Two young professionals start at the same point but achieve drastically different growth in a few years.
Josh and Nathan start their professional career soon after they finish college. Both begin with identical levels of knowledge at the same level and position. Their grades lie quite close, indicating a similar intelligence level too.
Ten years later, Nathan achieves far more in his career than Josh does. Though Josh earned a few promotions, he can no longer match what Nathan has achieved. Nathan has gone on to become an executive of a well-known company.
Another five years later, Nathan commences work on his own venture while Josh is still fighting Monday blues over his daily job.
What happened during those years? How did two young people with the same profile end up with such different results?
The answer lies in the approach taken by Nathan vs. that of Josh. One worked on the right areas for personal and professional growth while the other went on the path of mediocrity.
Here are the ten differences between the successful and the ordinary. These pointers serve as tips for both personal and professional growth.
1. Make learning a continuous habit
The last time Josh picked a book was in college. But Nathan had a habit of learning daily.
Most people stop any form of deliberate learning after they achieve their degrees. Many believe learning and reading end at college.
Though you might learn at your job by experience and other knowledge transfer, you must spend time on deliberate learning. Many successful people have explained how learning has played a role in their success.
Warren Buffet and Bill Gates feel that everyone needs to spend at least 5 hours a week on learning. They recommend a 5-hour rule as per which you must spend one hour every weekend learning and improving.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin
2. Solve problems for greater personal and professional growth
How do you feel when someone solves your problem without you asking? You feel delighted and also gain respect for the person.
The same applies to work too. People work extra hours but do the same routine things and wonder why others get promoted while they don’t.
The critical difference lies in how successful people identify the problems around them and find ways to solve them.
Nathan found innovative solutions to problems out of his own interest. Josh waited for his boss to tell him what problems to solve.
Any boss and organization love a problem solver because it makes everyone’s life easier. The company moves forward, and in the process, so does the employee.
3. Compare against your younger self
Josh would complain about others getting a better raise and a promotion. “Why did I not get that? I did better than him,” he would whine.
When you compare yourself with others, you are treading the wrong path. Whatever good or bad another person does should have no impact on your actions. It certainly has no impact on your professional growth.
You must compare only against a younger version of yourself. Three months later, when you look at yourself, you must have turned into an improved version.
If you do not make this a habit, you will stagnate like the wheel of a car stuck in a puddle. You keep spinning, making a noise, and throwing filth around but fail to move further.
Compete against the person whose face you see in the mirror each morning.
4. Measure results instead of hours of work
When Nathan earned a promotion, Josh started complaining, “I worked for long hours and extra days, yet I don’t get recognized. Nathan moves up because he remains in the good books of the bosses.”
People grow when they deliver results. During your early professional years, working long hours might fetch you some brownie points.
I am not saying that people working long hours don’t deliver results. Many of the top executives who carry the burden of massive companies work inhuman hours providing fantastic results. But a mediocre employee expects the organization to respect the hours he put in.
Why should any organization reward you for working long hours when another employee can do the same work in half the time?
5. Put a value on your time
Josh kept working and working. No matter what job was thrown at him, he would pick it up, leading to ever more personal and professional growth.
Nathan was particular about the things he would choose. He declined tasks which did not help him and the organization grow.
When you put a value on your time, you will choose and prioritize the right tasks. If you take your time for granted, you will work on projects which will keep you awake all night but fail to add any value to your growth.
One simple math I do is, I divide the money I make by the number of hours I work. For example, if I earn 5000 dollars a month working 8 hours a day for 22 days a month, my hourly value comes down to:
My hourly value = Income/Hours = 5000/(22*8) = 28.5$
You must aim to increase your hourly value every quarter or year. To do so, you will have to force yourself to find avenues that bring you better returns.
You do not have to use income as the factor for your hourly value. Feel free to choose any other measurement of your choice.
A writer can use the number of words written, or a sportsperson can use the number of goals scored.
