How to Get Out of That Rut & Push Your Career Forward

Is your career in a rut? Today I want to address this head on – why our careers get caught in ruts, and how to get them out.

We Let Ourselves Off Too Easy

Every day, I look for inspiration anywhere I can find it – musicians, athletes, artists, entrepreneurs or an unusually helpful person at the ice cream shop. I’m inspired by people who put in WAY more effort than everyone else, and reap the rewards. I think this is why our culture is so enamored with the Olympics.

But most of us don’t perform to the level of Olympic athletes. Why is that? Do we blame innate skill, personal discipline, company culture, or something else? Don Dodge has some ideas…

Dan BlankDon Dodge explains how Google’s goal setting for their employees is so much different than any other company he’s worked for:

“Google sets impossible bodacious goals…and then achieves them. The engineering mindset of solving the impossible problem is part of the culture instilled in every group at Google. Tough engineering problems don’t have obvious answers. You need to invent the solution, not just optimize something that exists. Every quarter every group at Google sets goals, called OKRs, for the next 90 days. Most big companies set annual goals like improving or growing something by x%, and then measure performance once a year. At Google a year is like a decade. Annual goals aren’t good enough. Set quarterly goals, set them at impossible levels, and then figure out how to achieve them. Measure progress every quarter and reward outstanding achievement.”

“OKRs are Objectives and Key Results. I submitted my Q1 OKRs with what I thought were aggressive yet achievable goals. Not good enough. My manager explained that we needed to set stretch goals that seemed impossible to fully achieve. Hmmm…I said “This is just a 90 day window and we can predict with reasonable accuracy what is achievable. Why set unrealistic goals?” Because you can’t achieve amazing results by setting modest targets. We want amazing results. We want to tackle the impossible.”

Oftentimes we don’t push ourselves hard enough, and we set our goals way too low. We also under-utilize our existing resources – making poor use of those we have, and pretending that we couldn’t possibly achieve our goals without additional help.

For example – consider how different the experience is between going to the gym by yourself, and going with a personal trainer:

  • Working out by yourself: Sure you may push yourself REALLY hard on Monday, but then feel soar on Tuesday and tell yourself you should take it easy that day. On Wednesday you put in a decent workout, then you take off Thursday because you feel your muscles need to recover. Etc etc.
  • Working out with a personal trainer: I’ve had plenty of friends tell me how they go to a workout with their personal trainer on a Monday – and they kick their butt – working them really hard. Then, on Tuesday, the personal trainer works you JUST as hard as they do on Monday. Then, on Wednesday, they work you JUST as hard as the previous two days.

I’m not advocating which is a better way to build a healthy body – but that without an extreme expectation, it is all too easy to stop after we’ve “done just enough.” But “just enough” is rarely enough to reach your goals.

There is No “There” There

When trying to get out of your rut and achieve amazing goals, don’t get distracted by seemingly ‘new’ things that you feel are the key to your future, but are really distractions.

Think about how the music industry or newspapers approached transitions in their business – and miscalculated at every step. Clearly, each did LOTS of stuff to try to evolve, but they always picked the wrong thing.

They spent a lot of time focusing on tactics, and not on listening to their customers and making strategic changes to the value they provide. It’s the same as people who get on Twitter and think that alone means they have an online marketing strategy.

I love the phases “There is no there there.” What it means (to me) is that we often chase something outside of ourselves, thinking that if we possessed that thing, then we would achieve our goals. That if we moved to that dream city, all would be golden.

But the solution to your problems does not lie outside of you. It is all about making the best with what you have, wherever you are. The solution is already inside of you – in your head and in your hands.

You Have to Iterate Your Way to Success

If your goal is “I want to be a published author” and you have no measurable steps to get there, then you are VERY unlikely to achieve that goal. Why? Because you will get lost in a sea of 100 tactics that you pursue without any strategy, benchmarks or smaller goals along the way.

Think about diets that work and diets that don’t. You don’t lose 100 lbs by saying: “One year from now, I will step on a scale, and I expect to be 100 lbs lighter!”

Instead, you measure your food portions and your daily activity. You set weekly goals, and monthly goals. You track performance and you iterate as you go along. You rethink every process and resource you have, you create new systems and constantly see which work and which don’t.

You need the same thing to develop your career and achieve your goals.

