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I’ll never forget the time a new supervisor scanned my resume and casually told me, “Well, you certainly haven’t set yourself up for promotion.”

Excuse me?

I thought I’d done everything you’re supposed to: hard worker, team player, grad school, and unfailingly dependable.

I hadn’t taken time off to hike around Europe and eat chickpeas, for goodness sakes!

But it was hard to argue he was wrong. Other people (who I might have referred to as pinheads in a fit of jealousy) seemed to effortlessly skip ahead of me. Men and women marked for upper management in some sort of mysterious ritual I couldn’t understand.

What about me? Why wasn’t I one of the anointed?

Then I started to piece things together. Those things you’re supposed to do?


Oh sure, there’s an element of truth in there. Just enough to keep you stuck in your position for decades.

Once I cracked the code, one opportunity after another opened its doors to me. Of course, by that point, I wasn’t sure I even wanted a job in upper management.

But I knew I wanted the ability to choose the direction of my career for myself … up, down, or sideways. 

Below, you’ll find some of the most common beliefs that hold good workers back. Take a look, and see if any of them look familiar:

Lie #1: Work hard

Think you can impress your boss by getting in before he does? What about leaving later?

I know, what about both?

Corporate careers have turned into an endurance sport. The more ambitious and prestigious the culture, the more pressure you’ll feel to keep your butt in your chair long past your optimum.

But if you watch closely, there’s usually very little connection between hours worked and promotability.

What you should do instead: You’ll often hear people say it doesn’t take much to become good or “better than average” at something because most of your competition won’t try very hard.

That’s true, but the problem isn’t work ethic. It’s fear of failure. We run around the office all day, trying to look busy, even to ourselves, as a kind of avoidance mechanism.

Better advice is to be focused, be bold, then go home to nurture your creativity. Out-performing your competition is better than out-working them.

Lie #2: Do your job well

It’s the curse of the can-do attitude.

You take pride in your work. You enjoy putting those little finishing touches that others just can’t be bothered with. The better you perform, the more your boss becomes convinced he can’t live without you.

I’d never suggest you do your job poorly, but you don’t want to become indispensable either.

A promotion isn’t based on your past performance, but your potential for future work. Can you delegate? Can you motivate? Do you have a vision?

Or are you nothing more than a fancy workhorse?

The skill sets for the manager and entry level worker are entirely different, which is one reason few ever work their way to the top from the bottom.

What you should do instead:  As soon as possible, you need to make it clear your true talents are being wasted. This means demonstrating initiative and creativity for tasks that clearly aren’t in your job jar. And don’t try to make it a solo effort. Inspiring others around you to help achieve your vision will dramatically enhance the effect.

Lie #3: Dress for success

Perhaps you’ve stood in front of your closet and despaired.

Your suits and dresses are more than five years old. They’re practical, but they’re not smart.

How can you project an image of innovation when your clothes say you’re so 1995?

I’ve written about this before, but I think people way overthink their professional wardrobes. It’s true that you have to meet a minimal standard and in general your style of dress should match those you want to work with.

Unless you work in the fashion industry, label and style are far less important than you think. Seriously, who remembers what you wore to your last business meeting?

Executive image isn’t just what people see on you, but what they see in you.

What you should do instead: You know why people spend so much energy nit-picking outfits? Because it’s easy. There’s a common standard (label and price) by which you can measure success.

What’s hard, but far more valuable, is improving your confidence and competence. That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to improve your appearance. Just remember that no matter what you’re wearing, confidence is the ultimate accessory.

Lie #4: Promote others, not yourself

You don’t want to come across as arrogant. You worry people will see you as some kind of diva, screaming “look at me!”

Get over it.

Promoting others is an integral part of being a good leader. That’s fine. But if you think that by extolling the accomplishments of those on your team, your own value will be apparent, you’re kidding yourself.

What you should do instead: Personal branding is an over-hyped buzzword, but there is value to the concept. What you and your boss can learn from marketing is how to connect action to impact.

Most workers go into their appraisals talking about features (I did this, I developed that). But it’s critical you follow that up with benefits (this resulted in, the company earned).

Done this way, it doesn’t feel sleazy or boastful because impacts are based on fact, not a big head. If you worry people won’t believe you, change the approach to your work until the benefits are undeniable.

Lie #5: Network with influencers

While recently flat-hunting in London, I saw this great advertisement on the tube that said, “You know how to recognize a ticket checker? They look just like you.”

The same could be said of “influencers.”

I dislike most advice about networking, or at the very least I dislike the result of such advice. Like the time I watched people at a blogging conference quickly lose interest in a conversation once they learned the size of your audience.

Big mistake.

There’s no way to gauge who’s going to have the right influence at the right time. You think if you can just play golf with the VP, you’re set. In fact, it might be far more fruitful to chat up the VP’s secretary while he’s off playing golf with someone else.

