Why aren’t you already living the vision you defined using the questions in the previous chapter?
Why aren’t you working for your ideal employer?
Why haven’t you created your dream business?
Why aren’t you living the life you really want?
Whatever the answer is you just quietly whispered; that's one of the barriers standing between you and your ideal future. It could be:
Lack of opportunities
Lack of time
Fear of failure
Now, you could let those issues hold you back forever or you can do something about it. You can identify all the barriers and knock them down one by one. Climb over them if you have to, or find a way around them.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
— Calvin Coolidge
Sadly, most people give up before they even try. You won’t be one of those people, will you?
Grit and determination are often the only things that separate successful people from those who give up. I’ve watched ambitious people push through and succeed where more talented people have thrown in the towel and given up.
This chapter will help you identify what’s stopping you from living the life you want. We all deal with external factors that can hold us back and keep us down. But, you can create a plan and commit to eliminating those issues.
However, there is another uncomfortable question to consider: Are you in your own way? One of the most significant barriers you might be facing is a lack of faith in yourself and your abilities. But, that problem can be conquered too.
At times, it may not feel like it, but the easiest thing to change is yourself. We can’t force other people to change. We may have limited control over our environment. But, we do have power over our own thoughts and actions. Start there, and then move on to explore any remaining barriers.
“One can have no smaller or greater mastery than mastery of oneself.”
― Leonardo da Vinci
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Identify the gap
First, what’s the gap between where you want to be and where you are today? Consider your career goals and lifestyle aspirations. This could be a gap between:
Your current profession and an ideal profession.
Your current job title and your ideal role.
Where you currently live and where you dream of living one day.
Your current financial situation and achieving financial security.
However, I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I don’t know what matters most to you, but you probably do after reading the previous chapter. So, take a moment to capture your specific goals and how far away you feel you are from reaching them.
Now, what do you need to reach your goals? What do you need to succeed? This could be any number of things. But, building on the examples I shared above, you might say:
“I need to go back to school to get a degree that will help me to pursue my dream profession.”
“I need to find an inside champion at my dream company who can help me get a job there.”
“I would need to sell my current house, move to my dream location, and find a new job and home there.”
“I need to increase my income, reduce my living expenses, make some smart investments, and create a financial cushion that helps me sleep better at night.”
The next step is to identify what’s stopping you from taking action right now. There’s a reason these gaps still exist.
What’s in your way?
You may have a clear idea of what’s standing between you and your goals. You may already know why you’re not taking action.
However, many of us know exactly what we should be doing yet find ourselves putting it off again and again for months or even years. So, I’d like to explore and discuss some of the more common blocks and ways to overcome them.
Fear is a significant blocker. It keeps many people from even trying things that might dramatically improve their lives.
Fear of the unknown traps people in jobs they hate and professions they no longer enjoy.
Fear of failure prevents many people from starting that business they dream about building.
Fear of judgment makes people hesitate to share something they created (e.g., poetry, art, music).
Some people have such an unrelenting fear of success that they unintentionally self-sabotage. They’re worried about the consequences of becoming increasingly successful (e.g., losing friends). They fear the unwanted side effects of success that they’ve witnessed in others (e.g., unwanted attention). Or, they have already encountered negative experiences related to their past success (e.g., being attacked by jealous peers).
Take ownership of your path to success by facing and addressing each blocking fear head-on. Create a plan for how you will handle every single one. I had to do this to remove the barriers between me and my goals, so I know this task isn’t easy.
However, it is possible. Others have accomplished it, and so can you.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
— Eleanor Roosevelt
In Now, Discover Your Strengths (my affiliate link), Marcus Buckingham recommends doubling down on your strengths. It’s good advice in a world obsessed with managing flaws.
Focusing on developing and leveraging your natural talents and strengths is a better strategy for your career than worrying about your weaknesses. Also, there is a difference between a weakness and an undiscovered talent. Something that might be labeled a weakness may simply be a talent you’ve never bothered to explore before.
However, when you find yourself blocked from achieving your goals, it could be that a weakness is holding you back. When you want something valuable, but it lies on the other side of fear, it’s worth investing in removing that obstacle. When a weakness is a barrier between you and your dream career — and you can actually do something about it — it’s worth working on it.
Addressing that weakness can change everything.
For example, I feared public speaking. I could tell it was holding me back in my professional career. It was almost impossible to be visible in my industry if I was too afraid to step on stage. It was challenging to be an effective manager and leader when I was nervous about standing in front of everyone in a conference room.
So, I stopped hiding from it, avoiding it, and working around it. I received training and forced myself to get a little better at it every day. A funny thing happened along the way. I fell in love with public speaking. Over a few years, I transformed a weakness driven by fear into one of my most valuable strengths.