Reverse Engineer the Life You Want

Where do you want to be a year from now? What is an achievable goal that would build the life and career you want? Let’s look at an example. Here’s the premise: you are an accountant who has been writing fiction stories for years, but has never been published. More than anything, you want to be known as a writer & author, not just an accountant. Okay, here we go:

  • 1 Year Goal: Build an Audience of 1,000 engaged Fans of your stories. This can be measured in a number of ways, but let’s just assume that since you don’t have a lot of extra income or connections in the publishing industry, you will measure it by Facebook fans, newsletter subscribers, Twitter followers, event attendees, website visitors, or the like.
  • Quarterly Goals: How many stories must you publish each quarter? What is the ramp up to your 1,000 fans? Is it split evenly 250 each quarter, or do you plan on backloading it once momentum starts: 100 fans for Q1, 200 fans for Q2, 300 fans for Q3 and 400 fans for Q4. How else will you know if your goals are on track as the year evolves?
  • Monthly Goals: What tactics will you employ? Consider both content and marketing initiatives. How many new stories must you share each month. Who will you partner with the access this audience? Maybe you want 1 new story posted each week, and 1 new partnership established each month.
  • Weekly & Daily Goals: This is where the real work lies – breaking down the larger strategies into daily goals & tactics.

Inherent in all of this is not just that we are setting goals, but we are defining HOW those goals will be measured. What’s more, we are focusing on things that you yourself can control.

If you said “I want to have a book deal with a major publisher within 1 year,” that is an awesome goal; but if you are an unknown writer with zero publishing industry connections, that goal can be largely out of reach and out of your control. At the very least, it is far less likely than you creating 1,000 engaged fans. Why not at least start there?

Instead focusing on the book as the goal, think of the audience as the goal.

Work on building your author platform, and creating an audience for your work. This will serve the larger goal of eventually being published, but by focusing on achievable shorter term goals to get there.

But don’t forget the Google example above – be aggressive about pushing yourself to this goal. If you want to really push it further – then expand it from 1,000 fans to 10,000 fans, plus add in that you want 10 media mentions a month, and to meet (in person) 100 published authors this year.
My point is this: to get out of a rut and achieve your goals, you need to be specific about what you will achieve and how you will do it.


You Are Not Your Job Title, You Are Your Passion

So many of us get caught in ruts, buried under too many tasks, and trapped between competing priorities. With work, family, hobbies and financial obligations, it’s easy to wake up one day – when you are 32 or 42 or 52 and think, “How did I get here? Where am I going?”

Dan BlankSo today, I want to talk about ruts, about how we define ourselves and about how we grow.

Spinning Your Wheels But Not Getting Anywhere

I know so many happy people – thankful appreciative people – who, deep down, feel a great deal of angst that they are not achieving what they hoped to in this world.

Do you feel like 1 in a million in your career? Do a search on LinkedIn for the term “IT Manager” and it delivers 1,561,076 results. “Administrative Assistant” gives you 450,404 results. “Marketing Director” gives you 1,391,058 results.

If your title is one of these – it’s easy to see why someone would feel like a cog in the machine – and begin to wonder: “Do I matter? Is this the legacy I wanted to build?”

I think the web empowers us in many ways, but it also fuels the realization that others are achieving the goals that you wanted for yourself.

How Do You Structure Your Personal & Professional Growth?

For many folks, the first 21 years of their lives are highly structured, with systems in place to push us forward every few months into a new semester, a new class, a new test, and a new set of people. The world kicks us to the next stage.

But after age 21, that tends to slow down dramatically.

Did you meet as many people between ages 21-31 as you did from ages 11-21? Did you push yourself in as many new directions, stay up late learning about new things, did you make as many decisions about your future?

Oftentimes as adults, we pursue opportunities as they arise, and we approach them cautiously, to ensure there is little risk. But this cautiousness can lead us to stagnation… as it seems safer to stay with what we know, than to make a change that can risk how we define ourselves or provide for our families.

So the question is: how do you structure personal and professional growth? How do you start down a new path?

The Question Isn’t “How,” But Rather: “When.”

If you want your career to move in a new direction, if you want to redefine your value to the world and the legacy you are building, it is not a question of “how” to do it, but rather of “when” you do it.

Nobody has the safe and easy answer for how to move forward. No scheduling or productivity tool in the world will suddenly free up 2 hours in your day so you can focus on learning a new skill.

And the answer to the question of “when” is always the same:


Because if you don’t do it right now, then you never will.

