Achieve Your 2019 Career Goals: Make A LOT of Mistakes

Seems like more and more of us are foregoing New Year’s resolutions. Maybe it’s because we’ve learned that resolutions, however well-intended, aren’t easy to sustain once the freshness of the new year has worn off. Or perhaps we’ve discovered that setting bite-sized goals is more effective when most of us have something we’d like to accomplish, and the start of a new year is the natural time to do this. Several of my colleagues have written thoughtful New Year articles about setting meaningful career goals and best practices to implement your resolutions.

There’s something special about the new year – the promise of the opportunity to start over or do something important in the year ahead. With that in mind, I’d like to propose a completely different approach to your 2019 career goals, especially if you’re starting to feel discouraged: Give yourself permission to make mistakes this year. As humans, we’re hard-wired to avoid mistakes, as mistakes can jeopardize our survival. But our minds don’t discriminate between survival-threatening mistakes and life-enriching mistakes. All mistakes get lumped together in our brains. We’ll only take on things that feel do-able or safe. Or, we’ll avoid anything that we fear will make us look foolish or unprofessional.

Take the case of Ben. Ben had been with the same company, in a senior role, for more than 20 years, when the company was sold, and his role was eliminated. When I suggested that it was time for him to start networking, to achieve his goal of landing a new job in a new industry, he said: “Even when I haven’t been in contact with many of them for years?” “Then I’m going to have to explain to them why I’m looking for something new, and they’ll think I’m desperate.” Sound familiar? Most professionals have heard those very same words come out of their own mouths at one point in their career.

Turns out, Ben was most worried about making a mistake. He was worried he’d say the wrong thing or that he wouldn’t ask the right questions. He knew that given his expertise and work experience, networking was going to be key, but he’d never had to network for a job before. No wonder he was afraid of making a mistake. He had never approached a job search like this before. What’s working for Ben is thinking about networking as “practice”. When you practice, you’ll make mistakes. That’s all part of the process. Ben might never love networking, but by giving himself permission to make some mistakes, he’ll move closer to his career goal.

Another type of mistake we avoid is making a seemingly bad decision. But bad mistakes can sometimes transform a career. James, an engineer, quit his job and took two weeks off to enjoy his family before starting his new job. On the Friday before his job was to start, he got a call. His new position wouldn’t be happening after all – critical funding had fallen through. Suddenly, James was without a job. He thought he’d made a terrible mistake. He beat himself up for being irresponsible and not checking things out more thoroughly. More than anything, he was embarrassed by the situation. He wanted to crawl under a rock and lick his wounds. I challenged him to announce it to his network. To take the mistake, and rather than put a positive spin on it, be honest about what happened. He did. And sure enough, a contact had had a similar situation happen months earlier, and because of James’ candor, hired him for a temporary assignment. This allowed James to continue his job search, and he found an even better opportunity than the first one. “I had a setback, I didn’t make a mistake” he later told me.

Mistakes are only mistakes when there’s a judgement attached. If you stop judging your own missteps, and even the ones you see others make, you’ll learn more and gain more insight into what works and what doesn’t for you. Plus, who’s to say that what appears to be a mistake, really is? What if it wasn’t a mistake to you? What if it was a life-changing experience? What if it taught you an important lesson?

Go out of you way to make a few mistakes in 2019 and see what you discover. A few mistakes might just help you achieve your career goals.

, ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: