Making decisions isn’t easy, especially in a world filled with uncertainty, comparison and voices telling us what we should and shouldn’t do.
Every decision I’ve made in my life has been incremental. A ‘take a step and see where it goes’ kind of thing because I’m not that person who knew exactly what she wanted to be or do from day one. But looking back, I’ve noticed that there is actually a method to the madness. By following the three core principles below, my decisions have always put me exactly where I need to be.
So amidst of all the noise, how do we steer our lives in the right direction with limited knowledge of the future? I start by asking myself the following three questions:
Start here: What am I genuinely interested in?
I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this.
What is interesting is that when I ask people this question, they struggle to answer it. This is usually because: a) we think that the answer should be a neatly defined job title and/or b) we don’t want to sound ridiculous, so we water down our response to something that sounds more ‘realistic’.
Instead, start to think of your interests as activities or outcomes, not job titles. It’s too limiting, and you don’t know every job that’s out there. Do you like solving problems, building things, making people feel ‘at home’ in your presence? These are the kinds of descriptions I use to help guide my thinking.
For example, I’ve always loved telling a convincing story, or argumentthrough writing or art (interest #1). This started with my love English Literature in school and continued into my Law degree where I got to argue with complete free reign. Later in life, I became fascinated with the drama of the financial crisis and how new companies were disrupting the status quo. It made me curious about understanding what made good businesses work (interest #2) so, I picked a job where I could advise clients on how to improve and pitch to them why they should work with us instead of our competitors. Both interests were covered. Brilliant.
Remember, things evolve and change. There came a point where I felt like interest #1 was being squeezed out of my day job. So I looked around for the next job that would restore that balance and after what felt like forever I finally found it. For now. But as I said, things change and that’s okay. Whenever a key need is no longer being met, I make both minor and major changes where necessary.
Continually ask yourself which of my major interests do I want to focus on? What’s the cost of certain interests not being fulfilled (you can’t always tick every box), and am I comfortable with that? You will soon realise that some interests are fleeting, and some are life-long. The latter is usually accompanied by your own skills and what you’re naturally good at.
Never let the fear of sounding silly or doing something different from what ‘people like you’ should do stop you at this stage. The minute you do that is the moment you commit to a life of unnecessary compromise. Sometimes the best way to figure things out is to put it all out there, to brainstorm and say whatever comes to mind.
Once it’s all out on the table you can refine your thinking with the next two questions:
What’s practical for where I am right now? What am I willing to endure or go without?
There are many factors to define what is practical: whether you or your team have the right skills, the right experience, the right resources (time/money/access/skills etc.) and it goes without saying that you need to think about these things.
But the idea that you can only either pursue your interests or do what’s practical is limiting. Call me naive, but it’s not black and white: there’s a balance, a trade-off. At various points in your life, passion and pragmatism may carry different weights, but they should always be included in the equation.
In his excellent memoir Shoe Dog, co-founder and creator of Nike, Phil Knight has this experience. He was an athlete in school and passionate about all things sport. But he also got a degree and an MBA at Stanford. At the time, it may have looked like he let his sports passion die, but really, it was reincarnated. His MBA report analysed how durable Japanese-made footwear was and proposed that bringing Japanese tennis shoes to America would improve athletic performance. This is how the idea for Nike was born in 1962. Then, in the early days of the business, he worked as an accountant at PwC and as a lecturer to support himself financially. It’s time we stopped thinking about passion and pragmatism as two opposing forces and started seeing them as yin and yang.
Honestly assess your personal circumstances and your limits; work around them to find a practical solution and make some life adjustments if necessary.
Is there an opportunity that I can contribute to?
The future belongs to those who make opportunities for themselves. It might feel like opportunities only exist for the lucky ones, but the truth is we have more influence than we know. You prioritise, research and put yourself out there. Opportunity always finds people who are already being proactive in their field. They’re the ones who are able to respond when the time is right.
via Gary Vaynerchuk
Over the years, my sister has developed a passion for travel and finding solutions to social inequality. By joining clubs, creating her own projects and engaging with all that campus life has to offer, she has found opportunities that others haven’t (trust me, I went to the same University and never heard of these things). In her first year, she was asked to advise the teaching faculty on how to make the curriculum more diverse. Over the last two years she has interned (and got paid) at some of the world’s leading corporates, taught in South Africa and will soon travel across the Atlantic yet again. For free.
She actively pursued and applied the first few opportunities. Then, by building a reputation and track record of what she’s about, other opportunities came knocking. But she took the first step and looked for what she was interested in and what would give her the practical tools to enable her.
There are many ways to make decisions, this is simply my take.
What about you? What principles have you tried and tested when trying to build a life you can be proud of? Reply to this email or tweet me.