[[{"fid":"8520","view_mode":"default","fields":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"6 Statements That Will Kill Your Career Options","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"6 Statements That Will Kill Your Career Options"},"type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"default","field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]":"6 Statements That Will Kill Your Career Options","field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]":"6 Statements That Will Kill Your Career Options"}},"link_text":null,"attributes":{"alt":"6 Statements That Will Kill Your Career Options","title":"6 Statements That Will Kill Your Career Options","style":"float: left; margin: 10px;","class":"panopoly-image-original media-element file-default","data-delta":"1"}}]]It often seems like just a few monumental choices define our professional lives. In actuality, while big decisions do matter, careers are actually built job-by-job, project-by-project, and day-by-day.

That’s the insight from Jack Quarles and his latest book, Expensive Sentences. Quarles’ book discusses “expensive sentences” often used in business; sentences like “The customer is always right.” However, there are “expensive sentences” that can derail your career decisions too

In my e-mail with Quarles, it was clear that the best place to improve your career opportunities may be at the conversational level. It’s the way we talk to others—and to ourselves—that often shapes our thinking and defines our possibilities.

As Quarles pointed out, the things we say and hear can also limit our options or lead us to accept less than the best. It’s statements like these that can limit your career possibilities:

  1. “It seemed like a good job, so I took it.”
  2. “My dad really wanted me to be a _____, so here I am.”
  3. “It’s too late to switch my career.”
  4. “I’d love to do that, but it would pay less.”
  5. “I trusted them. I thought they would take care of me.”
  6. “I’m not a good negotiator.”

If any of those made you wince, it may be because you’ve learned a painful lesson or two. You’ve seen how conventional advice and common expressions can easily become “Expensive Sentences.”

What’s an “Expensive Sentence?” It starts as a sentence that sounds right or even wise, but it ends up costing you money, time, opportunity, or joy.

If you haven’t been burned by toxic advice in the past, then maybe you don’t have to learn the hard way. Let’s unpack a few of the most Expensive Sentences that affect careers so we can all be on the lookout.

“It seemed like a good job, so I took it.”

Serendipity can lead us into wonderful surprises, but ultimately you want to be intentional about your vocation and career. Figure out what you like and what you don’t like. Decide what is important to you.

“My dad really wanted me to be a _____, so here I am.”

Honoring parents is wonderful, but choosing a profession to please a parent (teacher, pastor, or coach) is a recipe for disaster. Accept that well-meaning people often give misleading advice, and make sure you do what you do for your own reasons.

“It’s too late to switch my career.”

There are plenty of examples of people changing careers in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, and some of them go on to have great impact. Ten years from now we’ll all be ten years older… will you be doing something at that time that is deeply satisfying?

“I’d love to do that, but it would pay less.”

Practicality is essential, but taking a pay cut can be one of the most liberating experiences, especially if you are joyless in your current lucrative post. Run the numbers and consider reducing your expenses. Maybe it’s worth living in a smaller house if it means you wake up every Monday morning with purpose and energy.

“I trusted them. I thought they would take care of me.”

We need to trust, but we are responsible for our own success and advancement. Even if those around you have the best intentions, they have their own fish to fry and may not know what’s most important to you. You can be canny without being cynical.

“I’m not a good negotiator.”

Great actors may have a leg up when negotiating, but the true magic in negotiation is not magic at all: it’s the skill of learning what’s important to you and developing options. Anyone can improve in these areas, and they will bring more true power in a negotiation, regardless of who delivers their lines better.

Have you caught yourself saying or thinking one of these expensive sentences? We all do, so don’t beat yourself up, but resolve to catch and correct the language that limits you. You have far more options than you realize. Be empowered. But while we are basking in self-reliance, let’s hit one more expensive sentence:

“I’m in it on my own.”

You’re not… Fighting expensive sentences is a team sport. Find a friend or two that you can absolutely trust, and give each other permission to challenge the limiting language that you use. If you don’t have the right one, hire one: pay for a career coach.

Fill your mind with stories of people that overcame adversity to find their sweet spot of impact and meaning. Start reading good books and articles regularly. If you found yourself thinking twice about a few of your assumptions, then this article was worth the time invested.

Pass it on: the next time you’re talking with a friend about the future and hear something that sounds like a closed door, ask them: “Is that really true? Or is it an Expensive Sentence?”


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Thunderbird School of Global Management Alumna Dana Manciagli '84 is the author of "Cut the crap, Get a job". With her 'Career Mojo' column, Dana is the sole syndicated career columnist for the Business Journal nationwide. Her remarkable profile includes a career in global sales and marketing for Fortune 500 corporations like Microsoft, IBM, and Kodak. She has coached, interviewed and hired thousands of job seekers. This article was originally published on her website.