What’s so bad about being bad at something?
Winston Churchill twice failed the entrance exam to the Royal Military Academy.
Louis Pasteur ranked a mediocre 15th out of 22 students in chemistry as an undergrad.
Jerry Seinfeld was jeered off the stage in his first professional performance as a stand-up comedian.
Being bad at something you’re passionate about may trigger off an insatiable drive to improve on it.
Another possibility is those who think you’re bad could be wrong, and you’re an original genius in the making.
Either way, it means you could be more than good at it – you could be great at it.
Bad just has a bad rep. Good, on the other hand, is the soon becoming not good enough.
Ever notice that our dreams in life are usually centered around being good at something?
She wants to be a professional singer. He wants to play baseball professionally. Someone else wants to be the chef of his own restaurant.
But how far can being good at something take you?
Let’s talk apple pies.
With a half-decent recipe, many people can bake an apple pie decent enough to serve up to home visitors.
Some people can bake a good apple pie, so tasty you might want to pay for it.
But few people can make a knock-out, great apple pie – one that people will make a beeline for because it’s the best in town.
The problem with Good is, everyone’s pretty good these days. You could almost say Good is the new Bad.
• • •
When I was the creative head of a multinational firm, I had to interview hundreds of job candidates for senior creative positions.
What I found out was, the candidates whose portfolios consisted of “good” work rarely left much of an impression. There were simply so many of them – they canceled one another out.
What stood out was always the candidate whose portfolio had just one or two truly great pieces of work – the kind that still sticks in your mind when you’re taking a shower the next day.
Be wary of Good.
• • •
Everyone wants to be good at what they do. But few are brave enough to want to be great at it.
Don’t aim to be good, aim to be great.
If you have a dream, make it a big dream.
When you set personal goals at work, take a deep breath and set them a notch higher than realistic.
Believe Les Brown when he says, “You have to be unreasonable with yourself to achieve an unreasonable amount of success.”
Now you may be thinking, “Look, I’m just an average guy or gal with no natural advantage in doing what I do. I’d be happy just to be good at it. Being great is reserved for those with great talent.”
And that’s the mind trap many people fall into.
Setting your sights to be the best at what you do is precisely what you need to do if you don’t possess any natural advantage.
Because, unlike a select few blessed with ungodly talent, you can’t afford to be lackadaisical and still be good at what you do. They can.
(Tiger Woods can totally goof off, live on a beach or be a Netflix bum for two years and still beat almost anyone when he decides to step on the green.)
You’re not alone. Most of us can’t.
Your aim is your only advantage. Dial your aim up from good to great.
Still unconvinced? Here are 7 good reasons to set the bar higher and take on harder personal goals at work:
1. You’ll perform better
Studies have shown that harder goals lead to better performance. When faced with a more difficult challenge, we are capable of mentally shifting gears to meet the demands.
Our focus sharpens and our efforts become more deliberate, allowing us to outperform our usual standards.
Challenging goals can stretch your abilities.
As toddlers, we didn’t let the daunting challenge of walking stop us from taking our first steps. We responded by doing something we’d never done before.
2. You’ll strengthen your self-belief
Convince yourself that you deserve a tougher challenge because you are simply better than the rest.
Sure, this irrational confidence may exceed your competency.
But if you’re conscious of this disparity, you will do more than others to close the gap. This, in turn, improves your abilities while validating your self confidence.
With a stronger self-belief, you’ll benefit more than achieving your goal – you improve your chances to succeed in all your future goals.
3. You’ll cope with failure better
With tougher goals, should you fall short in the pursuit of your greatness, you can take it in stride better.
After all, you knew what you signed up for – an advanced obstacle course where success is not expected.
Even a setback here may still leave you farther along than if you had succeeded in the beginner’s course.
As James Cameron has said, “If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.”
4. You’ll improve your chances of success
Easier goals may actually lower your chances of success because of a lack of motivation.
Motivation scientist Piers Steel has shown that the brain allocates less energy to tasks that are simple and low in reward.
Conversely, our brain commits more energy to challenging tasks because of the stronger reward potential.
Big dreams motivate you to take purposeful action. Realistic goals lull you into sleepwalking your way to procrastination.
5. You’ll be more creative
The biggest reason why people don’t set their goals higher is fear.
The fear of being out of their comfort zones, to be exact.
Difficult goals force you to improvise. To explore unknown possibilities. To take calculated risks. To have fresh ideas.
Your past experience was useful for previous goals. Difficult goals force you to develop new, innovative processes to succeed.
To go from good to great, you’ll need to reach deeper into your bag of tricks and pull out something that will shock the world.
