8 Tips to Paint the Picture of Your Next Chapter
November 4, 2019
When it comes to identifying the parts and pieces that make up the next chapter in your career or life as a whole, it can be frustrating without a process or approach to get you there. Often, it can be helpful to create a picture or mental image in your mind of what it looks like as a good place to start. That said, what happens if you’re not really a visual person or it’s tough for you to tap into your creative side or to think far ahead?
In that case, below are my Eight Tips for Painting Your Picture. Why eight? It’s a lucky number in some cultures, Top Ten lists are everywhere, and quite frankly, I was starting to get a bit tapped out around number five.
- Work Backward. Much like the concept of “beginning with the end in mind,” start by focusing on the elements that are most important for you to ultimately have present in your life. Who are you surrounded by each day? What type of work or tasks are you doing? What is the environment like that you’re working or playing in? What does it feel like to be living this life? Once you have this clarity, you can take steps today to get there.
- Look Around. Make a decision to be intentionally observant for a specific amount of time (a week, a month, etc.) and note what you see or hear that sparks some ideas. This could be images or objects you see, people you interact with, headlines or stories that grab you, music you enjoy listening to, attending an event, etc. What specific thoughts or feelings are triggered by these observations or interactions that you can document? These notes can then give you clues about what’s important.
- Talk it Out. Take some time to do a bit of brainstorming with a friend or family member in a non-structured conversation to let your minds go and see what ideas come up about what your future could look like. Likewise, seek the counsel of a mentor or engage a coach who can be that objective sounding board to ask you good questions as food for thought and to spur additional ideas.
- Develop Your Core. Spend a few minutes to identify and document what you’d consider to be your core values, if you haven’t already. While it’s not always easy or likely that we can fill our days with activities or work that allow us to engage those values all the time, if you can get closer to doing so, even just a bit, it can make a big difference. What are you spending time on that can decrease and what can you increase so your values are tended to more often than not?
- Let it Go. Carve out some quiet time (OK, schedule it in your calendar if you have to!) to just “be” for a while and let your mind wander. I call it “letting your brain leak out your ears” time to relax and let thoughts come in that otherwise may not due to being focused on tasks or events or life’s urgencies in general. Maybe for you this is while you’re taking a shower or doing other rote tasks that don’t require a lot of concentration. Give yourself the gift of space to open your mind.
- Focus on Facets. Some call them the spokes on the “wheel of life;” for others, it’s “life pillars.” I think of them as facets. Basically, they’re the various parts of life that we typically need to tend to or feed to feel whole or grounded: occupational pursuits, spiritual interests, social/family relationships, emotional/mental wellbeing, physical health/wellness, intellectual stimulation. Creating a specific goal for each of these facets can help determine elements of your next chapter.
- Seek Feedback. Ask a few trusted colleagues or friends what they see as your strengths and key skills to test your assumptions of what you think they are. Often, the perceptions of us that people have are different from our self-perceptions, so getting this type of feedback can be valuable when determining what we can leverage in the future that we already do well. Once clear on the value you bring, you can use this as a springboard for where to take it next.
- Get it Down. It’s important to somehow document what you generate in terms of ideas or elements of what your next chapter looks like for easy and frequent reference. This can be anything you’d like it to be, such as notes in a journal, a written list, a mind map or diagram, a collage of images, or anything else you can conjure up to represent your vision. The critical thing is that it captures your thoughts and is in a format you like. Display it somewhere to jog your memory and help you focus.
Regardless of whether you choose to use one, three, or all of these tips, creating a mental image of what your potential next chapter can be is an energizing, exciting, and interesting way for both you and the important people in your life to participate in designing your future. How fun is that?
Ditch the Self-Sabotage: 4 Questions to Overcome Obstacles
October 21, 2019
When it comes to achieving goals or making forward progress through life, we frequently put up our own, or perceive, obstacles that can prevent us from getting where we want to be. It can then be easy for us to be paralyzed with inertia due to a “boulder in the road” blocking our path. Whether it’s obstacles such as procrastination, fear of failure or success, poor time management or organizational skills, limiting beliefs, perfectionism, or any other manner of roadblock, we humans can do a great job of allowing our obstacles to take over, leading to self-sabotage.
In order for your vision of the future you want to create to become reality, it’s important to work through and remove the obstacles that you have direct control over. Often, we fall into the trap of “I can’t do ____” to explain away our lack of movement. While there will always be external factors beyond our control, focusing on what you can do and positively influence is a good step in clearing away the obstacles in front of you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself and think about to help you:
What exactly are my obstacles and how do I know?
