Find Your Arena for Your Best Results (Day 29 of 30 Days of Getting Results)



“Be careful the environment you choose for it will shape you; be careful the friends you choose for you will become like them.” — W. Clement Stone

Your Outcome: Create an environment that helps you thrive.  You can be a fish out of water, or you can be in your element.

Welcome to day 29 of 30 Days of Getting Results, based on my book Getting Results the Agile Way.  In day 28, you learned how to find your one thing to simplify your life, make meaning, and grow your lust for life.

Before I joined Microsoft, I moved jobs a lot.  I kept becoming a big fish in a small pond, and then stagnated. I joined Microsoft to be a little guppy in a big ocean.  I wanted to surround myself with excellence and people with a passion for more from life.  I wanted to try and keep up with people who wanted to change the world.

Growing up, I learned that your container makes a big difference.  Whether it was sports, or school, I found that if you hung with the right people, you got better fast.  While I could always improve on my own, the right environment accelerated my growth.  Every time.

I’ve tried to use this pattern of learning from the best of the best, and putting myself into environments or taking on projects that accelerate my success.  I grow more by changing my container than any other way.  I think of this as finding an area for my best results.  When I’m in the right arena, I thrive.  When I’m not I die.  Slowly.  In Young Guns, I think of the line, “You’re growing or dying … there’s no in between.”

I think of my arena in multiple layers, but it’s everything that’s wrapped around my performance.  It’s the work I do, it’s the industry I’m in, it’s the people I work with, it’s the platform I do it from, etc.  The key for me is to always follow the growth, ride the waves, and make the most impact from my arena, or change arenas to unleash my best.  It’s my personal success platform.

The lesson I keep learning on growing my success is … Fill your head with stories of success, hang out with inspiring people, find the work that breathes life into your day, and play YOUR best game, in YOUR best arena.

Your Container Limits or Supports You
Your container can accelerate your success or hold you back.  You can go from struggling to succeeding, or from surviving to thriving. You might be like a diamond in the rough, that just needs some polishing with the right people in the right place.  Your amazing and unique value can go undervalued or underappreciated simply because you’re in the wrong arena.  Seth Godin teaches us to lean into the right Dips, get out of the wrong Dips, and become a Linchpin … be indispensible and remarkable in the job you do.  Sometimes you can do a remarkable job, but you’re simply in the wrong container or stuck in a Dip.

Sometimes one of the most important reasons to change a container is because you hit glass ceilings in terms of the impact you can make.  Sometimes you need to change containers because of the financial limits — one industry might value your skills way more than another.   One industries prince can be another’s pauper.

You can’t Be a Preacher in Your Home Town
One of the best sayings one of my mentors reminded me is, “You can’t be a preacher in your home town.”  The idea is that you might be a perfectly good preacher, but everybody growing up remembers you as little Joey down the street and they can’t imagine you as a preacher.  It conflict with their mental model.  Sometimes, the best thing you can do is find a new town.

5 Ways to Change Your Arena
Here are five ways you can change your arena:

  1. Change your mental model. It starts right here.  If you can’t see it, it won’t happen.   Have you ever just known you could do something long before you proved it?  It’s the pictures you get in your mind, it’s the beliefs you hold in your heart, and it’s your unshakable mind that tells you what’s possible, or what’s not, long before you even try.  This is why the most important person and what they think of you, is you.  That’s why role models and scenes of success are so important.  What you hold in your mind, you can make happen.  It’s very difficult to work against your own mental model and beliefs, especially limiting ones.  They become self-fulfilling.  If you want to change your arena, start by changing your mind.
  2. Change how you play the game.  This could be as simple as shifting to spending more time in your strengths.  This could be as simple as finding a mentor that show you better ways to play your game.  This could also be as simple as shifting from “getting your job done”, to “mastering your craft.”   This could also mean changing roles or which aspect of the game that you choose to focus on.  Some actors become directors.  Some athletes become coaches.  They’re still in the game, but from a different perch.
  3. Change who you play it with.  Spend more time with catalysts or people who lift you up or people you can learn from, and less time with people who drain you or bring you down.   Don’t let the people you spend time with be the reason your balloon never gets off the ground.
  4. Change where you play your game.  This could mean changing teams, changing companies, etc.   This could mean moving.  Basically, it’s changing where you perform, and sometimes that alone makes all the difference.  The key is to go where you are valued, you fully engage, and you feel yourself grow.
  5. Change the game you play.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is change the game you play.  One of our VPs at Microsoft realized he could be a mediocre developer or a great Program Manager.  When he changed paths, he accelerated his growth.

You know a good container or arena when you are giving your best, where you have your best to give, and it’s amplifying your impact, and helping you grow in an accelerated way.

