Let’s look at what it takes to design a career of purpose and freedom that delivers both fulfillment and allows you to create your own definition of success.
One of the most seemingly benign (or to some people annoying) and yet incredibly powerful questions that I ask of anyone struggling to find their direction is:
“If you could do anything and be assured success, what would you do?”
I get many different responses to this question.
Some people launch directly into their current path and goal. They’ve got an answer at the ready.
Some people pause, take a deep breath and launch into their dream vision, which they clearly desire and yet [currently] consider to be impossible.
Some people make an uncomfortable laugh and tell me something seemingly impractical, such as a desire to become Superman or be the first person to land on Mars.
Others give me a mixed story that hints towards their dreams and passions but is oddly undefined.
And some, you might be one, simply tell me they have no idea, they just want a good job with a nice work-life balance.
None of these replies qualify as the “right” answer, because there isn’t a single correct answer to this direction.
However, each response is telling, and as a career coach practitioner, it is sometimes the light in the person’s eyes, their choice of vocabulary, they way they make eye contact or avoid eye contact when they respond that is even more telling.
A Common Denominator
A common denominator in nearly all the replies, even the person who launches directly into their current goals, is that most people don’t really believe that they can do or achieve whatever they put their mind too.
Most adults qualify their goals based on what they’ve been taught is practical, logical, and safely achievable.
Society has led us to believe that a happy life is an easy life and that security is more desirable than risk and that the people who dream big and succeed are simply LUCKY and that luck is not something that can be made or found, it just is.
Happiness is not an Easy Life
And so, too many of us settle for a path of least resistance that meets our basic needs and that will supposedly deliver us happiness in the form of security, titles, and sufficient material wealth.
We are a “yes” culture that does as we’ve been told. We worry a lot about what we should or shouldn’t be doing or have or look like and then we wonder why, in our so called modern society, those of us living in countries ripe with freedom and success continue to see rising rates of depression and a culture that is terrified to fail.
And yet, life is not easy. Even those who succeed experience pain and suffering in their lives. They lose loved ones, they fail, they get sick and sometimes they don’t want to get out of bed when the alarm goes off. Success and failure are both perfectly human.
At the same time, to feel courage you must also experience fear.
To win big, you must take a risk.
Happiness is not easy, hope itself requires that you’ve got a goal in mind that you are “hopeful” to achieve.
Hope itself even requires that you have a clear vision in mind that you know what you want and that you understand what you must do to achieve your goal, combined with the belief that you can make it happen.
So let me ask you this question and I want you to answer with HOPE:
If you could do anything and be assured success, what would you do? What is your desired life direction? Where do you really want to go? Who do you want to be?
What is “direction” and why is this question so telling? Direction gives us both purpose and inspiration, it helps us to prioritize what is good in our life and say no to the things that distract us or lead us down unhelpful paths.
Direction is a vision for who we are and who we hope to become. Many people have trouble with this question, because for so many years their dreams have been squashed, either by people in their lives or by their own fears and anxieties.
When a 40 year old answers the above question with “drinking cocktails on the beach” or “becoming an olympic gymnast” or anything else that is not grounded in reality, I hear in the response that this person is a bit lost and could benefit from finding her direction.
This person likely has a private dream or desire, but she is afraid. She is frozen. She thinks the effort or the money, the sacrifices or the special steps required to achieve this dream make it impossible. She lacks faith in herself and the universe and she fears what might happen is she tries and fails.
Humans are biologically programmed to be fearful, we are naturally inclined to display a negativity bias, to be watching for the lion or the leopard that might gobble us up around the next corner. However, in our daily lives, many of our fears are really “worse case scenarios” and statistically not likely to happen. Most of us don’t have lions in our backyards (except in Colorado, where I am from…ha!)
Our parents, our friends, our insurance agents and in particular our TV broadcasters set our daily programming to worry “what if.” We live in a society that conditions us to want everything and at the same time to give up before we start.
Why then do some people succeed? What makes a boss? I let you in on a little secret, the boss across the street or running that yoga studio or rapidly growing start-up isn’t different from the rest of us in that she is invincible, perfect or that she lacks fear.
She is successful because she has faith in herself, she has hope and she has set her direction. She is aware of her fear, so aware that she identifies it and she sets a plan in place to step into that fear, finding her courage, making a plan, and forging ahead.
You cannot have courage without fear and vulnerability.
When we step into our fears and anxiety, when we push through to the otherside, we do risk failure, but at the same time we invite success.
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.”
You can dream and plan all you like, but if you don’t take action, if you don’t pick a direction, life will pass you by.
But as John Lennon also said, “You’re just a human.”
So give yourself permission to be human. No one expects you to be Wonder Woman. You might make a mistake or drop a ball, but that’s okay. If you drop a ball, it means you are playing the game of life, not just sitting on the sidelines watching life go by.
