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Leadership Thought #464 – Embrace What Makes You Special

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to be what you are not.  There are a lot of books out there that tell you that you can be anything you want to be, but this simply is not true.  No matter how hard I try, there are certain things I just can’t do or won’t be able to do well.  It has saddened me to watch so many people regularly set themselves up for failure with unrealistic expectations about what is possible for them and others.  Instead of trying to force yourself into a role/career/opportunity that isn’t right for you, why not embrace who you are and what makes you special and tap into that?

I firmly believe that each one of us is born with gifts and unique talents we can share with others and excel at. Unfortunately, at an early age we are thrust into an educational/social system that pushes us to conform and defines what success within this system should look like.  And like most ingrained systems, the model is outdated and serving the purpose of prior generations. Very early on life we are taught that there are winners and losers and that winning requires certain characteristics and attributes that only a select few possess.  Moreover, the path towards achievement is narrowly defined and more often than not materialistic in nature.  I believe this partially explains our dysfunctional societal obsession with celebrity and wealth.  Don’t buy into it!

One of things I marvel at in life is how different we all are from one another.  Sure, there are obvious physical similarities, but in the course of any given day I meet people who blow me away with their individuality.  Some people can fix anything with little guidance; others can solve complex mathematical problems in their head, while others are quick on their feet and handle any social situation.  I’ve witnessed creative minds that operate on a level I can’t even fathom.  Some people thrive under stress while others fall apart.  Science is fun for some people and a bore for others.  There are people who are so physically gifted they make any athletic activity look smooth and easy while others stumble attempting the most basic physical task.  There are people who look for the spotlight and others who run from it.  Some people like to lead while many more want nothing to do with it.  Our differences are vast and wonderful. None of the above is good or bad; it just makes you who you are.  And, the more we try and put ourselves in situations where we are pre-programmed to thrive, the happier we will be.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written extensively about a state of being called “flow” where you feel perfectly aligned with what you are doing.  Time seems to stand still, you feel an innate sense of joy and your efforts feel almost effortless.  At this moment you are one with nature and your own being.  We’ve all experienced these moments, but sadly they are usually few and far between.  Reality quickly returns and we are back on the treadmill of life, trying to survive our own existence by doing what we feel we should be doing.  I’ve never like the word “should.”  Of course there are family and civic responsibilities we must attend to, however, this is only part of who we are, not all of it.  I’ve been privileged to experience a number of people who have followed what Joseph Campbell termed their “bliss” and lived wonderful lives doing unique things that an objective outside person couldn’t imagine would lead to any level of success, but it did. Never forget that true success is an individual definition.   Happy people make better spouses, parents, siblings, friends and bosses.

Shakespeare stated it perfectly centuries ago, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”  To be of maximum service and value to others we must first be true to ourselves.  Please don’t spend a lifetime trying to be someone you are not.  Instead, celebrate and tap into what is great about you already.  Pay attention to the positive signals the world is giving you.  Look for and be open to the “flow” of life and it will find you…

Leadership Thought #459 – 7 Tips You Ensure You Hit Your Goals/Resolutions for 2014

goal

goal (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Most of us will start the New Year with a list of goals we would like to achieve over the course of the next year.  Making New Years‘ Resolutions has become an American pastime.  Unfortunately, a majority of us will end up falling far below our initial expectations.  For some reason we either lose interest, become distracted by other things, or find the goals end up requiring more than we are willing to give to get there.   Over the years I’ve observed a much smaller number of people who actually achieve what they set out to do each and every year.  From this experience, I’ve developed the following tips to help you become one of these lucky few:

1) First and foremost, pick a goal you genuinely want to achieve not something you think you should be focused on or feel pressured by others to get done.  When our will is tested our real level of commitment typically becomes apparent.  People who aren’t committed to stopping smoking won’t do it; however, they may start eating healthier and/or start doing exercises that increase their lung capacity;

2) Be very specific about what you want to achieve.  Saying I want to lose weight or save more money is too vague.  Making it something more concrete like I want to lose 15 pounds by Memorial Day Weekend or have my resting heartbeat drop to 60 beats per minute by softball season or I will finish the first draft of my book by Halloween;

3) Push yourself but be somewhat realistic.  If you make $75K a year, saving $25K probably isn’t doable, but $7,500 may be.  If you want to still aim high, create a stretch goal above and beyond your desired outcome, but make sure there is some level of success that is initially achievable and worth celebrating;

