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Posted: October 16, 2009

10 stupid career-limiting moves…

...and how to avoid them

John Heckers

Unfortunately, the fact that we're in a recession doesn't stop people from being congenitally stupid about their careers. In fact, in a recession, many people do highly destructive things to their careers from which they will probably not recover. Here are the 10 I see most often, which, if you value your career at all, you will avoid:

1). Making money a major consideration. Harold Geneen, the former head of ITT when it was the world's largest conglomerate said, "If you have to choose between money and experience, take the experience and the money will follow." If you're a money-grubber, you are going to wind up both less prosperous and less experienced than those who value each experience before the money. The money will follow in time -- and in much greater amounts.

2). Refusing to "play politics." Everyone says they "hate to play politics," but the most successful people are also the most successful business politicians. Office politics is the game of knowing the power centers and utilizing them for your advancement and benefit. If you're not bright enough to see how this is going to get you ahead in any organization, I hope you truly enjoy being a cubicle dweller.

3). Spending money on everything but your career. If you take a look at the 100 most successful people in America you will find that almost every single one of them has spent money on coaches, professional advisors, consultants and so on. I'll see people go spend $100,000 on a new Mercedes, but get cranky about spending $25,000 or so on an Executive Coach. Lousy priorities. How do you think you get the money to buy Mercedes? Duh! Your career. Maximize it! And, by the way, most of my executive coaching clients found out to their delight that all they had to do to get at least a portion of my fee paid by their company was ask the right people in the company.

4). Less-than-professional attire. I see, especially among young people, an incredibly stupid belief system that they should be able to dress as they please. If you believe that, please go to work for the Peace Corps or a social service agency (and even they have dress codes). If you want to get ahead in business, dress like the top people dress to the greatest degree possible.

5). Not keeping commitments. Anyone who is careless about keeping commitments is going to get a bad reputation. This is a very small town.

6). Bad-mouthing someone influential. "Nuff said. It is the kiss of death.

7). Believing you have a right to a "work-life balance." We're all working our behinds off these days. Life is rough in the business world right now. No matter how old you are, if you believe that you need a "work-life balance" in the middle of the worst recession since 1929, you really need to grow up and get your behind to work.

8). Not improving themselves. Again, people will spend money on houses, vacations, cars, etc., but won't take classes to stay current or move ahead. Find out if you need or can get certifications, licensures, degrees, diplomas, etc. Get them. Show your superiors that you are constantly spending time and money on your career. Many times, the company will pay for this, but even if they don't, it is the best investment of your money you can make to invest in yourself and your knowledge and professional base.

9). Having an in-office romantic relationship. You might as well start filling out the unemployment application now if you're going to fool around in the office - especially, but not only, if you're married. There are so many things wrong with this it needs its own post.

10). Thinking inside the box, or acting outside the box. Think outside the box. But follow the "rules" of corporations when you're acting. You can do virtually anything so long as you play "Mother May I?" correctly according to the corporate Hoyle at your company. But if you are a staid, linear thinker, you're never going to get ahead. Linear thinkers are a dime a dozen, but many are in the corporate hierarchy. This is why you have to look like a stodgy boring suit in playing the game, but truly think with originality and intelligence.

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John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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Readers Respond

