The first two questions that we worked on were “What can you do?” and “What have you done?” From these two, we worked out the challenge of understanding who you are in the workplace and where you’ve been that’s gotten you where you are.
I call these the Mirror Questions because they involve examining the person that we greet each morning in the mirror.
The next two questions are what I call the Window Questions. They switch the student’s focus from an inward one to an outward one.
Question #3 “What do you want?” seems to be tougher than it actually is. The most common answer we come up with at first are: “I don’t know” or “something that’s not this”. Often the reason this question is so difficult to answer is that we put far too much importance on its answer.
When we were children, the answer came readily. We might, for example, answer “I want to be an Olympic Athlete!” at a very early age and, given our lack of awareness of what that might require, believe it’s totally do-able because our imaginations can conceive it. As we got older, we started to encounter the world in a more mature fashion and we learn that imagination is essential, but so is hard work and sacrifice. Many times, dreams born of the young imagination are gone by the time the person leaves secondary school, replaced by a drive to make a large quantity of cash. Goals born of the imagination are replaced with goals born out of practicality.
Practicality still rules the day for many of us, sometimes for our entire lives, to the point it defines our lives. However, what we’re actually doing is confusing practicality for complacency. We go through our days and don’t dream too much because we mistakenly believe grownups only think in practical terms, never in ‘dreams’. When imagination does try to capture our attention, we excuse it away and say ‘life gets in the way’ of doing much about it. Because of this, we define our careers by what we can do and have done, but never take much time to think about what we want. Wanting something is important and ought not to be overlooked. Regardless if the want is small or large, it’s important because it’s what will both guide our goals and serve as our legacy. Practicality and imagination both need us to move out of our comfort zone and act as human beings instead of worker drones.
‘Wanting’ I have found is the best way to define your life’s purpose. Because your purpose is the result of what you’re doing. We can profess all day long our purpose is one thing, but where you are investing your efforts is the most tangible statement, and it is truer than any creed or mission statement. If you’re doing something and producing an outcome, it is your purpose regardless of your feelings about it. If you change what you’re doing, you change your outcomes and therefore your purpose. We looked at these in Questions 1 and 2, so with question 3 we can start to ensure we have integrity between what we’re doing and where we’re going. Now it’s time to see if what we’re producing is worth it to us. If not, then a change is needed.
[I would be remiss here to not point out that defining what you want doesn’t have to be totally work-centric. Wants can be vocational (about our careers) or avocational (what we do outside of work). In an ideal world, they should be about life both in the workplace and outside it. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking careers are only about work.]
At certain times (middle age, post-college, nearing retirement, etc.) we all realize that our lives are short and that we can only spend so much of it living for the dreams and desires of someone else. Sadly, not everyone gets this luxury so for those who do it’s vitally important to listen to their consciences and make the changes necessary to avoid wasting the precious opportunities we encounter. This is oftentimes when imagination comes back in a very strong way, but practicality demands we still pay the power bill each month. While imagination gives us a view into what could be, practically grounds to us the reality that we also have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and those who count on us.
Balancing these two responsibilities, to not waste our lives and to be responsible for ourselves, is a good starting point of career goal setting. You have to balance them to guide the hard choices you need to make in order to move forward. By remaining centered on these you are able to activate the internal motivation needed to make progress.
How does this work? Being emotionally invested in your goals will help you formulate and activate a strategic plan that is easier to stick to. Think of it like you would a diet. (Yeah, ugh, diets) If you have a diet that includes only healthy options, but you don’t like them, you’ll have a hard time staying on track. If you have a diet of only the things you want, but they have zero health value, you’ll find it easy to stick to but also get very sick. The former is a working life that is 100% practical, the latter is one that is 100% imagination. Balancing good choices will drastically improve your odds of success because you care.
Knowing what you want is the first step in defining your goals. If you can find inspiration that feeds your soul, attaining them will be more enjoyable. We all want to do the things in life we find enjoyable and is that what motivates us.
But how does this focus us outward instead of inwards?
Simply stated, when you want something you will be required to engage with other people. Anything that gets done requires, at one point or another, the assistance of other human beings. That’s by design if you look at both the natural order and society in general. While your wants, hopes, dreams, responsibilities, and survival needs all start with you they definitely end with connecting to others. In the career strategy world, there are many steps to take once you’ve defined what you want. A coach or strategic planner might help you use the GROW model and a SWOT/PEST analysis to set SMART Goals with an accountability plan. But to put them into action you’re going to need to connect with other people.
Walt Disney said it best: “You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”
While at a conference in Orlando I stayed at a hotel that was across from Walt Disney World and my room overlooked the entire Disney property. The massive scale of this enterprise was breathtaking because unlike a city that grew organically this was completely planned. Castles, mountains, and resorts all were planted in what had been a long-ignored swamp all because one man had a vision and convinced others that it was worth the effort. It would still be empty land if not for other people. His Imagination saw an amazing testament to human endeavor and his practical side saw that it would take building an organization to support it. He also saw these two things required people. Because of that, this vision outlasted him.
In the world of work, regardless if a person works as an employee or they’re on an entrepreneurial path, you cannot see goals achieved or pay the way for them without getting others to buy into your vision. That vision can be as simple as ‘I can do the job’ or as grand as ‘I will outperform and rise to the very top’. By sharing your vision for the future born of imagination and selling it in a practical way born of common sense, you’ll find that goals can become reality because people will want to connect with you and help you. Aligning these two to promote your integrity will help you will find the motivation that will see you through tough times.
If you know what you want, it’s up to you to figure out what the steps are to get you there. You will find help along the way if you ask for it.
Goals will get you somewhere.
Inspiration will keep you going.
Inspired goals will validate your purpose.