Cultivating Tangible Growth for 2017

As January is fully underway and many of us ponder what we want to accomplish in 2017, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between day-to-day work and seeing tangible progress in areas like technical skill, speaking and writing and building confidence.

You will get out what you consistently put into something.

Seeing Changes in Real Life

The best example of how this works and one we’re all familiar with is exercise. A consistent and correctly placed input creates an output that everyone can see. It can be hard to quantify becoming a better programmer, designer or speaker. But good news: there’s a direct relationship with doing the right things as much as you can consistently to reap the rewards.

Just like working out, it’s all about the willpower to get out there everyday and do it. There will be good days and bad days, successes and setbacks.

Shooting for the Right Things

Before thinking about growth, Meri Williams has some great advice for choosing goals in “Preparing to be a Badass Next Year” — don’t get too hung up on your weaknesses just because you don’t like having any, shoot for the right goals that will pay off for you (including becoming better where you excel!) and matter to you for the right reasons. Being mediocre at everything often isn’t as important as being great at what matters.

Improving Technical Skills

Improving hard skills seems most straightforward. The more you practice, the better you get. If you’ve programmed something before, it’s easier to program it again. If you’ve programmed it different ways, it’s easier to code a concept in a new programming language.

But often we look at other people who are talented or who make things look effortless and think “that person just has it” and get frustrated with ourselves. They’re just smarter, more talented, better. But the correct perspective is, “I just need to try that again.” No one becomes great at what they do overnight.

Improving Soft Skills

While speaking, communication and writing can seem less tangible to improve than technical skills, they can be practiced in much the same way. Just like programming and design, I believe there’s a lot to trying things and figuring out what does and doesn’t work, then reflecting on why. You’ll have some interesting stories along the way! No one knows all there is to know right out the gate here, either. Being a great writer or speaker requires reflection into your authentic voice, learning about how different audiences respond to different messages, and a whole lot of practice.

The most talented and iconic speakers that we remember in history, like Martin Luther King Jr., practiced speaking and writing constantly—and we remember them most for their authentic voice.

Building Confidence

Confidence is something it’s easy to think of as a special innate trait; people are either naturally confident and “cocky” or they have low self-esteem and simply “lack confidence” which holds them back. But as professionals, it’s better to see confidence as simply being comfortable with what you do and don’t know and being open. It should develop naturally from having done something many times and a willingness to get answers and learn. And remember, many people can spot the difference between false confidence and real confidence: the latter has tried and true substance to back it up.

If you don’t know something, simply say, “I don’t know, but here’s how I could find out.” — and then explore that and follow up. “Fake it till you make it” isn’t being deceptive, it’s telling yourself to keep working at it and promising yourself that you’ll get there. And most of all, be kind to yourself and speak up about what you know well.

Enemies to Growth

There are reasons some people tend to stagnate or never realize change and growth. Complacency, negative self-talk, fear of failure and believing something is impossible are big killers to achieving your goals. Working really hard at something isn’t glamorous and some failures along the way are guaranteed. It can be hard to pick yourself up and keep trying when something doesn’t go well. Everyone experiences failure and caves in at some point along the way. What matters is having the followthrough and commitment to take a setback, but keep going and put in effort regularly.

Now Let’s Do This, 2017!

I am writing this as much to encourage myself this year as well as for others to see tangible change:

  1. Be honest and intentional about your goals.
  2. Apply hard work, practice and be consistent to get there.

Remember to be real with what you want to achieve and then be patient and kind to yourself along the way. May 2017 be the year you and I achieve things we never thought possible, little by little.