Your Greatest Career Risk

career risk
Your greatest career risk

Career minded individuals always seem to be trying to chart out their next success. That may include striving toward the next promotion. It could mean making more money. It could mean simply making more people happy.

Whatever your definition of success, most of us set goals and strive to achieve them. That pursuit can be fraught with landmines. We face political pressures that force us down other routes. We struggle to balance family and our personal lives with our career goals. Sometimes things just don’t go our way. We have to exercise flexibility and go a different direction at times.

All of these, and many other factors contribute to career risk. You can receive setbacks and never recover. But all of these factors are external. Your greatest career risk actually lies within.

Your internal career risk

As you overcome the many obstacles that get in your way, you become successful. You get comfortable knowing that you’re actually good at your job.

When issues that others consider major occur, you treat them as if they are no big deal. As Rod Serling might have said it, “You have entered…the comfort zone.”

You have probably moved up the ladder a little. You’re making decent money. Maybe you’re doing better than you ever dreamed you would when you first graduated college. Back then, you were happy just to be getting a paycheck.

After a couple of successful years, you might have developed some habits. The company likes you. Your boss likes you. And you like the company. It’s not great, but you like it. You’re comfortable.

See my related post: Bad Projects Can Still be Career Builders

And then it sets in

Once you get to “that” point, you stop trying so hard. You go into a sort of maintenance mode. You may feel that you don’ have so much to prove. You’re established.

You still see some people that are what you consider “over-achievers.” You might have started with them as equals. Or you may have managed them at one point. Now they have positions that are a step or two above you.

You rationalize that you decided to focus more on your family. “I’m not going to break my back for the company just to make a few more bucks.”

But deep down, you realize that you aren’t trying as much as you could be. It’s not a matter of how many hours you’re willing to put in. You haven’t volunteered for a big project in a few years. You don’t really have any goals or direction in your career. You’re just coasting.

Breaking out of it

The reason it’s called a comfort zone is because it’s so comfortable. When you realize that you actually could coast for the rest of your career, it can be hard to break out of that habit.

But the hardest part of any big task is the first task: getting started. They say that the hardest part of overcoming alcoholism, or any type of addiction is admitting there is a problem.

While the career comfort zone may not be as serious as an addiction problem, there are many parallels. You need to admit that you could be helping yourself and others in a more meaningful way.

The best way I’ve found to break out of a bad habit like that is to visualize the future result after you have changed that habit.

See my related post: Paying Your Dues for Success

Your retirement party

Close your eyes and visualize your retirement celebration. That may be many years in the future. But think about the people from your career and who might be in attendance. Is it a big dinner celebration at a nice restaurant? Or did somebody just put a dozen donuts in the break room? What if you just left at the end of your last day and nobody noticed? Maybe you don’t want all the attention of a big dinner, but most people would at least like some people to notice that you were leaving forever.

Now envision how you would want your retirement party to be like. Think about what you would like others to say about you. How would they describe the impact you had on the company? On your projects? On them personally?

Success isn’t necessarily moving up to the CEO position of the company. It doesn’t need to be measured by the amount of money you make. It can mean having a positive impact on other people. It can mean being a leader within the company that people turned to for advice. Success is about continuous growth. If you continue to grow, you continue to learn new things. You develop new skills and impact a greater number of people.

When you grow like that, they may promote you to upper levels of the company. You may make more money. But those are bi-products of your success, not indications of it.

Resolve to continuously grow

New Year’s Day has come and gone. Maybe you made resolutions at that time. Regardless of that, make a resolution to continue to grow. Move outside of your comfort zone. Learn new skills, even if you’re not very good at it now, keep at it.

You will eventually develop a new comfort zone. Continue to move out of each comfort zone you create.

It may make for a more interesting retirement party.

What have you done lately to get out of your comfort zone?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com