Think back to your high school years. Remember that one kid who just seemed to have “it”? The classmate who everyone was sure would be a great success. Mine was smart and well-liked. He was a great athlete too. Let’s call him Stan to protect his identity. Stan talked a lot about his big plans.
But to my surprise, he never went big. Instead, he settled into a job that he never really loved as an accountant. (Of course, there are plenty of phenomenal and exceptionally happy and successful accountants — it is just that my friend was not thrilled by the work.)
Stan’s dream was to be an entrepreneur. He wanted to build the great technology. Instead he contented himself with his “safe” accounting position. Sure, his corporate salary and title were good. Yet was that really what he set out to do — hunker down in a job that was “good enough”?
If you truly want to achieve greatness, then intentional and relentless pursuit is required. Settling into a mental cage of mediocrity is never an option.
I have seen too many people like my former classmate, who dreamt of greatness but never got there because they settled. And we all know that the demands of life make it easy and sometimes even necessary to choose comfort along the way. I understand — the pursuit of excellence takes a massive amount of effort.
But do you ever find yourself second-guessing your current path — wondering if you are laying the groundwork for greatness? Or have you already become cozy with an easy-to-maintain level of sameness?
Second-guessing is draining. It takes energy and dedication to plot against settling. And how you set objectives and pursue them matters more than you might realize. In fact, one social psychologist found that planning specific actions to reach your goals increases your chance of success by 300 percent.
So if you find yourself settling for “good enough” when it comes to your career, here are a few questions to ask:
What will make me proud?
Greatness requires knowing what you are working towards and why. Will what you achieve thrill you or make you smile? Think about what goals you want to reach in the next few years and also what you want to be remembered for.
Am I doing meaningful work?
Examine how your goals align with your work. If your current job is not leading you towards your fullest potential, you should consider making a change to find work that will. Expand your horizons to consider new industries and opportunities like remote careers. Life is too short to spend it at a job that does not fuel your ambitions.
What are my weaknesses?
There may be specific hurdles between you and achieving your goals. For example, let’s say you want to be a leader at work but you have a fear of public speaking. Pinpoint any potential pitfalls and make plans to overcome them.
Am I challenging myself?
If you cannot recall the last time you really pushed yourself, then you need to cycle back to the first question. Add at least one “stretch goal” — an ambitious milestone beyond what you feel reasonably confident you can achieve.
Going from “good” to “great” requires enormous effort. And it does not come easily. But each action you take creates the building blocks for success.
So ask yourself those four questions. Keep asking them again and again. Anytime you feel yourself slipping into sameness, the answers will force you to reflect on what you are doing and why. And eventually, they will propel you far past where you are today.
How do you keep pushing yourself forward?
Originally published on the Aha! blog