Personal power, success… it all begins with 6 simple steps that create an accomplishment cycle. From making a sandwich to making CEO, the process is always the same. From Now What?: The Young Person’s Guide to Choosing the Perfect Career by Nicholas Lore
Some people produce extraordinary results without any apparent luck whatsoever. How do they get what they want and achieve what they say they will? Most of us think they must have some special talent that the rest of us don’t possess. But if you ask these especially accomplished people to reveal the secret of their success, they will tell you that they are ordinary people like you and me. They may be ordinary in a lot of respects, but in one way they are extraordinary: they have mastered projects.
Whenever you are participating in something that has a goal and requires concerted effort, you are involved in a project. Projects all have the same series of steps, whether it’s a big project such as ending world hunger, a medium-sized one such as having a life you love, or a little one such as making a sandwich. We can call this series of steps an “accomplishment cycle.”
Everything in life is part of a cycle, including the twenty-four-hour day, the seasons, and your life. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end. If you can master accomplishment cycles, you will gain tremendous power in moving your life forward, and in having a life you love.
Look over this summary of the accomplishment cycle as it applies to projects. This may look familiar, and if something looks familiar, we think we know everything about it. Big mistake. Huge mistake. This section is so critical that we have to sneak up on it. We’ll look first at an example of an easy project. Do not skip anything.
1. Formulate a goal. What goal do you want to achieve? A two-week vacation in Europe this summer? A career that gives you both maximum success and satisfaction? Learn to climb mountains? How about a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich?
2. Commit to reaching the goal. Wishing has no place here. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged their lives, fortunes, and “sacred honor.” And they did it publicly. That’s commitment.
3. Plan how to get to the goal. Plan for choosing a career you love.
4. Get in action. This is the “work your plan” part. Deal with obstacles. Move it forward. Most projects are 90 percent action phase.
5. Persist, problem-solve, adjust. Once in action, you’ll find roadblocks and the unexpected (both help and hindrance), so you need to keep updating your plan and adjusting your actions. At this stage you have to remember to act consistent with your commitment even if the road gets rough.
6. Declare the project complete and celebrate! After all that, you deserve a party.
Mastering the Steps of the Accomplishment Cycle
This example of an easy project follows the same accomplishment cycle. Let’s say the project is a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
1. Formulate a goal. You’re sitting on the couch watching TV. You notice a familiar call from your midsection: Send food now! Your preference mechanisms refine that request to: PBJ. (You may have performed some complex reasoning in an instant: your taste buds really want pizza, but between the choices of pizza later and PBJ now, now wins.)
2. Commit to reaching your goal. This commitment is much simpler than bringing forth a new nation so you skip the public declarations. Most likely, you commit to the PBJ without even thinking about it. (In this case, your stomach mainly drives the commitment.)
3. Plan how to get to the goal. Simple plan for a simple project: Get out bread, chunky peanut butter, jelly. Find knife. Spread stuff on bread.
4. Get in action. Make the sandwich.
5. Persist, problem-solve, adjust. You persist even if the peanut butter tears the bread. You consider starting over, maybe heating the peanut butter first to soften it up, then decide to just fold the bread over and forget about it. You have no commitment to aesthetics.
6. Declare the project complete and celebrate! When the project is a sandwich, this is the part where you gobble it down. This step might naturally flow into your formulating another project. Now that your immediate hunger has been satisfied, you might consider that longer-term goal of pizza.
You have already mastered the accomplishment cycle at the level of sandwiches. You did that when you were a little kid. With a big project such as designing your career, you need to approach it with a lot more conscious intention. The steps demand more of you. If you cut corners in an accomplishment cycle, you crash and burn. This is one difference between the people we call amazing and the rest of us: they honor each step, and we justify blowing off one or more.
Let’s take one step as an example, one that most people slide over: commit to reaching the goal. You have to bring forth a commitment that matches the importance of the project. If you treat designing a great life the same way you approach designing a sandwich — casually, based on how your stomach feels — your commitment won’t carry you anyplace close to the goal. It won’t see you through more than one obstacle in the persistence stage. Then, like most people, you can complain about how obstacles kept you from achieving your dreams.
Here are a few more likely scenarios from cutting corners in the accomplishment cycle:
- Afraid you won’t formulate the “right” goals, you don’t formulate any and live a random life. What you need to realize is that there are no “right” goals. Stick with this book, however, and you’ll become more and more clear about what goals may be right for you.
- Without a coherent, well-thought-out plan, your actions will be reactions, hit or miss. It’s one way some people invite failure.
- Without getting in action you are only pretending to have a project. Some people never get beyond talking about all the great things they are going to do.
- If you don’t persist and deal with obstacles (and there are always obstacles; that’s life), you will never arrive at the destination. Some people become attached to continually working on the same obstacles, which is another way of never arriving.
- Without declaring the project complete and checking out what worked and what didn’t, you rob yourself of both triumphs and lessons for the next project.
This is really about power, what it is and how to get it. Considering power the domain of corporate big shots, generals, politicians, or weight lifters limits the notion of power. The kind of power I’m talking about is personal power, the power to get what you want, make things happen, have your dreams come true. This doesn’t require dominating others or working out seven days a week.
You measure this kind of power by how quickly and effectively you move through cycles. Let’s say you work for a corporation and you set a goal to jump up a couple of levels in the corporate structure. Getting there in a few months exhibits a lot of personal power. Moving up two notches over the course of several years exhibits less power. If you take on a project to buy a new car and it takes you twenty years to get it, you have very little power. If it takes you an hour, you are exhibiting a higher level of power.
Personal power isn’t just for the wealthy and famous. You make your life more or less powerful with every choice you make. The more you master accomplishment cycles and the quicker you move through your projects, the more powerful you will be. I recommend that you practice this series of steps often, even when it doesn’t seem necessary. You might be amazed at how much of your life is actually one project after another: decide on career, go out to dinner, visit your grandmother, run for office, vacation in Tibet, get better grades, find love, help your friend, buy a cabin in the woods, learn Thai cooking, make the team, become enlightened, lose weight, pass the test, move to the city, get a better job, decide what to do this weekend, write a poem, plan a prank, get married, sky-dive. For some of us, even taking a shower can be a project.
Make projects a conscious part of life. Take on some bigger ones than you’re used to, projects that are not a slam-dunk for you. Convert the information from words on a page to a powerful set of tools in your real life by regularly working your way through the steps of the accomplishment cycle with the focus on continually improving the results you achieve, until getting extraordinary results becomes routine. Fail a lot. If you don’t, it means you aren’t taking on projects big enough to really stretch you out into new territory.
Remember when you first learned to drive? At first you had to give it all your attention, so you wouldn’t hit little old ladies or wrap the car around a tree. The more you drove, however, the easier it became. With practice it became almost automatic, so you could drive without thinking about it at all, and without leaving a trail of the dead and wounded behind you.
That’s mastery. If you make a habit of turning your goals into projects and running them through the accomplishment cycle, you will become truly dangerous — in a good way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicholas Lore, author of Now What?: The Young Person’s Guide to Choosing the Perfect Career (Copyright © 2008 by Nicholas Ayars Lore), is the originator of the field of career coaching; the founder of Rockport Institute, an international career counseling network; and author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller The Pathfinder.
- Read Chapter 1 of Now What?: The Young Person’s Guide to Choosing the Perfect Career
- Read Chapter 1 of The Pathfinder, the author’s Wall Street Journal bestseller