6. Understand and use mental models
Josh assumed knowing all the necessary things without putting effort into improving his thinking skills, he paid no attention to either his personal or professional growth. Nathan learned from the experts and honed his thinking skills.
You and I have a unique way we look at the world. Some of your thoughts are amazing, some are mediocre, and some are flawed. Unless you understand how others operate, you will not improve your thinking.
Improving how you think serves as an important factor for growth. By using mental models, you can continuously scale up your brain to think harder and deeper to make better choices. A mental model is nothing but how well you understand the world.
There are many well known mental models in each field of science, such as psychology, physics, economics, and others. People also have their own mental models.
For example, Charlie Munger has his way of applying inversion techniques to buy stocks. Mark Cuban has his model of picking a business to invest in.
Learning well-known mental models and developing some of your own helps you make an informed decision in stressful situations.
7. Set a destination for your career development
Josh had no clear destination. He worked all the time and hoped to grow.
Nathan knew where he was heading towards. At all times, his eyes were on the goal, and he worked to reach there.
If you don’t know where you want to reach, you will have no sense of direction. Who do you think has a better chance of success? The person who shoots to hit the mark or the one who aims at five different targets?
Whatever your current situation is, unless you set a destination, you will never get there.
Though you have to enjoy the journey, having a final harbor helps you realize when you’re going off track. If not, you will wander in the ocean from one island to another.
“Vision without action is a daydream, An action without a mission a nightmare.” – Japanese Proverb
8. Work in time blocks
Working in time blocks help you make progress towards multiple projects. Without time blocks, one task can eat up all your time, causing other priorities to take a backseat.
Allocate a time slot for each task.
For example, assign 15 min a day for improving your key skill. Set aside 30 minutes to make progress towards your long term goals. Designate an hour for emails. You get the idea.
If you overshoot the timeline, you must leave the task pending and move on to the next one. If time permits at the end, you can come back to what you left behind.
Such an approach is easy to state in theory but difficult to apply daily. But, try to have a rough mental estimate on what is the maximum time you should spend on the task.
You can also allot a specific amount of time for a project you procrastinate regularly. For example, if you wish to become an entrepreneur, you can assign 1 hour a day to work towards your long term goal.
By doing so, you make slow but steady progress compared to “I will start my business in the future.”
9. Pay attention to soft skills
Josh focused all his energy on the tasks he had to complete. Nathan spent effort on improving his communication, presentation, empathy, and ability to influence people.
Even though you turn into a stalwart at the core aspect of your job, you will need to hone your soft skills. Communication isn’t only about persuading people to accept your opinion.
With the right words, you can help people understand the importance of your ideas. The right presentation can help the management understand the value your proposal is bringing in. Being empathetic will help you gain the support of your team to build an innovative product.
These are skills essential both at and outside work. Failing to scale up soft skills acts as an invisible barrier to your growth. You will realize something is blocking your path, but you cannot figure out what it is.
10. Know what not to do
Josh would bounce from one task to another, one project to another and one idea to another. Nathan stuck to his guns and pursued the things which mattered to his goal.
People tend to hunt for brilliant ideas which they hope will help them shoot up to the next level. Instead, if you focus on avoiding mistakes, you grow little by little.
The results do not appear apparent because you’re improving incrementally. You will not turn into an overnight millionaire or shoot up to fame due to a one-time wonder.
But in the quest to find the next big idea, you will fail to fix the little flaws in you which can bring you boatload of success over time.
“Avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance.” – Charlie Munger (More Charlie Munger quotes)
You will grow in your professional life if you set it as a daily goal. If you worry about your growth only when the goals are set or when it is time for the appraisal, you will progress only at a snail’s pace.
Irrespective of what goals your manager or organization sets for you, you must set goals for yourself.
The world has a false notion that people who climb up the ladder of professional growth do it at the cost of their personal lives. Many do, and many don’t. You can choose which side you want to be on.
“A passive approach to growth will leave you by the wayside.” – Tom Peters