The way this country is going NO ONE is going to have $25/$35K or whatever I referenced in my first email to pay for what really amounts to a needless service. By asheville remodeling on 2009 10 27
Christine --- you are quite right and I sincerely apologize. Assumptions or personal comments about anyone by any individual are inappropriate. Please accept my apology. Just, again, a clarification. I write solely for myself. My opinions are NOT those of ColoradoBiz Magazine nor the editors nor publishers thereof. And, again, reader comments are, to my knowledge, only deleted for inappropriate or offensive language, not the opinions nor sentiments expressed. ColoradoBiz Magazine strongly encourages a diversity of opinions and ideas and always has. By John Heckers on 2009 10 19
While I usually don’t wish evil on anyone, may those who are without a shred of compassion and judge those who are struggling to get by experience some of the same things so that their stony hearts may be broken and replaced with a heart of flesh instead. <a href="">computer engineering degree</a> By computer engineering degree on 2009 10 19
Ahhhh the f bomb. Yes. I guess I did let that slip. Still seems strange and (admittedly a little discriminative) that instead of deleting one word, the journal deletes the entire comment. Good thing I'm #11 - diligent, hard working and honest, with a good measure of common sense and dedication. My friends Angela and John, I don't know what kind of world you live in today that you don't hear passionate "vulgar" language - OBVIOUSLY not the one that poor, downtrodden, people live in. I'm sure none of them used bad language at all when they were delicately whacking off Marie Antoinette's head! It really makes me wonder how in touch you really are with the world out there and the people in it... which in turns makes me wonder how wonderful your solutions offered really are? Maybe we should add that one to the list... #12 Never use language that might offend anyone in any situation. (That would start with curse words obviously.. then go to descriptive words.... then go to simple things like saying Merry Christmas to some one in the upcoming holidays... Remember! Don't Offend!!) OH BUT WAIT!! You obviously don't apply to those rules because you can go around telling people that they are mean and nasty and oh so glad you don't know them! But John, back to my point... anyone with a basic intelligence can see after reading #3 and your job title what you're after. Maybe that's why you have to give out so much free work and then cover it up with you self-righteousness. My husband and I were laughing about how you even make money? anyone these days that has the funds to pay even hundreds of dollars for your services is probably smart enough to know they are pretty successful without having to pay you. And forget about making your dream rate next year... The way this country is going NO ONE is going to have $25/$35K or whatever I referenced in my first email to pay for what really amounts to a needless service. I'll be sure to bookmark your website/business so I can check back on you in a year. But I have to warn you... if I find out the rest of us are really paying for your business through all the tax breaks you are receiving through your pro-bono work, well.... my bet is you'll be on the receiving end of some more of that obscene, vulgar language. And not just from me. And Angela! I'm so happy to hear that you are on board with my suggestions!! I'm visiting some friends in San Francisco right now that have about four "under privileged" folks living on the street right outside her building door. Forget that they haven't showered regularly in the past ten years or that they soil themselves or spend the money they beg to fill that brown paper bag (no... not a stereotype...) You don't care!! I will send them over to you right now. Although.. I'm sure you won't mind paying for their airfare and housing and feeding them and giving them your job. I'm sure they'll love working 80 hours a week!! But you won't make them work will you? You'll just keep having the rest of us pay from them with our taxes to keep them off your yard. I can't wait to see the look on your face when you're sitting next to one of these types on your first visit to the hospital under our new healthcare system. I'm thinking in my mind... will she plug her nose to the smell? will she turn to them and tell them to refrain from using improper language? Somehow I don't think these people will be deleted by the local editor quite as easily. By Torrey Cook on 2009 10 18
Mr. Heckers, I just want you to know I am perturbed by your need to personally attack me. Okay, so, Angela, you are in a great financial position. I was referring to people who did not save and found themselves overextended. I am simply advocating more responsible financial choices, balance in life and work, and focusing on one's needs rather than wants. I do not feel sorry for people who bought big houses and did not save, and find themselves working harder during this recession because of that. (In fact, I like to focus on the positive side of this recession: I think Americans have learned a lot.) I find it very unnerving that for that, I am likened to Marie Antionette and called "heartless." I am quite aware of the endless opportunities in the U.S. -- that is exactly why when people whine, it gets on my nerves. Even during this time, we are better off than the poorest countries in Africa. I can't believe you extended my non-sympathy to those in Africa. That is truly comparing apples and oranges. You both proved the earlier post about entitlement. Because to say such cruel things about me, when you don't even know me, simply because I advocated for less whining/better choices (the savings rate is finally going up in the U.S.--how do you suppose that happened?), you attacked my character so vehemently, that it leaves one to wonder... did I hit a nerve? Regardless, I refuse to stoop to your level and attack you. I wish you both health and happiness in your lives By Christine Rasmussen on 2009 10 18
