“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
In the previous two posts relating to this series we examined what motivates us (our values) and how we can align our thoughts and actions to our values. This alignment is very powerful because it strengthens our integrity and therefore our personal power. Personal power allows us to get a firm grasp of the wheel and to zone in on creating the experiences, environments, relationships and outcomes which make us feel fully present and alive, whether in our professional or personal lives.
For those who took the time to reflect throughout this blog series, a wakeup call might have been heard. Others may fall into denial if they cannot acknowledge their limiting-beliefs; the invisible forces pulling us in the opposite direction of our desires. Denial is a common reaction for many. Some people spend years or even decades climbing up the wrong ladder – only to reach the top to discover this fact; at which point denial and anger may lead to a deflated spirit. However acceptance of the truth is inevitable if we give ourselves the time, space and self-compassion necessary; the truth that we’ve inadvertently been sabotaging our lives. After assimilating and integrating the truth we’re in a position of open-awareness; open to the possibilities that lay before us. A wise place to start this journey of re-alignment would be by identifying your current reality in terms of your strengths.
What do you consider to be your strengths?
Strengths are those faculties and competencies which we’re particularly good at; they are sets of skills and behaviours which one is able to enact at will to create desired outcomes. Strengths are not skills by themselves. To illustrate, consider a software development team consisting of a group of analysts. Now, all software analysts will have the skill to code and know how to develop and test software but what makes one analyst stronger than the rest? What makes one analyst consider the perspective of the intended user of the software in order to create a top-notch user experience whilst others simply develop working programs? The answer has not much to do with what can be learnt from in a classroom but mostly to do with our experiences and how we’ve learned from them which enables us to apply our wisdom. To find out what your strengths are I invite you to reflect back over your personal and professional history, recall moments where you were commended by a friend, colleague, client or anyone whose opinion matters. Take some of these people out for a coffee and ask them to give their honest feedback on your strengths, ideally supported by examples. Recall moments where you were asked to lead on something or invited to lend a hand. If you were to write this all down and put it into a narrative, what common themes might you see? Perhaps you’d find consistent positive feedback around your unique way of engaging people? Or how you’re really great at connecting the dots? Perhaps you have a gift for being able to explain complex scenarios in simple terms?
When you bring your strengths into your conscious awareness you can begin to frame a purposeful future. Now, go a step further and combine the knowledge of your strengths with the knowledge of what drives you and you’ll have clarity around the conditions and environments which need to be present in order for you to thrive. Before you take your next steps, may I have you ponder the question: Do you want to thrive in the relatively familiar places, or do you want to be a trailblazer? With the former option, the trajectory towards success may be mapped out as many others would have already treaded that way; to a greater or lesser degree, the path is worn and visible. With the latter option you would need to commit to a journey beyond the map of your current frame of reference where you will need to make your own pathways and nurture resilience and internal-musculature for times when dead-ends greet you more often than not. Apart from strengths you should also know your weaknesses. Your boss may apply the label “areas for development” to these.
Having awareness of ones weaknesses can sometimes be enough of a solution because then we’re able to do the minimum necessary to avoid setbacks. However, to really make progress it is imperative that we engage our strengths rather than try to improve upon our weakest areas – unless the area of weakness happens to be a competency which is key to making progress in the journey ahead.
“I know my strengths and what my values are. Where is this journey going to take me?” I hear you ask.
Perhaps you have taken the opportunity to reflect and contemplate whilst reading through this series. What have you noticed about your life so far?
How have you been living your principles and values?
What are the challenges that have kept you engaged?
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned as you overcame these challenges?
Where is this trajectory taking you?
What are your goals for the next 5, 10, 15… 20 years? And what is the relationship between them and the milestones you’ve encountered thus far?
If you think about what 10/10 looks like in your career, in your love life, with your mental and physical health, in your relationships, with how you spend any spare time – If everything was as you wanted it to be in these areas (and any others) what do you see happening? What, and who, do you need to be in order to achieve 10/10 in all of these important areas?
These questions hint at the type of inner enquiry which can lead you to a compelling vision for your life. This vision acts as the destination co-ordinates and becomes a powerful active agent when it begins to inform your intentions, thoughts and actions. Though the vision is likely to change over time as you clarify your answers, it will nonetheless provide you with a sense of purpose and with stability in motion even in times of massive change. The personal vision is a critical piece in the puzzle and great care must be taken to ensure that this vision is truly meaningful to you at a deep level. You will know this when it evokes in you a powerful urge to make changes, to focus and to commit yourself fully, even in the face of uncertainty.
Remember, in order to have something you need to do something, and in order to do something you need to be more or less of something.
How well do you understand yourself?
Reconciling Duality through Self-Actualisation
Now that you are more aware of the nature of your strengths and weaknesses (your current self) and you have a clear definition of your personal vision, you are ready to create a roadmap.
At the core, this roadmap represents a learning and unlearning journey. Learning can happen in structured or unstructured settings such as through formal education or through experiences respectively. Unlearning happens through challenging beliefs and mental models of the world which are limiting or based on untested assumptions.
What technical and/or social knowledge do you need to help you make progress towards your personal vision? What experiences do you need to have? What conversation do you need to have? What do you need to master?
How will you build on your strengths to make progress towards your desired self?
In his seminal book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ Peter M. Senge noted that the awareness of the gap between ones current self and desired self invites ‘creative tension’. The energy which arises through this tension is the fuel one can leverage to create the pathways towards ones personal vision.