Career Advice

How to get Ahead in Your Career by Being Proactive: A 10-Step Ladder to Success

If you have a brain, a pulse and a basic desire to belong in society, you’re probably wondering how to get ahead in your career. A wish to do well at work and impress those that matter is only natural.

You don’t go into your working life with the goal of becoming super average, after all. “I know!” said literally no one ever. “I’ll be mediocre all my life! I’ll have trouble advancing and feel mildly frustrated all the time! It will be fine, maybe? Probably? This is a great plan.”

Yeah, no. If you’re not succeeding at work, then you’re doubtless asking yourself “Why can’t I get ahead in my career?”

The good news is, this isn’t a permanent state of existence. Here is your 10-step ladder to success.

1. See Yourself as a Product on the Market

Every product has a price, and you obviously want yours to be high. If you want to know how to get ahead in your career, then you need to think of yourself like a product worth buying.

This means adjusting your beliefs away from the idea that you are a person inherently worthy of love and support, no matter what. You are, of course … to your family and friends.

To your boss, coworkers and potential employers, this is not the case. You need to prove that you’re worth investing in. Don’t worry, it’s simpler than it sounds:

  1. Understand your product features: What do you offer the person/company investing in you? What do you offer, moreover, that your competitors cannot?
  2. Provide value and savings: Where can you get two jobs done for one? How does your presence save your company time, money or other resources?
  3. Make Yourself Fit: No matter how much you can offer, you won’t get far if the prospective company doesn’t think you’ll work well in their midst. Ditto, your boss won’t put you on a project if you can’t convince her you’ll gel with clients and other employees involved.

2. Seek Respect and Trust Rather than Affection or Approval

Our instinct as a pack animal is to gain affection and approval, but these unfortunately things don’t translate to advancement in the workplace. Your boss might love you, and that’s great. But if they don’t think you’re the best person for the job, you won’t get that promotion and pay bump.

Instead, think like a pro. Try the famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People for the ultimate guide.

3. Act Your Way Into Right Thinking, Not Vice Versa

Too many of us try to think our way into right action. If we can just get our heads straight, we figure, the rest will fall into place. Not so.

Rather, you need to act your way into right thinking. When you consistently take the right action, then your mindset will naturally become one of proactive growth. Start with brain dumps.

A brain dump is a way of getting errant thoughts out of our head and onto paper – or figurative paper. When you can record all the birthday presents that need buying and cards that need sending, they don’t clutter up your mental workspace. Try a brain dump planner like this one.

If you want a slightly higher-octane choice, choose a planner that has task triage or blank brain dump pages that you can add to your own daily diary of tasks. With a little help, you can take a whole mess of to-dos and turn them into an organized priority list.

This is a major step in how to get ahead in your career. By taking action, your thinking becomes clearer, and you become more successful.

4. Avoid Learned Helplessness

Acting or being confused or powerless is not a good strategy. Yet it’s one humans instinctively adopt as a form of learned helplessness. We may use it to avoid situations we don’t like or to induce others to assist us rather than helping ourselves.

Learned helplessness is a profoundly useful psychological principle. It is the idea that in situations where we’ve been burned before, we will stop trying to take proactive action.

Think about it. If you want to avoid the sting of getting turned down for a job, do you really not apply? Do you refuse to work with a coworker just because they’ve been mean to you before?

You can see how trying to avoid discomfort can lead to detrimental work strategies. Instead, take charge. If you’re confused, figure it out; if you feel afraid or helpless, find the next right step.

5. Never Play the Victim

Really want to know how to get ahead in your career? I’ve got one simple tip for you: Never play the victim.

As Bronnie Ware says in The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing,
“Playing the victim is a toxic waste of time that not only repels other people, but also robs the victim of ever knowing true happiness.”

One of the main reasons constant victimhood is so unappealing is that everyone has problems. Professional victims consistently imply that only they experience adversity, which is hard for everyone else to take.

To take the example of jobs, a Gallup poll found that only 15 percent of employees are engaged in their jobs. That means a full 85 percent are unhappy at work. According to the author of the report analyzing the data, this helps explain why global GDP – a measure of productivity – has been in decline for the last several decades.

The takeaway: You’re not alone in hating your boss, your projects, your clients. Don’t act like you are, or you might get a card like this.

6. Take the Drama Down a Notch or Three

If you’re wondering how to get ahead in your career without ruffling people, I have one overarching piece of advice for you: let your feelings go. If you can take the drama down a notch or three, you’ll have much better success in the workplace.

7. Engage in Conflict Where Necessary

Sometimes, though, conflict is necessary. You need to stand up for yourself. You may need to negotiate for better circumstances.

Note that “conflict” doesn’t have to be a nasty word. When we hear it, we imagine battles and clashes. In fact, though, our opinions and needs can conflict with others’ without burning all your bridges.

If you must engage, then:

  1. Always prepare your case ahead of time
  2. Never rise to the bait
  3. Look beyond the money to your other needs
  4. Expect to give ground, as in any good compromise

8. Accept Feedback Gracefully and Clean Your Side of the Street

One of the most important steps on the ladder of how to get ahead in your career is to accept feedback and keep your side of the street clean. No matter how much effort you put into being a good worker, you will mess up. That could take many forms:

  • Missing a deadline
  • Saying something offensive
  • Missing the mark on a project
  • Getting defensive

All of the above are very human. When you hear negative feedback, it’s important to respond appropriately and apologize where necessary.

9. Choose Hope Over Optimism

Another important rung on the ladder of how to get ahead in the corporate world is to choose hope over optimism. There are important differences between the two. While optimism might seem helpful, it’s actually overrated.

Optimism is the belief that things will be okay, while hope is the idea that things can be okay. You can see how the first relieves you of having to act, while the second makes you a crucial element in your own destiny.

This is a good book to learn more about applying the science of hope to your daily life.

Related Article: 6 Morning Habits of Top Performers Worth Trying Right Now

10. Relentlessly Cultivate Your Growth Mindset

Understanding the difference between a fixed and growth mindset is crucial to how to get ahead in your career. A fixed mindset is the belief that you stay in your lane. You perform well at tasks you know how to do, and thereby affirm that you are smart and capable.

A growth mindset involves a desire to stretch and get better, smarter, more capable. It should be obvious that the growth mindset is the only way to proactively get ahead in your career. And yet, it’s not the path many take.

Why? Because the growth mindset can feel frightening. What if, in stretching, you mess up? What if you overreach?

My only advice is an old cliché: you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Reach for the stars, and you’re far more likely to hit the mark in your career. It’s the only way to be proactive, so get ready to grow!

Read More: Frustrated With Lack Of Career Progression: 12 Tips To Get Unstuck

About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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