Want to Get Promoted? Stop Working So Hard

Want to Get Promoted? Stop Working So Hard

There’s a persistent belief that if you want to get promoted, you need to do more.

That often means you work longer hours, take on more projects/clients than your peers, answer email on the weekends, volunteer to lead additional committees and teams, and even pitch in to help your colleagues whenever they need it.

As result, you demonstrate to the world you are a leader, a team player, and all around superhuman.

Or at least, that’s how you hope it looks on the outside.

On the inside, you’re exhausted and frequently at the breaking point. Sometimes, you call in sick just to get a small break in your otherwise overwhelming life.

The idea that you’ll wow your bosses by doing more than anyone else is, as I’ll discuss in detail, a terrible strategy. It is much more likely to result in thinning hair, a gaggle of stomach ulcers, and a pillow wet with frustrated tears than a promotion.

But you’ve been working this hard for so long, it actually makes you anxious when you think about slowing down. You imagine all the reputation and goodwill you’ve built up unraveling. It’s not clear anymore where your boss’ expectations end and your internal standards begin.

We live in a culture obsessed with achievement and whether you’re looking out over a sea of cubicles or big executive offices, the message feels the same: either learn to keep up … or get left behind.

And it’s killing you.

Why working less produces better results


In her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte delivers some sobering statistics about the workforce today:

Nearly 40 percent of American men and 20 percent of American women with a college education report putting in more than fifty hours a week on the job. [As a result,] an increasing number of workers reported feeling overwhelmed, in poorer health, overworked, depressed, angry at their employers for expecting so much, resentful of others they thought were slacking off, and being so exhausted that they were prone to making mistakes and doing lower-quality work.

But what if the problem isn’t so much your boss’ expectations or a workaholic corporate culture as it is our fundamental beliefs about what it takes to get promoted?

The biggest mistake people make is equating out-working their fellow colleagues with out-performing them.

Rationally you may know that isn’t exactly true, but our behaviors, from executives to interns, tell a very different story. I ought to know, because I was someone who made that very mistake—and paid for it.

When I was mid-career, I took it as a matter of pride to never turn in an assignment late. I followed all the conventional wisdom to distinguish myself. I volunteered for committees (the “ask for more” strategy), took charge of last-minute taskings (the “do more” strategy), and was always the one asked to give tours to visiting VIPs (the “be a team player” strategy).

I wanted to be the kind of employee who, when my management needed something done, I was the person they trusted to get it done right and on time—and my to-do list reflected it. I was often overwhelmed, and as a result, I was forced to do the bare minimum just to keep all the plates spinning.

Now I was lucky. Not to sound like a braggart, of course, but my bare minimum is pretty good. My bosses were reasonably happy with my work and my performance reviews were always positive.

Contrast that with my colleague Karl.

Karl prided himself on blowing off what Michael Bungay Stanier, in his book Do More Great Work, calls “bad work”: the bureaucracies, meetings, and outdated processes that everyone knows are largely a waste of time, but we’re all asked to do them anyway.

So when it came to things like online certification training, travel vouchers, or filing reports, Karl was nearly always late (if he did them at all). He kept his voicemail full and you were lucky to get an email response from him within a week. Even crazier, he found a way to generally keep 9 – 5 working hours, while others with his position came in early and stayed late.

On the surface, Karl doesn’t sound like the ideal, superhuman employee we imagine we have to be to make it to the next level.

Which is why I was shocked when Karl was promoted two years early and put on the leadership fast track, while I got bland compliments and an offer for a lateral move.

It was a hard lesson for an overachiever like me.

I struggled with frustration and bitterness, believing the system wasn’t fair. But as I studied it more, I discovered the primary problem wasn’t the system.

The problem was that I didn’t understand the real rules of the game.

The smartest employees play by different rules


The first mental shift is to realize that not all requests from your boss are created equal.

What I learned from Karl, and others like him, is you can get away with a lot if you become a lynchpin at the things your boss really cares about. But becoming a lynchpin takes time and focus—you’re never going to get there if you’re overworked and mentally exhausted.

What I didn’t tell you about Karl was that he had been put in charge of a dysfunctional team that caused upper management a lot of headaches—and he completely turned that team around. Within a year, his team was being lauded as one of the most productive. And the people working for him loved him.

