3 Thoughts that hinder your career development

Abraham Maslow, the founding father of humanistic psychology, argued in his article A Theory of Human Motivation that all individuals are motivated by self-actualisation. And he defines self-actualisation as “the desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualised in what he is potentially.”

In other words, a fulfilling life is based on realising our potential. Humanistic psychologists believe that mental health is not the absence of mental illness but is defined by continual positive growth. Carl Rogers, a pioneer of this school of psychology, said, “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.”

Self-actualisation can apply to many areas of our life. If there is some aspect of our life in which we know, deep down, we could be achieving much more than we already are, yet we fail to move in a positive direction, this can really gnaw at you. One of the greatest regrets in life surely must be leaving our greatest potentials unfulfilled. And an area in which this applies most pertinently is our career development.

We all have capacities, skills, passions, interests, and personalities that can lead to fulfilling careers. All too often, however, our career development is hindered by particular thoughts that we repeat over and over again. Here are three examples of thoughts that hold you back in your career development.

“That’s never going to happen”

Self-doubt, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, fear, imposter syndrome, denial. These all are ways of thinking that can lead us to think that our long-term career goals are never going to be achieved. On the one hand, it’s important to be realistic and down-to-earth in how you envision your career development. Being over-idealistic can be a hindrance in fulfilling your true potential. On the other hand, you don’t want to sell yourself short.

Finding that balance between self-limitation and self-aggrandizement is a difficult task. This is why you need to be honest about your abilities and potential. Have a vision in your mind of what your ideal career development would look like. And if your intuition tells you that enough hard work, determination, effort, and training can set you firmly on that path, then it can happen. Always be mindful of thoughts that hold you back and zap your motivation.

“I need to focus on security”

As creatures of comfort, we may instinctively make decisions in our career development that prioritise security over personal growth. Of course, that’s completely understandable. Feeling insecure and uncertain in our job and finances can be extremely troublesome, especially when we have commitments to meet, like bills and family obligations. And it would be unwise to give motivational but unrealistic advice about how everyone should simply follow their dreams and not worry about money. Nevertheless, there are definitely multiple decisions we make in our career development (e.g. the initial career path we choose, our career switches, how we develop in a specific role over time etc.) that involve a conflict between security and self-actualisation.

This conflict can begin at university, where you choose to study a subject that leads to a lucrative career, as opposed to a career that genuinely interests and excites you. It also manifests when we think about engaging in training or education in order to help us excel in an existing role but resist doing so because of the financial commitment, stress, or workload that would involve.

One crucial point to keep in mind is that, while pursuing self-actualisation in our careers may result in a sacrifice of security in the short-term, the long-term benefits are invaluable. Pursuing your authentic career goals offers rewards that a high salary can never offer. Besides, when you work to actualise your potential, you will become highly adept at a skill or ability, which will translate into job security in the long run.

“What will others think?”

With the rising use of social media, it’s never been easier to compare ourselves to others. All day, every day, we are inundated with news about people’s new jobs, job promotions, career success, and so on. These kinds of social media updates can give us the impression that other people are living perfect lives, and their career development is a major contributing factor.

However, if we could see past the illusions of social media, we would know that, while someone may have a job that allows them to live a luxurious life, they might still hate their job. It could be extremely stressful, tiring, uninspiring, boring, or meaningless in their eyes. When you consider following a career path that aligns with your values and potential, you might think to yourself, but what will others think? You might worry about impressing your parents or making them proud, or feel it’s irresponsible to start a new career path while your peers are progressing in their chosen roles.

Choosing your own way and sticking to it is difficult when you keep comparing yourself to others. But this challenge is always going to be an essential component of self-actualisation. If you can overcome outside pressure, influence, judgement, and expectations, you can be authentic in your career development and imbue your life with added meaning.

Sam Woolfe writes for Inspiring Interns. He is particularly interested in self-development, psychology, mental health, and the future of work. Most of all, though, Sam is passionate about helping people find work that is meaningful and fulfilling. You can follow him on Twitter and find more of his work at www.samwoolfe.com.