Defining Your Value

You are not your job title. This idea is so counter-intuitive in the U.S., it bears repeating: YOU ARE NOT YOUR JOB TITLE.

This can be both humbling and empowering. If you are a CEO at a huge company, you may not want to hear that. The job title is an affirmation of your years of struggle, determination and achievement.

But if you are a middle manager at a middling company, sitting in a gray cube all day, the idea that ‘you are not your job title’ may be a revelation.

What if you could redefine the value you deliver to your community and to the world? What if people would look at you in an entirely new light – what would you want that to be?

What if you could choose the one thing you are most passionate about, and be known for that?

To move in this direction – the solution is very much about learning, about development, about pushing yourself and very much about breaking down the walls that box us in.

In the coming months, I will be launching some online courses – ways for us to work together to redefine your career, grow your skills and connect with a community you believe in.

So let me know if you are in a rut – let me know where you want to be – and let me know how I can help. @DanBlank.



The Secret to Achieving Your Goals Online: Perseverance

How do people succeed when building their brands online? That’s a question I’ve been researching. And I have to say, when I found the answer, it surprised me.

Regardless of your goals, there is one overarching secret to success. This is the secret talked about in the early part of the 20th century by Napoleon Hill, and it is the same secret that I keep hearing again and again from successful entrepreneurs and those who have build powerful personal or business brands online.

Dan BlankIn fact, it is so well proven, that it can hardly be called a secret.

So what is the secret to success? Perseverance.

I know, you were hoping I’d say something else. Something that was easier, something you could buy or obtain to ensure success. But that thing doesn’t exist. There is no get rich quick scheme or miracle diet. There is no SEO tactic, no newsletter list building secret, no WordPress plugin that delivers the value you are looking for. There is only perseverance.

So today, I want to talk a bit about what that means when considering how to succeed online while you are building your brand, creating great content, and connecting with your community.

The Difference Between Being Successful and Failing

If I had to explain the background of most successful people, it would go like this:

Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Succeed.

It’s funny, this is why the phrase ‘fail early and fail often’ has become so popular. Ironically, Jason Fried of 37 Signals has a rant about how much he hates that saying, yet attributes the huge success of his Signal vs. Noise blog to perseverance. Inherently, perseverance implies that you kept going, long after all signs pointed to failure.

So what separates those who succeed from those who don’t? Well, this is the background of most people who don’t succeed at their goals:

Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail. Fail.

Most people stop trying just short of reaching their goal. They get burned out, they refuse to innovate, they listen to all the voices around them that say “Why are you bothering, you are just embarrassing yourself.”

The Harder You Work, The Luckier You Get

I am a huge fan of the website, where Andrew Warner interviews entrepreneurs 5 days a week. When explaining his own experiences in building his website, he said that if you go from posting 1 video a week to posting 5 videos a week, the gain in traffic and influence is not a five-fold increase. It is exponentially more.

Why is that? One reason is that when people know you are there every day, they make it a part of their routine to check you out. Another is that it increases the chances of serendipity – of luck – by at least 5 fold.

On the web, this can manifest itself in a number of ways: SEO, getting picked up in social media, having the right person see one of your videos, impressing a key influencer, etc. The chances of a 100 good things happening just increased exponentially.

How to Have Perseverance

So how do you ‘get’ perseverance? What’s the secret to the secret? There are lots of ways to describe it, but I will try to sum it up this way: a strong belief in a goal. That’s the secret to perseverance.

So why do people try, try, try and fail?

Lots of reasons. But oftentimes, it is because they didn’t believe strongly enough in the goal. Maybe it was a banana company who saw a market-opportunity by extending their brand into banana flavored gum, but found it difficult to succeed in that market, so they fail.

I’d bet that they failed a lot faster and a lot harder than say Billy Bob’s Gum Company – where Billy Bob is the owner and LOVES gum – thinks about gum every day, and is a third generation gum manufacturer. I would bet that Billy Bob would find a way to make banana flavored gum a success.

So, inherent in this is to not just have a goal, but truly CARE about it. What this often means is that it has to be about more than money.

Often, the goal needs to be so compelling, that it even supersedes basic human emotions. Consider how many of us approached a sport we weren’t good at when we were in elementary school. Let’s just say it was kickball, and you were bad at it. Chances are, you got up to the plate, all the other kids were staring at you, you gave it a good shot, and couldn’t even kick the ball. It was just embarrassing. In all likelihood, as much as you wanted to be good at kickball, you just shied away from it because it was so embarrassing.

