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PQ 21.1 — What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

·614 words·3 mins
PQ Series

PQ 21.1 — Do the choices I make take me closer to, or further from, the best version of me?


In my old office, I had a note taped to the wall on a scrap of ruled paper. It read “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” scrawled in my uneven cursive (I got an N minus in penmanship as a kid).

I’d first seen the phrase in one of the business books I read, ones I’d picked up or work had provided me. As part of my gig as a rookie manager of a department that really needed three people to run it. But instead had little old me.

Yet there I was. Most days I felt less like the person in charge and more like a carnival act trying to spin a bunch of plates. Each moment was a different calculation — should I take the “safe route” or was that actually the road to danger? And if I were to take a risk, which one was the “right” choice? Sometimes I’d pick “wrong” in the short term only to find that long term it was the better strategy. Other times, yep, I’d drop a plate, and it’d come down crashing to the floor.

Slowly but surely, though, I started to develop a kind of rhythm. A sixth sense of the ways the plates would spin. How to keep the momentum going.

At this point, it was tempting to just go through the motions. Come in, do as little as possible, and benefit from the systems I’d set up. Chillax. Burn daylight. Go home having mostly loitered in office space for my 10-hour shift.

But as tempting as that idea was, I began to see other things that needed working on. Improvements that I could easily make. And others that would be quite a bit more difficult but were even more needed.

And at those moments, I’d glance at the note taped over my desk, let out a few deep sighs, and rush back into the stress of the unknown.

What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

I’m a person who’s happiest when I’m learning. When I’m challenging myself. Well, kinda. Truth be told, sometimes pushing yourself is stressful and it sucks. But I never regret having done so when I look back.

Sure, I need to sit and sulk sometimes. Do the whole self-care thing. Relax.

But there always comes a time where it’s time to stop doing that and push myself a little.

And that’s where this little phrase comes in handy: “What got you here, won’t get you there.”

I’d probably smack someone else if they said it to me. But on myself? It works great.

It’s a different note every time I see it. Here are some examples of what it’s meant at any given moment:

  •  “If you feel stuck, pivot.”
  • “I know the risk you’re about to take feels really scary, but leaving your comfort zone is the only way for you to grow.”
  • “Yes, you can procrastinate. There’s no one really watching you who would know. But *you* will know. Stop slacking and put in the work, or you’ll be sorry.”
  • “You’re working too hard again. Take a break so you don’t get sick.”

It means a different thing every time I see it, but it’s nearly always helpful, whether it’s work or love, friendship or family, art or science. Or any combination of these.


This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions and answers, please see this  indexed list.


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