It is my opinion that to maximize one’s potential, not just to achieve but to contribute, that goals are a vital tool.
Goals enable the mind and body to organize resources in a manner that create a favorable outcome. Goals are the north star by which we can build the habits and systems that lead to a brighter future. I’d go so far as to say that humans are designed to be goal-seeking animals, with important aspects of our brain and physiology “lighting up” when pursuing a worthy goal.
You might think, by the tone of the past few sentences, that I think goals, and their achievement, are all that matter when it comes to living a full and successful life. If you believe that, you are incorrect.
For a moment, I’d like you to paint a vivid picture in your mind’s eye. Imagine that you’ve just survived a grueling interview process for a fantastic job. Everyone loved you. You get the offer and accept!
After joining the new team, you take your time to ramp up and learn. Slowly but surely, the days tick by as you struggle to learn the ropes and pick your big project to focus on.
Fast forward a year into the future, and you feel like you are stuck. Your last project was completed, but your boss didn’t seem pleased with the outcome. You are working hard but having a tough time getting things done. You don’t have the allies you need to push decisions up and across various chains of command. You don’t feel like you are on the same page as your management team.
Fast forward two years, and you know the jig is up. This role hasn’t worked out. While you aren’t being told to leave, you can see the writing on the wall. Before the hammer can drop, you decide to resign to seek a new challenge. It’s a bitter ending to what seems like a sweet once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity.
This story, as sad as it may be to travel through in your mind’s eye, is all too real for many highly qualified and determined professionals.
This blog post is designed to help you be among those who succeed and not the many who fail.
80,000 hours. That is how long you can expect work over the course of your lifetime. I’m well on my way, approaching the 35,000-hour mark by now.
I’ve done my fair share of work. First in the accounting department of an airline (not awesome). Then at an investment bank (surprisingly boring). Finally, I spent about 14 years at Microsoft Corporation (great place to work). Now I’m an entrepreneur (ahhh…finally!).
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how work can impact life and vice versa. I’ve seen what helps me get ahead and what holds me back.
I’ve learned what to do. I’ve learned what not to do!
If I could turn back time, there are plenty of things I would have done differently. Here are 12 things I wish I knew when I first started working:
By early I am 5 AM early. In most locales and times of the year, this is before the sun rises. Here as I write this article, in January in Golden, Colorado, it’s pitch black at 5 AM. It’s also cold. When I wake this early, the first thing I do is turn up the heater!
For the past several years I’ve taken to waking up early. I’ve aspired to join the 5 AM club, but more often end up waking in the 6 AM range. No alarm clock needed. I’ve been going to sleep earlier than normal and moderating my caffeine use. The result is a natural 6 AM wake up.
For the past week, I’ve made it a primary goal to focus on waking at 5 AM instead. I tell myself that this is what I want to do, and make sure I’m in bed a little earlier than normal. The result has been that I’ve been getting up without any alarms at 5 AM or before! Here are my daily wake up times over the past week (January 29 - February 4):
This post is about what I’ve noticed in the past week of waking up at 5 AM. There are a lot of articles out there telling you that you should be an early riser. It is more useful to share my experience and let you decide for yourself.
As a kid, I loved cheat codes. With the flick of a few buttons, you could do the impossible. Run through walls. Stomp on the bad guys. Rescue the princess. Explore without worry from marauding bandits. These codes were passed around in school hallways on slips of paper (before the internet folks!). If you were lucky enough to browse a game magazine at the bookstore, you could swipe a few and have the most valued information of the day, at least according to your grade-school peers!
Game Developers would create these codes to test a game to make sure it worked. Of course, nothing stays secret forever. You might think that cheat codes would make games less fun to play, but it actually did the opposite. It made me more curious to start over and play the game for real!
I'm now decades away from being a "gamer." Instead, I've been spending my time researching and thinking about what it is that makes some people so effective at their work, and others mildly so. Sure, there might be asymmetries in innate talent across a population. Yet, there are enough successful people who succeed in spite of their challenges that it leads me to believe that there is more in our control than we think.
In video game parlance, "God Mode" enables capacities of invulnerability (you cannot get hurt) as well as invincibility (others get hurt by your touch). Is there such a concept that would apply to being superhuman at work? I think so. Invulnerability would take the form of not being disturbed by the actions of others. Invincibility would mean being able to produce high quality and valued work, consistently.
The drawback of God Mode as it appears in video games is that it is often fleeting. When it comes to a career, it can be unlocked in a manner that is far more lasting. In fact, it can grow stronger and stronger over time.
If God Mode in games is attributed to superhuman powers, in the real world, we can equate it to skill. More specifically, skills that are correctly applied to achieve concrete results. How do you deftly build up and use your skills? You do it through directed and consistent FOCUS. Bill Gates, Obama, you, me, a future tech mogul who is currently in grade-school; we all have the same time in the day. But, we all get different sorts of work done and create various levels of impact. The difference is not entirely about luck, it's about the cumulative focus we've applied to achieve something we care about.
Focus is ridiculously hard, particularly in a world that is conspiring to steal your attention. It is, however, something that can be trained, like a muscle. Done well, it will be as if you have a "cheat code" to standing out in your career.
This article marks the second full year of my being a business owner. Before that, I worked in the corporate world for my entire adult life.
