“I put great effort into life in general. I really try, but I seem to have no effect,” she writes, her tone bordering on petulance. “We all know,” she continues, “that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different outcome. But what if you’re doing everything in your power to do things differently, every time – and yet still end up with the same result?”
I have known my friend (let’s call her Sue) since she was a child. We’ve been to each other’s weddings. Sue is Gen Y and I’m not. Everything has come easily to Sue: parental love, material goods, friends, money, children, marriage, divorce. On the cusp of 40, she’s at an age where people expect her to manage her life by herself. She’s finding that it’s not easy. She’s intensely frustrated, and part of her wants to be rescued.
Why are her own efforts not working?
In the The Portable You approach to career/life planning we look at four factors that can impact success: Essence, Tools, Customer and Effort. Effort is frequently the overlooked member of the quartet. Let’s look more closely at Effort.
Sometimes you apply a lot of effort to reach your goal and get nowhere. Is it bad luck, the punishment of the gods, external forces – not all of which you can do anything about – or are there some aspects of your effort that can be tweaked or improved?
Here’s three suggestions.
1. Make Your Effort Consistent
No matter what you pursue, be it physical fitness, a job, the partner of your dreams – you need to pursue it with a consistent level of effort, and you need to practice regularly. If you devote 100% of your time and focus one day of the week, and then coast for five days with no effort (waiting for the effort from the single day to pay off) you will likely be disappointed with the results.
In a traditional approach to job search, it’s really easy to fall into waiting for the opportunity, then executing the” job seeker’s sprint” – answer the job ad, tailor your resumé, and fill out the application to meet a short deadline – and then rest up until the next opportunity falls in your lap.
It takes discipline to work on job search as if it were real job, four to five days a week, regular hours. This means you plan, you develop a strategy, and you track the effectiveness of strategy. Replying to every job ad that crosses your path is not a strategy, any more than dating every person that asks you out leads to marrying a millionaire, or the person of your dreams. If your goal is to bench press 500 lbs., you have to train consistently, and build up your muscles for the competition.
2. Direct Your Effort at an Achievable Goal
If you apply effort consistently, but go after something for which you are unqualified, such as Prince George’s hand in marriage, or the first violin in the Toronto Symphony, or a job opportunity where you don’t meet the mandatory criteria and where you have no networking “in” with the employer – you are unlikely to meet your goal. You also risk being needlessly demoralized (even when the goal is a long shot, no-one likes to be turned down).
3. Focus Your Effort
If you apply your effort consistently and go after goals you are qualified for, but spread your effort too thinly, you will have trouble reaching your goal. If every day you run after a different job, in a different field, with a different employer, at a different level of responsibility, you lose the chance to build on what you have already learned or done successfully. Failure to focus makes it that much harder to see, evaluate and apply again the things you have done right, and again courts disappointment when your scattershot efforts do not bring results.
What if all your efforts have been superb– you have been consistent in your efforts, and targeted opportunities appropriately – and you still have not met your goal? What can you do?
Here’s three things I’ve learned to do.
1. Look at Your Timeframe
What do friends and experts say about the length of time to achieve your goal? Is it realistic for you to expect results at this point?
2. Realize That Failure May Precede Success
Failure is also a normal part of a life that is truly being lived. Never failing means never experimenting, never trying new things, never taking risks – never maturing. We don’t need to be “rescued” from our failures. Always looking for an external force to rescue us also does not allow us to mature, or to succeed in a brand new way, and not in somebody else’s way.
3. Step Back and Review Your Strategy
Formally tracking, and periodically reviewing your own experience (spreadsheet, journal) often provides an understanding about how and where best to apply and focus your effort. Seek and sift advice from others who have been there, as well as from books, online resources, workshops and professionals. Sometimes the perspective of a friend may be just the catalyst that allows you to re-point your effort so that it is effective and bears fruit.
Sue is still waiting for the rescue helicopter. Maybe you are too. If you find that waiting is not working so well anymore, take a fresh look at your efforts to reach your goals – be they related to career, finances, personal life- and re-examine those efforts.
Are you applying your efforts consistently-or sporadically? Are you pursuing an achievable goal-or an illusory one? Have you focused your efforts in a defined area of interest, or are your efforts all over the map? And if you need help in engaging with these questions, don’t be afraid to ask.