Dear Friends and Clients,

Ryan was a top student at college and a star in business school. As a young professional, his performance reviews were excellent and his bonuses reflected the fact that his bosses were pleased with his work.

But instead of feeling good about his career progress, Ryan was frustrated and angry. He thought he wasn’t getting the right promotions, and he envied B-school classmates who seemed to be climbing corporate ladders more quickly.

Throughout his young life, Ryan had been rewarded for his good work. But now, it seemed, he just wasn’t getting the acknowledgment he deserved. In particular, he missed the academic setting, where he could work on a project for a semester, get rewarded with an “A” and then move on.

During coaching, Ryan recognized that his expectations about upward advancement were unrealistic for the culture of the company where he worked. Yet he liked his work, regarded his employer as first class, and didn’t want to move to another corporation.

Instead of looking for another job where he might get even more positive reinforcement, Ryan decided to learn how to find more satisfaction in his work. And as Ryan learned, we can experience a profound shift when we stop obsessing about rewards and start investing more energy in the way we process each day's work.

Warm Wishes, Bev

Work Through the Plateaus
To Enjoy the Process While
Reaching Your Long Term Goals

February 3, 2009 * Number 97

For high achievers, one of the toughest career challenges can be working through the flat periods. What do you do, for example, if you like your job but you’re getting a little bored and there’s no change in sight? How do you work through those journeyman years when you’re no longer an excited novice, yet you remain far from the top of your profession?

In his wonderful little book, “Mastery,” George Leonard translates Zen tradition into practical suggestions for sticking with it. Often he draws on sports examples, describing how you can grow more centered as you travel the path from beginner to skilled athlete. He says that whether you want to be a leading attorney or a tennis star, the journey you must travel is on the path toward mastery.

An unavoidable challenge is that the master’s path is never straight up. The mastery curve – the curve of learning and achievement – is the same, regardless of the endeavor. Learning any new skill involves relatively brief spurts of progress, each of which is followed by a slight decline to a plateau that is probably a bit higher than the one that preceded it.

Leonard says that there are three common but unsuccessful styles for avoiding the mastery curve. There’s the Dabbler, who approaches each new opportunity with enthusiasm, loves getting started, but then starts looking around for something new when the honeymoon wanes and the job curve flattens out.

Then there’s the Obsessive, a bottom-line person who takes pride in not settling for second best. The Obsessive strives mightily to keep making progress, redoubling effort to rise from the first plateau. Sooner or later, however, when the plateau can no longer be avoided, the disgruntled Obsessive is likely to get hurt and to cause pain for others as well.

Finally, there’s the Hacker, who gets the hang of a thing but then is content to remain on the plateau indefinitely. The hacker may avoid professional meetings, leave work early and always do just enough to keep getting a paycheck.

On the other hand, there are the masters. When we are on the path of mastery, not only do we find a way to work through the inevitable plateaus, but also we learn to enjoy the process.

Is there a realm in your life where you’re caught on a plateau? To continue on the journey toward becoming a master, consider these keys:
  • Create a practice. A “practice” (as a noun) is anything you practice on a regular basis as an integral part of your life, not just to gain something else. For example, you might have a yoga practice or a meditation practice. In your professional life, a practice might include daily habits that assure you are organized, well informed and fully engaged in your work. The more you perform the basic steps of your practice, the more you will enjoy it and along the way your skills will deepen.

  • Shape your intention. Golf Legend Jack Nicklaus said that a successful shot was 50 percent visualization, 40 percent setup, and only 10 percent swing. In sports and at work, we can improve our skills by visualizing the results we want. Leonard says, “Intentionality fuels the master’s journey. Every master is a master of vision.”

  • Grapple with resistance. As we travel toward mastery, we will inevitably backslide and find ourselves resisting the call to practice. Three ways to move through resistance are to (1) negotiate with yourself to take some kind of modest steps, (2) develop a support system, so other people can help you to keep moving, and (3) commit to continual learning, because lifelong learners tend to remain open to change.

  • Stay in shape. Mastery takes a lot of energy. To maintain the energy you need, (1) make physical fitness a priority, (2) acknowledge the negatives but restate challenges into positive terms, and (3) be clear about your priorities.

Want more ideas for creating a balanced life and high performance career? In addition to providing executive coaching, Bev is available to speak about a broad range of issues related to your work life. Visit her website at www.ClearWaysConsulting.com or email to Bev directly. Bev is associated with Executive Coaching & Consulting Associates.

Bev’s Tips for a Better Work Life is published on the first and third Tuesday of each month by Beverly E. Jones of ClearWays Consulting, LLC.   Bev is a lawyer and former executive who now coaches accomplished executives and other professionals to bring new direction, energy and enjoyment to their work lives.

Copyright ©2009, ClearWays Consulting, LLC  & Beverly E. Jones

All rights in all media reserved.  However, the content of Bev’s Tips for a Better Work Life may be forwarded in full without special permission on the condition that (1) it is for non-profit use and (2) full attribution and copyright notice are given.  For other uses please contact Bev Jones.

Our address is: 2925 43rd Street, NW, Washington, DC 20016.