Do what you love. Follow your passion. Live your soul’s purpose. These ideas have an almost universal appeal, and they are, of course, true. Yet how we go about doing this is where many of us get stuck.
Some just make the leap—quitting their unfulfilling job, starting a new business, committing to a cause they are passionate about—without any planning. This impulsive decision often stems from reading or listening to something motivational or from a “last straw” event that pushes them to do something—anything—to feel in control of their own destiny again. This initial passion is exciting, but as unplanned-for obstacles emerge, that burst of motivation quickly gives way to frustration and sometimes despair. For some, these experiences seem to provide proof that in the real world, most people simply don’t have the luxury of achieving meaningful success in their everyday lives and work.
And that’s a shame, because the problem isn’t what they are striving to achieve—it’s how they are going about it.
Others suffer from the opposite problem, although it has just as much to do with control—an almost addictive habit of planning to the exclusion of taking any action. Often these plans dictate taking action after something happens—after the economy improves, after retirement, after banks start giving small business loans again, after the kids are out of the house, after . . . life. This type of planning does not tend to include the kind of flexibility required not only to act in the first place but to course correct along the way, because if one thing is static in life, it’s that discontinuous change will always occur.
A third subset of people are those who plan and take action. They accomplish much of what they set out to accomplish, and most people would say they are successful, yet no matter how much they achieve, they still feel as if something’s missing. This usually stems from one of two things: changing priorities and definitions of success, or neglecting to define what sustainable success really means to them in the first place. Working long hours for profit isn’t satisfying no matter how much you make if your definition of sustainable success includes having the time and energy to spend with friends and family. Earning that promotion can feel hollow if what you are doing every day feels purposeless, achievement for the sake of achievement.
On the surface, these all seem like very different problems, but the solution for all of them lies in the preparation stage. First, you need to redefine what sustainable success means to you so that you don’t sacrifice what’s really important for lesser goals or for a definition of success that isn’t entirely your own. Part of this definition should include fulfilling your soul’s purpose—knowing what you stand for—so if you haven’t figured out what that is yet, don’t rush this stage, no matter how anxious you are to start transforming your life, career, or business. Doing this requires awakening (or reawakening) the visionary, the inner feminine, we all have inside and learning to really listen to what she has to say. Once you are in sync with her big picture view, your next step is to work with her biggest inner advocate, your inner masculine, the archetype who takes action and reaches goals.
Next, determine what’s missing today. What will be needed tomorrow. Take these big issues and choose one problem to solve at a time. Break it down into its smaller components so you can get your head and soul around them.
Then create a plan that encompasses alternative futures. Most important to remember is that we are wired to create our future. By creating alternative futures at the outset, you create the best opportunity to realize the future you most desire.
Too often, our plans are rigid, not taking into account how the world might change or how we will change. Do your homework and consider different end scenarios. These alternative outcomes will inform the actions you will need to take. Build flexibility into your best-case plan. Assume you will encounter obstacles and think through what you will do about them. A plan that includes many possible avenues not only makes it more likely that we’ll reach our destination, it can ease much of the fear that keeps us perpetually in the planning stage.
Make the future happen your way! The time is now! It’s never too late.
What does “sustainable success” mean to you? When you envision yourself living every day by what you stand for, bringing your soul’s purpose to everything you do, whether at the company helm or around the kitchen table, what does your most desired alternative future look like, feel like, sound like? With whom, where, and when?