Stagnant Career? Three Tips For Growth
We’re wired to grow, explore, and expand. Feeling bored and stuck is miserable, and stagnation is a common reason employees leave — they want to chase newness, even if the risks are unknown. How do we change the equation? By understanding the science (and trap) of attention, we can fight back against personal and professional stagnation. Here are three tips to help you navigate a path toward growth.
1. Get Out Of The Sandbox
As we age, our minds tend to gravitate towards familiar territories because it requires less mental effort. Our attention becomes wired to return to the same places, websites, and material. Essentially, our sandbox — in the world of infinite — has become smaller. To counteract this, we need to intentionally seek out ways to expand our horizons in areas that interest us.
Social media and technology make it easy for to us consume information that satisfies our curiosity and our need to explore. But while reels and other intellectual candy might satiate our itch for new and fascinating things, it does not fulfill our need for growth.
Furthermore, we tend to be drawn to advice that we already know and overlook ideas that could truly benefit us. The algorithms of social media provide us with content that aligns with our current beliefs, and we often focus on ideas that reaffirm our existing inclinations. This creates a subconscious confirmation bias that can be detrimental to our intellectual development.
We are caught in this attention trap, and to grow, we must break out of the cyclical dead-end.
In our daily habit, we consume old or mediocre ideas (if any), and become stagnant, boring, and unable to discuss anything outside of our immediate sphere. We must purposefully and continually flex our intellectual muscles by consuming grander, more challenging literature than reality television, Twitter, and the news.
Not that those things are forbidden. It’s not the lower limit of information that matters, it’s the upper limit.
2. Expand Your Upper Limit
“Exposure to genius has the power to expand your consciousness.” In a compelling commencement speech, author and cultural commentator David Brooks discussed the theory of maximum taste. He explained that “each person’s mind is defined by its upper limit — the best that it habitually consumes and is capable of consuming.”
If you feel that your career has hit a plateau, perhaps your mind has as well. As Newton’s law of inertia suggests, an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. This law can also apply to our own growth. The less you do, the less motivated you are to do. Let’s call it Growth Inertia.
To combat this, surround yourself with geniuses in their respective fields. Listen to podcasts, engage in discussions, join the 5am club, study the power of habit, and take classes on topics outside of your comfort zone.
But don’t limit yourself to just business topics. Re-read the classics you were supposed to in college. As Brooks mentioned, “If you didn’t read George Eliot, then you missed a master class on how to judge people’s character… If you didn’t read Tocqueville, you probably don’t understand your own country. If you didn’t study Gibbon, you probably lack the vocabulary to describe the rise and fall of cultures and nations.”
Continuously consume inspiration that pushes your upper limit.
3. Dive Deep Into One Interest
Polymaths are rare geniuses who have made significant contributions in multiple fields, such as Leonardo Da Vinci (artist, anatomist, inventor) or Thomas Jefferson (architect, innovator, politician).
While most of us may never reach their level of genius, the success of polymaths challenges the notion that specialization is the only way to get ahead. Developing skills in varied fields can increase productivity and cross-pollinate creativity. For instance, Einstein would play the violin when he was stuck on a problem, which helped clear his mind and lead him straight to the solution. And, Nobel Prize-winning scientists are 25 times more likely to have a creative hobby than the average scientist.
For instance, I recently met with the president of an investment firm who loves truffles and mushrooms, and knows nearly everything about growing and cooking with them. It’s very inspiring. Going deep into an unrelated interest can help us avoid feeling stagnant.
Intentionality is critical for reliable success, but it can also make us miss what comes from unexpected sources. To grow in leadership, become a learner again. This will add value in every aspect of your relationships, job, and potential.
If you’re feeling stagnant, it may be because you haven’t taken the time to step back and see the bigger picture. To maintain focus in a complex world, it’s important to have a clear understanding of where you’re going and where you want to be. Start by creating space and defining your destination, and then navigate towards it. Our attention often leads us back to familiar places, so take a closer look at areas of your work that you may be avoiding because they present a new or unknown challenge — and remember that growth occurs through challenge.
This article was written by Curt Steinhorst.