Today’s post focuses on the importance of defining a vision of what’s important to you and aligning the choices you make with that purpose. It’s an excerpt from One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (you can get your copy here).
For me, the future is all about learning and teaching. Learning new ideas or disciplines fascinates me. Interconnecting those experiences and disciplines and creating new ideas to share with others through teaching is even more exciting. And the more I teach, the more I learn from my class participants and that learning renews the virtuous circle.
My finest professional moments (and even many personal ones) occur when I am teaching someone something new. When I see light bulbs go on for people, I feel a deep sense of fulfillment. Even better are the times when I see connections I have made and insights I have had become new knowledge I am able to share with others. The entire process of learning, sharing, and growing is the most professionally fulfilling work I have ever done and what I want to continue doing well into the future. When I add those concepts and feelings together I arrive at this maxim:
He never stopped learning, teaching, and coaching.
This is who I want the future me to be – someone who is always learning, teaching and coaching. When people remember me and talk about me when I am gone, I want that conversation to be about all the things they learned from me. I want them to remember how I took every opportunity afforded me to learn, teach, and coach.
As an entrepreneur I do not have a boss telling me what to do. Sure, my clients ask things of me but as far as the day-to-day running of my business, many decisions are up to me. When I first started my current business, I did not have coworkers and was essentially on my own as far as how the business ran. Of course I sought input from trusted advisors but in the end, it always came down to a choice I had to make.
As I tried to grow the business, opportunities for new sources of revenue presented themselves. Some were basic consulting projects that would have paid well but did not require the creation of new knowledge nor was their much teaching involved in them. Other opportunities centered around training some basic skill sets like how to build spreadsheet models or create pretty PowerPoint slides. Yes, there was teaching involved in those but not much in the way of insight or new knowledge generation and conveyance.
The dilemma I faced was one of doing unfulfilling work in exchange for cash or walking away from the cash and focusing on work more consistent with learning, teaching, and coaching. Do you have any idea how hard it is to walk away from cash when you are starting a business? It is almost impossible. It is so hard to do that I didn’t. I took on a consulting project that lacked a focus on learning, teaching, and coaching. The project was blocking and tackling strategic planning and business development. Little of it was about client skill building or knowledge creation. It was completely inconsistent with the kind of work I proclaimed I wanted to do.
But of course there was a twist.
The consulting work only took up seventy percent of my time. I focused the other thirty percent on building my training and coaching services which I considered to be my core business. I looked at the consulting as a means to an end. It was a part-time job (albeit a big part of that part-time) that helped me reach a more important goal.
I never considered the consulting project a core part of my company’s service offerings. It was simply a way to maintain cash flow for my business while I worked hard to grow the true focus of my firm which was the training and coaching. After a year at my part-time job, the consulting engagement came to an end. By that time, the training business had taken off and I was able to transition to focusing on it full-time.
My light bulbs maxim and my learning, teaching, and coaching maxim helped me stay true to what I want to do long-term. Those maxims helped me keep the consulting work in perspective. They reminded me daily that the consulting work was a part-time job and how I also had to expend significant energy building the training side of my business. The maxims prevented the consulting and the associated cash from taking over and crushing my real aspirations to teach and coach.
It is true that the maxims did not keep me entirely from doing work inconsistent with where I wanted to go. They did, however, help me maintain focus on what was important and steer me away from work that was not aligned with my goals as soon as practically possible. Maxims are not always black and white. They are sometimes gray but they help you see the light side and the dark side of decisions you have to make.
Since that consulting project, I have had similar opportunities cross my desk. Many of them have been standard consulting work or they have centered on technical skills training. Neither of those types of work helps me turn on light bulbs over peoples’ heads. Neither is consistent with me always learning, teaching, and coaching. I now routinely say “no” to those projects. Yes, it can be painful because it involves walking away from significant amounts of cash. But saying “no” prevents me from working on things that do not excite me.
The time and energy I save by not doing those projects are dedicated to building the part of my business I love – training and coaching. The more training work I do, the happier I am and the more passionate I become about the business. These two maxims help me keep the virtuous circle humming along undisturbed by distracting projects along the way. The more that circle spins, the higher my chances of achieving my aspiration of future me being a guy who always learns, teaches and coaches.
So how will you align your passions and aspirations with the work you do? What is the guiding principle you will use to steer you away from things that bore you and toward roles you’re excited about? The sooner you define these principles, the happier you’ll be and the faster you’ll achieve those goals.
– If you want to create your own set of guiding principles and goals, grab a copy of my book One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership or download the audiobook version at Audible.com. It will help you define what’s important to you and how to align your work with your personal mission.