How to shoot yourself in the foot

I’ve done it time and time again: shot myself in the foot when it comes to my career. Often failing the same ways multiple times over. Had I seen and paid attention to this advice when I first started out, perhaps my path may have turned out wholly different. Or perhaps not… what I do know is that I’d likely have made better use of the opportunities which I otherwise ignored or never saw for my own faults.

In this video from October, 2008 presented by the UC Davis Graduate School of Management’s Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series, Nora Denzel shares what she learned as she climbed the corporate ladder at IBM and Hewlett Packard and emphasizes the 10 most common mistakes people make as they try to advance their careers. More importantly, she also talks about how to avoid these same mistakes. Nora’s talk begins at the 3:16 mark after her introduction:


While it is a bit lengthy at just over 40 minutes for her talk (then remaining 15 minutes for Q&A), I do hope you’ll take the time to watch and listen. There’s really some great stuff in there.

Below, I’ve summarized Nora’s ten tips, though you still want to listen to her examples and stories which should bring them all into clearer perspective. But note: these tips aren’t just for the corporate world. With a little bit of translation, they hold true for creative life as well:

  1. Control your own PR agent– know what you say and how it affects others perception of you. You are your own brand.
  2. Aim high– know your goals, and if you don’t, aim high anyways. Articulate goals early and often.  You can always turn down offers, but you can’t turn down what is never offered.
  3. Learn how to ask– or how to tell. No one can read your mind; if you want something go after it and let people know.
  4. Lighten up and separate– don’t take things personally, disassociate from business decisions and remain objective. Misery is optional, don’t choose that option.
  5. Kill Ms. Congeniality– Nice girls/guys don’t win. Be the winner, not everyone’s friend. Play to win. Make sure what you’re doing is on your agenda.
  6. Learn how to act– Put forth an air of confidence even if you aren’t.
  7. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable– challenge yourself and be broad in scope of what you can do. Comfort doesn’t help you advance. Discomfort comes when learning, which is a good thing. Strive to be the dumbest one in the room; this will open you to learning far more than you’d ever had before.
  8. Embrace criticism– understand criticism from the right people is extremely helpful; they are taking the time to help you. Drop the defensiveness. Your job is to elicit good feedback and accept it graciously. Pattern match to determine whether criticism is valid.
  9. Leaders have attitudes that THEY make the rules– Following every rule isn’t necessarily a good thing. Stop, question, think, and make the rules. Pick your battles though, know when you need to rewrite the rules.
  10. Always remember what you’re judged on- Results. Maintain a track record of results not excuses.

As I said at the start, I know I’ve failed at every single one of these tips at some point. Now, I’m working to ensure I take these lessons and succeed where I’ve previously failed.

Thanks to my friend Genevieve Duran for the share that brought this to my visibility.