In a recent trip to Munich, I ran into a young professional, Alize, who expressed her disdain for the corporate world. I was at the airport and was sitting down reading my book on Personal Branding. Yes, sometimes I actually read my own work. Anyhow, she noticed what I was reading and asked “does that crap really work?” I appreciate that kind of candor. I told her what I do for a living and then replied “it can.” Then, she launches off into her story. She felt she had always gone above and beyond all activities she engaged in. “No matter what I do, it doesn’t seem to matter. I’m tired of working my butt off. Maybe I should just quit. No one seems to care anyhow.” Do you know how she feels? I certainly do. High achievers also have high stress and if not treated, it will eventually break you down. Here’s a little advice on avoiding the mental breakdown.
Alize had been working very hard for many years with little forward mobility. She felt she had outperformed her peers through the development of impressive credentials. Not only did she do her day job but she was also an author, speaker, and entrepreneur and did some consulting work on the side. Alize was bursting at the seams with skills. She had been in the same company for 9 years, pushing very hard every single day to make an impact on the organization and her career. Unfortunately, the only thing she got for her efforts was a huge drain on her energy, motivation and passion. You know the feeling, right?
I said to Alize, “Just QUIT.” By the look on her face, she wasn’t expecting that. I went on to explain that most high achievers work hard for many years, often in the same company. They also work just as hard outside the company. There are several problems with this. First, you run the risk of burnout. I know this illness very well. I told her of my experience about ten or so years ago when I was working on my PhD in Engineering, writing my first book and working full-time while supporting my wife and three kids. There were periods where I had no sense of time. I was just so busy moving from my studies to work to family that I didn’t really stop consider whether the sun was up or down. It didn’t matter. I had a lot to do and not enough time to complete it all. Burnout is tough on you, not just the physical aspect (i.e. stress) but mostly is the impact to your drive and determination. If you let burnout go too far, you may just simply quit and give up on your dreams. You’ll fall in line with the other robots and live a minimalist life. I know you’re thinking surely such a thing doesn’t happen to high achievers, because high motivation runs in their blood. It’s who they are. But….it does happen. After years of working your butt off and failing to get the rewards you feel you deserve, you become cynical. You also feel like you begin losing control and your advice means nothing to anyone. You feel isolated and unsupported. Your work becomes noticeably off, considering it already was out of balance.
The second problem is that Alize didn’t really have a plan or strategy for her career growth. She was just working hard and hoping someone in management would recognize it and reward her. I wasn’t sure how long she was planning to continue with that approach but obviously burnout was going to be the reward she would get. I don’t think working hard in one company for a long time is a bad thing, as there are numerous benefits to such an approach. They challenge is that it’s hard to predict when or if you’ll get a big break. But if this is your approach, you need to plan milestones to achieve and celebrate each accomplishment. Your career will last a long time. It’s actually a length of time so great we can’t really comprehend its entirety. So, we need to establish goals that we can achieve in time periods we can understand.
Alize needed to quit. She has to stop and take a break. When you totally commit yourself to your work, you’ll eventually find that it’s all you got. And if it isn’t rewarded, you’ll eventually lose your passion. Most of us wait for rewards to come from the outside. Me? I understand that organizations don’t really care if I’m an author. They don’t really care that I’m a public speaker. These are great skills to have but if my job doesn’t depend on them greatly, then the only person who will see great value in these skills will be me. I won’t waste a lot of years of my life trying to convince my management that these skills are worth more than they really think they are worth. I may still continue doing them because they bring me some sense of achievement and recognition I’m not getting from my company.
Another big program for many high achievers is that they choose to get all of their rewards for the efforts from the company they work for. Alize admitted that she certainly did. After so many years of little reward, she grew bitter towards the company. The reality we have to face is that our career isn’t on the minds of managers. They are probably more worried about their own career. Alize realized that she needed to quit putting all of her happiness in the success of her job. If after nine years, she didn’t get the rewards she was looking, did it make since to keep working and waiting or should she seek some happiness elsewhere?
Growing a career is difficult to say the least. Many times the things that are getting in our way are the things we put in the way, such as our habits. Sometimes you need to step back and take a close look at what is really working for you. This may mean quitting a few things that just aren’t giving you a return. It will be a mental challenge because you are already too busy and will feel like you’re adding more work on yourself. But what if it starts giving you results? Here are a few things I’ve learned from clients over the years:
- Quit putting all of your happiness in the success of your job….consider a life outside of work.
- Quit waiting for someone to recognize your achievements….celebrate them yourself.
- Quit complaining about your lack of progress….go make something happen.
- Quit believing your barriers are real….run at them head-on and find out for sure.
