I’d like to admit something right off the bat: I’m a little selfish. Okay, maybe I’m a lot selfish. Sometimes, you have to be.
I’m making this bold statement today because the 8th career limiting habit we’re discussing is selfishness, and I may not be the best person to advise you on this topic. But I’ll share what I know and let you make that decision.
Here’s the deal: I believe there are two sides to this coin. Selfishness can be annoying and even dangerous in the workplace. It can also, at times, be a necessary evil.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
A selfish person tends to puts his own needs before the needs of others. As a professional, this doesn’t exactly make you the best team player. A strong team is made up of people who are willing to sacrifice their own glory for the sake of the group.
But there is a time and place for selfishness, my friends. You have to look out for yourself in this world. You deserve success. Your needs are just as important as the needs of others. You have to be willing to fight for them—or no one else will.
Finding the Balance
So it’s a delicate balance. I believe that selfishness, in the career-limiting sense, means that you’re so consumed in your own world that you’re unable to understand or work effectively within a bigger system.
But don’t confuse this for self-respect. It’s NOT selfish to know what you want from your career and go after it. It’s not selfish to be loyal to your own needs. Listen to your inner voice and do what’s right for you, even when others are pushing you in the opposite direction. Embrace your professional power. Don’t give up on your own dreams simply because someone else got there first. Don’t be content with a supporting role if you’re dying to be a star. You can fight for the success you want and deserve while still being a strong team member.
All too often, I see professionals (especially women) who sacrifice everything because they’re afraid of being selfish. They stay in jobs they hate out of loyalty for bosses who don’t respect them and companies that don’t even know they exist. They refuse to stand up and demand credit for their work when others take it from them. They hesitate when asking for a raise because they don’t want to be greedy. They refuse to promote their own strengths because they don’t want to be arrogant.
They’re afraid of shining too brightly for fear that it will somehow create darkness for others.
I want you to stand up and take what’s yours. But I also want you to play nice in the sandbox. I think it’s possible to do both. I think there’s a way to love yourself, and do what’s best for you, while also working well inside the system. It’s a matter of respect—for yourself and for the team.
The world is full of abundance. Don’t play like it’s a zero-sum game. If you win, it doesn’t necessarily mean others lose. You deserve success as much as the next guy, if you’re willing to work for it.
When I was a kid, my mom used to sing a song that went something like this:
“Lookin’ down at a hole in my sneaker…I nearly missed a rainbow…I nearly missed a sunset…”
Do you remember this song? I just discovered it was originally from an episode of Sesame Street—a Google search turned up this page with the words if you’re interested.
Anyway, I bring this up because it’s a useful concept for today’s article discussing the next career-limiting habit in our series. We’re discussing the habit of “short-term focus”—number seven on the list.
When I think of someone with short-term focus, I remember this song.
In today’s busy workplace, I know it can be easy to get sucked into the short-term, day-to-day stuff—your annoying commute, your growing to-do list, your impending deadline, etc. These things sap your mental energy from morning to night. But you simply can’t get so wrapped up in the “here and now” that you forget to lift your head and look out at the horizon once in a while.
When you’re busy looking down, that’s when things are missed.
Why Long-Term Focus Matters
Long-term focus goes hand-in-hand with “big picture perspective.” These skills allow you to understand the bigger game. Without them, you’ve got tunnel vision.
By looking up and out, you’re perspective shifts. You become more aware of the bigger needs of the organization now and in the future. You more clearly understand your role in its success.
Even more importantly, you’re able to be proactive–to actively manage what’s coming at you rather than simply reacting in the moment to what’s right in front of you. This is, in my opinion, the one skill the separates average employees from outstanding ones.
Long-term focus also helps ensure you’re better prepared for what’s next. Companies are always changing and evolving. In order to stay relevant, you must be right there with them, at every step along the way. Otherwise, you may get left behind.
How to Shift Your Gaze
Take off the blinders and stop looking down. Look up. Gaze out to the horizon. Here are a few tips to help you do so:
1. Know Your Industry
Almost every industry has a magazine, association or website where up-to-date information can be found regarding trends. Sign up or join right away. Get to know how your industry has grown in the past and where experts are predicting it will go in the future. What challenges are facing your industry? What opportunities are there? How will these things potentially impact you and your company? Stay informed.
2. Know Your Company
The same thing goes for your company. Read the company reports and newsletters. Talk to executives when you have the opportunity. Find out what challenges and opportunities are coming your way. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.
3. Know Yourself
Of course, you don’t want to neglect yourself in all of this. Long-term focus applies to your career goals as well. Where do you want to be in five years? What about ten years? How can your work today help support these goals? What opportunities or challenges may come up along the way? How can you get the most out of your current experience to enhance your opportunities and minimize your challenges?
4. “What’s Next?”
Always ask yourself this question. How does the task you’re working on today change or evolve in the future? How does it impact the next phase of the project? What can be done today to make tomorrow better, more efficient, more profitable, more successful? Look several steps ahead of where you are.
