At our core, I believe that each and every one of us is driven by a desire to grow- through new experiences, skills, and accomplishments we all want to better ourselves in rich and meaningful ways. And as leaders, we further all should look for growth opportunities not only for ourselves, but for those around us as well. In the pursuit of “growth”, however, how often do we instead take on a “stretch”… essentially taking on more work to expand the breadth of our capacity, but not necessarily to grow in deep and meaningful ways?
Webster defines “Growth” as a “progressive development or an evolution”. “Stretch”, on the other hand is defined as “to enlarge or distend, especially by force”. At a time where we are all being asked to “do more with less”, there is no shortage of “stuff” with which to fill our time. Whether it be extra projects, late night meetings, or incessant emails, there are far more demands on our time today than there have ever been before… and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. This trend, teamed with the high amount of uncertainty in our environment- the ecomomy, our companies, our careers- have created a world in which the paths before us are foggier and muddier than we ever expected them to be. The combination of these factors can often lead us to take our desperate need for growth and fill it instead with an excess of “activity”… an illusion of progress and control through a sheer volume of work being completed. The satisfaction of checking boxes and over-achieving can provide some instant gratification, but in the long-term can lead to burnout and disengagement. And worse than that, this “addiction” to over-extension robs us over our most valuable assets… energy and time with which we can truly invest in purposeful, amazing accomplishments.
That being said, the demands on our time are not going away, and the ability to demonstrate a broad capacity will likely be a key survival tool in our careers. However, while stretching is important, it is not sufficient if we truly want to reach our full potential as well as to experience self-fulfillment. Essentially, stretching helps us to “flex our muscles” and strengthen us, but doesn’t offer any real transformation. Growth, on the other hand, is what offers a permanent metamorphosis allowing us to evolve into the people that we want to become. Below are some signs that you might be over-stretching at the expense of growth.
Stretch vs. Growth
1) Your day is filled with somewhat “random” activity vs. steady progress toward a greater purpose.
2) You spend your downtime worrying about what is not getting done vs. imagining what you yearn to accomplish next.
3) You are proud of the quantity of your numerous completed tasks vs. the quality of an amazing accomplishment.
4) You are overwhelmed but comfortable vs. active and uncomfortable.
5) You wake up on Monday with a sense of overwhelmed anxiety vs. a sense of purpose.
Again, this is not saying that it is realistic or even desirable to exist without stretching our capacity… for many of us, this is just the “new normal” for surviving in the world today. However, if constant stretching replaces rather than enhances our true and meaningful growth opportunities, then we are destined for longer-term dissatisfaction. Activity does not equal progress… and we need to be deliberate in insuring that we take the time to define what growth looks like for us and invest our time against it, versus squandering these precious and limited assets on merely surviving another day.