What you need to do in 2018 to get ahead: stretch yourself.

Last year, I really stretched myself. Stretched in a good way: pushing myself to new heights, venturing into new territory, constantly moving forwards and embracing new opportunities.

At the start of last year, my experience of shaping and leading workshops was limited. But since then I have run over twenty five workshops: I dived deep into the material, put in hours of research and afterwards, tweaked and adapted them for the next time.

I pushed myself when I got involved in a big project for a global organisation. The project would potentially impact thousands of employees. It was a different proposition than usual. But I knew my experience was scalable and rose to the challenge.

When you stretch yourself, the end result will go one of two ways: you’ll either pull it off or fall flat on your face. The irony is of course that you’ll never know you can do it until you do it. It’s a Catch 22. It takes a leap of faith to put yourself out there. But what’s the other option? If you choose not to stretch yourself, to stay safe and comfortable, there’s no opportunity for growth.

Remaining stuck in one position, unable to move forward, with a career that’s stagnating: that’s just not for me.

Making the leap into unknown territory can be terrifying. It’s like getting across a big river. There are stepping stones to get you across, but you have to really stretch your legs to reach some of the stones. And sometimes you just have to jump. Of course, you don’t know whether you’ll get your feet wet until you try. But before you set out, you have to have faith you’ll get across. If you have the confidence that you’ll make it, you’re much more likely to make it.

Self belief and courage don’t always come easy however. We all know that feeling, when you walk into the room to present at a big meeting, or when you step out on stage. That tension between failure and success (and that’s only human right?).

I know what it’s like to be stuck and struggling only too well. Fifteen years ago, I’d been self-employed for three years and work was drying up. Sitting at my desk in my small home office in Putney, I had no idea what my next project would be or where the next cheque was coming from. But amidst that uncertainty, one thing was clear. The only way I could improve things was by making the journey across that river. If I stood still, I’d be mired in the banks of the river with no way out of the mud. I needed to start the crossing. The only way to do that was by stretching myself into new territories. I needed to reinvent myself to survive. I dug deep and I drew on my inner resources, and on a deep seated belief that I could actually do this.

Because there’s always going to be a first time. Like the first time I stood on stage to deliver a presentation. The first time I wrote a book. The first time I crafted an article for the Financial Times. The first time I ran a workshop for the BBC. The first time I took someone on a Fuel Safari.

And each first time is a stepping stone.

Sometimes there are bigger gaps between the stepping stones than you’d like, but by the very nature of what it means to stretch yourself, there has to be a challenge.

Of course, you can stay where you are, but one of the beautiful things about these kind of stepping stones is, while they lead you on across the water, you never know where you may quite end up. The steps in your career, when you stretch yourself, are your route to more exciting and challenging adventures.

Ready to get warmed up? Here are some tips to help you stretch:

  • Say yes to things: cultivate an attitude where you embrace the new and the unusual, getting comfortable with the uncomfortable
  • Be curious and open-minded to projects and roles outside your usual sphere of knowledge
  • If something doesn’t work out — don’t beat yourself up. It’s a chance to learn from the experience and bring that to your next role.
  • Confidence comes from preparation. When I’m doing a new workshop or a major presentation, a huge amount of work goes into it before hand to ensure I deliver the best I can. If you know your material and have shaped the presentation or workshop to the minute, you are 99% there.
  • Look forward to the rush of adrenaline and the highs at the end, when something has gone well, when you’ve pulled it off. Seeing your book out in the wild. Getting great feedback from your workshop attendees. There’s nothing like it. But you’ll only get those amazing highs when they are well deserved — when you have gone out of the ordinary and delivered something extraordinary.

I’m a creative consultant, storyteller and coach who helps organisations, teams and individuals get fired-up at work. iansanders.com

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