What do you care about?
I should just end this post there with that question. A real punch to the stomach that would hopefully confuse you and then stress you out as you think about how to answer it.
I work with a lot of people starting businesses but I also work with even more people who dislike where there career is and desperately want to make some kind of change. The wall they run into on their own is an incomplete awareness of what is needed to make that change.
A common framework that helps put structure to this mental roadblock is the definition of a person's unique skills, values, and ambition. In my class, I teach the importance of not only defining them but aligning them so that one's self-concept is rock solid. I visualize it for students like an equilateral triangle and talk about it like Tony Stark's triangular arc reactor chest-piece that he makes in Iron Man 2. When the energy is flowing through it, the whole triangle lights up with epic power. That epic power is available to anyone who puts the time and energy in to aligning their skills, values, and ambition.
Now back to you. Answer me this:
- have you ever gotten so inspired about something you care about but then you do not even start it because you do not know how to do it?
- have you ever gotten so good at something in your job and you have goals for yourself within the company but you never make progress because you do not care about the company's mission?
Let us break it down into common sense:
1. If you care about something and you have related skills but you do not have goals or ambition, you will not be satisfied.
2. If you have a goal and skills that can help you achieve it, but you do not care about anything specific, you will not fulfill that goal.
3. If you care a ton about something and you have all the ambition in the world to go after whatever that thing is but you do not have relevant skills, you will not make progress.
Unfortunately you cannot just have 2 out of 3.
No ambition = progress will be like molasses.
No relevant skills = you will feel incompetent and frustrated.
No core value set = you will become apathetic and aloof.
Now what is there to do about it? Assess yourself. Of the three categories with clients, I often start with values because people often have a more accessible sense of what they care about in life than the other two categories.
Let us start with values. Here are some guiding questions.
- what are some things in life that matter to you, in general?
- what is important to you in your work or at your workplace?
- what kinds of causes or societal issues pull at your heart strings or fire you up?
- what do you care about having in a relationship or your friendships?
Skills are sometimes harder for people to reflect on, so be gentle with yourself when you are answering these questions.
- what are some things that you consider yourself good at?
- what is something you love doing?
- what are your responsibilities at work?
- what do you do in your free time?
- if you know specifics, what abilities are you confident in?
Ambition can be big or small, future or present. Think about any goals at all that come to mind.
- what is your goal for your career right now, overall?
- what is your goal for your work right now, specifically?
- what is a goal you have for your relationships or friendships?
- what is your personal development goal for the future - aka what are things that you want to learn about yourself, where do you want to live, what do you hope to personally achieve, separate from work?
The important thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to be able to answer every single question. I often customize these questions into only one or two that are specific to my client's situation. For you the readers, I wrote longer lists in hopes that at least one of the questions is helpful to spark your reflection. Do not put pressure on yourself to answer every one and to make sure your answers are perfect.
If an answer comes to mind, no matter how disorganized or basic, WRITE IT DOWN. It will be your perfect starting point.
Now, step two is to look back at your responses and feel which category either garnered the least awareness or was more difficult to answer. If only one stands out, great. If two stand out, choose one that feels most relevant to focus on first.
If it is your values, think about it again. Everybody cares about something, even if that something is video games or not going to work.
If it is your skills, are you able to identify what skills would be helpful? If not, ask someone what they think. If so, what is a first step you can take to acquiring those skills - who can you talk to, what can you read/research, what class can you take?
If it is your ambition, ask yourself why you are having trouble identifying a kind of goal - is it because you do not like where you are at in life? If so, what don't you like? Do you wish you could identify a goal? If so, who could you talk to for help around thinking about and defining goals?