Over the years, I’ve discovered that there are three common beliefs about how to succeed in your career that are completely misguided. In fact, if you hold onto them too long, it can ruin your career.

You’ve probably even been given some of this advice by people who truly want you to do well.

Since I don’t want you to fall into the same traps and struggle under these beliefs like I did, I’m going to share with you those three misguided beliefs and what you should do instead.

Keeping your head down

The first misguided belief is this:

“Keep your head down, work hard, do great work and you’ll get recognized and rewarded.”

This one is particularly dangerous for two reasons.

First, it’s actually true for the first few years of your career. Especially if you’re in a training program at a big company, which can be like training wheels for your first job.

In those initial years, you’re being looked after and trained up, so all you need to do is keep your head down, work hard and do great work. The watchful eyes of the organization will do the rest. And that makes it not only easy, but also likely that you’ll get lulled into a sense of false security that you can rely on this formula for the foreseeable future.

That’s simply wrong.

The second reason this belief is dangerous is that we all want to believe it, and so we do. Wouldn’t it make life so much easier if we could just go about doing our work and get noticed without having to make any effort at all? Frankly, nobody likes having to do the self-promotion thing. Even for politicians and rock stars, it’s a skill that requires practice and honing.

If you hold onto this belief long enough, you’ll find yourself on a plateau while others, often less talented, pass you by in terms of pay, promotion and recognition.

Instead, what you need to do is demonstrate your true value. To your boss, your stakeholders, your clients and your team. It’s up to you to show them how you make a difference, so don’t leave it to others to search around and figure it out for themselves.

When you’re good at demonstrating your true value, the odds of achieving success in your career, and in your life, are definitely in your favor.

So don’t get lulled into believing you’ll get ahead by just keeping your head down, working hard and doing an excellent job.

Doing it yourself

The second misguided belief is

“I should be able to do this on my own.”

This is a common “achiever” way of thinking, so you’re in good company if this is one of your beliefs too. In fact, I made a whole career choice based on this belief.

My family is filled with doctors and academics. As I was growing up, family friends would ask me, “so will you become a doctor when you grow up, just like your Mom and Dad?”

Well, that pretty much clinched it for me. If there was one thing I wasn’t going to be, it was a doctor. Or an academic, for that matter. I wanted to show that I could achieve success completely on my own, with no help from my family or anyone else.

What a dope!

This made it vastly more difficult to succeed, and it probably took me way longer with more painful mistakes along the way.

The truth is, no one succeeds in their careers on their own. We all need help. And others appreciate being given the opportunity to help you. Doesn’t it make you feel great to be able to help someone else?

Instead of going it alone, you need a network of people to plug into so you can connect with the right people.

I think of your network like your power grid. It’s an energy source for your career – one that contains information, insights, feedback, connections and opportunities. The higher the quality of your network and the broader the reach, the more energy you will have powering your career.

Your network can make or break you. Especially at critical points like when you’re transitioning into a new role, when you’re searching for your next move, or recovering from a major setback.

After all, business is done through people. It’s not just who you know, it’s also who knows you. And when your career isn’t going the way you want, it’s often because of your relationships with key people – or lack of them.

Being indispensable

The third common belief that can hold you back is

“It’s good to be indispensable.”

As in being indispensable for doing the job you’re doing.

We all know that to get ahead, you’ve got to be able to deliver results. But delivering the results you’ve been told to deliver is not sufficient these days. It’s the equivalent of handing in your assignment on time and in good shape. And when you get really good at doing what you’re told, this can make you indispensable.

Now, most people will tell you that being indispensable is a good thing. Even something to strive for if you want your career to go well.

But here’s the thing: if you’re indispensable for doing what you’re told to do in your current role, then you put yourself at risk of missing future opportunities.

The major risk is that you get seen as not only the best person to do your job, but the ONLY person who can do it well. You become seen as hard to replace, and maybe it’s easier to keep you right where you are.

Soon, they’re concluding that promoting you would create a bigger hole than the one you would fill. And maybe it’s easier to move someone else into that bigger role instead. Someone less indispensable and more easily replaceable than you.

And if you haven’t given any clues that you have bigger aspirations for your career, or shown you can learn new things and grow into that next role, others might mistakenly think they’d be doing everyone a favor to allow you to continue doing what you’re doing so brilliantly.

Why mess with a good thing by promoting you possibly beyond your abilities, right?

Here’s what you need to be doing instead – you need to be doing business differently.

This is about producing commercial results and outcomes beyond what currently exists, in a way that’s tied to what matters most to your organization.

Then you become indispensable in a good way. You become indispensable for what you CAN BECOME.

By the way, you can be commercial whether or not your part of the organization is responsible for generating revenue. And the same applies to organizations that aren’t about making money, like non-profits, government agencies, and educational institutions.

For example, being commercial in a charity could look like figuring out how to serve more people with the same level of resources, or finding new potential donors to make the charity sustainable for the future.

And if you’re in an area like legal, accounting or IT that doesn’t generate revenues on its own, being commercial could mean being smart about managing risk, saving money, or improving systems and processes.

So stop being indispensable in your current role and start demonstrating you can do more and be indispensable for what you can become. Show that you’ve got what it takes at the next level.

What will you do?

Are any of these common beliefs holding you back? If so, it’s time to let go of them and make the shift:

  • From “keeping your head down” and expecting the best, to demonstrating your true value instead.
  • From thinking “I should be able to do this myself”, to plugging into your network and connecting with the right people.
  • From trying to “be indispensable” for what you currently are asked to do, to doing the business differently and showing how indispensable you can become.

Which of these common beliefs have you held, and what will you do differently?

Leave a comment and let me know.