Why You Should Radically Raise the Bar

If you’re truly motivated to improve your life, incremental change won’t get you there — not fast enough. What we need is inspiration — something that sparks action, risk taking, and commitment. Often we have some vague notion of what we want in life, but we don’t allow ourselves to dream — let alone dream big.

What's your seemingly impossible dream? What will inspire you to radically raise the bar?

If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success. — James Cameron

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that our aim is too low and we reach it.” — Michelangelo

And then we don’t raise the bar again.

Naturally if you’re living your passion, perhaps your biggest challenge is making it happen.  If you’re reading this, it is more likely that you’re not quite there. Maybe you haven’t given up, but you aren’t fully committed either. Raising the bar isn’t about pushing you to burnout. It’s about encouraging you to become more authentic — to fully apply your strengths to what matters to you.

Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die today. — James Dean

What’s stopping you? Thought leader Edward de Bono warns us about complacency:

1. Cozy complacency: You convince yourself that life is adequate as it is. This isn’t about endless second-guessing your life choices or wondering if your life is keeping up with the Joneses. Get out of your comfort zone but avoid rushing to a decision.  Overcome this urge with thoughtful analysis so you avoid looking back at this point in time — wishing you made better choices.

2. Lack-of-vision complacencyYou box yourself into your current situation. You can’t envision living any differently.  You see limitations: family role, financial situation, social class, career or age group.  It’s hard to imagine anything different.  You lack support or the courage to rock the boat. You shut yourself down well before the idea even leaves your head.  Allow time to fantasize; look for stories of lives or lifestyles that appeal to you.  Engage others in brainstorming too, so you’ll explore options you’d normally never consider.

3. Arrogant complacencyYou stubbornly cling to your opinions. This is a difficult one, which requires the toughest examination. Often we rationalize how we’re getting by with too little or we convince ourselves that we’re living the good life.  Only we don’t pay attention to the cracks.  We’re too busy selling our lives to ourselves. Pay close attention to your intuition and early warning signs: a nagging health issue, a quiet whisper that you’d rather get out of what you’re doing, or the years are ticking by.

These examples are overly simplified, yet perilously real. The mind is exceptional at rationalizing our behavior. In the words of Sigmund Freud: to be completely honest with oneself is the very best effort a human being can make.  Remember it’s your life you’re talking about.  Dare to think about what is really important. Live a life worth living — your own view of what that is, that is what matters most.

How do you overcome complacency? What you need is an idea so compelling, so inspiring that it will ignite you out of your comfort zone and into a better future.

Raise the bar by setting your own “big, hairy, audacious goal,” a term coined by business guru Jim Collins, in his book Built to Last.  According to Tom Peters, that isn’t quite enough.  You need a goal that is both clear and compelling.  Some business concepts don’t translate easily into our personal lives, but this idea of setting a big, hairy, audacious goal for yourself — one that you can actually visualize — is certainly worthy of consideration.

A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions. — Anonymous

President Kennedy inspired Americans to care and believe about space travel — in 1961!   He did it with a clear, concise, seemingly unrealistic challenge — to be the first country to land on the moon.  He said, I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.

On a personal level, setting the bar that extreme might seem too grandiose or ridiculous. We muse about an idea, but we don’t make the commitment and set an urgent goal or marshal our resources to insure their fulfillment. 

These all started as a dream, but someone decided to make a commitment:

Mark Twain said it well: A man with a new idea is a crank — until he succeeds.

Anything that really inspires you is likely to be complicated.  So get comfortable making mistakes. Raising the bar not only requires rapid learning but getting comfortable making mistakes. We live in a world that seems to demand flawless perfection every time — a harsh critic of failure.  Coming in second is equivalent to “losing.”

We need to take Samuel Beckett’s advice:  Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.

And of course, try again.

Naturally that’s easier said than done. As humans we have a built-in negativity bias! We are hard wired to pay much more attention to problems — dramatically more attention. Thanks to evolution, I guess it makes sense.  To stay alive we simply had to learn to adapt quickly to threats — it meant life or death.  According to author Jonathan Haidt, psychologists consistently find that the human mind reacts to bad things more quickly, strongly, and persistently than to equivalent good things. Positives just don’t carry the same weight. I didn’t want to believe this, but here is just one example, called marriage math by Psychology Today.  After just one negative experience with your spouse it takes at least five positive experiences to patch things up.

So manage your negativity bias and keep a close watch out for motivation killers. Dean Rieck’s blog, 8 Bad Habits that Crush Your Creativity and Stifle Your Success, has practical ideas to overcome your inner critic.  (Although written for the marketing world, Rieck’s ideas are universal.)

Still not convinced to radically raise the bar for yourself?  Take a look at Divine Caroline’s blog:  Ten Lies You’ll Hear Before Pursuing Your Dream. As she says, working hard on your dream will be very hard work, but at least you’ll be devoting your time, creativity, and energy on something that truly matters to you.  That’s positive in itself!  Here’s hoping you find inspiration to dream and do something that you wouldn’t dream of doing…without!

Vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare. — Japanese Proverb

Will the oil spill inspire you to become an Eco-Mentor?

When something the size of the gulf oil spill happens, my frustration builds with each news update.  Naturally I want to help.  But what can I do?  What can any of us do?  We can’t all quit our jobs, rush to the coast, and try to save wildlife.  Besides, how many of us have ever worked cleaning up an oil spill?  How many of us are experts in green technology, climate change, organic farming, or sustainability?

What we can do is start to shift — from the reactive to the proactive.  Let’s share our knowledge today so we can help more people and more places on the planet right now. Match your expertise with something you value, and mentor someone who is working in an eco-based organization or endeavor.