It’s hard to start removing obstacles when you don’t have a good sense of what’s getting in your way and how you may be engaging in self-sabotage. To gain greater self-awareness, identify a situation (or multiple situations) when you didn’t accomplish a goal or get what you wanted. What were the factors that contributed to the outcome of the situation? What factors were things you could control or have influence on? If you’re not sure, this is a good sign that you could benefit from some feedback or input from trusted colleagues, friends, or a coach who can share with you what they perceive about how you can get in your own way.
What are my habits that can interfere with my success?
We all have habits and behavior patterns (some good, some not) that we’ve developed over the years that can feel like we’re wrapped in a cozy blanket, perfectly content in our comfort zone. To overcome our obstacles, it can be helpful to identify the routines we live in each day to then signal what we need to change. For example, if procrastinating is one of your obstacles (and also a habit you’ve fallen into), and you begin your time at work by catching up with people around the office, hanging out in the break room getting that cup of coffee or tea, or surfing online content, think about what you can do to get a faster start on the important tasks that need to get done. Making a concerted effort to change this habit (and stick to the new behavior) can enable you to overcome procrastination.
How high is my pain tolerance for not getting where I want to be?
This question is along the lines of, “What’s it worth to you to make a change?” In other words, how much longer or how many times will you tolerate not reaching your goals or making the kind of progress you want? There comes a time when the status quo isn’t acceptable anymore and you need to decide when that is. If you cruise along in status quo indefinitely, you’ll watch a lot of time go by, continuing to postpone what your future could be, making it that more difficult to remove obstacles, including the one of comfort in status quo or fear of change. When is enough, enough? Once you know your tolerance, you can then make a conscious decision to move forward, even if it involves some short-term pain.
How can I gain momentum to remove my obstacles?
For some, having short-term goals works well to provide momentum in overcoming obstacles. For other people, long-term goals with milestones along the way does the trick. Identify what motivates you to move forward and leverage that to focus on ridding yourself of your roadblocks. Do you like to have fun? Think about what activities are fun for you and consider how you can incorporate those into tasks or use them as rewards. Easily distracted? Consider what you can do specifically to eliminate distractions and give you time and space to focus a bit each day on a new habit or goal. Where and when do you do your best thinking? Creating the environment to think creatively about potential solutions to your obstacles can give you the momentum you need. Getting clear on what gives you momentum opens the door to removing your “boulders.”
Clearing obstacles out of the way so we can realize our own visions for our future and what success looks like is hard. And yet, it must often be done for us to have the life we want. By answering these questions, you can begin to take action and seek the support you may need to help you along the way, providing you with some proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. After all, as Molière said, “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”
Future Focus: Five Tips for Gaining Clarity
October 7, 2019
According to an article on the site Tech 21 Century, our brains get loaded with 34 Gb (gigabytes) of information daily, translating to an intake of about 105,000 words in a 12-hour period. And while, technically, our brains can handle that amount (and then some), it still represents a lot that comes at us to process and manage in a day. It can often feel like we don’t have enough time or capacity to focus on our goals or needs, let alone explore what we may want to do next in our careers and lives, regardless of our current situation.
Much has been written about the importance of clarity in goal achievement, whether for work or in your personal life. It’s key to high performance and the ability to move forward rather than stay stuck in a rut or in your comfort zone, without a clear picture of what to focus on for the future. What’s your level of clarity for what you’d like to do next? Here are five common areas of clarity and a tip for how to get a handle on each:
Clarity of Purpose: OK, roll your eyes at me if you’d like. I know there’s a lot out there about “finding your purpose” or “finding your passion.” And yet, it’s still a good idea to have an anchor, so to speak, of something that grounds you to provide direction, even if you don’t feel that you’re “passionate” about anything.
Tip: If that sounds like you, or even if you do have something in mind and just need to refine it, note your core values that drive your decisions. What are “non-negotiables” for you when it comes to having those values met? Once you have clarity of your values, they will inform your purpose. For example, some of my core values are learning/education, relationship building, and autonomy, so for me, independently supporting people through coaching relationships to have fulfilling careers (whether in work or retirement) is my purpose.
Clarity of Goals: Once you are clear on your purpose or what anchors you, it’s time to write down (yes, write down) two or three goals that can help you fulfill your purpose. By writing down your goals, it not only serves as a reference for you to remind you, it also supports your commitment to them (and for even greater accountability, share them with someone too!).
Tip: Keep focused on only two or three goals so it’s manageable and reasonable for you to achieve them (ideally in a year). When I see lists of 10 or more goals, I’m always leery. Less is more so your goals have the most impact and greatest chance of accomplishment. When writing them down, choose action words to start and include a measurement of some sort and a deadline so it’s very clear. For example, “Explore and document three different career path options by December 31” is clear and specific with a measurement of having identified three.
