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Five Career Limiting Moves To Destroy Your Retirement

For most of us, our jobs will be our number one money makers. You could start the next WhatsApp and sell it for $19 billion, but you could also become President of The United States too. Having a long and prosperous career is almost imperative to achieving a healthy retirement.

As someone who finished his career as a Director at a large Wall Street firm with employees to manage, I’ve seen my share of career limiting moves. One time, there was this 23 year old first year analyst who went on strike for three days after receiving his bonus. He refused to come into work after “only” getting paid a total compensation of $115,000 one year out of college because he felt shortchanged by $10,000. Needless to say he was no longer with the firm a year later. At least he was able to drive away in his brand new $50,000 SUV his parents purchased for his college graduation.

If you can get paid and promoted faster than the average person, you should be able to build a much larger financial nest egg quicker, all else being equal. This article will discuss five career limiting moves that will not only extend your time until retirement, but probably make you extremely bitter as well. I’ll then offer three career enhancing moves to balance things all out.


1) Forgetting to know your place. It doesn’t matter whether you graduated top of your class at Harvard for undergrad or business school, when you join any organization, you start back at the bottom. Coming in hot like a know-it-all big swinger will surely make you enemies among your colleagues and managers. Showing respect to your elders, even if they are junior to you in title is also very important. There’s a reason why some of the most prestigious organizations actively recruit ex-athletes and military veterans; they always respect their elders. The ones who get ahead expertly manage both up and down.

2) Perpetually coming in late. Coming in early and leaving after everyone else takes no skill, just discipline. If you are perpetually coming in late, you are saying your personal time is more important than your work time. As a result, why would any company want to pay or promote you? If you can’t be one of the first people in the office, then definitely be the last to leave. There is always some work to be done or something to learn. Definitely don’t be last in and first out.

3) Constantly complaining. Complainers are always the first to get slaughtered when it’s time to let people go. Nobody likes a complainer, especially the ones who complain about their colleagues, subordinates, and bosses. When there are millions of people dying from starvation and millions more who can’t find a minimum wage job, complaining just leaves a very poor taste. A complaint will always get around the office because nobody is able to keep their mouth shut either. Office gossip is like a juggernaut that cannot be stopped. Do not engage.

4) Frequently calling in sick on a Friday. Everybody knows that if you call in sick on a Friday you are probably bending the truth. There’s only a 14.2% probability you will be sick on a Friday given there are seven days a week. Furthermore, there’s less than a 50% probability you are actually sick enough to be contagious and not come into work. Hence, calling in sick on a Friday attacks your integrity, even if you are truly sick. If you want to booze it up with friends over a long weekend in Vegas, just come clean and ask for vacation time. Once you lose your colleagues’ trust, it’s all over.

5) Being exclusionary rather than inclusionary. Exclusionary people are too insecure with themselves to be good leaders. They are afraid others will steal their thunder and think someone is always out to get them. Insecure people are also some of the most dangerous people to interact with because their insecurity will lead to credit-taking of your work, not being open to accepting constructive criticism, and thinking they know more than they really do. There is no organization on Earth where success is the result of one person. Including your colleagues on key decisions not only makes them feel important, it actually brings new ideas and perspectives.


1) Build an incredible network of support. You’re mistaken if you think all it takes is good work to get a pay raise and a promotion. It’s just as important to build a wide network of support across various departments. If you’re in sales, get to know everyone in marketing. If you’re in engineering, get to know everyone in sales. Don’t limit your network to your own little department. Implement a very methodical process of meeting someone new each day or each week by just saying ‘hello’ and asking them what they do and how you may help. Perhaps offer to take each new person out for a lunch or a drink as mentioned in the tax refund post. When it comes time for senior management to decide who gets laid off and who ascends, good things will happen.

2) Understand your boss’s interests. If your boss likes the New York Yankees then it would be wise to not only memorize the current starting line-up, but also not cheer out loud for the Boston Red Sox. If your boss is a big supporter of Democratic causes, then having a framed picture of Mitt Romney on your desk is not a great idea either. The point is to be aware of what your boss cares about so at the very least, you don’t offend his or her ideals.  Ideals are stronger than anything because they are inherent beliefs that have taken a lifetime to indoctrinate. If you are really skillful, you can figure out how to use a commonality to build a beautiful relationship.

3) Always underpromise and overdeliver. Expectations are everything. Pity the top performer because s/he has nowhere to go but down. Setting realistically low expectations with a high probability of overdelivering is a learned skill. The reason why few people are able to set expectations low enough is due to pride. Employees are often too eager to impress at the onset, thereby setting themselves up for disappointment later on. It’s also natural for people to overestimate their abilities. As soon as you become in tune with your strengths and weaknesses, good things start happening.


Once again, it’s not enough to just do good work. Good work is expected or else you wouldn’t have been hired in the first place. The people who really ascend in any organization are masters at not only selling themselves externally, but also masters at selling themselves internally. Once you’ve set yourself on the right career track, actively build your retirement savings in order to not squander your good fortune.

Sooner or later it’ll become obvious who is the rocket ship and who is the dud in your office. Let’s hope you’re the one blasting off!

Readers, any other career limiting moves you’ve noticed? Why do you think some people are able to achieve so much more than others even though both started off at the same time? Are you able to easily differentiate between the outperformers and the underperformers in your group? 

Don’t blow your career and your wealth. Join Personal Capital today. 

Photo: Ex-banker now answering to no one, Waikiki, HI.

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  1. Untemplater

    It’s shocking to me how a lot of people were never taught a lot of basic work ethics. Or maybe they were taught, but forgot or just choose not to be respectful. I’ve seen every single one of the five things you list. Most recently I had a guy quit out of the blue who was recently promoted and didn’t even have the courtesy to say something like “it’s been a pleasure working with you”. He just up and left in really poor form. I will never give that guy a good reference.

