There is something different about Djokovic. This was the main thought running through my mind after my first night of attending the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. Many of the top players looked and played like the freakish athletes I expected to see, but not Djokovic. For all intents and purposes, Novak Djokovic looks like a normal guy. His tennis game is deceptively normal looking, too. This isn’t someone who charges his opponents and overwhelms them like Roger Federer or grits and grinds them into dust like Rafael Nadal. In fact, there is only one thing that really separates Djokovic from everyone else: The simplicity of his game.

Image: NewsYac

Image: NewsYac

There are no frills to Djokovic’s game. No flourishes or waste. Just stroke after stroke of carefully measured footwork and surgically straight cuts at the ball. At first I thought the simplicity of his game was incidental to the fact that he was the best tennis player in the world. But over the course of two weeks it became apparent that this simplicity helps him in important ways: He doesn’t tire, he’s unbelievably consistent, and he can channel a higher portion of his energy into his shots. As I watched this player who is not the fastest, tallest, or strongest dismantle everyone in his path on his way to the title, something became apparent: I was witnessing the superiority of simplicity.

 

Simplicity in Business

There are obvious business parallels to be drawn from Djokovic, and the most obvious is probably sitting in your pocket: The iPhone. One of the iPhone’s Android competitors, the Galaxy S6, has a larger and higher resolution screen, faster processer, better camera, thinner build, and lower price point. And yet I didn’t see a massive line of rabid fanboys lining up for the launch of the Galaxy S6. The smaller, less powerful iPhone has one thing that counteracts all of these disadvantages: Its user interface is simpler and easier to use. The iPhone’s advantage boils down to simplicity.

If you look at the major business successes of the last twenty years, almost all of them can attribute their success to simplicity. Walmart took every purchase you make on a regular (or even semi-regular) basis and put it all under one roof. Amazon took all of your online shopping and centralized it in one easy-to-use location. Uber took all the complexity and uncertainty out of getting a cab. The list goes on and on.

One recent startup called Casper brings simplicity to a notoriously complicated industry: mattresses. They sell just one type of mattress, its only modification being the size you buy it in. The mattress can be folded up and shipped so it comes directly to your door. That’s it. No more wandering through endless rows of mattresses on a showroom floor. No more picking your sleep number. No more tying a mattress to the roof of your car. With this simple business model, Casper did more than $20 million in sales in their first 12 months and have raised more than $55 million.

 

Simplicity and Your Professional Success

So the question: How do you use simplicity to your own advantage? There are some obvious lessons for the more entrepreneurial minded but it can be advantageous in other settings as well. The uses for simplicity fall into two areas: Removing decisions for others, and removing decisions for yourself.

1) Removing decisions for others

I saw an ad for a trash company the other day with the slogan “We’ll handle it from here.” I thought it was genius. When I put out my trash, I just want it gone. If I have to put out extra trash, I still just want it gone. If it’s a snowy day, I (yep, you guessed it) still just want it gone. I want everything taken care of properly and I don’t want to be involved in the process. Like it or not, most people feel about your job the way I feel about trash: They want you to take care of it properly and they don’t want to be involved.

I saw an example of the wrong way to do this at work when I needed a new laptop. I went to the IT staff and they asked me what kind of laptop I wanted. When I said I didn’t know they said to look it up, find something I like, and then come talk to them about it. It made me wonder why we pay them. IT staff are, by definition, technology experts and they should know what kind of laptop will best suit my needs better than I do.

The antidote to this is solutions first thinking. I’ve worked out an arrangement with my barber where I come in and he offers a solution first. It usually sounds something like “Hey Ben. So, I think it would look slick if we went with a four on the sides and took a half inch off the top, does that sound alright?” My haircuts are better and I am happier because the process is now simpler.

The reason my IT department doesn’t want to make life simple for me is it takes extra work. Steve Jobs, a master of creating simplicity, said “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” Anyone who has tried writing knows this. You spend about as much time deleting as typing. Being simple, succinct, and to the point takes work. It’s why Mark Twain once said “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” If you want to be successful, you have to take the time to remove decisions for others.

2) Remove decisions for yourself

In my closet at home, you will find the following things: Five dress shirts, five pairs of slacks, two suits, two sweaters, and two jackets. The rest of my piles and piles of clothes are sitting in boxes in a back room. I decided to remove the decision of what to wear from my daily routine. Doing this has made the start to my days significantly better. I haven’t suddenly become a billionaire or found the love of my life, but I am able to get out the door quicker and concentrate better at work for the first hour of my day.

Removing decisions from your life is hard because it means you won’t always make the very best decision. There could very well be a shirt in my storage that would look better, but I wouldn’t know because I refuse to reevaluate. Here’s the thing: I’m okay with that. Like the Galaxy S6’s slightly superior hardware, picking the very best shirt does not matter that much. Living simply allows me to focus on the things that do matter , like work and maintaining social ties.

If creating simplicity within your decision making sounds difficult or daunting, you can begin with a simple experiment: Next time you go to a restaurant, read the menu until you find the first thing you think you would enjoy. Then shut the menu. Don’t open it back up. You know what you’re going to order. Now you can focus on conversation with the other people at the table and being present in the moment. Congratulations, you have just simplified your life and allowed yourself to focus on the things that really matter. And I guarantee you, you’ll enjoy the food just as much as if you had spent fifteen minutes picking out the perfect dish.

By removing decisions for yourself and for others, by taking out the flourish and making things simple, you can add value where you are an expert. Like Djokovic on the tennis court, you can learn to devote exact, precise energy to the things that matter in your life.

get-a-masters-degreeGraduate school was the g-word while I was getting my undergrad. I spent most of my undergraduate time fired up about how horrible I thought higher education has become. Once I did my time (I guess most people call it graduating), there was no way in hell I was ever going to go back. I was 100% certain. But then, slowly, the idea of going back lost its bitter taste. Maybe I just forgot what school was like. Maybe I was bored and needed something to push me to keep learning. Either way, I’m now just a semester and a half away from graduating with a master’s degree.

As I transitioned from my deep, overly dramatic hate for more school to actually pulling the trigger on a program, I learned a lot about the process and the pros and cons involved. And so I offer to you four things I think every post-grad should consider before going back to school to get a master’s degree.

1. How much time can I commit?

This is a crucial question because most likely you have a full-time job taking up your time. Whether that’s your case or not, there are all kinds of programs built to work around your work schedule. Some offer night classes, some offer weekend classes, and some offer the freedom of no class time at all. There really are a ton of options.

However, keep in mind that even though schools will boast that you can get your degree in as little as 18 months or two years, that’s not always going to be the case. Since most graduate students are working full time and many are married and starting families, there are a thousand and one different things that could throw off your progress. For many grad students it’s just not feasible to take on a full credit load each semester. It’s not uncommon for some people to take an extra year or two to finish out because of personal or financial issues. Keep that in mind as you determine how much time you will realistically be able to devote to a program.

2. How will I pay for everything?

Undoubtedly, you can find the funding you need somehow. It may end up being through school loans, but depending on how quickly you want to graduate, you may be able to find scholarships or even a job that will reimburse some or all of your tuition. Tuition reimbursement is more common in larger companies, and it may be worth it to bite the bullet and work at a job you’re not all the way passionate about if it means graduating with less or no debt.

If you’re not lucky enough to fall under either of those circumstances, you may very well have to take out some loans. One thing to remember with loans is that once you graduate, you may not find your dream job right away. Your loans will start to come due and if you’re holding out for specific, higher-paying jobs, you may get into some trouble. Just because you’re qualified, doesn’t mean you will find the job you’ve been dreaming about right away. You might find that you have to stick it out at your current job or accept a job that isn’t your first choice. Otherwise you won’t be able to pay back your loans as they come due. That’s not always going to happen, but it is a possibility so it’s important to consider that going in.

And if you’re working full time to pay it off as you go, be prepared. I always had a job during my undergrad years, but that seems like a side salad compared to the steak dinner I have on my plate now. The demands are higher and the time commitment is more intense. But it is possible, so don’t let that discourage you if you really want to go for it.

 

3. Am I emotionally ready?

This is a big one you don’t often hear about, and one I didn’t fully understand until I was mustache deep into my program. I can tell you from personal experience that there will be a lot of days where you’ll wish you had never started. You will always have friends and family who seem to have an endless supply of time and resources to go out and have fun. You’ll feel pretty stupid when you have to turn down a road trip because a paper is due or spend time working on campus on a group project instead of at home with your family. Those missed opportunities will slowly eat away at you and can potentially diminish your motivation to finish.

Not to mention that since you’re in a higher level of coursework, your professors are going to demand more of you. Your work is going to be held to a higher standard than when you were an undergraduate, and you’ll have to deal with some harsh criticisms. You can’t let that get you down either. There is no progress without pain.

 

4. What are my motivations?

Why do you even want to go to graduate school? Maybe you’re just looking for higher-earning potential. You can definitely get that. However, there may be other options. Consider the cost and benefit of your degree vs. what you could learn on your own spending the same or less money on yourself instead of to a university. For example, there are certifications and specializations offered at tech schools and other specialized institutions that may be a better bet. As an example, in a WSJ article highlighting the pros of skipping an MBA, they mention a programming bootcamp that costs $12,000 with 88% of its graduates getting job offers starting at $79,000. So there are plenty of options.

Maybe you want to go to grad school because you’re afraid of actually getting out into the real world. Some people use school as a crutch because they think it’s easier to keep following the structure of a school program as opposed to forging their own path in the real world. Something to think about.

Or maybe you love education and want to continue on to get a PhD. If that’s the case, I applaud you. That’s some serious dedication.

These are just a few of the things I found to be helpful as I made my decision to continue my education. If you’re really thinking about going back to school, I highly suggest you do a little LinkedIn stalking for people who have graduated with the degrees you are considering. Reach out to them and get their perspective. They have no reason to sugar coat things and lie to you about their experiences. I found a couple graduates who really helped me weigh the specific pros and cons of the programs I was considering. After weighing all the pros and cons, those conversations eventually helped me solidify my decision. So far my experience has been exactly as they described it would be.

Best of luck to you in your journeys!

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My complicated relationship with the pre-dawn hours is one I know many of you have as well. Waking up before the sun is a ritual I have yet to master in my adult years. Why do I let my warm bed convince me to hit the snooze button more times than I’d like to admit? When I wake up early and give myself some buffer time for study and exercise before work, I always feel better throughout the day. I’m usually much more productive as well. So why do I ever let the sleep monster win? In my efforts to improve that aspect of my life, I happened upon the example of Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson definitely left his mark on the American people. Not only was he the third president of the U.S. of A, he also wrote the Declaration of Independence and founded the University of Virginia. I could easily fill this entire post with his accomplishments, but instead I want to focus on a small aspect of his life that I believe dramatically affected his ability to get things done.“Whether I retire to bed early or late, I rise with the sun.” -Thomas Jefferson

Rising with the Sun

Jefferson was no stranger to the battle of the sleep monster. For fifty years—yes you read that correctly—Jefferson never let the sun catch him in bed. As soon as it was light enough to read the clock in his room, Jefferson sent the sleep monster packing and began his morning rituals.

I believe having a predetermined structure to his mornings really helped him wake up early. One of his odd early-morning rituals was to soak his feet in cold water. Whatever works I guess… In addition, no matter where he had spent the night, when he woke up he was diligent about recording the temperature and other weather related information. Weather was a passion of his, and Jefferson used the morning hours before the demands of the day took up all of his time to focus on it.

I found it interesting that Jefferson didn’t fill his morning with the labors of his professional life. He used that time to work on his own personal projects. Too often my day is filled up entirely by the demands of others—whether they be for work, school, friends, or family. By the end of the day, there is rarely any time left for myself, and even when there is, I’m too tired to do anything productive with it. I usually end up binging through Parks & Rec episodes and falling asleep on the couch.

And according to Jefferson, that isn’t a great way to end the day either. He also had a structured nightly ritual.

I never go to bed without an hour, or half hour’s previous reading of something moral, whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep.”

-Thomas Jefferson

Instead of going to sleep with the stresses of the day on his mind, he took time to center himself and prepare for the next morning.

Not respecting your own time is incredibly detrimental to personal progress. How will you ever learn and grow if you never give yourself the time of day? You owe it to yourself to take at least an hour of personal time every day.

 

We All Have 24 Hours

While researching the habits of various successful individuals, I realized that waking up early is common to many of them. One lesser-known example I found was a 19th-century novelist by the name of Frances Trollope. Trollope had a busy life. Her husband was sick and she had six children to care for. Low on funds to support her family, she began her writing career at the age of 53, proving you’re never too old to accomplish your dreams. Since her day was dominated by the demands of others, the only time she could find for herself was the morning. She woke up at 4am each morning to write.

Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals professes a similar affinity for working on personal projects in the early morning. As he puts it, “I simply don’t have the mental or bodily energy to be as distraction-prone as I am later in the day.”

At the end of the day, I often wonder where the time has gone. If we all have 24 hours in a day, how do some people accomplish so much more than others? I think Thomas Jefferson had it figured it out. If waking up early had not given any advantage to a man who was so influential to the founding of the United States, he would have never have continued with it for 50 years.

In an effort to practice what I preach, I woke up at 5 am to write this post. And you know what? It felt great. I was able to spend time doing something I enjoy and I was able to focus much more easily. I also had a little extra time to stop off at the donut shop on my way to work. Normally I have to skip breakfast and stress about traffic because I wake up late and have to spend my first seconds of the day hurriedly deciding if I need a real shower or if a Dwyer Shower will suffice.

So I thank you, Mr. Jefferson… and I’m sure my coworkers thank you too.

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The event I came back from was nothing like school. Over 100 “millennial misfits” came together for the Under 30 Changemakers event in San Francisco with a goal to meet, help, and learn from each other.

I met 16-year old Victor Cheng, who has traveled to over 30+ countries and is now an associate working for Altos Venture.

I met 19-year old Jared Kleinert, serial entrepreneur and author of 2 Billion Under 20: How Millennials Are Breaking Down Age Barriers and Changing the World

I finally met 20-year old Tara Bryne, founder of Under 30 Changemakers, who has built a passionate community of 1,000+ millennials.

Everyone I met was so ambitious and were all creating a life full of purpose and meaning.

THIS is the environment every young person should be surrounded by.

