Last week’s blog post (Do you have inspiring goals?) triggered a wonderful response in emails and comments. I had many questions. A common question was about how to begin to find a purpose and define a vision for your life.

This video shares a tool I found 8 years ago that had a major impact on my life over the 2 months after I first did the exercise:

If you are reading this via email, check out the video on the blog here: How to find your Purpose

Did you do the exercise?  How did that work for you?  Let me know how this goes…

Download a quick template for this Purpose tool…

Continue with this line of ideas by reading Meaningful Contribution or Start with the End in Mind or What do you want? 

Two Approaches to Life

My friends live their lives in one of two contrasting ways:

  1. Guided by a Long term Vision for their Lives
  2. Take Opportunities as they come

In the short term, the opportunists made great early progress.  I have one friend who changed job every 1-2 years in the investment banking industry.  Each job change achieved an increase of 30-50% in salary.  Problem: he is now stuck and has no serious chances of moving up to the really senior ranks.

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Another friend in investment banking has stuck it out in the same bank for 14 years.  He didn’t take each opportunistic head-hunter call looking to get him to switch jobs.  His salary languished behind our opportunistic friend.  Today he is moving into the senior ranks of the bank and has enormous political support to take job choices that improve his work-life balance.

It was a hard choice when I was young.  I worked for Accenture for 9 years.  Every year I watched peers leave to join competitors for 30-50% increases in salary.  I had offers and I thought about leaving.  In the end, I valued flexibility over salary and used my network in Accenture to live in London, Chicago and Sydney.

Case: Henry Kissinger and US Foreign Policy

I finished reading Kissinger’s biography by Niall Ferguson before the summer. The central debate in the book: Was Kissinger:

  1. an idealist hit by impossible problems? or
  2. a realist who responded as best he could to opportunities?

Remember the 1960s?  I don’t…  only through my history courses and books.  I highly recommend a Coursera course with Professor Philip Zelikow: The Modern World, Part 2: Global History since 1910.  It is one of my 3 favourite MOOC courses that I have studied over the last 5 years.  Prof Zelikow is passionate and engaging.

Kissinger’s Major Criticism of US Foreign Policy: 100% Opportunist

Kissinger’s criticisms of the Kennedy and LBJ presidencies was that they were pragmatic opportunists, but there was no overall vision of what they stood for. The Soviet Union (at the time) stood for fairness, and the US argument was that its economic policies would make citizens wealthier.

It was a lost argument.

People were not inspired to fight in order to improve their economic situation. This was not a psychologically motivating appeal.

Kissinger identified freedom as the value that the US most espoused. He felt that the foreign policy decisions should be taken in the framework of whether the individual decisions improved individual freedom – not on a case by case basis.

Opportunism leads to a Dead End

Those who know why they are fighting will win over those who don’t.

The Vietnam war was militarily un-winnable, and Ho Chi Minh was always a step ahead of what the US were interested in negotiating.   He understood that the US would always be short term and opportunistic. He was fighting for a cause, the US had got themselves into Vietnam bit by bit by bit and then found themselves stuck fighting for a cause that didn’t exist.

I’m no history or politics expert, but I would suggest that the US role in the world from the end of the Vietnam war up until 2000 was largely positive.  The recent decade has seen the US fall back into an Opportunistic foreign policy – George Bush’s photo opportunity driven foreign policy was the start of a collapse in Visionary and values driven US foreign policy.  Trump is here because the political consensus had gradually become what is politically easy, not what is right.  The increasing polarization of the US political system makes it hard to establish a long term vision.

Only a life led towards a vision based on your own set of values can lead to work you love in the second half of your career.  A life led entirely on the basis of opportunism will inevitably take you towards a dead end (or Trump).

How do you Establish a Framework for your Life?

Kissinger began by identifying the most important value that he believed represented the US culture: Freedom.

What is your single most important value?  

Is your life showing this?  Is the majority of your time going to your most important value?  Are you spending your money on your most important value?  Are you building friendships and mentors that support your most important value?

