This post is part of my Bad Career Advice series in which I expose outdated, clichéd, and counterproductive advice for exactly what it is.
So, there’s this race, right? A nice guy versus a jerk. Who’s gonna win? According to popular belief, the jerk takes the prize every time. Nice guys just can’t compete. Apparently, all that goodness just slows them down.
This generic advisory was probably started by one nice guy who got burned and vowed never to be so foolish again. I feel for him. Really, I do. But why does he have to ruin niceness for the rest of us?
Truth be told, the professional world has long considered the word “nice” synonymous with “weak.” Nice guys are powerless. They’re just asking to be taken advantage of. It’s assumed that niceness can’t coexist with anything other than fragility, a decidedly feminine trait unappreciated in the male-dominated world of business. Niceness and other such qualities are seen as unnecessary distractions at best; disastrous displays of incompetence at worst.
The only way to win the game, so we’re told, is to demonstrate that you have what it takes—the cut-throat, raw ambition and competitive spirit needed to take down anyone who gets in your way. Never mind talent and skill. That has little to do with it.
I’ve always been disturbed by the adage that nice guys finish last. It’s condescending and, in my opinion, completely false. Being nice does not necessarily mean that you’re weak. You don’t have to be an ass to be assertive or stand up for yourself when needed. Those who believe this might want to engage in some communications training.
And being nice doesn’t mean you’re inept. In what world does ability have any impact on social graces?
The real issue here is that this notion compels people to think in a one-man show, zero-sum way: I want to win therefore you have to lose. In order to not be the last one sliding into the finish line, I have to do everything in my power to stay one step ahead of you. And so the civility cap comes off.
In reality, much of business success isn’t about you winning a race. It’s about teamwork and getting the whole team to the goal line together. One person simply can’t do it all on his own.
And guess what? Teams don’t run too well with jerks. Successful teams encourage a sense of respect and yes, niceness among members. It goes a long way in getting people to support one another. After all, no one wants to help someone they don’t like. Unless you think you’ll never need the assistance of anyone else, niceness is an investment that pays off in all areas of life.
There’s another saying that I believe applies well in the business world: You catch more bees with honey than vinegar. Essentially, this means that niceness leads to a greater level of success than the alternative. In my experience, this is a more appropriate and productive way of thinking. It isn’t to say that you need to adopt a falsely sincere, sticky-sweet demeanor in order to trick people into giving you what you want. It simply means that niceness isn’t a hindrance; it’s an asset.
Need some proof? Just ask Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines. This is what he recently wrote in an article on Entrepreneur.com:
There are lots of ways to get your point across and make your business successful without being aggressive. Always remember that you love what you do and your role is to persuade others to love your business, too, and, therefore, to want to work with you. I hope we are successful at Virgin because we engage with everyone in a positive, inclusive manner rather than in an aggressive, combative or negative way.
I’ve always had really high expectations for my friends. Sometimes, this leaves me disappointed. But the people with whom I develop real friendships are truly the most trustworthy, compassionate people in the world.
The other day, during a coaching class, the instructor asked a question that gave me pause. She said, “Would you be friends with you?”
Interesting idea, isn’t it? I thought about those high expectations I hold for my friends. And, disturbingly, I started wondering if I actually model those traits myself.
Would I be friends with me? Probably not.
Man, that’s really sad. But it’s also enlightening. That one question helped me pinpoint some specific things that I do to myself that I simply wouldn’t accept from others. If I want to embody the essence of what I love in others, I have some work to do.
I encourage you to ask yourself this same question and consider what it means to you. Below, I’ve outlined a few more questions to help you really “get” what I’m talking about here.
Do you keep promises to yourself?
I can’t stand it when a friend breaks a promise, even if it’s a small one. When we plan on meeting for lunch at 1 and you don’t show up, I’m absolutely livid. And yet, I do this to myself all the time. I tell myself that I’m going to do something—go to the gym, take a class, whatever—and then I don’t show up. What kind of friend would do that?
Do you play fair?
Remember playing board games as a kid and the weird rules some of your friends would try to make up? Around the age of 9, I stopped playing Monopoly with my sister because she made a rule that only she could buy Boardwalk and Park Place (I got to buy the purple ones and the railroads…the worst properties in the game).
No one wants a friend who makes up silly rules, or switches the goals posts halfway through the game. A friend is supposed to help you succeed and celebrate the small wins along the way. Do you do that for yourself? Or do you find ways to make the game harder or make winning less meaningful?
Do you truly have your best interests at heart?
A friend wants what’s best for you. She knows you deserve it. There’s nothing too hard, or too expensive, or too awesome for you. But sadly, many of us don’t think of ourselves with this same perspective. We don’t think we’re worth all that. Do you want what’s best for yourself, no matter what?