Influence moves in mysterious ways. The people you think have the most influence might have the least, and vice versa.

What you should do instead: Be friendly and collegial with everyone, but don’t force it. If you don’t particularly like someone, don’t try to maintain a relationship just for the sake of networking. My rule of thumb is: if I don’t like them enough to make small talk, I’m probably not going to enjoy working for them (or their friends).

Make your agenda the mutual exchange of exciting ideas, not adding their personal info to your contacts. And don’t be too obedient or submissive–respectfully challenge them if you think they’re missing something. Executives won’t invite you to join their ranks if you can’t act like you belong there.

Lie #6: Go back to school

Your boss has a masters degree. Your boss’ boss has a masters degree. The CEO has an MBA.

The path to success seems clear: you  need to go back to school.

But do you really?

It all depends on your industry. Even in the crazy credentialed world of science, the answer is fuzzy.

For example, you absolutely need a Ph.D. if you want funding from government agencies to do experiments. But if you want to run an entire research lab? You can often get by with a masters degree and a good business track record. The Ph.D. actually becomes a liability when you try to advance too far, because people assume you’re a socially inept nerd.

What you should do instead: This advice is so pervasive, you’re going to have to challenge the system to get a straight answer.

Ask specifically what skills or competencies another degree will provide that you can’t learn on the job. Don’t be afraid to ask if your company would consider modifying their policy if you can demonstrate the desired outcomes through self study or an internship. It may be your boss and boss’ boss both regret and disliked their graduate experiences.

Another option is to look outside your current company. Sometimes people who have known you a long time at a certain position can’t imagine you moving up without an externally validated change. New faces might not harbor the same prejudice.

Lie #7: Have a career plan

Oh those dreadful meetings with your mentor when they ask you to pull out your 5 to 20 year career plan!

You have to have an answer or you look like a complete idiot.

But it always felt so constricting. I swore I could literally hear doors closing with every word out of my mouth.

It’s good to have goals, but it’s dangerous to think you can treat career progression like a checklist. Great careers are rarely so straightforward and linear.

A little serendipity goes a long way.

What you should do instead:  Instead of making a plan around specific positions or salary, think about other ways of defining professional growth. Maybe your career plan is to increase the span of your impact, from local to regional to national.  Maybe your work changes from tactical to strategic. These kinds of career goals give you a lot more wiggle room for determining how you reach success.

Of course, the worst lie of all is that a promotion can finally bring you the fulfillment you’ve been missing.

We think the only way to grow is to do more, control more, get paid more. The only way to validate our worth is by having others lift us up.

Or maybe you’ve finally come around to the idea that it’s better to impress yourself than your boss or even your mother. Don’t neglect that voice inside you. Getting promoted is easy. Finding work that makes your heart sing is harder, but worth far more than a fatter paycheck.

You see, work isn’t just what you do to pay the bills. It’s challenge and community. It’s making the world a better place than you found it, whether that world is as small as a mechanic’s garage or as large as an online stage.

Like children, good work transforms you, it makes you the person you always wanted to be.

Is that what you want?

Your ideal career might require a step up, or it might mean stepping off the grid all together. Ask yourself: does the world need another executive or does it need more heretics?

It’s not my place or your boss’ place to say. But if what you really want is meaningful work, then hold your career to that standard.

Then again, what do I know?

I’m just a writer, trying to change the world one word at a time, with no promotion in sight.

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68 Responses to 7 Lies That Undercut Your Chances Of Promotion

    • On
    • June 7, 2011 at 9:37 am
    • Ritu
    • Said...

    Wow Jennifer. I am predicting that you are going to get a ton of comments with this very insightful post. This is one of the most interesting perspectives I’ve heard on this subject.

    True, most career advice glorifies entrepreneurship and poo-poohs being employed (I happen to think there are ways to make both work and be fulfilling), but you are calling a lot of the “lies” as you see ’em.

    I am self-employed, so there is no room for promotion, per se, but at this stage of my life I’m finding a growing void that I think has to do with finding challenge, creativity and growth. These are SO essential for career fulfillment, and I agree with you that a bigger paycheck pretty much pales in comparison.

    I don’t dare call myself a writer (although I wish it:), but I do LOVE to read. And if writers didn’t write, the world would be boring!


    • Ritu,
      I dunno. Unconvential isn’t always popular. But I’m sure glad you liked it!

      I actually think far fewer of us than many bloggers would like to admit are well suited to being self employed. I include myself in that mix. If I could find someone to employ me to execute my own vision, I’d do it! I fully expect to return back to the regular workforce someday. But I still doubt I’ll be all that interested in promotion. :)

      It took me a long time to call myself a writer, but boy does it feel good. Don’t wish. Do! :)

    • On
    • June 7, 2011 at 10:23 am
    • Patrick Garmoe
    • Said...