Those who succeed, don’t shy away, they don’t stop.

Perseverance in Building Your Brand Online

If you are wondering why your blog is getting no traffic, why no one is following you on Twitter, why your ‘personal brand’ is failing to gain attention online, don’t look in the mirror and think that it’s just not in the cards for you. It is.

You can succeed in your goals of building your brand, product or service online. But only if you want it more than the next person. Only if you keep posting those blog entries even when it feels stupid. Only when you say to your self “I am failing so badly that it’s embarrassing, but you know what, I’m going to keep trying anyway.”



Why Social Proof is the Key to Building Your Brand Online

Dan BlankI like to think that if someone creates a great piece of work, that the world discovers and spreads it simply because the quality of the work cannot go unnoticed. That greatness is an end unto itself.

But this usually isn’t the case. Great bands are not all discovered. Great paintings sit in attics, unappreciated. Great writing goes unread. Great blogs languish.

So when you approach your goals, sure, you need to create great content, a great product or a great service. But you also to know how to spread the word, and how to ensure it serves a community.

For a long time, we called this “marketing.” I put it in quotes because it tends to refer to traditional broadcast marketing – one person shouting at the crowd. And then shouting again. Then shouting again.

Sure, hat still works and to some degree, that will always work. But it tends to be expensive; And it tends to be hit or miss; And it tends to be annoying.

Oddly enough, Google works in a similar way to how real people work. Let’s consider how Google ranks search results. It doesn’t judge what’s best strictly in terms of ‘quality’ and send people to those web pages. Instead, Google measures a variety of factors, and it gives more credence to what’s popular – what has gained STATUS.

Google doesn’t have time to judge content based strictly on the quality of the content alone. And let’s face it, neither do most people. It’s too much effort and too subjective. So we look for social guideposts to trust. Google does this. People do this.

For example, we don’t all use Facebook because we each individually reviewed their feature set and judged it to be a superior social network. We simply went where our friends were. Likely, each and every one of us were holdouts in some way or another, unconvinced of Facebook’s value until ENOUGH social proof was there to bother joining.

When you create your blog, when you become active on Twitter, when you build your online brand (be it personal or business), consider the social proof that exists on the web pointing to your value.

How do you create your social proof? Well, it’s all about sharing, caring and helping.

Sounds silly, I know.

Some people feel that social proof is a numbers game. So they follow 20,000 people on Twitter, hoping that 20,000 people follow them back. They connect to anyone in the world on LinkedIn to show that they have 500+ connections. They feed the echo chamber of the blogosphere by posting the same news as everyone else.

But there are other ways that value REAL connection, REAL trust, REAL meaning that has little to do with numbers. Do you sleep soundly at night because you know you have 200 ‘friends,’ or because you know you have ONE friend that you can call anytime and who understands you?HUGE difference.

How do you build social proof? Well, you share, care and help. Here are some easy ways to consider:

  • Guest blogging: Offer to share your insights & value on someone else’s blog.
  • ReTweeting great content on Twitter.
  • Book speaking engagements & workshops at local & industry events.
  • Comment on people’s Facebook updates.
  • Become active on LinkedIn Answers (and similar forums).

So inherently, building your own social proof is all about building OTHER PEOPLE’S social proof. Funny how that works. I suppose it’s the whole karma thing.

So if you want to create a great blog, you don’t just show up everyday for your OWN blog, but you also show up for others all over the web. This is what services like StumbleUpon and Digg are created on also. Facebook’s new ‘like’ feature is based on this. The web is increasingly based on this.

When you are trying to build your brand and competencies online, consider the social proof you are building, not just the content alone.

So many writers don’t succeed because they banked on the quality of the writing alone – in isolation. The theory is that one day, SOMEONE will read their work, discover the value, and it will spread like wildfire.

And sure, some artists weren’t appreciated in their own time, but are now hailed as the great masters, whose work trades for millions of dollars. But don’t bank on that happening to you. Build your social proof by matching your great content with the ability to helping and sharing with others.



Social Media Savvy in Just 15 Minutes a Day

Dan BlankThere is no one-size-fits-all way to leverage social media. So today, I want to look at three different ways you can build your brand online, depending on how much time and energy you have on a given day. The goal is to engage with social media without being swallowed by it.