4) Be transparent about your goals with close friends/and or loved ones and make your progress highly visible.  Put this information on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, as your screen saver, tape it to your desk, etc. – the more places the better. In addition, start and end each day by reading them out loud;

5) Break your goal down into smaller increments so that you build up positive momentum throughout the course of the year.  Reducing personal debt by 25% sounds great, but how will this happen, e.g., increasing monthly payments by 5% each successive month, paying off highest interest credit cards  first (1 at a time), etc.;

6) Have a goal buddy who has a similar mindset that you check in with on a regular basis, at least once per quarter, but preferably every month. You’d be surprised how just talking with someone regularly increases individual accountability.  You’ll also both get goal fatigue at some point in the year and the other person will help you stay focused;

7) Establish an additional attractive payoff once you have achieved the goal like buying new summer clothes if you lose weight, or going on a more active fun vacation if you get more fit, or starting a regular fun/entertainment budget once you are out of debt.  We tend to stay focused on not just what we measure but also what we reward.

I have been fortunate to have a pretty good track record of achieving my own goals on an annual basis although I do plan on pushing myself a bit more this year.  I honestly believe that most of our limitations in life are self-imposed and we are all capable of achieving whatever we want when we put our minds to it.   I sincerely hope that 2014 is a banner year for you and that you use the following seven tips to help get you there.  Happy New Year!

Leadership Thought #286 – You Either Hit Your Goals Or You Don’t

As we finish off the final accounting on 2011 it’s a useful exercise to reflect on the past year and how we actually performed against the goals we set out at the beginning of last year.   I believe you start by being honest with yourself about whether hit your goals or you didn’t.   There should be no wriggle room or rationalizations.  Progress is certainly good, but it is no substitute for achievement.  Too often in business and life we accept less than stellar results.

There are only five main explanations as to why people don’t hit their goals:

  1. They didn’t believe in the goal in the first place;
  2. There were too many other competing goals;
  3. The goals are set too high and were unrealistic;
  4. Lack of support/buy-in from others critical to goal accomplishment;
  5. A significant personal or professional event intervened and diverted your focus.

First, too many people commit to things they think they should be doing rather than focusing on what they truly believe needs to get done.  Success requires some level of passion and commitment.  If the WHY isn’t big enough, then the HOW won’t matter.   It’s easy to lose focus and get off track if you aren’t really committed to the outcome.  Sometimes something sounds important and makes logical sense, but if your heart isn’t in it, it won’t happen.

Second, people have a tendency to set way too many goals.  In their enthusiasm at the beginning of the year they take a laundry list approach to everything they want to get done and lose all sense of perspective and prioritization.  If everything is a priority, then noting truly is.  Goals shouldn’t be something that would be nice to do, but rather those things you feel compelled to do because of their importance and overall impact on your personal or professional life. I advise my clients and friends to have no more than 5-7 major goals in a given year.

Third, there’s a difference to setting a stretch goal and being completely unrealistic.   There has to be some reasonable chance you can hit your goal. I do have some colleagues/clients who believe that if you set very challenging goals you may not achieve them but the act of trying to get there pushes you to perform at more elevated level than expected. Personally I don’t subscribe to this mindset, but even if you do, there should be some minimal threshold of what is acceptable progress and this bar should be relatively high otherwise you will get used to the idea of ”good enough”  which rarely ever is.

Fourth, no one lives in a vacuum. We are dependent upon other people all the time to get what we want and need.  If your goal requires significant input/effort/support from someone else, you better make sure they are on board with the goal in the first place.  The quickest path to frustration is to assume that your priority is someone else’s priority (even if you pay them to help you).  Goal alignment is the necessary lubricant for success if you want to have any chance of getting there

Finally, the first four reasons are within the realm of our control.  If we are aware of the obstacles going in we can do something about them.  However sometimes extraordinary (often unseen) events do occur and derail our focus and progress.  There is not much you can do when this happens except reprioritize your efforts around what’s now most important.  Instead of beating yourself up for not being successful, revisit what you originally planned and make reasonable adjustments based of the first four explanations and impact of what you are now dealing with. Don’t lose site of the original destination, but instead design a different possibly longer route to get there.

I encourage you never to get comfortable with non-performance.  It becomes too easy to rationalize why things didn’t happen and live a mediocre life.  As time goes by, the gap between who you wanted to be and who you have become only widens and leads to a negative self-image, bitterness, worry and discontent.  You either hit your goals or you don’t – it’s that simple.

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