Plan of Action
Which takes us to PLANNING and ACTION. If you’ve got a direction, if you’ve acknowledged your fears and given yourself permission to be human, then the next step to your success is to make a plan and take action. Even one tiny action per day can make a difference.
Baby steps lead to toddler steps lead to kid steps and so on. If you’ve got a dream, if you’ve got your direction, what steps can you take TODAY to make this a reality?
Whether you plan out your next ten years or your next 10 days — there are definitive small steps to take that will add-up and move you towards your goal.
Sometimes our direction or our overarching goal seems so big and complex that a useful trick is to work backwards. First identify where you’d like to be in 5 years (or 10 or 20!). Then identify where you might need to be with this goal in 3 years and then 2 years, working all the way back to where you stand with this goal today. Now that you’ve visualized your goal in reverse, you can lay out the ground work to move forward effectively.
What can you do today to move you towards this goal? Maybe it’s research, maybe it’s a phone call, maybe it’s signing up for a class or making a budget.
Now, what is one tiny thing you can do every day for the next 10 days, to move you in the right direction?
An important part of achieving our goals and successfully moving in a direction that meets our hopes and desires, is taking the time to reflect and adjust. Indeed, intentional living and cultivating long term life satisfaction doesn’t mean that you set your course and forge blindly ahead, never stopping to learn, listen or make adjustments. .
Note that I used the word reflect, not ruminate. You cannot change your past, but you can create your future. You can reflect on what is going right and what you could do better. You can learn from mistakes, but if you want to move forward to avoid wasting your time ruminating on your mistakes leave them in the past.
Reflection questions you might ask:
What have you done in the past that worked?
What might you do differently in the future?
What fears or anxieties continue to hold you up?
What have I done that has brought me the most joy/satisfaction/feelings of usefulness?
Am I living up to my vision for excellence?
Take the time to reflect. Even to meditate. And to rest.
Your Personal Compass
Remember that the direction — the path — you’ve chosen to follow is your path. And you can change your path. Perhaps you’ve spent the last three weeks or the last three weeks pursuing a particular path, but upon reflection you notice that you’ve changed or learned something new, maybe you need to modify your path and your direction.
That’s okay. That’s even good. Self-awareness, the permission to be human, intentional decision making are components of self-agency. Your path is yours. Set the direction that you want to go and define your own success.
Your success might be making enough money at a day job to travel wherever you wish on vacation. Your success might be to figure out how to raise your kids and work part-time or to be a stay-at-home-mom with no regrets. Your success might be to start your own business and never have kids, or to start that business in spite of your family obligations.
Every person is unique. Every direction is unique. What we all have in common is the desire to set our dreams in motion and make them happen. To step into our fears and to feel that rush of courage. To try or learn something new, to feel the progress and exprecience the progression in our life.
So, if you could do anything and be assured success, what would YOU do?
Please honor me with your hopes, as your advocate and your champion, I want to know. You can either comment below or email me, whatever you choose, tell me your answer!
That sentence is a tad redundant and I wrote it that way on purpose. It’s one thing to have an idea in your head. It is yet another to start thinking about what that “idea” would look like put in action.
And yet another to put it on a Vision Board where you can not only see it but imagine it alongside your life goals.
Once you can visualize an idea, think about what it means to you and how it is is a part of your life, you become closer to turning that dream into a reality. Many successful athletes visualize success before events.
Creating a vivid and detailed image or plan is, in fact, part of successful goal setting, because doing so requires you to think through the steps and understand what is required of you to achieve a particular goal.
What’s more, creating a Vision Board that you post in an area of your living or working space where you can see it daily further reinforces your goals and your ability to achieve them.
Seeing something daily is both an affirmation and a reminder of our goals.
The Form of Your Vision Board
Today you can create virtual or concrete vision boards. I prefer the practice of creating a concrete, tactile vision board, because for several reasons. One is just because it’s fun to cut and paste. Don’t we all wish sometimes we could return to the early days of primary school where glue sticks and not computers dominated our daily life? Similarly, it is all too easy to get caught up in “SERIOUS” goal setting and making plans for the future.
Life should be fun.
Life is good.
Life is beautiful.
Have a little fun!
On a more serious note, ahem, the act of physically cutting, pasting, and designing your board is therapeutic and a robust tool to help make your goals and dreams a reality.
The first time I made a vision board, it was in a seminar run by Career Services at my Alma Matter CU Boulder.
However, it wasn’t until I read the Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown that I really began to realize the gift behind the creative work for any and all adults, in creating a Vision Board.
- Give your vision and goals clarity.
- Highlight your values, needs, strengths, passions, inspiration, and your available resources.
- A functional way to reaffirm your goals that you can come back to and “see” for inspiration.
- To keep yourself on track and motivated.
- Allow yourself to be playful or creative: find your passion and inspiration, have fun!
