Are You Holding Yourself Back?

Posted on October 29, 2015.

More than anything else, self-sabotage can totally derail your career.  Recently, I was reminded of this common problem during a conversation with a friend. He’s diligent, smart, a team player and qualified, yet he’s having a hard time taking the next step in his career.  The reason? 

He’s one of those quiet, earnest types that underestimates his value. He doesn’t apply to jobs he thinks are too much of a reach, nor does he toot his own horn at the office.

Such a reserved approach, though laudable, is exactly what gets lost in an applicant pool or work environment because it’s actually folks who overestimate their ability a little who get ahead. 

Bad habits or negative behavior can definitely sabotage your career, but often at the root of that is a fear of failure. The thing is, as evidenced by my friend, a little bit of self doubt can throw up major roadblocks.

While it’s not easy to change how we think about ourselves, there are steps you can take:

Embrace success

Jumping up the ladder can be daunting, and you may worry that once there you’ll prove not up to the task. Stop thinking that. Don’t even allow yourself to entertain that line of thought. Instead, combat this by asking your supervisors for more regular feedback, and when your boss or a colleague recognizes your contribution or value, don’t blow it off. Take the positive comments to heart just as much as you might the constructive criticism.

Get Social

Many hard workers are so focused on doing their jobs that they skip lunch, forgo time with coworkers, and rarely network. Operating this way perpetuates a low profile and will never get you noticed. So, go to the office happy hour. Take lunch with colleagues. Expand your circle within the company and industry. In doing so, you’ll make yourself more visible, build confidence, and become an even more integral part of the team, all of which can directly affect the likelihood of a promotion or more challenging, resume-building projects being sent your way.

Birds of a feather

Remember how your mom didn’t want you to play with those kids at school because they were nothing but trouble? The same goes for coworkers and friends. A negative outlook is infectious and will prevent you from seeing any opportunities and positives. Spend less time with people perpetuating their own failure story and more with proactive folks whose eyes are on a positive future.


Cultivate a sounding board

If, like my friend, you’re doing so many things right, it truly can be hard to see what you should be doing better. That’s where honest, outside feedback from someone with experience is invaluable. A mentor will draw your attention to your successes as well as to your self-sabotaging behaviors. They’ll also offer different strategies for how you can achieve your goals. For a primer on how to get the most out of your mentor, check out my post here.


All of the above may not seem effective at first, but commit to making changes and you’ll get results in time. After my friend took a closer look at how his self-effacing, nose-to-the-grindstone ways were influencing his superiors’ perceptions, he made some changes which resulted in a promotion.