When we are trying to figure out what comes next in our careers, we can create clarity by focusing on the “why”. Over the years there have been many books and articles that speak to the power of “why”, so I won't go into detail about how this has become widely adopted as the preferred method of providing clarity. That said, I’ve found that is not the way our minds intuitively work and it takes significant time and effort to get to why. In my experience, what typically happens is that our minds start “chattering” to us about this or that in our next career or job. Status, money, title, location, industry etc. Usually this dialogue is disjointed, circular and repetitive and it's terribly hard to stack rank what matters most when these things are swimming in our brains. We “think” we know what we want, but if we really dug deep, we would find that most of our thinking isn’t focusing on our most important “whys” and as a result we frequently make suboptimal career choices.
So how do I coach my clients on this issue? With a simple tool that is designed to anchor against the “why”. Before you look at that tool, perhaps just a quick exercise to anchor to the why.
Imagine I asked you to physically or mentally exert yourself to your limit. What might you answer? Some of you are avid runners, bikers, rollers, chess players etc. And some of you might not have done this in years. Using running as an example (just substitute your preferred activity and your ability for my hypothetical) I might say “How far can you run today” and you might answer “two miles”. What if I offered you $10,000 to make it 2.5 miles? Could you do it? Most of us would gladly take that extra money for some extra effort. What if I offered you $25,000 to run 5 miles? Could you do it? Would you even try? Now imagine how far you could get if you exhausted yourself completely. Nothing left in the tank at all. How much money would that take?
Now let me change the hypothetical. There has been a bad storm. The roads are out and the only way you can get to the one open pharmacy is under your own power. The trip is 10 miles in each direction. One of your loved ones is out of medicine and this medicine is critical to their survival. How far are you willing to go now? How hard are you willing to work to get there? Do you need a single cent to try this extraordinary feat? If you are like most people you will answer that you will risk your own life to get to that pharmacy and you don’t need a penny of incentive to try. This is the power of “why”.
What if you could harness some of this power when you choose what to do next? How would it improve the quality of your decision making? Ask yourself those questions and the next time you are faced with deciding what job to pursue, use the career tool below as a way to anchor to why and make your best choice. Detailed instructions on how best to use the tool follow.
How to use the career tool:
First, click on the career tool link above. Go to "File" and choose "Make a Copy" and save the document as your own so you can edit it.
Column A: Start here: In this column name the things that you think you really want. List somewhere between 5 and 10 things about your next career opportunity that really matter.
Column B: Next, for each thing you want, write as much as you can about why you want it or what is important about it to you. Don't skimp. This is where you are going to do the hard work. Put your heart into stating in as much detail as possible what it will mean to you to have each "what", how it will impact your life, how it will impact your loved ones, how you will feel in the future looking back on this accomplishment etc. Consider sitting with this first draft and coming back to it 48 hours later. Keep coming back to this section and going a layer deeper until there is nothing left to say about why this really matters.
Column C: Now, figure out how to get there. If the "why" is strong enough, the how will easily follow. Which is why you now need to go back to the "why" and look at what you wrote and ensure that it's as powerful as it can be. Do you need to change the order? Now is the time to do it.
Finally: go to column D. Stack rank the "whats" beginning with the the most impactful/important “why” (number 1) and finishing with the least important. This is you telling yourself what matters most and ensuring that you focus on what matters most to you. Your revised list will have the most meaning to you (not your friends, or society, you) and will thus guide you in choosing what to do without the noise and confusion our minds serve up moment to moment. If you need help sorting, this link will show you how.
For more thoughts and articles, visit me at LinkedIn at Seth Weissman LI Profile
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