The Statement that Put Me Away: How to Break Out of Your Career Prison

by Joseph Kwon in


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I have a confession to make.

For a while, I was making one of my female coworkers uncomfortable. This was someone who was junior to me and looked up to me as a mentor. The first time I made my half-joking statement, I could tell she wasn't sure how to take it. I said it a second time and got the same awkward response. You might be wondering why I would continue on in this manner. Well, if the third time's a charm I tried to clarify things by explaining why I said what I did and why I was doing it.

Here's what I had been saying. Or something to that effect.

"Keep doing what you are doing. One of these days I may very well be working for you and that would be totally cool. I'm serious."

Cue uneasy shifting in seat, awkward silence and eventually a dubious "Yeah, right!"

And here's my explanation, after which I stopped saying this.

"I know you don't feel comfortable when I say this so I'll stop. Let me explain the reason why I've been saying it. We all have long careers and people move up and down on their own timetable. I think you have tremendous potential and I don't want you to hold yourself back by thinking that you have to wait your turn or that whoever is ahead of you today will always deserve to be ahead of you tomorrow. Forget that! You have to be your best, whatever that is and don't let any false or unnecessary sense of loyalty, hierarchy or timing stop you or slow you down."

Apologies for the false advertising. It wasn't exactly a #MeToo creating moment. However, as much as I was saying it for her benefit, I think it was a lesson for me as well. There are many times I catch myself thinking, I can never do that as well as X, Y, or Z. Or so and so's forgotten more about widgets than I will ever know. While both of these may very well be true, the problem has more to do with my attitude than the veracity of the statements. No disrespect to any of the great bosses and mentors I've had along the way, but if I live my life believing that I should or will always be one floor below them, then I'm clipping my own wings.

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Don't clip your own wings!

Give respect where respect is due, put in your time, and don't get cocky, but know and be okay with the possibility that one day you may soar above your previous teachers and leaders. And remember, anyone who tries to artificially slow down your ascent doesn't deserve to be on your team.

Keep moving forward and you will reach your summit.

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Have you ever caught yourself holding yourself back? Did a shift in your perspective on success ever lead to significant results? If you have a story, success or otherwise, about clipping your own wings, I'd love to hear about it.      
Next post next Saturday, 6:30 a.m.