February 6, 2020

If You Are Chasing Your Dreams, You Aren't Running Fast Enough

In my role, I am supposed to remain as bias-free as possible.  I had an epiphany recently that I am not. My bias comes in the form of people who dream about an existence they aren’t willing to go out and drive to make happen. 

I grew up with a grandfather who couldn’t afford college, and started his career shoveling steel. In a rags to riches story that we don’t often see anymore, he rose through the ranks at U.S. Steel to ultimately run their European operations.  My dad has three degrees from MIT, and then went on to start a handful of companies. I suppose work ethic is in my DNA. Sustaining a career in startups and hyper growth companies is well suited to those with that profile. And just to be clear, I am not suggesting people that find success in these environments we need to be one dimensional workaholics.  I do believe, however, that to survive - and thrive - in this mode, one needs to embrace the approach of going “all in.”

As 2019 came to a close, I had a slew of conversations with people about their accomplishments from the year, and their aspirations for 2020.  With each discussion, I walked away with a distinct impression about who I believed was going to find success, and who would end the upcoming year failing to gain traction.  Perhaps that sounds rather harsh, but it’s been my reality. For better or worse, I’ve developed a reputation as someone who, if asked, will tell you what I think is working in your favor and what is getting in your way. I work really hard to share my thoughts in a way that feels supportive and humane, and totally own that this can be a hard thing to do when the listener is feeling vulnerable.  I’ve learned over the years that I shouldn’t share unless asked for it, for the primary reason that I’ve found most people don’t actually want to hear it. If our lives are going ok, why would we put ourselves in a situation of asking for feedback that might disrupt this? Simple: change and reality can be really hard. And while this might be true, that’s just an excuse. When is “ok” really good enough?

It can be reduced down to this. If you are chasing your dreams, you aren’t running fast enough.  

What does that actually mean?  For those of us trying to grow in our careers, add impact to a business, or just plain live our lives to our maximum potential, we opt to go all in.  This requires us not to just dream and hope that those dreams come true. We use these dreams to foster our innovation and create a mental image of what we want to accomplish.  The big differentiator between those who chase their dreams and those who get out in front of them for me is what happens next. We push aside those nagging feelings that get in the way, like fear of failure, or fear of the unknown.  We move forward by embracing and leaning into the discipline it actually takes to pull it off. We solicit feedback to aid us along the way, and ask for help when we stumble. We create an actionable plan, and we hold ourselves accountable to make sure we gain traction. We look at the inevitable stumbles along the way as opportunities to learn.  

I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t have a grand vision of where they’d love to see their life go.  Whether it comes in the form of a bucket list or a vision board is inconsequential; the difference between those who dream and those who have their dreams come true is all about how “all in” we go to make it happen. Yes, sometimes we get lucky.  People who dream of wealth do sometimes win the lottery. However, reality suggests that the odds of this type of achievement coming this easy are stacked significantly against us. I have found that nothing is more effective than helping people realize their dreams than good old fashioned hard work and accountability. 

I come back to some of the conversations I have had recently with the people who I’m making bold assumptions about their chances who will see their big plans for 2020 come to fruition.  Consider the conversation that goes somewhat like this. 

Colleague:  “I have been here for 5 years.  This is my year to get promoted.  Everyone around me is being recognized, and my boss is a jerk for not valuing me. I deserve it; let’s be honest, I’m so much better than X.” 

Me: “What does the number of years you have been here have to do with promotion?  And if everyone around you is getting promoted and you aren’t, what accountability do you think you might have in this?  Is it really that your boss doesn’t realize your value, or if you are honest with yourself, have you added the type of impact required to be recognized?”

This is a hard conversation.  Somewhere along the line, we morphed our thinking to the number of hours we put in should equate to success.  While it might seem like semantics, hours clocked has little to do with accomplishment of goal. It’s about matching hard work with a plan that is actually going to help you get there.  Partner that with the right mindset and you’re likely to get that breakthrough you need. Kobe Bryant called the quest to be the best version of yourself "Mamba Mentality."  Nobody hands that to us, nor does it just happen.  We need to work for it. 

Challenge to all of us:  As we are now one month into this new year (and decade), check yourself.  Are you positioned to achieve, or are you just hoping for the best? Will that business idea you had take flight and gain traction, or will you give in to the challenges and obstacles? Will you ask others for feedback on the impact you are adding, or just assume you are crushing it and that everyone just doesn’t see your greatness?

Every single one of us is capable of making incredible things happen in our lives, but we need to commit to going all in to really make it happen.  As my dad and my grandfather drilled into my head for years, don’t expect anything to be handed to you. You don’t “deserve” anything. If you want something, earn it. I might have dreams, but I am not napping when I have them.  I’m digging in, and making them happen. Are you?

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.