In today’s competitive corporate landscape, standing still is equivalent to moving backward. No one has the luxury of coasting anymore. The opposite of “up” is “down,” and if you’re not moving up — in your company, your field, and your career overall — you’re at risk of being downsized.
But not all career roadmaps are created equal. Just like an outdated GPS that tells a driver to turn directly into a swamp, many of the old corporate pathways now lead to a dead end. To help guide your decisions and actions toward success, this article debunks four common myths about career management. Avoid these wrong turns at all costs:
Myth 1: You have to get promoted to management in order to be successful.
One common misconception is that career advancement means that you need to move “up” in an organization into managerial positions. But many workers—particularly creative types or those with highly specialized expertise, such as programming — have no inclination (and no innate skill) for managing other people. (There’s a reason management is often wryly dismissed as “herding cats.”)
Instead, focus on increasing the value you provide, which doesn’t have to be tied exclusively to management positions. Value also comes in the form of expertise. Becoming a guru in your field can be just as valuable as taking the reins on a team, granting you a way to earn more prestige and more earning power without taking on a level of responsibility you’re not really suited for. Instead of managing others, you can enhance your organization’s operations by sharing what you know with your peers and becoming a thought leader outside the organization.
Myth 2: You should always choose the job that pays more.
Of course, money does matter — but maybe not as much as you would think. Research has shown that people with incomes above about $105,000 a year actually see their level of happiness and overall well-being drop. Instead, what does matter is quality of life, and a big component of that is how much you love your work. So instead of just chasing the dollar, seek work that is fulfilling. This leads to better long-term outcomes because if you’re forcing yourself to do a job just because of the size of the paycheck, your inner misery is going to be hard to hide.
When you do what you love, it’s easier to achieve “flow,” a concept identified by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which describes a state of mind in which time passes quickly and you can happily lose yourself in what you’re doing. Being in flow leads to greater productivity, which in turn enhances your value to the organization. Taking a new position that pays the same — or even somewhat less — but offers a better culture fit and improves your overall quality of life should definitely be considered a career advancement. Your compensation package is not the only measure of whether you’re advancing in your career.
Myth 3: You need to move to big cities on the coasts to truly reach the highest level in your career.
The coasts may offer more glamour, but a recent Glassdoor study put three non-coastal metros — Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Indianapolis — at the top of its list of best cities for jobs. In fact, a new report by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and the Walton Family Foundation found that 19 states in the country’s midsection “constitute a manufacturing super-region and export powerhouse that outperforms the rest of the country on a number of core economic indicators.” So your best bet for finding new work you love may lie inland.
Just as importantly, the work-life balance you find there could be significantly better than what you can achieve in high-priced coastal metros. The pace of life may be slower, but cities in the middle of the country aren’t as crowded, and housing is more affordable. That means your income will stretch further. Bottom line, you can find career advancement opportunities in cities across the country, so it’s not necessary to focus your career goals on simply getting to L.A. or New York City.
Myth 4: Networking is a chance to promote yourself.
Networking is important at all stages of a career. It enhances your knowledge base, broadens your horizons, and creates opportunities that working in isolation just can’t. However, if you view networking primarily as a chance to toot your own horn, then you’re doing it wrong. Networking shouldn’t consist of being a walking version of your cover letter and résumé. Instead, use these opportunities to let others shine.
To get the most out of networking, Chris Motley, CEO of the St. Louis-based mobile job-matching platform Better Weekdays, recommends letting others do the talking rather than trying to show how knowledgeable you are. “When you have the opportunity to speak to folks in an informational interview or a networking event, treat them as if they are the expert by asking questions, he says. “They will be flattered, and you will get valuable information,” and that new knowledge is essential for keeping up with the rapid-fire changes in your industry. Better still, you’ll be remembered as a likable person instead of a self-promoting blowhard.
The ever-shifting expectations for the workplace may seem intimidating, but the good news is that you now have unprecedented opportunities to grow, evolve, and discover. Think about your personal definition of a quality work experience. That’s the first step toward moving ahead on a path that’s right for you.