Careers

How You Became an Underachiever


Here you are. Every morning, you reluctantly return to the same 6x6 cube. You grab a coffee, surf a news site, and chitchat with a peer. Then it's onto that onslaught of calls and e-mails coming your way. But the workload doesn't bother you. Staying busy saves you from something worse.

And that something worse happens each month when the promotion announcements come out. You read what your peers have accomplished, here and elsewhere. Reflecting on what you did during that same time, you realize how far you've fallen behind. Sometimes you whisper, "That should've been me."

Years ago, you marched into this cube dreaming of being a big shot. You didn't plan to stay here long; it was a place to learn the ropes and build your reputation. Early on, the higher-ups raved about your natural talent and upside. But those qualities only take you so far.

Now, you hold a ceremonial "Senior" title. Your place is secure and you make a decent living. Still, you feel trapped and restless. You follow the same tired routines. And you wonder if you've settled, if this is all there is and all you'll ever be. You once lived like you had all the time in the world. Then you lost track of it as years passed. Now, you feel its weight and passing more intimately, knowing how much you've squandered.

Destiny Diverted

We want to believe our careers will unfold logically. We see ourselves as special, possessing a manifest destiny to someday create, change, and lead. So we put our lives on hold and sacrifice for the greater good at work, certain our efforts will eventually be rewarded. We imagine climbing the proverbial ladder, not wandering through a maze.

So what happened? You'd like to believe it was one moment—a major oversight or missed opportunity—that led you here. Deep inside, you know the truth. You wrote lists and plans, knowing you'd never put them into motion. You waited for something to happen to you…and got left behind. Despite the grueling hours, you went through the motions, subconsciously knowing your path was welcome scenery and exercise. But led nowhere.

In our personal narratives, we naturally make ourselves the heroes. We seek out villains and scapegoats to justify why our lives haven't panned out. Unfortunately, the truth is far less melodramatic. It is usually a series of evasions, bad habits, fears, compromises, and mentalities that have led us to this point. Sure, you can spend time reflecting on the past, questioning your path, and figuring out what's missing. But are you really being honest with yourself? If you're ready to come to terms, here are 30 reasons you've fallen off track.

Jeff_schmitt
Jeff Schmitt is an online columnist for Bloomberg Businessweek. He has spent 17 years in sales, marketing, project management, training, legal compliance, and recruiting. You can reach him via e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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