Vision Board Warm-Up
Answer the following questions quickly. Blink responses. Gut answers. Don’t overthink! Just Go! Grab a pen and paper and answer the following as a warm-up:
- What makes me happy?
- What is a quote that I find inspiring?
- What is an affirmation I’d like to use to guide me?
- Who is someone (real or fictional) who inspires me?
- What are five words my co-workers/classmates would use to describe me?
- What are five words my boss would use to describe me?
- If I could do anything for work, what would it be?
- What are my five biggest strengths?
- What do I do for self-care right now? What can I add to this practice?
- What do I want to achieve professionally in the next year? Go back to work? Change my work? Create my own business? Other?
- How much time do I want to spend at work vs. not at work? What is my personal “work/life ratio” for feelings of happiness and success?
- What do I want to achieve in my personal life in the next year?
- What do I want to achieve for my health in the next year?
- Where do I want to be professionally in 3 to 5 years?
- How do I want to live?
- What does my dream workplace/office look like?
- What does my dream home look like? Or what makes a “home” for me?
- How do I envision my ideal relationships?
- What experiences do I want to have that I’ve yet to access?
- What is my definition of success?
Basic Supply List at Amazon (these are affiliate links) or your local Office Supply Store.
- Poster Board: 22” x 18” or 24” x 36” (60 cm x 90 cm): can be white, corrugated cardboard, plastic board, signboard, whatever you wish, as long as you can glue on it, write on it, and hang it on your wall!
- Glue Sticks: (clear) or fast drying glue paste of your choice.
- Colorful Markers: I like Sharpies for ease of use and because they write on just about anything (my toddler has tested this for me).
- Pictures, quotes, etc. from Magazines, Journals or News Papers.
- Images you print off from online.
- Post-it Notes or note cards for handwritten quotes.
Find a big piece of paper, cork board or poster board. Minimum size (legal paper) but can be as big as you wish.
- Unless you’ve got a big display space, I recommend a half-sheet or 22x18 inch (about 55 x 45 cm) poster board as the ideal size. Beware that if you order on Amazon, you might get a lifetime supply, although this will make it easier to update your board every year! Generally, you can find some poster board in the school supply section at your supermarket or Target.
- If you’ve got lots of display space, feel free to go big and use a standard 24x36 inch poster board (60 x 90 cm).
- Other supplies:
- Find your inspiration:
- Magazine clippings or digital images (again, I like magazines, so you don’t fall down the black hole of the internet, but I also don’t want you to devote a day to find your materials.
- Follow the path of least resistance. If you don’t have adequate magazines, print off pictures online or draft your vision board on Pinterest today and create a physical board later.)
- Look for images (and words) that represent the three goals you addressed last week. Keep your Mind Map and goals close by for reference.
The Vision Board Process:
Once you have your supplies in place, look for images, text, and quotes that align with your vision and goals.
- First, find a picture of yourself from any time in your life that you love. Maybe you are 4 years old at the park on a swing, maybe you are at university reading a book, maybe it was last week out with friends.
- Whatever it is, look for a picture that aligns with your goals.
- Maybe it shows you happy, with a twinkle in your eye, ready to go after the world!
- Or maybe the picture is thoughtful, you watching the sunset or looking over a peaceful body of water, someplace where you felt calm and in control of your destiny.
- Whatever it is, look for a picture that aligns with your goals.
- When deciding what else to use, ask yourself:
- What is it about the image or the text appeals to me?
- What the story behind the image or text in terms of my goals?
- Is the image aligned with my values?
- Look for Images that show where you want to live or work (geography, space, architecture, nature).
- Quotes that inspire you or represent your values or that are indicative of your goals.
- Pictures that represent the steps to your success, what you want to do, learn or achieve.
- Pictures that represent happiness, success, satisfaction, connection, your future.
- Find as many images and texts pieces as you can. You might want to “over find” in the sense that when you start to construct your board, you will decide that certain selections work better to pull your image together than others.
- If you find a quote or image that really “sings” to you then give it a central spot. Glue, paste or tack your images onto your board. Creating this visual representation of your dreams that you can go back to in a blink of an eye will keep you on track and motivated.
Now Go Create!
Now that you have your materials and you’ve done your warm-up exercise, it’s time to sit down and get sticky. Have fun creating your vision. Designing your life. Living a life of intention. If you’ve got any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. And, when you are done feel free to share your vision board via your favorite social media. On Instagram, you can tag me at @Voky_Be On LinkedIn, you can find me at linkedin.com/in/alisonrakoto And on Twitter, I am @alibcandid.
I am a career coach and strategist that helps you find work you love.
How do I do this? Think of me as a professional grandmother. I ask you questions, I help you identify and celebrate your strengths, I provide you with guidance in setting career and life goals that will help you achieve success. Whatever you chose to do, I am your champion and I support you in chasing your dreams.
If you’d like guidance finding work you love or help with your vision board, I’d be thrilled to work with you. Contact me today and let’s set up a time to talk!