Bad Decisions and Wrong Turns: One Girl’s Guide to Career Success

We’ve all gotten career advice. Work hard, don’t settle. Ask for what you want. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Dress for the job you want. Love what you do.

Yada yada yada.

For those of you who have gone after career growth with all that “tried and true” advice, and it’s failed you; I’m here to tell you there’s another way. The following advice is composed of methods I’ve implemented effectively in my career, and I’d like to think these are exactly the things that got me to where I am today.*

  1. Avoid risks at all costs

Sound appealing? I thought so. Read on.

1. Avoid risks at all costs

First and foremost, we all know that risks mean you might lose something. Why would you set yourself up to fail? Here’s how to stay safe and cozy, right where you’re at.

Take the first job opportunity that comes your way, no matter what

It’s better to be safe than sorry. This applies when you’re looking for your first job or transitioning to a new opportunity, even if it’s not what you want. Say yes to part time work when you need full time employment to survive. Take a job as a rental car store manager when you have a design degree. Accept an offer with a salary that’s well below market. After all, there might not even be another option; a paycheck is a paycheck, and bills gotta get paid.

Keep a short term focus

Setting long term goals means looking to the future and determining what success looks like. If you don’t meet what you set, you fail. Instead, live by short term goals, or even better, no goals. Live in the moment with no regard for your career progress. When someone asks you what your five-year plan is, distract them by asking them theirs instead, or just pull the ol’ “Oh hey, look at that bird over there!” Prepare yourself with a fixed mindset so you’re ready when the unexpected lands on your doorstep. Ignore recruiter calls. Keep spending habits high. Compare yourself to your retired, conservative parents. This way, you’ll never not reach goals, because you’ve removed the potential of risk.

2. Keep your expectations low

High expectations lead to being let down. Why would we want that? Temper your perspective and moderate your approach so that everything that happens keeps you looking up.

Convince yourself you’re doing the thing that makes you happy when it really doesn’t

Happiness is really what you make of it. When you’re able to take even the worst situations and spin them positive, you’ll find yourself in a place of contentment. Arm yourself with robotic responses like “I’m great!” and “It’s fine!” Don’t bother with the cons on your “pros and cons” list when you’re evaluating your current situation. Save those cons for when opportunities come up. Remind yourself that you have enough to get by, and you’re more fortunate than many. Don’t panic if things fall apart. Convince yourself that your career crashing down on you is a learning experience. Stay put; ride it out. You’ll be fine.

Work until you’re stressed to the core; it’s normal

Literally everybody has anxiety these days. Working aimlessly and endlessly and tirelessly is what success looks like. So be sure to practice all the 85 self-care techniques your friends have insisted work for them. When your skin flares up in a rash that your dermatologist will diagnose as stress (or possible rat mites—true story), when your muscles tie up in knots that a baker couldn’t knead out, and when your stomach tears holes in itself based on the quantities of white wine and Advil PM you take to just deal; remind yourself that this is the new norm. That way, when you actually get that rare and miniscule physical or emotional break, you appreciate it intensely.

3. Know how much is out of your control

Those who think they have control of their careers are in for some big upsets. Why keep running into walls? Know that you only have control of the teensiest fraction of career-driving factors. You’re not set up to win in the first place, so find comfort in that.

Acknowledge that the deck is stacked

Promotions and accolades are often entirely out of your control. Bias underlies any bit of hiring, assigning of work, and recognition. When you see someone get a head start over you, stew on it until you’re borderline obsessed. Remind yourself that it was out of your control. When someone else gets credit for your project, blame the process. Upbringing, favoritism, or not having the right resources is what has caused opportunities to be stricken from your path. Above all, don’t self-reflect to find the reasons that you weren’t chosen, because you’ll just be excusing the reality: there was nothing you could do.

Give in to the imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is something you also can’t control. She takes over, and literally prevents you from succeeding. And there’s a reason for that; she’s the voice that knows you best. When you feel like you don’t belong, you probably don’t. Recognize that your limits are real. Pass off opportunities to more qualified people. Let your fear of being discovered override you so that you don’t speak up, you don’t hold your ground, you don’t fight back. Whatever it is—you grew up poor, your learning curve is different, your gender will never be equal—this is just how things are. So why try to fake beyond that?

4. Wait for good things to happen to you

“Good things come to those who wait” is steadfast advice. You know yourself; you’re amazing as is, and people should know that. You deserve good things to happen, right? So kick back and follow along.

Avoid putting yourself out there

Meeting people and maintaining relationships is time and energy spent, not to mention the work it takes to have a presence. The work you do should speak for itself. Don’t waste time asking potential mentors for a 1:1, a cup of coffee, or a quick phone call for expertise. Avoid the side hustle, and keep your social presence to a minimum. Forget about putting together a portfolio. If it makes you feel better, say yes to networking opportunities and make plans to get your external presence together, but ghost and procrastinate. Eventually, the right people will see you and will elevate you.

If success finds its way to you, relax into it

If you kick back and just chill out, good things will definitely come your way. When they do, get comfy and stay a while. The next step is probably too stressful to jump into right away. When you get a promotion, keep moving at minimum expectations. After you get an award, show up late to work and leave early. Ride on the coattails of your success for as long as possible; you’ll be able to step it up when you need to. And keep avoiding risks, keep those expectations low, and know that you’re not in control anyways. You’ll get there somehow.

*Oh hey, and the reason these have all worked for me is because I’ve crashed and burned from all of them and had to pick myself up and dust myself off. I’ve made steps when I should have made jumps and jumps when I should have made steps. And despite a few skinned knees and a bruised ego, I’ve learned, and I’ve grown. And you can too.

Design Director at Dropbox, Dabbler in Writing, Champagne Enthusiast