Instead of focusing their time on partying every weekend and going through life’s motions, these “millennial misfits” have developed an intrinsic motivation to be the progressive leaders of our generation. But why? Tara Bryne states,

“Millennials and Gen Y will make up 75% of the workforce by 2020. The outliers and influencers of this generation impact their peers to work on world issues greater than their own world’s. Millennial Misfits are the outliers– they choose to take the long way home, understanding that what is right is not always fast, simple, and easy. They are creating new paths than the ones before ours, sometimes without college and traditional work and homelife in the mix. Millennial Misfits are daring enough to create their own life.”

We not only want to take the long way home, we have genuine intentions to leave the world better than we found it. With many new social and political initiatives emerging, millennials are solving the world’s important problems.

Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise, refers to us as the “cause generation.”

“It’s the cause that matters to [millennials], not just the organization. This is reiterated in the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, and it’s a sentiment I see over and over with many of the young adults with whom I’ve worked over the years. It means that millennials are motivated by the meat of the issue above all else.”

Millennials are increasingly eager to join non-profits or work for a company that they believe will benefit the world. No longer is it all about the money. Today, you’ll see many young people go off the beaten path that their parents have paved for them to pursue their true passions. Whether that pertains to art, social good, or tech. Why? Because of opportunity. Like how anyone can get Tim Ferriss to be their mentor, anyone can learn anything they’re interested in, the information is right at their fingertips. Millennials are starting tech companies left and right. Millennials are turning their idea into reality from hackathons. Millennials are sharing their stories through blogs, books, or podcasts.

Not only is it easy to acquire new skills, technology has eliminated many of the world’s gatekeepers. We can now publish a book without a publisher, produce a movie without a million dollar budget, or buy new things and use it the next day (Go Amazon!). Jared Kleinert has spent the last year interviewing with millennials from around the world and comments,

“Millennial “misfits” are actually just the people redefining success, breaking down barriers, and are ultimately changing the world. As we’ve seen in the process of creating 2 Billion Under 20 , young people from all walks of life (business, science, arts, athletics, and more) are using a mixture of exponentially greater technologies, increased entrepreneurial skill sets and access, and elevated consciousness about the deterioration of long-standing, but failing, institutions like government and higher education to do incredible things at younger ages than ever possible before.

Not only that, but we are connecting with one another, and the collective network of Millennial talents out there, like the one we are developing, will lead to a “world takeover” in a positive way as Tam’s headline references.”

We can start anything we want, anytime. This is why anytime I read an article about how millennials are lazy or slobs, I shake my head.

I think of YouTube celebrity and make up guru Michelle Phan, who has started three different companies and is positively affecting her 8 million subscribers.

I think of Youth Speaker, Josh Shipp, who has shared his uplifting story to millions of teens around the world.

I think of Hoodie Allen who quit his full time job at Google to pursue his real passion in music. Today Hoodie performs in sold out crowds around the world doing what he truly loves.

And I think of the countless success stories millennials choose to have when they use their passions for the benefit of the world. Age is slowly becoming irrelevant in today’s society. These millennial misfits are already taking over the world and proving it with their work. Are you next?

The power to learn is in your hands.  Head over to Degreed to get credit for reading this article and find more learning to expand your expertise.

There is a legend of a Persian king who asked his wise men to come up with a sentence that would offer him good counsel in all times and situations. According to the legend they provided him with a ring, inscribed with the words “This too shall pass.” With this simple phrase, the king would be comforted in bad times, and humbled in good times.

This advice is great counsel that is often forgotten. In my experience, most people have a tendency to project their current situation into the future indefinitely. When things are bad, we feel they will never improve and when they are good, we tend to believe we have it made from here on out. This may seem like a relatively innocuous quirk of human nature, but its effects can be debilitating.

The Bad Times Don’t Last

My junior year of college, I almost dropped one of my majors (I dual-majored). I had had it up to here with Political Science. I was bored with my classes and my research and, as a consequence, I wasn’t performing up to my standards. I figured this meant that studying or working in political science would always be boring and unfulfilling, so I could see no reason to keep with it. I can’t remember what kept me from quitting (it was probably aversion to the idea of starting over with a new major) but ultimately I did stick it through, which is good because I quickly returned to loving the subject matter.

I had confused a mood for something bigger, and forgotten that it would pass. Things get better and then they get worse and then they get better again. Our interest in subject matters waxes and wanes. In our bad times we often forget this. We believe things will persist in their current state in perpetuity, which can cause us to abandon things that ultimately bring us happiness.

The Good Times Don’t Last

Additionally, the delusion that things will always be great can also be damaging. In the book Engineering Happiness, authors Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells define happiness as reality minus expectations. Happiness can be lowered just as much by inflated expectations as by a poor experience. When we start into a particularly interesting field we often fail to account for the fact that it will not always remain so all the time.

