When making New Year’s resolutions for 2014, think “marathon.”
No one is asking you to run 26.3 miles. But businessman and author Daniel Steenerson would like to see more professionals think of their careers in terms of a marathon. Instead of start and finish lines, there are a series of fresh starts and long-term goals. And in between are the “middle miles,” where fatigue sets in and employees start reporting to work as though on a treadmill.
Though Steenerson typically counsels entrepreneurs – who fail in such high numbers because the business equivalent of a “runner’s high” isn’t everlasting – his advice about muscling through the middle miles also applies to employees struggling to put one foot in front of the other.
During the middle miles, “It’s particularly important to apply a disciplined approach,” Steenerson says. “Every day, know what you will accomplish and how.”
Make sure your daily routine consists not of walking in place, but taking small steps toward your ultimate goal. Remind yourself that consistency is a quality that employers notice. So though the finish line is still far away, your determination and progress could gain you some fans and cheerleaders along the way.
Since mistakes can happen when fatigue sets in, take a pause if necessary before pressing on to assess and address the underlying causes, advises Russ Hovendick, founder, Directional Motivation, Sioux Falls, S.D.
“Self-assessment is really important,” Hovendick says, and begins with a series of questions.
1) Why am I feeling this way?
2) Am I overtaxed or am I bored?
3) Do I need more resources or more of a challenge?
4) Do I need to ask for help?
5) What will revitalize me?
An honest self-assessment may reveal the problem is complacency. “Sometimes, good is the enemy of great. Very often, people who achieve a certain degree of success stop visualizing the finish line,” Steenerson says. “They’ve gotten to where they are good at what they do, have the things in life that they want, so they see no incentive to work harder.”
But settling for “good” when great is on the horizon is the same thing as stalling out, with no further development.
If depletion is the underlying cause, it’s necessary to refuel, which takes effort. In a marathon, orange slices and cups of water are there for the taking all along the course – all runners do is stick out their hands to accept this refreshment. By contrast, an employee’s experience is more like the desert wanderer who must seek out water on hands and knees if necessary.
“When you’re in the middle mile and you’re dragging, it’s very counterintuitive but that’s when you have to dig even deeper,” Steenerson says.
And just when you think you cannot take on anything else, it may be time to do just that, he adds.
Take classes. Find a mentor. Hire a career coach. Or simply read. “Invest in yourself and get those creative juices flowing,” Steenerson says.
Piling more on isn’t always the answer. Sometimes paring down is the key to getting ahead. “Maybe you’re hitting your head against the wall because you’ve made things too complicated. Maybe you’ve become bogged down in details and it’s time to simplify,” Steenerson says.
With a finish line in sight, business professionals – like runners – experience a sense of elation. Having crossed the finish line, “as soon as you take on a new role or challenge, sit down and make a list of why you want to be in that role,” Hovendick says.
Later, with the exhilarating start and the exultant finish both miles away, you can refer back to the list “as sort of a GPS system to keep you motivated and on track,” he says.