The Ten-Year Hurdle

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Let's time travel.

It's the year 2000. I'm in a job I love, I'm ten years into my career and I'm loving life. I'm learning new things and I'm earning a salary that I'm quite happy with. Then it all gets pulled out from underneath me.

Over night my whole world changes and I'm completely lost.

A series of crazy, recurring thoughts run through my mind.

  • Where do I go?
  • What do I do?
  • What the hell am I good at?
  • I'm so shit no one will hire me.
  • I'm a fraud.
  • What the hell just happened to me?

It took me a while, but in the end I found the answers to most of these questions. Some of them, I still ask from time to time.

Fast forward to today and I see a common thread I like to think of as 'The Ten Year Hurdle'.

I've met people in the creative industry who are ten or so years into their careers and haven't laid down the foundations for their careers — they're happily moving along discovering their path. 

Although others I've met are bewildered — lost in the wilderness.

None of them of any particular age-group. The Ten-Year Hurdle I believe is a mindset, not a specific thing that happens to you on the tenth birthday of your career. It's a debilitating mindset that, unfortunately, most people I meet in our industry have. A set of blinkers on that blinds you to the opportunities and pathways in front of you.

I've seen this trait in people I've mentored, employed, interviewed, presented to and worked for — it's everywhere, it's something learned which means it can be unlearned.

Now, I'm not one to preach, after all I did begin this article by admitting that I too faced this dilemma - but hindsight is a wonderful thing and I impart my insights from hindsight here for you.

I believe The Ten-Year Hurdle is a real thing and it's one of many things you'll experience within a career — and it's OK to do so.

The Ten Year Hurdle is a time of confusion — a time where you've run a few races, some you've won, others you've lost and you've come out of them quite well, if not a little battle-scarred.

But there is still something in the back of your mind. Something niggling, something that is causing you to doubt your abilities and the path you're on.

The mindset that is the Ten-Year Hurdle is guilty of the following: 

  • convinces you that your path is not in your hands
  • allows you to believe that others are moving faster than you and you have no chance of catching them
  • moves you backwards
  • gets you feeling comfortable resting on your laurels
  • rattles you, leaving you doubting yourself completely
  • influences you into bad habits that perpetuate all of the above

When I look back at my own experience of this little dilemma, I wish I had laid some foundations that would've seen me jump the hurdle a lot quicker than I eventually did.

Simple foundations that would've stopped me second-guessing myself and move me forward.

The savvy business owner knows which of her employees have this mindset and which don't.

Those that face the Ten-Year Hurdle, rarely talk about their goals. Are comfortable with an almost-inertia within their careers and doubt themselves and their abilities.

Those that don't have this mindset but rather have an abundance mindset are clearly driven by their own vision of the life and career they want. Purposefully pushing themselves and adding value when and where they can. Investing in both themselves and the world around them.

I think back at my own experience with this negative mindset and I wish I had a better understanding of these simple foundational attributes. As we say, hindsight is a wonderful thing and with hindsight and a little bit of vulnerability, I've summarised three things I wish I had and I think you'll need if and when you face The Ten-Year Hurdle.

An Abundance Mindset

  • Understand the worst and best case scenarios intimately
  • Understand when you 'negative talk' yourself
  • Be grateful for what you, and who you have in your life
  • Get comfortable with the worst case scenario
  • Focus on positive attributes
  • See the glass as half full

For me this was the most difficult to grasp. I grew up being shown that the glass was half empty - that the worst case scenario, an generally any type of failure was to be avoided at all costs. But as I grasped these concepts and made them my own, I realised I could accomplish anything I wanted to accomplish.

Get out of your comfort zone

  • Do something unrelated with your work that gets you out of your comfort zone
  • Sit on the edge of your comfort zone within your own day-to-day work
  • Find your tribe. People who make you feel safe within this area so you can keep coming back. Not people who you constantly feel like you're measuring up to.

I've always invested in myself. I was the kid who would read whilst others didn't. I was curious about curiousity itself. But it wasn't until I found my own, personal tribe of people whom made me feel safe in my own vulnerabilities, who understood my weaknesses and celebrated my successes, no matter how small, did I truly appreciate how much a tribe could impact me.

I'm not talking about people who say one thing and do another. The types who say they're good, thoughtful and empathic and rarely act it. There are enough of those in our lives and we don't need any more. I'm talking about the types of people who miss you because you are you.

The types who will push you out of your comfort zone because they know it will make you better.

Self awareness

  • Stop giving a fuck about what other people think
  • Know yourself. The what, why and who.

Too many people I meet in our industry have a lack of self-awareness. So many have a tunnel vision perspective of their careers that they fail to see their true strengths, their true weaknesses and the opportunities in front of them.

In our industry, when we are expected to present our work as if it is some kind of work of art is partly to blame. Our education system holds industry nights for graduating students where big black folios are lined up on long white tables like coffins in a morgue — all the whilst 'industry people' slowly walk through investigating the work and ignoring the person behind the work. 

We are taught through our education to parade, present and package our work — no wonder most of us have this debilitating feeling that we'll be judged around every corner.

The sooner you become aware of your true self, you'll rise above it all and you'll stop giving a fuck about this type of bullshit.

An eye on the horizon

  • Set goals
  • Tell people about these goals
  • Do something every day to work towards your goals

I'm grateful to have been taught to keep an eye on the horizon by my father early on. A simple idea to think of your life ten years ahead and work towards it every single day.

"Live in the now, appreciate it, but keep one eye on the horizon" he would say to me.

Now ... stop reading and get out there and do something to move yourself out of your comfort zone.

How industry awards are judged

An interview with Mark Pollard