Take One Step at a Time

My Myers-Briggs type decisively ends in the letter J.

For the uninitiated, Myers-Briggs is a personality test and J connotes that I “prefer an orderly way of life.”

Sticky notes line my desk. Checklists keep me on track. As a strategist, I pride myself on thinking through all possible options. I hate the idiom “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” In short, I like to plan.

Yet planning has its limitations. We can manage our time and money according to plan, while failing to fully exercise our talents. At times, our actions and plans may not align. Let’s examine two common pitfalls.

The Myth of Perfect Timing
Soon millions of people will set their New Year’s resolutions.

Spoiler alert: Most of them won’t follow through. We all know that. Anyone who waits until January to adopt a habit is unlikely to maintain it. Clearly, the issue isn’t important enough to address today.

Yet often that’s how we approach our goals: “One day I will write that book.” “One day I will start that business.” “One day I will go back to school.” When? “When I feel ready” or “when the time is right.”

Sure, certain goals require preparation. But unless you’re willing to take action, the time is never right. You won’t recognize your opportunity when it arrives. And when you feel ready, it may be too late.

We often procrastinate not out of laziness but insecurity. Our hesitation tends to stem from a fear of failure and fragile self-image. Therefore, we stay in our comfort zone, waiting for the stars to align.

The Illusion of Progress
On the other hand, we may mistake motion for progress.

Ernest Hemingway commented on writing letters: “It’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you’ve done something.” Our modern-day equivalents include emails, meetings, and planning. At its worst, we seek to be efficient before effective, making routines of that which needs not be done.

Planning is an especially alluring time sink. Preparation, we’re told, is the key to success—and it is. But we tend to overanalyze. At some point, we don’t need additional research. We just need to take action.

Marissa Mayer puts it this way: “When new information might make your decision better informed but wouldn’t actually make you change your mind, it’s time to stop debating and make the decision.”

Three Take-aways
You have something to offer. Recognize and embrace it. Focus on delivering value, not proving your worth. You don’t need to operate in stealth mode either, waiting to debut your magnum opus.

Below are three tips to help you get started:

  1. Take risks. Many of us take ourselves too seriously, as if we have some sterling reputation to uphold. This undue pressure heightens our risk aversion. But when we don’t try, we don’t learn or grow. Take risks—the best education is experiential.
  2. Take initiative. Without being asked, do what needs to be done. It may not be the most exciting or visible activity. You may not receive reward or recognition for it. But do it anyway—willingly and cheerfully. That’s the mark of a servant leader.
  3. Take ownership. Some people blame circumstances for their lack of success. Confident leaders, in contrast, don’t make excuses. They acknowledge but do not allow their disadvantages to define their future. They persevere and push through.

Move from a “one day” mentality to “one day at a time.” You don’t need to be the smartest or most talented. You don’t have to come up with the next big idea. You just need to take action. That will set you apart from the rest. And it will attract them to follow you.

This is the ninth post in our series: Advice for New Graduates.