You need a coach or a mentor to help you work out your vision, framework and how to take the tough decisions to orient your life around this vision.  I have never seen someone do it alone.

One of my favourite examples of a powerful personal Vision comes from Cameron Herold. He calls it his Vivid Vision. You can read his updated 2016 Vivid Vision Statement here.

“Leadership is about communicating with people, uniting them behind a shared mission and values, and mobilizing energies toward accomplishing the mission or purpose of an Organization.” Peter Drucker

Leadership is a means to an end–the mission it serves is the end.

People who accomplish great things have a combined passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take.

In “Leading Change”, John Kotter outlines 6 aspects of a good vision
statement:

  1. Imaginable. It needs to paint a visual picture of the desired future in the minds of those who read it.
  2. Desirable. It should appeal to the people that are striving to reach it and the customers they are serving.
  3. Feasible. While aspirational in nature, it needs to articulate a realistic and achievable future purpose.
  4. Focused. It should provide concentrated direction to those following it.
  5. Flexible. By being broad in scope, it allows for modifications due to the dynamic nature of the business environment.
  6. Communicable. The vision statement should be easy to articulate to others.

We need to be careful about taking the easy path and not the right path.  We need people that practice it in their own lives, and we need to reward leaders who practice it in the public arena.

If you liked this post, you will also like Freedom is not Fun and Meaningful Contribution.

 

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I made a little change to the classic story about 3 men building a cathedral…

Working on a Cathedral

In the distance I see the construction site of a future cathedral. I approach the site and see three men laying bricks.

I approach the first man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am laying bricks.”

I approach the second man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am the world’s best stonecutter.” *

I approach the third man and ask “what are you doing?” He says “I am building a cathedral.”

* this is the little change…  😉

Who Are these Men?

The first man is clearly a day labourer and is not committed to the business, to his own personal development or to making society a better place.  He is not a leader and not part of a team.

The third man is focussed on making society better and feels that his work is a meaningful contribution.  He is a leader and part of a sense of team.

What about the Good Workman?

It is the second man that we must worry about.

This man is dangerous.

I meet many people who are like this second man. They are working on making themselves the best that they can be. The best manager, the best lawyer, the best gardener, the best architect.

Deciding to be the best that you can be at your job is a good thing.  However, it is not a mission.  It is not linked to an outcome that improves society.

It is possible to be the best stonecutter and allow a terrible cathedral to be built around you.  It is possible to be the best stonecutter and say nothing when you watch the plumber do a poor job with cheap tools.  It is possible to be the best stonecutter and watch the project fail around you and walk away saying “it wasn’t my job to look at finances, it wasn’t my job to make sure plumbing was done well… I did my bit”.  This is why it is dangerous for people on your team to limit their mission to being the best at their job.

How do you express your mission for your work?  Is it focussed on improving quality of life, or is it about being the best X?

 

Idris: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Haha…  what?  me…  I think I’m a little too old for that”

Idris: “You do realise that you are still growing?”

“Hmmm…  you mean…  The Dream?”

Idris: “Yes, The Dream?”

“I don’t think people have enough time to dream.  Real life gets in the way of dreams.”

Idris: “What if I said to you that I can make it happen…  would you be up for that?”

Idris: “When we are kids we play, we think, we dream…  but as an adult we slow down very quickly.  No matter what stage they are in life, people shouldn’t stop dreaming.  They should thrive on.”

What is your Dream?

Read more on purpose, dreams and living fully:

“What if I said to you that I can make it happen…  would you be up for that?” Idris Elba

What do you need to start?  What is the first step?  What can you do now without needing permission from anybody?

An effective statement of mission should be short, sharp and direct. It should fit on a t-shirt. Not a font 8 squeeze, but a legible font.

Every person who is involved should be able to articulate how their contribution adds to that mission. If not, then you don’t have a mission. You have a hopeful statement written by a board and not lived by an organisation.

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A Mission Is Not About What is Possible Today

“Never start with tomorrow to reach eternity. Eternity is not reached by small steps.” John Donne

A mission is not guided by what we can do today, what we do today is guided by the mission. If you start with the believably possible, you won’t create a mission you will draft a plan. Martin Luther did not say “I have a plan”. If he did, he would have had the auditors and accountants with him, but no actual people.