I still find myself singing that Sesame Street song once in a while. And it’s a great reminder that looking down at the road beneath your feet can mean you miss out on the big stuff happening all around you. Keep this metaphor in mind as you shift your gaze and overcome the career-limiting habit of “short-term focus.”
The other day on my free coaching call an attendee asked about how to handle someone who is disrespectful. I gave her advice regarding opening up communication and giving the person straight-forward “instructions” on how she wanted to be treated, and somewhere along the line it dawned on me: There are so many people out there who just don’t understand respect.
If you’re like me, this statement probably shocks you. I was raised to be respectful. My parents made a big deal out of it and now, as an adult, I truly recognize the important role it plays in my relationships and in my career. But sadly, not everyone is lucky enough to have parents like mine.
Since “disrespect” is the sixth career-limiting habit on our list, I figured now was a good time to go ahead and address this issue once and for all. Below, I’ll share the 4 rules I live by when it comes to respect. You can use these rules in both your personal and professional life. I promise, you and everyone with whom you interact will be glad you did.
1. The Golden Rule
Treat others how you want to be treated. They call it the “golden” rule because, if you do this and nothing else, you’ll be golden.
2. The “It’s A Small World” Rule
Now that you’ve got the world’s most annoying song in your head, let me clarify what I mean by “It’s a small world.” No matter who you are, where you live, or what you do for a living, the bubble you in which you exist is much, much smaller than you think. Because of this, you always want to treat everyone—clients, subordinates, and co-workers alike—as if they will one day be your boss…because they very well could be. You never know what might happen in the future. So think of every person you interact with as a potential future employer.
3. The “Hidden Value” Rule
Look for the good in everyone. You may not see it immediately, but I promise, it’s there. Believe that everyone provides some kind of value, even if it’s not abundantly clear on the surface. Trust that the person standing in front of you has redeeming qualities that, if you knew more about them, would inspire, delight and enchant you. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.
4. The “Everyone Is Special” Rule
Recognize that everyone comes from a different place, and they all bring vast amounts of experience and wisdom with them. Some people are fortunate enough to be well educated. Others are not. Some people were born into money. Others worked their tails off to get it. And yet others work just as hard and will never see a dime for their efforts. The world is not fair. The deck is not evenly stacked. Luck and good fortune are not equally distributed. But everyone has something special. Everyone knows something you don’t know. Everyone is capable of doing and being someone completely different from you—and that is a worthwhile thing to respect. That’s the beauty of life. And if you can’t respect each and every person you come into contact with for that reason alone, you’re not respecting our greatest gift.
My former co-worker (let’s call her “Ruth”) always saw the negative in everything. When an idea was presented, she was the first one to say, “That won’t work.” Fair enough. But she never offered alternatives. She never looked for solutions. She never, ever gave anything or anyone the benefit of the doubt. Ruth was an absolute nightmare to work with.
I understand that some people are just naturally more positive than others. And I truly believe that every operation works best when there are a wide variety of personalities in the mix. But negativity for its own sake rarely serves a purpose. And people who can’t demonstrate a positive “can do” attitude in the workplace are truly damaging their career future.
In a recent survey, negative attitude was listed as the fifth most common career limiting habit. Not surprising. Who wants to work with a sour puss? What company wants to reward (i.e., promote) that kind of behavior? Negative people, at best, stay put. At worst, they’re shown the door.
Why Attitude Matters
You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? I’m just being honest. I have to voice my opinions and be myself. I don’t do the fake stuff.”
That’s fine. No one’s asking you to fake it…much. The workplace is a living, breathing organism and everyone impacts it. Your negative attitude can bring down the entire thing. It’s as contagious as an airborne virus.
Now, let me also be clear: Voicing a dissenting opinion, speaking assertively and saying “no” are not inherently negative. You can—and should—embrace your individuality and your professional power. But your delivery has a huge impact. Done in the wrong way, these things can certainly appear negative.
There are, however, a few simple strategies to keep in mind that will help you demonstrate a positive attitude, while still being yourself in the workplace:
It’s amazing how powerful a smile can be. It actually changes your brain chemistry. Even if you don’t feel like it, try to smile regularly throughout the day. Others will respond to you more favorably and you’ll naturally feel more positive.
Negative people see obstacles. Positive people look for solutions. Instead of pointing out a challenge and waving the white flag of surrender, approach it like a puzzle. How can we turn the situation around? How can we fix the problem? How can we make this work? It’s fine to be skeptical, but bring your own ideas to the table as well.
Negativity comes from a place of emotion: Frustration, anger, disappointment, etc. Do your best to set these feelings aside. The workplace is a professional environment—it’s your responsibility to act professionally. That means using tact and diplomacy, stating facts before feelings, and finding ways to get the job done—even when it’s uncomfortable.
Respect the Team
Negativity sucks the energy from those around you. Give your team members the respect they deserve. Even if you aren’t feeling particularly positive, focus on the bigger picture. You’re a part of the team and your attitude matters. A little effort goes a long way.
Negativity is like a boomerang: It always comes back to you. Likewise, the more you project a positive attitude, the more positivity will come your way. You don’t have to pretend to be someone else. Just recognize the powerful force that is your attitude, and use it to your advantage.