06/12/2013 01:13 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

3 Insidious Mistakes That Will Mess Up Your Life

Have you ever found yourself saying, "I wish I'd known that earlier?"

You're not alone. Most of us have learned our biggest lesson the hard way, through experience and mistakes.

It's a weird quirk of human nature. The areas that are the most crucial to happiness -- like career and family -- are where people seem the least likely to seek out skilled advice.

People will readily read travel books or go to a golf clinic to give themselves a leg up. But when it comes to the big stuff, they're often woefully ill-informed.

Here are three big mistakes that derail people and how to rectify them:

1. Not understanding the big picture of your job or industry

My friend is a writer. He's worked on his craft, but he didn't work on understanding his industry so he's only achieved mid-level success.

It's a classic mistake. People know their job, but they don't understand the context within which their job exists. For example, how many teachers understand how their administrators or county offices operate, or even how their job gets funded? I was guilty of this early in my career. I understood sales, but didn't fully understand how sales, marketing, manufacturing, and distribution all work together.

People who don't understand the big picture have less effective relationships with their boss, they waste time on unimportant things, and they find their jobs less satisfying.

Ask yourself: Do I understand how money, customers and information move through this industry? If not, make it your business to learn.

2. Not seeking professional relationship advice

There's a bizarre, yet extremely common belief, that getting help with your marriage or kids is a sign of failure. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I don't claim to be a perfect parent, but now that my kids are older and turning out pretty well, I take pride in the fact that I was a student of my craft. I read parenting books, attended lectures and studied successful parents because I wanted to be good at this job.

Marriage was another story. My husband and I learned this one the hard way. We made it, but we both wish we'd become students of the institution earlier. That's why we told both daughters that they're getting a Harville Hendrix couples workshop for their engagement presents.

You wouldn't want a surgeon who only got training after she made mistakes. The same thing applies to relationships. If you want to be successful, get the best training you can, and make sure you have regular follow-ups.

3. Lack of self-knowledge

My friend became an accountant because his father told him that it was stable and that he would always have work. He does have work, a boring mid-level job that he hates. He's a creative idea person, and his job is based on conformity.

I'm amazed at how little time our educational system spends on self-knowledge.
Understanding your personality, skills and preferences is critical to creating a successful life. Trying to force a square peg into a round hole never works and it's frustrating for both the peg and the hole.

Take a Meyers Briggs or other personality test to better understand yourself, and learn how to leverage who you already are.

You don't have to make the mistakes to learn the lessons. Wisdom doesn't have to be hard won, but you do have to look for it.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership expert and best selling author of Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud. Organizations hire her to help them create passionate purpose-driven sales forces.

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