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August 30, 2016
Start on the Wrong Path and Stay There
 
Is your career path a downward spiral?
 
Why do most careers start and stay on the wrong path? It’s simple when you think about it. If your company does mediocre work, it expects you to do the same. In fact, it trains you to be mediocre. When you work for the wrong company, you learn the wrong things. Things that a better company will see as a lack of talent.
 
The obvious answer is to find a job at a company doing the quality work you aspire to do. Good plan, but take care running away from that bad job. You can run into a worse one. Most companies talk about doing great work. Few have the resolve to walk the walk.
 
If the next job is the wrong job, your career gets worse, not better. Your experience shows less and less evidence of actual abilities. In the eyes of your dream employer, what you’re doing at your present job is all you are capable of doing. Remember, great companies don’t hire people from mediocre ones. After all, if you were great, you wouldn’t be there. Right?
 
How do get your career out of the downward spiral? Let’s start with a list of things you don’t want to do:
 
Don’t avoid the truth.
Get brutally honest critiques from those who are doing what you do. Ask a lot of people for input because few will give it, and fewer will be brutally honest. After all, it’s hard to be the bearer of bad news. On top of that, they’re busy. If you ask enough, someone will help you. What they will tell you is worth gold. It can save you years of learning from trial and error. It can save your career.
 
Don’t think your dream boss will see your potential.
There are a lot of good people out there, and they all want to work for great places. If you want to be the one that beats the odds and gets that job, being good isn’t an option.
When it comes to hiring, every employer wants a sure thing. The proof is in your past work. Make the best of your past by re-imagining it. Rework everything in your portfolio until all the garbage is out.
 
Don’t stop learning.
It’s sad to say that many professionals do not reach their potential because they lose their passion for learning. They believe they’ve mastered all that is needed, and they just need a better opportunity to prove it. That’s what is deceptive about not knowing what you don’t know. The Internet is a gold mine of learning. There is nothing that can’t be learned, usually free of charge.
 
Don’t sprint.
Remember, your career is a marathon. When great work gets killed or when a company you admire doesn’t hire you, use it as motivation to persevere. Success is not for the faint of heart. Strive, and you will always be in the game.

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Bart Cleveland spent over 30 years helping grow brands like Coca-Cola, The Ritz-Carlton, and CNN. Now, he guides creative professionals to plan and execute successful careers through his business, Job Propulsion Lab℠. He also helps both agencies and marketers nurture customers into advocates through a relationship development program he calls, ACES℠. 
 
Bart launched Ad Age’s most popular blog, Small Agency Diary. He is also a contributing author of the book, The Get A Job Workshop, How To Find Your Way To A Creative Career In Advertising.

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