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Why Big Dreams Can Be Big Problems

Why Big Dreams Can Be Big Problems

Growing up, our parents and teachers told us we could be anything we wanted to be. Wide-eyed and excited about the endless possibilities, we began dreaming . . . big. My classroom was full of future astronauts, brain surgeons, CEOs, and several professional ballerinas. Slowly but surely, we got a hard dose of reality (or should I say hard work).

Big dreams come with big baggage — a tiny detail that our parents and teachers seem to have left out.

We all look up to successful icons like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, marveling at their triumphs. We study their successes and attempt to replicate their journeys. The cold hard fact is that it takes years and years of hard work to even get a shot at dreams like theirs. And even then, it’s not guaranteed.

That’s the problem with big dreams: there is no “guarantee” on the side of the box.

We’re told that it’s easy, it’s guaranteed, and if (insert famous person) can do it, so can we. While it may feel warm and fuzzy to only think positively about your big dreams, reality always has a way of humbling even the most optimistic among us.

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You will get beaten down, you will have disappointments, and your dreams will never be handed to you on a silver platter. Success isn’t a privilege, it’s a rite of passage – littered with potholes, ditches, and seemingly insurmountable mountains.

Success isn’t a privilege, it’s a rite of passage — littered with potholes, ditches, and seemingly insurmountable mountains.

In Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle is the Way, he brings this to life by saying:

“Certain things in life will cut you open like a knife. When that happens — at that exposing moment — the world gets a glimpse of what’s truly inside of you.”

It’s not the moments of success where we find out what we are made of but rather those moments when we are bloodied and beaten to a pulp. So when we inevitably get cut open or smacked in the face with something totally unexpected, what happens to our big dreams?

For most, they end up fading away. They give up when faced with an obstacle, a challenge, or a disappointment. For others, it gives them a reason to make their dreams bigger than ever.

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Despite all of the obstacles in front of your dreams, there are things you can do to mitigate their blows. There are mental shifts you can take that have been applied by some of the most successful and happy people in this world.

Unfortunately, these shifts aren’t easy to apply. They take consistency, persistence, and dedication. If you are hungry enough and driven enough to apply them, your big dreams might actually come true. Here are a few that I’ve applied in my life which have massively helped:

Reframe Your Definition of Failure

Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx and the youngest self-made female billionaire, has embraced failure ever since she was a little girl. Her parents taught her at a very young age to judge failure based on the effort, not the outcome. In an interview she recently had with Business Insider, she recalled her dad celebrating her failures and even giving her high-fives when she failed. She said:

“…all it did was just reframe my definition of failure.”

Even if you don’t have parents like Sara’s, it’s never too late to redefine your own definition of failure.

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When you turn your failures into times when you don’t try, failing no longer defines your success. So rather than beat yourself up for when you fail, celebrate that you tried, re-evaluate what went wrong, and change your strategy moving forward.

One of my favorite language tricks is from Ramit Sehti, who calls his failures “tests.” Just like in high school science, everything is a test. You develop a hypothesis of what will work, you apply specific tactics, and if you don’t get the outcome you hypothesized, you change your approach. A simple shift that can make a huge difference.

Only Work Towards the Next Milestone

When I first started running “for fun,” I absolutely hated it. To me, it was boring and monotonous. That was until someone gave me this tiny bit of advice: focus on just running to the next obstacle — a tree, a light post, a mailbox, etc. Once I started focusing on those short term wins, it not only became fun but it also helped me run further and faster.

If you keep looking up the mountain at your big goals and not down at your feet, you won’t go anywhere. Real progress is made in the short term wins. Simply refocus on the next thing you have to do. What is that next step? By doing this, you too will go further and faster.

Surround Yourself with People Who Challenge You

I still vividly remember an experience I had at a networking event a few years ago. I was standing in a group of people, and someone asked me what I’d been up to lately. With confidence (and a little bit of cockiness), I proudly said:

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“I’ve been trying to get more fit.”

The guy standing across from me, who was built like a brick house, interrupted me instantly:

“Trying to? Are you getting fit or not?”

Although this call out in front of a bunch of strangers was a bit embarrassing, it changed my life. He pulled me aside later and explained to me the negative effects that language can have on our mind.

The people whom you spend time with matter.  When you improve the quality of people in your life, you improve your results. Invest your time in people who are willing to challenge you and make you better. The results will follow. Just make sure they are positively challenging you and not dragging you down.

What to do Next . . .

Now that you have some ideas on how to realistically make your big dreams happen, my plea to you is that you decide to take action on at least one of these things. Just one of these mindset shifts can be profound in reaching your big goals.

More by this author

Scott Bradley

Self-Leadership Coach and Creative Writer

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Published on November 12, 2020

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

What’s the most draining, miserable job you’ve ever had? Maybe you had a supervisor with unrealistic demands about your work output and schedule. Or perhaps, you worked under a bullying boss who frequently lost his temper with you and your colleagues, creating a toxic work environment.

Chances are, though, your terrible job experience was more all-encompassing than a negative experience with just one person. That’s because, in general, toxicity at work breeds an entire culture. Research shows abusive behavior by leaders can and often quickly spread through an entire organization.[1]

Unfortunately, working in a toxic environment doesn’t just make it miserable to show up to the office (or a Zoom meeting). This type of culture can have lasting negative effects, taking a toll on mental and physical health and even affecting workers’ personal lives and relationships.[2]

While it’s often all-encompassing, toxic culture isn’t always as blatant or clear-cut as abuse. Some of the evidence is more subtle—but it still warrants concern and action.

