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Local Maximum

local maxiumum

There’s a big difference between working hard at what you’re good at… and pushing yourself to an entirely new place.

While listening to a favorite podcast this weekend, the interviewee was asked how his musical training informed his success in business. He recalled some words of wisdom from an old music teacher: People who practice well are the people that sound terrible practicing. That’s because they’re working on stuff that doesn’t come easily to them. If you’re only practicing the stuff you’re already good at, you’ll feel great (and sound great), but you won’t be growing as a musician. The interviewee used a term I had never heard before to describe reaching this plateau— local maximum. It’s a mathemetical term, but I instantly identified with it: That feeling of being great at something you do over and over again, but being afraid to push yourself into new places where you might sound a little tone deaf at first.

I’ve been contemplating my next career move lately— I have new business ideas daily, and yet I feel terrified to move forward with them. Will I have enough bandwidth to still be the parent I want to be, and succeed? Should I scale back and focus on smaller goals? And, most pressingly, will I fail or embarrass myself? All those questions keep me locked in and scared to move forward.

A good friend of mine took me out to lunch recently and scolded me for throwing up all these roadblocks— just start, he said, you’re ready, you just need to start. He even offered to give me a deadline and hold me to it, but I demurred, instantly feeling like an idiot for turning down his generous offer to help push me past my local maximum. He believes in me, just like a handful of other wonderful friends and mentors and cheerleaders I am lucky to have in my life.

So why don’t I believe in me?

I have many ambitions to do more with my career— but on some level I know I’ll sound a little sharp or flat along the way, and that feels scary.

Each day, I myself of what I truly love to do, what I’m good at, and how I make the most positive impact on the world. All of that swirls like a stew in my brain as I go about my day, trying to figure out how to grow my career while embodying all these core values. But it’s so hard to get out of your comfort zone, to push past into the unknown and take a chance with something next level.

Does anyone feel the same way? How do you handle it when you get into paralysis mode? And what do you think of this local maximum business?

Photo credit: Aether Cone


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