He was able to do this because he focused about 95% of his energy on finding and fixing the issues that were impacting team performance. It wasn’t straight forward or easy work. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Karl didn’t work hard.

But working hard wasn’t what got Karl promoted.

What mattered was that he made his bosses look good and he made their lives easier.   

Not only do we feel bad when we try to do it all—mentally, emotionally, and physically—but recent studies from the University of London show that multi-tasking can produce significant drops in your IQ. In men, the mental hit from multi-tasking turned them into the cognitive equivalent of an 8-year-old.

The lesson here? Always trying to make your boss happy in the short-term isn’t a smart strategy for promotion in the long-term.

Why you can’t lose sight of the bigger game


It’s easy to convince yourself that what your boss wants and what you want are two different things.

But you probably have more in common than you realize. Chances are you both want to make as big an impact as possible. And you both want results like yesterday.

To lose sight of those commonalities is to lose sight of the bigger game that’s being played … and that you and your boss are on the same team.

That means your number one goal should be to intimately understand what your boss cares about more than anything else. The tricky part is, your boss may not articulate her top priority.

Karl’s boss didn’t specifically tell him to turn things around—it just became apparent his team caused his boss a lot of stress.

So you may have to experiment a bit to figure out how you can accomplish more by doing less.

The best way to do that is to talk to your boss frankly about why a specific task should be eliminated, delayed, or given to someone else. This conversation needs to be about impact, not your own personal needs or preferences. This article has some great ideas on how to tell your boss no without getting fired.

The other option, which is a bit more risky, is to try ignoring requests.

Following in Karl’s lead, I tried this myself with tasks I felt confident weren’t very important. When I was right, nothing happened—no one even inquired about my missing assignment. When I was wrong, my boss reminded me and I quickly got the work done, often in a fraction of the time, because that’s all I had.

More importantly, there were no long term consequence to these experiments. The better I got at identifying (and delivering) the work my bosses really cared about, the more autonomy and responsibility I was given.

It’s time to take your work seriously


The good news is that you don’t have to satisfy your boss’ every whim or try to become superhuman to be successful.

The bad news is that you’re going to have to take a lot more responsibility—for your own career and the results you create.

Because you weren’t hired for your endurance, you were hired for your initiative and intelligence.

It’s time to use them.

You just have to muster the courage to stand up to the pressures that keep you overwhelmed and running in circles.

As scary as that sounds, it’s a big part of what it means to be a leader.

The benefit is that not only do you free up more time for higher impact work, but you demonstrate you’re thinking more strategically about the organization’s goals and performance—something you’ll need if you want to get promoted.

$174K in 6 Months: How One Mental Shift Made Me More Money Than Marketing Ever Did

$174K in 6 Months: How One Mental Shift Made Me More Money Than Marketing Ever Did

When I first started my business as a coach, I was incredibly optimistic.

After 16 years of service in the military, I was finally free to do things my way. No boss, no bureaucratic red tape to navigate. The only thing between me and serving my customers would be me.

I had no idea how true that statement would be. I’ll explain what I mean in a minute.

My first year I earned about $23K in revenue. Nothing special. Certainly Forbes wouldn’t be calling for an interview on how I did it.

But you know what? I was thrilled.

To create money, any money, out of nothing but my own hard work and ideas was amazing to me. If you’ve ever had any experience selling, even if just a lemonade stand or Girl Scout cookies as a kid, you might have an appreciation for how difficult it is to create that much money all by yourself.

The problem was that I’d also spent about $28K on various courses and programs, learning how to start a blog and an online business. Ouch.

“No problem!” I assured myself. I was confident I would make that money back over the years to come.

I did earn more, but not a lot more. In fact, over the next couple of years, I would fail to earn enough to pay myself regularly. I had high expenses due to education and outsourcing, and only meager profits. It hurt both my bank account and my ego.

What made it all the worse was that my clients kept telling me how great my coaching was, how I had made a real impact on their lives and careers. I had one glowing testimonial after another.

I kept asking myself: what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I make this work?

When good marketing produces bad results


I’m embarrassed to admit that I continued to pour yet more money down the drain on conferences, online marketing courses, and various contractors over those years, thinking the answer to my problems was my lack of knowledge or skill. Every time I made more, I spent more. My frustration grew.

It wasn’t until I hired a coach myself that it all became clear: my prices were too low to ever get my business to the place I wanted to reach. I didn’t have an information problem, I had a mindset problem.

