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Avoid the Trap of “Resting On Your Laurels”

May 10, 2023 | Business Development, Government

Our last article discussed why we need to celebrate our wins even if only in small ways. Even an old-fashioned fist bump can be a great way to celebrate at the moment. However, as with most everything in life, we must seek balance. It’s important to guard against resting on your laurels and celebrating the past too much. The bottom line is that very few people care about what you’ve done; they care more about what you’re currently doing. 

The phrase “resting on your laurels” comes from ancient Greek mythology, where the victors of athletic competitions were crowned with laurel wreaths. It refers to those who have won a competition and bask in the glory of their past achievements instead of striving for continued excellence. 

The key to avoid falling into this trap is setting new goals. After achieving a significant milestone, remember that there is always more you can strive for. Identify what you want to achieve next and set a plan in place to get there. Here are a few ways to continue to push yourself forward:

  1. Seeking new challenges: Challenging yourself can help you learn new skills and improve your performance. Look for opportunities to take on new projects, responsibilities, or hobbies outside your comfort zone. Pushing yourself to try new things can help you grow and develop as a person even if it doesn’t directly relate to your professional work. 
  2. Ensure your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound): Setting poorly defined goals can be as bad as not setting one at all. Remembering the acronym “SMART” makes it more likely that you’ll achieve what you set out to do.
  3. Continuously learning: Learning should never stop, no matter how successful you are. Keep up with industry trends, attend conferences, read books, or enroll in courses. There is always something new to learn, and continuous learning will keep you motivated and engaged. I used to think that if I promoted myself as an expert, I should never openly try to learn from others. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my thinking. Experts are those who are always looking to attain knowledge, not those who claim they have nothing new to learn.
  4. Taking calculated risks: Want more significant rewards while building mental toughness? Take more risks. Growth happens when we step outside our comfort zone. Take the time to analyze the risks, and get input from colleagues and mentors, but when the circumstances are right, take the leap.
  5. Reflecting on your achievements–and your failures: Unlike resting on your laurels, a true look back at your past experiences factors in not only what went well, but what you can do better next time. Here’s an example: I keep a journal, and reflecting on this exercise reminds me that writing every day, and not just sporadically, leads to more awareness and better decisions.
  6. Surround yourself with the right people: THIS! IS! HUGE! The people you surround yourself with can have a significant impact on your attitude and motivation. Surround yourself with people who challenge you, support you, and inspire you to be better. In my “resting on my laurels” days, I had few people that I could call a mentor or trusted career companion. Today, I have a lot of people I can count on for advice–and they know they can count on me. Their influence also inspires me to keep striving for more.
  7. Staying humble: No matter how successful you are, don’t let your achievements go to your head. Always remember that there is still more to learn and achieve. It’s okay to talk proudly about your achievements, but strike a balance. 

Avoiding complacency and continuously striving for success is essential for personal and professional growth. By seeking new challenges, setting new SMART goals, continuously learning, taking risks, reflecting on your achievements, surrounding yourself with the right people, and staying humble, you can ensure that you don’t rest on your laurels. Remember, success is a journey, not a destination, and there is always more you can achieve.


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