Anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
People who go on to make a real difference have one thing in common. They have prepared themselves for it by becoming more “thoughtful” and “committed.”
The process begins by developing your value awareness, discussed in the last post. While our schools can provide an ideal environment for deepening your understanding of your values, values training can be undertaken at any time or place in your career. So can planning for the transition from where you are today with your work to where you want to be. You plot your course to energizing and fulfilling work by making a plan, and then following it.
I learned about personal business planning from a mentor in the venture capital community early on in my career. I was getting ready to launch a start-up, and kept talking to him about how I wanted my business to help people. He pulled no punches when he said at the time: “make your money first, and once you make enough of it you can do all the helping you want.”
My expression then (and after similar exchanges) must have told him I was unconvinced. As a last resort, he suggested I prepare a personal business plan to get a better grip on my motivations. Maybe that exercise would straighten me out.
Well it did, but not in the way he intended.
The deeper I got into this planning exercise, the more my initial goals were confirmed, and the clearer my future direction became. What did I most want to do and why? What am I “best at,” and what were the most revealing demonstrations of the “highest and best” roles I had played—both at work and outside of it?
The goal of the plan was the job I was seeking. To identify it, I needed to know why it was the right job for me. In other words, that I’d be accomplishing something I felt was important and that I’d feel fulfilled at a very basic level while doing it. While this required familiarity with my principles and improved “value awareness,” it also required identifying real world opportunities where my values could fuel my work.
What was my right job? Could I find it or would I have to create it? This required research. What are people I admire doing? How did I see myself helping people? What is the work that’s already being done to help in this area, and where are the opportunities for me? What do I need in terms of salary and job security? Questions like these: I needed to find answers to all of them.
My skills would be my work tools. For me, advocating, organizing, visualizing, problem solving, all were on my skill list, so I had to come up with examples of each that demonstrated my qualifications for the work I wanted to do. I needed to take my best shot proving the first part of the equation: that I could do it.
Experience (the flipside of the equation that said “I had done it—or something like it—already”) would be described in terms of roles I had played. Times when I had had some success as a coordinator, prime mover, creator, or gatherer of resources to get something done—often after work, since many of us spend more time excelling in our personal lives than we do in our working ones.
Skills and experience: two different ways to illustrate what I had to bring to the party.
A personal business plan aims at lining up what you’re best at and what you’ve done in your life that you’re most proud of in order to demonstrate your suitability for a job that will bring you similar measures of pride and satisfaction.
Instead of trying to shoehorn yourself into a job you don’t want to do, you are actively pursuing work that you have already been getting ready to do during the most centered and accomplished moments of your life.
That may well be your definition of work that matters.
As such, it is work that is worth striving for.
Learning how to become more “thoughtful” about the work you should be doing, and more clearly “committed” to its goals has everything to do with preparing yourself for it.
Personal business planning is a valuable way for you to become more thoughtful about your work.
(I’ll be talking about values and education at the #140edu conference, which is taking place at the 92nd Street Y in New York City later this month. Join me by registering today.)