Thinking and Doing

As career-oriented young professional, I go through periods when I get anxious and nervous about my career. Despite having a good job, stable income, and positive future prospects, my mind races through a series of questions and doubts. These questions tend to keep me up at night, as the thought of not having answers can be stressful. These questions include:

  • Will I become successful in pursuing my goals?
  • Am I actually good at what I do, or did I just get lucky?
  • What if my success runs out?

 

As an analytical and thoughtful person, I tend to mull over this more than I should.

While the mulling over those questions is not always fun, I often come to realizations and insights as a result of thinking through some of those questions. Furthermore, I’ve learned enough about myself to know that I can’t keep things locked inside my head, and during those times I often reach out to others to get their thoughts and perspectives on what I’m thinking about. Generally speaking, I usually feel better about where I am after I go through one of those cycles.

This cycle has ups and downs, but illustrates what I think is an important dichotomy: the balance of thinking and doing.

Thinking means taking the time to reflect and honestly ask yourself tough questions, and to pursue truthfulness and authenticity in finding the answers to those questions. This process helps you become more self-aware, spots trends and reoccurring themes, and helps you make sense of where you are and where you want to go. It can shift you to a course you want to take, and at the very least, reaffirms that you are moving in the right direction. Thinking helps us remove the tunnel vision we often get when we focus too much on doing.

Doing is critical because it takes your thoughts and turns them into tangible actions. It takes the theoretical and turns it into the practical, and gets you to make action-oriented steps towards a particular goal. Doing is also where gain experience, make mistakes, and develop muscle memory, which builds not only our abilities, but also our confidence in those abilities. Doing breaks those times when we get too caught up in our thoughts, and helps us take our ideas about where we want to go and makes them a reality.

Here’s my three-step process for Thinking and Doing:

  • First, you need to practice both thinking and doing. Since most of us are “doing” things every day, start asking yourself honest questions about what you are doing, and make an effort to search for those answers.
  • The second step, once you’ve started to identify when you are thinking, and when you are doing, is to know when it’s appropriate to think, and when it’s time to do. Look for triggers in both aspects – when are you starting to feel anxious or restless after thinking about something? When do you begin to lose sight of the goal you are actually working towards? Finding these triggers or moments will help you understand when you need to hit the pause button and move in the other direction
  • The last step is understanding the right balance of thinking versus doing. Is it 50-50? Is it 60-40? I believe it’s different for everyone, but in general, I do believe that actions speak louder than words, so I tend to err more on the side of doing than thinking. Figuring out what works best for you should be your goal.

Practicing and using the thinking versus doing framework will improve your self-awareness and help you understand the how and why behind what you do every day.

At times, it will be uncomfortable, and it may even take you down a path that you did not envision, but I believe it will help improve your self-awareness, define what it is you really want to be doing, and pursue taking actions that are aligned with what you want. You may even be able to answer those questions that keep you up at night.

Rainbows and Butterflies

There are times when work is not fun. There are times we don’t want to get up in the morning. There are parts of everyone’s job that suck.

If you work in Corporate America I would assume these statements resonate with you on some level. At some point in my professional career, I realized that my college life (read: rainbows and butterflies) was not going to materialize in the same manner in my professional life. While it’s admirable to truly do what you love and work in a job you are passionate about, everyone, even those people, has days that suck and moments where they dislike their job.

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Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with people about their careers and one thing I’ve learned everyone has things they like and dislike about work. Unfortunately, our paycheck requires us to do both of them. It’s not so much about the good times – everyone can weather those, but how you handle the bad times and adverse conditions is going to determine how well you do and what you gain from your work experience.

I often tell people it’s not about you do, but rather, what you are willing to give up sacrifice in order to do the job you do. Or, said another way, like marriage, when you pick a job, you pick your problems. For some, that’s long nights and weekend work. For others, its low pay, and for people in my industry it’s getting on a flight twice a week and living out of a suitcase.

So, how do you figure out what you love and what you hate? Here’s a simple exercise:

  1. Write down all the things that you love about your job.
  2. Write down all the things you have to give up in order to do those things you like.
  3. For the things you like, rate how much you like them, and for the things you hate, determine how much you’re willing to endure them to do the things you like.

This exercise will help you appreciate the benefits but also acknowledge your limits for the downside that comes with your job.

At some point, you may come to the realization that whatever you are doing while great is not worth what you have to give up, and that’s okay. I think you’ll find that even when we’re frustrated with our jobs there are a lot more things we like and appreciate about them when we really think about our priorities and sacrifices.

 

Work will not always be rainbows and butterflies. But it can certainly give you things that bring you joy, happiness, and engagement. You just need to define what that is, and what you’re willing to give up to achieve it.

 

Necessary, but not sufficient

When working towards a goal, there are some things that you absolutely must do (necessary.) Not doing them will not help you achieve your goal. Having said that, simply doing just those things is not nearly enough (not sufficient) Case in point: Let’s say your goal is to lose weight. In addition to working out, you’d probably need to do other things, such as getting the right amount of rest, eating healthy, and managing stress. In this case, if you want to lose weight, exercising is necessary, but not sufficient.

 

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I was reminded by this concept this week when one of my friends shared with me their disappointment in being passed over for a career opportunity. They talked about how they worked hard and had performed well but still had not received the opportunity, and shared their frustration that despite their loyalty and efforts they were not rewarded.

In order to achieve high performance in a company, working hard and executing is necessary but not  sufficient*. In high performing companies, it is the expectation that you will show up, do your job and do it well. If you want to stand out, and achieve high marks, there are other things you need to do in order to achieve that goal, such as building relationships with the right people, making sure you get recognized for your work, supporting other people, and making yourself indispensable to your team/organization.

As you think about your own performance goals and aspirations at work, I urge you to think about two questions: What is necessary to achieve this goal, and what else do I need to do in order to sufficiently achieve this goal? Separating out these two questions and spending some time to think about answers will give you a much more holistic perspective about what you need to do in order to achieve success.

 

*there are always exceptions to this rule, we all know someone who doesn’t do anything and still gets promoted, but generally it rings true.