There are plenty of mistakes we make managing and navigating our careers. Some are kind of obvious, and easily avoided with just a smidge of common sense (like don't park in the bosses' reserved parking space). Others are a little more complex, more subtle, and usually involve sorting out more nebulous concepts like who the office's hidden influencers are or what projects offer just the right balance of exposure, likelihood of success, and work you actually know how to do.
But possibly the most significant mistake we make in personal career management is that we overestimate our relative value and importance to the organization, or said differently, we take on a "there is no way they can get rid of me" kind of mentality.
Of course they can get rid of you. In fact, it is usually shocking just how easy it is for the organization to move on after you are gone. But in case you are still deluding yourself as to your essentialness, here are a few tips that you can use to check yourself. How can you be sure the organization will do just fine without you?
1. You've been there fewer than 2 years - It took you 3 months to figure out where to park your car, to find the cafeteria, and to sort out the office dress code. Then it took 6 months to learn all of the corporate acronyms. Then you (sort of) got down to learning just exactly what it is you were supposed to be doing. So maybe that took another 3 months. Face it, you have been only marginally productive since this March. If you were gone tomorrow, it would not grind the wheels of progress down to a halt. No one hardly knows you are even there.
2. Your job has a Roman Numeral in the title - Maybe you are a Financial Analyst II or a Senior Marketing Planner III. Either way, the mere presence of a Roman Numeral in your title suggests that there are plenty of folks ready to step up a Roman Numeral into your job. In fact, even the most famous Roman Numeral job, Pope, is not immune to this reality. A week after Pope Innocent IV calls it a career, there is a Pope Dominic III ready to step in.
3. You never get called or texted by work after 5:30PM during the week and NEVER on the weekend - In this age of constant connectivity and decreased demarcation between work and not work, if you are never being called upon or contacted after hours or on the weekend or even when you are on vacation that is probably a sign that you are not as important as you might reckon.
4. Your 'war stories' no longer have any practical value, (but they might still be funny) - If your 'back in the day' tales start to lose any connection to both the reality of current market conditions or the sensibilities of your (probably younger) colleagues, then it could be time for some self-examination. After a while, these stories start to move from 'the wisdom of experience' to 'the insane ramblings of a crazy person.' When does that line get crossed? Hard to say, but once on the other side, it is pretty much a done deal that you are not coming back.
5. You can explain what you do to a stranger in less than 60 seconds - The depth, breadth, and complexity of what you do should not be able to be summarized in the time it takes to microwave some Top Ramen. If what you do can be distilled into such a compact package then it stands to reason it would not be hard or expensive to train up the next guy to step in for you once you are gone.
The truth is we all are replaceable. All of us. Bill Gates doesn't run Microsoft any longer. Steve Jobs passed away, and Apple still prints money. Steve Perry of Journey was replaced by some guy that the band found on YouTube.
The organization will be just fine without you. That doesn't mean you didn't do a great job and were respected and valued.
It just means that the time comes for everyone.