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Are Excuses Why You Can’t Get Ahead At Work?

why people can't get ahead at work

Since we are devoting this week to stopping excuses, today I’d like to find out if excuses are why you can’t get ahead at work. A consensus of comments on my recent debt payoff interview seemed to argue that my situation is not real world and that most people have an “average salary” from a “normal” job and don’t earn enough money to pay off debt. I know there are people who make much more or much less than we do, but I think we’ve all heard the excuses people use about their work and salary. Today, it’s time to stop the excuses and either be happy with what you have or find a way to change it.

I Hate My Job

If you continually complain about hating your job, it’s hard to get ahead. If you think your boss doesn’t know that you hate coming to work, you’re probably not paying attention. I’ve always been able to tell when an employee stops liking their job, and I can’t think of a time when this has happened and performance didn’t decline. You don’t have to love your job, but you do have to realize it provides a source of income. Think about not having any job, and you might like yours a bit more.

I Don’t Make Enough Money

Sadly, many jobs don’t pay well. With the internet, it’s possible to look up any job and get an idea about how much it pays. If you don’t make enough money at your job, why did you take that job?

  1. Was it because you are in debt and had to take whatever came along?
  2. Did you lose a good job during the recession that you can’t replace?
  3. Did you choose a field based on something other than salary?

If you answer yes to question 3 and chose a career that doesn’t pay much, you really shouldn’t complain. Jim went into teaching knowing that he would top out at around $45,000 with a master’s degree in our district. He never complained when he got tired of earning a low salary. He made connections, worked his butt off on projects, and got another degree to move into a different, better paying position. Why aren’t you doing the same?

If you answered yes to one of the first two questions, maybe now is the time to start developing a side hustle or another job. Yes, it takes up free time. Yes, side jobs can be hard work, but if there is absolutely no chance of increasing salary in your current position, you’ll have to do something different to earn more money.

I am not a huge fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger the person, but I love his ideas about work ethic. This is a quote from a speech he gave at a USC graduation in 2009.

“But if you want to win, there is absolutely no way around hard, hard work.

None of my rules, by the way, of success, will work unless you do. I’ve always figured out that there 24 hours a day. You sleep six hours and have 18 hours left. Now, I know there are some of you out there that say well, wait a minute, I sleep eight hours or nine hours. Well, then, just sleep faster, I would recommend. 

Because you only need to sleep six hours and then you have 18 hours left, and there are a lot of things you can accomplish. As a matter of fact, Ed Turner used to say always, “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.”

I’ll Never Get Promoted

I do realize that some organizations make it hard to get promoted. There might be office politics or unethical employees that always seem to stifle the honest worker. However, is this really the case or are you using it as an excuse? I’ve heard many people complain about these type situations while they are the employees who show up five minutes late and leave 10 minutes early while spending the majority of the work day planning next weekend’s barbeque.

I’ve always thought that with all the jobs I’ve ever had, even the crappy ones, I needed to give my best effort. If your boss doesn’t notice, someone else probably will. In my optometry office, we’ve gotten some of our best employees after “stealing” them from other places. They were noticed for their superior attitude and excellent customer service. I don’t think not getting a guaranteed promotion is an excuse to be a slacker at work.

I Can’t Start My Own Business

I know there are tons of people who want to work for themselves. Why do some people cling to a job they hate instead of going out on their own? There are many reasons not to start your own business, and it’s never a good idea to tell your boss to shove it without a plan in place, but anyone can be an entrepreneur if they want.

You’ll have to work very hard at your business, possibly while still working a full time job. You might not make any money. You might fail miserably, but don’t use the excuse that you can’t. You may not really want to when it comes down to it, but that’s much different than can’t.

Stop Comparing Yourself To Others

It’s also OK to be happy with the status quo. We often compare ourselves to everyone else and think we need to be making a certain salary or socking away so much every month. While I do like to use other people’s achievements as motivation, I don’t feel the need to imitate anyone. Work out your own numbers and decide if you need to move ahead at your job or if you’re fine with what you have.

There is probably an excuse as to why you can’t get ahead at work. There might be multiple ones, but that’s all they are. An excuse isn’t concrete. It can’t hold you back unless you let it.

Are you letting excuses hold you back at work? Who do you think is to blame for why people can’t get ahead at work? 



About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I think the “I can’t own my own business” one is something that should be looked at closer. I think some people like the IDEA of owning their own business, but in reality they would not like all the work and sacrifice that goes into actually building a business out of nothing, or even running one that they purchase that is already established.

    • The idea is amazing. Working for yourself, setting your own hours… but you do have to generally work lots harder than as an employee. You can, but maybe you shouldn’t or don’t really want to.

  2. I think that all of these excuses are a great example of people who have a bent toward negativity and it seems as though when people only focus on that bad things, then those are the things that will occur. I have naturally been an optimistic person and even though I have struggles, I am thankful that I can keep a positive mindset and not make excuses about what is happening in my life.

    • I do believe that negative things happen more often to negative people. If I go out with a group and one of us is the Debbie Downer, it’s always Debbie whose order gets screwed up or gets over charged. It can’t always be coincidence.

  3. People are always so quick to judge other people’s success. It’s crazy! People call me an elitist all the time. In fact, someone told me to “check my white privilege” the other day. WTF?!?!?!

