When you really break it down, life is simply a never-ending series of attempts. Everything we do, every minute of every day, is just another attempt. Another rep. Another at bat. Some attempts feel bigger and more important because we build them up in our minds. But in reality, they’re not. Not in the BIG picture.

That interview? It’s just an attempt.

That proposal? It’s just an attempt.

That workout? It’s just an attempt.

That speech? It’s just an attempt.

They are all attempts. Nothing more, nothing less. Thankfully, every attempt is a chance to learn, a chance to grow and chance to develop in some area of our life. That’s because every attempt provides us with feedback. We get to choose how to process this feedback. And the perspective we choose influences our performance.

We can choose to react to the feedback in a way that serves us and moves us forward. Or we can choose to react to the feedback in a way that cripples us and sets us back. The goal is to get as many attempts as possible, to continually learn, and keep moving forward toward the person we strive to become. This is what I mean by growth.

Engaging the Process (the theme of the last episode) and Growth (the theme of this episode) are flip sides of the same coin: Engaging the process is a strategy to beat burnout when the big picture is the cause of exhaustion. Growth is the reverse: when the day to day is weighing on you, take the opposite tack: pull back and focus on where you’re going. Growth is big picture thinking.

Before a future NBA player is drafted, one of the metrics discussed is his “ceiling.” This is a term for how good the player can be if all things go right—and it’s a hypothetical. It’s the most optimistic view of his potential. A player’s career is a mix of his own commitment to the game, the organization he plays for, the teammates he shares the floor with, the injuries that do or don’t occur, and so on. The top players are constantly pushing this ceiling by working on the aspects they can control. No matter where they are on the statistic leader boards or in the contract process, they commit to growth.

I once heard NBA Hall of Fame coach Doc Rivers say, “The average players want to be left alone. The good players want to be coached. The great players want to be told the truth.” The truth as in what they still need to do. NBA players, especially the great ones, have more than enough people telling them they how amazing they are. And I’m sure that feels great. But what they really need is a teammate, coach, or mentor who reminds them of the distance between them and their ceiling. Or someone who convinces them their ‘ceiling’ isn’t even a real idea in the first place.

The average person tends not to learn from failure because of a self-serving bias: when things go well, it was his doing. When things go poorly, someone else screwed up. If you feel like failure is due to other circumstance beyond your control, you’re never going to learn from it. The self-serving bias is very common. But in high performers “the self-serving bias that interferes with learning often recedes and even disappears.” High performers always take responsibility because they know it is essential for growth. While most people are looking to protect themselves from blame, high performers are seeking it out. A self-serving bias might save you from an uncomfortable conversation or a drop in mood, but when the moment passes, you’ll have gained nothing from the experience. Then the experience really is a failure because you took nothing from it.

We are all works in progress. There should always be a gap between your Actual Self (who you are) and your Desired Self (who you are working to become). You should never feel ‘finished.’ You should never reach your ‘ceiling.’ You should never feel you’ve ‘arrived.’ Once you feel there’s nowhere to go, you lose the motivation and sense of growth that pulls you forward.

  1. Receiving Feedback: Am I open minded? Humble? Observant? Am I constantly looking for ways to improve in every area of my life?
  2. Discerning Feedback: Is this person qualified? Is this their opinion/preference? Is this helpful/useful? What biases do they have? What do I?
  3. Utilizing Feedback: What can I learn from this? How can this move me forward? Will this take me closer to becoming my best self?

Advice to the burned out: Get clarity on what is causing your burnout. Are you disinterested in the end goal? Bored with the steps? In need of a break? Craving a new role? You need to raise your level of awareness. Remember, you will never fix something you are oblivious to and you will never improve something you are unaware of.

When it comes to a daunting task, don’t just try to get THROUGH it: aim to get FROM it. The process isn’t always smooth, it’s rarely easy, and might not feel successful. But it does its work on you. Don’t stop when it gets hard because that’s where things happen. Growth requires discomfort, tension, and sometimes, even pain.

Here are two concepts that help you stay focused on growth:

  1. ‘Star where you are.’ Don’t worry about your next job or next position; focus on being the best you are capable of where you are at the moment. If you star in your current role, or current job, it will lead to…
  2. ‘Improvement > Advancement.’ Self-improvement in itself will propel you forward. Masai believed that the key to advancing in one’s career boiled down to their rate of improvement, growth, and development. When you get better, better opportunities open up. Don’t worry too much about “the game” of getting ahead: Focus on you, commit to what you can control.

Comedy writer Emily Winter was in a rut. So she made a resolution at the start of the new year to do something bold: she would try to get 100 rejections of her work. She would pitch and submit her writing to so many print and media outlets, that she’d have a giant pile of nos to show for it. She wasn’t a glutton for punishment. Not exactly. Her thinking was that the experience would strengthen her. “If you’ve never experienced rejection,” she explained, “than you’re not growing.” So she went into the year hoping to create a type of “post-traumatic strength.” where all that rejection would create a second skin that made her stronger.

However, something else happened on the way to 100 rejections. Sure, Winter got a lot of nos, as planned. But she also got yeses, a lot of them, and ended the year with “the best resume that I’ve ever had.” Winter’s unorthodox process gave her an extra type of motivation; since her goal was to accumulate as many rejections as possible, she had to put herself out there—really out there. And it led her to the most prolific and consequential work year of her life. Her story is illuminating because it encapsulates the idea that getting stronger is getting ahead. Both require risk and the ability to face failure. And both are part of the growth process.