27 September 2023

Career concessions people will live to regret

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Kathy Caprino* describes five compromises which should never be made in the pursuit of so-called success in your career.

As a career and leadership coach I’ve met with thousands of people who’ve shared their serious questions, concerns, mistakes, and difficult crossroads they were struggling to navigate.

I’ve noticed that the worst missteps we make are mistakes that reflect what people have compromised or turned their backs on in order to become what they thought was ‘successful’.

These compromises don’t feel like choices at the time, but in truth, they are.

They lead to common and serious crises and challenges that can have a disastrous impact on the individual and their families.

Below are the top five things you should never compromise on while building your career.

Your standards of integrity

I view ‘standards of integrity’ as core principles and values that guide our behaviour and our communication.

They shape our interactions with others and our own internal compass of what feels right and wrong, just or unjust.

Behaving with integrity is a choice.

While it is influenced by a myriad of factors (your upbringing, peer influences, socialisation, etc.), it is something we can always choose.

People who have strong and well-defined standards of integrity behave with wholeness, integration, and honesty.

They aim to treat others and themselves fairly and justly.

Some of the standards of integrity I’ve seen people demonstrate involve values and virtues such as candour, kindness, trust, wisdom, loyalty, transparency, objectivity, acceptance, openness, empathy, and graciousness.

People mistakenly believe that in these tough times they have to give up on their values and integrity to stay employed. That’s simply not true.

Those who are guided by a strong sense of integrity tend to fare much better in professional life and will be successful on terms that are meaningful to them.

Your self-respect

I’ve lived through the heartache of compromising my self-respect to stay in a job.

Years ago when I was a corporate marketing professional, I knew that how I was behaving (because I felt pressured to) was beneath me.

I wasn’t the leader or manager I longed to be, and I felt ashamed because I couldn’t manage the toxicity, stress and overwhelm I felt in my job or in the organisation.

I tried to speak up about what I saw around me that wasn’t right, but I got crushed down.

In the end, I completely lost my self-respect and felt that I was ‘prostituting’ myself somehow in order to keep my job and maintain my high salary.

What should I have done? Find a new job, fast, but I failed to take action. I stayed, and it ended badly.

Your soul for money

Money — and our relationship with it — is a topic that’s spawned millions of books, articles and workshops.

Many people struggle to maintain a healthy balance and productive dynamic with their money, and often they fail.

I’ve seen countless professionals sacrifice their souls for money, not because they are struggling to pay the bills, but because they’ve become enslaved by a certain lifestyle.

They need to impress others in order to feel good about themselves.

These folks have forgotten that they’ve come here at this time on this planet to do more than pay the bills, acquire things, and keep up with the Joneses.

I’m not saying that fulfilling your financial obligations isn’t important — it is.

I am saying that you are much more than your salary or bank account.

Your self-esteem and true self-worth are not something that can be measured by the degree of monetary wealth you possess.

Your health and wellbeing

In my corporate training, I’ve seen hundreds of high-level professional women who are brilliant, accomplished and talented, yet they feel depleted, depressed and devalued.

In the pursuit of a great career, they’ve compromised their health and wellbeing.

Much of this has to do with the ever-complicated issue of work-life balance and how to stay competitive and ahead of the curve.

To me, it’s much more. Sacrificing your health and wellbeing demonstrates a lack of prioritising yourself as important, failing to understand that you need to care for yourself.

If your body is failing, diseased or broken down from the way you work, rapid change is needed.

During the last four years of my corporate life, I was chronically ill with a recurring and serious infection of the trachea.

Every three months or so, I’d feel too weak and sick to engage in daily life or work.

I learned later on that my body was desperately trying to send me a message.

Your legacy

The most regretful and unhappy people I know have sacrificed their legacy in the process of building their careers.

What is your legacy? It’s what you will be able to say about yourself when you’re 90 and looking back.

It is what you’ve stood for, given, taught, imparted, and left behind.

It’s the mark you’ve left on the world, and how you’ll be remembered. Not what you dreamed of being, but what you have been.

It’s also the impact you’ve made on others, including your colleagues, friends, family, and your community. This life is not a dress rehearsal; it’s the real thing.

So many professionals compromise their legacy in a constant effort to grasp success, accolades, security, or power.

In the end, if you think you have to compromise on any of the above in order to stay gainfully employed or build a successful career, I hope you’ll think again.

When you’re giving up on yourself, and compromising so much, the result will never bring you the life and career you are longing for most.

*Kathy Caprino runs a leadership and career success coaching and consulting firm dedicated to the advancement of women. She can be contacted at kathycaprino.com.

This article first appeared at forbes.com.

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