Recently, I was asked an interesting question by a young entrepreneur: “How can I determine and focus on what I should be doing when there’s so much advice out there to listen to and read?”
When we’re starting out in our professional lives, most of us take some time to find our bearings. It’s only natural: going from school or university out into the world of work is one of the biggest transitions we’ll experience. It makes sense that we’d look to people who have ‘been there, done that’ in order to get a sense of direction and purpose.
The challenge comes when we find just how many people are giving so much guidance. Of course, to our ears, it all sounds like solid advice. I’m sure young professionals (and we professionals young at heart) can easily list five or ten ‘gurus’ whose books they’ve read, podcasts they’ve listened to, and YouTube talks they’ve watched. Add to that the number of people offline that we know, and countless voices start coming from all directions.
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Whenever I talk to young people about career advice, I usually tell them that my advice is from my own story, and that they have their own to write. What that means is, while it’s useful to take valuable insights from others, nothing from successful leaders and entrepreneurs is Gospel. What worked for me or Tony Fernandes or Sheryl Sandberg won’t necessarily work for the next person. Why? Because we all live different lives and our stories are unique to us.
Let’s say you want to learn how to oil paint on canvas. Just like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Vermeer, there are certain fundamental steps you’ll take to begin the process, such as getting the right materials, finding a comfortable place to work, and sketching out your idea. But when it comes to the artwork itself, the expression will be yours alone, and that’s something that nobody can teach you.
Keeping that in mind, I’d like to share a few ‘fundamental steps’ that can help us to figure out what’s important to us and how we can focus on developing our ideals.
Start by reflecting on how you would like to be
This will help you to get a sense of your values, rather than to fixate on what you want to be. For example, you could list 10 statements that begin with the words, “I would like to act in the service of…” You might follow that up with “my community”, or “being a role model my child can look up to”, or “helping others less fortunate than me”.
Remember, these are just examples – you can come up with anything. The important point is that whatever you list should come from your heart, not from what you think is expected of you. (Keep the list to 10 values max – any more and it becomes difficult to maintain focus and motivation).
For each value, write a change statement
People tend to stop at listing how they want to be – which is nice for visualising our ideal self, but to have our values stick we need to know what impact they could have. Make it specific.
Read also: Why Your Values Are Key To Your Leadership
Let’s say one of your listed values is, “I would like to act in the service of helping others less fortunate than me.” Beside or underneath that value is where you’d add something like, “So that I will be able to help educate others by teaching them how to read”, or “So that I can help provide food to people who don’t have any, and spend some time getting to know their story.”
When you do this for each value, you’ll begin to see how you can bring it all together to develop your purpose and personal vision.
Create an action plan
To act on all ten values might be a challenge. Start off with two or three values that speak to you the most and make a note of what you can do or say, in the next week, or over the next month, to act on those values.
If you want to help educate people, you could search online to find and sign up at a local volunteer programme. If you want to build a business that helps to solve a particular problem, you could do some customer research or pick the brains of an industry leader over coffee (most business people won’t say no to a free coffee!). Whatever you want to achieve, taking steps to act on it – however small at first – will get you closer each time to realising your objective.
Reflect and revise when necessary
As you create your list of values, write your change statements and act on those values two or three at a time, you might find a new value crops up where an original one doesn’t seem quite right. That’s OK – new experiences bring new insights into what matters to us.
It’s important to realise that values aren’t concrete. You might have a few ‘core values’, but the point is to allow some flexibility when it’s called for. As you go along in the process, ask yourself what you’re enjoying, and what’s working well. Explore whether something might not be feeling right; perhaps there’s something you’re doing that’s proving to be an obstacle rather than helping you to move forward.
Change is part of any process – remember: what matters to you has to come from your heart, not from what you think is expected from you.
This may interest you: Embracing Change
What’s most crucial to keep in mind is to have fun, and to let yourself discover what’s joyful to you.
The words ‘value’, ‘purpose’, and ‘meaning’ might sound heavy, but as research into leadership shows, people perform better, produce more, and have more innovative ideas when they enjoy what they do.
They also inspire others to follow suit, and that helps to create a whole lot of positive motivation and engagement that invites people to create their own personal vision in the service of what’s most important in their lives.