3 strategies to empower yourself
As you progress in your career, it often becomes more difficult to ask for help to achieve your goals and to remain accountable to yourself for achieving them. If you’ve reached a career plateau, the author recommends three strategies for holding yourself accountable to your goals: 1) Hire an accountable partner. 2) Publicize the statement and shared goals. 3) Change your environment.
At the start of your career, you had bright eyes and a bushy tail. You asked for help and tapped into the wisdom of your mentors and managers to climb the mountain. But once you found success, you were afraid to look down. After all, it’s daunting at the top, when you think of how much you could lose. At this point, asking for help starts to feel a lot less like a learning experience and a lot more like proof that you might not be right for the job at hand.
And the more successful you are, the less responsibility you have. It’s not that you’re not responsible to anyone; it’s that your goals become much more subjective: Lead the legal team, run the business, run a department. So whatever the outcome, you can say, “Well, I did my best.” At the same time, your calendar begins to fill up with things you “have to do” as opposed to things you should To do. So you find yourself in meetings that you don’t really believe add value and you fight tooth and nail to find time for tasks and projects that actually create impact.
This combination of reduced responsibility, a long to-do list, and the fear of looking incompetent usually creates a career plateau. When we stop working on our individual skills, we stop growing. It’s that simple. To get out of this success trap, you need to create a higher level of accountability so that your actions don’t depend solely on willpower.
Here are three ways to get started.
1. Hire a responsible partner.
A few years ago, I had an idea of what I needed to do to grow my business as a keynote speaker: I needed to practice my speeches several times before presentations, and I needed to get better constructive criticism on the contents. But something – fear or maybe laziness – kept me from doing these things. I realized that I needed more accountability than I could provide on my own.
The research speaks to my situation. A study conducted by the Association for Talent Development found that your likelihood of achieving a goal depends on your accuracy and accountability. When you decide to pursue a goal, your chances of success are between 10% and 25%. By sharing your goal with someone you care about, you increase the probability to 65%. And when you ask that person to meet with you regularly to check in, your probability of success skyrockets to 95%.
Pretty amazing, right? I decided to put research to the test and hired a friend to act as my “boss” and hold me accountable for the big tasks I wanted to accomplish. I know it sounds silly, but even though I knew my so-called boss didn’t have the power to fire me, I improved my game dramatically. After all, I didn’t want him to be disappointed in me. I practiced talking with him for weeks before I gave birth. He helped me polish the confusing or ineffective aspects of each speech. On the morning of a presentation, we would do a final Zoom scan. Due to the increased practice, I started to receive more referrals and my business growth accelerated rapidly.
2. Publicize the statement and shared goals.
You don’t necessarily need to “hire” a boss to find an accountable partner, but you do need consistent reminders of your commitments.
According to a study on New Year’s resolutions, people who reach their goals often use a technique called stimulus control, in which they frequently remind themselves of those goals.
To do this, I inform as many people as possible of the great and noble goals that I have set myself. For example, last year I set myself the goal of doing my first pull-up. And not just one: I wanted to work up to 20 in a row. It would take a lot of stimulus check to sustain me. So I combined this challenge with another big goal: to raise $20,000 for the non-profit organization Big Brothers Big Sisters. I swore to do a pull-up for every $5 donated. Every time someone contributed to my campaign, I did the appropriate number of pull-ups and posted updates on my social media accounts. These posts not only helped me raise additional funds, but also made my fundraising challenge a topic of conversation when I met friends and acquaintances. This level of responsibility pushed me to work much harder than I would have done on willpower alone, and I ended up raising over $26,000.
It’s hard to underestimate the power of community support. For example, I also wanted to read a new marketing book to learn new skills, but I was afraid to find the time to finish it and act on the ideas. So I started a mini book club and found a few motivated people who wanted to join. Research shows that when you work with others and create a group for your goals, it dramatically increases your interest, resilience, and chances of success.
3. Change your environment.
Pursuing a long-term goal, like writing a book, getting a promotion, or drastically changing your life, is a complex, multi-step process. It’s easy to run out of steam in difficult times, especially if you rely on willpower to get through it. Most people who have consistently achieved their goals say they didn’t do so solely by relying on self-control; they changed the environment.
In fact, a Florida State University study found that participants who report self-control in spades also take steps to minimize temptations that could derail them. Although these people may possess stronger willpower than average, they succeed because they use their self-control to choose environments that will help them avoid the distractions and impulses that keep them from achieving their goals. In other words, instead of wanting to avoid scrolling Instagram, they leave their phone at home or block the app in their browser. The best temptation resisters spend less time fighting their impulses than others because they have optimized their environment to free them from confusing distractions.
Instead of working your way to your goals, step into a new environment where the achievement of those goals is supported and expected. When you’re under a legally binding contract, for example, you have a vested interest in maintaining steady progress.
I started creating contractual obligations for the really big goals I wanted to achieve. For example, when I was first working on a podcast, I struggled to release weekly episodes. I found myself posting them later and later each week. So I found a sponsor to support the show for 52 weeks. Now that I have this responsibility, the task takes on a whole new meaning in my life. I know I won’t miss any deadline. Similarly, while writing my books, I learned that if I involved a co-author to whom I made contractual promises about timelines and content, I would be much more likely to achieve my publishing goals than to lose momentum halfway through.
If you’ve stalled in your career after a rapid rise, you’re not alone. It’s not because you lack willpower, and it’s certainly not because you aren’t able to grow. The root cause of career plateaus is often the underlying fear that accompanies success. Don’t try to fight alone. Again seek help from others to increase your accountability and unlock your full potential.