Last week, I wrote about letting go and the challenges inherent in that for me. I got a number of really great responses to that post that indicated that I’m not the only one who has some struggles with letting go at times.
One response, though, stopped me in my tracks. The person who responded seemed to really like what I had written, but what stopped me was they he seemed to think that letting go meant that I had abandoned my long term goals and/or my vision in favor of the near term. Neither of which is true, so as usual it got me thinking.
I’ve always been a little perplexed by how few people spend any significant time thinking about the future and making some determinations about where they’d like to go, particularly in their career. I’ve always had big goals and a vision for the future. Without them, I’m not sure how I could have made some of the career choices I’ve made. The challenge for me in letting go wasn’t about abandoning goals or vision but rather about loosening my grip on the specific path I take on my way there.
Without a vision or a big, hairy, audacious goal, how can you know if you are heading in the right direction? I’ve seen the pain and frustration on the faces of those who finally, in their 40’s, wake up to the reality that their career has been adrift since college. Typically, something happens (layoff, demotion, manager change, company acquisition) that causes their eyes to suddenly open to the reality that they really don’t like what they do and they aren’t sure how they got to this place. It’s a scary place to be because the stakes of life are high at that point and it can take a long time to change the course of your career.
You spend more time working than any other activity in your life except sleeping. Why wouldn’t you spend some time thinking about where you would like your career to land? We often spend far more time planning for vacations than we ever spend on career planning. When we vacation, we know exactly where we are headed and what we’ll do when we get there. Why not do the same with our career?
When you take the long view in your career (or your work and life), there are some important questions to reflect upon.
- What is your dream job? (or What does wild success look like?)
- What makes this your dream? (or Why measure success this way?)
- How would this job change your life? (or What are the rewards of success?)
These are the foundation-laying questions to guide your thinking about your career vision. These are basic questions that many people struggle to answer because they reveal some deeper questions about who we really are and what we really want to do with our life’s work. These questions force us to chose, to commit.
I have coached and managed quite a few talented people in my life who resisted setting long term goals because they felt that it limited their options. The opposite is actually true. When you don’t make a commitment to your version of your future, you give away you ability to control your direction. At that point, your career is at the whim of others because you don’t know which way you should be heading. So, you head what ever way seems the best today. And then you wake up in your 40’s to realize that your career has ended up in a terrible place that doesn’t make you happy.
The other thing about vision and long view goals is that they can change. As I have matured and gained experience, my values have crystallized which has also caused my goals to evolve. My goals haven’t changed enormously, but they have changed. So too should everyone’s goals change as they change. Sometimes what we think we want to do ends up being wrong. It happens to the best of us. When that happens, you re-calibrate and move on.
And, then you “let go” of fact that your goals have to be perfect and continue on the journey.