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Jim’s thoughts on the book The Big Leap, and how you can apply it to your career

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Are you stagnant in your career or an entrepreneur worried about taking it to the next level?

I recently read through a book called The Big Leap by an author named Gay Hendricks. Someone told me about the book first, and when I looked it up I recognized having seen it in the bookstore because it had such a great cover of a goldfish jumping from a smaller fishbowl into a larger one.

I enjoyed it overall and it was a pretty quick read (although it got a tiny bit too spiritual for me in places). Here’s my take on three key concepts I took from it, and how you might approach it in your life.

1) Do you have an Upper Limit Problem?

The main concept of the book is recognizing and overcoming what the author calls an Upper Limit Problem. The thought here is that people reach a certain level of success in business or a relationship where they are truly happy, and this trips up their inner thermostat that holds us back from being TOO happy, and you end up doing something to sabotage that and bring you back down to your previous happiness level.

He gives several examples in life, such as someone in a relationship that finally is feeling comfortable with their significant other, but then picks a fight over something stupid and ruins things.

Or maybe it’s an actor that is coming off a multi-million dollar blockbuster, that self-destructs and trashes a hotel room or flies off the rails.

He delves into some of the psychology behind it, such as root feelings that you don’t deserve the success.

What if you’ve worked really hard, finally get a promotion, and are excited to tell your family over dinner. But then you get sick and can’t make it. Hendricks would argue that the reason this physical ailment manifested itself is because of an upper limit problem.

Why? Perhaps you’re a high achiever and your siblings are not, so you hold back to appear from bragging. Or perhaps your mother is always on you to start a family, but you’ve chosen to focus on your career.

Think about your life and career and ask if that has happened to you.

The way I looked at it, I think sometimes it’s hard to picture that next level until you or someone close to you has made it to that next level. When phrased that way, I saw that I was confronted with an upper limit several times in my career.

When I had been at my startup for several years, just 15 minutes from where I grew up in the Boston area, Ross, one of my friends and co-workers announced that he was taking a job. Not just any job, a job with Dreamworks studios. In Los Angeles.

To me, it was hard for me to grasp working for such an amazing dream job and moving to the other side of the country. And then 6 months later my friend Joe announced that he was quitting to move to Austin Texas to work at a great design company. And right after that, Christian announced that he was taking a video editing job. In Poland.

Suddenly with concrete examples of this success all around me, I realized I could do it as well, which eventually lead to my dream job at ESPN in Seattle.

I think my friend Matt, who has had jobs as an executive chef at world-class country clubs around the country, said it best. I was contemplating taking a job offer at a director position, when I had only been as high as senior manager. I told him I was worried that the job was above my head and that I wouldn’t be able to do the work. Essentially, I was worried about making The Big Leap. He told me that it was his experience that you’re never really totally comfortable with taking a new position like that. Then he said:

I also see this in professional sports. There are several examples where younger teams make it to the championship and lose, because they almost have a “happy to be there” attitude. It’s only after the next year, after they’ve been through the experience, and felt what it was like to almost win, that they have the right attitude to make The Big Leap to champion.

2) Operating in your Zone of Excellence vs Zone of Genius

The second concept I enjoyed was the thought of living your life at the highest level possible. Hendricks says that many of us live in our Zone of Excellence, which is when you get really good at your job and do it well, but then stagnate and go through the motions for months or years.

Let’s compare Microsoft vs. Apple over the past 10 years for this example. At Microsoft, there may have been a few innovations in things like Microsoft Kinect. However, when you look at their flagship product Microsoft Office, you would argue that they have been stuck in their Zone of Excellence.

There’s no doubt that Word, Excel, and Powerpoint have evolved over time, and they are the most successful maker of that type of software on the planet. But is the MS Word in Office 2010 really that much better than the version that came out in Office 2000?

In contrast, it would be easy to argue that Steve Jobs operated in his Zone of Genius. At this level, your life’s purpose is exactly what you were meant to do. To create the iPod then the iPhone then the iPad and the latest generation Macbook Air, each product a revolutionary step over everything else, was unprecedented.

How about you? Are you operating in your Zone of Genius?
Or merely going through the motions in your Zone of Excellence? And how do you know?

Let’s go to the final point…

3. Three Key Questions to Ask

Sit back, take a deep breath, and answer the following questions honestly:

1) I’m at my best when I’m…
For example, I’m at my best when taking creative photographs
Or, I’m at my best when doing public relations and promoting my clients

2) When I’m at my best, the exact thing I’m doing is…
An example could be… taking amazing headshot photographs for job seekers
Or, telling compelling stories behind new and innovative startup companies

3) When I’m doing that, the thing I love most about it is…
Bringing out the true nature of a person through their smile and expressing it through a picture
Or, seeing the excitement and pride of startup founders as they bring their products to the world

So take a moment to walk through those three questions.

Doing so and finding what you’re truly meant to do might help you recognize and overcome your upper limit problem, enter your Zone of Genius, and lead a kickass life.

Sponsor Message: Freshbooks “Fresh Take of the Week” – Today’s fresh take is about creating high quality content. If you’re a blogger just starting out, I urge you to just keep putting out the very best writing you can do, every single time. It might not always go viral, but usually good things will happen.

For example, I actually write 2 columns a month for a publication in China. They give me pretty free reign to talk about salary and workplace issues. But for reason, for my 5th article, I went way off topic and talked about buying a pair of jeans at the store Uniqlo. It was just a topic that was really bugging me, so I got obsessed with it.

They wrote back a week later to say that it was way off topic, and re-reading it, they were totally right. They said that they would use it in another part of their magazine later, but that I wouldn’t be paid for it in this latest round. I was kind of bummed out.

But then a funny thing happened. A month later they said they had run the article and it did well, and offered me a job writing an additional business-oriented column every month. So while I was way off topic for my original editor, because it was great content, it still resonated somewhere. So if you’re just starting out, pour your heart into every article you write.

Another tip if you’re just starting out is to use Freshbooks for online billing. That’s what I use to bill my client and organize my business and it’s fantastic.

Hopkinson Report Disclosure: I purchased this book myself and was not compensated in any way for writing this column. Amazon.com affiliate links used where available.

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