Why aren't you succeeding in your career?

Feel like your career has stalled? You may have to examine your motives and your tactics for career growth.

I've heard from quite a few of you who work for companies that just aren't conducive to personal success, e.g., the leaders are brutally unsupportive, the company infrastructure is unfocused and on a fast train to nowhere, etc. I understand the hardship of that, so the following advice may or may not apply to you. But I think that it applies to most people.

If you think that you're not going anywhere in your career because you haven't moved up in the company hierarchy as fast as you think you should have, then one of two things may be wrong:

  1. You have the wrong definition for success.
  2. You're looking up so much that you don't do your present job very well.
  3. You're afraid to do the one thing that will ensure success -- take chances.

Wrong definition of success

If you define success as a corner office, then you're going to be sorely disappointed throughout your career. After all, there are only four of those, right? To feel successful, you need to stop defining success from the outside.

Titles and a steaming bowl of alphabet certs mean nothing in the business world unless they can be used to solve problems or improve the business. Are you solving problems with your programming skills? Is the business profiting from your networking know-how?

You're looking up too much

Know the difference between ceremony and substance. In other words, do you want that promotion because of the "prestige" it will give you or do you really have something worthwhile to give at that level? So many people focus on that pie in the sky that they fail to fulfill their current responsibilities. Do your current job extraordinarily well, and attention will follow naturally. Don't have the attitude that you're too smart to be in the trenches and that you're just biding your time until someone recognizes your genius.

The key driver for career growth isn't a Cisco certification or your personal agenda; it is the value you create for the business. If you don't have the work ethic, people skills, or initiative to accompany that cert or MBA, then you may have just wasted a lot of money.

Fear of taking chances

If you never make waves, your boat will not go anywhere. Grumbling because the executives at your company can't see through your skin, bones and associated ligaments to see your breathtaking potential, is a waste of time. You have to take action. No one wants to hear how smart you are-they want to see it.

If you're that good, formulate a plan that will save your company money or help end-users produce more. Plan, do your research, do your homework and then take a shot. Too many people wait for perfect and when it never comes, as it won't, they simply abandon the effort.

Don't be afraid of mistakes. If you don't make any mistakes, you're not doing anything. If you've done your research and the effort doesn't pay off, at least you have your research as an example of your preparation. And failure can teach you that much more than some of your more timid coworkers will ever learn.

If you don't like leaving your comfort zone, then don't seek out growth. You can't have both.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.


- Most of the time you're not miserable. - You're frequently happy. - At least someone likes and loves you. - You have enough food on the table each night to not go hungry. - You make enough money to cover all your bills, and put enough in retirement to live happily on until you reach 120 (think positive). - You manage to raise all your children to be independent of you, preferrably before they reach 25. That list may not seem like a very high bar; but far too many people in the world, and even in the U.S., fail to fulfull all of them. You may also have noticed that the job or your career doesn't appear on the list at all, even in vague reference. That's because success is all in your head. Which comes right around and supports Toni's first point; if you don't think you're being successful, maybe "You have the wrong definition for success."


I'm watching several people in my office now who think they deserve the top job just because they have been working here for the last 10 years. It is amazing that they think a promotion is an entitlement, like another birthday. In some cases they really don't even consider all the issues and pressures they will need to face if they get the promotion. I too interviewed for the top job but with no expectations of being considered a serious candidate ( I really like my current position too much). My interview had a much different focus. I wanted the next level of management to understand the true needs of our department and how important what we were doing was to them personally and what type of supervisor we truley need (not necessarily me). To be honest it was the most fun I've ever had in an interview.


"If you think that you?re not going nowhere" should read: "If you think that you?re going nowhere" OR " If you think that you?re not going anywhere" - in my opinion. Thanks for article though.

sissy sue
sissy sue

This is very practical advice, and I have found it to be true in my 40 years in the workforce. Every young person entering the workforce needs to take this advice to heart. 1) Don't let the expectations of others define you. Do you REALLY want to be a manager, or would you be more satisfied being the best professional you can be? 2) No one cares what a hotshot you think you are. The world wants you to prove it. 3) If you want to get ahead, you've got to make the moves to make it happen. If it entails sacrifice, so be it.

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