I took an anthropology course in college for the sole purpose of satisfying a graduation requirement. It was on the concepts of heritage and cultural history in the middle east. I thought it would be an interesting choice because I like history and the middle east was a region about which I had not learned much. Let us just say that the professor loved talking about her own research and I did not understand most of the points that she tried to teach. I did know that I was a young science nerd sitting in a very humanities class among twenty history and anthropology majors. Lost at sea, was I.
One particular evening, the class sat in a circle and discussed a photograph on the cover of a book we were reading for homework. As I recall, it was of an elderly gentleman standing at a railing in the inner atrium of some hotel or apartment building. It was an old photograph, black and white, probably taken sometime in the fifties. The man was somewhat far away in the photo too. At this point in the semester, I was already having a hard time tracking what the heck the professor was trying to teach in the course, so I somewhat bluntly offered the suggesting that it was objectively difficult (put politely) to have a conversation about what that man was doing or why he was there because there are infinite possibilities and perspectives. Starting with the twenty wildly different perspectives in that classroom.
I said something similar in an ancient Greek history course the following year.
What I tried to study for the final project in the middle east course (which the professor swiftly kabashed before commanding me to write something in which she was more interested) is how perspective plays a role in the objectivity of a scientific discipline and the question of how that discipline's research can ever be formally validated as a result. I was becoming vehement about it. What I did not know at the time was that this idea was the younger brother to the overall question of how history is written at all, who gets to write it, and how objective is it really?
In all my years of playing soccer, one of my strengths was spacial awareness and vision of the field during the run of play. Wherever this developed in childhood, it consistently enabled me to keep the big picture in sight. Soccer games were just individual games. Soccer was not the only thing to my life and my future. I loved studying neuroscience but I did not have to work in that field. This let me be more present years before I consciously tried to meditate and practice intentional presence. It was already a subconscious byproduct of a preexisting skill.
Furthermore, one of my current clients is a young girl who psychs herself out in sports competition because of a random subconscious expectation in her head that she "should beat that particular opponent" or "should be better than that" or "should have gotten that point." The first step for her - if you recall the brand pillars I described in an earlier post - was drawing awareness to the big picture and to keep perspective.
She was able to tell me that the perspective she wants to keep is that "it's just one point. There are so many more opportunities. And if I lose this match, it's not the end of the world." Some would say that sounds cliche, but remember that she came up with those words herself, which means that that is the objective perspective that will work uniquely for her. Next we collaboratively found a way for her to start putting that into practice in other areas of her life so that it is second nature come game day.
Cool, Taylor, thanks for venting about college and telling us about a random client, but what now?
We all have subjective perspectives on the objective things we do, and that is okay as long as they are either aligned or healthy or both.
Think about your job. Wherever you work, whatever you do, it is difficult to avoid getting stuck among the weeds and forget to look up at the beautiful forest. It is natural. We get a to-do list, we talk to coworkers about specific things, we fire up our productivity playlist on Spotify, and we plug away. Head down, plowing ahead.
If you are lucky, you might connect the dots of the task you completed earlier today to the big picture of what that task means in the long run when you are having happy hour drinks with coworkers or talking to your partner tonight, but often the big picture remains lost in Unconscious Land. Retail is a good example. Sales associates in a retail store change visuals and presentations and piles of products, but it is hard to remember the Why behind one product's new display (other than to sell it, of course). As a result, the day consists of moving things around and occasionally selling things and then rinse and repeat the next day on an unending wheel of transaction reports.
Spoiler alert: this Big Picture Why ought to be the same Why that you chose to engage in that work in the beginning. And this is why learning your narrative is so important. Let us work backward:
If you can recognize the big picture perspective of your work, then you can remind yourself all day long that of which your work is in the service and you can feel more purposeful. Awesome.
If you are able to recognize that the reason why you are engaged in the work (so your own personal big picture) is aligned with the big picture of the job and the tasks you perform, then eureka! All is right and keep doing what you are doing.
If they are not aligned, why is that the case?
This is where narrative comes in. This is where you begin to reflect on why you are engaging in the work that you are.
- What personal values of yours is the work satisfying?
- What personal interests do you maintain in the work, or do you maintain none and hate every second of the work day?
It is often easier to think of negatives things, so ask these questions to yourself and see what comes up in your mind that is not working if you are able to come up with answers at all, and then translate those into their opposites that may be more positive.
As an entrepreneur, my most common task is prioritizing into what new ideas or features it would be worth investing my energy to in the moment. The ideas may be things that I am curious about and interested in doing in a broad knowledge and development way, but I have to continually ask the two questions of myself:
- Is this something I would be genuinely interested in taking the time to learn, implement, and maintain right now?
- Is this something that fits the personal values that I maintain behind my company mission?
If it is one or the other, I write it down and save it for another time. If it is both, then I strategize how to integrate it into what I am already doing. Being it that I am still a solopreneur, the list of ideas that I can prioritize and integrate is necessarily small. When the time comes that I hire employees or take on partners, however, the questions will not change. Each individual on the team must ask these questions of themselves and then we must ask them as a team.
Answering these two questions on a regular basis helps me maintain awareness of my own big picture every day. As a result, any setbacks or disappointments are understood much more quickly and put in perspective instead of taking all of the focus and sucking me down into a storm of defeat (hint: read last week's post) as though some little "failure" was the last straw on which my business was balancing.
Try it for yourself. No matter where you are reading this, think about your current job or work. Does it satisfy both questions? Are you able to keep the big picture perspective in mind of why you do that work? Spoiler alert #2: chances are good that most people's work does not satisfy both questions. That is often the way it is. That is okay. Do not panic. If you are able to answer Yes to just one of the questions, where does your work fall short? What is getting in the way of the second question being affirmed?
Suddenly the big picture does not sound so daunting, does it? Just two simple questions. Start there, and you will take the first proactive step toward so much more satisfaction in your work and career.