I was talking with a friend who works in the field and for the exact company that he had always dreamed of. Unfortunately, he has recently been feeling a sort of boredom and malaise at work. He asked me, “What do you do when you’re bored with your dream job?” I couldn’t think of an answer on the spot, but the more I think about it, I think my answer would be “You keep working. Things will get better.”

The Best Advice For Any Situation

 

Making Grounded Decisions

My mom likes to tell a story about going through a tough time when she was a teen. She can’t remember what she was sad about but something had set her off and she was crying her eyes out in her room. My grandpa with his usual wit and Irish wisdom poked his head through the door and said “It’s just weather of the soul, honey.” He understood that it would pass.

When making career and education decisions, it is important to make decisions based on the things that never or rarely change, rather than the weather. The one question I always try to ask myself before making a decision is “Did I feel this way one month ago? If not, what has changed?” Always gut check yourself before making a big decision to make sure you’re not making a long-term decision based on a short-term mood because, after all, this too shall pass.

 

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Having mentors is a game changer. People can confuse “mentors” to mean learning from some old guy who speaks only in proverbs. Mentors can be anyone who has been in similar shoes before, gained experience, and can help you on your journey. Roy H. Williams had a great quote;

“A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.”

This is why professional athletes consistently reach out to veterans for advice. Mentors alone can potentially save the rising athletes years of mistakes and failures.

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Veteran Hakeem Olajuwon coaching NBA Star Dwight Howard

But how do you get a mentor? And why would they want to help a random person like you?

This is the question that I’ve been trying to solve for the last three years. To my luck, I’m extremely grateful to have successful entrepreneurs like James Altucher, Tim Ferriss, and Pat Flynn as some of my mentors.

What’s my secret? Simple. I read their books. I listen to their podcasts. I consume their work.

Another illusion about mentorship is that the “mentor” has to be right by the “mentee” holding their hand. But if a mentor is someone who has been in similar shoes and is willing to help you out, aren’t books and podcasts technically a form of “mentorship”?

Take James Altucher as an example. He is a famous investor, author, and entrepreneur most known for his authentic writing style. James has over 20+ years of experience over me in areas like business, writing, and life. I’ve consumed a significant amount of James Altucher’s work including his most recent book, The Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth

That book single handedly inspired me to develop a daily practice and improve myself in four main areas of my life: Emotionally, Physically, Mentally, and Spiritually. James’ Podcast Episode 21 titled, College Is A Scam, was the tipping point for me to drop out of school. Ep. 23 with Steve Scott, an author of over 40 e-books, sparked my interest to write my first book which is up on Amazon right now! Ep. 90 with Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, helped me reflect on my life identify what I truly wanted in life.

What mentors can offer

When a prolific author writes a book (or appears on a podcast) and distills their knowledge into a condensed piece of art, it’s time to pay attention! I would even argue a few life-changing books would be more useful than an entire year of college classes. My favorites are:

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau

On top of consuming their work, I took it a step further and started my own podcast. This gave me a chance to interview brilliant people every week including, Charlie Hoehn (Former Director of Special Projects for Tim Ferriss), Ryan Porter (Tech Entrepreneur & Youth Speaker), & Dave Fontenot (Hackathon Leader).

You can learn ANYTHING from the BEST people in the industry for less than the cost of your next lunch at Chipotle. Podcasts are free (including starting your own). YouTube is free. Quora, Reddit, or any blog on the internet is free. Online college courses are free! Scott Young got an MIT education at the comfort of his own home. He also made a bunch of MIT students incredibly envious from the amount of money and time he saved. Books are dirt cheap, especially on Kindle. Online Courses are embarrassingly affordable (most are free). Make the world your classroom and keep track of your learning with Degreed!

To say that James Altucher and other mentors had a big impact on me is a huge understatement. Although I never met James, Tim Ferriss, or Pat Flynn in person, their mentorship has been one of the biggest factors in accelerating my learning.

If you want to have your own high-class mentors, start with these three basic steps:

1. Go find 3 people in your space that you admire and want to learn from

2. Consume their work: Books, Podcasts (See if they have been interviewed on other podcasts), Courses, Blogs, Video.

3. Use their advice and take ACTION
Bonus step: Send your new mentors an email telling them how much they have changed your life. They will seriously appreciate you, trust me.

 

Tam is a speaker, entrepreneur, and podcast host. He writes regularly to his exclusive newsletter at Outside Of The Classroom, hacking the education that school never gave you. You just learned about career planning and personal development, click here to track this article on degreed.

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Photo Source: James Altucher

Advancing in a career is an endless process of moves and countermoves. We often seek out our purpose in life through our careers and then use our career towards defining ourselves as people. One of the first questions that someone may ask upon meeting you is, “What do you do for a living?” You, then, proceed to introducing your profession, company, and possibly even provide the responsibilities that are required of you in that role.

