The ceiling

How often do we think we've hit a wall when in fact we've hit a ceiling?

I've been wrestling through some challenges recently that have led me to some minor emotional breakdowns.

It's been... unpleasant.

That being said, it got me thinking about why I've been struggling.

I thought back to the last time I experienced anything close to this level of personal struggle and stress.

It was about 7 years ago.

I was working on a team that was somewhat dysfunctional and faced some serious challenges. The team got along well enough but outside my immediate team, we were not looked upon favorably.

We were known for being fiercely independent and not being overly concerned about what other teams were doing or how we could help them succeed; or how they could help us for that matter.

On top of that, work was constantly coming in sideways and everything felt like a fire.

Something had to change.

I had hit a ceiling.

It was painful. It was humbling.

And it was good... eventually.

Back then, I had been reading a book by Adam Grant called Originals(paid link).

It's a great book but one thing in particular stuck with me.

Grant describes the options we have when we find ourselves in a dissatisfying situation. He lists out four potential responses:

  1. Do the bare minimum. (Not great, but it's an option)
  2. Grin and bear it. Gut it out. (Slightly more integrity than 1, but you'll eventually burn out)
  3. Try to effect change. (You don't control everything but you do have some agency and influence. Try to use it to make things better)
  4. Leave. (When you've spent a while in 3 and it hasn't worked, maybe it's time to move on)

He called them neglect, persistence, voice, and exit.

I was squarely in quadrant 3 where I resolved to stay until we either moved the needle and got things to a good place or failed and I had to move on (exit).

I'm happy to report that a year later, after a lot of time, energy, and effort, I had grown into a better leader and been promoted, and the team was starting to fire on all cylinders.

By the time I did leave the company several years later, I left a team that was performing well and enjoying great team health.

But it could have gone another way...

I could have hit the wall and crumbled, moved on, and started over somewhere else.

I could have blamed everyone else around me or the environment we were in.

But I didn't. I blamed myself.

I had reached my capacity and it was time to level up.

Here's the thing though - leveling up is hard!

Leveling up means I need to change, and change is hard. It's painful. The systems I had developed and adopted up to this point were no longer cutting it.

My mental models and ways of thinking had to improve.

I had to realize that what got me there wouldn't get me any further.

And I'm feeling it again now.

Even as I wrestle through a new and different set of challenges, I'm faced once again with the reality that I need to evolve my thinking and processes to perform at the level I aspire to.

I know this is natural.

We put in the work to get to a certain point and then we stop. It's comfortable and we want to hang out there a while and enjoy the fruits of our labor.

But we can't stay.
Not long anyway.
It's not the end of the road.
It's just a stop along the way.

The length of time we spend lingering on our plateaus determines the level to which we'll be able to rise over our lifetime.

I, for one, have spent far too much time being content with the fruits of my labor.

Today I feel like I'm breaking through another ceiling along with several other people I know!

It's a wildly uncomfortable process but I wouldn't trade it. Not for the world.

I am blessed to be surrounded by people who are willing to push through when the going gets tough. I love associating with people who don't crumble at the first hint of pressure.

I'm married to a person like that and I love that about her too!

Imagine what the world would be like if we all pushed through the difficult challenges and leveled up regularly.

Imagine how much more value we could be bringing to each other and the world if we refused to rest on our past and let God stretch and refine us into more capable versions of ourselves!

I get chills just thinking about it!

Mark Armstrong

Mark Armstrong

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