9 surprising mistakes keeping you stuck in the wrong career

Jun 24, 2021

It’s happened with every new client I’ve ever worked with. They contact me because they’re feeling stuck in their career and want help to figure out what to do next.

In our introductory consult I’ll ask them what they’ve already tried to address this challenge. Nine times out of ten, I’ll hear:

‘I’ve applied for a new job BUT I’m not sure if it’s what I want.’ Or: ‘I went through an entire interview process and got offered the job — then realised it’s not the right fit.’

You think your current role is the problem and finding a new job will ‘fix’ it. Then find the same issues follow you to your next position. Why?

Because immediately searching for a new role is an external, ‘band aid’ solution. You haven’t got to the root cause of the issue. Or looked internally within yourself to figure out what you really want.

Some people fail to tackle the true problem for years. In my previous career as a corporate recruiter, it was common to see people job-hopping from one role to the next. A big reason why I do what I do now is the frustration I felt at not being able to help individuals address the real problem.

Finding a new job to ‘fix’ things is the first of many mistakes keeping you stuck in the wrong career. Are you making one of these common career fails?

In this article, you’ll discover 9 surprising career mistakes holding you back — and how to avoid them.

#1 — THE NEW JOB ‘FIX’

I call this first career mistake the ‘new job fix’.

A variation of this is taking the first opportunity which comes along. I’ve had a few clients come to our initial coaching session saying: “Someone has approached me about an opportunity and I need to make a decision, NOW.”

Straight away, I’ll bring them back to their reasons for investing in working together. This is when they realise, they’re being reactive. Worse, they’re putting pressure on themselves to respond to a role they never sought out!

#2 — FIGURING OUT TITLES FIRST

The second mistake I see people make is trying to figure out their ideal career first. They’ll share how they’ve spent weeks, months and even years thinking about potential ideas.

They’ve brainstormed a long list of job titles, new careers or career paths. Weighed up the pros and cons of each option. And they’re still stuck!

This process sounds logical but they’re approaching it the wrong way round. By trying to identify the ‘ultimate’ job title/career upfront — so they can match themselves and what they want to it. Yet, if you don’t know what you need to feel fulfilled at work, it’s impossible to find the ‘right’ role.

Instead, you must understand what you want, first. Work which aligns with your purpose, priorities, strengths, desired income and lifestyle goals. Then you can begin looking at roles or career paths which fit all aspects of what you want.

#3 — KILLING TIME

This mistake is a form of avoidance — or distraction disguised as productivity. You fill your time with further study to feel productive whilst figuring out what you want. But you’re avoiding the real issue and are trying to find answers outside yourself.

I see this often amongst my high-achiever clients who sign up for a masters or another form of study. Believing another qualification will ‘solve the problem’ of feeling dissatisfied in their career. Instead, they end up spending a lot of time and money on something they don’t need.

Of course it’s fine to pursue further study if your decision is strategic and aligned to what you want. Ongoing development is important and often necessary to reach your professional goals. The issue is when you have no idea what you want and do it to feel productive, validated or better about yourself.

#4 — QUITTING WITHOUT A PLAN

I’ve seen it time and time again. Waiting until you’re so miserable or burnt out in your career you’ve got no choice but to make a drastic change. Like quitting without a plan or taking a career break to figure out what to do next.

This is one I’m guilty of too.

At this point a clean break may feel like the only option. And if it’s impacting your physical, mental or emotional health, it could be the best decision. But the problem with quitting or taking a career break is you end up losing time and money.

The period of time you’re not earning an income can create financial pressure. Then add an extra layer of adrenal fatigue or mental health challenges into the mix? It slows down your ability to work on the real problem: how to find fulfilling work or create your ideal career.

#5 — OUTSOURCING CAREER DECISIONS

A client was struggling to make a big professional decision. “I’m so confused” she said. “This person is telling me I should do this, someone else the complete opposite.”

When I asked her: “What do YOU want to do?”, the answer became crystal clear. But it had become lost in the noise of other people’s voices. Which confused her even more!

The reason you outsource career decisions is because you lack self-trust. You seek external validation from others instead of listening to yourself.

The problem with this is everyone has their own opinion — which often conflicts with another. This leaves you confused and stuck in the wrong career. Or it muddles your ability to hear your own voice, so you make a decision which isn’t right for you.

#6 — YOU’RE STUCK IN THE SCROLL

Another mistake is scrolling job sites or LinkedIn, hoping your ideal role will jump out at you. Or going down the Google rabbit hole and expecting your dream career to reveal itself to you (hint, it won’t!).

How do these time-sucking practices keep you caught in the wrong career? You’re searching for answers outside yourself, not addressing the actual issue. Instead, you must ask yourself the difficult questions and take proactive action.

#7 — FOLLOWING YOUR PASSIONS

A friend recently shared. “Something you once said has stuck with me: You can find your passions outside your work. They don’t have to be your job!”.

It’s critical to do fulfilling work and find a career which lights you up. But the advice which is often thrown round to ‘follow your passions’ can be dangerous. Here’s why.

It puts pressure on people to turn their passions into work. Which can be challenging if you don’t know what your passions are. Or have no desire to make money out of them!

It can also lead you to make the wrong decisions or discount potential opportunities. A much better approach is to lead with your purpose and what’s important to you. By finding work which aligns to this, which you’re passionate about!

#8 — DOING WHAT YOU THINK YOU ‘SHOULD’ DO

Following what you think you ‘should’ do, not what you want is one of the biggest reasons you’re stuck in your career. Widespread amongst high-achievers, it stems from your conditioning and beliefs adopted in childhood. A common one is being ‘practical’ or playing it safe in a traditional, well-paid career — even if it makes you miserable.

Believing you ‘have to work hard’ to make money or be successful. Thinking you’re stuck in a career path or role you committed to and can’t make a shift. Or chasing money and external success to validate yourself.

#9 — AVOIDANCE

Do you use numbing behaviours to cope with how much you hate your job? Excessive time on social media, binge-watching Netflix or online shopping. Extreme exercise, drinking too much or overeating.

These actions keep you ‘safe’ and stop you feeling the discomfort. Instead of taking steps to address the real issue.

What about using self-care to manage the stress of your job? Spending a lot of time or money on activities to relax and de-stress. Using medication and other therapies to manage job-related anxiety, stress or exhaustion.

Numbing and self-care treat the symptoms, not the root cause. They’re focused on avoidance and coping with the problem. Rather than solving the REAL underlying issue.

These unexpected career errors can stop you in your tracks. Becoming aware of these mistakes has helped my clients and I avoid staying stuck in the wrong career. I hope these insights support you too!

Want help to get unstuck and find the work that lights you up? Book your free initial 30 minute consult HERE to get started!

Stacey Back is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach + Founder of Profile Careers. She helps high-achieving corporate leaders and business owners at a mid-career crossroads find the work that lights them up, increase their income, impact and create a career + life on their terms.

Stacey also supports professionals to transition from their corporate job into their own consulting business. She works virtually with individuals based across the globe.