For those of us who have been in a specific industry for many years, it may become routine to have an automatic reply when it comes to describing exactly what we do for a living. Although there are many people who are content with where they are in their career, there are many young, aspiring professionals who have not yet reached that stage. Even those who are seasoned professionals may still want more out of their career. After all, contentment never allots for growth.

7-Techniques-For-Career-Plateau

Often times, we reach a career plateau when we are just not exactly where we want to be at a certain point of our lives. It is difficult to stay motivated and not get discouraged during these times. Understanding that hard work, consistency, and persistence are key elements to growth is essential towards taking that next leap into a new job or different field. It is important to keep a positive mental attitude when seeking to advance in your career. Keep in mind that it IS a process. Use these seven techniques to stay motivated when you have reached a career plateau :

 

1.) Put 100% into what you are currently doing, even if you don’t like doing it
Just because you aren’t fully enjoying what you are currently doing doesn’t mean you should produce less quality work. It is important to be cognizant of your professional image and still retain the integrity of what you do. The amount of effort you put into something is a reflection of yourself. Don’t let your work suffer because you are unmotivated.

 

2.) Seek outside opportunities for learning
Knowledge is power. There are an endless amount of resources at our disposal for us to gain further education such as books, e-books, informational seminars, and online courses and MOOCS. You can find tons of learning content on any subject in Degreed. It is never too late to learn. Enhancing your knowledge and skills is a great resume builder and it makes you a more appealing candidate.

 

3.) Do the research
Learn more about what you are seeking to accomplish within your career. Find out the necessary requirements for your ideal role and what you have to do in order to fulfill those requirements. Research background information on the internal processes for whichever field you are interested in and research the kind of company that you would like to work for.

 

4.) Learn from other professionals who are models of success
They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. We want to get to those positions which we deem as successful. We examine the lifestyle and routine of those who are models of success in order to understand how they’ve reached that point which we someday hope to reach. Find you favorite career idol and see if they’ve published advice for productivity, progression, and creating successful careers. Even better, get a mentor in your ideal position that can be available to help share their knowledge and expertise.

 

5.) Network with other professionals in that field
Building your professional network is one of your strongest allies in regards to landing your dream job or breaking into a new industry. Having connections is one of the most common ways people use to advance in a career. According to a report by ABC News, 80% of jobs are obtained through networking . As you trail further down your career path, you may notice that your network of professional connections begins to overlap into other areas. One connection can lead to a life-changing opportunity (this is where tip #4 can really come into play). Try attending events like conferences, or interacting on twitter with other professionals.

 

6.) Set goals for yourself
Create a timeline for how and when you want to get things accomplished. Use this timeline as a way to keep yourself on track and measure your progress. Sometimes, it’s better to have a physical list of goals to have as a visual. When we read and study this list, it is stored in our mind and we are able to mentally rehearse this information. In fact, you’re 42% more likely to accomplish a goal just by writing it down.  It is important to have a clear direction on where we are going so that we can prepare for what may be in store. Here’s the science on setting better goals.

 

7.) Never give up
Through all the moments of trials and tribulations, it is difficult to stay positive and not give up. Give yourself time to make progress, and don’t get too discouraged even when things are not going as you had hoped. Remember, you are more than just your job title. One day, you will look back and learn from those times of hardship and you will thank yourself for pushing forward and moving toward goals. Opportunities will come as long as you continue to actively work towards receiving them.

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You can find Lindsey on Twitter and LinkedIn

Not speaking up in a meeting, how I styled my hair in high school, failing to accomplish goals- these are regrets. The list can be long and vary on emotional pain levels depending on how deep we want to dig. We are humans, and being human means having experiences which can result in regret. Like fears, we all have them and my bet is it would take you less than 10 seconds to think of a few things that you regret.

While watching Kathryn Schulz’s ted talk “Don’t regret regret” she shared a statistic that rattled me, and I had to dig a little deeper to find out what was going on with what research has shown to be our number one regret in life: Our Education .

The Study

Many studies have been done on regret, yielding similar results about what we regret the most about our lives.  Neal J. Roese and Amy Summerville completed a meta-analysis of 11 different regret ranking studies to do the first integrative summary on what American’s regret most. They then set out to determine why we regret certain domains of life more than others. What’s the link?

Here’s what they found:

When we look at our lives and experiences, these are the things that we regret the most- in descending order

1. Education

2. Career

3. Romance

4. Parenting

5. The Self

6. Leisure

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For Americans, education and career make up a whopping 54% of our regrets . More than half of our regrets are a result of our career or our education. What makes us regret these things more intensely?

According to the study, the Opportunity Principle. Areas where we perceive the most opportunity to better our lives create the most regret .  Even the definition regret itself speaks to loss of opportunity

Regret: “feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, especially a loss or missed opportunity).”