Have a feeling that your workplace is a toxic environment? Here are 5 surefire signs to look for.

1. People Often Say (or Imply) “That’s Not My Job”

When I first launched my company, I had a very small team. And back then, we all wore a lot of hats, simply because we had to. My colleagues and I worked tirelessly together to build, troubleshoot, and market our product, and nobody complained (at least most of the time).

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Because we were all in it together, with the same shared vision in mind, cooperation mattered so much more than job titles. Unfortunately, it’s not always that way.

In some workplaces, people adhere to their job descriptions to a fault:

  • Need help with an accounting problem? Sorry, that’s not my job.
  • Oh, you spilled your coffee in the break room? Too bad, I’m working.
  • Can’t figure out the new software? Ask IT.

While everyone has their own skillset—and time is often at a premium—cooperation is important in any workplace. An “it’s not my job” attitude is a sign of a toxic environment because it’s inherently selfish. It implies “I only care about me and what I have to get done” and that people aren’t concerned about the collective good or overall vision.[3] That type of perspective is not only bound to drain individual relationships; it also drains overall morale and productivity.

2. There’s a Lack of Diversity

Diversity is a vital part of a healthy work environment. We need the opinions and ideas of people who don’t see the world like us to move ahead. So, when leaders don’t prioritize diversity—or worse, they actively avoid it—I’m always suspicious about their character and values.

Limiting your workforce to one type of person is bound to prevent organizations from growing healthily. But even if your work environment is diverse in general, the management might prevent diverse individuals from rising to leadership positions, which only misses the point of having a diverse work environment in the first place.

Look around you. Who’s in leadership at your company? Who gets promotions and rewards most often? If the same type of people gets ahead while other individuals consistently get left behind, you might be working in a toxic environment.

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However it manifests in your workplace, keep in mind that a lack of diversity is a tell-tale sign that “bias is rampant and the wrong things are valued.”[4]

3. Feedback Isn’t Allowed

Just as individual growth hinges on being open to criticism, an organization’s well-being depends on workers’ ability to air their concerns and ideas. If management actively stifles feedback from employees, you’re probably working in a toxic environment.

But that definitely doesn’t mean nobody will air their feelings. One of the telltale signs of toxic leadership is when employees vent on the sidelines, out of management’s earshot. When I worked in a toxic environment, coworkers would often complain about higher-ups and company policies during work in private chats or after work hours.

It’s normal to get frustrated at work. That’s just a part of having a job. What isn’t normal is when dissent isn’t a part of or discouraged in the workplace. A workplace culture that suppresses constructive feedback will not be successful in the long run. It’s a sign that leadership isn’t open to new ideas, and that they’re more concerned about their own well-being than the health of the organization as a whole.

4. Quantifiable Measures Take Priority

Sales numbers, timelines, bottom lines—these metrics are, of course, important signs of how things are going in any business. But great leaders know that true success isn’t always measurable or quantifiable. More meaningful factors like workplace satisfaction, teamwork, and personal growth all contribute to and sustain these metrics.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and they shouldn’t be the only concern. Measure-taking should always take a backseat to meaning-making—working together to contribute to a vision that improves people’s lives. If your workplace zones in on quantifiable measures of success, it’s probably not prioritizing what truly matters. And it’s probably also instilling a fear of failure among employees, which paralyzes employees instead of motivating them.

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5. The Policies and Rules Are Inconsistent

Every organization has its own set of unique policies and procedures. But often, unhealthy workplaces have inconsistent, unspoken “rules” that apply differently to different people. When one person gets in trouble for the same type of behavior that promotes another person, workers will feel like management plays favorites—which isn’t just unethical but also a quick way to drain morale and fuel tension in the office.[5] It only shows how incompetent the leadership is and indicates a toxic workplace.

For example, maybe there’s no “set” rule about work hours, but your manager expects certain people or departments to show up at 8 am while other individuals tend to roll in at 9 or 10 am with no real consequences. If that’s the case, then it’s likely that your organization’s leadership is more concerned with controlling people and exerting power rather than the overall good of their employees.

How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment

The first thing to know if you’re stuck in a toxic work environment is that you’re not stuck. While it’s ultimately the company’s responsibility to make positive changes that prevent harmful actions to employees, you also have an opportunity to speak up about your concerns—or, if necessary, depart the role altogether.

If you suspect that you’re working in a toxic environment, think about how you can advocate for yourself. Start by raising your grievances about the culture in an appropriate setting, like a scheduled, one-on-one meeting with your supervisor.

Can’t imagine sitting down with your supervisor to air those problems on your own? Form some solidarity with like-minded colleagues. Approaching management might feel less overwhelming when you have a “team” who shares your views.

It doesn’t have to be an overtly confrontational discussion. Do your best to frame your concerns in a positive way by sharing with your supervisor that you want to be more productive at work, but certain problems sometimes get in the way.

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Final Thoughts

If your supervisor truly cares about the well-being of the organization, they will take your concerns seriously and actively take part in changing the toxic work environment into something more conducive to productivity.

If not, then it might be time to consider the cost of the job on your well-being and personal life. Is it worth staying just for your resume’s sake? Or could you consider a “bridge” job that allows you to exhale for a bit, even if it doesn’t “move you ahead” the way you planned?

It might not be the ideal situation, but your mental health and well-being are too important to ignore. And when you have the opportunity to refuel, you’ll be a far more valuable asset at whatever amazing job you land next.

More Tips on Dealing With a Toxic Work Environment

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

Reference

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