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10 Ways to Push Yourself to Excel at Work in the New Year

10 Ways to Push Yourself to Excel at Work in the New Year

If you’ve played your cards right, 2014 gave you everything you wanted—a Christmas bonus, maybe a raise or a promotion? Not exactly?

Well, now you have a reason to take your game to the next level in the coming year. As Jack Dorsey so famously said, “Success is never accidental.” Take your future into your own hands with these 10 steps to push yourself to excel at work in the coming year, based on Stephen Key’s 5 Ways Successful Entrepreneurs Challenge Themselves.

1. Diversify your circle

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The first step in getting different results is trying different things. I’m not saying you have to become “that” guy, but you can start by listening, paying attention, and being receptive to the people around you, regardless of their age or security clearance. Listen to what the kids are saying and listen to what the grandpas are saying. You might learn about an innovative solution to a problem, or an antiquated system that could use your expertise. Diversifying your work circle will widen your scope of influence and expose you to opportunities you won’t see otherwise. Take it from Steve Jobs, who recognized this crucial key to innovation early on:

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A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

2. Read and/or listen to podcasts

This year, make it your mission to feed your brain. If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got. Think of business blogs and podcasts as your leafy green vegetables. Check out the Financial Times blogs, the Wall Street Journal, or some of the Company Blogs out there to see who’s doing what, where the best ideas are coming from, and what organizations on the cutting edge are paying attention to. Join a local business book club or check out these podcasts for some ideas on where to start.

3. Ask your clients what problems they need to solve

It was Bill Gates who said, Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” The tools you need just a phone call or e-mail away, because the most perfect feedback loop is one where you can continuously meet (or, even better, anticipate) your clients’ needs. How do you know what they need? Ask them! Every great business is built upon this principle: that excellence is a symbiotic relationship where you are not trying to sell someone on something they don’t need, but responding to their existing needs with tailored solutions. It’s arrogant to assume you know what your clients want. Instead, ask them: what’s missing from their process? What problems have they not been able to solve? What do they like that other companies are doing really well? Once you know what issues are most important to your customers, you’ll know what you need to work on to not only keep their business, but be a partner in their success.

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4. Increase your technological knowledge

This goal should be on everyone’s list every quarter, because technology advances so fast that there will never be a time when there isn’t something new we can learn, no matter what field we’re working in. Make it your goal to learn something new this year—how a process works, what a team you’re not on does, or where your suppliers source their materials. Take a bold step into a technology you’ve never studied before. Yes, change can be scary, but if you really want to own it in 2015, you want to be on the leading edge, not on the Luddite side of the bell curve. Start at the most remedial level if you need to, and remember this quote from our old friend Dr. Seuss:

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!”

5. Work with people who are smarter than you

There’s a certain type of manager who is afraid to work with young, smart, ambitious team members, for fear that they will eventually lose their job to an understudy. The downside to this attitude (which these kinds of managers never think about), is that when everyone beneath you is dumber and lazier than you, they won’t be jockeying for a promotion, but you will be a slave to micromanagement because no one will be pulling their own weight. It’s impossible to delegate, drum up new ideas, or even take a vacation if you’re not supported by intelligent, hard-working people who are good at their jobs. Anyway, a rising tide lifts all boats, doesn’t it? Get comfortable with surrounding yourself with brilliance, and you’ll shine too.

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6. Look around at the people who are successful in your company

Take a good look at the people in your company that you admire or want to be like. Now, take a look at yourself. See any differences? What about the way you dress, or what you do at work? Of course it matters if you’re capable and deserving, but at the higher levels of management, presentation matters a lot. No one who wears board shorts to work or does keg stands at the Christmas party gets put into a client-facing management position. If you really want to get ahead, it might be time to trade that ratty t-shirt in for something a little more polished, and cut back on the outlandish pranks.

7. Make your meetings more effective and productive

First, don’t waste people’s time. Come to a meeting with a purpose. If you use Outlook to schedule your meetings, put the agenda and all the questions you need answered in the invite. While in the meeting, type the answers in as people answer them, rather than taking notes, compiling them, and sending them out later. Don’t leave the meeting without having a thorough understanding of questions answered, to-dos remaining, and task assignments. Make your meetings effective and people won’t feel like they’re losing time out of their day for nothing.

8. Get organized

Let’s face it—your professionalism is somewhat dependent upon what people see when they work with you, and the messier your desk is, the more disorganized you are perceived to be. You may thrive in chaos, but a pile of post-its and empty coffee cups around your computer doesn’t exactly say “Please put me in charge of something important.” The knick-knack overload that makes your workspace so personalized and comforting could be working against you. You have to make an effort to at least look as together as possible if you want to be seen as management material instead of a minion.