Become a “Green-to-Green, Traditional-to-Green, or Personal Life Eco-Mentor.” To stimulate your creativity, I’ve included a definition and a few examples of each of these three eco-mentor types below.  What if 1,000 people became eco-mentors? Now imagine if that number were 100,000.  Just think what we could accomplish for the planet.

Eco-Mentors:  Green-to-Green

If you already work in an environmentally focused job (green, environmental, sustainability, organic, bio dynamic, recycling, upcycling, etc.), you’ve got a head start on many of us.  Your experience is so valuable because you know what works, what doesn’t, and what’s needed — in the green economy.  Accelerate the learning and mentor someone else who is already green.

  1. Mentor someone in a similar position and a similar organization.  You might have significantly more experience than the person you mentor — or you might be peers.  Peer-to-peer mentoring can be very effective even when the individuals have similar knowledge levels — it’s particularly important in rapidly changing fields. (And whose isn’t rapidly changing these days?)  An organic restaurant owner could mentor another organic restaurant owner in a nearby town or another region.
  2. Mentor someone in a similar job but in another type of organization. Cross-pollinating ideas often sparks creativity, which is a key benefit of this type of mentoring.  If you work in human resources for a green manufacturer, ideas and programs that are common among manufacturers might be new and innovative to someone in an energy audit nonprofit.
  3. Mentor someone in your organization that works a different department or job.  Because everyone in an organization might get involved in social media, a social media expert could mentor anyone at any level, at any age.  If you are that person, you could mentor people in accounting, purchasing, sales, management, marketing and many more.

Eco-Mentors: Traditional-to-Green

Most of us aren’t in “green jobs,” but we can help the environment by mentoring someone who is. As an eco-mentor, you help someone build confidence, avoid problems, expand their network, and more — but you don’t need to know everything about their job, organization or industry.  You provide them with support, helping them over time, as they learn, adapt, and make progress towards their goals.

An accountant in a traditional industry could mentor an accountant in a green industry.  An entrepreneur in a traditional industry could share her knowledge with a green entrepreneur that is starting a new organization.  A nonprofit fundraiser could mentor a social enterprise executive director about relationship management.  Expertise could be shared and cross-pollinated between people and organizations in so many ways, that the challenge is for you to narrow down your choices!  More examples:

  • Accountant for a food wholesaler Seek out an accountant that works for an alternative energy firm to mentor, such as a wind farm, a solar panel manufacturer, or biofuel.
  • Community Organizer Mentor someone from a green-focused nonprofit or NGO who could benefit from your expertise.
  • Consultant Take on an eco-business as a pro bono project.
  • Copyright Lawyer for a bank Help an eco-friendly manufacturer protect their household products by mentoring their in-house council.
  • Corporate Tax Manager for an insurance company Mentor a social enterprise CEO and help her better understand tax issues and opportunities.
  • Human Resources Manager for a retailer Find a smaller organization and mentor the human resources manager.
  • Information Technology Manager for an airline Mentor an IT manager in a green business.
  • International Marketing Manager Mentor someone in an eco-business in one of the countries you already serve.
  • Investment Manager for an international financial services company Mentor a nonprofit Executive Director about investment risks and strategies.
  • Healthcare Administrator Mentor someone in a similar administrative position in an eco-business.
  • Plant Manager Mentor someone in a green manufacturing business.
  • Purchasing Manager for a manufacturer Seek out a high-growth eco-products company and help them learn how to expand, nationally or internationally.
  • Restaurant Owner Mentor someone who is launching an organic bakery or restaurant.
  • Social Media Manager Mentor a manager in a retail based green business.

Eco-Mentor:  Personal Life

Though mentoring is often work-related, eco-mentoring can be equally useful in our personal lives: at home, at school, and in our communities.  We need to share more of this type of expertise. Sure, there are many online resources, but nothing can replace person-to-person support when we’re learning something new.

  • Eco-Mentor: Bike-to-work If you’re part of the millions of Americans who do, consider mentoring someone who is going to try it this year.  Support them while they overcome all the obstacles you did: adjusting to weather conditions, outsmarting bike thieves, or coping with traffic.
  • Eco-Mentor: Simplified Lifestyle Have you dramatically simplified your life or become an “unconsumer?”  Perhaps you’ve reduced your carbon footprint, downsized to a smaller house or apartment, and switched to local and organic foods. Mentor someone who is trying to simplify their life by sharing what worked for you and help them find their own way to simplify.
  • Eco-Mentor: Recycling Program Have you launched a recycling program for your child’s school or your town?  Then you know how complex a challenge it is to bring people together and actually get it implemented. Seek out someone in another school or town to mentor during the year.  Help them get off to a good start and give them a better chance of success.  There are so many different types of recycling programs (Hennepin County even has tips for organic recycling tips for schools) and so many places that still need them.
  • Eco-Mentor: Inner-city Gardening Have you started a gardening program for your school or town?  If so, you know more of them are being created all across the country to fight obesity, improve nutrition, and provide local food sources.  You may have seen the movie, Fresh, and know about Will Allen’s legendary north country garden.  So many people are interested in this and could surely benefit from your insights, your mentoring.

This is was a short list of eco-mentoring possibilities.   I hope you’ll send in more examples of how people can become eco-mentors.  We need more ways to inspire people to think about ways their experience can help the planet.

Most of all, I hope you’re inspired to take your own expertise, whatever you’re passionate about, and find someone to mentor.

For tips on how to find a mentor or be a mentor (and find the time to do it), watch this site for future blogs.