How Do I Figure Out What I Want

One of the questions I get asked a lot is: "How do I figure out what I want?" Knowing what you want is important to getting ahead in this world. It provides focus, helps you make good decisions and challenges you in a positive way. Unfortunately it isn't always that obvious what you want.

This section provides you with some tips and processes to help you start to figure it out. A word of caution though! What you want may very well change as you advance through your life and become more aware of what is really, really important to you.

Want Money?

Let's quickly talk about money because this is often a starting point for people. This web site has a section on money and personal finances that will give you a strong foundation for growing your personal wealth but let's focus on wanting money.

Many people focus on having money as "the answer" and the fundamental question becomes, how do I get more of it? I believe that this sort of focus actually leads people astray. This approach can lead people to challenge their value systems and sacrifice who they are and what they are capable of in the long term by being seduced by the idea of quick and easy money. If money is indeed your "want", please ask yourself:

If money was not an issue for me, what would my fundamental purpose or contribution to the world look like?

Heavy stuff? Sure. But consider how many lotto winners have had their money dreams answered only to find out after the spending spree that they no longer have a reason for working or even living. Hardly a dream worth aspiring to!

Now let's look at it from another direction. Let's consider money a consequence of doing what you love! This is actually a much more sustainable and prosperous perspective to be in. Why? Quite simply, if you are doing something you love and are passionate about, you will in all likelihood, spend the time and effort to become very good at it. And, if you are really good at something, there is a good chance that you will be recognized for your excellence and ultimately compensated for it.

Now of course, there has to be some "value" in what it is you are pursing but quite often we lock ourselves into a perspective that you need a job and the job will be okay (or worse) but at least you get paid for it! Wow - what a great way to spend 40 hours or more a week! Really, are you going to be successful and get ahead doing something that is "okay". You can do much better than that!

So, let money be the consequence of doing something you love to do, by doing it very well and in a way that creates value.

Step One
Figure Out Who You Are

This may sound a bit funny, but quite often we live our lives on autopilot and don't actually stop to take inventory of who we are, what we like, our interests, our passions, our values systems etc. So before we can "get ahead" it is in our best interests to try to figure out what "getting ahead" means to us.

The foundation of this process is figuring out what is important to you and I am going to use the word "values" to identify this. When we feel anxious, stressed or a little sick to our stomach it is often because one or more of our personal values is being compromised or stepped on. Ouch!

For example, if you consider yourself to be an honest individual and your boss comes to you and asks you to do something like fake an expense report or take something from your company - well this is a stressful situation. On one hand you are in "fear" for your job and on the other hand, you are being asked to compromise your value of honesty.

If you are going to be engaged in a role, job, career or path that doesn't make you sick or anxious on a regular basis, then it must not compromise your value system. Click here for a simple exercise to help you clarify your key personal values and understand how you are doing in living up to them.

Once you find a path that honors your value system, you will have set yourself up for success. If you are not there, then you will work hard at being mediocre and that is in no one's interests, least of all yours.

Consider if you have a strong value of "Independence" and/or "Autonomy". If this is the case, you will never, ever be content and fulfilled working for an organization that values strict micro-management and top down decision making. You will forever be running up against your values in responding to the needs and demands of your organization. Keep in mind you will not grow into your potential as long as you are working for an organization that violates your values.

Step Two
Find Out What You are Good At

Once your values have been identified, you will have a framework for assessing "fit". Great. Now, it is critical to determine your natural skills, talents and abilities. One way of doing this is examine your life retroactively in five year increments starting from around 10 years old and highlight your key memories of those periods and what you remember most fondly about them.

Try to suspend judgement here. This isn't about good or bad but rather:

  • What was it that I was doing?
  • What was exciting for me at the time?
  • How did I handle that situation?
  • What allowed me to be successful?

The framework for examining this is through the lens of:

  • Skills - What did I do well?
  • Talents - What came naturally to me?
  • Abilities - What did others see in me?

I have found it very useful to actually write down what I am noticing in the three categories listed because as you work through this exercise, you will start to see a real pattern of personal competence emerge.