To put it another way, you can be a master of marketing, but if you don’t master your “inner game,” you’ll continually struggle to achieve your business goals.

And that’s true at every level of business.

The simplest definition of money mindset is how you think about money. It’s how adept you are at pricing your products and services, your willingness to charge what they’re worth, and how capable you believe yourself to be when it comes to creating both revenue and value for your clients and customers.

Like many entrepreneurs, I’d assumed the hard part was finding people to pay me. I focused on blogging and marketing to make sure there were plenty of people coming in the door.

But if you haven’t figured out how to charge for your services appropriately, more people coming in the door just means exhaustion.

The classic solution to this overwork issue, if you follow the online marketing gurus, is to turn to passive income streams. You have this idea that you’ll coach during the day and magically make money while you sleep.

But marketing, good marketing, takes time. A lot of time.

I knew things had taken a seriously wrong turn when I began to resent the coaching calls on my calendar, because they kept me from all the work I needed to do to create online sales funnels. That’s right, my core business felt like a distraction from my marketing, rather than the other way around.

How screwed up is that?


The secret to my (mind-blowing) success


Several years ago I was taking a long walk with a friend, and he challenged me to generate six figures in revenue that year. I said I wasn’t interested.

“I don’t need that much money,” I told him.

“But wouldn’t it be nice to have it,” he asked incredulously.

“I guess. But I don’t need it,” I protested.

This was the first sign that my money mindset issues ran deep. You see, a part of me thought it was wrong to make more money than you needed. So perhaps it was no real surprise that as long as I didn’t need money, I didn’t make money.

Admittedly, there was also a part of me that thought a goal like that wasn’t within my reach. I was scared to try because I was scared to fail.

Once I gave myself permission to earn more, I had to tackle my scarcity mindset. This meant intentionally taking fewer clients, so I could serve those I did sign more deeply and powerfully. I set a capacity of never taking more than 6 clients at a time.

This set me up for the scariest proposition of all, because to earn more with fewer clients, there was really only one option: I had to raise my prices. Significantly.

That forced me to re-evaluate the true value of what I was already doing and how I could raise the bar. I listened more carefully to the dreams and fears of my potential clients, and then got creative with what I felt was the perfect, VIP solution to help them.

The results were beyond my wildest expectation.

I went from paying myself pitiful wages to billing over $174K so far this year. In full transparency, I offer the majority of my clients payment plans, so not all of that revenue has been deposited into my bank account yet. I’ve never had a client fail to pay what they agreed to, so I feel comfortable reporting that as revenue, but as per this article, I also believe it’s important to be as transparent as possible about what these numbers actually represent.

Even better, I was able to accomplish those results by taking clients who inspire and amaze me, while also making time for the important things in life like family, friends, and my health. These rather simple changes have made an enormous impact.

For one thing, I’ve become a lot more confident in my ability to find and sign clients whenever I need to. The scarcity mindset is gone. That means I am detached from the outcome of any one potential client–I never pressure anyone to sign with me and there’s never any desperation to my pitches.

As my prices have gone up, the number of people wanting to work with me has gone up too. This was completely counter intuitive, until I realized that low prices unconsciously signaled to my clients that my services must not be worthwhile. Let’s face it, if you’re really offering to transform someone’s life or business, who expects to get that at a bargain?

Moreover, those low prices encourage people to sign up for work they aren’t totally committed to and thus never fully get the benefit from. You don’t want to sell to someone who’s still kicking the tires, so to speak. It results in a “poor” experience for everyone.

What I discovered is that changing your mindset about money changes your mindset about everything: about what you do, your capacity to deeply serve your clients, the lifestyle your business can enable, and the amount of satisfaction you enjoy in your business.

A successful business requires courage


No one sets out to create an unsustainable business.

People know they’ll have to work hard to get a new business off the ground, but they tell themselves that eventually they’ll hit a tipping point and everything will get easier.

But that’s not what happens when your prices are too low. At some point you realize you can’t keep taking on new clients without sacrificing the quality of your work (and your lifestyle). While I see the benefit of selling information products to increase your reach and revenue, calling their creation and marketing “passive” is a cruel joke.

That’s not to say online marketing isn’t something you should invest in. Just don’t kid yourself.

