In the past few days, I've had several people tell me about new jobs and plans that are finally panning out for them. After weeks or months of muddling and messiness, they find themselves back on the road--and it feels good.
What shifted for them was that they became very clear about WHAT they wanted. They put work into clarifying their vision for the careers they wanted to create for themselves, what was important to them and what wasn't. They delineated what they needed and became willing to shed what they didn't.
In gaining clarity about the "What," they began to let go of HOW they would get there. They stopped putting energy into all the steps and worrying about how they could make their vision happen and just worked on the vision itself. Once they did that, the "How" began to move. In a few cases, this movement took them in surprising directions they hadn't anticipated. But they were willing to go with the flow and it took them to the "What" of their vision.
Why does this work? A few reasons, I think.
First, often when we are focusing on the "How," we are going in many different directions without a clear vision. We are a culture that values action over reflection and pursuing the "How" feels like we're doing something. But if we aren't clear about the "What," then our actions will be ineffective at best. We are engaging in activity, not real action.
I also believe that focusing on the "What" makes action clearer to us. All of a sudden the path is illuminated because we are clear about exactly where we want to go, at least for the next few steps. We know what to leave behind and what to take with us. We know the steps we need to take.
Ultimately, though, the reason that focusing on "the What" works is because it is a focus on possibilities, not problem-solving. In his wonderful Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community, Peter Block talks about the "Possibility Conversation":
The possibility conversation frees people to create new futures that make a difference. Problem-solving and negotiation of interests makes tomorrow only a little different from today. Possibility is a break from the past and opens space for a future we had only dreamed of. It may be that declaring a possibility wholeheartedly is the transformation. The leadership task is to postpone problem-solving and stay focused on possibility until it is spoken with resonance and passion. As Werner Erhard has so clearly stated, the possibility works on us, we do not work on the possibility (my emphasis).
Focusing on "the What" is a focus on the possibilities, on the future. The clearer we are about those possibilities, the more passionately and wholeheartedly we can state those possibilities, the more that possibility will work on us.
If we want to create a future that makes a difference for ourselves and the people around us, we need to let go of tinkering and problem-solving around the edges. We need to define and embrace the power of "the What."
If you want to embrace the power of the What for yourself, there are still a few openings in my upcoming Career Clarity Camp, which starts next Monday. For more information and to sign up for the Camp, check out this link.