Do you treat yourself with compassion?
Do you beat yourself up for tiny mistakes? Do you blame yourself whenever something goes wrong? Do you dwell on “failures” and find all the ways you messed up? A real friend wouldn’t do that. A friend would listen with compassion and love. She would give you honest, thoughtful feedback to help you improve. She would hold you in her arms and remind you that you did your best.
You probably wouldn’t stand for someone else treating you the way you treat yourself. Take this as an opportunity to become a better friend to yourself. Maybe even take yourself out on a little date, just to say you’re sorry for the way you’ve been acting…It couldn’t hurt.
Decisions are an inescapable part of life. We all have to make them and, big or small, the process can be daunting. How do you know you’re making wise choices? What if you’re blinded by circumstances, emotions or bad intel?
When it comes to making any kind of major career decision, serious deliberation is in order. But, even with careful consideration, bad decisions still get made. Below, I’ve outlined six common traps that inevitably lead to regrettable career decisions.
1. Make your decision…then justify it.
Confirmation bias happens when your brain only sees evidence to support its decision. So, imagine you have a new job offer that you’re considering and you think to yourself:
Taking this job would be a really good career move for me. But I guess I should weigh the pros and cons before accepting it…
Your mind is made up. You’re taking the job and any effort spent evaluating the decision will only confirm that it’s the right move.
When facing any major decision, give every option a fair shot. Refuse to take sides until all the evidence is in.
2. Ask everyone you know for advice.
Wanna get totally confused? Just share your dilemma with five friends and family members. It’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll get five different points-of-view and no one will offer you the wisdom you’re really seeking. Sure, they all love you, support you and want what’s best for you. Each person will sound really convincing as well. But you’re the only one who matters.
Asking for advice will only fill your head with the opinions of others. Plus, they’ll dump their fears and biases on you as well. All of these things will only serve to mask your own true instinct and intellect.
If you absolutely must get an outside perspective, find one that’s truly objective. Hire a coach—someone who isn’t personally involved in your life or your situation.
3. Let fear steer the ship.
In general, a decision that stems from any emotion is usually not as sound as one that is based on fact and reason. When the emotion in control is fear, the outcome is even worse. Fear will push you into irrational decisions. It will hold you hostage and keep you safe in your tiny comfort zone bubble. Fear will never, ever support your higher aspirations. Recognize when fear pops up and be brave. Remember that fear is a sign you’re on the right track.
4. Hold tight to your beliefs, even when evidence proves otherwise.
In the book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, authors Ori and Rom Brafman refer to the concept of “commitment”—the natural inclination to hold tight to our beliefs. This is sometimes so strong that we make completely irrational decisions just to support the ideas we’re already mentally, physically and emotionally attached to.
…whether we’ve invested our time and money in a particular project or poured our energy into a doomed relationship, it’s difficult to let go even when things clearly aren’t working.
So, let’s say you’ve always wanted to be a nurse ever since childhood. You spent years in school being trained to do the job. You truly believed it was the only thing you were meant to do with your life. And now, after several years in the field, you’re unhappy. It’s not providing you with the fulfillment you once imagined it would.
Many people end up in situations exactly like this. But they’re so committed to the earlier belief that they’re unable or unwilling to see reality, much less make a decision that goes against that belief.
Allow your beliefs to evolve when evidence justifies it. Never let your earlier commitment to something—or someone—prevent you from doing what feels right.
5. Think in black and white.
When facing a major career decision, it’s easy to get stuck in an “A” or “B” mentality. You see only two choices and nothing in the middle. This is a limiting thought pattern that prevents you from truly understanding the vast number of opportunities that surround you.
In truth, there is always a middle road. When you catch yourself thinking in terms of either/or, step back and say, “Yes, AND…” Yes, you have those two options. AND what else?
6. Get stuck in thinking mode.
This is called “analysis paralysis” and it happens to the best of us. After spending a certain amount of time doing your research, you have to stop thinking and start doing. How long you spend is up to you. But be cautious of getting so bogged down in decision making that you never actually take action on a decision. Give yourself a pre-determined time limit and once it’s reached, game on.
I say “recovering” because I recognize I have a problem and I’m committed to improving it. But I still have a ways to go.
Last year, my motto was “Progress, not perfection,” and it served me well. I started this website, I produced two e-workbooks and I started actively working one-on-one with more coaching clients. I’m proud of my achievements. I can safely say that perfectionism no longer holds me back the way it used to.
It does, however, still trigger mild anxiety. Once a perfectionist, always a perfectionist, I say. Every blog post I publish is a challenge. I worry about typos and constantly think that I’ve failed to mention some big, glaring point that will leave my readers questioning my sanity.
