5 Reasons Why Some People Get Ahead Professionally While Others Don’t 

If there ever was a world characterised by cut-throat competition, today would be it. The narrative is “work, work, work” and your success in life is down to your success at work. But we are also told “It’s not what you know, but who you know” which means you need a load of luck.


Career advancement does not happen by default. But how do you do it without burnt out and feeling disillusioned? And some wait on luck to succeed which also doesn’t work. So why do some succeed and stay happy and some don’t? Here are five characteristics of people who succeed professionally over those who don’t.



They Enjoy and Embrace a Challenge 

When someone is assigned a lengthy, complicated, or time-consuming task, there are generally two kinds of responses. One would be shirking the responsibilities involved and delegating core aspects of the task to others. 


The second response would be embracing such challenges as opportunities for growth. This may happen within the current workplace or during a career switch. For instance – an employee may feel burnt out to the extent that new tasks or projects fail to excite them. 


Similarly, they may choose to remain stuck in a dead-end career due to fear. Fear of the unknown is the number one reason why people continue with jobs they hate. We understand the appeal job security can have but sometimes, the greatest risk is not taking one at all. Those who welcome change and challenges often sail further and smoother than those who don’t. 


They Redefine Failures 

Given how ruthless the professional world is, dealing with failures can be daunting and difficult. A simple negative remark from one’s manager is sometimes enough to kickstart a downward spiral of emotions and intrusive thoughts. 


In a way, guilt can be healthy if one has let down themselves, their peers, and boss. However, channelling that guilt positively is the deciding factor in one’s career growth. In other words, do you label yourself as a total failure and let it impact future performance? Conversely, do you view this mistake as a milestone on the learning curve and focus on doing better in the future? Successful professionals do not believe in beating themselves up or shifting the blame. 


They take full responsibility for their actions and showcase tangible progress in upcoming projects. To them, failure is not the end of the road but merely a stepping stone to success. 




They Are Willing to Go Back to School 

Does this come across as a bit of a shock? Times have changed drastically and every professional is expected to set themselves apart from their counterparts. This means one must constantly upskill themselves through relevant courses and programmes. 


Let’s take the example of healthcare, specifically the field of nursing. It is one of the fastest-growing career fields. This is mainly due to the high demand for nursing professionals. McKinsey & Company found in 2023 that hospitals were still grappling with nurse shortages. What’s particularly noteworthy is that this field is still quite fragmented and in need of strong leaders. Successful nurses with an MSN degree would identify such gaps and go back to school for career advancement. In other words, they would pursue offline or online DNP programs designed to prepare students for higher leadership roles. 


As per Spring Arbor University, nurses pursuing such programs would be able to facilitate interprofessional collaboration and help their teams navigate complex healthcare environments. Such courses can take up to two years before the degree is rewarded.  Many professionals (not just in nursing) consider going back to school cumbersome and choose to remain stagnant. Those who put in the extra effort naturally find themselves on a superior career path. 


They Seek out a Mentor 

Sometimes, a little push and direction are all that is needed to move ahead in one’s career. This is why successful professionals do not strive to grow in a vacuum. They deliberately seek out those more advanced in their field for mentorship. 


For instance – if a content editor wishes to be promoted as a manager, they need to learn the relevant skills from the current experts. This could involve befriending one’s manager and other leaders to explore new responsibilities and opportunities.  The mentor-mentee relationship need not be a formal one. It simply needs to be respectful and two-way so that both parties benefit. The secret oftentimes is to step into the shoes of those who have walked before. 


They Understand the Value of Constructive Criticism 

Previously, we did talk about negative remarks from seniors. In many cases, such remarks can be useful tools for growth. Provided the leader is professional and polite, they are expected to provide constructive criticism or feedback to all team members. 


Once their job is done, it depends on the employee to absorb it all optimistically. Successful professionals remember that they are not entirely immune to mistakes and shortcomings. When feedback comes their way, they resolve to remain unoffended.  The key is to not take criticism personally and instead use it as a guiding light for future performance. If you struggle in this area, consider taking a few moments to reflect on the feedback privately before getting back to the mentor or manager. 



Let’s close by pondering a bit upon the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023. It is believed that macro trends in the form of economic and environmental issues will significantly impact the future of the workforce in general. 


Technology adoption will rapidly increase across industry verticals. This means upskilling is more important now than ever before. With the qualities mentioned in this article, it is not only possible but easy to advance quickly in one’s career, regardless of the industry. 



This is a collaborative post.



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