Why You Should Stop Worrying About Your Image and Just Get to Work

You're Self-Sabotaging Your Career (And You May Not Even Know It)
by Kit Warchol
January 27, 2017
If you feel like you know exactly who you want to be, but you just can't seem to get there, it's possible you're the problem. Don’t freak out just yet. There’s a fix.
Hey there. We know you. You’re young and ambitious. You’ve aced your way through school and excelled at your first few jobs. If asked, you probably know exactly who you want to be. The trouble is getting there, right?

Wrong.

Seriously, though. You’re thinking about it all wrong, and it’s going to bring you down.

THE "WHEN I GROW UP I'M GOING TO BE" PARADOX

Growing up, we’re programmed to think in terms of who we want to be. We want to be singers, writers, doctors, entrepreneurs. But here’s the huge problem with that: it’s the most passive approach you can have about your career. Why? Because, besides maybe your parents, no one else cares.

When it comes to our professional standing in the outside world, what we want to be matters very little compared to what we do. And it's that distinction that makes all the difference. All too often, this fact can create a paradox in your career approach. You’re so focused on getting there and becoming the person you want to be, you forget to focus on doing stuff. And we mean, literally, stuff.

SAVE DAYDREAMING FOR LUNCH BREAKS

When you’re so wrapped up in yourself and reaching your personal endpoint, whether that’s a professional title or your name gilded on a corner office door, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You’re certainly not going to grow by sitting there clutching the idea of your future self. And worse, you're not applying your energy toward helping others. Nothing about this approach leads to engagement and that’s what you actually need to move forward. You need to provide the world some value. Otherwise, why would the world respond to you? 
People who truly wind up being who they want to be are the ones who aren’t in it for the money or status. They’re in it for the value their work brings.
We’ve all known that person. Maybe you went to college with her. When you all were younger, she knew exactly what she wanted to become and you envied her conviction in your classes. But now you've noticed her life and work seems stagnant. She hasn’t done anything as impressive as she was in freshman English. And that reality is what keeps you from taking her seriously.

THINK IN TERMS OF WHAT YOU DO

You work. But are you working hard and smart enough? If you’ve been focusing on the place you want to be, rather than the actual act of work, probably not.  

In a recent Medium article, "Stop Trying To Be Somebody," Jon Westenberg calls for the end of ‘being” and the beginning of “doing”:

“Following your dreams, living your life is about getting up in the morning and going to work... It’s got nothing to do with what you call yourself, or what your lifestyle is like. It’s all about the shit that you have to work on and accomplish every single day. That’s what matters because that’s how you get somewhere.”

Growing up, for better and for worse, most of us had parents or teachers or mentors who told us we could be anything we wanted and achieve anything we set our minds to. But that’s just not true. Wanting and hoping are very different than actually putting in the work to get there. We all know this deep down, but how often do we live it?

AND IT’S NOT ABOUT WHETHER WHAT YOU DO IS SUCCESSFUL

At the end of the day, when someone at a party asks you what you do, the next thing they want is proof (“Oh cool, what have you worked on?”). Hold yourself to those standards every day (How am I proving myself?), then set the bar even higher.

Let’s make one thing entirely clear here: when you shift your focus to action, not planning, it’s not about succeeding. When you do stuff, lots of stuff, you’re going to find you suck at some of it. Most likely, the more you do it, the less you’ll suck. But sometimes too, you’re just going to fail. And that’s OK.

Once you’ve shifted your perspective, focusing on what you do instead of who you are, failing doesn’t feel like such a big deal. You’ll just do something else. There’s no internal crisis. Failure doesn’t call into question who you are, just the work you’re doing. And that’s something you can change. Work is work after all, no matter where you do it or what you’re doing. Yeah, you blew it, but you’ll move on to the next thing.
Nothing about this approach leads to engagement, and that’s what you need.
Oh, and hey: it’s not about money either. People who truly wind up being who they want to be are the ones who aren’t in it for the money or status. They’re in it for the value their work brings.

Consider this recent interview with Caroline Ventura, a major Instagram influencer and founder of the jewelry line, BRVTVS:

“I remember the first time I told someone I was a jewelry designer and feeling so strange saying it because I was literally making zero dollars. It wasn’t until 2 years after I started that I began making money. Up until then it almost felt like a glorified hobby, and it really bothered me that I didn’t feel OK with what I was doing because I wasn’t earning anything from it.

It took a lot of time (and therapy) to understand that. A lot of telling myself that I’m doing what I’m doing for a reason. That eventually, I will get there. But that I’m no less of an artist, or any less of a person, because I’m not bringing in the income of someone else who’s doing something comparable.”

Getting there (eventually) means doing what you do every day and feeling confident in those decisions. It’s that kind of work that will earn you attention and respect, and prove you have the chops to call yourself whatever you like.  So what have you done in the last year that's meaningful and quantifiable? It matters. Trust us on this.

Is envisioning or doing more important to your career success? Tell us.