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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.

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Scott Bradley

Self-Leadership Coach and Creative Writer

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Last Updated on April 17, 2019

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

What’s the secret of professional success? Some of it lies in the mastery of your discipline and all the technical skills you have to carry out your job; but a much bigger part lies in the soft skills list you possess.

Soft skills are your people or relationship skills—how well you get along with others and your ability to communicate and collaborate—as well as the personal characteristics you bring to the job, such as optimism, a can-do attitude and the motivation to work hard. These skills are not always easy to point out, but their absence can cause serious problems and negatively affect the whole work atmosphere.

They say that hard skills will help you get the job, but soft skills will help you get along—and get ahead. With that in mind, here’s the top-10 essential soft skills list to help you advance your career.

1. Communication Skills

Communication skills are hands-down the most sought-after soft skill that bosses want, and this one ability covers a lot of ground.

To communicate well, you have to listen carefully, interpret the context of the conversation, express yourself clearly, persuade others of your point of view, check your body language and use an engaging presentation style that won’t intimidate or bore your audience. That’s a big ask!

Your personality traits can influence the way you communicate with others. For instance, some people get straight to the point and center their arguments around facts and logic; others are cooperative and sensitive to how others feel. Both these approaches are equally valuable but there can be misunderstandings if you don’t understand where the other person is coming from.

Taking a comprehensive personality test can help you understand why you communicate the way you do and where your blind spots are. It can also help you understand other communication styles is so you can tailor your communication to the person you’re dealing with.

After all, connecting with your conversation partner is the hallmark of good communication.

2. Flexibility

Change is an essential part of any business. Companies need employees who are flexible enough to work with new initiatives, open to new ideas, and generally are able to tough it out when things don’t go as planned.

Research has found a link between job performance and flexibility over the long term because there will be times when you have to step outside your routine and rise to fresh challenges that didn’t exist before.

Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to hop into a new task or job role like an expert. Rather, it’s about showing you’re willing to accept new responsibility and learn different things.

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Bosses look for people who are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and are open to alternative solutions when their first idea doesn’t work.

3. Being a Team Player

Working on a team can be challenging but learning to do it well can definitely help you get ahead in your career. Employers look for people who can negotiate, cooperate and manage conflicts with other people to achieve a common goal. That includes the ability to build lasting relationships with customers and clients.

What makes a good team player? Essentially, it’s someone who knows the goal and knows her role. Employers look for evidence that you know your strengths, your responsibilities and how you can best contribute to the team, then put those skills into action by sharing ideas and communicating in a respectful manner. That’s the definition of being a good team player.

This is another area where taking a personality test can help you get ahead. When teams work together, each member brings a unique set of skills and qualities to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of personalities affect how teams collaborate and how productive they are.

Knowing who you are, and how you work on a team, can drive new insights and open the door to better teamwork.

4. Positive Mental Attitude

There are plenty of things you can’t change at work, like the people you work with or the fact that the printer is broken again. The one thing you can change is how much you let these things bother you.

Bosses like people who are calm, rational and upbeat—those who diffuse tensions in the workplace, not get all grouchy and go around slamming doors.

Studies show that people who maintain a sunny disposition have better relationships at work, are happier in their jobs and make better decisions than those who whine and complain. Some suggest that a positive mental attitude can also make you live longer—which means it’s beneficial for every area of your life![1]

It’s not always easy to keep a “glass half full” mentality when work is stressful and the deadlines are piling up. But there are some things you can do to help maintain a positive attitude. Laughing at your unfortunate circumstances keeps the work environment positive, and taking “sanity” breaks can help you keep your cool in high-pressure situations.

Managers look for positive mental attitude in a team member that is ready for a promotion, so it really does pay to keep your cool in challenging situations.

5. A Strong Work Ethic

People with a strong work ethic are committed to the role, persevere when things get tough and are inspired by challenge. These people are ambassadors for the organization, and will always be seen as top talent and ideal candidates.

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If you can exhibit this skill, then expect to be seen as a great candidate, eligible for new opportunities and positions throughout your career.

Since a strong work ethic can mean different things to different people, it helps to show specific examples of your exceptional work ethic during a performance appraisal or interview. For instance, you might talk about:

  • A time when you persisted in the face of challenges and did not shy away from hard work.
  • How you volunteered to help with projects even though these tasks did not form part of your job description.
  • The networking, workplace learning and skills betterment you’ve undertaken, which shows ambition and drive (people with a strong work ethic have those qualities in spades).
  • How you own your mistakes and never, ever point the finger of blame at others.

