Tory Johnson: Don't 'Just/But' Yourself Out of a Promotion

Do you ever talk yourself out of doing things you know you should do? Does fear of failure or worry about embarrassment prevent you from tackling important goals?

I constantly witness women sabotaging their careers with such behavior and it winds up costing them the positions, pay and promotions they deserve. In conversations, they often qualify their accomplishments, with two naughty little words: "just" and "but."

Take a look at the all-too-common "just" scenario.

      Last week at the Texas Conference for Women, which attracted 7,000 smart, talented women in a range of fields, I met a lovely woman who introduced herself to me by saying, "I'm just a systems engineer." I stopped her instantly: "You're not 'just' an engineer. You're an engineer."

      Lest you think it's a Texas thing, a week earlier in Chicago a young woman approached me for help in getting a new job. When I asked what she currently did, her response was, "Oh I just handle the bookkeeping for a company." I quickly pointed out that bookkeeping is a critical role at any company, certainly not one to belittle by saying "just."

For anyone who expects to get ahead, it's essential not to sabotage your success by diminishing your role. People will often see you in the light in which you present yourself. When you appear to lack confidence in yourself, you're treated as someone who's not confident.

It's equally important to be willing to celebrate your successes. When it comes time to look for a new job or pursue a promotion or raise, your past performance is likely to be the best possible indicator of your potential for future success. In other words, what kind of performer were you? What kind of track record do you have?

People who shy away from touting their prior accomplishments and sharing their track record of success will not earn the same money or seniority as those who do so with confidence and ease.

By the same token, you can't use the fear of failure as a crutch to get out of taking chances to advance your career. Some common "but" examples:

      "I would love that job, but there's no chance they'll hire me so I won't even apply."

      "I really deserve a raise, but they'll just say no, so I'm not going to ask."

Frankly, this is true in all areas of everyday life. It's very easy to come up with excuses -- both real and imaginary -- that hold us back from getting up and doing what we know we should do. It's not easy for everyone to step out of the shell and push themselves harder, but there are some examples of people who I heard from at that Texas conference who could have easily given up in very trying times, but didn't.

      Cindi Broaddus was in a car hit by a gallon-sized jar of sulfuric acid thrown from an overpass by an unknown assailant. She was badly burned but miraculously did not die. There were many times that she could have given up between multiple surgeries. The intense pain could have been a totally legitimate reason to say, "yes, but," yet she didn't. Her motivation: Three daughters, who, Broaddus says, relied on her. So she found the will to fight.

      Linda Armstrong Kelly spoke about her early life as a teenage mother, living in poverty, trying her best do the right thing while raising an unstoppable 10-pound baby boy who turned out to be seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. Son credits mom as the unsung hero who assisted him in reaching his spectacular cycling victories and in his triumph over cancer.

      Beverly Kearney is the coach of women's track and field at the University of Texas and a five-time national coach of the year. Severe injuries sustained in a car crash led doctors to say she'd never walk again. But the highly competitive coach applied her winning spirit and determination to defy the odds -- and walks today.

When you hear such real-life stories of triumph and inspiration, it helps you to realize that we can do anything we set our minds to. If, as a junior in high school living in poverty, Armstrong Kelly could give birth to a baby and persevere to raise a champion, then, she says, anyone can achieve what they're willing to believe for themselves -- be it a better job, more money or a healthier relationship. I couldn't agree more.

If you're reading this and thinking about the important tasks you've put off because you're worried that someone will say no, or you're fearful of failing, it's time to break that cycle. Commit to coming out of your shell. Step out of your comfort zone. Be gutsy, be confident and go for it.

For more information on career strategies, or to send your feedback to Tory Johnson, CEO of Women For Hire, visit