Maximize Your Potential - The 99U team on getting practical about your dreams

I've been teaching a lot lately, and so I have been drawn towards instructional literature, stuff that will provide me with new ideas and techniques and also some inspiration. I found the perfect book in Maximize Your
Potential, a book assembled for 99U by Editor Jocelyn K. Glei. 99U is a kind of hard-to-describe online learning portal curated by Behance, and they are dedicated to producing very handsomely designed hard-copy books that assemble some great ideas and essays from leading writers and thinkers. In this case the theme is growing your expertise, and I found the assembled essays incredibly inspiring and deliciously varied. There is just so much in this book - you will be dipping into it for years. To enhance the reading (and learning) experience, each section ends with a set of "Key Takeaways" summarising all of the information in that chapter. It's a great idea, and I wish that more books would do it.

In a brilliant essay in the book, Heidi Grant Halvorsen writes:

"A get-better mindset leads to self-comparison and a concern with making progress: How well am I doing today, compared with how I did yesterday, last month or last year? Are my talents and abilities developing over time? Am I moving closer to becoming the creative professional I want to be?
She says that we need to shift our mindsets and lose our obsession with perfection, which will eventually destroy our creativity:

"When people are allowed to make mistakes, they are significantly less likely to actually make them."

One of the messages that comes across loud and clear in the book is that we need to focus on important tasks and be aware of when and how we work best. Hard work and practice are important, naturally, but so is smart work and being hyper-aware of our own energetic rhythms. In one essay Tony Schwartz writes:

"Will and discipline, it turns out, are highly overrated. We each have one reservoir we draw on, and it gets progressively depleted each time we use it to get something done."

So spend your time wisely, and schedule the most difficult and important tasks for the time when you know you will have the most energy and the least distractions (and, hate to say it, but for most people that is the early morning). You also need to stretch yourself, as Joshua Foer explains:

"Something experts in all fields tend to do when they're practicing is to operate outside of their comfort zones and study themselves failing...The way to get better at a skill is to force yourself to practice just beyond your limits."

It's scary advice, but I also know instinctively that it's true. Failure is a most excellent teacher.
The book stresses the importance of cultivating strategic relationships and being brave enough to ask for help and maintaining those relationships you do establish. In a brilliant interview in the book with Sunny Bates we are reminded that the fundamental part of any relationship is generosity - always give more than you get, and don't sit around keeping score. And actively look for new and interesting people to help and befriend: "If you decide to contact one person a week, that would be fifty-two new people in a year," says Sunny. Reaching out can be scary, and you will be occasionally rebuffed.  But taking risks is always worth it, and is the basis to establishing real success. It is also one of the sections in Maximize Your Potential.


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