Often, skill acquisition can close the gap between where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow. For example, reaching the peak of your career might require becoming really, really damn good at what you do. That requires consistently putting in the time and effort every single day.
“Be so good they can't ignore you.”
― Steve Martin
However, if the skills you need aren’t part of what you do every day, you need to find other ways to acquire those skills. For example, I interviewed someone who wanted to reinvent his career and become a developer. He didn’t have time to write code every day in his blue-color job.
So, he had to acquire the knowledge and skills on his own time after work. That meant many late nights and weekends dedicated to learning web development. It was challenging and tiring, but he did it and has a fantastic career now, earning way more than he did in his previous job.
Going back to school isn’t the only way to learn new skills. It probably isn’t even the best way. As I just described, sometimes you can’t even acquire the skills you want with your current employer.
Therefore, the best approach to eliminating a barrier of missing skills might be to teach and train yourself. From one of my favorite recent articles:
”Jonny Greenwood may be a prolific guitar player and Oscar-nominated film composer, but during a recent interview with NPR he admitted that he faked playing keyboard when he first joined Radiohead in the '80s.”
Talk about faking it until you make it! Thom Yorke didn’t know Greenwood was faking it, and he actually complimented his playing.
“They made quite a racket, quite a noise,” the guitarist continued. “It was all guitars and distortion — and so I would pretend to play for weeks on end and Thom would say, ‘I can’t quite hear what you’re doing, but I think you’re adding a really interesting texture, because I can tell when you’re not playing.’”
“And I’m thinking, ‘No, you can’t, because I’m really not playing,’”
Greenwood added. “And I’d go home in the evening and work out how to actually play chords and cautiously over the next few months, I would start turning this keyboard up. And that’s how I started in with Radiohead.”
I don’t know about you, but I find that story rather inspirational! He didn’t let his lack of skill keep him from pursuing his dream of joining the band, and then he aggressively worked on closing that skills gap every day.
Similar to missing skills, missing knowledge can be a barrier that creates a gap between you and your vision of the future. Of course, you can acquire knowledge through education and work experience. If you have the opportunity to learn what you need to know via your current employment, by all means, seize it!
However, you can also take the time and make an effort to educate yourself. Everyone should be a lifelong learner. Learning how to learn was one of the best skills I developed when I was younger.
It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? If you’re missing the knowledge you need to chase your goals, get it! But, you’d be surprised by the number of people who let a knowledge barrier stop them from moving forward.
“I can’t do that because I don’t know how to do that.”
About 23 years ago, I interviewed as a design consultant for a startup creating an innovative tablet device. They wanted someone with experience with PDAs (personal digital assistants), which I did not have since they were relatively new — and quite expensive — at the time.
So, I made an investment in my first Palm Pilot, bought a couple of design and development books for the Palm OS, and spent the weekend learning as quickly as I could. I interviewed with added confidence in my new PDA knowledge and won the contract.
The modern world of instant access to Kindle books and online courses makes it so much easier to close a knowledge gap than ever before. Don’t let missing knowledge block you from pursuing your dreams.
Lack of experience
In some cases, lack of experience seems to be a more significant barrier than it actually is. For example, numerous times, I’ve had clients tell me they didn’t apply for a job because they didn’t have the necessary years of experience required in the job listing.
However, when people find an inside champion and work their way into the company for an interview, they often discover that “years of experience” is a fuzzy requirement. Employers make exceptions for extraordinary candidates they want to hire.
Lack of specific experience (e.g., within an industry or profession) is also less of a barrier than you might think. As I often say, smart people can learn anything, and ambitious people can accomplish anything.
I’m not the most intelligent person you’ll ever meet, but I am ambitious. I was able to secure a role as a Vice President of Product Management even though I don’t have an MBA and I’d never “officially” worked as a product manager before. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
There are more opportunities than ever before to gain the experience you need to land a great job, launch a new business, or pursue something important to you. If you want it badly enough, you can find a way.
Lack of credibility
In some cases, people are missing the credibility markers that will help them achieve their goals (e.g., launching a new consulting practice). They haven’t developed a reputation yet that would give others the confidence to hire them, partner with them, or purchase their services.
I’ll go into more detail about your professional reputation and branding in a later chapter. But, building credibility does take time. Having a powerful network with people willing to vouch for you helps a lot, though.
However, much like experience, I think some people use a perceived lack of credibility as an excuse to delay pursuing their goals. They say things like, “I don’t have the experience and reputation yet that would convince people to work with me. Why would anyone listen to me?”
