As a kid, my parents gave me no choice—I was going to go to college after I graduated from high school. I had no clarity of goals for my life, so I followed the blueprint laid out by my parents.
I followed the path chosen for me all through school, and when I graduated, some fool told me to follow my passion. Clothes were fun and interesting to me, so I looked for a job in retail.
I was miserable, bored, and restless. To get out of the rut I had dug for myself, I went back to school to pursue a Masters degree—but in what?
I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Most of my friends had gotten married and started families. Was I supposed to do the same thing?
I’d had enough of the “follow your passion” crap advice so I set out to pinpoint when and where I found joy in my life.
Not vacuous happiness experiences, but deep and meaningful joy.
Two things came to mind: I loved history and books. Did that mean I was to be a writer of historical fiction? Or were history and books to be my favorite hobbies?
Leadership is understanding how to help people plot out clarity of goals. It can be a difficult and messy process and it takes mental toughness to work through the uncertainty.
Do you follow the blueprint of someone else’s life or create one of your own? Parker Palmer wrote in his book, Let Your Life Speak, that he grew up admiring people like Martin Luther King and Ghandi. He set out to change the educational system from within. His goal was to become the president of UC Berkeley, and he was almost able to achieve his goal.
The problem was that he hated his job. Palmer finally realized that he could be inspired by people like King and Ghandi, but he didn’t have to walk their path. He resigned and started another career that was more authentic to him.
There are powerful and wonderful voices in the world that provide ideas of what we can do and where we should go. Ultimately, however, you must choose to create your own unique blueprint and not try and imitate the lives of others.
At the age of 25 I became an FBI agent. I had found a path that resonated with me. The values held closest by this venerable organization are Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity. I loved the grit in integrity because I grew up a scrappy kid on a Wyoming cattle ranch. My new career wasn’t in history or books, but I didn’t leave them behind, either.
It was a trade-off, but the values of the FBI were also important to me. I cut myself a deal: I was living in alignment with my goals even though not everything was in perfect order. There were connections between what I was doing and what I believed to be true.
I retired from the FBI after almost 25 years and wrote 2 books about leadership development. And we’ll see where my love of history takes me in the future.
Here are 5 ways you can gain clarity of goals that are important to you:
1. Create The Right Morning Ritual
Research confirms that our brain is most active and creative immediately following sleep. Unfortunately, 80 percent of people between the ages of 18-44 check their smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up, thereby losing those precious creative moments.
In Morning Papers, Julia Cameron suggests we sit down every morning and write out 3 pages of whatever is on our mind. It might sound like a time-waster at first, but neuroscience backs up Cameron. Your brain is most creative upon waking up; use this time wisely to gain clarity on goals.
How To Make It Work For You: Go to a quiet place and grab a journal. Data dump whatever is on your mind but loosely direct your thoughts on how to gain clarity of goals. Write down whatever comes to mind about those things.
2. Focus Your Energy
Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca states that, “it’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”
Today’s entertainment-on-demand world provides instant distractions. It’s easy to catch ourselves getting off track. As a result, our clarity of goals tend to rolled over by those distractions.
Steve Jobs suggested that we ask this question everyday: ”If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?” It’s a powerful question because it forces us to focus on what we want to accomplish each day. Our approach to our day is purposeful because we identify which tasks are essential.
How To Make It Work For You: Say “no” to opportunities that do not align with your goals for the day. Forget the “busy work” that doesn’t move you toward your goals. Leave social media until the important work is done.
3. Align Immediate And Long-Term Goals
Psychologists Ken Sheldon and Tim Kasser have found that people who are mentally healthy and satisfied with life have a higher degree of vertical coherence among their goals. Long-term and immediate goals all fit together. The connection, even if loose, is important. The pursuit of short-term goals also advances the pursuit of long-term ones.
How To Make It Work For You: Always keep in mind that successful people achieve their goals not because of who they are, but because of what they do.
4. Create A Work Blueprint
Psychologist Martin Seligman found that people who can make a connection between their work and something socially meaningful are more likely to be satisfied. They are better able to adapt to the inevitable compromises that we all have to make in our job because they have clarity of goals.
How To Make It Work For You: Take a look at the questions below. The answers to them shouldn’t be a job description of what you do. What you do for a living is not important because the real question here is: why do you work. This will give you a general idea of your view of work:
- What is work for?
- Is it just about the money?
- How does my work relate to what I feel is important?
- Is my work worthwhile?
- How does work provide you opportunities for growth and fulfillment?
5. Place Yourself Under Surveillance
Surveillance can produce a mother-lode of accurate information. FBI agents surveil terrorist suspects to get answers; you can surveil yourself at work to get answers about yourself. Create your own surveillance log.
How To Make It Work For You: Each evening, go back over the day’s activities:
- Pinpoint where you were most engaged and energized.
- Zoom in where you were least engaged and energized.
Rate each on a scale from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest).
Reflect on “why” for each of the above. Did it have anything to do with environment, people, activities, or technology?
Now that you know where you are energized at your work, and where you are not, what can you do to change your situation? These are indicators of clarity of goals.
Once you pinpoint the areas that breathe life into you, either look for ways to expand those areas in your current job, or start looking for a job where you can.
Remember that life is often a series of trade-offs between the values that are important and the opportunities in front of us. Many things in life are a compromise.
Give yourself permission to cut a deal with yourself as long as there are connections between your short-term and long-term goals.