John Heckers (me) does not control this blog. This blog is controlled by ColoradoBiz Magazine, though I am fully responsible for the content of all of my articles. It is likely you were deleted through your use of obscenity or vulgarity. All quality publications have guidelines as to what may or may not be published in a public forum. You almost certainly violated those guidelines. ColoradoBiz Magazine welcomes and encourages dissent and diversity, and actively seeks a variety of positions on any subject. As to "advertising." It is my policy not to advertise anything in my blogs, especially not my services. Ms. Folcick, if I can help her, would most likely be assisted as a professional courtesy to a reader, if she wishes to contact me. We also have many free publications and events. We do not solicit business from these. 95%+ of our business is referral only. Also, my fee is not $25K, though thank you for the compliment! Alas, perhaps next year.... My readers are always welcome to contact me directly at for comments that you do not wish to place in a public forum. I personally respond to virtually all reader letters, and am grateful to you all fo reading my column, and to ColoradoBiz Magazine for giving me a forum so graciously. I hope my articles help some folks in this terrible recession. Finally, my family and I do extensive charity and pro-bono work, though we, likely, could do more. I encourage all of my readers to align themselves with an organization of their choice which is helping out those less fortunate in these difficult times. There is a "volunteer matching center" and it is listed on my website under "Resources." These folks do a great job, though now they are inundated. All the best. By John Heckers on 2009 10 17
Thanks for the very kind and intelligent suggestions, but I am in fact in the habit of helping others quite regularly. Cobizmag moderates comments, not the author. It was probably because of your inappropriate language ("***ing sales pitches..." I believe it said via my email updates) that your post was deleted. Take that up with the website moderator. By Angela Barnaby on 2009 10 17
I am actually so upset about this that I've decided to write a second post. I'm just curious as to what exactly it was I wrote that made you decide to censor me and give up your integrity as a journalist. Was it when I suggested that instead of telling other people how to spend their time, Angela Barnaby might want to work those extra 20 hours a week to give to her charity of choice and really help those struggling people she so cares about. Instead of forcing the rest of us to do it and calling us heartless monsters if we don't. Work those 20 Angela, shut up, or point the finger back at yourself. or wait.. maybe it was it when I pointed out that this article really has no meaning other than to drive coaching business to John Heckers so he can make $25k a client to give them this list? Nancy Folcick.. first meeting is free.. bet the one's after aren't. By Torrey Cook on 2009 10 17
Interesting... left a comment last night defending Christine and someone removed it from this posting. John Heckers and Angela Barnaby allowed to do some mudslinging but the rest of us no? says a little something about you kind hearted democratic givers out there that can dish it out but can't take it back. very interesting.... By Torrey Cook on 2009 10 17
Wow. All I am saying is a work-life balance should be strived for, and not thought of as kindergarten thinking or unrealistic. Thanks for your moral judgements of me. By Christine Rasmussen on 2009 10 16
This is to Nancy Folcick, the stay at home mom going back to work after 17 years. Please come see me and I'll help you. There will be no charge for this meeting. I'll help if I can. By John Heckers on 2009 10 16
Oh, and Christine....are you any relation to Marie Antoinette? Remember her? Queen of France? Privileged? When people were starving and her advisor told her that the people have no bread she said, "Well, let them eat cake, then!" It cost her her head. By John Heckers on 2009 10 16
Christine, you incorrectly made the assumption that I was talking about myself. I'm not talking about myself; rather, I'm talking about other people who perhaps didn't HAVE a choice. With unemployment at nearly 10% (and underemployment with even more staggering figures), not everyone can be prepared for an economic downturn and the difficulties faced in getting re-employed. The fact that you have no sympathy for people who are struggling says much more about your character. It's rough out there, and it's not always because someone chose that. Get real. In fact, I'm doing quite well for myself and my family. I do have a work-life balance because I CAN AFFORD TO. NOT EVERYONE CAN. The difference is that I'm not ENTITLED to it. If I were in a position where I had to work extra hours for my family, I'd sacrifice the things I needed for a time. I would cut out cable, yoga, vacations, etc etc. Would you? Or are you too selfish to sacrifice things for other people? I don't knock a work-life balance, but you refuse some simple realistic facts about others who DON'T have that same choice. By Angela Barnaby on 2009 10 16
