Take the Farmhouse

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Sometimes when you feel stuck, your goal may seem so big and unmanageable that you don’t even know where to start.

This happened to Isabel, an associate at an investment bank frustrated with her lack of advancement.  A peer of hers, Lenore, had started working at the same time, and had already been promoted to senior associate.  Isabel asked for feedback, and was told that the promotion process was highly selective.  Employees that got promoted were those who had worked on high-profile projects that got them noticed by senior managers.  Once an employee got noticed, they were considered for promotion.

What Isabel needed to do was to use a strategy I call “taking the farmhouse.”  Imagine a military unit is assigned to conquer a hilltop fortress.  Below the fortress is a farmhouse providing supplies and support to the troops above.  Attacking the fortress right away, without taking the farmhouse first, would be foolish.  A wise commander divides the mission into separate phases – an intermediate goal (conquering the farmhouse), and an ultimate goal (conquering the fortress).  This allows the commander to focus all of his or her energies on the intermediate goal without distraction, and once that is achieved to pivot to the ultimate goal.

Rather than becoming discouraged by the daunting challenge of getting promoted, Isabel needed to focus all her attention on the intermediate goal of getting staffed on high-profile assignments.  Worrying about how she would compare to other promotion candidates at this point would simply be a distraction.  She needed to concentrate on taking her farmhouse – getting the right assignments.  Once that was achieved, Isabel’s next phase could begin.

When facing your own daunting challenges, ask yourself “what is an intermediate goal that I can work on now that will put me in the position to succeed in my ultimate goal?”