3 Ways to Achieve a Richer Professional Life
What it takes to start crafting a meaning and purpose.
“I hate my job.”
“I can’t stand my boss.”
“I feel lost and helpless.”
“I want to make a change but don’t know how to go about it.”
Language matters and our words can keep us in a spiral of low clarity and low energy.
First things first: you can’t be anywhere other than where you are right now. You are 100% whole and complete wherever you are. The lack of clarity and the low energy are by-products, not diseases. Furthermore, there’s no shortage of bad advice to sift through, and it’s annoying when people tell you to “just figure it out” or do what makes you “happy.”
Whether it’s intentional or circumstantial, humans experience some kind of significant transition about every 7 years.
Meaning that whether you like it or not, change is going to find you.
Our capacity to surf the waves of change can improve each time we go through the tunnel of transition.
And yet our hardiness to change can only improve when we choose to work out the muscles associated with challenge, novelty, and randomness.
What follows is a suggested framework culled from personal experience, and reading (and learning) on meaning and purpose on how to uncover personal insights about yourself and catalyze them to action.
There is no one-size fits all approach. But the following themes of grounding, self-reflection, values, and experimentation are useful tools for everyone, regardless of professional stage.
Step 1: Slowing down
“The setup determines the outcome.”
I love this quote by my favorite yoga teacher. It’s true in yoga, and it’s true in life.
Most of us grow up conditioned to sacrifice quality of life for quantity of life. We tend to value “how far” we can get, rather than “how deep” we can go; we value speed over accuracy; we value promotions over impact.
We try to do life so fast, we can’t see we’re tripping over own feet.
Thinking you want a new job? A new career? A new team? Concerned about retirement?
Instead of speeding up out of the gate, (and shooting off an endless barrage of “let’s get coffee” messages with the first folks that come to mind who could help you, dropping resumes nilly-willy on job postings you aren’t sure you want, giving your boss and/or team and/or both the silent treatment) slow it down.
Before you can arrive at intentional change, you need to be able to think and feel more clearly.
Identify how you (can) ground yourself.
A couple of proven methods include:
- Going on a walk or hike surrounded by nature*
- Meditating (if that’s your thing)
- Exercising (different people find different kind of exercise grounding)
- Listening to music that grounds you (and just listening to music, meaning without doing anything else. Also, music can be tricky as it tends to either subdue or amplify our energy. If you’re going to choose this method of grounding, my guess is you already have a good sense of which kind of music will ground you. If you don’t, you may have to experiment.)
- Cooking (without the TV on)
- An undistracted conversation with a good friend (phone away!)
- Your own custom solution.
This list isn’t comprehensive and for many of us a combination of these may work. I find it helpful to build my preferred grounding channels into my routine as much as possible while allowing for flexibility when life gets in the way (and it often does).
Figuring out how you ground yourself is a necessary step towards gaining further insights, but it is also valuable in and of itself.
*Walking in a big-city may be good for exercise but the hustle & bustle are counter-productive to grounding for most of us.
Step 2: What’s your life’s story?
The answers to unlock your next chapter, your next curiosity, your next strategic challenge are already within you. You just have to (do the work to) access them.
This next step is the most time-consuming, the one people most often skip, and perhaps the most valuable.
Write out your life’s story. From your earliest memory to the frustration of your present professional chapter.
To craft an energizing vision of where you want to get to, you have to understand who you’ve been and how you got to today.
We aren’t interested in a memory play-by-play. The real exercise here is to decide how you make meaning of your life’s events, connections.
A few guiding questions:
- What memories do you have of your childhood? Of your teenage years
- How have these experiences shaped you as an adult?
- What decisions have you made (or not made) that have led you to where you are today?
- Where did your first notions of “work” come from?
- Who have been the 3 most influential people in your life?
A quick note on working on your life’s story. We all vary in our need to have a professional help us mine this data.
I have worked with a psycho-therapist, a psychiatrist, and a coach on top of my own self-reflection to work on my story.
If you experienced a difficult childhood, or feel you need a professional partner to feel safe while working on your life’s story, consider doing so.
This step may take weeks, or months depending on how much you’ve thought about this before. Once you’ve given your life’s story some thought, go through the exercise of choosing how you want to write the narrative.
Step 3: Values-centric intentional decision-making
Having completed Step 2, it’s time to mine the story of your life for patterns and values.
- Looking back, what experiences do you recall having been memorable because you felt at your best, because you performed and lived at your best?
- What experiences tapped into an energy that seemed boundless?
- What links are there between your 3 most memorable performance experiences? Think of “performance experiences” as instances in which you remember being your best self.
- As you reflect on your present state of affairs, what’s most important to you today (i.e. values)?
Our values are the compass that can help guide us through periods where we lack clarity.
Decide on your top 3 present day values (the 3 criteria points that are most important to you today).
Step 4: Craft an Experiment
Let’s bring it all together.
Bring your top 3 most memorable performance experiences, and your top 3 values to hypothesize your next step.
Depending on the correlations you note between your top 3 performance experiences and your top 3 values, you’ll want to re-focus that data back into a professional context.
Here are some guiding questions:
- How could you more frequently tap into the energy stream that leads you to “flow”?
- Can I create this stream at my current job? If so, what would that look like? If not, what are the conditions that need to exist for me to do my best work, consistently?
- How can I test my hypothesis without ignoring my responsibilities?
- What would the first step of my experiment be?
- When will I commit to accomplishing this first step?
- What kind of support do I need to stay accountable?
Once you’ve tested your hypothesis, you’ll want to check back in with yourself to ask:
- How did my hypothesis fare?
- Knowing what I know now, how would I alter the experiment towards finding work that matters to me?
- What is my next experiment?
Essentially, a possible formula comes down to:
[(Top 3 Performance Experiences + Top 3 Values)/Creativity]= Hypothesis on: What does my next professional challenge looks like → Test Hypothesis → Evaluate Hypothesis → Output becomes input for next hypothesis
Process is refined and repeated until you start to uncover some of the answers you’re looking for.
1. Slow down before you speed up.
2. Determine how you want to tell your life’s story (and start practicing sharing that narrative).
3. Mine your life’s story for the most memorable performance experiences and decide which values you want to drive your decision-making process today.
4. Craft a hypothesis and an experiment to carve your path towards your next professional challenge.
No article could comprehensively capture all the nuances that go into a process of self-discovery. And yet, the purpose of this piece is to give you an idea of a framework that you could test or adapt to suit your own objectives.
Whichever process you decide to test, it’s all about strategic trial and error and doing and learning and refining, rather than sitting, thinking, wallowing.
If all of this seems time-consuming and hard work, it should.
Experimenting a path that will take you towards (but never arriving at) fulfillment takes tremendous courage and intentionality.
“It takes courage to push yourself to places that you have never been before…to test your limits…to break through barriers. And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” — Anaïs Nin