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May 18, 2016
How to Have an Above-Average Career When You're Average
Countless athletes who were average on paper ended up in their sport’s hall of fame. Drafted in the late rounds, if drafted at all, many attended small colleges with even smaller sports programs. They defied the odds, overcame skeptics, and forged legacies. Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, is a relevant example. Drafted in a later round, Brady worked his way into a starting position and led his team to the record books. Today he is arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of pro football.

For the average person, the pinnacle of success happens for one simple reason. None of us is 100% average. Study the common denominator of “average” athletes who succeeded on a legendary scale and you find that all had an above-average passion for what they did.

Passion is not adequate in describing the difference in the legend makers and more talented counterparts who flopped. They obsess with the idea of mastering their skill. The most reassuring thing I see in coaching people is a passion for learning. I highly recommend individual get a mentor and tap into a gold mine of experience. Since we all have witnessed such successes, why did they reach their real potential? There are many reasons, but I have found these three to be the most common:

They had a muse. 
Of those doing what you want to do, who inspires you? Find your heroes and mimic them. Allow their accomplishments help you establish your goals. Create a schedule of milestones. They encourage achievement and instill confidence. Find your muse. Mimic behavior. Celebrate achievements along the way. Most of all enjoy the journey.

They planned to succeed. 
In creative industries, proving you are capable is critical to getting the best opportunities. With inspiration to a goal you still need a plan. You may need some guidance in creating one, especially when you're starting a career. A professional coach or a mentor can help you form a plan and establish a schedule to measure your progress. Remember, if you’re not planning to succeed, you’re planning to fail.

They were willing to look foolish.
The top home-run hitters in Major League Baseball are also the strike-out kings. In our business, innovative thinking requires combing through a lot of dumb ideas. Fear of looking stupid freezes progress. I equate innovation with gold mining. You don't scoop a small shovel of dirt and then sift through it. You dig up a mountain of dirt first. Ninety-nine percent is dirt. Or in our case, dumb. But in that pile of muck is a nugget. You dig it out, melt it down, and refine it until it's pure. The whole time you’re digging, you may be cursing your feeble brain. FOCUS is an acronym for Follow One Course Until Successful. Be willing to throw everything out for consideration for that one gold nugget. If you aren’t ready to strike out swinging for the fence, you will never achieve greatness.

Don’t underestimate your potential to be one of the best in our industry. While working toward that goal, help others to do the same. Use your talent to make the world a better place to live. Stay humble. At the end of your career, these are the things you will appreciate most about your career.

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Bart Cleveland spent over 30 years helping grow brands like Coca-Cola, The Ritz-Carlton, and CNN. Now, he guides creative professionals to plan and execute successful careers through his business, Job Propulsion Lab℠. He also helps both agencies and marketers nurture customers into advocates through a relationship development program he calls, ACES℠. 
Bart launched Ad Age’s most popular blog, Small Agency Diary. He is also a contributing author of the book, The Get A Job Workshop, How To Find Your Way To A Creative Career In Advertising.
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