The question, “What should I be when I grow up?” is wrong. Ask instead, “What is next today?” People become fat one bite at a time, and we become adults one hour at a time, so what we do today matters.
One of the things I observe with career clients is how potential futures can pull people away from what they are doing in the present. They spend a lot of time crafting a vision, but much less time paying attention to what's happening in front of them.
While it's important to have a vision for the future--and this is something I notice many people lack--at the same time, we have to pay attention to what we are doing right now, today. What choices are we making about where we spend our time and put our priorities? What unconscious habits have we adopted that may actually be moving us further from our future dreams? How are we putting one foot in front of the other and how is this carrying us toward what we want, rather than further into what we don't want?
Like overeaters, we may find that one bite at a time, we are headed down a road that is unsustainable. Suddenly, we look up, after years of thinking about a future we do nothing to enact, and realize that this future is actually our past. Then we scramble to fix what we subconsciously created.
I'm a big fan of mindfulness--although not always so great at walking the talk. I think Jessica's reminder that we need to pay attention to what we are doing in the present is a good one.
So how do we use our present to create our future?
Ask Yourself Some Questions
Start by asking some hard questions.
- What is going on around me that I need to pay attention to? What trends are happening in my job, my company/organization and in the larger world that will impact my future?
- How am I making choices today that take me closer to what I want in the future? How are my choices taking me further away?
- How am I prioritizing my time and my resources? If I keep doing what I'm doing, where is this going to lead?
- What is the elephant in the room? What is right in front of me that I don't want to acknowledge? How is this influencing my choices?
Try journaling about these questions and using them to change what you're doing in the present.
Build 1-Minute Reflections Into Your Day
It helps to build more reflection into your day. I tell people to pay attention to how energy is flowing for them. Set your watch to do a 1-minute check-in every hour or two. Is your energy up or down? What have you been doing and how does this seem to impact your energy level? Keep a log and start looking for trends. As much as possible, focus on those activities and people that bring you energy, not those that drain it. If your entire day is an energy drain, start taking steps to make bigger changes.
Use Your First Hour to Set the Stage
How are you spending your first hour? This sets the stage for the rest of the day. Create the right intentions at the beginning of your day and you are more likely to take present actions that support your future.
Change Your Habits
The chart above is from Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit in which he argues that much of what we do in any given day is driven more by habit than by any thoughtful or intentional process. To live in the present means to recognize the extent to which our lives are merely a series of habits strung together by cues and rewards. To change the habit, we must become aware of what triggers us, what reward we get and then find ways to insert new, more positive routines between our cue and reward.
Use Your Present to Shape Your Future
Ultimately, doing the right things today that are in alignment with what we want in our careers is the most potent tool we have for shaping the future we want. Being clear about where we want to go can be helpful, but if we don't take actions today that are in alignment with that future, we will never get where we want to go.