In 1996, a Spice Girls hit song posed an interesting proposition:
So, what do you really want to achieve in 2019?
While the context of the Spice Girls’ song may be different, the question is still relevant. What do you want – really? Sometimes what we really, really want right now is not what we actually want in the long-term.
Most of us go through our professional – and even personal – lives not thinking about what we really, really want. Too often we are guided by what is expected, what is available, or, alas, what is convenient. More times than not we are held under the tyranny of the urgent and fail to spend time thinking about our vision for ourselves or for our organizations.
Stop for a moment and think about what you really want out of life. Not the “where do you see yourself in five years?” mandatory interview question, but rather where you want to be when all is said and done.
REFLECT . . .
To get started, make a list of your five key values – those around which you should order your life and use to guide your decisions. Perhaps its happiness, independence, respect, justice, success, or one of hundreds of other words; just make sure they are really your values, something you would sacrifice for, and not just a pretty list of words. This will take some time – don’t take short cuts. There are many online tools that will help if you get stuck. Try this one, or google “defining your values.” There are many out there.
This initial step may be difficult at first, but it is crucial. It forms the foundation on which you will build a successful and satisfying life. One very successful leader I know has held a number of different senior positions in related fields across industries over the past four decades. Her vision for herself was that her work would always give back and be of service to her community. Every decision she has made has been based on her values and her vision for herself. She has no plans to retire, because she feels so fulfilled in that work.
IMAGINE . . .
Keeping these values in mind, imagine what role you want for yourself. Is it to be CEO of a major finance firm? To provide well for your family? Is it to start your own business? Is it to retire as quickly as possible? Is it to give back to others? You might think it is to start a successful business – but does it have to be that? Sometimes our true goals and values could be reached through means other than the one we’re thinking of at the moment. Perhaps starting the business isn’t really about the business but about a level of independence. Are there other ways to achieve this? Usually there are – and how freeing it could be to recognize that several possibilities may get you closer to what you really, really value.
Write your vision down just under your set of values, knowing that the second is not possible outside of considering the first. As baseball great Yogi Berra quipped, “If you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else.”
CREATE . . .
Now work backwards and create a work-plan to get there. What can I do today to move that vision of my future just a bit forward? Start with small but thoughtful steps. It may not be easy at first to design such a backwards plan, but it will help you make decisions on how to use your time and talents better.
Here are three ideas to incorporate into that plan:
- Be the best MENTEE you can be! Mentors are great, but sometimes it is hard to find someone to fully mentor you. So, make yourself the most proactive mentee possible – learning from many unwitting mentors. Spend some time thinking about what you want to accomplish and find out who is doing it right now. Is it your boss? A colleague? Those are the obvious ones to think about. But maybe this person is in a very unexpected place or position. Make it a point to spend some time with that person asking them, “I admire what you have accomplished. How did you get to where you are?” I found that few people will turn down an opportunity to talk about themselves and I learned a great deal from those conversations. And, you may find out what it will really take!
- Make yourself available for CHALLENGING ASSIGNMENTS. Don’t be afraid. Not only will you learn about your capabilities and limits, it also will allow you to experience what you may not want to do or the price to be paid for it! Challenging assignments reinforce our strengths and test our mettle. They prompt important questions: What additional training or skills might I need? Is this what I really want and am I willing to spend the time and effort needed to accomplish it? Or, perhaps I should rethink this plan?
- Don’t be afraid to ASK for what you want. Many times we do not share our thoughts about what we want – even with ourselves. Speak your vision of your future out loud – to your mirror first.It is a sobering experience – believe me. You may find it is not as clear as it should be, so you will rework it to get it right. Then, share it with sympathetic listeners whose advise you respect and consider their wise counsel. Perhaps you strategically share it with your supervisor during your annual evaluation, or with a respected colleague over coffee –while also being prudent not to overshare. Take it from Oprah, or Miami’s own Michelle Abbs, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for."
Will you have to adjust your plan as you proceed? Probably. Will you face roadblocks? Likely. But these ideas may get you started on your journey and soon you will discover other ways to move your vision forward. Don’t look back 10, 20 or even 40 years from now and ask, “how did I end up here?”
Success and fulfillment can go hand in hand; however, achieving your goal will take making thoughtful decisions based on your values, based on your strengths, and always working towards your vision.
That is my wish for you for the New Year, that you will take that next step in your leadership journey and actively pursue the Spice Girls’ advice, and get what you really, really want – really!
About The Center
The award-winning FIU Center for Leadership explores leadership thought and practice through continuous research; assists in the development of keen self-insight; teaches leadership competencies through open enrollment and custom, company-specific leadership courses; and offers seminars and other programs. The Center helps corporate partners and executives meaningfully transform their organizations and their societies by equipping better leaders for a better world.
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About the writer
Mayra Beers, Ph.D.