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.