Clarity of Strengths: It’s surprising to me when I encounter someone who’s been in the workforce for a while who doesn’t have a good handle on what their strengths are or what they’re best at. Maybe part of it is only hearing negative feedback at work. If this is you, consider how you can get an idea of your strengths, as it will also help you decide what type of work or activities to focus on for the future.
Tip: You can choose a formal method to identify your strengths, such as taking an assessment (TotalSDI, StrengthsFinder, etc.) or take an informal approach, such as asking colleagues and friends what they would say your strengths are and look for common themes. What jumps out from their feedback that rings true that you can identify as a pattern? Those items can then serve as a springboard to find what allows you to leverage those strengths more regularly.
Clarity of Flow: A pioneer in the study of happiness, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in his books and writings that “flow” is the state of being lost in what you’re doing, losing track of time while doing it. When we’re in this state, we tend to be happier. This is also known as “being in the zone.” Identifying when you’re in a state of flow can also be a good signal of what to focus on for your future in terms of how you spend your time.
Tip: Keep a notebook handy (whether electronic or hard copy) and note the times when you’ve found yourself in a state of flow. What type of tasks or activities were you doing at the time? How did you feel while doing it? How long did it last? Your responses to these questions can then provide you with a track record of the type of activities you most enjoy to explore how you can have opportunities to be in flow more often.
Clarity of Relationship: How important are relationships to you? If very important, consider how what you’re currently doing feeds this part of you/this value and if your answer is “not very well,” then it may be time to think about a change. If you’re looking to change your workplace, career path, or thinking about retiring or semi-retiring, what could you do to ensure you have the opportunity to build or strengthen relationships?
Tip: Note your key/central relationships, whether at work or not, and identify how these could be improved or expanded. If all or most of your friends come from work, how could you build additional relationships so if you leave your current workplace, you’re not left feeling stranded? How else can you build community in a way that’s meaningful for you, especially if you relocate?
By addressing these different areas of clarity, you can begin to gain a deeper understanding of what you may want to do next, whether for work or otherwise in your life, crafting a future that’s clearly in focus.
Allowing Yourself to Dream: 10 Key Questions for Envisioning Your Future
“When you dream, what do you dream about?” This question, from the song “When You Dream” by the Barenaked Ladies (their album “Stunt” is on my “stranded on a desert island” music list) is a provocative one. And let’s face it – some of what we dream about probably shouldn’t be shared with the general public (if we can even remember it). Brains are so weird! So, I’ll ask it this way, “When you dream about the next chapter in your life, what do you see?” In the rush of the day-to-day demands we have, taking time to think about the future or focusing on ourselves can be tough.
And yet, if you’re one of the many who are disengaged at work, unhappy in your career, or keep putting off taking the next step that you know you need to do in order to grow, move on, or enter retirement, it’s time to make the choice to focus on how to make the leap. Otherwise, it’s “keep on keepin’ on” time, and that won’t get you anywhere. Often, it’s a matter of knowing where to start. Making time to consider the next step in your career or life is a good first action to take. It’s like the old adage of slowing down to speed up. By investing a bit of time now to develop a plan, it’ll speed up your progress in the end, and give you an idea of what to aim for to take action.
To help you with this envisioning work, here are 10 questions to ask yourself (along with your significant other, if applicable):
- What exactly is preventing you from taking action and how is this holding you back?
- If you do take action, what’s the worst that could happen and how can you be proactive to head this off?
- If money wasn’t involved, how would you most like to spend your time?
- What can you do now to enable you to spend your time in this way?
- What scares you the most about taking a leap of faith and how could you overcome this fear?
- What’s it worth to you to stay in your status quo?
- What might you regret if you take no action?
- What’s your idea of a “great day” and how can you work toward having more of them?
- How can you transfer your skills and strengths to something different?
- When you look back 10 years from now, what would you like to have in place?
Don’t worry about having answers for all of these right now. Give yourself some time to think about the questions and talk them over with those important to you if you’d like. The crucial point is that you take the time to generate the answers, period. Then you can use them as the basis to set a goal.