To really amp up this exercise, consider sharing your memories with your success buddy or a trusted friend or colleague. Make sure you tell them what you are looking for so that they don't respond with "that's nice", but rather: "Wow, you really took charge in that situation!". Taking charge is a great skill set to have especially in a critical situation!

By the time you finish this exercise, you should have at least a full page full of things you do well or that make up the essence of what it is you have to offer. Don't worry about the classifications too much - this is for your benefit after all. Just do as much of a "data dump" as you can because this is all great information to have in determining what you want.

Step Three
Discover Your Passion

Okay, so now we have some idea of the work environment you are looking for based on your values and we have some idea of how you do your best work, i.e. using your key skills, talents and abilities. Now we need to discover where the energy comes from. What it is you are really interested in and passionate about.

Oddly enough, in many cases we already know what it is we are interested in or passionate about but we have already discounted it as irrelevant to our career path. Huh? Why is that? Mostly it is because we have assumed (often before even giving it any real thought), that: "I can't make a living out of this", and/or "There is no security in doing this."

Well - that may or may not be true but as the popular saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat! So - let's do the exercise:

Using the same process that you used for discovering your skills, talents and abilities - go back and ask yourself "What caused you to do those things you remember?". If you were really proud of your high school football career, what was behind that? Sure it could have been teamwork, competition, accomplishment, but what was it that caused you to take up football? Was it the physical component? What it the outdoors component? Was it a love for sport?

The idea here is not to limit or eliminate anything but rather to highlight the passion and energy behind your choices and your areas of success.

Understanding your interests and passions can point you in a direction about what it is you want. If you have always had a passion for working on cars for example, is it the mechanical nature of the work, the creative part, the artistic part, the satisfaction of completing a job to great recognition?

Quite often we overlook our passions and interests rather than exploring options and opportunities. An example of this was a friend who was a Project Manager and worked in the Oil and Gas industry but always had a passion for fast cars and performance driving. He kept his work and his passion separate until the opportunity came along to oversee the development and construction of private high performance driving tracks and now he is doing what he is good at (project management) in support something he is passionate about (high performance driving).

Step Four
The Whole Picture

So let's do a quick re-cap in helping you to decide what it is you want from a "career direction" perspective.

Our values system really defines the kind of "environment" we are looking for. When our value system aligns with our environment, we feel accepted, at home, comfortable and confident. There is a sense of belonging and a willingness to stretch and take risks.

Don't kid yourself that everyone has the same values - they don't. Yours are unique to you and so knowing for example, that you will do your best in a small team environment where collaboration, cooperation and compassion are the key defining traits is important. Others would value working in a large, results oriented, highly political work environment where compensation is strongly linked to individual performance. Knowing what work environment you want is key.

Our strengths, talents and abilities are going to point us at where we should focus our efforts. Real success is about perfecting what it is we are really good at. I have heard of this concept as "Playing to Your Strengths". Knowing some of the things that we have identified as key strengths is an important indicator of where to look for what you want. Doing what you do best everyday is a key component of success.

Finally, following your heart is important. Doing something because we are asked to do it, is in no way as powerful as doing something we love or believe in. This is not to say there will never be a bad day at the office - far from it! But when you are passionate about what you are doing, you will be committed to seeing it through the rough spots and on to future success.

Some Final Thoughts on Defining What You Want

If you are struggling with this exercise, don't fret. It is great that you are even trying to figure it out. Many don't. Don't worry, if it doesn't pop out at you right away. Each time you consider your values, strengths, skills and passions you will be shaping your direction and while opening up possibilities for consideration. This is not a test - this is your life! Cut yourself some slack and know that very few of your decisions are "final" and those careers, directions and priorities will change throughout your life. Don't make this bigger than it has to be. Make it useful to provide you with the direction and focus necessary to get what you want.

In Jack Canfield's national bestseller "The Success Principles", he devotes a chapter on helping you define what it is you want and settle for nothing less. His approach is different than the one I have shared here but it is also useful and his book is a great resource.

Do the assessment and then decide for yourself what it is you want to focus on. Career may be one thing or it may be having more fun and recreation or building better relationships. Life is complex - putting your energy on the things that matter the most to you is another great path to living a fulfilling life.

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