We often make promises to people, and pride ourselves in keeping those promises.  But there is often one promise that ends up being put to the bottom of the list, or even forgotten about completely, and that’s the promise to ourselves to develop our own career.

“I’m in a good enough role for now”, “there are lots of benefits in this job”, “I’ll work on my own development when I get the time”.  We wouldn’t think twice about working on a strategy for developing a new product or service, but may not be working on a strategy for our career.

Additionally, there may be the “I’m not sure I could do anything else”, “my manager will recognise how good I am at some stage”, “if I was ready I’d have been promoted automatically” conversations we have in our heads.

There can be a number of reasons why making your career a priority may not have been achieved so far.  In this article, I wanted to cover three of the main ones – strengths, beliefs and habits.


Recently, I was sitting next to a charismatic man at a wedding reception, and during our chat he told me about a job interview that he had been persuaded to go to.  He wasn’t sure whether it was for him or indeed whether he was capable of doing it, as it would be a promotion beyond what he thought he could confidently achieve.  During our conversation, I recommended that he review his strengths and the core skills that he is passionate about in his current role.  By identifying these, he would then be able to obtain a greater understanding on what the new role could offer and whether it played to his strengths and needs.

There are a number of management tools I use in coaching to help identify strengths and preferences as you prioritise your career (eg. Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Strengthsfinders).  You can also ask yourself the following:

  • What do you do better than others i.e. what abilities do you have that others wish they could do? Be objective, rather than modest at this stage.
  • What do others see as your strengths?
  • What achievements are you most proud of?
  • What motivates you in a role?
  • What responsibilities do you enjoy?

Your strengths are the core skills you have that you can draw on to help make decisions, innovate and lead teams.  They are the abilities that come most naturally, and we feel confident when we’re playing to them.

By trying to be all things to all people, we end up diluting our impact.  Being able to appreciate our strengths, articulate them, and bring them into our daily life can be beneficial personally and to the organisation we work in.

The man at the wedding reception emailed me the following week, to say that being able to identify his strengths gave him a level of confidence he’d never experienced before.  And he was happy to say he got the role!


Confidence in our abilities often comes down to what we believe about ourselves and the habits we get into.  And we’re often not consciously aware of what these are.

Without even realizing, there is the potential for us to avoid situations which could draw attention to areas we’re uncomfortable with. Eg avoiding looking for the next role, as we believe we might be “found out” for not having all the necessary skills.

One of my coaching clients spent years in a role because the confidence in their abilities had been eroded over time.  They had thought about further progression, but had never pushed themselves, or the company, for it.  Only after successfully interviewing for a new role, did they accept the level of knowledge and competency they really had.  And then they wondered why they’d put up with the way things were for so long.

Prioritising our career could also come second to other people’s needs.  This could be family, but could also easily be someone like our manager.  And it can result in a resentment that we are holding ourselves back for the sake of pleasing others.

Another big habit that can stop people making their career a priority is self-sabotage.  We attribute our lack of success to inadequacy, when it may well be negative self-talk at play.  Goals for our career remain unfulfilled, we procrastinate, we miss opportunities, we fear failure and doubt ourselves and our abilities (even though we know we are capable).  We then get into habits (such as being too busy with other things), which stop us having to deal with these concerns.

In coaching, we often talk about secondary gain.  What is the benefit of not getting the career you’d like? For instance, you wouldn’t have to deal with the potential of losing some aspect of work/life balance, or your friends thinking of you differently, or people taking the additional money (and you) for granted.  These can often be subconscious, but give us hidden reasons to sabotage our success.

To take back control over your career development, you may decide that it’s worth finding out what could be helping or hindering your success.

  • Review strengths, core skills, preferences, interests and motivations.
  • Understand beliefs, habits and values, both personally and in the workplace.
  • Find out what thoughts lie behind any self-sabotaging thinking, and whether they are rational and based on any clear facts
  • Make a plan for the career that can really excite and challenge you.

Is it a decision worth making: to keep a promise to yourself and make your career a priority?   And if you are well on your way, how else could you help others around you and in your team to prioritise theirs?


One-to-one executive coaching provides an opportunity to assess current skills and self-awareness, and challenge potential areas of development.  An executive coach can be an effective confidential sounding board for discussing strengths, beliefs, limitations and concerns that may be unconsciously holding back success, whilst providing the opportunity to reflect on your career options.   Please contact us for an initial discussion.

1 Comment

  1. Karen

    Thanks to James Warren on Linked In: “A really insightful article by one of the best coaches around”

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