Every dream has to begin somewhere, and it’s often in the unlikeliest of places. If you’re on the road to living out your biggest goals and dreams, you’ll soon find that it rarely takes a linear path. Everyone’s journey is different, and even when we have a solid plan, we often find ourselves doing work or trying things we never would have imagined.
Part of this is the simple reality that we have no control over external circumstances. When we’re just starting out, or even in the middle of our journey, we have the ability to influence outside factors, but we only truly control our attitude and our effort. We have the ability to always embrace positivity, to believe in ourselves and to hope that things will work out in our favor.
We have the ability to work hard and to keep going in the face of adversity, failure and mistakes. Never compromise that which you can control. Always use it to your advantage. But know this — despite your best intentions and best plans, you may find yourself on a course that doesn’t seem to make sense at the proverbial 10-foot level.
It takes time, experience and an ability to see things from a much higher-level that helps put things in perspective. It takes feedback, honest, truthful feedback, from people who care about you to help you make better sense of things. And what you do with that feedback will help determine your destiny. It’s the questions you ask yourself that define success and help build your foundation for what comes next.
In my work with CEOs and senior executives, I’ve found one common thread — successful people and high-achievers always take the time to ask themselves the philosophical questions. They don’t just get on the treadmill and run away without ever stopping to ask, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” They’re always self-evaluating. Not driving themselves crazy. But always questioning their approach and wondering what they could do to make incremental, even minor, improvements.
1. What will make me most happy?
Isn’t this always the most important question? Then why do so few people ask it of themselves? Maybe they don’t know to simply look around them. Take this remarkable research from Harvard University professor, Daniel Gilbert:
“People believe that the best way to predict how happy they will be in the future is to know what their future holds, but what they should really want to know is how happy those who’ve been to the future actually turned out to be.”
So much of what enables us to understand what will make us happy comes from empirical observation and the stories of others. We may be drawn to certain things through our intuition and curiosity, but we also want to know what others experienced on their journey and how it made them feel. Here’s further context from the Harvard Gazette:
Previous research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics has shown that people have difficulty predicting what they will like and how much they will like it, which leads them to make a wide variety of poor decisions.
Take the time to ask yourself this question. What makes you happy? What makes the people happy that you admire and respect? Find yourself a good baseline and continue asking yourself this question throughout your life, as your tastes and opinions change, and the world changes around you.
2. What skills am I most drawn and attracted to?
We’ve heard a lot in recent times around many “in-demand” skills like carpentry and other skilled trades. What about skills like writing, communicating, marketing and a plethora of others? I implore you to determine what skills you have AND what skills you’re most drawn to.
Once you have your list, put together your Venn-Diagram of the two lists to see which skills form the melding of what you have and what you love. It’s absolutely vital that you do this as early on in your career as possible, as it will help you get on the right track to launching the career, passion project or start-up that you really want.
Take an awesome tool like Gallup’s StrengthFinder and discover what things you’re good at, and while you’re doing it balance those strengths and skills against what you love to do most. Maybe you’ll have an epiphany. More than likely, you won’t have the information you desire overnight. But with some effort, application and deeper thought, you’ll keep moving toward that intersection of passion, talent and proficiency.
3. Is this something that can sustain me in the future?
“Passion helps us accelerate. We can work with the energy passion gives us and move ourselves into position while infusing our goals with vitality. It’s our commitment that sustains us over time so that we steadily build the skill and competency that will ultimately bring us success.” — Dr. Jennifer Howard | Source: HuffPost
In other words, is this just a fleeting thought or daydream, or is this something that burns like fire inside of you that you can commit to? I start with this question around passion and enthusiasm as it’s imperative that you begin there. Please, please don’t start with money. Don’t start with, “there’s a market for this!” Don’t start with, “I’ve seen other people succeed at this.”
Those are absolutely important observations. They are. But they’re not where you should start. When I talk about sustenance, I begin with launching a dream toward something that truly has deep, powerful meaning in your life. Something that you love, draws you in and gives you the goose bumps just thinking about it. This passion will carry you for a long period of your life, or maybe even for all of your life.
It will invigorate you when you feel tired. It will vitalize you when you feel down, dejected or fearful of success and failure. When you build around your passion and make a mental and emotional commit to following through on what you’ve started, you begin to develop perseverance which is essential to helping you continue with your dream.
4. What are all the possibilities I see branching out from this direction?
It’s not always how we start, but what we learn along the way and how things finish. I close with this question because it’s vitally important to think “long game” but ask these early questions up-front to bolster your creative imagination and thought process. Think about the possibilities that could come from the launch of your new business, job, idea, experiment or venture.
Then, reflect back on those things, and as you add on continue to expand your mind to think of new possibilities. Start with a plan, too. Entrepreneurs looking to launch their dream should be especially encouraged by this from HBR:
“We found that it pays to plan. Entrepreneurs who write formal plans are 16% more likely to achieve viability than the otherwise identical non-planning entrepreneurs.”
Put together your plan. It will become so much easier to identify new opportunities and build powerful, synergistic relationships. Go ahead and get started. Do the work and move forward in growth to reap the results.
Be willing to ask yourself the big questions
This article first appeared on Medium.