Effective online marketing is incredibly time intensive. But in my experience, so is mediocre online marketing, which is all you can expect if you’re trying to squeeze your efforts around your client based business.

So if you’re a coach, consultant, or freelancer, hear this: the fastest way to grow your business is to raise your prices.

There is a right way and a wrong way to go about it of course.

There’s a limit to what you can charge for certain products and services for specific clientele. The question you should be asking yourself: how do you know when you’ve hit the price ceiling for your services and what could you tweak to raise that ceiling once you hit it?  

There are 3 reasons you probably have trouble answering that question:

  1. you don’t fully understand the needs and desires of your clients
  2. you don’t understand the full breadth and value of services you can provide
  3. you have assumptions about what customers will and won’t pay, assumptions you’ve probably never tested

These stories we make up about how much people are willing to pay for our services are the #1 reason so many entrepreneurs are overworked and underpaid.

Does it take courage to override those voices in your head that say you can’t charge more? Sure.

But you know what, hiring you probably requires some courage on the part of your client too. If you want your potential clients to overcome their skepticism and potential disappointment, you need to be willing to do the same.

Make hiring you the scariest and most committed thing either of you have ever done.

Then make it worth it.

Why I Decided to Teach My 8-Year-Old Daughter How to Curse

Why I Decided to Teach My 8-Year-Old Daughter How to Curse

Like any good parents, my husband and I spent our child’s early years carefully watching what we said in her presence.

We created kid-friendly playlists so we didn’t accidentally broadcast explicit lyrics. I taught myself to blurt words like “Fudge!” whenever I stubbed a toe.

And if a visiting childless friend made the mistake of speaking the way we used to when we were all in college, my husband and I eyed each other and nervously laughed, hoping the offense had gone unnoticed by our pure and otherwise untainted daughter.

Of course we also vowed to never invite that person over again until our daughter was safely tucked away at college (somehow the irony escaped us).

So when my daughter came home from school one day with a glint in her eye and the news that she had learned some “bad words,” we were prepared for the worst.

Daughter: I learned the S-word today.
Me: Oh yeah? What is it?
Daughter: Stupid!
Me: Uhhhhhh….
Daughter: I learned the other S-word too!
Me: Let’s hear it.
Daughter (leaning in for a whisper): Sexy

My husband’s thinking was, “Whew! We dodged a bullet there!”

Initially, I felt the same way. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something had gone horribly wrong. And I had to fix it.

What did you just say?!

My childhood, as best I can remember it, was quite different. My father had this wild idea that every word has a flavor and one of the joys in life is putting words together the same way you would a feast. There is no such thing as a bad word, he would tell me, just badly chosen words.

That kind of hippy philosophy served me fine as a kid, but as a parent? It felt risky.

I mean, I can barely trust my daughter not to fart, loudly, in public places without a lot of giggling. Can she really be trusted to not shock polite society, armed with a list of naughty words? Can any kid resist something so, well, irresistible?

Yes, I believe they can. In fact, I believe they must.

It occurred to me that if I am prepared to teach my daughter someday about the necessity of condoms or the dangers of drinking until you are absolutely convinced you need to share your thoughts with the world via a bullhorn, well, I could survive a talk about a few lousy words.

So I sat my daughter down to give her an education she’d never forget.

An asshole is a body part no more nefarious than an elbow, I explained. And while you may shock fewer people by substituting “jerk” for the more common usage of the word “asshole,” you don’t spare anyone’s feelings.

But if I’m being completely honest, I told her, nothing will soothe a stubbed toe or a broken heart as much as letting loose a torrent of these “bad” words … just preferably while by yourself.

Wait, but why?

I know some may think I’m crazy. It’s one thing to teach a child what the words technically mean, but it’s quite another to teach her how to throw around these bad boys with conviction.

But there are few things I’m as passionate about as giving my daughter a voice—her voice—along with the authority and autonomy to use it.

In the end, this is an issue of control. I’m not really referring to parental control so much as the control that society tries to place upon us “for our own good.”

I don’t think it’s an accident that one of the supposed bad words my daughter learned was sexy. Society has served up sexy as a role model for younger and younger girls (witness what’s happened to Halloween costumes), while simultaneously punishing them just a few years later with another S-word: slut.

It’s not the knowledge of these words that will ultimately taint my daughter but her ignorance.

