Career Myth: I’m Behind In My Career

This feeling is incredibly common among professionals. Every time they consult their mental career map, the “You Are Here” dot is miles behind the one marked, “Where you’re SUPPOSED to be.”

But where do these mental maps come from? How do we draw them?

Largely we chart the “correct” course of our careers by comparing ourselves with others.

Teddy Roosevelt called comparison “the thief of joy.” (He would’ve had a lot to say about social media.)

I think of comparison as a potent spice. It’s fine in moderation. But too much will leave you in a fetal position questioning all your life choices. 

A little bit of comparison can be good when it inspires you to use more of your potential. It can help you see what’s possible, when someone with similar resources to yours makes a dream happen.

But when comparison starts to shut down your inspiration rather than activate it, that’s a sign it’s time to stop comparing and start drawing a new map based on YOU, not anyone else.

The majority of the professionals we coach and teach admit to feeling behind in their careers. But the pervasiveness of the feeling is proof that it can’t be true. How can the majority of us be behind? Behind WHO?

The majority of professionals can’t be “behind” the majority. It’s mathematically impossible.

Okay, you might not be in that elite group of mega-successful wunderkinds who achieved fame and fortune by age 30. You might not even be at the same level of promotion as someone you came up with ten years ago. But that doesn’t mean you’re “behind.” It simply means you’re on YOUR career journey, not theirs.

A few years back, there was a study out of Harvard called “the Dark Horse theory.” Essentially it demonstrated that those who are the most successful in their respective domains had a “late start” because they were career switchers.

This debunks the myth that people who are the best at what they do got their start before kindergarten.

If you’re not advancing the way you want to, it doesn’t mean you’re wasting time. It just might mean that the things you’re learning now might have a different future application than you expect.

The point is this: You are where you should be. Don’t focus too much on where you are in comparison to others. There are far too many variables that go into a single career to make that a fair metric.

If you’re still struggling with “behindness syndrome,” take a tip from Teddy Roosevelt and ration your exposure to social media.