JFK said “a man on the moon by the end of the decade”. That’s not a plan. That’s a mission.

Norman Foster has designed some impossible buildings…. and then the engineers have found new ways to build.

Creating Mission: Start from “what problem do you want to solve”?  Don’t start from “what you know how to do”.  

Most people do not have a compelling vision.

A boring vision attracts mediocre people and mediocre performance.

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“I want to make €1 million” is not a compelling vision. It is about you, and you alone.  Why would anyone else give their best effort so that you can have €1 million in your bank account?

Guy Kawasaki once told me that a compelling vision is based on one of three things:

  • Right a wrong
  • Give back to people something they have lost
  • Improve quality of life

How do you improve the quality of life of a group of people?  How do you fix something that is wrong with the world?  How do you give people something they once had but is now lost?

It takes courage to build a compelling vision.

It takes deep self reflection about what is deeply important to me.  The closer I get to what my deepest values ask of me, the more I will feel fear of ridicule by others.

If anything was possible, what type of world do you want to see?

Describe this world.

If it feels easily achievable, you do not have a compelling vision.  If this seems important but very difficult – you might be on to a compelling vision.

If you work for the money, you will get bored and apathetic sooner or later.  If the money is for a bigger purpose, then your journey can overcome many obstacles.

What do you really want?

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Michael Gerber, in his book The E-Myth asks this question: What are your primary aims?

Imagine walking into a room.  You pause at the entrance.  In the room, seated, are all your friends and family. You enter the room.  You walk up the middle of the room.  At the front of the room there is a box. You approach the box. As you come closer you realise it is you in the box, and this is your funeral.

You hear people talking about your life.

What do you want them to be saying?

You have to decide.

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” Viktor E. Frankl

If you want to live an incredible life and achieve amazing things, you have to decide.  Nobody ever stood on the summit of Everest and said “oh wow, this is a surprise.”  It was a vision years before it became a reality.

Living an incredible life is no accident. I have to start knowing what I want to achieve. I need to be clear on who I need to become in order to achieve what I want. And then I need repeatedly to take action, even when I am plagued by doubt.

“A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes – within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions.” Viktor E. Frankl, from his book Man’s Search for Meaning

Do you know what you want?

This is a request for your experience.  I want your help.

Yesterday, I came across an interview with Ryan Avery, 2012 World Champion of Public Speaking on the blog of Paul Sohn: How to Speak Like a World Champion of Public Speaking.

Ryan Avery. At age 25, Ryan is the youngest World Champion of Public Speaking in history. He currently works as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Special Olympics Oregon.
Ryan Avery. At age 25, Ryan is the youngest World Champion of Public Speaking in history. He currently works as the Director of Marketing and Communications at Special Olympics Oregon.

The question that really struck me and has left me deep in thought for the last 24 hours is this:

“What is the hardest thing that you ever had to work for?”

Ryan said that a friend asked him this question and the fact that he could not answer it made him change.  He became World Champion of Public Speaking because of the question.

What is your answer?  Is it clear?

Personally, I don’t have a clear answer.

I have been reflecting on school, university, MBA; on 8 years of work at Accenture; on 1 year travelling with a backpack around Asia and Latin America; on 12 years building companies as a entrepreneur; on teaching; on 8 years of being a parent…  and I am not sure I have a clear answer.

My reflection is that I want to have a clear answer on my 50th birthday.  I want to know that there was something that I was willing to sacrifice for and that I chose to do the work consistently; in the good and in the tough times.

This weekend, I am on a 3 day course with Dr John DeMartini called “Master Planning for Life”.  I aim to have an answer on Sunday night.

My Questions for You, Reader:

I would love your help.  I learn so much from listening to other’s experiences.  I would welcome comments or emails direct to me conor (at) conorneill.com with your experiences, reflections and perspectives:

  • What is the hardest thing you have had to work for?
  • When did you know that you were committed to achieving it?
  • How did you overcome the loss of passion, the doubts as you worked through the project?
  • What is something you are working on now that is big, hard and meaningful (but your choice!  not your boss, company, family… you personally chose this project)

Thank you.

