This post is the first in a 3-part series and provides a sneak peak at the content of my upcoming book, The Three Vital Questions for Taking Charge of Your Relationships and Career.
Question I: What do you want?
Anyone who teaches about leadership, is a diversity and inclusion practitioner, offers executive coaching services, or is an effective counselor, mentor or guide will begin in the same place, with you. Self-awareness is the absolute starting point for effectiveness in life, whether it be interpersonal relationships, career choices, or personal happiness. You must know what you’re about and why before you can leverage it (which is the second Vital Question).
For some the question “What do you want?” elicit responses mental responses like “more money,” “stability” or “a better life”. While those may be accurate, I’d like to suggest a structured, analytic approach–using Vision, Strengths and Passion–as a framework.
Vision is the most difficult of the three. It takes time to hone personal and career aspirations in a way that truly qualifies as a vision. To define, vision is a compelling future state. It is an aspirational destination for your life. Make note that I say “your life” and not “your career”. Your vision should be so large and highly-anchored that it encompasses many aspects of your life. It should also be far-reaching enough to provide directional force over time. Directional force means that your envisioned future state is so desirable that it creates its own energy; an energy that pulls you in its direction. This energy informs your behaviors on a day-to-day basis. It gets you out of bed in the morning. It feeds your dreams at night. This energy is called eustress, and its magical beyond words. Eustress is the energy that it takes to keep yourself motivated–even during tough time–in pursuit of your vision. And it stays alive and replenishes itself in the presence of a highly-anchored and compelling vision.
Vision isn’t something that you or anyone else pins down on first attempt. It’s an iterative process–imagine, expand, stretch, shape, push, pull, stretch more. Keep doing this until you hit on something that feels audacious to you. Yes, audacious. If it’s not so amazing that it makes your heart beat fast just to think about it, chances are slim that you will put forward the necessary energy to pursue it with focus and sticktoitiveness.
How do you begin formulating a vision? Start with passion. What are you passions? About what do you have a fire in your belly? Really. What are the opportunities that really get you excited, that always catch your attention even when you are busy? For me, I love watching gifted speakers. Yes, I know that seems like an obvious answer from a person who has spent my whole career as a speaker, but my interest surfaces in all parts of my life. For example, I find myself watching Joel Osteen on Sunday mornings though I am not a practicing member of any religious group. His message clearly has appeal, given his huge live audiences and New York Times bestselling books. But even more interesting to me is to watch him as an orator. I wonder aloud how he can deliver a speech without ever using “um” or even seeming to pause to collect his thoughts. How many people are part of his team; from speech writers and editors to the camera and lighting crew. His timing is impeccable. His sermons are formulaic and simply designed–opening joke, identify the topic, entry into a general message, insert personal stories, tie to scriptures, re-iterate key messages, call-to-action, invite support, close, unhurried, with a warm and genuine smile. It’s a masterfully choreographed dance beautifully performed. Joel Osteen is not the only person I observe through these lenses. Just this week I found myself watching Suze Orman, Oprah, Stephen Colbert and a host of political analysts all through the same lenses because –and though the dances may be different—they are all performing a carefully choreographed piece. And I am a devotee of this particular form of art.
Now back to you—what is it that focuses your attention in an information-intensive world and why? Maximizing your own effectiveness requires that you connect with the fire in your belly, not limited to a purely cerebral approach. That fire is going to provide the fuel needed to forge ahead, make difficult decisions and needed changes, overcome obstacles and be resilient during tough times.
Identifying your passion is the necessary groundwork for building on strength, the third area for deeper analysis associated with growing your self-awareness. Your strengths are the areas in your life where you have a passion coupled with a natural talent. Passion is important for the fire it puts in your belly, but the overlay of natural talent will allow you to narrow your list of life pursuits based on the potential for successful accomplishment with effort. For example, one of my other passions is art. I simply love beautiful art. It focuses my attention, draws me in, and my heart beat faster when I’m in its presence. However, I have little or no natural talent as an artist. I can barely draw star people. (Cute and silly little figures I sometimes put on a flipchart during a workshop to illustrate a point.) Though art is definitely a passion for me, the absence of natural talent means that any effort I put toward becoming an artist would have incredibly limited return on investment. I will never be an accomplished artist. Further, any effort that I put into this pursuit will be short-lived because my limited talent means that I will consistently experience small or large failures—disincentivizing my ongoing effort. Here’s the take-away, find your passions but don’t bother putting a lot of energy into passions unless they are coupled with natural talent. The combination of passion and natural talent, that’s your sweet spot. Go full throttle for things that fall into those categories. You will be setting yourself up for success—things that you have a high probability of doing well (talent) and the internal motivation (passion) to continue to invest energy toward excellence.
Call-to-action: Get started reflecting on your vision, your passions and your strengths. Start approaching your life and your relationships as your would a project or an important goal. Do some initial reflection, talk with others–mentors, family, trusted and credible colleagues–and then begin charting a path for more purposeful action.
Please check in with us again next week to address the second question, What Can you Leverage? As always, we’d love to hear from you. Please email or call us to bring a keynote presentation to your event or workshop to your organization.