2 Common Career Mistakes You Can Avoid by Understanding Your Innate Strengths


The following is adapted from Ignite Your Career!

We all know someone—or maybe that someone is us—who has gone down the wrong career path. They think they should become a lawyer, accountant, or other professional because it’s the family tradition or the job pays well, only to realize years later that they aren’t happy in their career. They might not even be especially good at what they do.

At the core of these career decisions are two mistakes:

  1. Setting false expectations for yourself and your career.

  2. Giving in to a fear of missing out.

Both of these mistakes can lead you down the wrong career path, but the antidote is simple: understanding your innate strengths.

As I’ll explore in this article, if you understand your innate strengths, you can make a more informed decision about the right career path for you—a profession you’ll both enjoy and thrive in. You can choose a career that benefits from your strengths rather than works against them. Furthermore, by knowing your strengths and avoiding these common mistakes, you’ll skip the headache of having to switch careers further down the line.

Mistake #1: Giving in to the Expectations of Others

Early in their careers, many people choose certain jobs because they think they’re supposed to. I know people who became lawyers or doctors or accountants because that’s what their family did, but they were not happy in their careers. They let others’ expectations influence their decisions without taking their innate strengths into consideration.

This is a mistake because whatever small boost in satisfaction you get from making your family proud won’t offset the daily frustration of working a job you neither love nor thrive in. Adding to the problem, once you’re on the “expectation boat,” it can be difficult to find a way off. Even if the boat feels like it is sinking.

You can easily wind up trapped for years in a job you dislike by allowing others’ expectations to outweigh your strengths and preferences, which should be the factors guiding your decisions.

Mistake #2: Giving in to the Fear of Missing Out

Giving in to the fear of missing out (FOMO) is another mistake people make at the start of their careers, or even more commonly, before they’ve chosen a career while they’re still in school.

FOMO can lead students to make decisions based on perception of credentials rather than what fits with their strengths. They’re also influenced by pressure, whether intentional or not, from their peers. For example, students see what their friends are doing and start doubting themselves and their path. They see friends focusing on consulting, investment banking, and finance, careers that interview early and are perceived to be prestigious. When students watch people get jobs at top firms like Google, Amazon, P&G, or McKinsey Consulting, they question their own worth if they have offers at lesser-known companies. As a result, people end up focusing on careers that appear to be lucrative but may not align with their strengths.

If you don’t have a clear idea of your strengths, it’s easy to give in to FOMO and make career decisions that feel rewarding on paper but don’t match up to your skills and preferences in reality.

Choosing a Strengths-Based Career

I want to help you avoid getting on the wrong career path and being influenced by FOMO and false expectations. I’m well placed to do that, because I made those mistakes myself. Looking back, I now realize that I set out on the wrong path at the start of my career. When I got onto the right path thirteen years later, it changed my life.

I had been working in marketing for over ten years when out of left field, I received an opportunity to work in recruiting. It was a very different path from what I had been doing and what I was expected to do, but I knew it involved working with people, which I was good at and enjoyed. On the other hand, the marketing path I was on required heavy analytics, which I was not as good at and did not enjoy.

When you’ve been on one career path, there’s a fear of missing out on the rewards of the time you’ve already invested. When you switch paths, you’re starting over in many ways. However, I understood my strengths, all of which related to people: winning over others, communication, and empathy. My understanding overpowered any pressure to live up to others’ expectations or FOMO that might have kept me on the wrong career path.

I realized that you couldn’t find a more people-oriented role than recruiting, so I made the change and fell into a career I loved. It fit so well with my strengths that I became very successful at it.

Find and Follow Your Strengths

Too many people choose a career because it’s expected of them or because they’re afraid to miss out on prestige and money, but making these mistakes is a recipe for disappointment and unhappiness.

Instead, take the time to understand your innate strengths. Are you naturally skilled at bringing a team together? Analyzing and organizing data? Managing multiple projects at once?

Pursue a career that aligns with your strengths, and you’ll give yourself the best chance for long-term happiness and career success.

For more advice on building a successful career, you can find Ignite Your Career! on Amazon.