people who could help you.  Depending on what you’re looking for, mentors and colleagues are good sources of advice and support. 


Mistake #5:  Not Resolving Conflicts That Keep You From Fully Committing To Action

Even when you want something and think it’s possible, another desire might be in conflict with it so it keeps you in place.  Harvard professors, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, coined the phrase, “Immunity to Change” to describe a kind of emotional immune system.  It functions to ward off painful feelings, such as shame, disappointment and fear, by preventing actions that could result in them. 

Immunity to change protects us by interfering with our ability to take actions relevant to the “dangerous” goal.  

They offer four recommendations for getting beyond the roadblock:

1.  Identify what you want to change and list the actions you want to take to achieve the change.

2.  Detail what you are doing and not doing to prevent taking the actions you listed. - What are you doing that keeps you from doing things you intend to do?

3.  Identify how taking action might compromise other things you care about.  The other things are competing commitments that will pull you away from the actions you intended. An example of a conflict could be wanting to try something new in your career versus remaining with what you currently do because you feel competent in that area.  Another might be deciding to invest hours on a project at night but then that would take you away from valued family time.

4.  Identify and challenge your assumptions that are causing the stalemate between what you think you want and your competing commitment.  What’s driving your motivation and how important is it to you?  Then challenge your assumptions with if ___ , then __ statements to resolve your fears.

Another approach to tackle fears is with Byron Katie’s “The Work.”  She believes that we suffer because we tell ourselves stories that aren’t based in reality.  In the work, you can free yourself from immobilizing fears by challenging stressful thoughts.  

She offers four questions you can use to address such thoughts:

  1. Is it true?  
  2. (If yes) Can you absolutely know that it’s true?   
  3. How do you react (what happens) when you believe that thought? - make a specific list of how you feel and act when that thought comes up
  4. Who would you be without that thought? - what kind of person would you be if the thought wasn’t true? How would you feel differently?

Which reality do you prefer?  Are you willing to live without the stressful thought?  What would you be free to be, do, and have if you dumped the negative thought?  Relish in how life would be so much better. 

Now come up with three examples of how that stressful reality isn’t true in your life.  For example, if you fear if you can’t handle a particular project, come up with at least three examples of how you’ve been super competent to extinguish the power of your self-doubt.

As you go about life, be mindful of how you feel so you can challenge those limiting thoughts that are keeping you from what you want.


Mistake #6:  Not Creating A Structure For Action

It’s easy to get overwhelmed if all you see is an iceberg of a project - that’s why you need a structure for yourself so you know what to do and when to do it.  It should be something that incorporates your unique work preferences.

Up to this point you might have formed a general intention to get something you want.  Now it’s time to get specific so you know where to aim your efforts and what steps will take you to where you want to go. 


You can use the “Wish, Outcome, Obstacles, Plan” (WOOP) approach as a way to get started.

You start with your wished-for desired future and visualize it as clearly as you can.  Consider the attributes it will have and what the best possible outcome would be.  You then feel how wonderful that would be when you succeed.

Now return to your present reality.  What’s missing?  Peel back each difference between present and future to get clear on the gap between the two.  This is called mental contrasting - it shows what you need to change.

Now consider if there’s a logical progression of steps you need to take, and what you’d like to accomplish within the next 90 days.  I say 90 days because things change quickly in this world so you should revisit where you want to go, where you are, and what’s working or not at least every quarter.

A part of this approach is using implementation intentions - it’s the “OP” part which stands for obstacles and plan. To avoid getting discouraged, you identify the obstacles you could encounter that could interfere with your motivation.  Then you come up with a plan that if that thing occurs, you will take a counter action.  You phrase it like this:  If this obstacle____ occurs, then I will_________.  It will help you keep your momentum so you can stay on track.

SMART Goals 

The SMART goals framework for forming Specific, Measurable, Actionable (some say attainable), Relevant (some say realistic), and Time-bound goals is well-known.  

In general it works well for outcome goals that aren’t too long-term.  Specific goals allow you to get laser-focused on what you want to achieve - (it’s good as long as you don’t get tunnel vision and ignore events going on that might suggest you need to pivot to a different goal).  Goals that are challenging are usually better than simply “do your best” because you aim higher when you have to stretch.  When you can make goals measurable, you’ll have a way to see if you’re making progress.  You may have to get creative with measures because not everything is easily quantifiable.  Of course, your goals need to be actionable or what good would they be for motivating your behavior?  Relevant means they directly relate to the purpose of what you want.  Time-bound provides a sense of urgency and helps by letting you figure out what needs to be done when to reach your goal by a certain date 

Process Goals

You can also use process goals to help achieve your outcome goals.  Process goals involve strategies you’ll use to accomplish what you want.  An example would include wanting a new job within 90 days.  You could then set process goals like arrange x number of informational interviews each week, be active on LinkedIN at least 3 days a week, attend y number of networking events, etc. 