Yes, you should continue growing your experience, developing yourself, and building a positive reputation. But, if you keep waiting until you feel ready, you may never take action to achieve that audacious vision you have in mind.
You’d be surprised how far confidence will take you. Just get started! You will stumble a few times on the path, but that’s ok. Get up, dust yourself off, and keep going. With every step, your credibility grows, and the gap narrows.
I probably couldn’t have built my coaching practice if I had stayed in Silicon Valley. The California Bay Area is an exceedingly expensive place to live. My “burn rate” was so high that I would have used up my financial cushion before my new business generated enough revenue to support us.
Unfortunately, many people focus too much on trying to make more money while ignoring the power of reducing expenses. You should work on both sides of the financial equation.
I’m thankful that I married someone who also believes in managing expenses and avoiding wasteful, extravagant spending. She’s always been supportive of my entrepreneurial adventures and helped us manage our budget to stay on track.
I do know that money is a significant blocker for some people and their dreams. But, in some cases, that happens because people are trying to leap all the way to their grand vision instead of taking baby steps to get there.
For example, I’ve witnessed this happen with a few local people in the restaurant industry. Most took out significant loans to invest in expensive real estate, extensively remodel a restaurant, and go all in without doing the upfront research and testing to ensure they were on the right path. In less than a year, most failed and closed their doors.
Be smart about investing in your future. Make sure you’re making money before you spend more money. Don’t overextend yourself. Keep adding funds to your financial cushion to make it easier for you to feel secure while you’re pursuing your big vision.
That’s obviously true for entrepreneurs, but it’s also good advice for employees climbing the career ladder of success. Too many people get a taste of the “good life” when they land an excellent promotion, so they start living beyond their means.
Up until this point, I’ve been sharing barriers that are all about you and issues that are mostly under your control. But, sometimes, you are blocked by other people. They stand between you and your goals.
I could write an entire book about bad bosses, the damage they do, and how to deal with them. We’ve all worked for at least one incompetent manager. Many of us have experienced terrible leaders.
So, if your boss is a barrier between you and your career vision, what are you going to do about it? If you’ve been spending years trying to make it work, but you’re stuck, it’s time to move on. Life is short! Don’t wait too long to make a change that will accelerate your progress.
Of course, bosses aren’t the only people who might be standing between you and your dreams. I’ve talked with clients who’ve suffered from unsupportive friends and loved ones. They’ve put off living the life they want because they didn’t want to disappoint a parent or partner.
However, your life is your life. If someone is blocking you from pursuing the life you want, it’s time for a deep conversation, counseling, or a significant change.
Finally, sometimes your environment is the barrier holding you back. You could be living somewhere that lacks the opportunities you need to achieve your goals. Your grand vision may not be possible where you live, so you might need to move.
For example, I had to leave the Midwest and move to Silicon Valley to pursue my career as a software designer. In the 90s, we didn’t have the amazing world of remote opportunities available today. I had to change my environment to keep moving ahead.
Years ago, I moved again. My vision of an ideal future was to be surrounded by forests and mountains. So, I made significant changes in my life and career to make that possible.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
― Jim Rohn
Your environment also includes the people around you. Are they supporting you, encouraging you, and inspiring you to become the best version of yourself? Or, are they holding you back and trying to keep you down?
I know people who had to change their circle of friends and leave bad habits behind to become the person they wanted to be. For example, it’s hard to achieve your dreams when everyone around you wants to party and get drunk every evening.
As James Clear often says, you can design your environment to maximize your odds of success. Don’t let poor environmental conditions be a barrier between you and your dreams.
At some point, you risk being in eternal planning and preparation mode. Yes, sometimes you do need to eliminate some barriers, close gaps in skills and knowledge, and make necessary changes in your life. But, you also need to take action.
What I’ve noticed in successful people is that they take action. They create success habits. They build accountability systems and develop a network of people to advise and support them.
They don’t wait until they have all the answers. They don’t wait for perfect timing.
So, identify your blocks and barriers and do something about them. Taking action can be as simple as creating a plan and defining a timeline for eliminating them.
How can you find a more supportive boss?
How can you increase your income?
Can you add passive income sources?
Can you create a budget to reduce your expenses and give yourself more financial breathing room?
What would it take to improve your environment and professional circle of peers?
Deal with your list of barriers as well as you can. Make progress in some way every day. But, always keep moving forward.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of my book with you this year! Subscribe now to read the draft chapters as I complete them.
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Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who hosts a private mastermind community for ambitious professionals with weekly challenges, office hours, and confidential support. If you’re interested in starting your own business or side hustle someday (or accelerating an existing one), check out his “Employee to Solopreneur” course (launching later this year).
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take complete control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.