    Hi Jen,
    Amazing article! It’s the sort of thing everyone should read – especially those people hearing all these lies in college. The older I get (I’m 34 now) the more I see that the degrees, the “career plan” the “official path” is a waste of time and energy. Perhaps it did work back when people stayed at one company for 30 years, but this is a new era, and it’s given way to great opportunities to lead fulfilling lives to those brave enough to pursue their true passions.

    • Thanks, Patrick. I had the same experience. I don’t know if age has given me this perspective, or simply the changing times, or both. Certainly hanging around all the free thinking websters hasn’t hurt! :)

      I totally agree–there’s never a better time to be brave than today.

  1. Thanks for this timely post, Jen! I’ve been planning to ask for a raise at my anniversary date in a few months (since promotion isn’t possible) and you’ve given me exactly the tools + mindset to feel prepared in taking that risk. 😉

    • One thing I suggest: do a little research if you can. How tight are funds? Can you ask for an “invisible” raise, like schedule flexibility or an extra day off? Just have a couple things in your backpocket if the monetary raise isn’t possible, so you still get something you want (and deserve). Good luck and let me know how it goes!

  2. Hey Jennifer,

    I was surpisingly amazed with your post.

    I would like to add.

    On # 3:

    I think dressing for success is just a myth. No Matter how expensive or classy looking your clothes may be, it cannot fake the aura and glow that real success person have.

    Success Radiates Success.

    If you are successful, it will be evident no matter what brands of clothes you were, what car you own or even how big your house is.

    How you look, act and think is just a reflect of who you are as a human being.

    On #5

    This is just a myth. One of the major misconceptions is a person Higher on office, means he has a high influence over a lot of people. It’s purely not true.

    He/she who has gone up the ranks was given power and authority. They were given immediate influence over a few people they hardly now and this is not influence.

    Influence is measured by the number of followere regardless of rank or position.

    Thank you for the very thought provoking post! I enjoyed it.

    Btw, found about your blog on your twitter through Srini.

    • Hi Armand! Welcome! Any friend of Srini’s is a friend of mine. :)

      I think of clothes like a house, and confidence as the foundation. If the foundation is crooked or offset, there’s nothing you can do to make the house look nice. But if the confidence is strong and intact, then hanging some pictures can go a long way. Aethestics are important, they’re just not the most important.

      I didn’t go quite as far as you did on #5, but I’m close. It has also been my experience that executives have less power than we think they do when it comes to promotions/hires, etc. This is obvious in a way, because what executive wants to “fall on his sword” to get you promoted with a manager who thinks you don’t deserve it? Good leaders don’t override their managers. That being said, I stand by my statement that it’s good to network and meaningful connect with everyone, executives included. You just never know!

      Thanks for the great, thought-provoking comment–love it!

      • Thank you for the content rich reply!

        Networking is really important when it comes to the workplace, after all your boss will promote the person he/she feel can work with him/her closely.

        • Armand,
          Glad you enjoyed it! I think networking is important, but in an organic kind of way. Your boss isn’t the only way to get promoted, and trying to please him/her at the expense of others could actually negatively impact your chances of promotion. You never know where your next opportunity is going to come from. So yes, network, but not blindly or artificially, which is sadly how too many people interpret the networking advice.

    • On
    • June 7, 2011 at 11:44 am
    • barbara
    • Said...

    A wise boss, who became a life long friend, once told me, “There’s a big difference between working hard and working smart. Know the difference.”

    Excellent advice!

    I always looked at every boss I ever had and asked myself, “Do I want that job?” If I did I would try to emulate them, look for keys to their relationship with their boss, etc. If I didn’t want their job I would begin looking for my escape route.

    I know most don’t have as many career paths as I’ve had, but I have to say all those twists and turns in the road were so worth it.

    Great post Jen!

    • Barbara,

      So funny you put the “work smarter, not harder” mantra in your comment. I had that in the post a couple of times, and decided to demonstrate instead of repeating it. You were reading my mind!

      I love your rule of leaving any job where you don’t want the job of your boss. It doesn’t always apply, but 9 times out of 10…

      You’re one smart cookie! :)

  3. I’m so glad you brought these up. Every time I read a ho hum blog about career advice that tells you the same three points over and over again I just want to shout, “Working hard and doing your job well doesn’t cut it.”

    If there is one thing the recession taught me it’s that even if you work hard and do a good job, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be 100% successful. Worse is to tell people to just keep working hard and if you do it long enough everything will work in the end.

    I’m not saying to be lazy bums because there is no point. You hit on it here. Being successful, getting promotions, etc all take incredible strategy. If you are the top performer in a sales organization but hate the job, that isn’t success. What is your career plan to do something you enjoy and provide for your needs at the same time? That’s success!