Christine ------ what a hard-bearted, nasty and uncompassionate person you are! I'm very glad I don't know you. You know absolutely nothing about Angela's circumstances. I have done extensive work with the homeless. Many are there, not through laziness or "overextension," but through illness, accidents of birth, disabilities, or whole industries being eliminated. The people who are working 60 hours a week are sometimes doing so to get big cars and houses, but often just to have a house for their children and put food on the table. Don't throw stones until your husband leaves you and you wind up a single mom (dads too) trying to support two children that, yes, you chose to have...when things were good and your crystal ball didn't tell you that your savings would be wiped out, your house foreclosed, and your job taken away. It is heartless people like you that have us in some of the mess we're in now. While I usually don't wish evil on anyone, may those who are without a shred of compassion and judge those who are struggling to get by experience some of the same things so that their stony hearts may be broken and replaced with a heart of flesh instead. Do you look at people starving in Africa and talk about how they could have made different choices? Folks...things are rough out there. Those of you who think "I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps and they can do the same" know NOTHING of the difficulties people face in life. Everyone has their own struggle, and you who are hardhearted, cold and judgmental of those who are poor, oppressed or disadvantaged are some of the worst people on the Earth....without your lack of compassion, hatred, and bigotry the world would be a much better place. Give of yourselves to those who aren't blessed with the advantages that we, who are readers of this magazine, have mostly been given. And thank whatever higher power you believe in every day that you are blessed with food, clothing, educations, healthy bodies, and all the other advantages many of us have. By John Heckers on 2009 10 16
I have no sympathy for you Angela. You just won't admit that maybe you made some not-so-smart choices when you were only working 40 hours a week, and times were better. Do you need to pay 60 bucks a month for cable to watch Letterman? did you really need that particular house you're paying off? did you SAVE? I am not talking about recess. I am talking about choice. To each his own, but unfortunately there's a domino effect that touches me. My health insurance premiums go up when people don't take time to take care of themselves, and yes, go to yoga for instance. Or my tax dollars go to bailouts to pay for people who overextended. What you call kindergarten thinking, I call a good way to live. I am very "real"....don't knock a work/life balance just cause you're bummed you work 60 hours. You made your bed. By Christine Rasmussen on 2009 10 16
While some of us have the luxury of a work-life balance, many people simply cannot afford a balance when they are concerned with feeding mouths and not being foreclosed on. If it takes a person 60 hours of work to make the same money as they did with 40 hours then unfortunately some balance must be sacrificed. In hard times, one isn't necessarily entitled to a vacation, or to the relaxation that we all enjoy during more prosperous times. Get real. Many people are suffering out there and WANT to go back to work and would give anything to have a job back, even if it meant having to work 60 hours a week, thereby sacrificing their 3x a week yoga class. Boo hoo. Boys and girls, this is the real world, not kindergarten. We don't always get recess. And Yes, talking about stupid tricks sure did limit David Letterman's career. By Angela Barnaby on 2009 10 16
Fantastic post. A lot of what you are talking about comes from a feeling of entitlement. Too many people in our country feel entitled to something, whether they work their brains or butts off for it or not. Unfortunately, the majority of the world doesn't have the same mentality. Maybe that should be, "Fortunately." I'm worried about our corporations and small business owners, who assume things will just come without concentrated effort, playing the game, and building on their value. By Arif Gangji on 2009 10 13
I wholeheartedly disagree with #7 in Heckers' column. One can reach success in the business world with a work-life balance, if acheived/maintained correctly. Such balance is key in securing wellness (cutting down on medical expenses long-term) and personal happiness, which usually perpetuates business success. It's this kind of lopsided thinking, of one extreme or the other, that has landed us in the Great Recession. Don't tell me we are already forgetting the lessons of this one--we are barely out of it. I hope this is not the kind of "executive coaching" Heckers does...balance is key in business and life--even during downturns. When will we wake up as a society and realize that??? By Christine Rasmussen on 2009 10 13
I thoroughly enjoyed your column on career-limiting moves. I have an idea (a request?) for a future column. I have been a stay-at-home mom for the last seventeen years and am now going back to work. Although I have had short-term contract jobs and even owned my own small business for a few years, I don't have a corporate track record of experience to present to a potential employer. I recognize that this is the toughest job market in years, but am confident I have strengths and skills to offer. How do I best present myself so that I'll be noticed? By Nancy Folcik on 2009 10 13

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