    Anyway, people assume that they cannot do it (no matter what “it” is) and they you were only successful because of some special advantage you had or your “privilege.” It’s crazy, but that’s how lazy, negative people operate.

    • I have read some of those comments where they call you elitist, and it cracks me up. You fixed your car with duct tape. What is elite about that? I know your picture is online, but how do people giving you jobs even know what race you are?

  4. I know quite a few people who jump from one entry-level position to another, always complaining about how hard they have it. It’s tough to say much to them though, because it’s obvious that they aren’t trying to go the extra mile to prove their worth. That’s not a job-related issue!

    • I always would cringe when I would get a resume from someone who changed jobs every year. I know in this day and age that you can’t expect people to work in one job for 30 years, but changing jobs every 8 months is not a way to rise up the ladder.

  5. I think it can be easy to make excuses about not getting ahead at work, though in so many of the cases it’s going to point back to you as the individual. In my experience I’ve found that most of the time it comes down to negativity, the person never being happy/satisfied or just not wanting to put in the work. I love that Schwarzenegger quote btw!

  6. Most of the people who claim they can’t get ahead at work are the same ones who never skip a break or lunch to get a project completed. Or they frequently arrive late and are standing by the door with their purse or briefcase in hand ten minutes before the clock hits 5PM. They are making personal phone calls all day long, or are on social media websites when they should be doing data input. Reading Holly’s comment above enrages me because the people shrieking white privilege probably never stopped to think that many people work their butts off to achieve what they have. It tells me that they subscribe to the Henny Penny economics. You know, Henny Penny was the little chicken who sowed the seed, hoed the garden, harvested the garden and cooked the meal, and then all the other animals showed up at her door wanting supper. There is too much of this in the U.S. and unfortunately our current administration is promoting class envy by its rhetoric on income re-distribution and the wage gap.

    • I think there are probably a few trust funders and people out there born with a silver spoon, but the vast majority of successful people do work their butts off. It’s not a lottery system that dictates who gets ahead.

  7. I’m one of those people who doesn’t like my job, but I’m trying like hell to figure out the next step. I think that’s the challenging part…once you figure it out you can work towards something, but when you don’t have a clue…I think that’s why I’m trying to many things on the side, to see if something sticks. No matter what though, I take full responsibility for everything…every choice…everything. At least I own that. 🙂

    • Tonya, I know it’s going to come. I have no idea what either, but I know you’re doing all the right things.

  8. Backstabbers should be avoided like the plague. These are the ones that take credit for the work you have done. When promotion times comes all your projects suddenly become theirs….

  9. We love to find excuses for why we can’t get ahead in life or at work. I’m sure I’m guilty of making excuses too at times but I try to own what I do and take responsibility. If I’m unhappy, then I figure out why and what changes need to be made. It can be scary making those changes and that’s where I think a lot of people hit the pause button. They go back to complaining because they don’t know how or are scared to move forward. We may “hate” a job but we are comfortable there. I would rather take charge and go into unchartered territory than remain unhappy. Life is too short!

    • I do catch myself using excuses as well. I have to realize that I choose to do or not do just about everything. Sometimes it’s OK to choose not to do something at work if it means a better life balance, but then you can’t complain about it!

  10. To get ahead at work requires you show the company your value. There has to be a reason for them to promote you and that is not going to happen if all your doing is punching a clock everyday. Go above and beyond the call of duty…get noticed…be a team player…and quit complaining/gossiping. Do those things and if nothing happens, it’s time to move on.

  11. I was kinda stuck in this rut until I read the book Secrets of the Millionaire Mind. Now, I’m Mr. positive. I’ve seen great results to far by adopting a positive attitude about most things.

  12. Love the Arnold quote, and it’s so, so true. People are always looking for a shortcut, a free ride, and when they can’t find one, the excuses start streaming out. There’s no way around hard, hard work if you truly want success. This is what separates the men from the boys, so to speak.

  13. I think I was a much harder worker when I was in my 20’s, but I was also much more afraid of taking risks. I would stick with a job that I hated, and that I knew wouldn’t go anywhere, rather than take a chance, and risk failing, at something else.

    As I get older, I find myself thinking a lot more about my priorities, and what I value, and making choices accordingly. And, perhaps more importantly, acknowledging that my life is a result of my choices. I can’t just whine about the fact that I don’t make more money, because I haven’t really done anything to change that situation. I could find a job that pays more. I could pick up a second job, or freelance on the side. But right now, I have other things that I’ve prioritized for my time. That’s my choice, and my income reflects that choice. I think realizing that my life is a result of my choices, and therefore I have control over what happens (to a large extent), helps me to be happier with my life. If I’m not happy, then I have the choice to make changes.

  14. Your billboard reminds me of a boss I had a long time ago. He use to always say, whenever you have a difficult task, hire a lazy person to do it. They will figure out the most efficient way to do it.

    That is a great saying by Arnold. I am a 100% believe that anyone in America can be a millionaire if they work hard enough. And despite all of the ‘performance Enhancing Drugs” Arnold may have ingested, it still took hard work to build muscle.

    All of the drugs in the world wont make a fat man win world competitions, or even local ones.

  15. Excuses don’t hurt anyone except yourself. Always doing the right thing and keeping things positive is the only real way to get ahead at work.

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