Feeling “behind” in your career? These tips can help
alumni UBC’s career coaches share their top tips for getting out of the comparison game.
If a scroll session through social media stirs up feelings of insecurity about your career progression, we’re here to reassure you that you’re not alone. In our hyper-connected world of humble brags and highlight reels, it can be all too easy to fall into the comparison trap.
But take heart: if you’re feeling a bit down about where you are in work (or life), there are things you can do to escape the doldrums of discontent.
We asked six of our alumni UBC coaches and advisors to share their top tips for getting out of the comparison game. Read on for some practical and comforting advice that can help you build a career that most aligns with who you are and where you're at (regardless of where the socials suggest you should be).
“COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY.”~ THEODORE ROOSEVELT
When we feel a sense of discontent, it’s usually a great clue that there is a gap between where we are and where we want to be.
Focus on gaining clarity on what might be missing and what you want more of. Direct your energy towards exploring what skills, knowledge, and experiences you want to have and make a plan on how you’re going to acquire them — this is what I call building your “career currency.”
Investing in yourself not only opens doors but also has the added benefit of compounding in ways that creates opportunities. Take actions that serve as stepping stones for your professional (and personal) growth.
Everyone has their own journey. Being intentional in forging your own career path is the most empowering perspective you can take.
GET REALLY CLEAR ON HOW YOU DEFINE “SUCCESS”
Kieran Davey, BA’18
Comparison with others is an easy trap to fall into, but remember that everyone’s career journey is unique. Reflect on how you define “success” in your career and whether this definition of success stems from your intrinsic values or from external comparison and societal pressure.
Once you have a clear definition of success that aligns with YOUR values, it is time to set realistic goals. Coaching can be a great tool in setting and achieving these goals.
It is easy to get overwhelmed, so take one step at a time and meaningful change will be made. Practice mindfulness and gratitude to help you stay positive throughout the process.
Life is full of twists and turns, so do not be discouraged. Your next career move could be right around the corner!
QUESTION THE STORIES YOU’RE TELLING YOURSELF ABOUT WHERE YOU NEED TO BE
Savanah Knockwood, BA’15
When I was 16 and trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life, I asked my grandfather how he decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. He laughed and said, “Why do you need to have your entire life figured out by 18? I’m retired and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!”
If you feel behind, ask yourself: What’s making me feel this way? What stories am I telling myself about how I believe life should be at my age? What judgements am I making about myself and my life? Are they fair?
Uncovering what’s making you feel behind will help you reframe how you see where you are in life now.
The truth is there’s never a “right” time in life. The right time for your dreams is whenever you decide it to be.
REMEMBER THAT YOU HAVE THE POWER TO FEEL DIFFERENTLY
Isabeau Iqbal, BSc’93, MA’04, PhD’12
When people feel “behind” in their career, I invite them to visualize who or what they are behind.
As people conjure an image of “behind,” they typically see themselves behind their (or other people’s) expectations, or behind their peers, or behind a self-imposed calendar date. By doing the visualization, people confirm that “behind” is a self-imposed feeling, rather than an objective fact.
If the feeling of behind is created in our mind, this means we also have the power to change our thoughts about it.
To help shift the feeling, here are two thoughts you can practice:
- “I am where I need to be in my career today.”
- “I am actively building my career and things are unfolding as they should be.”
If neither of these feels true for you, create a phrase that resonates and is supportive of you and your career.
Find a supportive mentor
Feeling “behind” is a prevalent feeling, with most people having set ideas on what we need to have accomplished at certain times. Having both mentors and mentees throughout my career, I can confidently say that finding an appropriate mentor is one of the most important steps that can give anyone perspective and guidance.
Who can be your mentor? Essentially, anyone in your industry of choice who you admire and who is at a stage that you wish to reach.
How can a mentor help? By providing an external perspective on where you are and showing potential paths that you could follow. It is up to you, of course, to choose a path and act.
How can you find a mentor? Events are a great way to meet inspiring speakers and participants. You can also join specialized mentorship associations in your community or industry.
TRUST THAT YOUR EXPERIENCES WILL MAKE SENSE IN THE LONG TERM
Laura Dowling, BA‘09
Being a high-performance athlete often made me feel that I was “behind” in my career as my peers were doing internships and working professionally much earlier than I was. However, I made an intentional choice to pursue the sport that I loved. When “retirement” then came in my late 20s, I had my work cut out for me, but I knew that I could leverage the skills I’d gained as an athlete to accelerate my career development.
- Trust that your experiences will make sense in the long term
- Be intentional about your journey; know your strengths and values and let them evolve
- Having transferable skills, such as emotional intelligence, can set you apart as a leader
- Know that there is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to your career — only learning and growing
- Surround yourself with people who believe in you
- Remember that comparison is the thief of joy
Earlier this year, alumni UBC launched a highly anticipated career coaching and advising service to support the professional development of UBC graduates. Visit the alumni UBC website to explore this new service, and to learn more about the career experts featured in this article.