Most of us do not like having to overcome challenges. The big challenges that force us way out of our comfort zone, that require us to take risks where failure is very real and very possible, and to find and use resources that are unfamiliar to us.
Most of us talk about wanting to rock the boat, and wanting to make a change, and wanting to take on big challenges. But few of us actually have the gumption to go out and do it. Or even know where to start if they are willing to go for it.
There is a proven approach to addressing challenges, even big challenges that helps to reduce the risks and identify the resources. Stepping out of our comfort zone, well that has to be done. But it does not have to be done all at once. Here are the five steps you need to take to overcome a challenge.
1. What is the Challenge?
The first step is to clearly identify what exactly the challenge is. What are all the different aspects to it and what will things look like once the challenge is successfully completed? So often we try to move forward with just a vague notion of what we should do or what the end result will be. Knowing exactly what success will look like is crucial. You need to be able to clearly envision your post challenge world and be able to clearly describe it to others. If you can see it, then you can do it.
2. Use SMART Steps
In clarifying your challenge, you also need to consider the major steps that it will take to get there, what resources might be needed to accomplish those steps and how long each step might take. Think about which of the resources you already have, which you can easily access, and what you will have to do in order to acquire and use any remaining needed resources. You also need to brainstorm alternatives to your planned resources. If you cannot get person A to help, who else could serve that role? If you cannot get product X, what other products could you use instead?
In other words, one of the most important steps towards overcoming a big challenge is to create your SMART plan. Making sure you have a clearly identifying goal (Specific), that you know what success will look like (Measurable), that you know what steps you need to accomplish to reach that goal (Action-Oriented), that you have all the resources you need to complete each step (Realistic), and you know how long all of this should take (Time-Bound). Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, Time-Bound = SMART. Successful plans are smart plans. Implementation of smart plans is one hurdle of conquering big challenges.
Yes, there are other hurdles. These other hurdles are frequently overlooked, but they can be what makes or breaks your path to success.
3. You Must Believe to Achieve
The power of positive thinking may sound cliché, but it is a powerful tool (no pun intended). Believing that you will overcome your challenge, that you will be successful, and surrounding yourself with a positive support network are just as important as having a plan. The negative ninnies are all around us telling us why we should not do something, why we will not be successful, why we are being foolish for trying, and surrounding us with thoughts of gloom and doom. While many of these people are well meaning in their desire to protect us from failure, it can prevent us from moving forward.
When we hear something over and over again it seeps into our subconscious and we start to internalize it – making it our reality. Having people around you who will support you, encourage you, and believe in you will help to provide the positive messages needed to build up your reality of “I can do this!” Positive messages do not mean this support network will agree with everything you say or do, but it does mean they are there to help pick you up and keep you moving forward.
“We don’t grow when things are easy. We grow when we face challenges.” Unknown
4. Be Flexible
Even with a great plan and a great support network, there will still be surprises. Not everything in your plan will go according to that plan. Remaining flexible is essential. You may discover that you missed some steps in your planning, or that a particular step did not produce the outcome you needed to move to the next step. Be willing to make adaptations to your plan as you go along. Maybe one of the resources you planned to use is no longer available or the time schedule needs to be adjusted. That is okay.
What is important is that you allow change to happen. The whole purpose of taking on a big challenge is that some type of big change will result, so why wouldn’t you expect smaller challenges and changes to take place along the way? What matters is that you continue to make progress, and continue to move forward, not whether or not you are making progress exactly as you planned.
5. Be Accountable
The last step in the process of overcoming challenges, is to hold yourself accountable to the process. It is so easy to give up. And big challenges are not about taking the easy route. You need to have a system in place to keep yourself on track. This may mean publicly documenting your progress so everyone can see where you are at – the peer pressure approach. It may be finding one person in your support network with whom you sign a contract. That contract spells out how often the person will pry into your progress and agree to push you in keeping your timeline. Or it may be a personal contract that you make with yourself and identifying incentives that you get only when your reach a certain benchmark.
There are many options for accountability. It takes group of like-minded individuals working together and supporting each other to achieve success. That is how big challenges are overcome.
Putting It All Together
So, what are the challenges you are facing in your career right now? If you are unhappy, restless, frustrated, or otherwise unsatisfied in your work life, or if you are facing a growth ceiling, relocation, redundancy or downsizing, it may be time to start with step one and identify what your challenge is. What is it that you really want and what is preventing you from attaining it in your current situation? Do you need to make small alterations or a major shift? This first step can be one of the most difficult in overcoming a challenge and making a meaningful change in your life.
Overcoming challenges is not easy. But the rewards can bring you great joy and benefits. Working through each step in the process can help keep you focused and keep you on the path of success. Challenges typically take time to overcome. They require determination, planning, execution, and support. Putting these elements together and giving yourself permission to go for it, is what will lead you to success.
Revised December 2021. Origianlly published under the name The OD Pro in September 2019.