Design Your Workspace to Support You
I’m a fan of keeping my workspace simple, clean, and effective.  I reduce distractions and I keep a clean space so I don’t have to fight through my stuff to get to what I’m working on or battle for some open area.  I create breathing room.  From a visual perspective, it’s simple, clean, and uncluttered and supportive.  From an auditory perspective,  I play my favorite music, unless I need to hear myself think, then I find a way to get the quiet time I need.  These little adjustments go a long way in helping me make the most of my arena.

Rapid Growth
Edward de Bono says we can accelerate our growth by finding rapid growth fields.  He writes, “The computer industry is a growth industry, and within that industry software is a growth field.”  His point is that you can ride the success bandwagon or get carried along with the growth.  For example, he says its “easy for a general to become a success in war but rather more difficult in times of peace”, and that “the most likely way to make a good living out of creative imagination may be to go into advertising.”

Find a Stage Where You Feel Strong
At the end of the day, the key for you is that your arena make you strong and keeps you growing where it counts.   You don’t have to completely change your arena, or change it all at once, but if you find yourself keep getting stuck or not growing your success the way you want, then look to your environment as a way to structure and accelerate your success.

Today’s Assignment

  1. Fix up your workspace to support you.  Do whatever you need so that when you get ready to perform, you feel good about the space you work in.  Whether it’s add plants, add music, or just declutter, set the stage for your best results.
  2. Evaluate your container.  Are you working on the right things, with the right people, for the right manager, for the right company, making the right impact?  That’s a string of thoughts, but they’ll help you look at your container in terms of how well it’s supporting you giving your best, where you have your best to give.

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Photo by miemo.


  1. I joined MS for the same reason – I wanted a place with endless possibilities. Oh my, could not imagine how deep rabbit hole is… So MS is an Meta Arena with many inner ones. Recently I was hitting very wrong mini arenas but now I have settled for a new one, I hope it’s the right one.

    I also liked how Harvey Mackay puts it in his book

    “There are no dead-end jobs. There are only dead-end people. If you build a network, you will have a bridge to wherever you want to go”

  2. @ Alik — That’s a really good way to put it … endless possibilities. If I was a hermit crab, this would be the shell I never outgrow.

    Even from the wrong arenas we learn. The most important lesson we learn from the wrong arenas, is self-awareness and how to spot arenas that we just won’t thrive in, earlier vs. later.

  3. I always tell my clients that it’s about attitude first. If they can find the deeper connection to their work it’s easier to unleash their creativity. Sometimes the situation is just disconnected and the person needs to find a new job. Maybe their co-workers are too caught up in their routine to do amazing work. The person needs to find a better fit for their talents.

    I always start the change from within and if that doesn’t work I try a new environment.

  4. @ Karl — Attitude first is where it starts. I used to underestimate attitude, but I later realized that it really was the difference that made the difference.

  5. Hi JD .. how right that is .. mix with the right people and they help you with your strengths and the right environment will accelerate your growth. I love this analogy .. your container limits or supports you .. and stagnation is not an option.

    Changing your arena .. can make things positive and therefore more uplifting – remove the negative, and/or the unproductiveness from your life .. your life is meant to filled to the brim with happiness and peacefulness .. yes we’ll have ups and downs .. but they too can be hugely fulfilling … and as you point out later .. find a stage where you’re appreciated & can benefit others ..

    Thanks great thoughts and an excellent post .. Hilary

  6. This is one of the toughest challenge. Searching for the best possible arena is like painting a life with new set of colors from unfamiliar angles using a brush I’ve never used before. Feeling excited and intrigued… But the canvas stays blank. My creativity and imagination need a boost, it seems.

    I am going to tackle “changing the mental model” as a starter. I need some role models or some new scenes/images of success. This is definitely an application of the ideas from “Solve Problems with Skill.” I ‘just’ need to find someone who has come before me and have found their ways with their arenas that I want to get into. …I am still searching for “the shell I can never outgrow” as I can be a hermit crab at times.

    “To Boldly Go” sound good. I just asked two of my friends to get one liner feedback via FB chat. One reply was “Fearless and Flawless.” The other one said “????,” which means ‘stormy and full of drama’ or ‘full of ups and downs.’ Basically she meant “no matter what happens, you’ve always come out alright.” I am going to keep those on my desk and see how my one liner evolves… Maybe it will guide me to my arena 🙂 ?

    • You’ll figure it out.

      I know you will.

      Keep in mind that our best arena is more than a place: it’s who we serve, the people we work with, where we practice, and where we perform.

      Where it really sunk in for me was when I read Tactics: The Art and Science of Success, by Edward de Bono. It made me think of how many people I had seen in my life that were simply out of place, and how the could rise and shine, if they were in another job, another position, another place, etc.

      Couple that with the old saying, “You can’t be a preacher in your home town.”

      Sometimes though, the real secret is that when we change ourselves, our old arena becomes new.

      In any case, I think our biggest catalyst in life is either a mentor who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves, or sees something in us we don’t see, or a wolf pack of friends or colleagues that lift us faster than we could lift ourselves.

      One way to keep finding your arena is to follow your growth.

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