3 Ways To Stay At the Top Of Your Field

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Staying at the top of your field takes work. It’s an ambition many people share but don’t always achieve. However, mastery is less about the skills you have today and more about the willingness to change how you look at success.

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Achieving mastery is something most professionals equate with success, but there are a variety of ways to get there. Building skills from what you’re naturally curious about can get you there. Coming up with a promising business idea and not giving up on it until it thrives is another path. Some, admittedly, rise to the top by letting their passions drive them. Steve Wozniak, Mark Zuckerberg and Oprah Winfrey emulate what it means to turn ambition into stand-out careers.

But not everyone finds it easy to climb the career ladder. You may take early failures as signs that you should switch jobs. Maybe you believe a temporary loss of enthusiasm for your work means it’s not right for you. Or you struggle with burnout, something the 2022-2023 Aflac Workforces Report says 59% of U.S. employees experience.

While these uncomfortable feelings can sometimes lead you to more fulfilling job choices, they’re not necessarily indications you should give up. Everyone deals with setbacks, even those at the top of their games. Michael Jordan is known for his outstanding abilities on the court but admits to missing more than 9,000 shots. It takes a persistent curiosity to get to the top and stay there. Here are some ways to start using this approach in your own career.

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1. Focus on the present

High performers are known to have a laser-like focus. They’re not worried about what happened earlier in the day or what might come up later. The immediate task is what matters most. And they give their all to it, concentrating on what they need to do to succeed in the present.

Dr. Benjamin G. Domb with the American Hip Institute says a lot of stress comes from worrying about things other than the present. Think about it. How many times have you gotten distracted thinking about what’s next? Whether you’re thinking about what you’re cooking for dinner, where you’ll be in your career five years from now or what your family dynamic will look like, it can cause feelings of uneasiness.

To overcome the distraction and indecision stemming from anxiety, it’s important to ignore those spiraling thoughts. For Domb, the fact surgery requires immense focus on the present is one of the best things about being a surgeon. There’s simply no room for distractions.

To cultivate the focused flow state of a high performer, make a habit of anchoring yourself to the present moment. You can do this by noticing your surroundings, limiting distractions like social media and focusing on one task at a time instead of multitasking. At first, the successes you notice from increased focus might be small, such as discovering why a project isn’t getting off the ground. Staying in the moment can pay dividends over time by allowing you to excel on the tasks that matter to the big picture.

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2. Develop a growth mindset

Those who stay at the top of their field are always learning. They’re hungry for knowledge. And they want to uncover what they don’t know to get better at what they do. Rarely do high achievers assume they know everything about an industry, individual role or task. Their education can happen in the classroom or the real world. Nonetheless, they consciously seek learning opportunities by observing others, analyzing their missteps and asking questions.

These methods are part of a growth mindset, which believes abilities can evolve. In contrast, a fixed mindset says your skills don’t change. You’re born with a certain level of intelligence, and there’s no way to increase it. Or you (don’t) inherit talents like writing, and no amount of practice will make a difference.

If the hallmarks of a fixed mindset sound familiar to you, don’t fret. Many fall victim to this way of thinking because of how success looks from an observer’s point of view. Take a singer who becomes famous overnight as their single lands in the number one spot. Most people don’t see the years of effort before the crowning achievement. The now-famous singer practiced every night, sang in countless dive bars and sought out industry connections.

With a growth mindset, you can do the same. Maybe your goals aren’t as lofty as becoming a top 40 recording artist. However, adopting the perspective that you can learn to become good at what seems impossible today will take you further. While you can’t always control outcomes, you can become inspired by the learning process itself.

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3. Find a mentor

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top.” There may be a bit of truth to the saying. As you look at traditional corporate hierarchies, the number of people tends to shrink. Typically, there’s more room as you go down the org chart.

Even so, your definition of career success will be unique to the goals you set for yourself. An executive position may not be on your radar. Instead, you want to master the job you’re in now. Perhaps you’ve started a side hustle, hoping to make it your full-time gig someday. There’s a good chance you’ll benefit from the insights of others who’ve done the same.

Soaring to great career heights, no matter what they are, is more difficult when you attempt to do it alone. You’re relying on limited knowledge and perspective. You may be unconscious of what you don’t know until you face roadblocks. Having a mentor by your side can shorten your learning curve and point you in the right direction. You may even avoid mistakes they made, gaining an advantage from their challenging experiences.

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You’re someone who isn’t satisfied with mediocre results. It’s an admirable trait, but it could create obstacles in your quest for excellence. You can continue to achieve masterful performance in your career. You just have to be willing to learn.

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