What is the goal that motivates you as you approach a particularly challenging day? What ambitions help you find the strength to confront an overwhelming workload, a difficult conversation with an employee, or an impossible budget decision?

Do you think of your long-term objectives—the second house, dream vacation, or financial portfolio that will represent your reward for all this hard work?

A lot of business owners use visions of the future to keep themselves pushing forward in the present. And keeping your eye on the next peak is a great strategy for getting through the valleys of your journey as a business owner. The only problem is that some rewards are more motivating than others… and we tend to overestimate the motivational power of material success.

Simply put, if you want to build a thriving, fulfilling career, you need to stop working so hard to buy diamonds and start working hard to become a diamond. Strive to learn and evolve as a human being. The house and vacation will follow.

Here’s why.

Personal Growth is the Fastest Path to Professional Success 

Let’s say two guys have the same dream of conquering a fourteen-mile hike to the top of a mountain, even though neither one of them does a lot of hiking.

The first guy focuses on the goal of reaching the peak. So he goes straight to the trailhead, makes it up a few steep switchbacks, then gets worn out and turns back. He does this a couple more times before finally determining that he just isn’t built to do this hike. He gives up and sets his sights on a shorter trail and a lower peak.

The second guy focuses on the goal of becoming a strong and resilient hiker. He looks up videos that show him which muscles to strengthen for steep trails. He spends every weekend taking less demanding routes in the mountains to help his body build endurance and adapt to the altitude. He finds out what to eat, how much water to bring, and what mental exercises will help him manage fear on a narrow mountain path. By the time he does the actual hike, he has become the type of person who could definitely handle this challenge.

You are more likely to reach your loftiest goals—and reach them more quickly—when you focus less on chasing down an outcome and more on becoming the type of person who has the skill set and character needed to get results.

If you don’t take the time to acknowledge where you are now and how you need to transform in order to create the business of your dreams, there’s a good chance you’re going to fall short of your ambitions. More crucially, you may interpret that failure as evidence that you are not capable of reaching your objectives. And that is never true. You have limitless potential as long as you are willing and eager to grow.

Personal Growth Creates Immediate Fulfillment

Another major benefit of focusing on self-development is that you’re able to find fulfillment in your career immediately.

If your focus is on buying your dream car or winning an award, you create a situation in which you can only feel fulfilled if and when you reach your goal. 

Think of the guy who went straight to the trailhead with an interest only in reaching the peak. Every failed attempt was a letdown. The decision to try an easier trail was a mark of failure.

Meanwhile, the other guy succeeded in his objective of personal growth every day. As long as he continued to challenge himself, learn, and evolve, he had a success to celebrate. 

On some level, we know that our material goals offer limited fulfillment. That’s why you feel that sense of doubt when you’re trying to convince yourself that the big obstacle facing you today really will be worth it when you can finally buy that vacation home in five years. 

On the other hand, if you tell yourself you can use this struggle to become more patient, more resilient, or a better leader, you are much more likely to find the inspiration you need to keep moving. After all, when you focus on self-development, the challenge becomes necessary for reaching the goal. Now it’s a tool, not a roadblock.

How to Become a Diamond

Now you have a philosophical sense of what it means to work hard to become a diamond. But what would that actually look like in your daily life?

First, I recommend setting aside some time to imagine the version of yourself who is best suited to live out your purpose and achieve your long-term goals. Ask yourself:

  • How does this person handle conflicts at work?
  • What essential traits does this person have?
    How do they think about themselves and the world?
  • What do they do to stay clear-headed, focused, and energetic?
  • How does this person make others feel?

Then, without shaming yourself for any shortcomings, compare this vision of your future self against who you are now. In what ways are you on the right track? Which areas require more growth and improvement?

For each area of growth, make a list of positive habits you’d like to adopt in order to work towards becoming the best version of yourself. For example, if your future self has more energy than your current self, you might consider new habits like drinking more water, getting more exercise each day, or eating more leafy greens.

Finally, choose one super small habit to launch your mission of personal growth. You don’t want to be “all in” from Day One. You won’t be able to sustain major changes right away. But when you start with a small change, you’re likely to succeed, which keeps you motivated to pick up the next new habit.

Ultimately, it is important to have material goals in mind as you build your business. When you know how much you want to earn or grow, you know how to strategize and evaluate the efficacy of your efforts. So by all means, do pay attention to the numbers.

But when it comes to the way you approach your day mentally and how you seek fulfillment, you’re better off worrying less about how many diamonds you can buy and more about how brightly you shine.

For more in-depth guidance on cultivating a growth-driven, entrepreneurial mindset, check out Idan Shpizear’s new book, How to Transform Your Mindset and Become a Self-Made Success Story.