I used to own a luxury car. Behind the wheel I felt rich, powerful, and yes – sexy. The feel and smell of the leather. The gleaming burnished wood of the dashboard. It spoke in a whisper that could not be ignored. To quote my mother: “that car screams class.” Did I mention it was a convertible?
It was 2014 and I had just completed my best year ever, steadily increasing revenue until I was earning three times what I had five years before. I had worked my tushie off and decided it was time to replace the dependable but boring starter wife, with her dull finish and 110,000 miles, with the younger, thinner racier envy producing model. I was on top of consultant world.
And then I fell off. It wasn’t a meteoric tumble or a series of stumbles, just a softening. I initially shrugged, thinking that not every year can be stupendous. Confident it was only a momentary lull, I embraced my inner working girl and shook off that outer borough thing to move into Manhattan and take up residence in a quiet, barely affordable part of town. But hey – I had made it after all! Success was mine, and it was here to stay.
Except it wasn’t. Ask my father and he’ll tell you that I’m full of it. That I always complain, and somehow every year do extremely well. Talk to my accountant and he’ll tell you that I make more money than any other sole proprieteter he’s ever met. Ask my next door neighbor and she’ll say that I fret about this every single year. Ask my son and he’ll reveal that…don’t ask my son.
But I can’t shake it out of my head that I had defined success as one year of exceptional business, and that every subsequent year was measured against it.The adrenaline rush of too much work was like hugging the curves on the Henry Hudson in that BMW. That type of validation isn’t just a drug – it’s an aphrodisiac. It’s not about the money, although that doesn’t hurt – it’s that feeling that you’re doing exactly what you were put on earth to do. And it wasn’t only you that knew it – everyone else did too.
But careers can hit idle. They stall. They plateau. They seem to be standing still. In organizations it feels like this: you want to be challenged again. You want to be the go to person everyone needs. You want to address a thorny problem that you can actually solve. You want the next big thing. You want a promotion. And you’re not getting it. And you don’t know how to. You push. You pull. Nothing’s moving. What to do?
You could panic. Fear is a great motivator – bested only by ambition. Fear and ambition together – a relentless and powerful cocktail of drive. And drive you it will, even if you make everyone around you miserable and sleep only four hours a night.
Personally I prefer a plan. I crunched the numbers; I hired some outside expertise; I took some courses. I stared anxiety in the face (gee, she’s ugly) And here’s what I learned – six ways to jump start yourself from neutral to third gear again:
- Keep taking risks. In 2015 I launched an on line platform. In 2016 I shut it down. My assumptions were wrong, it didn’t take off, and there was no sense pouring more money down its virtual drain. But it got my brain moving, showed creativity to my clients, and reminded me how much I love to learn and experiment.
- Connect and reconnect. I hate networking. But I do like spending time with smart people. And when I meet them, I work hard at forming authentic relationships. They keep me in their lives too, and those connections, even if they don’t directly lead to business, lead to new ideas and other connections.
- Define yourself narrowly. I do three things: I coach 1-2 levels below the C-Suite; I design and deliver leadership team off sites; I do high level presentation coaching. They’re really specific, which means they exclude a whole lot of other things. But now you get me and I’m focused on doing more of the work I both love and excel at. And I can speak more authentically about where and how I add value.
- Dust off the old. I started as a presentation coach 20 years ago, and just gave my first video workshop in six years. It was a gas. The group loved it, and I want to do more of it. Returning to what you love feels easy, and is a huge emotional boost. Look to do more of that in your role and if you can’t – teach it to others.
- Expand the game. Go to conferences. Join internal task forces. Spend more time with your boss, colleagues, team. Mentor someone. I coach United States Navy officer who wants to enter the talent development field. I volunteer as a presentation coach for women running for political office. All these things fight the isolation that naturally occurs when you feel stuck. Recharge by getting outside of yourself.
- Keep the faith. If for no other reason then because the opposite is despair. And you’re definitely not going to get anywhere with that being your fuel. Call it hope, optimism, or belief. Call it determination or grit. Call it Robert or Susan if you want. It’s trusting that consistent hard work fueled by desire has unforeseen impact.
If all else fails, remember the halcyon days of the Nixon administration, when everything seemed simpler, and the Chairman of the Economic Advisers, told us what we want to hear:
So light a candle. Say a prayer. Eat a doughnut. And get back to work.