    I just don’t understand why some people have no sense of working cooperatively and act so immature. One time I had to work with 45 year old guy who acted like a whiny and complaining 5 year old kid throwing tantrums every week. It was ridiculous.

    • Financial Samurai

      People who quit AFTER a promotion really irks me because that promotion could have gone to someone who appreciated it more and decided to stay longer. Quitting after a promotion is also a slap in the bosses face.

      • Eric

        Your argument on promotions makes no sense. Promotions are not durable goods. If a person who is promoted quits, that promotion is not gone forever, it can still go to someone deserving in the organization. Further, if you’re planning on leaving, leaving after a promotion is the BEST time to quit; otherwise, your resume will appear that you left because you weren’t able to be promoted, and your organization will waste time and resources training you for your new role.

        • Financial Samurai

          You’re thinking about it from a employee’s point of view. It’s understandable to focus on a “What’s in it for ME” culture.

          I’m looking at things from an employer’s/manager’s point of view. Have you ever been through the process of promoting someone? Often times there is a long review process, and only a window or two a year to get promoted. You can’t promote everyone, only a select view.

          If the person you promote then quits, a manager is at risk of looking stupid and having his employees be bitter and demotivated. “If my boss promotes someone who quits, what does he really think of me.” Other employees must wait until the next window opens for promotion (usually 6-12 months).

          I’d love to hear your perspective as a manager too. thanks!

          • HR Manager in NJ

            It also makes you look stupid as a manager. If you couldn’t even judge an employee well enough to figure out he was unhappy enough to quit, how does the rest of your staff trust your judgment on anything? Of course there are other factors at work, but the bottom line is in how the employees perceive it. I’ve been on the opposite end where I’ve hired a candidate to have them quit 2 weeks into the job. There are always reasons for it, but even if they reside with company policies, pay, work ethic, etc., it still makes me look incompetent.

          • Danny

            Yes, I of course have a “what’s in it for me” attitude at work. I’m loyal to PEOPLE – people who are kind to me and who I trust – but not the job in an abstract sense. Because I can guarantee you that the company as a whole does not care about you. You’re just another replaceable cog.

            When you’re working for someone else, you’re renting out your time. Of COURSE I’m going to get my best possible rate and I’m going to look out for my best interests. You’re drinking the corporate Kool Aid if you don’t.

          • Jim


            I’ve been in the position of being promoted only to quit 1 month later. Why? Because having had access to salary amounts, my promotion raise and bonus was peanuts compared to others base salary who were doing less and phoning it in. They had the old “corporate politics network”. So I made the decisionafter putting in all that extra work and time, the ROI was not worth it. In my experience, if you are not a fan of corporate politics, the fastest way to increase your salary is to jump jobs. Why work until your fingers bleed for 10% when you can jump jobs for 25% or more as a new hire?

  2. Joe Saul-Sehy

    Great list. I always found my success in the office hinged on having the receptionist and secretarial staff on my side. In most offices I worked in, they were a gossipy group and when one liked me they all seemed to expedite my requests…..

    • Financial Samurai

      Indeed. The holders of the keys to the kingdom. I think it’s important to treat everyone with respect, especially those junior to you. It’s when you treat someone well who holds no sway over your future do you really start showing who you are as a person.

  3. ap999

    I can relate to number 2. After spending almost 8 years in the military, simple disciplines were taught. What normal to me was is, showing up early, with the right uniform and equipment, no excuses! After taking some college classes later, I noticed these kids always constantly showing up late for class. Like it was no big deal at all? Students just wonder in about 30 minutes after class was in session. I figure if these kids can not show up to class on time, are they going to show up to work on time? Just seems bad habits are instilled very early on these days.

    • Financial Samurai

      Exactly. Punctuality breeds credibility.

  4. Alyssa

    “A what’s in it for me culture.” Perhaps us ordinary workers would have more desire to sacrifice for a company if we couldn’t count on it laying off half the workforce and shipping jobs overseas. The way that companies operate these days forces workers to always stay one step ahead of them in order to be able to provide for themselves and their families. Or perhaps I shouldn’t focus on what is in a job for me and dedicate my life to a corporation which will lay me off when I am fifty and too physically broken from all the year of sacrifice to get another decent paying job. I have seen a lot of older family members go down that path, and accuse me of being selfish but corporate America is reaping what it has been sowing for the past thirty years.

    • Financial Samurai

      Corporate loyalty on both ends have certainly deteriorated over the past several decades. Although, at least the employee can control what they can control, which is their effort. And if getting laid off is an inevitability, then the best employee will get laid off last, and will probably get the best severance package.

      Hopefully folks can SAVE every month for as long as possible so that when something bad happens at age 50 as you say, things won’t be as bad as imagined.

      • Danny

        I think the idea that we should be loyal to corporations is a literally absurd idea. Corporations don’t give a shit about you – or anything else, really, except for profit. They’re destroying the environment and skewing our poltical system.

        But no, let’s continue to suck on the corporate teat until they decide you’re no longer a useful cog.

        • Financial Samurai

          I’m sorry you’ve had such a bad experience with work so far. What happened?

  5. Dave

    Similar to your “complainer” comment, and also related to the comment by a former soldier, I think people who exhibit a “can do” attitude over a “can’t do” attitude will frequently excel. There is nothing I despise more than when I hear someone rattle off reasons why a new idea won’t work. I want to here my employees first say, “OK, I’m on it”, go off and work on it, and then later come back and let me know of any problems. I have one employee who constantly does the opposite, literally shaking her head “no” before the words are out of my mouth. She will be going nowhere in our organization.

    • Charles B

      This is me 100%