  • Mild Pruning (15 Minutes a Day)
    You are swamped today, you have tons of things to do for work, for your family, for yourself. How do you keep ‘in the loop’ on social media – see and be seen, when your head and body are in 40 other placesThe bottom line is, you are going to have to let some things go when it comes to social media. So let’s focus on the most critical elements.Likely, you won’t have time today to share some incredible thought on Twitter. If you do, that’s awesome. But if not, then you goal should be to find one thing – JUST ONE – that someone you know shared that you think is outstanding.

    Now, be careful to not just go for the biggest story. If you are Tweeting about someone finding the new iPhone in a bar, you have to realize you are the billionth person Tweeting about that.

    Look for the piece of insight that is unique, helpful and intriguing. Something that wouldn’t normally hit everyone else’s radar.

    This is how you are helping ADD to the conversation, not just be another wall in the echo chamber.

    So how do you find this one incredible item with just 15 minutes in your day. I’ll give you two ideas.

    First: use a program like Tweetdeck, and create a ‘high priority’ list of people you follow. Just 10-20 people who are a bit off the radar or are incredible thinkers and sharers. The connectors of the world. If you have this column, their Tweets will be easy to follow.

    If you don’t have that kind of setup, then it’s just a matter of scanning Twitter with purpose. I follow 500+ people, and sometimes I have those days: zero time, but I still want to be present, and still want to share something cool.

    So this part is all about self-discipline. Scanning the people you follow on Twitter quickly, without getting distracted by anything but that one nugget of gold. Sometimes I will go through Twitter, and copy and paste multiple ‘potential’ ReTweets into a text file, and then decide which one is most valuable and unique only once I have found several candidates. This may sound silly, but sometimes I ReTweet too quickly, and realize that many many others have already Tweeted about the same story already. What this means is that the unique value of my Tweet would be diminished unless I chose something VERY helpful, but a bit off the radar.

  • Mid-Level Landscaping (1 Hour a Day)
    Perhaps you have a busy day, with a few meetings at work, a deadline coming up in three days, and the usual lot of email. But you know you will have little breaks throughout the day, enough time and space in your head to actively engage in social media – how do you do it most effectively?They key is to have specific goals and then chunk those goals into segmented blocks throughout your day.

    Some goals might be: monitor mentions of your company on social media; identify 5 new people who are interested in your field; create status updates yourself; push forward relationships via @replies, comments on blogs and forum updates; etc.

    For each of these, set priorities and a specific focus. If you know you can spend a single hour of time on social media today, create a schedule, perhaps something like this:

    30 minutes: 10am-10:30am to check status updates from all of your connections across social networks and send out one update on each yourself.
    15 minutes: 1:15pm-1:30pm to check status updates again and reply to people via @replies, comments, etc.
    15 minutes: 4:15pm-4:30pm to give one last check in on status updates and replies.

    In this example, we made a few choices. First, we are only focusing on business hours, which tends to be the time that many social networks are most active. Second, we created clear but simple goals and spread them out. It’s a mistake to think you can just write a blog post and share it in 30 minutes. Maybe you can, but you know what, maybe you can’t. Third, we combined listening & sharing, the two most important ways to use social media.

    This was a pretty simple example, but this structure really works wonders, and takes the pressure off of ‘keeping up with social media’ when you have a pretty full day with other priorities.

    The overall goal here is to: Be present on social media, but also be present in the rest of your life as well.

  • Full-On Gardening (2 Hours a Day)
    Whether it’s because you have a chunk of free time, or because you have a need to aggressively ‘be there’ in social media, you need to attack the day, ensuring that you connect and create as much as possible online. You are on a mission, you need to grow.Inherently, this is about LISTENING, and there are so many ways to do this. From reading Tweets of those you follow, to leveraging Twitter search, reading blogs, asking & answering questions on LinkedIn and uploading photos to Facebook. And heck, that could just be for starters.

    The danger here is that you can get lost in social media, and get to the end of your week having created nothing.

    Being active on social media can sometimes be akin to running on a treadmill and not getting anywhere.

    So you need to start the day with goals that are meaningful and measurable. For this step I will simply recommend the advice I shared yesterday:

    Creation before connection.

Overall, regardless of the time you have available, the goal is to engage, create and help. Whether you can focus on 1 great interaction per day, or 20, make sure that you are creating unique value for yourself and your community.