You know you need to be tackling a challenging career-advancing assignment: reaching out to your network. Updating your LinkedIn profile. Reading a book on career advancement and doing the exercises therein. Redoing your resume. Starting a blog. Searching for posted jobs. Investigating new training or educational opportunities. The list of potential initiatives is a long one. And too often you just can’t manage to buckle down and begin.
I’ve found there to be two primary and related reasons for stalling out. Either you’re pretty sure you’re not going to do a satisfactory job (a manifestation of perfectionism). Or you become mentally exhausted imagining the amount of work required getting to your goal (I’ll call that anticipatory fatigue). Let me examine these two separately.
The perfectionist in you naturally wants a great finished product, but if you’ve had occasions when you’ve fallen short (and who of us haven’t?) you’re likely to be gun shy, reluctant to embark on a path with which you have little experience. Here’s what you need to keep in mind: your initial efforts are a first draft. Perhaps a decent one, or perhaps a really crappy one. But a draft. An initial effort. NOT the finished product. NOT where you’ll wind up.
As for anticipatory fatigue, it arises from a misapplication of one of Stephen Covey’s key principles, “Begin with the end in mind.” If you focus too much on where you want to wind up you may well become discouraged, knowing that dozens or hundred of hours lie between where you are now and where you ultimately want to arrive.
I see these two issues as related because in both cases the trick to making progress is to focus on the very next step rather than on the final “deliverable.” If you know you need to start reaching out to your network, select the one person it would be easiest to contact. Just one. Having done that there’s a good chance you’ll learn something that will make reaching out to a second contact more comfortable/less intimidating.
Want to start a blog? START one – that means writing a few sentences on an appropriate topic of interest, letting them “marinate” for a bit, and then perhaps redoing or adding to the original. Don’t post that initial writing until it’s in a place that you want it to be. And don’t feel you need to post something weekly (again, a possibly overwhelming thought). You might want to wait until you’ve written several items before posting them.
Need to redo your resume? You could begin by Googling “resume tips” and reading one or two entries, then mentally applying those tips to your own employment story. Or take a look at some online resume templates to see which ones look appealing.
The other thing to keep in mind is that there’s practically no such thing as an original thought. There are people and resources out there that can guide you, whether that’s a career professional like myself, a trusted friend or colleague, an online forum, or an advice column or article.
So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath, and then a first step – even a teeny little one. The important thing is to get started.