    I don’t think any of us feel that we don’t work hard or do a good job. If that was the key to promotions, we’d all be CEO’s. Rather, it’s about adapting, continuous learning, and applying those skills.

    • Bryce,
      It’s a great point about how these lies not only don’t lead to promotion, but they don’t even keep you in your job!! I feel like I should bold that and put it in all caps.

      Also interesting, isn’t it, that nearly all of us feel that we work hard and do a good job. By and large I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, because none of us truly understands the constraints of a job unles we’re in it. But I will admit that the percentage of truly good workers I’ve known across a 20 year career is less than 50%. What’s the source of the perception mismatch? Am I too critical, or are they too generous?

      I suspect that far more people, if they were really being honest with themselves (and maybe they are when they’re talking to themselves), could admit they’re not really trying all that hard. They’re killing time. They’re not terribly interested in what they do, only the benefits that might, magically, pop out.

      When I talk to people individually who are struggling with the idea of making a career change, I also ask them, “What are you doing now to shine in your job?” It’s amazing how many tell me, not only are they not shining now, but there’s no way for them to do it. Not possible, they tell me. What does that say?

      Interesting thoughts, as always, Bryce. Maybe this is the germ of another post (though probably less popular than this one!).

      • Totally could be the germ for another post. I’m sure you’d hit it out of the park as always.

  4. I’m so glad you mentioned that promotions don’t guarantee happiness. I was in the corporate world for years and as always very successful. I completely agree with all of your points. That kind of business advice will keep people stuck in middle management jobs forever. They’re often call good little workers…

    I was up for a big promotion a couple of years ago, when I finally figured out that I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to pay the price anymore, didn’t enjoy my job anymore and realized that the aspects of my current job that I didn’t like would only get bigger with the promotion. More money and power does not equal more happiness.

    Now, I’m self employed (I could’ve made a different change, but this is the path I chose) in a completely unrelated field (personal development, spiritual teacher), and I couldn’t be happier.


    • Melody,
      I had to laugh at the “good little workers” title. Hadn’t heard that before! Sad, but true.

      In the short term, I think the general exodus of talent out of corporate culture and into entrepreneurship is essential to bring out change. I don’t even say that in a touchy-feely way. As an INTJ in Myers-Briggs, what drives me INSANE is inefficiencies, and while you always hear about how companies have to toe the financial line, let’s just say that shows like The Office and comics like Dilbert are funny for good reason.

      At that point, either corporations will change, or the number of small but highly effective companies will increase. But I think the changing values in the generations (and hopefully, in some small way, the ideas in this blog) will bring about real change. In the meantime, here’s a toast to no promotions besides the one we give ourselves!

    • On
    • June 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm
    • Larry Warrenfeltz
    • Said...

    Hi Jen,
    Nice post. The biggest insight is that there is just enough truth in each of those lies to make people believe. It takes courage to go against the “proven advice” that too many mentors spout. But if they think it through like you have, they could see that their truths really aren’t true.

    • Thanks, Larry. That means a lot coming from a leader like you. :)

    • On
    • June 7, 2011 at 7:11 pm
    • Scott Bergman
    • Said...

    Hi Jen, Great post with a lot of useful tips. I think it can apply on a more general scale, as well as working towards that promotion.

    • Scott,
      I’m a poet first. Double or even triple meanings are my specialty. 😉

    • On
    • June 8, 2011 at 5:45 am
    • Andrew Hill
    • Said...

    Brilliant and insightful! Yes, Jen, all seven of those beliefs are flawed. As you have so clearly explained, none stand up to scrutiny.

    There is one other I would like to add: “Keep up to date with trends in the industry”. Familiarity with trends can turn out to be a liability if they are not valued or recognised by others. Better to keep that kind of knowledge and wisdom to oneself unless there is some evidence that managers or supervisors are ready for it.

    I think that familiarity with research and innovation, and a little forward thinking is a good thing. The reality is that other people are not necessarily going to see those things in the same way. The experience of Galileo is one well-known example from history.

    I feel compelled to recommend this post to others. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • FABULOUS add. That’s one that drives me nuts too. This kind of behavior leads people to trend hopping or worse, feeling bad that they’re not trend hopping. Your point about Galileo is good too. Cutting edge isn’t always appreciated (until much later). I don’t know about you, but posthumous promotions aren’t my thing! LOL

      Thanks for sharing and leaving a thoughtful comment. Nicest compliment you can give a blogger!

  5. Pingback: 12 Famous Former Interns, Plus More Links – Eye of the Intern

    • On
    • June 8, 2011 at 12:02 pm
    • Christina
    • Said...

    Had the chance to read full post. Really enjoyed it. Some points are surprising but still worth trying I think. Really loved your comments towards the end regarding finding work one enjoys. I’m on that page right now in my career and I’m seeing that being friendly and collegial is opening more doors than Lie #5. :)

    • Christina,
      Well, surprising was the intended goal, so I’ll take that as a compliment. :)

      Lots of people here are trying to find their ideal career. It’s not easy, but well worth the work. You’re in the right place!

