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How to get ahead when it feels like everyone wants to hold you back

Bad or demoralizing bosses don't have to get the best of you. Here's an entrepreneur's advice on overcoming people who try to block your career.

6 min read


Career growth

Ahmet Ali Agir/Unsplash

When I was building my first company, I put together a large sales team. Many of the salespeople were athletes fresh out of college, so during the welcome presentations, I informed them that they were all entering into the most competitive arena: the business world.

In all but the highest-level sporting events, the stakes might seem high, but they’re really quite low, amounting to bragging rights or a trophy. However, in the business world, people are trying to make a living. When the stakes literally dictate whether you can provide dinner for your family, individuals will do anything to beat you, even when you’re supposed to be on the same team. Managers at every level must be ready to play politics — it comes down to human nature.

I experienced this cutthroat mentality the hard way. In my early 20s, I was passionate about my work at an agency, arriving first and staying until the end of the day to help the business scale. Only later would I realize that my boss was betraying our mission, and he personally disrespected both me and my work ethic.

Eventually, I used my negative feelings toward him to fuel the creation of my own company, and I learned to cultivate my own values in the employees I hired. To me, success is more than achieving fair compensation for work; it’s building a harmonious company in which people can work together for a common goal. Unfortunately, this can appear to be a lofty goal when you feel like others are holding you back from success.

3 ways to keep your chin up and carry on

You might be surprised by the number of individuals who try to actively hold you back in your professional career. This can occur simply through the psychology of human nature, including drive, a lack of clear directives, misguided intentions and competitive streaks. It’s always good to be clear and take the time to communicate exactly what you need, especially in a management position.

You have to show that you can endure and find creative ideas and solutions to problems at a smaller scale. Managers will be looked at and called upon to set the tone, so it’s especially important for managers to know how to juggle setbacks and negativity.

Instead of being disheartened, it’s best to understand that others attempting to hold you back is an unfortunate aspect of the business world and to recognize the behavior sooner rather than later. The most common pressure comes from managing the dynamics of a team. The ultimate key to accomplishing your goals with your business is closely aligned with how you reach your team. So when you have team members who feel supported by one another, you’ll likely have fewer incidents of co-workers sabotaging one another.

To overcome the people who hope to bring you down, follow these three tips:

1. Stay focused.

You most likely experienced or were at least aware of the gossip, cliques and drama during high school. For many people, this high school-like atmosphere is the reality of office life, as well. Managers should stay above it. Whether your employees are trying to get you to take sides in an argument, complaining about the boss in the break room or spreading rumors about someone who received a raise, participating in office drama is not necessary.

Assuming positive intent will also make your relationships with your employees in the office more productive. To do this, choose to interpret errors, comments and feedback as mistakes — not coming from a malicious place. This approach will help you keep a level head and bring out the best in every employee.

2. Find backup support.

If you’re in it alone, you’re not going to make it very far. In both your personal and professional lives, surround yourself with people who love and care about you, and you’ll soon have a valuable support group to lean on when things get difficult (and they will). As a person setting the tone, managers must seek out supportive and positive people. Managers have a different set of pressure and responsibilities, so their pool of support is different than those of most of the people under them. It’s still no less important for managers to have people who are cheerleaders and advice givers at their backs.

Keep in mind that positivity breeds positivity, and the same is true for pessimism and negativity. A common saying states that you are an average of your five closest friends, so make those friends count.

3. Maintain perspective.

We have to maintain perspective at all times; otherwise, we get caught up in overthinking, self-sabotaging, making too many changes and, ultimately, making mistakes. Look to your support network for perspective, zoom out to focus on the bigger picture, and make sure you stay energized to tackle problems.

Oftentimes, losing perspective comes from feeling burnt out or feeling overwhelmed. Whether you’re into distance running, meditation or volunteering at the local animal shelter, there’s more to life than the office. Schedule the time to maintain a hobby or passion to detach you from the stress and challenges of work and give you a fresh perspective.

No matter how many people try to stand in your way, it’s possible to overcome them and advance your professional career. In fact, it’s likely that the more successful you are, the louder your critics will be, so now is the best time to establish a strong sense of focus, build a supportive group of colleagues and friends, and invest in passion areas.

In doing so, you will be better prepared to use the people who try to hold you back as a leg up to where you want to go.


Dustin White is the CEO and founder of Made Brand Management and a partner in The Mulholland Group. After spending 20 years building and investing in marketing and advertising businesses, Dustin saw the need for an investment and management company to assist brands in transitioning their strategy to direct-to-consumer. His partners include Stellaire, Powerplant Motorcycles, Schaeffer’s Garment Hotel, and Our Legends.

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