If You Want to Continue to Grow, Look for Ways to Stretch Yourself.
By Steve Schumacher
Most people have heard of the Peter Principle. It says that we rise to our level of incompetence. In other words, we keep getting promoted and advanced until we no longer succeed.
We can argue about the truth of it and how often it happens, but we cannot argue the fact that, in order to grow and improve, we must challenge ourselves to be better than we were yesterday.
Taking on challenges and seeing improvement can take many forms and fall into many categories. For our purposes, we need look no further than work life and personal life. At some point in your life, I imagine you have set some goals in both of those two arenas.
Certainly, we have all had experiences with New Year’s resolutions. To become a complete, moving-forward human, we need to challenge ourselves in both work and personal sides of our lives. Goals among individuals will certainly be different, but the process of making a goal challenging is a common thread among all of us.
Many of us, after a number of years of working, become complacent and predictable. We do the work that is expected of us, spend time with our loved ones, and fit in recreation as we can. But the question is, how and how often do we really take on things that make us move out of our comfort zone? I will share with you some ideas to help you set up goals that honestly stretch you and your capabilities.
Take a look at your history. Whatever area you are planning on setting a goal in, take a snapshot of how you have done with it in the past. If you want to set a goal for more exercise, look at how you have managed regular exercise in the past.
If you want to get better at running meetings, be honest about how you have succeeded and failed at running meetings in the past. The point is that, in order to know where you want to go, you should know where you have been. These are your own goals, not goals that are imposed upon you. So, be completely honest with yourself. If you are not honest, the only person you are cheating is yourself.
Decide on a goal that challenges you. Again, honesty is important. Determine a goal that you think is reasonable for you to attain, then add a stretch component. If you feel like a goal of exercising three days a week is reasonable, set a stretch goal of exercising five days a week.
The stretch goal should be something you strive to achieve after you are able to achieve the reasonable goal of three days a week. Jumping directly into a stretch goal sets you up for failure. Small, reasonable steps will get you there.
If you feel like leading quarterly meetings of cross-functional goals is reasonable, set a stretch goal of facilitating monthly meetings of all levels of management both vertically and horizontally. Again, do not reach for the stretch goal first; make sure you can do the reasonable goal. It will give you more confidence and evidence that you are improving at running meetings.
Be patient and celebrate small steps. In my experience, when people set goals, they often become impatient to achieve them and try too hard too fast. This is true with ordinary goal-setting.
With true stretch goals, patience and celebration are even more important. Success breeds success. Achieving steps toward goal achievement, taking time to appreciate the accomplishment, then moving forward is a process that will keep you going. It will also lead to long term goal achievement and make positive goal setting a positive habit for you.
Patience also needs to be considered when it comes to failing along the way. Reasonable, attainable goals will probably involve some missteps along the way. True stretch goals will probably include more missteps. Be patient, forgive yourself and understand that there is a learning that happens when mistakes are made. Take that learning and use it, do not let it stop you.
If you want to continue to grow in your work and personal life, you need to stretch yourself. What got you to where you are today will not get you to the next level.