Five Anti-Patterns That Harm Careers

Work ends up influencing who we are as a person. A career is more than a way to make a living, it is a framework to live well, to re-mould ourselves into something better. In this post I cover 5 anti-patterns that harm careers, check if the traits are familiar. Perhaps it can help you or someone you know.

Patterns & Anti-Patterns

I have found codifying best-practices as patterns a great aid in understanding them, whether it is programming or architecture or yoga. A pattern is short concise way of capturing the essential characteristics of a best-practice.

Whilst there are career best-practices captured in countless management and self-help literature, am yet to see any formal classification of them.

Why Career Anti-Pattern? And not Patterns?

Everything is an outcome of your strengths and weaknesses. But..

Weaknesses generally harm your more than strengths help you.

So best to root out weakness before enhancing your strengths. It is not enough to know what works, what can arguably help more is some insight into what does not work.

With that, my first installment of anti-patterns, in no particular order.

No strong beliefs

We start with the most difficult trait to recognize, ones beliefs. Do you have beliefs that guide your actions? Or are you driven by a loose set of preferences and opinions? A strong belief is like your purpose in life, it brings a certain intensity to your actions. It need not be articulated objectively, it is okay to begin with some aspiration or ambition as guiding factors.

You could have many beliefs. You might have one about people and their motivations. Or about what you wish to become in your career. Or one about how much potential a certain technology has. It is essential to have this clear in your own head. But even more essential to understand what you deeply care about for yourself.

As with most things, beliefs can be small and selfish or grand and noble. Your actions take on their character.

By and large drone like employees typically have no strong beliefs. Beliefs can seem like an opinion, but there is a crucial difference. A belief drives actions and opinions are just held and not followed through. Try to differentiate between these.

Never make enemies

This could be a corollary of the earlier anti-pattern, “No strong beliefs”, but with its intensity cranked up many notches. A feeble belief would be malleable, be suppressed according to situations. Someone who does not believe in anything would be loath to make enemies. Always nodding their heads and going with the flow.

But people driven by a purpose or strong belief would stand up and refuse to be cowed down by situations at least sometimes. This trait is about not being afraid to push people back, if required, and being ready to face consequences.

This trait is not about being a jerk though. You can be polite to all yet choose to push the few who stand in the way of your higher goals.

Stay in your tower

This anti-pattern is common among middle-management, whose insight into business comes from powerpoint or excel and handful of people interactions. This leads to minimal knowledge of ground level realities. Typically acts as conduit to upper management. Survivor and does little that is of value to the organization, beyond say ‘reducing cost’.

Needless to say, one might benefit in the short-term. But long-term, one tends to lose the desire to carry out something and slide into survival mode. From then on it is all downhill. Whether its waiting for the redundancy axe to strike, or the constant politics one has to play to gloss over lack of value all begins to seep out as cynicism.

If you are in this mode, get out now. Change the job. Or change your outlook. As they say, it’s never too late to start over.

Stay Low

A corollary of the previous trait “Stay in your tower”, but this one occurs in the lower rungs. Folks who actively avoid the limelight, who prefer not to step up and own challenges. This is like having a pot of gold and yet starving for food. Again prolonged mis-use or no-use of potential leads one to become cynical.

Sometimes staying low is justified, like when you are a new parent or have short-term commitments. But to do this over years is a misuse of ones time. In a sense the organization does not gain any contribution but the biggest loser is the person who has this trait.

This trait is sometimes about not wanting to take more responsibility, or to own a risk, or be exposed to less than helpful situations. If so, perhaps one could justify it but then again, as they say, “Calm waters never made a good sailor”. If you are not going to stretch yourself on all the skill vectors available to you, what hope of growth?! Being content with what one is, or has been, is the surest way to irrelevance.

Do your job

This trait is about doing just what is given. To live by the letter of the job function. It is not enough to have a higher understanding of what your boss does. It is essential to know what the organization as a whole does, why it functions and what is being done to better it. Leaders are not made by doing what they are asked to do.

One might not have the skill to understand what happens in another group or department, which is fine. But it is always possible to learn something, to share your time and ability, to add value to activities beyond your circle. Doing this over a period gives a breadth and subtlety of understanding that makes new opportunities possible. But people do what they have done for years and wonder why their careers have not improved.

Work-life balance comes into play for some and they decide to do the minimal effort required. Again, as a short-term measure its fine, if circumstances demand it, but to adopt this as the norm will not take you far.


A question for readers. Do you find the anti-patterns useful? Would it help providing anecdotes? Or perhaps more structure around each pattern, on the lines of GOF patterns?

Appreciate it if you share your comments and tweet it. To be continued..


  1. shyOdha says:

    Five Anti-Patterns That Harm Careers. New post.

  2. Five Anti-Patterns That Harm Careers:

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