direction

What is a goal without a dream?

At this time of year, we are usually bombarded with well-meaning advice on how to improve our lives.  Usually this advice is along the line of sticking to our resolutions, making very tangible goals that can be measured and so on.  This kind of practical activity has its place in creating a better future for ourselves and I wholly endorse it. There’s just one drawback, and it’s a big one: often these goals are build upon foundations of “shoulds”.  Not what we want, but what society or our friends or our family tell us we ought to want.  And when we build our goals on foundations of shoulds, we have a mighty hard time sticking to them.  Our plans look like oceans before us and we have no wind in our sails.  We find ourselves in the same place the next year, declaring the same resolutions all over again.

Today, let me humbly suggest that you forget tangible goals just for a little while.  Instead: dream.  What does your gut say you would love, love, to do or achieve?  Maybe this year.  Maybe next year.  Maybe twenty years down the road.

Finish these sentences:

  • I’ve always wanted to: ______________________________________.
  • I wish I could:_____________________________________________.
  • Someday, what I’d really love to do is: __________________________.
  • The person whose job I really covet is: __________________________.

If your stomach doesn’t clench, you aren’t digging deep enough or thinking big enough.  Keep going until you hit that spot.  What I’m talking about here is in the context of work, but this can really apply to any area of your life.

Many of the big dreams I’ve had for myself professionally have come true in the past year or two.  And, although there are certainly small steps which I’ve taken along the way, without recognizing and honoring my dreams, I would never have taken these steps.  I would have stayed on another path.

Soon enough, you can create a solid plan with timelines and milestones and checkmarks.  But for now, dream.

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A New Year, A New You

We’re already a month into the new year. Where did the time go? I’ll bet you made a few resolutions. Have you broken them yet? Most of us make and break resolutions like clockwork. (I no longer make resolutions, I choose yearly themes, but that’s another blog.) When we break resolutions, we feel guilty, we fret, we beat ourselves up. Why? Because we make these great big resolutions, we decide this is the year that we become someone totally new, totally different, and need it be said — better. And it’s going to happen overnight! (Right?) December 31st – old you; January 1st – new you. We want to just flip a switch. But it doesn’t happen that way. And by February 1st, we have a resolution hangover.

This year, if you want to reinvent yourself, forget the big resolutions. And don’t give up just because you’ve already broken some. Instead: 1) clarify your vision of the new you, 2) determine what direction you must go to get there, and then 3) look at what small steps you can take in that direction. Baby steps. Baby steps are easy to take, easy to accomplish. But they can change your trajectory. In the beginning, you’re not in much of a different place. But over time, wow. Each month or each quarter, just take a look at that vision again, that direction again, and determine a few more baby steps you can take. If it’s a new career you’re angling for, you can start by learning more about the field, possibly online, or through a class, or by finding someone in the field and talking with them about their work. Find out what skills or knowledge you need to move into this type of work and plan your next baby steps around obtaining them. And so on. Just keep at it, all year, each year, and soon, you will look back and realize you’re in a really different place.
You will have reinvented yourself.

People in creative fields do it all the time, but as LLCoolJ said in a recent interview, “Reinvention is not just for celebrities…it is for all humanity.” The pity is that most of us give up too soon. So, plan your baby steps and pace yourself. You can get there from here!

Being Strategic – The “It” Factor

I have often worked with professionals who are on their way, climbing the corporate ladder.   They’ve done everything right – taken the right jobs, worked harder than the people around them, developed good relationships with their leaders, and so on.   And then…they hit a wall. 

“You need to be more strategic,” they’re told. 

“But what does that mean?!” they cry.  And, often, they get very few specific answers. 

Being Strategic seems to be like the It factor for a performer.  People know it when they see it, but it is hard to pin down and put into words. 

If you are struggling with this, consider:

Strategy – deals with  the longer term,  asks “where are we going and why?” and perhaps most importantly “where should we be going?”

Tactics – deal with the details of how to get there

To use another analogy. think of driving a car.  

You can drive a car and reach a specific destination, even if you don’t know what that destination is, as long as someone navigates for you.  You make tactical decisions and take action to brake, turn, and accelerate in the right places.   Your ‘strategic partner’ is your navigator.  They know where are you are going – literally ‘seeing the bigger picture’.  If you do not know where you are are going, are you going to be able to add anything of value to a discussion about what route to take?  No.

But, if you do know the destination, and have a broader knowledge of the world around you, you can say, “It would be better to take the 108 because there’s construction on the beltway.”  Or, “There’s a better place that’s closer.  Let’s go there instead.”

So, in the business world, if a key factor is having a broader view, how do you gain it?  Here are some tips:

#1:   Get to know more about the business world outside your company. 

You have no excuse for not doing this.  There are innumerable free or cheap resources.  You have instant, online access to the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the BBC.  A  forward-thinking periodical I absolutely love is Fast Company, and they have online access as well.   There are a bazillion blogs and websites out there.  Do you have an iPod?  Go to iTunesU.  You can download presentations from pre-eminent business leaders – for free.

#2:   Pay attention to what is going on in your business community.

Again, there are many free or low-cost, easy-to-access resources.  BizJournals operates Business Journals in 40 cities in the US, and have online resources, some free.  I get a daily email blast of headlines and selected stories for my local area.  It takes me probably less than 10 minutes a day to stay on top of what’s happening.   If you have an Economic Development Commission or similar entity, they are usually excellent sources of information on what’s growing and changing in the area.

#3:  Keep up with leading research in your field.   

I’m not talking about the re-hashed stuff you see in most professional association journals. (Sorry, but it’s true, unless you’re in a medical/research/academic field.  I do think they have their use, but it’s not in this arena.)  Subscribe to a peer-reviewed academic journal or just search them online and buy copies of only the articles that interest you.  Or, see the note above about iTunesU.  Researchers from leading schools, including MIT, Stanford and Cambridge openly discuss their research – for free!

#4:  Talk to others in your company outside of your department.

It sounds simplistic, but it’s astonishing how narrow most people’s views are!  You know what I’m talking about – the silo effect.  You’ve probably complained about it before.   But, if you take the initiative to learn how your actions affect other departments, or what they are working on that might affect you, how do you think that will affect your decisions? Your actions?

When you implement the above practices, you are in a much better position to be a ‘navigator’, to get your head out of the day-to-day ‘how do we get there’, to speak up and influence the direction of your team or your company.  Then, you are on your way to being Strategic. 

Coming next…Strategic Self-Presentation