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9. Establish expectations for the coming year with your supervisor

Look, your supervisor isn’t psychic. If you didn’t get what you want at the end of 2014, you should probably set up a meeting to review not only your performance, but also your expectations for the coming year. As Lee Iacocca once noted, The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” Showing your boss you are committed to results is an important step in demonstrating your value as an employee. Entrepreneur Ramit Sethi has an excellent blog post with suggestions on what to cover in a meeting like this. Once you establish a record of how you’ve performed thus far, what you should be doing better, and where you expect to be in 12 months, you can make a road map of how to get there. Over the next year, all you have to do is show up, deliver what you’ve agreed to (and preferably a little more—see Step 10 below), and check in with your boss quarterly on your progress. A caveat: if your boss is resistant to meeting with you, dismissive of your goals, or refuses to establish expectations, it might time you thought about looking for a different job!

10. Make a habit out of going the extra mile

We’ve all heard this joke: Two men are sitting in a tent, and suddenly realize a bear is approaching it. One man starts putting on his tennis shoes, and the other man says, “Do you really think you can outrun a bear?” Tennis-shoe guy says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear—I just have to outrun you.” Take a look around. What do you have to outrun to really shine? Your own laziness? Your resistance to change? Because it’s time to accept that your coworkers aren’t your competition—you are. If you want 2015 to be better than 2014, you’re going to have to outrun the “you” of yesterday. Put on your tennis shoes and make a habit out of going the extra mile.

To quote Woody Allen, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” The other 20% is up to you—are you just going to show up, or are you going to shine? The choice is yours.

Featured photo credit: Gerd Altmann via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on November 5, 2020

Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It)

Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It)

Nobody enjoys failing. Fear of failure can be so strong that avoiding failure eclipses the motivation to succeed. Insecurity about doing things incorrectly causes many people to unconsciously sabotage their chances for success.

Fear is part of human nature. As an entrepreneur, I faced this same fear. My ego and identity became intertwined with my work, and when things didn’t go as planned, I completely shut down. I overcame this unhealthy relationship with fear, and I believe that you can, too.

Together we’ll examine how you can use failure to your advantage instead of letting it run your life. We’ll also look at how to overcome fear of failure so that you can enjoy success in your work and life.

What Is Fear of Failure?

If you are afraid of failure, it will cause you to avoid potentially harmful situations.

Fear of failure keeps you from trying, creates self-doubt, stalls progress, and may lead you to go against your morals.

What causes a fear of failure? Here are the main reasons why fear of failing exists:

Patterns From Childhood

Hyper-critical adults cause children to internalize damaging mindsets.[1] They establish ultimatums and fear-based rules. This causes children to feel the constant need to ask for permission and reassurance. They carry this need for validation into adulthood.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism is often at the root of a fear of failure.[2] For perfectionists, failure is so terrible and humiliating that they don’t try. Stepping outside your comfort zone becomes terrifying.

Over-Personalization

The ego may lead us to over-identify with failures. It’s hard to look beyond failure at things like the quality of the effort, extenuating circumstances, or growth opportunities.[3]

False Self-Confidence

People with true confidence know they won’t always succeed. A person with fragile self-confidence avoids risks. They’d rather play it safe than try something new.[4]

How the Fear of Failure Holds You Back

Unhealthy Organization Culture

Too many organizations today have cultures of perfection: a set of organizational beliefs that any failure is unacceptable. Only pure, untainted success will do.

Imagine the stress and terror in an organization like that. The constant covering up of the smallest blemishes. The wild finger-pointing as everyone tries to shift the blame for the inevitable messes onto someone else. The lying, cheating, falsification of data, and hiding of problems—until they become crises that defy being hidden any longer.

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Miss out on Valuable Opportunities

If some people fail to reach a complete answer because of the lure of some early success, many more fail because of their ego-driven commitment to what worked in the past. You often see this with senior people, especially those who made their names by introducing some critical change years ago.

They shy away from further innovation, afraid that this time they might fail, diminishing the luster they try to keep around their names from past triumph.

Besides, they reason, the success of something new might even prove that those achievements they made in the past weren’t so great after all. Why take the risk when you can hang on to your reputation by doing nothing?

Such people are so deeply invested in their egos and the glories of their past that they prefer to set aside opportunities for future glory rather than risk even the possibility of failure.

High Achievers Become Losers

Every talent contains an opposite that sometimes turns it into a problem. Successful people like to win and achieve high standards. This can make them so terrified of failure that it ruins their lives. When a positive trait, like achievement, becomes too strong in someone’s life, it’s on the way to becoming a major obstacle.

Achievement is a powerful value for many successful people. They’ve built their lives on it. They achieve at everything they do: school, college, sports, the arts, hobbies, work. Each fresh achievement adds to the power of the value in their lives.

Gradually, failure becomes unthinkable. Maybe they’ve never failed yet in anything that they’ve done, so they have no experience of rising above it. Failure becomes the supreme nightmare: a frightful horror they must avoid at any cost.

The simplest way to do this is never to take a risk, stick rigidly to what you know you can do, protect yourself, work the longest hours, double and triple check everything, and be the most conscientious and conservative person in the universe.

If constant hard work, diligence, brutal working schedules and harrying subordinates won’t ward off the possibility of failing, use every other possible means to to keep it away. Falsify numbers, hide anything negative, conceal errors, avoid customer feedback, constantly shift the blame for errors onto anyone too weak to fight back.