  6. Another great post, Jen. In fact, if you ever get invited to deliver a commencement address, start with this post as your rough draft. It just might be the one commencement speech that graduates find useful!

    Add one more caveat to the ones you describe:
    Public ambition that is not accompanied by a sense of reality undermines promotion credibility. So you want to be CEO? Great. You want to be CEO in 2 years? That’s also great, at least until you start telling people you expect to move up faster than anyone else. At least in larger companies that’s a good way to undermine your credibility. If you want to be at the top rung quicker than you can read this blog, set up your own company where you can start at the top. If you are still in a firm with many layers of leadership, pay attention to what distinguishes fast risers from those who move up, but at a slower pace.

    As you rightly say, being competent and effective at one level doesn’t necessarily qualify you for the next level up the organization. Find out how the world looks different from one level to the next and demonstrate some of that aptitude where you can. Ram Charan’s book, The Leadership Pipeline, is a great example of what changes at each level.

    • Great idea, Marc! Now I’m going to have to look for a commencement to speak at. I’d love that. Anyone got any leads for me?

      Good point too on the public ambition. That’s often a mistake of youth, though the lesson often turns the other direction by the time we’re middle age, and think we can’t achieve in our lifetime anymore. Unrealistic expectations are bad for everyone!

    • On
    • June 9, 2011 at 11:17 am
    • Lisa
    • Said...

    I’m just not “getting it” with this blog. You’re trying hard and I want to like it, but honestly every post reads like some generic thing I could read on ehow.

    • Hey Lisa,
      Thanks for the honest effort and the nod to my work ethic. No blog can appeal to everyone. Perhaps you’d prefer other career blogs like http://www.blog.penelopetrunk.com. I think she’s terrific and there’s no possibility of mistaking her work for ehow.

    • On
    • June 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm
    • Linda
    • Said...

    Interesting take on lying…

    As I recently re-vamped and revised (or re-lied;)) my resume, I was reminded about the importance of cutting and pasting.

    Is it a lie if you are creative with your current or past job titles in order to fit one you are applying for? Is it okay to give a bit of creative license and “thinking outside the box” if you are qualified for the position? I guess that’s ultimately the decision of the shot caller…

    Absolutely love and agree that confidence is the best accessory in life and on the 9-5.

    Thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile post, Jen!

    • It’s an interesting point, Linda. I think no matter what you put, you have to feel 100% comfortable with it. I will say that I think resumes should honestly reflect the work you’ve done and should be a reflection of what you bring to the new company. Most job titles have no correlation to your duties and certainly aren’t reflective of your strengths. Morever, how one company interprets or values a particular title changes everything. For this reason, I’m partial to functional resumes, which seem to be preferred by many professional organizations anyway. I think a chronological resume with actual position titles looks outdated.

    • On
    • June 9, 2011 at 2:42 pm
    • sadya
    • Said...

    here’s another gem – Dont be irreplaceable you wont get promoted.
    What does that even mean? That i should be replaceable, oh so that i either get promoted or thrown in some corner.
    i often wonder who wrote these crap advices in the first place. In the 80s & 90s it might have been true, but now its just about the opportunity. You might be doing all the right things for a promotion but maybe the company is just not in a position to give you one right now.
    Another one – if you are a woman in an all boys club you should be just like them or show your vulnerable side ( Penelope trunk says the latter). Guess what both of them are useless advice. In an all boys club you wanna think over whether you want that promotion, and maybe you need to recognize that the odds are already against you, so if you do aim for that promotion you might just end up giving up alot more and the fight to fit in will still be there.

    • Hey Sadya,
      Good to see you here! I think the “don’t be irreplaceable” advice is another way of saying “don’t be indispensible,” which I list as good advice under lie #2. What I’m getting at here is that your boss needs to value you, but she needs to value you beyond the work in your current position. So it’s not a call to be dispensible or replaceabe in the sense you are thinking (I’m guessing along the lines of “Please fire me”). But more in the sense that if you get promoted, yes indeed, you need to be replaced. And if your boss feels you can’t be replaced without harming the goals and outcomes of that team, then in fact you may not get promoted. It’s short sighted, but I’ve seen it time and time again. As the other saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

    • On
    • June 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm
    • Dean Neitman
    • Said...

    Great read! Looking back on my 36-year career, I can relate to every lie you mentioned. I worked in the newspaper industry the first 20 years of my career. I looked forward to each day with a passion for the creative stimulation and the challenges offered. I sat up new departments and capabilities, managed and mentored creative talent and embraced emerging new technologies. As a result, when I got restless a new door was opened for me. While each door that opened offered new challenges and of course more money, it was the passion for my craft that drove my career satisfaction back then.

