How To Avoid The Personal Development Plateau

The Personal Development Plateau

How To Avoid The Personal Development Plateau was written by Ross Hudgens, author of Authentic Marketing.

What’s your specialty?  How long have you been doing it?

When you started learning this specialty, your growth cycle was dramatic.  Every article you read brought on new insights.  When you practiced, implementation ingrained the information quickly in your head.  Repetition allowed you to find new ways to improve the process, and eventually, somewhere along that cycle, you hit the 90% completion rate of absolute expertise.

Then, the path to 100% learning slowed.  You burrowed in and spent tireless hours, but most of the time you spent working brought little improvement.  Whether or not you were internally aware of this is irrelevant – it nonetheless happened.

Immediate, quick growth is a reaction for any new field, but similarly, a plateau of improvement is always reached.  At this point, you’ll have to put in hundreds of hours to squeak out the next improvement up the percentage scale, and even if you do, the time invested may not be worth the improvement gained.

This happens everywhere, but similarly, most people never act on it.  If you’re in a job working the same position for 3 years, there’s a good chance your learning has all but halted.  You have to get out.  Your growth depends on it.

Why You Should Come Up Short

How about those people who spend tireless hours in the gym?  You can improve your body, sure, but to what point?  If you’re not a bodybuilder, the return on 2 hours in the gym every day hits a ceiling.  When you’re around your “perfect body”, your time should be shifted down to maintain, because your body has little room left for improvement, and the time spent to reach that improvement isn’t worth the investment back in.

Technology has changed things.  Before, your career might have called for a single investment towards the 100% goal.  However, as more and more career fields become commoditized and there’s increased room for “linchpins”, those who can expend emotional labor, solve problems, and do what can’t be measured, every business needs a “90%er”.

In small companies, it’s intensely important to be able to wear multiple hats.  Instead of wasting countless hours researching your field after you’ve hit that 90%, pivot.  Your time invested will be much better spent, and your company and business will love you for it.

How do I know when I’ve reached 90%?

The Personal Development Plateau

Now that you’ve put a name on it, you’ll be aware of it.  I especially respect Seth Godin for this – he puts names on the things that didn’t have them, and that allows us to face them and conquer.  This may be enough for the less OCD-enabled, but for those who want to realize the moment to enable a pivot, real tools exist.

  • Track your productivity.Rescue Time is a great program to track time measurement online.  You can associate productivity variables to various tasks, and from there, you have a real gauge on how you’re improving within each undertaking, at least from a speed point of view.
  • Jump back. – Return to your past work. Look at the stuff you did six months ago.  How does it compare to now?  Four months?  Last month?  If the improvement hit a plateau at some point, you have strong evidence to support a development shift.
  • Measure. – If you start measuring what you’re doing, you can start comparing.  If you can put a number on it, you have the gauge to quickly establish a plateau.  Buy a notebook.  Write everything down.  Be consistent.  Be careful in areas like weight lifting, though, as plateaus often occur in the natural growth cycle, and can quickly be burst through.

Climb at Least One Hill

There’s a need to be a 100%er in one area, at least initially.  It’s a marketing pull.  People buy specialties.  Jobs want experience.  Much of it, though, is just time commitment on the resume.  If you’re running a small web-based business for instance, do your job, get the experience that requires “doing”, but out of the office, stop worrying about the caveats of accounting vernacular or what 1% improvement you can make to your SEO technique.

Your time would be much better spent developing programming knowledge, web design or marketing ability to create traffic (and accounting leads) in multiple ways.  There’s real value, now, in being a jack of all trades.  In this internet world, where accessibility is easier than ever, it’s the best way to improve your value, both in the workplace and as a person.

Ross Hudgens is a marketer.  His primary responsibility involves driving traffic to some of the biggest websites on the Internet.  His secondary responsibility is writing about all of it on his blog Authentic Marketing.  For additional information like this, subscribe to his feed or follow him on Twitter here.


  1. says

    Hi Marc,

    I like your idea of realizing when you’ve hit your ceiling, and adjusting your invested time.

    I definitely believe too many people don’t know “when to stop” doing the same routine that has served them well in the past, but is not doing them justice after so long.



  2. says

    Awesome article. That is why I love reading this blog. I get new ideas and insights that I have not heard before. This really got me thinking about my business and my own 90% regions.

    There is a careful balance between being a “jack of all trades” where you water down your skills and being extremely focused and experienced in one area. I think the correct answer (for me at least) is to focus on one “area” of business and become a jack of all trades in that area. For example, I run a WordPress coaching program where I help people develop their own sites and self manage them. But within that business, I also teach SEO, Social Media and many other techniques that essentially make me a jack of all trades…but again under the single umbrella of my coaching program.

    Thanks for this article. Lots to think about now :)

  3. says

    You raise really good points on self evaluation here. I love that you say we should strive for 100% in something, but encourage us to let other things be good enough at really good. 90% is really good!

    Tracking your productivity, re-evaluation, and measuring the appropriate detail are great action items too. Well written encouragement!

  4. says

    This is where I think being bored easily helps. If I can’t do something new every couple of years (new project, new job, new hobby, new location) I feel really stagnant.

    People sometimes tell me that I should stick with something longer, but I’ve always managed to get promotions, make new friends when I move, and learn new things by living this way. It’s sort of a Marcus Buckingham “Discover Your Strengths” kind of a thing – I know that I need stimulation in order to be happy so I gravitate toward new experiences. I’m still moving within the same realm of my “expertise” but I’m learning new things.

    It took a long time to realize this, but now that I have there’s no going back. We leave in October to travel around the world, and I’m looking forward to the personal development lessons I’ll learn along the way.

  5. says

    Sound advice here.

    Every newcomer should know this, “Immediate, quick growth is a reaction for any new field, but similarly, a plateau of improvement is always reached.”

  6. says

    many people make a classical mistake – when they get into self development they stay there for the sake of the development itself. Try to keep in mind that this is merely an instrument and not the ultimate goal.

  7. says

    Hi Ross,

    So nice to see you here :-)

    I think you bring up some excellent points and I will say that there definitely is a time where the law of diminishing returns becomes a factor for your skillset and length at a company. If you are not getting anything out, then it’s time to look elsewhere to develop yourself. What extra value can you learn and contribute?

    Lots to think about.


  8. says

    Thanks for the comments everyone. Great to see some familiar faces in different places.

    Especially like this quote from Abubakar, that summarizes this quite nicely: “Every newcomer should know this, “Immediate, quick growth is a reaction for any new field, but similarly, a plateau of improvement is always reached.””

  9. says

    Thanks Marc and Ross for the very nice tips. We always have to look for alternatives if we hit the wall, otherwise we won’t grow.

  10. says

    I think this ‘plateau’ is a very interesting thing. Certainly, with anything you’re going to spend alot of time on, there is going to be a limit to the RATE at which you can grow, but for me alot of the added understanding is then turning this knowledge into something you can teach ‘back’ to others. From then on, there’s infinitely more to learn, as you look at how different people respond to the same information or learn the same skills. The other aspect of this is ‘attention management’, which we talk about alot at Think Productive – a choice few days switching your attention to something completely different can be all you need to come back enthused and ready to conquer the next little bit of the plateau!


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