But I have it under control to a great extent. I recognize when perfectionism is weighing me down, hampering my enthusiasm and stalling my progress. It’s still there. I feel it almost constantly. But I know now how to set it aside in order to move forward.
I don’t believe perfectionism is an inherently bad character trait. In fact, I think it’s a sign of self-respect. As perfectionists, we know we’re capable of so much. We want only to demonstrate our best at all times. And sadly, it simply isn’t possible. That’s what drives us nuts. We yearn, with all of our heart and soul, to express something absolutely pure and indisputably true. But life, by its very nature, prevents this.
Perfectionists are constantly at war with the world.
I won’t pretend to have all the answers. I can only share with you the things that work for me. If you’re a perfectionist, I encourage you to make the effort. Destroy it before it destroys your dreams. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
There Is Time for Improvement
The world and everything in it is constantly evolving. Something that is “perfect” won’t always stay that way. The same is true for the “imperfect”. Why waste so much time and energy on it then? Why not, instead, simply focus on getting started? And, in the future, focus on making improvements? Why not embrace evolution and remind yourself that whatever you do, whatever you create, whoever you are, will be different tomorrow. In evolution there is power. But if you fail to fully DO, CREATE, or BE because of your silly desire to be perfect right from the word “go,” you rob yourself—and the world—of the joy of evolution.
Enjoy the Journey of Growth
Growth is a joyful experience. If you were born perfect and simply stayed that way, I guarantee life would lose a lot of meaning and pleasure. Embrace your imperfections. Learn to love the process of improvement. And, more importantly, learn to love your perfectly imperfect self as it stumbles through change and growth.
Love Yourself (As You Are)
Perfectionists think they’re never good enough. They constantly beat themselves up for falling short, or they push themselves to unfair and unhealthy extremes.
But if the ultimate goal is perfection, you’ll always be disappointed. No matter how much you fight or push or punish yourself. What an ugly way to treat the most important person in your life!
No One Else Matters
Who are you trying to be perfect for? If you learn how to unconditionally love who you are and what you mean to the world, no one else matters.
Truth be told, no one notices you nearly as much as they notice themselves. That’s the nature of the world. Everyone is self-centered. So stop letting your desire to impress someone (or prove something) trap you in perfectionism. They don’t care. And if they do, you probably won’t sway them. Either you’re perfect in their eyes and nothing you mess up will change that, or you’re imperfect and nothing you master will change it.
“They” don’t matter. You, on the other hand, do. And perfectionism isn’t serving you.
JUST STOP IT. NOW.
Here’s a little tough love for you. Perfectionism is not doing you any favors. It’s not making your life easier, or more joyful, or more productive. It’s not making you more liked, or more successful, or more respected. It’s only harming you.
As a career coach, I often work with people when they’re in the process of a major career transition. They’re moving slowly towards something great and new, taking serious action towards achieving what they once considered an impossible dream. And at some point, usually right when they realize that they’re making progress and that the fantasy they’ve been harboring for so long might actually become a reality, they kind of freak out.
I know this well. It’s happened to me.
Truth be told, fear is a damn good sign. It means you’re on the right track. Fear pops up when something matters, when it really hits your soul and strikes a nerve. Fear says, “Whoa there, missy! You’re cutting pretty close to the bone. Why not back up and stay put for a while? What’s the rush?”
Whenever you’re chasing after something you want—and I mean REALLY want, with all of your heart and soul—fear will inevitably take hold. Where there is great possibility for joy, there is also great possibility for disappointment. Fear is simply your brain’s way of warning you not to get too excited about the reward without remembering the risk.
Fair enough, I say. Fear has a job to do and he does it well. But that doesn’t mean any of us have to let him run the show. It’s our job to recognize his presence, thank him for his perspective, and then carefully set him aside. Fear is not something that needs to be coddled or indulged.
Whenever you notice fear, take comfort in the fact that you’re on the right track. You’re doing something that matters. You’re getting closer to whatever it is you really want. That’s why it’s scary.
Does that realization take the fear away? Nope. But it becomes a much more acceptable part of life when you see it for what it really is. Don’t hide from fear, or ignore it. Demonstrate your courage instead.
Fear is a consequence of going after your dreams. It’s a required piece of the puzzle. If you want to live a life without ever confronting fear, stay right where you are. Let your dreams wither away and die.
If, however, you want to chase those dreams, grab them with both hands and make them your reality, fear is your friend. He will walk beside you. He will whisper in your ear. He will do his best to lead you astray. Let his presence reassure you. This path is moving you closer with every step. And each time you confront your old friend fear, hear his words and keep going anyway, you’ll gain strength, knowing you’re one step closer to the impossible dream.