Presidential hopeful Barack Obama knew he wanted to be president as early as kindergarten. "I want to become president," he apparently wrote as a 5-year-old in an essay. Most people are not so driven or disciplined. "Failing to have a life plan is the single biggest mistake," says John McKee, author of Career Wisdom, 101 Proven Strategies to Ensure Career Success. Recently, he identified "fatal career flaws" that workers tend to have and addressed how they can be avoided:
Write a life plan
Start with a pad of paper, breaking down the components of your life: career, personal and financial. Write what you would like to see happen in your life. Successful people create such a plan, review and alter it. "The first thing you need to do is define your purpose in life. What is it you love?" McKee says. "What is it that makes you different from everyone around you?"
Update your skills
"Most of us know people who had great skills when they entered the workplace, but they never bothered to update them," he says.
Take community college classes, enroll in professional programs or do whatever it takes to stay current with peers coming out of school. "If you're not growing, you're in danger of failing," McKee says.
There's no resting on your laurels, even if you have delivered results in the past. "People have a tendency after they've had a few successes and believe they're bulletproof," he says.
Focus on effectiveness
"A lot of people judge how productive they are by how many meetings they've had," McKee says.
Make sure what you're doing matters to your boss, he says. "If you can make your boss more effective, he'll end up giving you more resources."
Remember no one is irreplaceable
There is no room for the "diva" in today's workplace. As soon as you convince yourself that only you can do the job "right," your star will surely start to fall, he says.
Let colleagues throughout your industry know about your success through case studies, promotional bulletins or other such tools. This is not bragging. It's recognizing the importance of letting others know about your accomplishments.
Failing to self-promote "is a really big issue for women," McKee says. "It has a lot to do with the way we raise our girls and boys. ... Guys want to take credit for everything. It's exactly the opposite for women. They think it's unbecoming."
Keep your perspective
At the same time, McKee says workers also need to be aware of their shortcomings.
"Encourage people to give you honest assessments," he says. "Get a couple of peers to agree to compare notes once in a while and be open to that feedback. Don't be defensive."