Start where you are

When achieving your goals, it’s knowing where to start that makes all the difference, says Nigel Collin.

There’s an old zen story of a wealthy merchant who wanted to build a new home. The idea was to build a three-story dwelling so they could live on the top floor looking out over the land and marvel at the beautiful landscape for many miles around. More importantly, living on the third floor meant high status and prestige.

So, the merchant contracted a team of highly skilled builders to begin construction of their three-floor home. Being extremely busy the merchant then departed on a business trip, leaving the builders to start work.

When returning several weeks later the merchant decided to see how the builders had progressed. To absolute horror they found that the builders were working on the ground floor. ‘Why have you not begun work on the top floor?’ the merchant asked. There could be no prestige living on the ground floor and it wasn’t what the merchant wanted.

The builders of course explained that they must start at the bottom before they could begin to move up to the next floor and ultimately the top floor. But the merchant wasn’t happy because they didn’t want the other floors, they only wanted and desired to live on the third floor.

Many people build their careers this way. They want the end-result without doing the necessary work to get there. They have clear goals, but in their ambition to achieve them they take short cuts. Like the merchant, they want the top floor without building the others first.

No matter what you want to achieve in your career you have to start where you are and take the necessary steps to move forward from there.

There are tremendous opportunities for EAs and if you’re diligent you can build a solid and exciting career. But, building a career takes time. Professional growth takes time and requires you to have the right foundations in place, or it won’t be lasting.

If you have a clear goal you want to achieve, here are three things to consider.

1. Take stock of where you are
Be honest about what your experience is, what your strengths are and what you need to accomplish or learn. Then build from there. It’s tempting to take short cuts but they’ll inevitably come back to haunt you.

2. Fall in love with the process of getting there

In a world of instant gratification where we want everything as quickly as possible, there is a trap in focusing solely on the goal and not the process of attaining it. In their book ‘The Progress Principle’, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer cite a study where 76 percent of high achievers said a good workday was when they felt they made progress. Also, if you focus on progress, you’ll enjoy the journey. It’s the doing that counts and when you make progress (no matter how big or small) there is a certain satisfaction to it.

3. It’s the little things you do that make the biggest difference

Understand that it’s the small things you do, those ‘one percenters’ that at times seem insignificant that make dreams happen. Doing the little things creates momentum and those little things have a very good habit of becoming big things. If you want to build a strong career, if you want to realise your goals, it’s doing the little things that will get you there. Success is a game of inches.

Like the merchant’s top floor home, your career will only be solid, secure and lasting if you take the time to build it right, without skipping important steps. Remember, whatever the goal you need to start where you are and build from there.