Contradictory Advice: Push Harder & Leave Some in the Tank

Today I want to talk about pushing yourself.

My recent post on winning and trying to be the best got some attention – mostly positive but some negative as well. The issue that critics had was that I seemed to be advocating a win-at-all-costs sort of mentality. I didn’t quite say anything like that, but I do admit that the article comes off as aggressive – and that was the point. To hit big targets you have to push yourself.

But of course, the danger to pushing yourself too hard is that you burn out. I know athletes, students and young professionals who beat themselves up until they are hollow shells of their former selves. And that is not winning either.

So see if you fall into one of these two buckets of people and if so, try my thoughts on for size and see if they do anything for you!

FOR THOSE OF YOU: who are working *pretty* hard but love to take extra breaks at work and maybe duck out a wee bit early to beat the rush and catch your favorite TV shows – and who look at folks Lebron James or Andrew Mason or David Eggers or Lady Gaga and say, (with a twinge of envy and disdain), things like: “I wish I could be that good.” or “It’s not fair that they’re famous/successful/fit/rich/talented and I’m not.”

Here’s my advice: Push Harder.

You’re suffering from a lack of ambition, a lack of hard work, or a lack of creativity. There are simple things you can do to get more awesome:

  • Take singing lessons if you want to become the next Youtube sensation
  • Get into the gym/office/classroom 30 mins early and do some advance prep work
  • Do something special for a colleague or business contact – who knows when you’ll need help from them next?
  • Get Strong: did you know it only takes 6 weeks to train up to doing 100 pushups?
  • Start a blog, write smart posts, explore ideas and get that startup idea off the ground

Give it a shot and see what happens. I promise it won’t be as painful as you expect and the results will turn out far better than you imagine. Not because you did one particular thing, but because your thing will lead to a small win, which will lead to more efforts and goal-setting and innovating and slowly those small wins become huge, massive wins. Which is sweet.


FOR THOSE OF YOU: who are getting up at 6am every day to hit the gym before work, or burning the midnight oil to ship that massive project on time, or who never calls home or sees friends because they are trying to “build the next Facebook” and knows that “execution is everything” and sometimes secretly fantasizing of a year-long trip to India…

Here’s my advice: Leave Some in the Tank

You are suffering from the belief that you have totally optimized the way you live and work and that the only left to do is pour energy and time on. But how likely is that to be true? And I don’t mean optimized locally but globally. Are you doing work that matters? Are you fulfilled with your endeavors? Will you be able to handle a new crisis or new opportunity in your life? What if you:

  • Off-load some of minor parts of the project to a coworker
  • Decline those requests for help on side projects that you find kind of lame
  • Have a conversation with your boss about your ability to sustainably deliver this high volume of work
  • Get some good sleep / Take a personal day / Call up a close friend

When you work too hard and don’t leave anything in the tank you run the risk of burning out – you get sick, you hit a wall and energy plummets, you’re off your game and you make dumb mistakes. You also don’t have any way of taking on exciting new opportunities even if it lands in your lap because you’re already maxed out.

Trust me – taking some time to recharge and fill up your tank will be worth it. Projects seem less daunting, you’ll get clarity around some of those tough issues, and your performance will reach new heights. Maybe it’ll even trigger the beginning of a career shift towards something you realize you’re much more passionate about. And that is what winning is about.

So that’s my contradictory advice – depending on who you are, I’ve got different ideas for ya. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes?

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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