How to achieve Work/Life Balance?

Have you ever wondered if “work/life balance” exists?  How do some of the world’s most successful professionals find harmony in work and with the rest of “life”?

This post is based on a conversation with Dr. Stew Friedman.  He is the author of Leading the Life You Want.

What is a good life?

His answer: Be real, be whole, be innovative.

What does it mean to be real, be whole and to be innovative?

Be Real, Be Whole, Be Innovative

What does it mean to “Be Real”?

What does it mean to “Be Whole”?

  • You are good at clarifying expectations
  • You help others
  • You build supportive networks (you cannot live a good life on your own: without peers, coaches, mentors)
  • You apply all of your resources effectively
  • You manage boundaries intelligently (sometimes firm, sometimes loose)
  • You weave disparate strands of life together

What does it mean to “Be Innovative”?

  • Your focus is on results
  • You resolve conflicts among domains
  • You continually challenge the status quo
  • You seek new ways of doing things (crowdsourcing solutions, ask for help)
  • You embrace change courageously
  • You support innovation attempts by others

Video: Dr Stew at Google

What do you think?  What areas are clear, unclear for you?  What action will you take?

Last month, I asked my email subscribers a question:  What do you know now that you wish you knew then? (and wish you did).  Imagine you are having a coffee with a younger version of yourself. What would you say?  (If you still feel that you are the younger self… what would you ask the future you?)

I will be publishing a couple of the answers as I have really benefitted from the wonderful answers over the last 6 weeks.

I am interested in these answers because I am in the process of preparing a speech to 1,600 undergraduates who are on the point of transition between the world of university and the world of work and building a career.

Lesley’s Answer: What An Independent Consultant Would Say

Your question stimulated a rather interesting ponder over a glass of wine listening to the waves in Cartagena! This is what I’d tell my younger self, but it definitely wouldn’t apply to everyone…

  1. People (clients, bosses etc) are more influenced by what you say about yourself than you might think so learn the art of self-promotion as quickly as possible and don’t rely on the quality of your work to speak for you.
  2. View feedback as potentially interesting information about yourself and the person giving it (not personal criticism).
  3. Individual differences between people are even greater than you think so learn some tools to help you make sense of those differences as quickly as possible (especially MBTI) so you can handle people as they need/want to be handled.
  4. Perfection is unnecessary and unattainable.
  5. It’s not cheating to play to your strengths and delegate/pass on the other stuff to people who are better at it. There are actually people who enjoy the routine stuff and they’re worth their weight in gold!. Be in ‘the flow’ as much as possible (ref Csikszentmihalyi).
  6. But the devil IS often in the detail, so you’re right not to try to wing it!
  7. Trust your intuition even if it’s hard to put into words how you know and you can’t back it up with hard evidence.

Years ago I went to see John Harvey-Jones speak and someone asked him the same question. I loved his surprising reply: “The shits always get theirs”. I’ve seen quite a few bullies rise up through corporate structures and unscrupulous individuals riding rough shod over people but sooner or later they have generally been derailed. So I’m delighted to say that I agree with him.

Sadly, I’m not sure any of the foregoing will help get any young Catalans/Spaniards into work. What I’d say to them is “Learn good English, think more about delighting customers and before trying to get funding for a big idea, get hands-on experience in a small business that makes and/or sells things to learn about business basics like cash flow, margins and understanding the customer.” Working in my Mum’s greasy spoon as a teenager was a great preparation for running my own consultancy!

About Lesley Cannell, C. Psychol. AFBPsS 

lesleycannellLesley is a business psychologist who established her consultancy business, the Change Team, in the UK in 1993, with the mission of using psychology to enable people to change their behaviour and organisations to change their culture. Her clients are mainly multinational FMCG companies.  Lesley has lived in Barcelona since 2007. Like the birds she flies south to escape the cold… spending the winter months in Cartagena, Colombia.