Early in my career I didn't think about having a career strategy, much less a life strategy. I reacted to events and let them guide my career and my life. Even with that, I knew I was heading towards something. I had a vague notion of the ideal future and each step I took, I considered that ideal state, or at least at some point before or after a step. Creating and updating a strategy would have made things SO much easier.
When I was young it was challenging to think about what I wanted when I turned 30, or 40, and couldn't even imagine being 50, 60, or a grandparent. So how can you get started? Determine why you want to do something, what you can do to move towards whatever something is important to you, and make sure the doors to achieve it stay open. Here’s one approach:
Figure out what is important to you – perhaps it is to be rich, or live in the city you grew up in, or to travel the world, or to experience as many different business environments as possible, or to always work to live rather than letting work define who you are. Do “what if” exercises and think about 3-5 years out. What if I move to another city and state? In 3 years can I imagine what it would be like? If the outlook is not to your liking, you have an idea of relative importance to you. Find something.
- Set a single point as your lighthouse – when boating in sight of land you always keep a lighthouse in site to keep you out of trouble and help you reach the targeted destination. The lighthouse you use for guidance changes as you navigate the journey. With your career (and your life) you can do the same thing. Set a lighthouse and keep it in mind as you navigate life. Know the lighthouse is a temporary point that will change over time.
- Decide if a choice opens or closes doors – As I was raising my children I would suggest that every choice they made would either open or close the door to certain opportunities. For instance, if they decided not to study in high school the opportunity to attend college (or a specific college) may close. If they were convicted of a crime, that would close other doors. As you make decisions, consider the doors you are opening or closing and whether they are one-way doors or not.
If you have trouble with what is important to you and are early in your career, set a financial goal. Rather than a goal of becoming a millionaire, consider something with a more immediate payoff. Perhaps you want to vacation on a beach, or visit Paris, or hike to Machu Picchu, or pay cash for a new or used car.
Set a date and start planning the event. Determine how much you need to save daily to make your goal and start putting the money away. Print a picture that symbolizes the goal and put the picture where you will constantly be reminded, maybe as a background on your phone.
Once you have success mitigating the challenges and achieving your goal, you will know you can do anything. Then you can set a bigger goal and break the goal into smaller milestone steps that are pretty tangible. For instance, if money is a driver for you and you want to be a millionaire, you can use the rule of 72 to figure out how long it will take to double your money. You can then break being a millionaire into milestones that are more achievable.
All of us have greatness in us, we just need to know what it is and how to use it. Whatever you do, figure out what you want someday and make a plan that gets you out of bed every day, ready to take on the world. Soon you’ll know what you are great at.