People, Person, Blonde, Female, Woman

A Shim Sham Lesson (about Life)

By Isaac Blaise

Do you want to fulfill your potential and be amazing at your job and at life in general? What if I told you the secret is in an old song?

“When I was a kid about half past three,
My daddy said ‘son, come here’ to me.
He said things may come,
And things may go,
But this one thing you ought to know
It aint what you do (It’s the way that you do it)
It aint what you do (It’s the way that you do it)
It aint what you do (It’s the way that you do it)
That’s what gets results.”

Push and ya push and ya, cross over…

During my college days (and for a while after), I experienced a temporary resurgence of Americana that was swing and big band music, where lots of friends would get together in a crowded dance hall to dance to classics such as ‘Sing Sing Sing’ by Benny Goodman, ‘In the Mood’ by Glenn Miller, or ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ by Frank Sinatra. In all this time of dance and socializing, one moment stands out for sheer joy: The Shim Sham. This tune doesn’t stand out just because it’s a simple choreographed set of tap and jazz steps, but rather, it’s the song itself. Completely iconic and guaranteed to get all the wallflowers moving: It Ain’t What You Do, by Jimmy Lunceford (Here’s a sample Youtube of both the song and the dance. Enjoy; I’ll wait…). In fact, a DJ could play this song in any dance hall from Atlanta, Georgia to Perth, (or Fremantle, a bit further south) Australia and the result would be the same: it’s Shim Sham time.

While that was a lot of fun (and I was able to play the song just to knock off the rust and dance in my living room), recently those thematic lyrics meant more to me than simply, “it’s time to dance.” It’s the key word: Results. And, lately the focus in my professional and personal life has been just that: Getting results i.e. effecting change, improving, and performing with excellence. And, that seemingly innocuous line is the key to being successful at, well, everything.

Jimmy’s dad told him, effectively, that it’s not the task itself that is important. It’s the way in which each task is tackled that gets results. Want to learn to sing or dance? Focus by taking lessons and spending time. Want to lose weight, get stronger, or run a 5k? Eat and work out with a purpose in mind, otherwise those desired results will prove elusive. Conversely, by staying focused, resolute, and unwavering, those desired outcomes are almost inevitable, and they sometimes bring friends! Want to get better at your job, or get a promotion? Work each task with your goal in mind, and let the circumstances take a secondary role.

It’s all well and good for me to set goals and objectives, but how to achieve them? Several years ago I went on a weight-loss journey: 90 days and 44.7 pounds lost. The key is not only focus, but planning, time-boxing, and bouncing back.

With the end-goal in mind (results), here are 15 tactics I use to help me in general; I try to use these ideas when tackling any task or project for accomplishing my intended results:

  • Focusing on any task without a big picture mindset is a waste of time, amounting to ‘going through the motions’. So I should ask myself what I hope to gain, as well as how my team /organization benefits from the effort. It also gives rise to knowing ‘why’ I’m doing something, beyond the when, who, what, and how.
  • It behooves me to be deliberate as I set goals for myself, map objectives, and act accordingly to reach them. Being intentional is key, as long-term success and growth is never accidental.
  • It also means I need to be willing to take on projects that are ‘bigger’ than me and may feel intimidating, especially so if there is high potential for growth down the road.
  • Easy jobs are boring. No matter the risk, it’s better for me in the long run to seek out challenges as they typically come with greater results (and rewards).
  • So is maintaining the status quo. I have found a common complaint for many who have lost a ton of weight is that keeping the weight off is harder than losing it in the first place. So once I achieve one objective, it’s imperative for me to determine how I can push myself further, as the inevitable result of not doing so is ‘backsliding’. The same holds true in my profession: continuously push to improve, or fall back. There is no such thing as maintaining.
  • I need to demand more of myself than anyone else does (including my boss).
  • Stop multi-tasking, it’s a great way for me to fail at more than one thing simultaneously. Instead, I ask myself why the tasks set before me cannot command my full focus and effort.
  • Failure is guaranteed (I’m told the road to failure and success is the same road and success is just a slightly farther ride), so I should determine the cause and bounce back. Is the root cause something that is unavoidable, or can it be isolated in the future?
  • So, I should show grace. “Thanks for your feedback” keeps a line open for easy paths to excellence much more than a defensive posture.
  • Time-box everything I do. Just like in physical fitness and competition, the time required to complete a task could have as much a bearing on success as whether or not I’m actually able to complete it.
  • Measure and Iterate. I discovered a great way to keep myself motivated during my weight loss journey was to step on the scale at least once a day, as this was a way to keep focused on my goal. By writing down my results daily, I was able to chart the progress in a visual that ended up being very exciting for me and my wife: a downward trend! I was also able to associate blips in that downward trend with dietary slip-ups (i.e., failures) and learn from them.
  • I need to come up for air and refresh to remind myself of my priorities. I’ve found that having a daily quiet time before my tasks begin is a great way to do this. I also like to run, and this gives me opportunities to refresh and ‘think’. This also leads me to…
  • Exercise helps me to seek out and embrace inspiration. Amazing people inspire me to want to be amazing. So do events in history, as well as visual and auditory arts. Yes, even a song written ~78 years ago can carry extra meaning and help keep me focused when distractions and discouragement try to persuade me that the goal isn’t worth the effort.
  • I also need to consider my surroundings, for the short and longer term. Does my current location (i.e., my desk/office) afford me a great chance of success, or is it just frustration? Also, job-wise: can I chart a path of success over a sustained period of time with my current employer, accounting for temporary setbacks? Am I in sync with my colleagues, bosses, and clients?
  • Personalize and internalize my own goals, strategy, and tactics. Some stuff out there makes perfect sense to me, but to others, they could be nonsensical. We are each made differently that way, and so by continuing in a fearless cycle of iteration and introspection, I actually have gotten to know myself pretty well, and I’ve found that I’m truly the most fulfilled when I’m perfectly content with who I am, while working to make myself more effective in an iterative and measured fashion, and also being willing to help others achieve similar goals for themselves.

Are you seriously results-oriented? If not, perhaps one of my favorite songs will persuade you that you should be. Are you in a place where goal-setting and continuous improvement is encouraged? I work at Appian as a pre-sales solution consultant, and the most amazing part of my job is the culture we have here. I found it to be a perfect blend of autonomy for setting my own goals and team structure to ensure collaboration and accountability. By communicating from the outset that my team is here to ensure that we are all successful (an image of a rising tide lifting all boats springs to mind), this frees me up to pursue awesomeness in areas where I previously was either not encouraged to do so, or, frankly, there was not a premium on growing and thriving team members. We work hard, play hard, and we help each other to be the best at what we do.

And yes, I used to flip my dance partners, but only if it wasn’t crowded :-).


A Shim Sham Lesson (about Life) was originally published in AppianLIFE on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on Oct 31, 2017

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