    After leaving a struggling newspaper industry 14 years ago to become a defense contractor, I had to work hard and put in some long days (lie #1) to learn the business. A good job was never good enough. I always wanted to exceed my customer’s expectations, not just meet them (lie #2). At a minimum I wear a dress shirt and tie in a work environment where business casual is perfectly acceptable (lie #3). Having managed and motivated aspiring talent most of my career, I am pretty good at promoting others but uncomfortable promoting myself (lie #4). I liked your approach to personal branding—an area I need to work on. I have also developed some good networking skills over the years and fully agree with your assessment about being friendly and collegial with everyone (lie #5). Through this approach I quickly found advancements in my new career.

    In today’s fast-paced world driven by technology enhancements, education and training are ongoing requirements in most career fields. As a hiring manager, I’m personally more impressed with an applicant’s experience and demonstrated abilities than a post graduate degree (lie # 6).

    I had to chuckle a bit as I read about having a career plan (lie #7). Although I’ve always believed in having a five-year career plan, with today’s uncertain economic environment it hardly seems practical. Although I’m making far more money today as a contractor than I did working for newspapers, I’m struggling to find the career confidence and passion in what I’m doing today.

    As I read your post several times, I found myself reflecting back on my career looking for the fork in the road where I made the wrong turn and lost the passion and fulfillment I once enjoyed. While raising a family as the sole income provider has always been a driving force, it was the passion for what I did that provided the personal fulfillment in my life. Thanks to your thought-provoking post, I plan rethink my career direction and make some adjustments to ensure I get the most of the years ahead.

    • Dean,
      Where you said, “I found myself reflecting back on my career looking for the fork in the road where I made the wrong turn and lost the passion and fulfillment I once enjoyed.” I just want you to know that so many people share this sentiment it’s scary. So many that it may seem normal and justified to keep gutting it out in a job that sucks the life out of you. But it’s not where we made the wrong turn that’s so important.

      The question you need to ask is: why do you continue to travel the wrong path?

      Put another way: how much would you be willing to pay to spare your life? How much of a paycut would you take if it meant living another day? Because that’s exactly the questions you are asking. And by ignoring them, you’re essentially saying the answer is zero.

      As I’ve said in other posts, if you dislike your job so much that you live for the weekends, you’ve essentially forfeited over 70% of your life. It’s-just-not-worth-it.

      Okay, I’m getting preachy again! I think your plan to rethink your direction is terrific, and if I can help you along your journey in any way, you know I’m there for you. Be brave and believe in yourself!

  7. To play devil’s advocate for a moment, another lie people tell themselves (or are told) is that there is a JOB that’s perfect for them. A JOB (or promotion) that will make all the difference.

    I disagree. From a numbers point of view (and given the reality of many people’s lives–supporting a family, paying the electric bills, etc.) we have to assume there are people who, all their lives, work less-than-desirable jobs. Or jobs that simply don’t fit into the future they once imagined.

    Yet I DON’T think they are all deeply demoralized or unhappy. As with most things in life, in some cases–and work is one of them–the change may have to start with you. You might have to look around and either find duties or tasks that suit you better, or ask to work on another team, or even learn to walk away from the situations that seem to cause you nothing but pain and doubt. Learn to treasure the moments that work, and try to learn from those that don’t. Growth isn’t always pleasant.

    This is also, in part, a validation issue. If we can see something worthwhile in a job well done, and a few worthwhile working relationships, than perhaps it’s not the career or job that’s bringing us down, but our expectation that we deserve better without first looking at what it is WE are doing every day.

    Having once worked at a job where my boss’ raving tyranny left me 15 lbs. thinner, exhausted, in horrible health and with a suddenly pronounced overreliance on addictive vices, I can say confidently that some jobs ARE the problem. 😉 But in other cases, the problem was me. So obsessively worried about pleasing someone else or ticking off some of the atrocious lies in this list, I couldn’t see what was right in front of me: an opportunity.

    Of course, this is just food for thought for those folks expressing such dissatisfaction. Sometimes a new job or a promotion is just a way of avoiding the real issue, and the unhappiness follows like a shadow. It takes guts to figure that out. Even more to fix it!

    • It’s a good counterpoint and well argued. The question then :how do we know if we need a new career, a new job, or a new attitude? What are the distinguishing characteristics for each scenario?

      I’m going to think hard about that Lindsay, because I think you’re right and I think the mystery keeps us planted where we are. If we don’t understand it, how can we solve it? Pernicious!

      I know I can always count on you for a fresh, interesting perspective. Honestly, you never disappoint. What a stupid boss you once had! :)

    • On
    • June 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm
    • Daria
    • Said...

