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October 30, 2017
Raise the Bar

You don’t need a pay raise. You need a bar raise.


You may be reading this at work. Why is that? Shouldn’t you be working? Shouldn’t you be so engaged in what you’re doing that reading a blog post, or checking email, or your Facebook account is the last thing on your mind? After all, your work is your opportunity to make something great. Something that changes the game. Something that you never dreamed you were capable of doing.

I hear you. “Yeah. Right. What planet do you live on?” Work isn’t the siren song. Your dream of doing something that changes the game has been stored away like outdated paperwork in your file cabinet.

When did you give up on it? When did you decide that greatness wasn’t your destiny? When did you start jumping under the bar? When did you stop jumping? Perhaps, when you stopped raising the bar yourself.


Maybe there are reasons to give up. Maybe, too much stands against you.

No. If that were the case, Bethany wouldn’t have made it to the World Surfing Championships. When Bethany Hamilton lost her left arm to a tiger shark at the tender age of 13, she should have given up. Life was trying to tell her something. She wasn’t supposed to be a surfer, much less a champion. Fortunately, Bethany didn’t listen. She reset her bar.


You are responsible for that bar that helps you grow and succeed. The responsibility isn’t your boss’s, or your company’s, or the perfect opportunities that should come your way.

It’s all you. You are in control of that bar. You set it. You clear it. You reset it. And you grow abilities more than you imagine possible.

To be in charge of the bar requires focus. Don’t let your job, your pay, your title, your last review, stop you from tending that bar. None of that matters. It doesn’t make you great, and it doesn’t keep you from greatness. The bar – the gate one inch past your best – must be dealt with. So, don’t let anyone set your bar. Don’t let anyone distract you from clearing it. Especially you.


Here are some ways to keep resetting that bar:


1. Play, instead of work. Creating is messy. When treated with the mind of five-year-old finger painting, creating is also productive. Picasso said it took him eighteen years to learn to paint like Raphael and the rest of his life to learn to paint like a child. You’re born with your creativity. It got left behind about the time you started getting pimples. Go back and get it. Play. Then comb through the mess and find your nuggets of genius. They’re in there, waiting to be polished into gems.

2. Live in the future. We tend to want to cling to the present and carry it into the future. People who look back at what they’ve done tend to run into walls instead of passing through new doorways. Forget about what you’ve done, good or bad. Finish, then move on. Today is the opportunity to beat yesterday.

Seek candor instead of praise. It’s hard to grow without help from those who hold the same standards of quality as we do. Start a peer group, even if it’s just one person, that will sit and review one another’s work with complete honesty. Separate yourself from your work. It’s just something you made. You’ll make more stuff. And if you listen to the trusted friend, you’ll make better stuff. One other thing, they will want your candor too. Give your best to help.   



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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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