So often, we hold ourselves back because we have limiting beliefs about what we’re capable of, what’s possible, how we’ll be perceived, or anything else we can or can’t do for this or that reason. In reality, it’s a way for us to stay in our comfort zone. Ask yourself what, if any, limiting beliefs you may be holding onto in areas such as:
- Making a career or job change ( e.g. “I can’t do that” or “I’ll be seen as a job hopper”)
- The value of your skills and strengths (e.g. “I’m under qualified” or “I don’t know what else I’d do”)
- What retirement looks like (e.g. “I don’t want to sit around all day” or “It’s just one step closer to death”)
- Taking a calculated risk (e.g. “I’d probably fall on my face” or “I don’t think I could handle the unknown”)
- Going for a promotion at work (e.g. “There are people way more qualified than me” or “I don’t think they’d consider me”)
Do any of these phrases sound like you? If so, you could be limiting the possibilities for your future, potentially causing you to stay resigned to your current situation, even if unhappy or not moving forward with your life. Think about how you can gain new or different insights or information to help you change your limiting belief. Who can you meet or talk to who could provide some insight? Where could you go for information? What are the experiences that helped you form this belief and are they serving you well? If not, what needs to change and how can you change it? Once able to adopt a new belief, you can then take different actions to get your desired result.
Keep in mind the words of author C.S. Lewis, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
What’s your vision for your future and what are you doing today to get you there?
When Work Ends: Answering the New Identity Question
In a recent NY Times article by Sabrina Tavernise featuring Rick Marsh, a 25-year GM employee who’s a casualty of the plant closing in Lordstown, Ohio, I was struck by two things: 1. His family’s long-time history of working at the auto giant and 2. His featured quote, “What am I as a man?” when referring to potentially being unable to provide for his family. When one job or role, employer, or industry is all you’ve known in your career, what are you to do when it’s gone, whether in retirement or due to unexpected job loss, such as in the case of Mr. Marsh?
It’s reminiscent of the many families, including a number of my classmates’ families, who were impacted by the closing of Bethlehem Steel’s Burns Harbor plant in the backyard of my hometown, Chesterton, Indiana. What were once solid, middle class jobs with decent incomes vanished, leaving more generations of people who worked at the mill behind. If you didn’t directly know someone who worked there (my Aunt Shirley did), you probably knew someone who knew someone who worked there. Such was the way of the world in Porter County between the 1960s and 1990s.
Speaking of the 1990s, my dad was a 35-year employee for the state of Indiana when he retired at age 64 back in 1995 after working as an auditor and audit supervisor. When new leadership rolled in, they pressured him to retire, though he enjoyed his work and colleagues and wasn’t ready to leave. Fast forward to June of 2009, and he was gone at age 78 due to a combination of congestive heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease. Though he and my mom traveled at times in those 14 years, and he helped out at the travel agency they had until soon after 9/11, I wonder now at the 10-year anniversary of his death what impact, if any, retirement had on his identity and desire to engage with life. It’s hard to witness an already somewhat-sedentary guy deteriorate, both mentally and physically.
His experience and stories like that of Rick Marsh and my fellow Hoosiers, as well as those of some friends and colleagues expressing fear, or at least trepidation, of wasting away in retirement or being “irrelevant,” is what’s sparked me to change the focus of my own work this past month from leadership and team development to supporting those in career transition, including those heading toward retirement, to figure out who they are beyond their work and how they’ll spend their time once their current situation ends. Not that I no longer enjoy working with leaders. It’s just that this work transition of my own feels right, and now I can work with them and anyone else to help them decide what’s next.
What Are You Asking?
When the first question out of someone’s mouth at an event is often, “What do you do?” Or, “Where do you work?” it’s tough to untangle who we are from our career. Perhaps instead, we can ask questions that some networking gurus suggest, such as, “What’s important to you in your life?” Or, “What’s a fun experience you’ve had lately?” Or, “What’s the story of what brought you here?”
In other words, who are you if not for your work? What’s your identity beyond your career? What will you do next? And, perhaps more important, who will you be?
In middle class, midwestern America, from the time many of us hit grade school and started interacting with family and friends as kids, we were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If I remember right, one of my early answers was that I wanted to be the Easter Bunny, because I could spread joy and only work one day a year. Not too shabby! Nice work if you can get it. Of course, over time that answer evolved, though I never knew about the field where I’ve now spent the bulk of my career, professional learning and development, as I grew up, went to college, and started in the workforce. That was discovered over time. It makes me wonder what type of disservice we do when we ask kids that question. Now, my answer would probably be something snarky like, “I want to be alive and healthy.” Isn’t that enough when you’re ten? And then some wonder why college students frequently change majors before graduating (that is, if they have that freedom of choice). There’s a lot of exploration to do, whether early-, mid-, and late-career. As people, we’re not done growing and developing until we can no longer.
So, what questions are you asking as you network and interact with people you encounter? Are you going beyond simply what they do for a living to learn about their whole identity? And for those colleagues who are fellow “people developers,” what can you do to ensure that those you support are set up for success in their current career and beyond? The more we can encourage each other to think long term and broaden both our skill sets and visions of what we can do or be, the better equipped we’ll be when career change comes, voluntarily or not.
Lastly for yourself, if you could write your own card to introduce yourself, what would it say?