The Opportunity

Today, education can be obtained throughout life and in many different means. With so much open access to information in the form of social media (especially YouTube), new areas of study, online schools, countless articles, and MOOCs all providing opportunities to learn and near instant access to some form of learning. You can always learn something, at any given time. This means we are living in a world where you have the constant opportunity to progress your knowledge. Furthermore, as the study states, education opens many doors for desired life outcomes;

“Education is widely recognized to be a gateway to numerous other valued consequences, from higher income to more challenging career to wider diversity of social contacts. Education is therefore a means to achieving several important ends, and any of these ends gone awry might have been avoided with more education.”

Take Action.

More than at any other time in history, we have access to education- which can lead to our desired life outcomes. Analyze your regrets. What’s on the list? What’s a goal that, if left unaccomplished, will result in regret? Write it down.

Get a game plan. The best use of our precious commodity of time is to prevent future regrets in their tracks- that means progression both in education and career. It won’t be comfortable to take action, but that’s where the magic happens. Lucille Ball once said “I’d rather regret the things I have done than regret the things I haven’t” so take a chance on learning something new and getting out of your comfort zone, before you regret it.

 

Failed Side Projects

Tell me if this story sounds familiar to you: After four years at a grueling consulting job, Josh decided he was ready to go to business school. In order to gain access to a top 10 business school as he was hoping to do, Josh believed he would need to score a 680 on the GMAT. Though he only scored a 630 on his initial practice GMAT, Josh believed he could improve that score by 50 points or more if he would put in two hours of studying every day after work for three months.

Josh started with the momentum of a boulder rolling down hill. He immediately drove down to Barnes and Noble, bought three $30 GMAT prep books, and studied like a madman for the next three days. However, on the fourth day, Josh had a particularly hard day of work. He cracked open his books, but checked his texts a little intermittently. The next day he checked his texts almost as much as he looked at his textbooks. A month later, studying for the GMAT was little more than a distant memory.

I have seen this pattern repeat itself with a number of side projects: New business ventures that are supposed to be someone’s big break fail to even get a business license. A corporate analyst who is going to learn to code so he can strike out and create his own app barely gets past “Hello, world.” A friend who decides to learn Spanish fails to so much as learn the finer points of “hola.” If you have ever been in one of these situations, welcome to the club. I’ve been a part of at least five, and most people I know have dabbled in at least one.

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Why LeBron Doesn’t Run Marathons

Here’s the good news: You are not an inherent failure. Rather, you have designed your life so as to create the perfect storm of bad circumstances for side project productivity, leading to near certain failure. You have scheduled your day to make it nearly impossible to focus on your passion project. Congratulations!

Recent research has demonstrated that focus works similar to a muscle. If you use it too hard for too long then it gets exhausted and no longer functions properly. In one study, participants were asked to hold their hand in ice water for as long as they could. The catch was that some of the participants had previously been asked to sit through a tearjerker movie without showing emotion. Those who had to use their will-power to hold in their emotions were not able to hold their hand in ice water for as long, demonstrating focus fatigue.

Unless you work as a politician, you are generally expected to exert some mental energy and focus when you are at work. As the day goes on, your focus muscle gets more and more fatigued. When you arrive home from work, you are at a level of peak fatigue.

Trying to go home and start a new business or learn a new skill is the equivalent of LeBron James going home from a full day of basketball practice and deciding he’s going to train for a marathon. Maybe he could get away with it for a day or two based on sheer determination and motivation but eventually his body is going to say “No thanks, buddy. I’m going to sit this one out.”

 

Learning Vacations and “Vegged-Out Learning”

I am not telling you to despair of learning something new. In fact, quite the opposite! But it’s important to organize your learning in such a way that will allow you to avoid focus fatigue. There are two main tactics for accomplishing this: Dedicated learning times that I like to call “Learning Vacations” and focus-neutral learning sessions that we will refer to as “Vegged-Out Learning.”

I’ll give you an example of a learning vacation. At my current job, we are encouraged (i.e. required) to complete an online Market Research Certification course. For a couple months I tried to study for an hour or two here and there after work. I almost always lost focus and floundered. A more experienced co-worker who had completed the course years previously gave me good advice. “I tried studying after work for a while. It’s not efficient. Just take three Saturdays, study the whole day those three days and knock it out.” I took three Saturdays and set them apart as my learning vacation days. That’s all it took to complete the whole course.

If the idea of learning vacations is you set up time when you will have full focus energy, then the idea of vegged-out learning is to not use any energy at all. One very simple example: I learned to speak Spanish fluently eight years ago. Recently I noticed it was getting a little rusty, and decided I wanted to sharpen my Spanish skills. So I went into Netflix, changed my account settings to Spanish, and upped my Netflix usage a little.

There are now many programs and courses that use gamification to keep learning fun and therefore focus-neutral. The guy from the beginning who was studying for the GMAT, Josh? Eventually he decided that he actually liked the challenge of taking practice GMAT’s, it was just the subject learning that was unenjoyable. So he changed his studying method to be 90% taking practice tests. While not truly focus-neutral, this placed a much needed reduction on the amount of will-power he had to spend on studying. He ended up improving his score by exactly 50 points and getting into the business school of his choice.

