15 Behaviors That Self-Sabotage Your Career

Have you repeatedly found yourself being passed over for job opportunities?

Do you find yourself trying to do your best but not moving ahead professionally?

Do you wonder what seems to be holding you back and you can’t quite put your finger on it?

There are behaviors that we engage in that undermine how others perceive us as leaders in the workplace. Sometimes we’re not aware of these self-sabotaging behaviors, and sometimes we don’t realize how damaging they can be.

I’ve made a list of ways that you just might be holding yourself back without realizing it.


15 Ways you may self-sabotage at work:

  1. Apologizing too much. There are times when an apology is not called for. Don’t say you’re sorry when you’re not at fault for anything, or you haven’t done anything that you need to apologize for.
  2. Saying “This might be a stupid question, but….” I cringe each time I hear someone say this and then follow up with what is usually a perfectly sound question.
  3. Not speaking up. You may have intuitive or thoughtful questions, or insightful ideas and suggestions. But if you never speak up, no one will know. And no one will benefit from them.
  4. Taking yourself out of the game. If you think you couldn’t succeed at something and you don’t even try, you never give yourself a chance. For example, if you think you couldn’t beat others for that promotion or job position, and you don’t try, you have zero chance of getting it. Don’t take yourself out of the game. Get in there and try. You may succeed, or you may learn from the experience.
  5. Upspeaking. This happens when you end your sentences with a question mark. When you make a bold statement and end it with a question mark, it doesn’t have as much impact. It sounds as though you doubt what you’re saying. Just say it.
  6. Being overly modest. If someone compliments your work, don’t dismiss your efforts. Saying, “Oh, it was nothing” when you’ve achieved something difficult discredits your achievement. Take credit for your efforts. A simple thank you will work fine.
  7. Being afraid to ask for help. Worrying that others will think less of you if you need to ask for help not only holds you back but is unnecessary. Asking for help demonstrates confidence, and that you’re open to input and teamwork.
  8. Not asking for what you want. You won’t get what you don’t ask for. If you ask, you may get it. Or at least it will likely be the start of a negotiation.
  9. Rambling in your communications. Whether in email or speaking, rambling on and talking around your point makes your message less impactful. You diminish the credibility and impact of your message. You’ll be less trusted to present in situations that will give you more visibility or career growth. If you have trouble with this, organize your thoughts and determine the point you wish to make before you speak.
  10. Staying in your comfort zone. You self-sabotage when you don’t give yourself the opportunity to stretch beyond what’s easy for you. Do something that allows you to grow. Do something that scares you. Be willing to fail. Growth comes from doing things that challenge you. (link to my post about facing fear or waiting for permission)
  11. Criticizing yourself. When you negatively label your actions, you chip away at your self-confidence. Use positive self-talk to build courage and belief in your abilities.
  12. Avoiding opportunities to showcase your skills. This may mean seeking out chances to present in front of peers or senior management, to share what you know to a group during a meeting or anything else that allows others to see your abilities.
  13. Procrastination. You may not think of procrastination as self-sabotage because this one is an easy trap to fall into. This article in the Washington Post explains that procrastination occurs because our “monkey mind” is “constantly darting all over the place, preventing us from concentrating.” It’s easy to give in to social media, the conversations that co-workers are having, and anything else that gives instant gratification.  Don’t beat yourself up about it. Recognize that you’re not in the mood to do the work, but do some small part of it at least. Just getting started can give you momentum to keep moving forward.
  14. Dressing inappropriately. Don’t wear clothing that’s too tight or revealing for the office. It will be distracting and can negatively impact other’s impression of you. Research by Wookey, Graves, and Butler found that “that high-status, sexually dressed women receive lower ratings in competence.” Guage your work attire by what others in your office are wearing. If you’re not sure if something is too revealing or inappropriate, err on the side of caution.
  15. Not saying no. When you say yes to everything, you’re not respecting your boundaries. Whether this self-sabotage occurs because you’re trying to please everyone, or you’re afraid to stand up for yourself, it’s still damaging.  When someone makes a request, consider if it conflicts with other priorities or values. You can’t do good work if you’re trying to do too much.


Take time to notice if you engage in any of these self-sabotaging behaviors. Becoming aware of them is an important first step to being able to change them.


How have you overcome self-sabotage in your career? Do you have advice for others?

Or maybe you have something to add to the list – one of your own or one you see in others. Let me in the comments!

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

One Response

  1. imasabarbasa October 24, 2023

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