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08/06/2013 10:59 am ET | Updated Mar 11, 2015

9 Ways You're Holding Yourself Back -- Without Even Realizing It

The world has plenty of ways to bring you down. Don't add your own.

By Amy Shearn

1. Apologizing For Being Sorry
I know you think you're being polite and sparing people some sort of discomfort, but sometimes there's simply nothing for which you must apologize; or, worse, the apology only calls attention to a crime so slight no one would have noticed otherwise. It's not really courteous. It's actually kind of irritating, and, I'm sorry, but if you're one of those over-apologizers, you just really need to stop.

2. Sloth-Inducing Sneakers
For a while I was running. A little bit, then a little more, then actually a respectable distance, a few mornings a week. Then I stopped. I wasn't sure why I stopped, and I didn't investigate the question for hidden meaning. But after complaining to a marathoner friend about how running had made my feet hurt, she said, "You know, you probably just need better shoes." Turns out, if you're under 80 years old and 15 minutes of glorified speed-walking makes your arches ache, all you need to do is buy a pair of well-fitted sneakers. Who knew? Actually, everyone. Of all the many excuses not to get into shape (I can think of so many, including: bad weather, not having the time, the existence of pie), the wrong equipment is a particularly lame and self-defeating one.

3. You Don't Know How To Answer The Question, "If I Were To Give You Any Job In The World, What Would You Want To Do?"
It's corny but it's also true that this catchy musical number is essentially the best career advice ever given by people in swimsuits. Right? How else are you gonna make a dream come true?

4. Using The Beige (When You're A Warm Beige)
We would never suggest that something so superficial as makeup, or the lack thereof, might hold some secret power over your fate. But we all know that when you're more comfortable in your skin, you feel better in general, more you. The thing that makes those makeover shows so fascinating is the moment when the subjects see how much better they can feel: "That foundation in the wrong tint was making me look older!" "That dark lip liner did look unnatural!" Ask that tell-it-like-it-is friend -- you know you have one -- to tell you like it is.

5. Doing An Exceptional 75 Percent
You've dutifully discovered your strengths. You've, wonderfully, found a job that caters 75 percent to said strengths. As for your weaknesses, well, psshh, someone else can surely deal with that 25 percent of your job. Dealing with invoices can go to a numbers-minded intern, right? Communicating with the overseas office, where they perversely insist on email while you do so much better on the phone? Someone else will surely pick up your slack, n'est-ce pas? And then eventually you'd be promoted to the next-up position, which would 100 percent cater to your strengths. The problem is, people actually notice and, without realizing it, you're getting a reputation for being a 75-percenter. And let's face it, who wants to promote a 75-percenter?

6. Hate-Watching "The Bachelor"
One thing I have gleaned from Twitter is that many people watch a program on Monday nights called "The Bachelor," which is apparently populated by characters that inspire no small degree of frustration. Unless you actually enjoy feeling that frustration, may I suggest, dear watchers, choosing a show that creates a feeling of happiness rather than disdain?

7. Shrugging More Than Speaking
Unless you are 13 years old, shrugging is not an answer. Do you want to go to the happy hour with all your coworkers or not? Did you really think the latest Superman movie was a little boring or not? How short do you want the hairdresser to cut your bangs? You have an opinion on these things. You have a right to that opinion. Stand up straight, make eye contact and respond in a grown-up sentence. And for the record, “sure” is just a texted shrug.

8. Forgetting To Take A Coffee Break
Burnout is, for many of us, practically our resting state. But if you're staring at the screen, trying to get those last (million) things done before you stop even though your brain is fried, consider the old-fashioned concept of taking a break. We mean the kind of break where you actually stand up and move away from the computer, walk around, or go to the gym, or take a -- gasp -- nap. Coming to work when you're sick, staying past dinner, blinking exhaustedly at the spreadsheet for more hours than anyone -- these things don't impress your coworkers and boss as much as doing the best work possible. Which you can't do if you're totally burnt out.

9. Making Shy Eyes At Singles Mixers
Here's what's almost enough: Getting yourself to the NPR-sponsored speed-dating mixer thing that is full of smart, good-looking, like-minded, creative singles; wearing the most perfectly flattering outfit of all time; having just enough house chardonnay to feel relaxed but not lugubrious. But if you don't actually talk to the man in the corduroy blazer who is clearly meant to be the father of your children? Well, that's the difference between almost enough and the house with the white picket fence you and that guy buy together.

Amy Shearn is the author of "The Mermaid of Brooklyn: A Novel"

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