I always considered myself a business savvy person. I read the Wall Street Journal and dreamed of working on Wall Street from the time I was in 5th grade (strange, I know!). I ended up, luckily, not on Wall St., but instead working in the world of High Tech. My roles had businessy titles like Financial Analyst, Business Development Analyst, Product Manager, Principal Product Planner, Director of Business Planning and the like. I worked on acquisitions, product planning, innovation and strategy projects. I used to think that I knew how businesses worked and how to build products customers would enjoy.
I figured that when it came time to do my own thing, I'd have a pretty easy time of it. After all, with no one else to slow me down, I should be able to run wild with my ideas and make them happen! Right? I always imaged that running my business would easier than working for a big company. It could be simple, and I would get to call all the shots. I couldn't have been more wrong!
Running a business, even as a solo-preneur or freelancer, is hard. It doesn't matter if you were a rainmaker at a large company there is nothing that compares with the challenges of doing your own thing.
In spite of all these problems, millions of people in the USA alone venture to run their businesses. What is it that draws people to something that is so difficult? The benefits - the lure of freedom and autonomy - as well as the chance to create something that is only in your mind's eye, is very tempting.
Two years ago I took my leap from corporate worker to entrepreneur. Actually, before that, I took the leap to being a world traveler....then leaped to start my business. I expected small challenges along the way, but nothing major. What actually happened was completely different than my expectations.
Now, looking back, I'm glad I didn't know how much effort it would take to get where I am today (which is still not sunshine and unicorns). Yet, I'm glad I did it. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I've become a stronger and more capable human being along the way. I'm also far more empathetic to the struggles of people who are trying create something from scratch.
Here are the essential lessons I've learned in the past two years.
Do you think it’s possible to accomplish your biggest life goals this year or less? Peter Thiel thinks so. In his book, Zero to One, Peter shares this bit of wisdom:
Q: What do you wish you know about business 20 years back?
A: There’s no need to wait. I went to law school and Stanford, but it wasn’t till I started PayPal that I realized that you don’t have to wait to start something. If you have a 10-year plan and know how to get there, you have to ask why can’t you do this in 6 months? Sometimes it’s necessary to go through the 10-year tenure, but you should always ask the question to know whether it is a story you are telling yourself or is that your reality.
I agree with his sentiment. If you want something bad enough, ask yourself if it really needs to take a long time.
This doesn’t mean that the process will be easy, it just means that you may be capable of achieving more than you thought possible.
Who says regret has to be negative? What if regret was all about understanding and learning from our past, for the sake of living a better life today? What if being clear about the things you regret not doing can help you gain certainty over your personal path to happiness?
I now embrace regret. I often think about things I’ve done (or haven’t done) that make me say “I should have done things differently!”
I don’t have many, but there are handfuls that I’ve reflected on as the years’ pass.
I’m now working my way, slowly but surely, towards the age of 40. A lot has happened in the past few years. New career. Marriage. Changing cities. New home. New interests. New friends. My daily routine is almost unrecognizable compared to how I lived even five years ago.
Now, as I reflect back, I notice that there are a few regrets I hold, particularly about things I did not do enough of in my 20’s. As I mention these things, it’s not that I ignored them as I was growing up. I did many of them throughout my teens and twenties. I just didn’t focus on them with a full level of commitment.
As Mark Twain said:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Here are the things that I regret not doing in my twenties. I’m listing them in priority order. The first item is what I regret the most. The last is the one I regret less!
It’s one of the vaguest terms used about excellence at work. Some people seem to have it. Others don’t. For those don’t, the phrase “you lack executive presence” on a formal review can be a death knell for a corporate career. It stalls many middle managers who are looking to break into the executive ranks.
On the flip side, those who have executive presence, seem to have a mysterious quality that propels them forward. Sure, they might do great work as well, but there is capacity they seem to possess that motivates others to follow their leadership (the definition of a leader being one who has followers!) and enables their steady rise up the ranks.
In this blog post, I’ll decode executive presence. It isn’t a magical quality. It is, however, a vague term that if left unexplained will have you avoiding the inner and outer work that is necessary to continue making progress in your career. We can break down executive presence into its fundamental parts, examine them, and use these insights as a tool to zero in the particular behaviors that are present or lacking in your current day to day work.
Don’t let your big, bold and audacious dream for your life suffocate your goals.
Your dream is the type of stuff you would put on your vision board. It represents wants, not needs. Your dream is a no-holds-barred picture of the kind of life you want to live. Dreams aren’t predicated on reality. You don’t need plans in place to back up a dream. Dreams are fun. Dream are also necessary.
Without a dream, motivation can wane. The purpose of near-term tasks and goals fizzle out without something big looming out on the horizon to pull us into the future.
As I’m writing this blog post, in early January 2017, we are also faced with a shocking fact. The vast majority of you, and I mean YOU, will fail in achieving your New Years Resolutions. Take heart, as you will have plenty of company. 90.8% of people fail to realize their resolutions.
That’s insane! Only 9.2% of people achieve the goals they put into place for the new year.
Does this mean the resolutions were meaningless? Does this mean that most people lack the resources and willpower to achieve their goals?
No, it does not!
What it means is that the resolutions are missing something...