Brooks, a character from "The Shawshank Redemption"
Having trouble dealing with a potential change in your routine? Brooks did.

Remember Brooks, a character in the movie “The Shawshank Redemption?” Brooks was going to kill Haywood so he could be re-committed to a life sentence at Shawshank prison. It was a place he hated, “hell on earth”, but one he knew well. He had grown comfortable living in hell.

Brooks reminds me of the one-time high school hero who now sits on the same bar stool, at the same bar, reliving glory days. Or the highly trained professional—airline pilots are a good example—who is forced to make a career change but can’t break out of his current mindset.

Brooks, that ex-jock, and the pilot all think they have the same problem: An inability to transfer skills. Much of life is about transitions: The ability to adapt to new situations, embrace new circumstances and recreate yourself. But these people suffer from “functional fixedness,” a cognitive bias that limits a person to using an object only in the way it is traditionally used. In functional fixedness, the past becomes a barrier when it chains us to our current path.

There are those of us who believe we are who we are, and those who are continually evolving. Which one are you?

I believe you should embrace who you are, while continuing to focus on who you are going to be. There are times we need to risk everything we are so we can engage in the process of change and growth. Call that process “evolutionary fitness”—the ability to adapt and change one’s thinking and behavior to maximize growth and maintain alignment with the pursuit of one’s goals.

Evolving is hard, at times brutally tough. Technology and globalization has been accused of eliminating jobs for the past 100 years; think of the cotton gin, internal combustion engine, rail transport, and computer technology. But in reality, technology and globalization have simply changed the job market. Those hurt most by this continued human advancement are those who struggle with functional fixedness, as transitions for them almost impossible. Those with evolutionary fitness, meanwhile, see advancement as opportunity. They are able to capitalize on the current economic and technological environment.

Here are my three steps for developing evolutionary fitness.

Read I continue to be shocked by the number of professionals who don't read. You will spend 25,000 working hours in the next 10 years of your career with the objective of monetizing your skills. It might be wise to spend some time expanding your skills instead of just making more doughnuts the same old way. An ongoing source of fresh and relevant ideas, a deeper understanding and being able to more effectively articulate current methods, increased self-awareness: The all can be gained by reading. What would the results be If you spent 1/16 of your 25,000 hours—just three hours a week—reading and expanding your mind? Between audiobooks, podcasts, and smart phones anyone can create their own custom MBA program for less than the cost of your daily latte. 

Have a Career Plan Goals should be well-planned and articulated with the skills and experience needed to achieve those goals clearly outlined. As I explained to my daughter, a freshman in college, the higher your GPA, the greater your opportunities will be. That grade point average is a reflection of a student’s time and focus. If you are not able or willing to put in the time and focus, you must adjust your goals. 

Personal Gap Analysis Personal growth is connected to self-awareness. How can we continue to grow and develop if we don’t have a clear understanding of where we are now? The in-depth self-analysis this requires takes a lot of courage, which becomes the determining factor in who moves forward and who does not. If you have the courage, create your own 360 degree review. Formulate the tough questions on you and hand them to people in your personal and professional circle. (My top five questions can be found at under Resources and Links.) Remind your colleagues of the quote attributed to legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight: "If I did not tell you you were doing it wrong, how else would you know?" Once you understand where you are, you can then complete a Gap analysis. Profile someone professionally who is in a position you desire. Map their skills and talents and compare them to your own.

Being uncomfortable takes practice.  Preferring to be told of gaps and taking action is a daily lifestyle commitment. Or, as Red said at Shawshank, "Get busy living or get busy dying."