6 You’ll inspire others
Ever wonder why almost every candidate in an election wants to be seen as an underdog?
Research has shown that an underdog who takes on an unthinkably difficult challenge is someone that people will root for.
Big dreams inspire people. Think Martin Luther King Jr. would have the same effect on history had he settled for a smaller dream?
To nail difficult goals you will need the support of others. If you approach your ambitions with humility and conviction, you will find friends and supporters everywhere.
7. If you succeed, you succeed way bigger.
If you’re going to make sacrifices for professional development, you might as well get a big reward in return.
Nobody remembers who came in second. If you’re putting in the work, why not aim to be number one and get recognized for your efforts?
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of having challenging personal goals at work. As advertising legend Leo Burnett said, “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.”
• • •
When you have a dream, you will have doubters.
And when your goal sounds too big, too audacious, too unrealistic, too risky – your doubters go on steroids. “
“Must. Keep. Doubting!”
They say “You can’t” when you thought you can. They have a way to make you feel silly when you were smart, hesitant when you were sure.
Success in work and life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you perceive and respond to what happens to you. And doubters happen.
They happen fast and hard on your unsuspecting dream. The road from Good to Great wouldn’t be complete without their heckling and hassling.
You have to be ready for them. Or you’ll be infected by their doubting.
Writer and philosopher Suzy Kassem summed it up best when she said: “Doubts kill more dreams than failure ever will.”
Billionaire e-commerce entrepreneur Jack Ma would know. When he first told his friends that he wanted to start an internet company, some of them laughed it off and told him that he was crazy.
They didn’t believe he could start an internet company without any knowledge of computers and the internet.
You can see where his friends were coming from. But you couldn’t have seen what Ma saw for himself – and that was all that mattered.
(Source: Habits of the Wealthy)
One way to protect your dreams from doubters is to change the way you perceive them.
Not all of them are mean people trying to snuff out your spark of ambition. Even if they are, viewing them differently takes the edge right off.
Here’s how to see your skeptics in a different light and how they may actually be helping you.
1. Doubters actually care
Don’t hate on those who don’t immediately buy into your goals, because they might be the very people who love you.
Often, it is those who are closest to us that have the loudest voice of discouragement. This could be a best friend, a life partner, or a family member.
So why do they do it?
Unfortunately, sometimes, even those closest to you cannot see in you what you can see for yourself.
(When this happens, you know you’re stretching yourself to reach a big goal. Which is great.)
To “protect” you from the pain of failure, they unwittingly project their own self-limitations on you.
A father who has failed in business may urge his entrepreneurial son to “be realistic” and get a “proper” job with a steady paycheck.
The good news is they want you to succeed. You have a chance to turn them into staunch supporters after their initial resistance.
Stay true to your goals, while seeing the spirit of their advice.
As you progress toward your goals, you’ll disprove their assumptions and undo their own limitations too.
2. Doubters make the best motivation
Before his Hall Of Fame induction speech became a strangely funny internet meme, Michael Jordan thanked his detractors for the motivation.
He credited them for being the motivation behind his legendary work ethic. Now any sports fan knows Jordan was a relentless competitor. He hardly needed any push to achieve greatness.
Yet he chose to turn his doubters into the demons he had to slay to prove his greatness.
Doubters were his favorite motivational buttons. He proceeded to mash those poor buttons like a teenager playing NBA2K.
A word of caution. It’s not worth getting invested emotionally in your doubters, for they will drain you.
Maybe your goal reminds them of their inadequacies. Maybe it threatens their interests. Maybe they just wish they had your courage.
Don’t burn out trying to manage others’ opinions of you.
Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Turn their action into a positive reaction that works in your favor.
The motivation to prove your naysayers wrong may be exactly what you need in your professional development.
3. Doubters improve your goals
If you can remove the emotion involved in dealing with doubters, you might learn something from them.
99% of what they’re saying about your goal – how unrealistic, impractical, naive or impossible it is – you can ignore.
Try to find that one other percent that is useful feedback.
For example, your manager may dismiss your goal of doubling your sales as unrealistic. Find the sliver of truth or insight that could help you.
This may be a skill you need.
A person whose connection you should make.
Or a strategy you’re missing.
Build that into your game plan. You’ll be better for it.
• • •
Your professional development journey from Good to Great starts with a desire to be the best at what you do.
The road takes you from goal to goal, like lamp-posts guiding the runner in the night.
There are no shortcuts to avoid the doubters waiting down the road. There are no shortcuts, period.
Your goals determine where you eventually end up. Set them carefully to get to where you to go.
• • •
What goals seemed too big till you achieved them? How did doubters affect you in the pursuit of your dreams? Leave a comment below.