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Putting It All Together

If you would like to finally get to the finish line in learning a new skill, then a combination of learning vacations and vegged-out learning will probably be necessary. Both have their drawbacks: You cannot rely solely on learning vacations because you don’t have the time, and vegged-out learning is best for reinforcing previously learned skills and is not ideally suited for the initial take-off of learning about something you previously knew nothing about.

Here’s an example of how you could structure your life to take advantage of both these techniques to learn a new skill. For this example, we’ll assume that the skill you would like to learn is to speak French.

First, set up mini-learning vacations by buying beginning French textbooks or online courses and setting aside six hours on eight consecutive Saturdays to teach yourself the basics. Plan a two-week vacation to France to occur at the end of those eight weeks. Make sure it includes activities that will force you to speak French. Insist on ordering your baguette every morning in French. Plan to put yourself in situations where you will be able to make friends. Add those friends on Facebook and Instagram.

Once you have the basic French skills that you learned from your learning vacationing, reinforce and build on that with vegged-out learning. Of all the time you spend on social media (it’s a lot, don’t lie to me), shift 25% of it to French. Follow French celebrities, politicians, or athletes on Twitter. Connect with the friends you made in France on Facebook. Get lost in French YouTube videos, not language learning videos, but discover French music and comedians and whatever else it is you already like (French cat videos, maybe?).

By using eight weekends, a two week vacation, and a portion of the time that you already spend on the internet, you can learn a new language.

If you want to get over that hump and finally make progress on a new skill or project, it’s time to stop working so hard, and start working smart.

You can find Ben on Twitter.

All learning matters. Get credit for reading this article and track all your progress with learning vacations and vegged out learning on Degreed. Click the links below to share these tips on finally succeeding at side projects.

You may be familiar with American Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, who developed the theory of self-actualization. In Maslow’s studies, he identified the hierarchy of needs which include five fundamental elements needed in order to reach the stage of self-actualization. These five elements are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. Maslow argues that an individual cannot be fulfilled in life unless all five elements are met, working from the bottom to the top.

Throughout life, we work towards acquiring these elements so that we can live a comfortable life. We immerse ourselves in various every day activities. One of the activities that plays a large role in our lives is work. Similarly, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be directly translated into our needs within our careers. Although we all have varying work schedules, we dedicate a great deal of time towards our jobs and the responsibilities they require. This is how the hierarchy of needs applies to our growth and happiness within the workplace.

 

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  1. Physiological Needs –Air, food, drink, shelter, sleep

At work, your physiological needs include the factors that make up the work environment such as a clean working space, work supplies, technology, etc. In order to carry out tasks efficiently, you first need to have the essential tools and assets readily available. A lack of physical comfort at work can result in distraction or failure to produce work that meets the expected standards.

 

  1. Safety Needs –Protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear

Making sure you feel safe from any harm, whether it is mental or physical, is a significant aspect in the quality of life at work. There are various factors that play part in ensuring safety in the workforce. These factors include a reasonable income, medical/dental insurance, accommodating benefits, and proper rules and regulations implemented by Human Resources. A lack of safety or a culture of fear can lead to work-related stress which can impose major consequences both inside and outside of work.

 

  1. Love and Belonging Needs –Friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work group, family, friends, romantic relationships

One of the needs that could make or break your path to self-actualization at work is feeling support and a sense of belonging with people you work with. Teamwork, mentorship, and a sense of acceptance from co-workers largely affect how employees feel about the company. It is important for you to feel like you are a valuable asset to the team, and to feel that you are making a contribution towards end goals. Without the support from fellow co-workers, one can feel insignificant, isolated, and alone.

 

  1. Esteem Needs –Achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, self-respect, respect from others

Esteem needs go hand in hand with love and belongingness needs. Feeling that your work matters and is recognized by others plays a large role in how you feel about yourself. Mastering concepts and becoming an expert at what you do builds esteem. In addition, the way you present yourself at work is imperative in gaining the trust and respect from your surrounding peers. It is also essential towards your own personal growth within a company.

 

  1. Self-Actualization Needs –Realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences

Realizing your full potential by seeing your path and where it can lead you is the ultimate goal in any work experience. Learning how and where you can apply your skills and knowledge greatly impacts the future you see yourself having. Self-Actualization within your career can result in peak experiences that make you a better employee and member of society.

 

All work experiences are a significant learning experience towards the person that you want to become and where you want to succeed. Once we achieve the fifth level of Self-Actualization, our needs are met to enable us to pursue the career of your dreams. Where are you now? How can you push yourself to reach the next level?

 

Tweet us your thoughts on how Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies to your career at @degreed. You just learned about psychology and personal development, track what you learned on your Degreed profile.

 

You can find Lindsey on Twitter and LinkedIn

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