On a recent road trip, our family noticed a dot on the horizon – a hot-air balloon rising in the cool evening air. As our travel continued, we drew closer to the balloon and could make out its rich, deep colors. It was gorgeous, but we didn’t find it attractive. None of us wanted to be hanging in the basket beneath a bag of hot air, drifting wherever the breeze sent us.
Are you adrift in your life or career? Every day, the world’s breezes push upon us – if we don’t resist, it will move us in aimless progression toward nothing in particular. If we want to get somewhere and achieve our purpose in life, it helps to chart our own course. Here are some coaching questions to help:
- What do you envision as a great outcome? This is your goal – it’s a picture of where you’d like to be someday in your career or life?
- What’s happening now in this area? Become aware of where you are; this is your starting point. Are you being honest with yourself?
- Name your options. What could you do to get from here to there – to the place, status or situation you picture for yourself?
- What’s your plan? This will map out your actual route and describe what you’ll do.
- What are the chances you’ll follow through with this plan? What changes to the plan could you make to increase your motivation?
Answer these questions (in writing) and wander no more. Move ahead in your life and career with the boldness, and enthusiasm that comes from having a clear plan of action!
Feel like taking a nice, long walk on a path through the woods? How about a path 2,180 miles long? The Appalachian Trail (AT) is a footpath that meanders along the Appalachian mountain range from Georgia to Maine. If you walked the whole thing, you’d pass through fourteen states.
I’ve been fascinated with the AT since I accidentally found myself walking on it, years ago, near Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. A grad student, I was burned out and ready to return home to Virginia. Standing on the trail, I realized that if I wanted to, I could face south and just start walking – homeward bound.
Every spring, thousands of hikers begin their attempt to walk the whole trail in one trip. While those guys grunt and struggle through the high hills of Georgia, many thousands of other would-be hikers are thinking about doing a thru-hike – someday. I’m one of those guys. The trail captures my imagination year after year. I’ve even written “thru-hike the AT” in my list of life goals. Unfortunately, statistics say that only one in four of this year’s “thru-hikers” will make it all the way. Pretty tough odds! But what about those of us who are still just “thinking about” a thru-hike? Not one of us is going to finish something we’ve never started.
French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said that “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” If we’re ever going to achieve our aim – whether it’s a college degree, a business of our own, or even just a long, long walk – we need to make a plan. Here’s what seems to work for me and the people I with whom I work.
- Set your goal, then learn all you can about ways to achieve it. Read. Talk to others who’ve already done what you want to do.
- Once you’ve explored your options, make a choice. There are many ways to get from here to your destination. Choose one and chart your course. Put it in writing.
- Get started. Take the first step.
- As you move ahead, make course corrections as needed.
About that goal of mine to hike the AT…. Without a plan, it really is just a wish. Is that all it will ever be? This week I am going to get serious, explore my options, and make a decision. I’ll let you know what I decide.
Have you ever felt “out of place” – like the proverbial square peg in a round hole? This can happen at work, in social situations, even at home. A large part of your personal and professional success depends on whether you (your personality, your gifts and your traits) are a good fit with the situation you’re in. Does your personal behavioral style complement the work you’re trying to do or does it contradict it? Here are some questions to ponder as you think about your best fit.
- What kinds of situations energize you? Which ones drain you? For someone who is task-oriented – the Dominant (D) and Compliant (C) styles on the DISC – time spent in small talk feels like it’s wasted. A mental to-do list is forming in this person’s mind as they wade through the exchange of pleasantries. In contrast, relationship-oriented styles – Steady (S) and Influencing (I) – gain a sense of stability and camaraderie from chatting with coworkers, partners and friends.
- What pace is most comfortable for you? For the S and C styles, it feels better to move slowly into new territory. For them, it’s important to spend time planning and thinking through the steps that need to be taken. In this way, they’re sure things are done correctly and everyone’s had an opportunity for input. For the D and I personality styles, a quicker pace is much preferred. They are motivated for results and action. For the Dominant style, the impetus is to get it done. Influencing styles are energized by a desire to get moving.
Think about the demands of your life and work situation. If you’re experiencing stress, does some of it come from misalignment between your activity and your preferred style? When I worked in a research laboratory, the environment was strictly task-oriented. Much needed to be accomplished, and there was little room for error. My personality craves at least some level of warmth, fun and relationship; thus, I was considered a bit too talkative and not quite serious enough. I wasn’t happy there. For my wife, a highly motivated and task-oriented person, a situation that stresses her out is shopping. She derives very little pleasure from the browsing and chatting aspect of a girls-day-out shopping trip. Give her a list and she’s in and out of the stores, ready to move on to the next thing. These preferences aren’t binding for either me or my wife – I’m very capable of detailed work under the pressure of a deadline, and she enjoys going out for coffee and conversation with friends. They’re preferences, not requirements. If, however, a person is continuously subjected to an atmosphere contrary to their preference, they’re eventually going to experience stress and feel out of place. If that’s where you are, it’s important to recognize it and make a change.