Action Planning

How will you get everything done?  You need a plan to allocate your time and schedule when you’ll accomplish tasks.  Most people seem to recommend what they call “reverse engineering” to determine the timing of what needs to be done.

You need to complete certain things before others.  You look at what you want to accomplish by a certain date and then plan backwards to what needs to be done by different dates to get there.  

Depending on how detailed you like to get:  How will allocate your time each month, week, day, hours, etc to spend on your project?  


When you appraised yourself and your situation, you considered what you could use to strengthen your position.  Part of your action plan will include allotting time to get those things, that could include specialized assistance, training, funds, supplies, support, etc. 

When will you take care of those things?  You’ll most likely need to research when training opportunities become available and when you need to apply.  Similarly, when it comes to funding, you’ll need to find out what’s involved and then apply to get it in time for when you need it.  

Similarly with getting specialized assistance, supplies, other support, decide what you need and when you need it to determine what you need to do to get what you need for when you need it. 


What do you need to do your best work?   Some people are morning people; some are evening people.  You may want to do creative work in the morning and analytical work in the afternoon or some combination, depending on your energy levels.  Some like to work intensely for hours and then take a break.  Others work hard for 45 minutes and take a mini break.

This is an area where you could consider your motivational preferences.  How could you make your tasks most appealing?   If you have a choice, consider what kind of work setting you like.   For example, in college, many of us headed off to a library where we could work undisturbed.  What kind of organizing system would be best for you?  Do you want visual reminders to remember what you want to do, or are you happy using a list in your computer?  Do you like piles of papers for your projects, or do you prefer files in file drawers? 

What would help you get to work, such as with habits?  You can promise yourself that you just need to sit down and write for five minutes on a project, but then when you start, you’re most likely to do a lot more.  To remember to do something you might not do, you could use habit-stacking where you schedule your new activity right after something you already do each day.   

At the end of the day, you can review what you accomplished and what you still need to accomplish to plan for the next day.  Consider how well your day went and if you want to change things a bit going forward to get better at how you get things done.  When you’ve been productive and feel good about what you’ve accomplished, treat yourself to a reward as an extra benefit.

Make work as easy and pleasurable so you get things done.


Mistake #7:  Not Getting Relevant Information To Adjust Your Approach

You don’t want to invest a lot of time on the wrong things - so how can you get feedback as quickly and effectively as possible to support your progress?

There are two main kinds of feedback:  informative and evaluative.  They have different purposes and different effects on your task motivation.

Informative feedback gives you information for how you can improve so it increases your competence. In response, you could revisit your process goals and think whether you need to revise your strategies.  You definitely want informative feedback so you can improve your approach.  It supports your autonomy which fuels intrinsic motivation - the kind that is associated with pleasure.  Consider how you can best get the information you need to improve your competence.

The other kind of feedback is evaluative.  This could be whether or not you're attaining your milestones to meet your outcome goal.  It’s associated with feelings of mastery and preferred by people who like tangible signs of accomplishment or competition.  The competition can be with yourself to see if you’re succeeding or in comparison to others to see how well you stack up against them.  It’s a matter of preference.  

For example, if you're motivated by experiencing mastery you might like checking completed tasks off on a checklist to see progress.  In contrast, autonomy-oriented people might not like accountability-oriented types of feedback such as submitting reports to others - they may be content to feel like they’re moving the right direction. As another example, if you're motivated by purpose, you might be content with just experiencing the affect you have on others.  

The type of feedback should align with the underlying reason for what you want to achieve. Only you know what would work best for you.

In Summary

To sum it up, you can see how there are multiple points where you can get derailed from getting what you want for your career or business.  

Mistake #1:  Not Knowing What You Want

Mistake #2:  Not Being Intentional At Work

Mistake #3:  Not Appraising Yourself And How You Can Strengthen Your Position

Mistake #4:  Not Considering Strategies To Get The Results You Want

Mistake #5:  Not Resolving Conflicts That Keep You From Fully Committing To Action

Mistake #6:  Not Creating A Structure For Action

Now, you’re better armed to identify where you might be going astray and have some tips on how you can move forward.  Best wishes for your success!

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