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How Do You Manage Career Missteps?


Have you ever made a career misstep? I call them missteps rather than mistakes because from every step in our journey we have the opportunity to learn and grow. Career missteps happen when we take on (or conversely, don’t take on) a challenge that either takes us down a dark path that veers away from our goals or stops our upward trajectory completely.

How Do You Manage Career Missteps? - Tech Savvy Women

I think back over some missteps I have seen, and/or experienced, and often because of them, we have been faced with an unsupportive manager or a condescending peer or a workload that seems insurmountable.

Career missteps happen because of three actions on our part:

  • We said Yes
  • We said No
  • We said nothing at all

Career Missteps: We Said Yes

In my online learning titled The Power of No, I talk about the value and importance of saying no to projects, non-profits, assignments, and requests that are not in our best career interest.

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However, there are those times when we say yes that lead to potential career missteps. How do you handle the situation?

Marie Forleo has written an article posing the question “how do you back out of something after you have already said yes?” Her article inspired several women to comment and this is a great response from Jessica:

It’s so hard to back out, but it’s much better than flaking, especially when someone’s counting on you. The one time I had to back out of something I couldn’t do anymore, it actually turned into something amazing (a partnership between me and the other person) all because I was honest that my situation had changed and I didn’t have time to do *everything* the project required. Turned out to be one of my favorite projects ever. And it never would have happened that way had I flaked or kept trying to do it myself.

Of course, there are times in our career when we are put in a position at work where we feel the need to say yes just for job security. In those cases, it is best to do the utmost to complete the project to your best ability and look for ways to learn something new.

Is there a person(s) that you might work within the company that could help provide a new experience or perhaps helps you with advancement in the future? Is there a management style that you can learn from? Are there new skills that you can add to your resume?

Look for the positive in every career misstep.

Career Missteps When You Say No

There are so many women who have told me stories about opportunities they have turned down that they regret. Whether they turned them down out of fear, a lack of confidence or possible rejection, it doesn’t matter. The minute they have said no, they know it was the wrong answer.

What do you do when you have already said no to an opportunity you wish you would have accepted?

First, be honest with yourself. Why did you say no? Was it truly a good decision, in that having said yes would have overextended your time? Or did you say no because you were afraid of the opportunity?

If the answer has anything to do with fear or uncertainty, take time to examine your feelings. What are you afraid of? What is the worst that could happen?

Was that “no” justified? If not, see if there is a chance to change your mind.

Often we say no to opportunities that will cause a disruption in our carefully hulled life. For example, a transfer or a promotion can be scary to wrap your mind around if you haven’t been planning for them. The list of what you’ll need to do in the short term (selling your home, uprooting your family, leaving friends, etc.) can seem so overwhelming that saying no is just easier.

But if you can look past the first six months of potential turmoil – what does your potential future look like? Challenging? Exciting? Then find a way to delegate many of the short terms tasks so that you can say yes.

If it is too late to change your mind, at least learn from the experience and put in place a plan to help you feel more comfortable saying yes in the future.

Career Missteps When You Say Nothing At All

This is more common than you might think. We work each day at our jobs, often going above and beyond. We rack up one success after another but often attribute our accomplishments to the team effort, rarely recognizing our amazing skills and leadership.

Therefore, when an opportunity comes along that could be a fantastic catalyst for our career, we keep our head down, fearing that we aren’t ready or capable for the challenge.

I once heard a woman business coach share this analogy about the difference between men and women. She said:

Men feel comfortable calling themselves an expert in a subject when they have a thimble-ful of knowledge more than the next person in the room.

Women don’t feel comfortable calling themselves experts until they have an advanced degree and ten years additional experience.

While this may be an exaggeration, there is some truth to the comparison. This is when flexing our Risk Muscle comes into play. We have to trust in our abilities, knowledge, and experience and speak up when there is an opportunity, project or promotion that is perfect for our career goals.

Experiencing career missteps is just part of the business world. It is how we manage them and what we learn from them that matters.

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