“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
We’ve spent some time in the past talking about purpose, and even more than that, being purposeful (here, here, here and a bunch of other places). It seems like a very elementary concept. Do stuff because it’s the stuff you want or mean to do.
But it’s not elementary in practice. A huge percentage of the leaders I come across, maybe even the majority, are not doing the stuff they want or mean to do. They’re either doing what someone else wants them to do, or they’re just doing whatever happens to show up that day. They bounce around from one thing to another, moving at a high speed without actually going anywhere.
Sound familiar? How many days are you busy doing stuff all day long and at the end of the day you didn’t get anything done that you wanted to? Forget “how many days” – for most people the question should be “How many years?” Too many people spend their entire careers doing what is requested or expected or demanded by somebody else, and they never really steer their own career.
You are in charge of you. You have to think about what you want to be as a leader, what you need to be as a leader, and then you have to make that happen. Not only will no one else do it for you, but almost everybody else will try & get you to do something that isn’t really your path. It isn’t that they’re selfish jerks, but they have their own needs and wants and they’d like you to help. While you’re doing all that helping, you lose track of you.
I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t be helpful, or that you should never do anything anybody else wants, or that there won’t be some things on your to-do list that aren’t part of your master plan. What I’m suggesting is that you can’t spend twenty years doing those things and then wonder why your career’s been a disappointment. If you want to get to a specific place, you actually have to be intentional and purposeful about getting there.
Think of it this way: If we ran into each other on the street in ten years, and I asked how things were going with your career, how would you like to answer? What would you like to have accomplished? What would you be spending most of your time on? How would you be bringing value to others?
If you can clearly answer those questions as your future self, then you at least have a vision. Once that’s in place, start piecing together the steps to get there. Then be purposeful about taking those steps and not letting anything get you off track. Get where you’re going on purpose, not by accident.