- Quit using the same strategy that doesn’t work….try something new.
- Quit looking for a fast-track to success….most paths take years of hard work.
- Quit making the wrong impression….if you want to be a big player, dress like one.
- Quit playing with your phone….give people your attention and you’ll get theirs.
- Quit multitasking….do your best work by focusing on the task at hand.
- Quit leading by email….relationships with people are more effective in getting work done.
- Quit relying on your performance only….learn to market yourself.
- Quit trying to create your own success….build a team of supporters.
“Quit” isn’t a bad word. It should be a sign that you’re paying attention to what you are doing and the return you are getting on your efforts. The pace of business today is fast and always changing. This is an indication that your strategies for personal success will need to change too.
So what would you QUIT today?
If you had to identify the biggest challenge most of us have with achieving our goals, you’d probably guess correctly that most of us just don’t plan for it. Sure, we work hard to accomplish specific tasks but we do so with the hope that someone else will see these great feats and automatically make the connection to the next step in our career. We don’t think about what these connections might be or how to make them ourselves. It’s not an easy thing to understand and takes time and analysis to comprehend. But, we don’t take the time or is it that we don’t have the time.
With so many things competing for our attention today, how can we effectively wade through the barrage of information to sort out what is truly important to our career?
In order to understand our challenge a little better, I interviewed David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done,” to find out what we could be doing differently. While the question was directed at MBAs, David’s answer will give everyone the key we’ve been looking for. Here’s part of our discussion.
Todd: What do MBA graduates miss when they develop their career goals?
David: One of the biggest things they miss that they don’t get in their training is to create a personal systemic process to manage keeping their own work and lives under control and being focused on the right things at the right time. This is a core or a meta-behavior or a meta-set of best practices that make all other best practices viable. If you’re out of control and unfocused, you can read all the best “market yourself” books but you won’t be able to execute on it. The critical element is that when you think about going into a job or a career, in terms of how well you manage the stuff you need to manage, you must be able to keep track of it.
It comes down to the two aspects of self-management: control and perspective. The only time you think you need a better system of management is when you think one of these is suboptimal. Either things are not as in control as possible or you feel you’re on unstable ground. If you’re on unstable ground, there’s a part of you that has the inability to focus appropriately or execute appropriately. You don’t have any traction. Even if you’re on stable ground, are you pointed in the right direction? If you’re pointed at the wrong stuff, you’ll create instability again. There’s a direct correlation between control and perspective.
If you have good self management skills, you’re ready for anything. If you have these behavior sets, you are ready for surprises that show up or if things don’t go as expected, you can recalibrate yourself quickly to take in new data, new situations and decide what they mean. Then you can hold this up against everything else you have going on and re-point yourself in the right direction. Simply put, can you keep yourself only as organized as you need to be and no more? [End of Interview]
To maintain control and perspective, you must possess a method that you can refer to when you need it. It must be easy to use. It must be simple. We’re already too busy and a lengthy process would never find time in our calendars. Well, David has suggestions for that too. In his simple approach, you must take the time to understand what it is that is commanding all of your attention. What are all of the things that are living inside your head? When it comes to mental processing, your conscious mind does not do the hard work. Most information goes to your subconscious mind anyway, where your problems are really solved. Your conscious mind actually gets in the way when you have too many things you’re trying to focus your attention on. You subconscious mind wants you to just tell it what you want it to figure out and then forget it. It will do all the work and come back to you with an answer. If you’re constantly thinking about an issue, your subconscious can’t help you figure it out. Your task is to keep your conscious mind clear.
Here’s a tip you can do today that will clear your mind and free up some processor time to solve problems and plan your path. Grab a notebook and write down all the things that are occupying your attention. This could include some basic needs like paying bills, getting new tires for the car, homework for a college course you’re taking, meetings you must attend and so on. This activity can take you several hours to complete. Notice I didn’t mention any work-related, networking or other career-related activities. You must write them all down. Once you complete your list, you’ll find that you normally have a lot on your mind. Most likely, you have too much on your mind and you’re occupying thought time on things you probably shouldn’t be (but this will be addressed later in another step in David Allen’s process).
Well, I hate to leave you with only the first step in this great process but this post is getting too long. Stay tuned for our next ebooks to be released where we’ll share the rest of David Allen’s process for removing the clutter from your conscious mind and how you can put your subconscious mind in top performing condition. You’ve heard the old adage “that life is all about the little things.” Well, it’s those little things that can slow you down in achieving the goals you really want when you spend too much time thinking about them. Free your mind and let it work the way it was meant to.
Thanks to David Allen for a great interview and advice on how we can improve our mental performance. You can learn more about David Allen at www.davidco.com.