Why many don’t succeed in their careers

Most people will never succeed in their careers. You’re probably wondering why this sounds so negative and harsh, right? But it’s the truth. 

It typically begins with young people at the start of their careers, hoping to become the best. I remember when I started my own career at United Bank for Africa as an intern, I had a friend then, Odia Okobieme and we used to daydream about starting our own tech company. I remember we used to disturb Tony Elumelu with emails at the time. Dude was probably so patient because I don’t know why he indulged us. 

So this gives way for us to question what it means to be the best.

The way I see it, being the best means, at the minimum, you are in the top 1% of the best people in your cohort. If we’re going to raise the bar, maybe one out of a thousand. And If success is defined as being in the top 1% of any field that you have decided to play in, then 99% of people you know in that space would either be ordinary, unremarkable, or downright failures and will go on to live average and unfulfilling lives. It’s what it is. These are the guys who grow up to become cranky, complaining that things don’t work well and that the economy is bad. Yes, the economy is bad, but it’s not eating the people at the top.

Who are the 99% who strayed from the path of success?

Let’s think about, if everyone sets out to become the best but only 1% ever make it, what happened to the 99% who never did and never will. Something we must have all thought about at one point or the other is probably why some people who were obviously smarter than us, are doing better than us. I mean, we’ve seen it, right? People we knew from our days in school or from earlier days in our careers, who didn’t seem as sharp as us but are now doing great things. Like African parents are known for asking “do they have two heads?” Then on the flip side, there are those with their first class degrees and straight As who are still figuring things out 15/20 years down the line. 

Makes you wonder what went right for the former and catastrophically wrong for the latter. Why don’t many people get to the top of whatever they’ve chosen to do? Some say it’s about competence. Others say it’s about connections. But I’ve come to realize that it’s neither. Of course, being smart is a given but that’s not what gets you to the top. It’s not just about what or who you know. 

Let me tell you what actually makes people stand out: it’s soft skills. You know, those intangible qualities like drive, accountability, reliability, integrity, going above and beyond – those are the real game-changers. And if you don’t have these things? Your career is dead in the water and you just don’t know it yet. But trust me, you’ll find out soon enough. 

When you’re young, you might get away with lacking in these areas. People cut you some slack, give you the benefit of the doubt. But as you get older, the world is less forgiving and these soft skills become non-negotiable. Without them, you’re simply on a path of self-destruction.

So yeah, it’s not a lack of competence or connections that kills careers – it’s the absence of these crucial soft skills.

Which of these are killing your career?

If your behavior mirrors the ones below, you are definitely not going to succeed. And no, I’m not cursing you:

You don’t keep your word

You make promises to people;your colleagues and your bosses, “ Oh I’m going to deliver this thing at this time” and you don’t keep them. You will never succeed. Because once people know that you can’t keep your word, they’ll stop relying on you. And once they stop relying on you, they’ll never use you for what’s important. You’ll just be some old relic they keep around until they’re ready to let go because they want to stop “hoarding”. 

You’re unreliable

This is also linked to not keeping your word but there’s a slight difference: not keeping your word could mean you just don’t have integrity but you might still be good .On the other hand, being unreliable means people can’t depend on you. All of us know people around us who we would never give a chance to if we had something super important to do because we can’t bank on them. Pay attention, if you’re not that person that the average person can bank on, you’re not going to succeed. 

You don’t have integrity

You lie. Why do you even do this? Once people know that you can’t tell the truth and you’re very coded, you’re never going to succeed. And it’s very simple because nobody likes liars. Nobody likes people who aren’t straightforward, so people will start avoiding you. 

You only do the bare minimum

“Oh this is what they told me to do” and that’s all you ever do; you never step forward to do extra or seize the moment. You’re never going to succeed because success comes from the extras that you do.

These extras include stepping forward when there is a leadership gap, or when a colleague has gone on leave and things are going crazy or if you come across a customer having a problem, even if none of these are your job.

You lack self awareness

You’re often exposed when you don’t know your capabilities. For instance, you step forward to say you can do something that you literally don’t have the skills to do. I don’t know whether you think you’re trying to impress anyone; of course you’re going to fail at that thing because you  don’t know how to do it. Duh.

Now, there’s a difference between being self-aware and pushing yourself. If you’re aware that you don’t have a skill, but you want to get better at it, you can push yourself and seek for support, knowledge and mentorship that can make you good at that thing. So this even shows that you’re actually self-aware. Lack of self awareness means you literally don’t know your limits and then you burn bridges and people dump you. 

You lack situational awareness

This is another key behavioral aspect. Take for instance, the company you work in is going through a grind; maybe systems are down or the government just brought out some regulation that turns things upside down for you guys and that’s the moment you tell everybody, “ I’ve got to go on leave. I need to take a few days off. I’ve already booked my leave. I can’t kill myself.” Of course you will go, but the truth is everybody will see you as irresponsible and nobody will depend on any irresponsible person.

You lack curiosity

You’re just floating and you don’t know what’s around you. You come into the office, see something is happening and you don’t ask “what the hell is causing this thing.” You heard that your competitor in the market is doing some things and you’re not asking yourself what those things are. It just means you will never succeed.

Do these to turn your fortune around

If you’ve read up to this point and you’re feeling attacked, that’s good. Keep reading, there’s still hope for you. Now that you know all these things above, you can easily (don’t quote me) turn your career around by running away from career killers.

If you made a promise to anybody, die keeping it. Never go back on your words and never make a promise you know you can’t keep. Let people be able to use your words like currency. Consistently deliver on your promises and communicate well to encourage confidence in your capabilities. These will also earn you a reputation as a reliable colleague and person. Give people a reason to trust you. When you are trustworthy with small things, life will trust you with big!

Integrity plays a crucial role in your professional rebirth. Speak the truth; even when it may be painful or embarrassing. When people know that you always tell the truth, they’ll respect you more and they’re more likely to bank on you.

Also, step forward as often as you can. Everybody loves leaders. That’s why people who have leadership skills always tend to advance faster in their careers. And if you need more motivation to do this, remember that leaders earn more and grow faster. 

Self-awareness is also quite critical to your professional growth. Take a long and hard look at yourself in the mirror and truthfully assess yourself, “these are the things I can do and these are the things I can’t do”.  For the things you can’t do, if those things are critical, you need to find a way to address these gaps. If you have to go for extra lessons or seek mentorship, then you better do that. Fast.

In addition to being self-aware, you have to be situationally aware, you have to “read the room.” Know what’s going on so that you can navigate complex professional spaces well and show better judgment. If your boss is not happy or your customer is not happy, that’s not the time to go tell them that you’re jacking up your prices. Be sensible.

Finally, you’ve got to be curious. This is a must-have because curiosity helps you stay informed and seize opportunities where they exist. 

I’m no self-help guru but do these consistently and see for yourself what happens.


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Author: Adedeji Olowe

Adedeji / a bunch of bananas ate a monkey /

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