Many of my clients have been surprised to learn that I hated speaking and writing in the beginning. When I landed the contract to write my first book, I was elated—and then I felt sick. I procrastinated. I battled limiting beliefs constantly. It was all I could do to keep at it.
In Freedom Compass language, I’d have said that writing was in my Drudgery Zone. I didn’t like it. And even though I wasn’t a bad writer, I wasn’t a very efficient writer. Writing wasn’t high-leverage work for me. But something changed.
The greatest myth about the Freedom Compass I regularly encounter from clients is the assumption that it reflects a permanent reality. We don’t stay the same, and neither do our strengths. The Freedom Compass relies on the dimensions of passion and proficiency. Passion reflects how much we enjoy our work. Proficiency reflects our ability to excel. Both can change.
That’s the value of the fifth zone of the Freedom Compass: the Development Zone. It’s right in the middle of the compass. This is the zone where we place work we’re trying to move into our Desire Zone. And intentionally focusing on the work in this zone can make our days more effective and more enjoyable.
There are four strategies I’d recommend trying as you try to improve your passion and proficiency for any kind of work.
Listen to your thinking.
Thoughts like I’m no good with numbers or I’m not a writer won’t help you improve. Whenever I say limiting beliefs out loud without realizing it, one of my daughters likes to respond, “Well, Dad, if you say so.” She’s right. The thoughts we think and say change our reality.
Start by noticing your thinking around where you want to grow. Replace limiting beliefs with liberating truths. Instead of I’m no good with numbers, try My attention to detail positions me to learn the basic accounting I need to know. Instead of I’m not a writer, try Learning to organize and capture my ideas will help others—and my business!
Whatever you’re trying to learn, you can find someone further down the road. They don’t have to be the premier expert. Your friend who really knows Excel might not be able to pass on all the accounting knowledge of a Fortune-500 CFO, but learning how to use spreadsheets could be the perfect place to begin. These people can help you begin building momentum. Then, when you’ve learned what you can, you can look for others who can take you further.
Finding people to help you is an exercise in networking and research. Ask around, being specific about what you’d like help with and how much time you think it will take. Consider compensating others for their time. And research specific courses or programs designed to help people like you.
Of course, we also live in the age of the internet. I’ve learned so much about fly fishing and repairing and upgrading my boat from YouTube videos and people in Facebook Groups I’m part of. I believe in the value of face-to-face conversations. But I also believe in leveraging your resources. So explore what’s out there.
Practice, practice, practice.
A lot has been said about the 10,000-hour rule. Some have argued the precise number or presented exceptions to the rule. But here’s what’s not in contention: we memorize what we practice.
This reality produces double-edged results. If you get into the habit of running with poor form, you’ll have to course-correct before you can become a better runner. That’s why having a guide to help at the outset is so important. On the other hand, if you practice running with good form every day, you’re bound to build your speed and endurance.
Most business leaders I know are busy. Living with a full calendar means we have to be intentional about practicing skills we want to improve. You’ll need to schedule uninterrupted blocks of time. And you’ll need to stay with it even when the results aren’t immediate.
Improving takes effort. But good work always takes effort. Even my Desire Zone activities take a ton of hard work. Pursuing excellence can be hard. Thinking creatively can be hard. Taking risks can be hard. Effective preparation can be hard. We don’t love our work because it’s easy. We love it because it’s satisfying.
Reframe the work.
The first three strategies have focused on improving your proficiency. That was intentional. I find that we often dread tasks because we’re not yet proficient. It’s slow. It makes us feel incompetent. Failure is useful, but it doesn’t feel good. Left to our own devices, we try to avoid it. When we improve, we enjoy the work more. Improving our proficiency also improves our passion.
But sometimes it’s not enough. That’s where framing comes in. Framing is how we think about our work. We could see cold-calling as an awkward and selfish process. Or we could see it as an opportunity to connect people who have a real, felt problem with a solution that will alleviate their pain point. We could frame conducting performance reviews as arduous and exhausting. Or we could frame them as an opportunity to celebrate our team’s success and continue coaching them toward becoming the kind of contributors they want to be.
Another dimension of framing is connecting smaller tasks to the bigger why. Expense reports help you practice transparency, promote financial health, and reach your financial goals. Analyzing data helps you make better-informed decisions. Completing podcast recordings helps you expand your audience and connect with future customers. Relating daily tasks back to big-picture goals boosts motivation.
Not all work will find its way to your Desire Zone. That’s okay. That’s what delegation is for. But as you practice these four strategies, you’ll notice your Freedom Compass begin to change. Today, writing and speaking are at the heart of my Desire Zone, and I’m working on new skills in my Development Zone!
Now it’s your turn. Take a look at your Freedom Compass. Choose work to move into your Development Zone. And then start leveraging these strategies to change your workday—and your business.
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