Look — when business, or life, is humming merrily along, we never get the chance (or more accurately take the chance) to stop and reassess. What’s working? What isn’t? How’s that “work of art” coming along, anyway? If I knew I were going to die one year from today, would I continue to live the way I’m living now?
There’s an old Zen parable that goes something like this: The monk approaches the master to ask, “What’s the secret to a happy, fulfilled life?” The master replies: “An appropriate response.”
In any given moment, in any given economic catastrophe, in any given lifetime, you choose your response. Now, I haven’t totally drunk the Kool-Aid of “The Secret” (aka the Law of Attraction) — i.e. “you can get anything you want as long as you want it hard enough.” Tell that to a ballerina who wants a career in the NFL. External factors do have an impact on the realization of our dreams.
But few of us realize how much potential we do have to — as Thoreau said — “elevate our lives by conscious endeavor.” Fewer still live that awareness. Right there is the gold mine in the economic meltdown.
Creating That Work of Art
I had my best year ever in 2008, building on my best year ever before that, in 2007. And now, here in 2009, the bottom has dropped out.
As a personal/executive coach, I keep telling myself, “If my ‘response’ to this challenge doesn’t rise to what I’d advise my clients — if it doesn’t focus on possibility and opportunity — maybe I oughta get out of this biz. Ya know, ‘Physician, heal thyself’?”
So I set to work. And I hope my process can inspire you to help yourself, or someone you love, to move powerfully forward in this crazy time.
I started by noticing that suddenly I have more discretionary time (duh!) than I’ve had in a long time. Emphasis on “discretionary” — as in, I get to choose. In other words, more freedom, more opportunity.
Sure, there’s an underlying context of fear and anxiety. I’m not pretending it’s not there. But I also don’t have to be a slave to it. Again, I get to choose. What’s the point of dwelling on fear and anxiety, if I can choose to dwell elsewhere?
The 4 Questions
So then I asked myself four questions that I know (as a trained professional coach — don’t try this at home) are critical to moving your life forward with integrity and power.
While I was busy with all those great clients, I didn’t have the time to ask myself these four critical questions. But they’re important — they allow me to spend time mapping out the future that’s calling to me, rather than spending time just reacting to the next deadline.
First, What are my core values? In other words, what does my life stand for? There’s any number of exercises you can do to answer that question. One simple one: the nonprofit Center for Ethical Leadership’s Core Values Exercise. It’s free on their website.
Your values are your fuel; they propel you. But toward what? As somebody once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” You need a destination. That’s what vision is for.
Your vision is your North Star. Doesn’t matter if you ever get there. As long as you’re heading diligently in that direction, your life has meaning.
Hence, the second question: “What’s my vision for myself (or my business)?” Make it concrete. Be able to see it, feel it, hear it. The answer wants to be ambitious enough to require some courage and some diligence to get there, but not so ambitious that it feels hopelessly out of reach. This process is pure creativity — you’re the artist; your life is the medium.