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Unexpected Accomplishments: How to Achieve Them

image of colorful Janus mural, looking back and forward at unexpected accomplishments

It’s January, that time of year when many of us put on our Janus faces: we look back at the past year to review our progress and forward to the coming year to see what’s next. This year my friend Brian suggested that, in honor of stepping into the 2020s, instead of looking at individual years, we look at decades, and he offered a series of questions to help us reflect.

As I went through the questions, one in particular struck me: In the previous decade, what is one thing you achieved that you did not expect to? How did you do that?

My unexpected accomplishment came in 2017 when I participated in the Key 5 Conference. This event is designed for speakers to give a short talk in front of a live audience and get professional video for demo reels and marketing. I was beginning to speak more as part of my marketing plan and knew video could help create a stronger connection with prospective clients, so I signed up. And, in my opinion, I succeeded with my talk.

Critical success factors

In answering the question “How?” I quickly dashed off the reasons I’d achieved my unanticipated goal:

  • I was open to possibility. This type of event hadn’t been on my radar, but when the opportunity presented itself, I recognized it.
  • When I decided to participate, I made the decision once—no second-guessing. And once the decision was made, I went all in.
  • I had a firm deadline. The big day would come whether I was ready or not. (And it came with a giant snowstorm.)
  • The stakes were high. Cameras would catch every move, every mistake. Five cameras, nine cameras—it didn’t matter how many—there were cameras! Plus, who wants to flop in front of a live audience? (Luckily the snowstorm cut the audience in half!)
  • The project was slightly outside my comfort zone (visibility!). I was confident I could perform well if I worked at it, but it was a stretch that made me legitimately nervous.
  • I invested money to participate, so I wanted a return of some sort (i.e., a finished product).
  • More importantly, I invested time. I planned my approach, and I started working on my speech early. I practiced and practiced and practiced, in front of cameras and in front of multiple audiences.
  • I got feedback on practice runs, and I listened to it. I revised and practiced some more.
  • I had key people supporting me—Alex, the instigator and organizer; Alan, the objective and thorough coach; and Marcey, the comrade in arms for mutual critique and encouragement.

In a nutshell, my unexpected accomplishment took a lot of work and a lot of help. And isn’t that usually the case? I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know about goalsetting, but, gosh, sometimes it’s nice to get a refresher.

What will be your unexpected accomplishment? 

It’s January 2030 and you’re looking back on the 2020s. What was your unexpected accomplishment? Giving a high-stakes speech? Writing a book? Changing careers? Traveling to a different country?

How did you accomplish that unexpected achievement? I’m willing to bet you committed to a decision, developed a plan, invested time, energy, and money—and got help.

Now that you know what your unexpected accomplishment is for the next decade, you have the opportunity to make it an expected one. And to keep your eyes open for the truly unexpected.

Everyone needs a guide; everyone needs help. Whatever your goal, find someone who can offer support. If your goal happens to be writing a book, maybe I can help. Get in touch at 919-609-2817 or

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Speakers, check out the KEY5 Speaker Podcast on iTunes. Each episode is 15-30 minutes chock full of speaking advice. Yours truly is interviewed in Episode 110 and Episode 302.

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