Published: Apr 22, 2019
We all have our bad habits—recurring behaviors or unshakeable thoughts that creep into our daily routines and interactions with others. If we’re lucky, these habits simply present minor nuisances that we need to navigate throughout our day-to-day. At worst, our bad habits become stumbling blocks that get in the way of our own progress. They can interfere with our goals, our social interactions, and even growth in our careers.
Self-sabotaging is when a bad habit interferes with your long-term goals, creating problems for yourself that threaten to derail you. Self-sabotaging behavior can manifest in virtually any aspect of your life, but it can be particularly damaging to your job. When you self-sabotage at work, you risk impeding your success and ability to do your job. This is especially true for people starting a new job, where it’s important to make a strong first impression and learn everything you need to do your job right.
Bad habits are hard to break, but putting in the effort and perseverance can make all the difference. Here are five self-sabotaging habits you should try breaking from the outset before they hinder you at your new job.
Being afraid to ask questions.
Nobody likes to come across like they’re asking too many questions. But there’s truth to that old phrase you heard in school: “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Being afraid to ask questions leaves you ill-informed and unprepared. Maybe you’re shy, or maybe you want to impress your new coworkers by presenting yourself as a fast learner. But what’s the best way to learn something quickly? By asking questions.
When you’re being trained on the functions of your new job, nobody expects you to already know everything. Even if you’re qualified for the role (and remember: you are, if you got the job), there will be gaps in your knowledge. The people training you expect you to have questions. If anything, asking those questions leaves the best impression by demonstrating curiosity, a desire to learn, and an appreciation for the complexity of the role.
If you ever feel too afraid to ask a question, first ask yourself, “is this something I can figure out on my own?” “How much more prepared will I be if I have this information?” Remember that your coworkers are there to help you thrive—in many cases, your success is for the betterment of the team. And if something feels too easy, and you’re embarrassed to ask for clarification, remember that the person training you has been in your position. The only reason it seems to come easily to them is because they’ve been through that same training.
Second-guessing everything you do.
It’s normal, especially when you’re new, to think twice before hitting “send” on an email or marking a task as complete. In fact, it’s helpful to take a few extra moments to review your work during the learning process. But many self-saboteurs are almost afraid to have confidence in anything they do. They doubt every word choice in an email or decision on a project to the point that it hinders their performance. They can’t speak for their work with confidence. They may even find themselves becoming the bottleneck in the workflow as their productivity slows while holding onto work they’re not ready to let go of.
Learning to stop second-guessing yourself requires a willingness to trust your work to speak for itself. It’s a habit you break over time and with experience, as you get the hang of things and build faith in yourself.
In the beginning, it might help to have somebody take a look at something before you send it off—either a peer or a manager. If it passes their inspection, chances are you don’t have to question what you’ve done. If they have feedback, at least you can trust that it came from an objective source as opposed to your own second-guessing.
Being a perfectionist.
There’s been a recent reevaluation of the emphasis our culture places on perfection, with many experts agreeing that perfectionism is actually a destructive mindset. We measure our success and our talents, both on the job and in our personal lives, against standards of perfection that are virtually impossible to meet. This can lead to self-doubt and lower self-esteem, among other negative consequences.
Nobody’s saying that paying attention to detail or wanting to take pride in your work is a bad thing. These traits can help you succeed in your new job. But striving for perfection is an unrealistic goal, and holding yourself to those standards can leave you feeling anxious, inadequate, and yes, make you second guess yourself.
Do the best you can. Understand that mistakes are occasionally made, and embrace criticism so you can learn (perfections often take constructive criticism personally). Don’t beat yourself up if your work isn’t perfect, because nobody else’s is either, and try to be more mindful of your strengths and weaknesses to turn them into opportunities.
Of all the bad habits on this list, this one might seem like the most obvious, but for people who participate in gossip, it can be hard to even realize when you’re doing it. Office gossip is almost unavoidable, but for new hires in particular, it’s important to avoid adding fuel to the fire whenever possible. Of course you want to be able to engage in pleasant conversation with your coworkers, and you certainly can, but entering into gossip doesn’t reflect too well on you.
When you gossip, you portray yourself as somebody who can’t be trusted—someone who enjoys drama and is all too quick to instigate it. Add to that the fact that when your coworkers are talking about interoffice politics or drama, you may end up commenting on situations where you don’t know the full story. This can rub people the wrong way and burn bridges.
Again, not everyone who gossips realizes they’re doing it—many people feel like they’re just participating in normal conversation. If you’re in a situation where somebody is talking about something else in the office, ask yourself, “could what they’re saying be construed as hurtful or disparaging?” “Does this situation concern me?” “Am I hearing a lot of ‘don’t tell so-and-so I said this, but…’?” When in doubt, keep your two cents to yourself.
Giving in to imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is an unrelenting fear that you don’t belong where you are. Perhaps you think you’re unqualified for your position, or that you got the job by mistake. More than just self-doubt or second-guessing, a person with imposter syndrome believes they’re inadequate, and lives in constant anxiety that they’re about to be exposed as a “fraud.” Imposter syndrome can have crippling emotional effects, causing you to talk negatively to yourself and fall into a pattern of behavior that interferes with your work.
According to Psychology Today, imposter syndrome prevents people from “internalizing their accomplishments.” While actual imposter syndrome is a psychological term, many of us struggle with the same sense of inadequacy and inability to recognize our own successes. When this happens, it’s important to take a step back and focus on the value you bring to your team.
Whether that means sitting down and forcing yourself to write down every accomplishment and contribution you’ve made, it’s important to focus on each victory as an affirmation that you belong where you are. Allow yourself to take credit for your successes, and remind yourself that you wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t do the job. Make an effort to stop comparing yourself to other coworkers, and be proactive about developing your “weaknesses”—try to see them as opportunities as opposed to negatives.
Whether it’s law school finals breathing down your neck, the impending recruiting season jittering your nerves, the never-ending billable piling up, or competition over a coveted lateral spot—the legal industry is overflowing with stress. And for the type-A personalities often attracted to the profession, such stress can make law students and lawyers harder on themselves.
For those who are invested in such things, be they prospective students assessing which school to attend or alumni wondering how the prestige of their alma mater is faring, the new US News law rankings released on March 28. There was one extremely significant event in the ranking shifts this year, as some predicted given the changes in US News' methodology over last year.
You’ve just received word that your job is going to switch to the fully remote paradigm. That means no more travel expenses or traffic, no more rushing frenetically from place to place, and no more of the crushing outfit dilemma you’ve faced with each new day.
On Friday, May 20, 2022, Vault Law will host an OCI Readiness Summit for law students looking to prepare for and find summer and other associate positions through OCI. You can register for this free informational summit here, and learn more about it below.