Surprising ways in which you sabotage yourself at work without even knowing

It was a rainy and cold afternoon. I had ran away from work without telling my boss to meet her. She listened carefully to my career presentation, took a breath and looking over her glasses she went “Gee, you really do sabotage yourself!”. She was my coach, that I had hired to prepare me for an interview and the next phase in my career. She pointed out a few self sabotaging mistakes in my presentation like “I am a very good with presentations when I had the time to prepare enough”. I had a hunch i was self sabotaging myself by procrastinating about work or others alike but some of the things she pointed out were a spanking surprise. And from there I went on to analyse more ways in which I or some of the people I met at work were sabotaging ourselves.

Here are some of the things to look out for:

1. Aiming low

You start in a job and think that all beginners should take a low profile at first. But doing so immediately cuts your chances to show initiative and gain independence early in a job that will both prove precious down the line.

So, don’t compromise! Don’t be inconsiderate in your actions but also don’t shut yourself up because you think it’s too early or that you’re too inexperienced.

Another side of this is aiming for a low position in a bigger company hoping that you can climb the ladder from inside. However in many cases you actually waste precious time on these lower positions and instead of getting the jump you hope for you actually risk getting stuck there. Aim for the job you dream about from the very beginning of your career. Don’t take the receptionist job if what you really want is to work in the marketing team. Better go with the lower paid marketing job in a smaller company at least until you a gather more experience to go after the big fish. In this article from the Harvard Business Review Peter Bergman explains how when being in a company of 30 employees, and doing a great job will give you a good chance to be recognized while in a big company (with thousands of workers) it’s easy to be missed and to be laid off. That’s among others because in a smaller company you are more likely to get a better sense of the business, to be involved in more, have more responsibility and learn more, an idea that John Sonmez puts forward for programmers but that I think it’s applicable to anyone.

You might not afford the lower paid position unless you make some serious sacrifices but on the other hand, the lower paid higher role position will prove more lucrative on the long run because if make an excellent trampoline to your next better paid job that will also fit your dreams.

2. Complicating your personal life – the number one cause of burnouts is not stress at work alone but a combination of factors that push the person to the limit, from both a personal and professional perspective.

Keep you life simple, for everyone’s sake. Your children need a calm and composed parent and your spouse a loving better half. You yourself need peace to function at your best in both worlds. You don’t need the aggravation of an affair, even less of one at work. You don’t need to get entangled in dubious business with even more dubious friends. You don’t need to borrow money from mobsters. If you’re struggling there are plenty of safer and legal ways of keeping afloat. You might want to check this website for more advice on how to live on a small budget.

Keep your life simple so that you can go for your dreams.

3. Not getting enough sleep

Did you notice how cranky a toddler can be if they didn’t get their nap? We don’t lose that, even in adult age. Lack of sleep can make you react in ways you don’t imagine, from bursting into tears to lashing out on an innocent coworker. It can definitely get you trouble and lessen you chances of success.

Sleep is essential to success just like sun to flowers. There are many studies around this and a lot of authors write about how it can help you succeed. Sleep makes you more receptive to learning, reduces the risk of accidents, enhances your productivity and so on. Read more about it in this article on Huffingtonpost.

So make sure you get enough z’s and offer yourself the best chance to a rested mind and a confident mood.

4. Not taking care of yourself. Whatever your do, you should always tend to your needs and priorities first. Yes, even if you’re a parent, unless you don’t want to be the good parent that your children should have. This is not an invitation to selfishness or narcissism but to considerate care. People who love themselves are more successful at work. You are also more likely to genuinely love others, but that’s a different subject.

There are many ways in which you may not take care of yourself. You might keep working on back-to-back files or meetings and never take a coffee break. Your boss might appreciate you on the short run but by working like that you risk losing focus on what you really want to achieve and how to find creative ways to accomplish it. And you’re also heading straight to burnout. The French call this “tête dans le guidon” to give the image of someone whose working habits remind of the biker that is too busy pedaling head down that she doesn’t see anything further than her handlebar, not even her competitors winning the race or the tree straight ahead.

So take a break from time to time, take your time to finish things, take time to follow what’s important to you not what’s important to someone else. Go do a yoga class, meditate, spend meaningful time with your kids or friends, don’t make yourself an objective to just be busy all the time. You can find more ways on how to take care of yourself in Cat Li Stevenson’s post here.

5. Stressing out and not getting help for it. This a no brainer you might say but the part that you probably don’t know that you’re sabotaging yourself with is the “not getting help” part. Even the toughest of people need help for this. Actually, there is an entire lucrative business around de-stressing as well as studies and voices saying that stress is actually good for you. One way or the other, if you’re stressed you should get help. The smallest form of help is reading a book, getting back in touch with nature or getting a massage. The more serious is going to a therapist.

Stress can have serious consequences on your health and on your career therefore do not take it lightly.

6. Dressing down or better said, dressing inappropriately as compared to the standard dress code in your business. Yup, this is self sabotage any way you put it. And you know what I mean, don’t wear a shorts in a law office, clean your nails, get a decent haircut, iron your shirts and so on. Some people do manage to reach the top without paying attention to their clothes, Whoopi Goldberg would be a perfect example, but it takes a lot of personality, a certain type of career and a lot of talent to do that, all of which us mortals, might not have. Yes, you do have the right to dress how you like within decent limits but this is not about that. In the majority of cases, to climb the ladder your do need the blend in and stand out at the same time. So blend in with your outfits but stand out with your remarkable work.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have your personal touch, on the contrary, it is actually advisable to create your signature style to be remembered easier, like some original accessories, a certain color and so on.


So, these are the first 6 ways you might be sabotaging yourself at work without knowing. The other five ways I identified will follow in a different post. In the meantime, drop a line a let me know what other ways of sabotaging yourself you know and I might have missed.

Till soon!

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