You’re Doing It Wrong: 4 Career Planning Myths That Hold You Back

 

When it comes to making decisions about our career paths, so many of us are influenced by assumptions that we’ve long held about the nature of work. It’s understandable since most of the broader social norms surrounding work are still accepted as the truth simply because they’ve been around for what seems like forever.

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Emerging data over the past decade, though, indicates that some of our most cherished beliefs underpinning career planning don’t necessarily hold up. In some cases, we even end up making career moves that work against us by limiting our options and causing us to approach work in ways that provide lower job satisfaction and performance in the short and long run.

Here are four such erroneous career planning beliefs that only damage your career.

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1. Follow your passion

If you love what you do, work is play and play is work. It’s a pervasive idea that’s the stuff of Oscar thank-you speeches. It’s also given rise to so much anxiety about career planning. What if you don’t know what your passion is, or if you’re passionate at something, but you’re not good at it? What if you thought you knew what you’re passionate about, but you turn out to be wrong?

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As it turns out, following your passion is bad career advice. Research from Stanford and Yale shows it makes you:

  • Less successful and resilient
  • Too narrow-minded in carving out a career path
  • Have persistently low job satisfaction because your expectations are too high

It’s more worthwhile to develop your passion instead of following it. Cal Newport, bestselling author of “So Good They Can’t Ignore You,” advocates identifying and then mastering a rare and valuable skill. Subsequently, once you’ve built up enough leverage, you can use it to build a career that resonates with you.

Read more about why following your passion is bad career advice here, and which career priorities are more important than passion here.

 

2. Your job is only meaningful if you work in a specific industry or company

One of the primary drivers of intrinsic motivation at work is having a sense of purpose. According to the Harvard Business Review, 90% of people prioritise meaningful work over financial compensation. Similarly, a 2019 Straits Times Survey found that 42% of young Singaporeans wanted meaningful work more than other common considerations like good salary prospects and work-life balance.

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What’s less talked about is where and how to derive this sense of meaning. People tend to think deriving meaning from work is only possible if you’re in a specific industry, like the social service sector, or a specific company.

According to Wharton professor Adam Grant, though, this is a huge misconception; purpose can be found in any profession, from janitors to surgeons.

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For the most part, it depends on your perception of work. Yale professor and psychologist Amy Wrezsniewski’s research on job crafting shines a light on this. Her research proved that those who actively work to reframe and reconstruct their perceptions of their job are much likelier to find a greater sense of meaning to what they do.

For example, hospital cleaners who described their jobs with statements like “I am a healer” were found to derive a stronger sense of meaning. Those who simply stated their formal titles and job descriptions reported feeling more disconnected to their work.

 

3. Being a perfectionist helps you to do your job well

It’s one of the most overused job interview answers ever: “My weakness is that I’m a perfectionist.” The idea is that because I’m a perfectionistic person, I do not accept anything less than excellence from myself and the people around me. Thus, I continuously exceed expectations and get the best results as an individual and as a team player.

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While there are contexts where perfectionism works to your advantage, it can also set your career back. Perfectionists tend to be less adaptable and resilient in the face of failure, and more susceptible to job burnout, anxiety, and depression than their peers.

According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, perfectionists often suffer from a fixed mindset that can actually set them back in life. They tend to believe that their skills and abilities are set in stone, and perceive challenges as performance obstacles instead of enhancers. They are also often more crippled by their failures and are more resistant to learning new things.

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Those with growth mindsets, though, know that change is the only constant. They believe that skill and talent are developed and not static, inborn traits. They’re also more open to new experiences and knowledge since they see it as an opportunity to upgrade themselves, and not as an indication of current incompetence.

Read more about why perfectionism is stalling your career here, and how to overcome perfectionism here.

 

4. Work hard, and you’ll get far

Most of us were brought up on the idea that the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is how hard they’re willing to work. While that’s not a lie, it’s also just one side of the equation. In reality, hard work doesn’t necessarily secure professional and personal career success.

It’s a hard pill to swallow but consider this: so many hardworking people fail to make gradual progression at work. Sometimes, it goes the opposite way; workaholics often find themselves rapidly burning out, which eventually worsens their job performance and turns their work-life balance upside down.

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To succeed, you need more than just hard work. You need, for example, to:

  • Secure positive working relationships through networking and empathy
  • Engage in self-promotion to make sure your bosses know the value that you’re adding
  • Achieve peak performance, which requires you to work smart on top of working hard

 

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According to social psychologist and bestselling author Ron Friedman, many of us stagnate at work and in life because we work against ourselves instead of with ourselves. To truly tap into our natural abilities at work, we need to:

  • Play to our strengths
  • Cultivate our stamina for high-concentration work
  • Adapt our work routines to suit our natural energy levels over the course of the day
  • Utilise effective productivity techniques (different methods suit different people)
  • Get high-quality sleep
  • Play an active role in supporting co-workers’ growth at work

An employee who employs the above strategies in the workplace can probably achieve much stronger results and performance than another equally hardworking employee who doesn’t.

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