When I started my software company, we received more job offers than what I could realistically handle. At the time, I thought that the best thing for me to do would be to say yes to them all and reframe the situation as a challenge to conquer. It worked for a while—but eventually, I got to the point where the only growth that I could pursue was scaling the business for more clients and more employees.
That vision wasn’t particularly inspiring for me. I wanted my name associated with things that people used every day. I wanted to build things that created utility. But I couldn’t see any growth opportunities for myself in the future of this company. In other words, I’d hit a plateau.
So I decided to take a step back and reinvent myself. During this time, I learned that when I always have my nose to the grindstone, I have no time to reflect and strategize long-term. Hitting a plateau allowed me to refresh my viewpoint, analyze my purpose, and decide how I wanted to move my business and career forward.
Hitting a plateau can be frustrating because progress can seem impossible. But working through a plateau can help you accomplish more than what you thought possible. Here are the steps that you can take to get there.
1. Diagnose the issue
I felt limited by building apps for other people because each project represented a business concept that I was executing for someone else, not myself. Most agencies engage with clients that want an app built for a year, maybe two, and this constant turnover left me feeling empty. I asked myself whether the cause of this “empty” feeling was internal or external. I received glowing reviews of my work from all my clients—so I determined the reason was external and decided to start investing my time into developing my own app solution.
When you feel like you’ve stalled, take a step back and ask yourself a few questions that get to the root of your issue. Is the cause internal or external? Are you limiting yourself—either with your lack of skills, abilities, or habits—or is it an external factor, like a dying industry or a dead-end job? You need to find the root of the problem, because solutions will vary. If there’s an external factor, like your job, that limits you, don’t try to change yourself too much. Instead, try to change your circumstances that are within your control.
2. Shock your mind
Growing up in a log cabin in Montana, I felt a lot of things were out of reach. We had an old, broken computer that sat in the corner of the house for years because no one knew how to fix it properly. But I wanted to learn how to use it, so I taught myself how to keep it running. I didn’t know it at the time, but that project kick-started my career in programming.
Dive headfirst into something you are unfamiliar with—even if it has nothing to do with your career. I jumped into the public relations and hospitality industry, for example, and started creating solutions for its limited tech efficiencies. Forcing myself to operate out of my comfort zone opened my mind and gave me the confidence to tackle new things.
3. Change your environment
It’s easy to overlook how our environments affect us. This can be our physical surroundings, the people we associate with, or the roles we’re responsible for. Too often, people are too concerned with their inner thoughts to recognize whether the environment they’ve created for themselves is genuinely in tune with who they want to be.
For me, I took my environment quite literally. I set up camp in Miami, which seemed like a natural fit to develop a solution for the entertainment and hospitality industries. Miami didn’t hold a lot of promising tech startups to invest in back then, and the idea of standing out encouraged me to give it my best shot.
Your own ‘right’ environment doesn’t have to be an exotic city on the coast. You can create harmony anywhere. Start by identifying negative elements, then start removing them from your life. These could be the food you eat, or the people you hang around. When you can actively design an environment that suits you, you’ll start to see all the benefits.
4. Seek counsel
I don’t know where I’d be without my former colleague Matthew Murphy. Matthew and I both worked on a startup long ago in Florida, and his guidance through that process helped me rethink my own company later on. My original concept was embarrassingly naïve, but Matthew helped me work out the kinks by introducing me to other leaders within the industry. Those connections and conversations helped bring a viable product to the market.
The brightest minds leverage advisers. Don’t think that getting advice or guidance means you are weak. It’s quite the opposite—the most successful people in every industry have made the most of the help available to them. Look back on all the brightest people you’ve encountered along your career path and ask them to mentor you. You’ll be surprised at who gladly says yes.
The only way we improve ourselves is by entering unknown territory and putting ourselves in situations where we must learn new skills. As humans, we often fear change and the unfamiliar, but throwing ourselves directly into these situations will yield the most significant difference. Don’t wait for the next plateau. Start now by challenging yourself with new pursuits outside your realm of comfort.
Gideon Kimbrell is cofounder/CEO of InList.com, the premier app for attending exclusive international events, and cofounder/owner of software development company Syragon.