Your career is like shoveling snow. Shoveling snow takes patience, and patience is hard.
The worst part is 5 minutes into the job.
Your back is already tight and you haven’t acclimated to the cold. Worse, you only see two tiny strips of driveway shoveled out.
Your heart rate is up, your toes are cold, and all you can see is the work ahead. All but a sliver of the driveway is still covered in white snow.
Careers pose the same problem.
You grind for 12 months and that time feels more like 12 years. You keep your head down, do what you’re told, and chase your goals.
Months go by in a blink. Rise, coffee, sprint, return, sleep, repeat. And when you look back at your year, it can feel so unfulfilling.
All you can see is the white on the driveway.
You focus on what you haven’t accomplished, the goals you didn’t reach. You think of others and how your accomplishments feel small compared to theirs. Patience is hard.
I remember practicing my hockey slapshot for hours in my Michigan driveway. My parents patiently put up with the noise, “Bam…bam…bam.”
But in the games, my work didn’t translate. It made me feel as if practicing was a waste of time.
Thankfully, I enjoyed the work. I liked the routine, the reps, the way the stick felt in my hand when I hit the puck.
I kept shooting.
And one day in a game, instead of receiving a pass, I wound up and hit it on the fly, a perfect one-timer that beat a goalie to his glove hand.
I had no idea where it came from. That shot happened automatically from thousands of reps in my driveway.
But if you had told me it would take thousands of repetitions to get to that point, I might not have ever started.
Patience Is Hard
It is easy to get discouraged and take your foot off the accelerator. You feel defeated because you are focused on the wrong perspective. Patience is hard.
Instead, try focusing on what you have accomplished. Compare your progress against where you started, not where you think you should be.
Looking at my snowy driveway, I need to consciously see the 5% as progress. Five minutes ago, that little strip was white too.
I put my head down and grind out another five minutes, look back and enjoy the progress. Now, I am starting to work up a sweat.
My back is no longer tight and I’m not feeling the cold so much. The initial work of cutting a path down the middle of the driveway makes shoveling the sides more efficient.
10% turns to 25% and then I’m halfway there. I’m not seeing the white anymore. I’m seeing progress and feeling closer to my reward of a grilled cheese sandwich.
Find A Better Guage Of Progress
If you’ve ever tried to get in shape, you know that measuring your weight every day can feel defeating.
On day one, you follow your diet and run a few miles. Feeling proud of your fast start, you are disappointed to see that you gained a pound yesterday.
But this is nothing compared to how you feel after two weeks of healthy living leads to the same result. If you want to lose weight, the last thing you should do is obsess over the scale early in the process.
Focus on new habits. String them together and set goals that are achievable in the short term.
When I started writing, I did everything I could to ignore the short-term dopamine hit of engagement.
“How many likes? How many views? Did anyone comment?”
If that had been my only motivation, I would have quit after a dozen articles. Because no one read anything I wrote for months.
But I had one goal. I wanted to post one article per day for six months. If I had zero traction after six months, I could find something else to do.
And that’s what I did until people started reading my content. One year later, I was on the phone with several Forbes editors talking about a contract.
Keep Showing Up
Every person has a different career arc. Your career is a function of individual ambition. Only you know where you hope to go.
Career progress is not a tidy strip of shoveled snow in the driveway; mathematically carved-out progress.
Career progress is messy, uncertain, undefined. What some see as “luck,” is really a function of persistence and effort.
And focusing on how far you are from your end goal is a recipe for despair. Patience is hard but creating new daily habits is not.
Focus on how far you have traveled from your starting point, rather than measuring the distance from the finish line.
Then, go eat that grilled cheese sandwich.
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