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What Are You Missing?

This article is the seventh in a 10-part series on the topic of overcoming career-limiting habits.

When I was a kid, my mom used to sing a song that went something like this:

“Lookin’ down at a hole in my sneaker…I nearly missed a rainbow…I nearly missed a sunset…”

Do you remember this song? I just discovered it was originally from an episode of Sesame Street—a Google search turned up this page with the words if you’re interested.

Anyway, I bring this up because it’s a useful concept for today’s article discussing the next career-limiting habit in our series. We’re discussing the habit of “short-term focus”—number seven on the list.

When I think of someone with short-term focus, I remember this song.

In today’s busy workplace, I know it can be easy to get sucked into the short-term, day-to-day stuff—your annoying commute, your growing to-do list, your impending deadline, etc. These things sap your mental energy from morning to night. But you simply can’t get so wrapped up in the “here and now” that you forget to lift your head and look out at the horizon once in a while.

When you’re busy looking down, that’s when things are missed.

Why Long-Term Focus Matters

Long-term focus goes hand-in-hand with “big picture perspective.” These skills allow you to understand the bigger game. Without them, you’ve got tunnel vision.

By looking up and out, you’re perspective shifts. You become more aware of the bigger needs of the organization now and in the future. You more clearly understand your role in its success.

Even more importantly, you’re able to be proactive–to actively manage what’s coming at you rather than simply reacting in the moment to what’s right in front of you. This is, in my opinion, the one skill the separates average employees from outstanding ones.

Long-term focus also helps ensure you’re better prepared for what’s next. Companies are always changing and evolving. In order to stay relevant, you must be right there with them, at every step along the way. Otherwise, you may get left behind.

How to Shift Your Gaze

Take off the blinders and stop looking down. Look up. Gaze out to the horizon. Here are a few tips to help you do so:

1. Know Your Industry

Almost every industry has a magazine, association or website where up-to-date information can be found regarding trends. Sign up or join right away. Get to know how your industry has grown in the past and where experts are predicting it will go in the future. What challenges are facing your industry? What opportunities are there? How will these things potentially impact you and your company? Stay informed.

2. Know Your Company

The same thing goes for your company. Read the company reports and newsletters. Talk to executives when you have the opportunity. Find out what challenges and opportunities are coming your way. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be.

3. Know Yourself

Of course, you don’t want to neglect yourself in all of this. Long-term focus applies to your career goals as well. Where do you want to be in five years? What about ten years? How can your work today help support these goals? What opportunities or challenges may come up along the way? How can you get the most out of your current experience to enhance your opportunities and minimize your challenges?

4. “What’s Next?”

Always ask yourself this question. How does the task you’re working on today change or evolve in the future? How does it impact the next phase of the project? What can be done today to make tomorrow better, more efficient, more profitable, more successful? Look several steps ahead of where you are.

I still find myself singing that Sesame Street song once in a while. And it’s a great reminder that looking down at the road beneath your feet can mean you miss out on the big stuff happening all around you. Keep this metaphor in mind as you shift your gaze and overcome the career-limiting habit of “short-term focus.”

Photo Credit: Jaqian (Flickr)

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4 Responses to “What Are You Missing?”

  1. Heidi Dobbs says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard that song before, but I love it!

    I have to agree that it’s so easy to get caught up in the little ‘irks’. One question that I started asking myself some time ago was, will this really matter an hour (a day, a week, a month, a year) from now?

    At the moment, I’m commuting an hour a day for my job. Which may seem like nothing to people in a bigger city, but up until a few months ago my longest commute ever was maybe 10 minutes! It doesn’t bother me so much in the morning, but in the evening (when I’m tired and hungry) it feels like I should look for a job closer to home.

    But when I stop and ask myself if that commute will really matter in an hour’s time, the answer is (usually!) no. In the meantime, the job I’m commuting TO is secure, it’s fun, and (most importantly) it’s supporting my long term goals. A job closer to home might support the short term goal of not commuting an hour every day… but the likelihood of it supporting the long term goals are pretty much nil 😉

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