    Amazing post Jen and oh so true! You nailed a lot of the “truisms” that are taught and spouted, but aren’t really true. I don’t think the people saying these things are trying to be dishonest, they just haven’t looked behind the curtain to truly understand how things work. After all it’s taken me 37 years to finally understand! :) I think this may be my favorite of your posts!

    • Completely agree with you, Daria. I don’t think anyone is intentionally spreading lies, they just haven’t thought about the issues in depth enough to present the nuance of each situation.

      Thanks for the kind words and the backlink. I greatly appreciate it!

  8. Pingback: LIE: Work Hard & You’ll Get Promoted – Want to Know the Others? | Mom In Management

  9. Great post Jen. I really like how you close with #7. We all want different things, but very few of us know what we want. Know what you really want and you can unlock the path to your happiness. People aspire for the promotion or title, and what they are not getting is the feeling they are after which can often lead to chasing the wrong thing. I wanted to be a Financial Director (chasing a title) by the age of 28. I got there, and where I should have been happy, it was not enough. It took me years to figure out the “feeling” I wanted to have when I think I have done a great job, fulfillment. It is not the title or the money, it is the feeling you aspire to have, so know what that is and do more of the things that give you that feeling. My work now has moved away from the numbers and actually more about dealing with people. My career path was planned, but had to be very flexible to fit in with what I really wanted.

    • Thabo,
      Great point. Knowing the “feeling” you’re after is so important. I think for many people, they know they don’t have the right feeling, or even a good feeling, but because they’re NEVER had that, they give up. They believe no one has good or important feelings about their work. That’s why I started this blog, as a collection of voices who can say, “No, really, it’s out there. Go find yours.”

      Thanks for being one of those voices!

  10. This is an awesome post, Jen.

    These lies are all part of a big institutional game, aimed at keeping us in our place and afraid to move beyond it. Your highlighting them gives folks the opportunity to choose – or not – to play.

    On the point about influencers, there’s often a piece of unwritten advice about creating special relationships with key folk in an organisation’s political hierarchy. You become a blue-eyed girl and hence more likely to be promoted by them. Which is fine until they quit or are fired and then you’re cut adrift by the new power base who associate you with the old school. As you suggest, it’s important to be friendly and build good relationships in general.

    So, thanks again. Ooh, and if I can help at all as you transition to the UK, do let me know!

    • Christine,
      That’s a really good insight about the danger of focusing on developing special relationships with higher ups. I mean, aside from the general danger of being labeled a kiss up. :)

      Thanks for the generous offer. I will most likely take you up on that, if nothing else to meet up for a cup a tea.

    • On
    • June 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm
    • jrandom42
    • Said...

    So I don’t have to work hard, do a good job, dress for success, go back to school for advanced knowledge, have a plan, or connect with people of influence, but I can brag all I want about ME and I can get promoted?

    What company is this? Definitely NOT the one I’m currently working for!

    • Jrandom,
      I know you’re being facetious, or maybe even sarcastic. It’s so hard to tell on the internet, though I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

      The polar opposite of a lie is not necessarily the truth. What we’re talking about here is nuance and learning to read between and sometimes beyond the exact words of guidance so many of us are given. I guess I’m surprised that you of all people wouldn’t see the value in that.

  11. The motherlode of terrific insights and a message to not take everything at face value. Reading between the lines, challenging conventional wisdom, seeing the forest for the trees, and paying attention to what’s really going on–these are the survival skills of any career and the ways we turn naivete into savvy. Great thinking and a great post to go with it…as always. ~Dawn

    • Thanks, Dawn. My reply to JRandom probably should have simply been, “What Dawn said!” Thanks for adding your own wisdom here. :)

    • On
    • June 15, 2011 at 8:48 am
    • jrandom42
    • Said...

    Jen, you’re actually asking for personal nuance from someone with Asperger Syndrome and is far more successful in dealing with software and cats than with people?

    As for doing a good job, I still think an old boss from the 80’s said it best:

    “If you can’t accomplish what’s in front of you with a sense of excellence, what’s going to convince me you’ll do any better with larger, more complex tasks?”

    • But that’s what I mean. I know you have Asperger’s and that makes nuance difficult for you. But nuance is difficult even for people without Asperger’s if they aren’t thinking critically about what the advice they’re being given and examining how well it seems to work. That’s why I wrote this post. So yes, you need to do what’s in front of you with excellence, but you need to pair that with a demonstration that you can do much, much more. The reaction you want to elicit from your is not just “Great job!” but “My god, I’m clearly wasting your talents on work this this. Let me give you something bigger/harder to work on.”

  12. Great points.
    In the modern corporate world, where everyone is running to finish ‘more’ and work ‘more’ and impress ‘more’, they forget the basic thing that a well done work speaks for itself. A detailed,flawless, well finished job is all it takes to make your mark.

    Sorry for adding a link below, but I couldn’t resist myself from sharing a very similar article on getting promoted on my own blog.