Loss of Creativity

Over-achievers destroy their own peace of mind and the lives of those who work for them. People too attached to “goodness” and morality become self-righteous bigots. Those whose values for building close relationships become unbalanced slide into smothering their friends and family with constant expressions of affection and demands for love in return.

Everyone likes to succeed. The problem comes when fear of failure is dominant, when you can no longer accept the inevitability of making mistakes, nor recognize the importance of trial and error in finding the most creative solution.

The more creative you are, the more errors you are going to make. Deciding to avoid the errors will destroy your creativity, too.

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Balance counts more than you think. Some tartness must season the sweetest dish. A little selfishness is valuable even in the most caring person. And a little failure is essential to preserve everyone’s perspective on success.

We hear a lot about being positive. Maybe we also need to recognize that the negative parts of our lives and experience have just as important a role to play in finding success, in work, and in life.

How to Overcome Fear of Failure (Step-by-Step)

1. Figure out Where the Fear Comes From

Ask yourself what the root cause of your negative belief could be.[5] When you look at the four main causes for a fear of failure, which ones resonate with you?

Write down where you think the fear comes from, and try to understand it as an outsider.

If it helps, imagine you’re trying to help one of your best friends. Perhaps your fear stems from something that happened in your childhood, or a deep-seated insecurity.

Naming the source of the fear takes away some of its power.

2. Reframe Beliefs About Your Goal

Having an all or nothing mentality leaves you with nothing sometimes. Have a clear vision for what you’d like to accomplish but include learning something new in your goal.

If you always aim for improvement and learning, you are much less likely to fail.[6]

At Pixar, people are actually encouraged to “fail early and fail fast.”[7] They encourage experimentation and innovation so that they can stay on the cutting edge. That mindset involves failure, but as long as they achieve their vision of telling great stories, all the stumbling blocks are just opportunities to grow.

3. Learn to Think Positive

In many cases, you believe what you tell yourself. Your internal dialogue affects how you react and behave.

Our society is obsessed with success, but it’s important to recognize that even the most successful people encounter failure.

Walt Disney was once fired from a newspaper because they thought he lacked creativity. He went on to found an animation studio that failed. He never gave up, and now Disney is a household name.

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Steve Jobs was also once fired from Apple before returning as the face of the company for many years. [8]

If Disney and Jobs had believed the negative feedback, they wouldn’t have made it.

It’s up to you to notice your negative self talk and identify triggers[9]. Replace negative thoughts with positive facts about yourself and the situation. You’ll be able to create a new mental scripts that you can reach for when you feel negativity creeping in. The voice inside your head has a great effect on what you do.

How To Be A Positive Thinker: Positivity Exercises, Affirmations, & Quotes

    4. Visualize all Potential Outcomes

    Uncertainty about what will happen next is terrifying. Take time to visualize the possible outcomes of your decision. Think about the best and worst-case scenarios. You’ll feel better if you’ve already had a chance to mentally prepare for what could happen.

    Fear of the unknown might keep you from taking a new job. Weigh the pros and cons, and imagine potential successes and failures in making such a life-altering decision. Knowing how things could turn out might help you get unstuck.

    5. Look at the Worst-Case Scenario

    There are times when the worst case could be absolutely devastating. In many cases, if something bad happens, it won’t be the end of the world.

    It’s important to define how bad the worst case scenario is in the grand scheme of your life. Sometimes, we give situations more power than they deserve. In most cases, a failure is not permanent.

    For example, when you start a new business, it’s bound to be a learning experience. You’ll make decisions that don’t pan out, but often that discomfort is temporary. You can change your strategy and rebound. Even in the worst case scenario, if the perceived failure led to the end of that business, it might be the launching point for something new.

    6. Have a Backup Plan

    It never hurts to have a backup plan. The last thing you want to do is scramble for a solution when the worst has happened. The old adage is solid wisdom:

    “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

    Having a backup plan gives you more confidence to move forward and take calculated risks.

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    Perhaps you’ve applied for a grant to fund an initiative at work. In the worst-case scenario, if you don’t get the grant, are there other ways you could get the funds?

    There are usually multiple ways to tackle a problem, so having a backup is a great way to reduce anxiety about possible failure.

    7. Learn From Whatever Happens

    Things may not go the way you planned, but that doesn’t automatically mean you’ve failed. Learn from whatever arises.[10] Even a less than ideal situation can be a great opportunity to make changes and grow.

    “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

    Dig deep enough, and you’re bound to find the silver lining. When you’ve learned that “failure” is an opportunity for growth instead of a death sentence, you conquer the fear of failure.

    For more tips on how to overcome fear of failure, check out the video below:

    Final Thoughts

    To overcome fear of failure, we can start by figuring out where it comes from and reframing the way we feel about failure. When failure is a chance for growth, and you’ve looked at all possible outcomes, it’s easier to overcome fear.

    Stay positive, have a backup plan, and learn from whatever happens. Your failures will be sources of education and inspiration rather than humiliation.

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas A. Edison

    Failures can be blessings in disguise. Go boldly in the direction of your dreams and long-term goals.

    More Tips for Conquering Fear

    Featured photo credit: Patrick Hendry via unsplash.com

    Reference

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