While it may seem that everything is hurry, rush, go, go go in today’s world, life still moves along at a very steady, slow pace. In our careers and in our lives, we can push, we can press, but both often unroll at a rather unhurried pace. Sure we can push for that new job, that new promotion, that new house, but we can only hurry life along so much. At these times it is always wise to remember the old cliche that “slow and steady wins the race.” It is through constant, on-going action that we change our lives and careers. Sure, there will be dramatic shifts in our lives, but these dramatic shifts are often underpinned by weeks, months and years of steady preparation and progress.
Like many past Career Opportunities columns, I am drawing on my own life as the basis for this column. Due to some health concerns a few months ago, I am finally facing the need — and finding a way to address — some major weight loss. Losing weight is a constant source of frustration for Americans and one of the main reasons for this is lack of quick, dramatic progress. You can’t simply drop 40, 50, 60 pounds. No matter what method you use, it will probably take months and many of my fellow Americans simply aren’t that patient. We quickly lose the patience and focus that is required for long term, large volume weight loss and end up right where we were before. The same can be said for your career.
In any career we can find ourselves anxious to grow, to make an impact, to get the big house, the fancy car, the luxurious vacation. I will say, for many of us, these things are possibility, IF we take care of what needs to be done right now. If we focus on the day to day needs of our work and career, we can get there, but if we run off willy-nilly, jumping from job to job without thought to how that affects our career as a whole, we are actually making it much more difficult. It sounds ridiculous, but many of us are actively preventing our future success by ignoring the immediate realities of our work and career. By not focusing on each step we take today, we might be pushing our future success further and further away.
Part of the problem for me in losing weight — and for many people in their careers — is that we can’t see any progress from day to day. The actions we take each day infinitesimally effect our future, but without some way to gauge and monitor them, we can become frustrated and start flailing around for dramatic actions to take. I would caution against that unless you have a very clear plan as to why you are taking such dramatic action. Rather, you need to find a way to illustrate the small changes in your life so that you can see the trend.
When you are trying to lose weight, it is often advised you weigh yourself every day and note this information somewhere where you can see it. I recommend the same for your career. Find a metric that is important to you — salary, hours worked, hours spent working with important people, “effects” per day, whatever seems most important for you. Then, begin to track it on a daily basis. Now, even more importantly, I am going to ask you to ignore the daily tally and instead focus on a much more important, calculated piece of data — the trend line.
Whether you are tracking your weight or your income, or your impact, the direction of change or the trend is far more important to you than any single day’s data. My weight can go up and down on a daily basis, but as long as my trend is downward I am on the right track. By visualizing the trend — using either spreadsheet software or a web site tracking system — I make the small changes visible and tangible. I am far less likely to become frustrated and give up if I can make this trend clear to myself.
What trends can you track in your life to make the slow and steady changes visible to you? What means the most to you in your life and work? There will be trends both large and small that you can track, but I can assure you that tracking these trends will help you through the rough days and assist you making the most of the good days. Data allows us to make visible the invisible and doing so, every day, can greatly assist you in building the career you deserve.