For help with building a strong work ethic, check out these tips: How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

6. Public Speaking

Who’s terrified of public speaking? Pretty much everyone, since public speaking is America’s number one fear, ahead of death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

Yet, according to Warren Buffett, mastering this one skill you could increase your personal value by 50 percent.[2] That’s huge!

If you’re not natural at public speaking, you’re in good company. Buffett had to work hard to overcome his stage fright and once dropped out of a public-speaking course before it started—because he was afraid of public speaking! He eventually realized that he needed to build up his confidence by just doing it; over and over in front of small groups.

For a more structured approach, Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a variety of pathways. Membership of this non-profit looks good on your resume but the real payoff will come when you can put your newfound skills to use on the job or in the interview room.

Or, you can check out this advice: The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

7. Integrity

From a manager’s point of view, the two integrity skills that will set you apart are:

  • Always doing what you say you will do
  • Owning an error instead of minimizing or hiding it

…even when no one is around to check up on you.

There are lots of people who have climbed the ladder without scruples, but they are not the people who others trust, respect and support when promotion time comes around.

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Behaving with integrity is a safe and consistent way to enhance your reputation and achieve your professional goals.

8. Managing Your Time

Phone calls, texts, Slack pings, meetings, huddles, side projects, multitasking—we are busier today than any generation before us. There’s no denying the workplace is an incredibly distracting place to be.

A lot of us have traded effectiveness for busyness which we wear as a badge of honor, both as a proxy for productivity and to show our value to the company. But what bosses want, what they really, really want, is someone who actually gets stuff done on time.

Time management is not merely the art of being on time, but of managing your time so you focus on the projects that really matter and add value to the business. This means prioritizing well, sticking to schedules, delegating, and not getting distracted by tasks that are easier to perform or less important. It means planning ahead and learning when it’s appropriate to say no.

Time management can be a tough skill to maintain, but not a difficult one to pick up. Monitor your actions for a few days—how long do your tasks take to finish? What’s interrupting you? What causes you to lose focus? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can set a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and this valuable asset is never wasted.

These 20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity are also great to try.

9. Assertiveness

In any workplace, you typically will find people with the following conflict styles:

  • Passive: Those who go out of their way to avoid conflict.
  • Passive-aggressive: Those who express their negative feelings through actions rather than words.
  • Aggressive: Those who respond to conflict in a hostile and rude manner. These people get their opinion heard but they won’t make any friends in the process.
  • Assertive: People who stick up for their rights while still respecting the rights of others.

Managers look for assertiveness above all other styles because it allows decisions to be made without conflict or alienating people.

How do you use this information for yourself?

It starts with understanding your personality so you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and address your own shortcomings. Then, you can start influencing the team for top results, and securing your own career advancement in the process.

Learn how to be assertive and gain respect:

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How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

10. Creative Thinking

LinkedIn recently analyzed over 50,000 skills that employers search for when looking for candidates to find out what skills are currently in demand.[3] Taking the number-one slot on the 2019 soft skills list was creativity: the ability to solve problems and think outside the box.

Creativity is about bringing fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, ideas to the table. This helps companies to innovate, and companies that do not innovate will not survive very long.

How do you showcase your creative thinking skills? The golden rule is to participate.

Be brave and share your ideas during group brainstorming sessions. Volunteer to run a society, networking event or recruitment drive. Ask “what if” questions: “What if we add this information to the client welcome pack?” “What if we eliminate step 3 from the process?”

These activities demonstrate that you’re prepared to go beyond “business as usual” towards creative problem solving—an ability that will serve you every day, all throughout your career.

You can learn to unleash your creativity power:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

Final Thoughts

The good news? Every item on this soft skills list can be learned. Although you may feel lacking in certain areas, taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to focus in on the areas that you’ll benefit from developing.

So take an inventory of your personality, skills, and talents. This will give you a baseline for your communication style, attitude to change, conscientiousness and more. You can then identify your weak areas and develop strategies for improving your team-building, assertiveness and conflict skills.

The better news? The effort is worth it. Developing your soft skills opens the door to a new job or a promotion, and helps you succeed once you get there.

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Featured photo credit: Rachael Gorjestani via unsplash.com

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