If you’ve ever played golf, tennis or baseball, you’ve probably heard the phrase “sweet spot”. If you hit a ball with the sweet spot of your club, racket, or bat, it will travel a far greater distance than if you strike it even marginally off the mark. Hitting squarely on the sweet spot provides you with the maximum return for your effort.
Having worked with and interviewed hundreds of professionals, I’ve come to believe that each person also has a “sweet spot”. It’s comprised of the situations and activities where they are maximally effective, and where they create the most unique value for their effort. It’s not necessarily a specific job or task, but rather a mode they go into that separates them from the pack. It’s a unique kind of value that they become known for, and that others seek out.
However, in the flurry of busyness, many people never stop to consider the patterns present in those moments when they have delivered extraordinary results. They may be great students of the marketplace or their customers, but they have failed to be great students of themselves.
In my latest book Daily Creative, I shared a few stories of people who had navigated to a place of effectiveness over the course of their career, and some of the lessons they’d learned along the way. Here are a few of the key insights I gained about finding your sweet spot:
To find your sweet spot, you must act first and sort later.
Your sweet spot is discovered through active contemplation, not passive reflection. The broader your base of experience, the more patterns you will be able to discern. Some people think that their sweet spot should be obvious, and as a result they waste a lot of time trying to “find their passion” or figure out their optimal career path before diving in. Instead, great contributors begin by adding value wherever they can, then spend time sorting the results later.
One practice that I prescribe is what I call “The Notables”. It’s designed to help you identify the times in your work when you truly shine, or when you have a unique response to something in your environment that could point to an opportunity to set yourself apart. For example, you can ask yourself:
– What problems seem to obsess me more than others, and why?
– What fills me with anger and compels me to act?
– What do others seem to come to me for instead of going to someone else?
Your sweet spot is not always something you enjoy.
Many people think that once they discern their sweet spot, work will be perpetual bliss. Not so. Often, the place where you are most effective requires doing something that you don’t find personally thrilling, but that allows you to have massive impact. I know many prolific writers who – gasp! – don’t enjoy the process of writing, and many great entrepreneurs who find building a team a bit of a grind. However, they also recognize that they are uniquely capable of adding value through these activities, and they are more in love with the results than they are with their temporary comfort.
The word “passion” is often tossed around casually as something necessary for great work. What’s ignored is that the root word of passion means “to suffer.” When you are passionate about something, it means that you are willing – if necessary – to suffer a bit on behalf of it, because you care so deeply. Great contributors have discovered a productive passion, or an outcome that they are so committed to that it fuels and animates their best work. Here are a few questions to ask as a starting point:
– What outcome am I truly committed to that transcends my desire for comfort?
– What have I been avoiding because I dislike it, but I know is a place where I’m really effective?
– What outcome am I committed to, and how can I structure more of my activity around it?
Finding your sweet spot is not necessary, which is why many people never do it.
Here’s the truth: you can be very productive for your entire career and never identify your sweet spot. You might even become celebrated for your work. However, the most gratified and ultimately successful people I know are those who have a strong sense of self, and have engaged in at least some attempt over time to shape their work so that it reflects their unique abilities. Others cannot do this for you. However, this also involves taking strategic risks and making bold decisions with your work. I encourage you to consider:
– Am I playing it safe and just drifting from opportunity to opportunity?
– What are the potential traps in my career path that could lead to years of misalignment?
Your unique contribution is needed by your organization and by the marketplace. Take the time to consider your unique productive passion, skills, and experiences, and leverage them to navigate to your sweet spot.
Take some time this week to consider answers to the above questions. To produce a body of work that you’ll be proud of, first do the difficult work of discovering your area of maximum effectiveness.