Because as long as these words remain a mystery, I allow other people to determine their meaning and impact for her. As long as I insist on protecting her from her own presumed linguistic rebelliousness, the more I communicate that I don’t trust her to be the responsible, thoughtful child I know her to be.

And if I can’t trust her to control her own words, how in the world can I expect her to one day control her own life?

The issue is not whether we should teach our kids about curse words. Like it or not, they’re going to hear them and ultimately use them. I think we owe them an ounce of guidance before they go off to college to exercise their new found right to make fools of themselves.

The question is: how do we know when they’re ready, not just for dirty words, but for the dirty realities of life? Isn’t that what we’re really worried about?

I’d be lying if I said a part of me wasn’t scared about getting a call from an angry parent demanding, “Do you know what your daughter just told my daughter?” I waited a while to write this, because like any parent, I didn’t know if my intuition would prove wise or worthy of my own reality show.

I’m proud to say that my daughter can curse with the best of them, but she doesn’t. Except for the one day when her feelings were badly hurt by some girl drama that I have conveniently wiped from my own childhood memories.

On that day, she walked up to her room and closed the door. I wisely resisted the urge to make sure the windows were shut or to listen at the door, ready to correct any grammatical mistakes. (Because, to be fair, if there’s anything worse than compulsive cursing, it has to be grammatically incorrect compulsive cursing.)

Instead, I waited downstairs, sipping my tea, until she reemerged and smiled.

“I feel better now,” she told me.

And so do I.

5 Strategies to Land Your Dream Job (Even If You Don’t Feel Qualified)

5 Strategies to Land Your Dream Job (Even If You Don’t Feel Qualified)

You’ve tried everything you can think of to make your job more appealing.

You spearheaded a new project, negotiated a flexible work schedule, and pinned inspirational posters around your desk.

But everyday you still ache to be doing something else, and you just can’t ignore it any longer.

The problem is you feel powerless to pursue what you really want in a world that reduces your experience to a handful of keywords.

It’s the classic Catch-22: you think you can’t get hired without experience, and you can’t get experience without a new job.

Except that’s not exactly true.

I’ve worked with hundreds of career changers over the last five years, helping them quickly and easily land their dream jobs — without a lot of experience and without going back to school.

Before you resign yourself to merely living for the weekends, try these 5 strategies for getting your foot in the door with a job you’ll love. (more…)

7 Unexpected Reasons You’re Not Living Up to Your Potential

7 Unexpected Reasons You’re Not Living Up to Your Potential

It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

When you were a kid, you knew you’d do something amazing one day. Maybe nothing so grandiose as curing cancer (although you didn’t rule it out). But you’d be respected and known throughout your field. You’d look with satisfaction and pride at your work, whatever it was, and know you’d made a tiny dent in the universe.

But it just hasn’t happened and you’re not sure why.

You’re working hard, really hard actually. But year after year goes by, and that next level of influence and impact doesn’t get any closer. And you’re about to give up on the dream all together.

I get it. Teachers and family frequently told me, “You’re going to be great someday.” They meant to be encouraging, but as I got older (and discovered how hard it is to be “great”), I started feeling like I was behind where I was supposed to be in life. It made me anxious that I wasn’t living up to the potential everyone else seemed to see in me. Why wasn’t I celebrity yet? Why did I still feel ordinary and average? Wasn’t I supposed to be further along professionally by now?

I worked on that anxiety for a number of years, redefining success for myself and focusing on creating the life I wanted to live. That was good psychologically, but I was still struggling to actually achieve my goals … until last year.

Last year was a pivotal one for me in terms of personal and professional growth. My business grew by leaps and bounds, allowing me to increase the amount I contribute to the family finances 4-fold. During the same time period, I embraced long-term healthy eating habits and started exercising 2-3 times per week, every week. I even took the entire month of June off, going back to England to see all our favorite faces and places.

I’d never felt so good about what I was doing, how I was doing it, and the impacts I was having. The anxiety and doubt that plagues overachievers like me was mostly quiet.

It felt like I was stepping into my own greatness, a greatness that already existed, rather than trying to achieve it.

And when I did that, I unexpectedly hit a hidden tipping point that made everything I was trying to accomplish a lot easier.

The conventional advice on success largely holds us back. Here are 7 reasons you’re still not where you want to be in life, and how to (finally) arrive. (more…)