    • Thanks for the link, Naveen. It’s always a pleasure to find others who are sharing similar ideas, as I stated in this post: Dare To Be Similar

      (Sharing a link in response to your link was a bit of humor, per your suggestion :) )

    • On
    • June 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm
    • Kathy Morelli
    • Said...

    Hey Jen = Enjoyed the post…I wanted to add some “behind the curtain” tips I found useful when I was in corporate….Lie #8 Issues get brought up & resolved at meetings…Oh, not to this one…I learned from a mentor that issues are brought up & resolved BEFORE the meeting….you just need to know how to do this, it’s networking, politicking , going to the bar when necessary..

    ty, Kathy

    • I don’t know if I’d call it a lie to say that issues get brought up and resolved at meetings. It’s possible with a lot of hard work and if everyone is eager to settle an issue. But I think that your suggestion of doing it behind the scenes before the meeting is definitely the sign of a professional and someone with a lot maturity/skill. Too often we wait until the meeting because we’re scared to tackle the issue directly, one on one, with no one to defend us. But one on one is actually a much lower threat environment, which makes people more agreeable. Easier to score a win, even if it is more intimidating.

      Thanks for the add!

        • On
        • June 18, 2011 at 3:00 pm
        • Kathy Morelli
        • Said...

        hi Jennifer – thanks for the reply! I learned the skill about politicking around before a meeting in order to test the waters for supporters for an agenda from a male boss who really knew how to work the system. It really really helps and really really works and really really gets you friends and supporters. I was much more successful when I used this tactic. I try to use this tactic in my life all the time now.

  13. Pingback: How NOT To Get a Promotion « Nonprofit Chapin

    • On
    • June 15, 2011 at 11:45 pm
    • Chapin
    • Said...

    Jennifer, I hope you don’t mind that I just wrote a post responding to this (agreeing with most of it!). I love this post! As I mentioned in mine, I definitely thought about what you said for days after. I really appreciate your insight. Keep doing what you’re doing!

    If you’re curious to read my post, it’s here!: http://nonprofitchapin.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/how-not-to-get-a-promotion/


    • I actually like it when people disagree with me. First off, I’m an INTJ, so I enjoy debate. Second, you can only disagree (thoughtfully) if you digest the material enough to form your own opinions. That, to me, is a completely successful post and an ideal reader. I’ll respond to your point on going back to school on your own post.

      Thanks for the note!

    • On
    • June 18, 2011 at 11:45 pm
    • Tiffany
    • Said...

    Hi Jennifer. I really liked this post and agreed with all of your ideas. Many of the thoughts & comments I had in mind was said by other readers, so I’ll just say two thumbs up for this post :)

    • Thanks, Tiffany. You don’t always have to up-one the last commenter. Your kind of comment is always appreciated too. :)

  14. Pingback: End The Agony–Let The Job Offers Come To You - Resumebear Online Resume

    • On
    • October 21, 2013 at 2:55 pm
    • Farnoosh
    • Said...

    How did I not see this post? My last career program and one of my big passions is to help the frustrated smart employee advance up the ladder because of these BRILLIANT yet very sad and very well-put misconceptions and more. It’s so frustrating when you realize that only too late in your career. In my 11+ year career, I screwed up everything possible for getting promoted in the first half and then I did everything right in the next half. The results were astounding. I worked far less, I made far more, I had more fun projects, more influence, more clout, more travel, more stock options AND did I say I worked far less? I am SO glad you talked about this, Jen. I’ll be referencing this post so I’m not the only shouting out these truths from the roof tops!

    • On
    • January 5, 2014 at 2:01 am
    • bree
    • Said...

    Hmmm…I’m not convinced these techniques are applicable in public administration. I am noticing a lot of people without a degree are getting promoted, while those of us who have matriculated and work extremely hard are not. I’m beginning to believe there is no place for an educated and innovative person- a person with an actual opinion, in a leadership position in the public sector. Sucks.

    • On
    • April 27, 2015 at 6:54 am
    • Steve
    • Said...

    Great article, 44 years old and still trying to get ahead………..fingers crossed it’s not too late.

    • Definitely not too late, Steve. Let me know if I can be of service!

    • On
    • October 31, 2015 at 6:30 am
    • Nisha
    • Said...

    I wanted someone elderly or someone who has played this corporate game and seen life to consult me to choose which way to go, since many people follow the crowd and shitty rules, I thought it’s good to search something online. Thanks felt good. I can not play dirty politics, so little relieved that it’s not the end :)

    • Nisha,
      It’s a fine line, isn’t it? On the one hand, we’re told to chart our own path. On the other hand, we’re told there are so many ways to screw it up. It’s enough to make you go crazy. Mentors are great, but you need one who not only understands what you want for yourself, but is willing to help you get there, even if it differs from the decisions they made themselves. Keep trying!