Knowing what I wanted in life had always been terribly hard for me. Of all the things that I always felt were not clicking in the right cog in my life, the lack of a clear mission faithfully accompanied by a complete absence of goal-setting skills, has always been the thing that irritated me most.
However, one thing I learned later on was that not having a clearly defined route plan, or rather not having a route in the first place, was not so much about lack of clarity or direction but had more to do about conflicting interests, unordered priorities and a lack of a simplified goal structure. Let me explain.
A Problem of Quantity?
I used to think that what was holding me back from having that rock solid definition of what I want in life, that one thing that fuels your determination and passion and keeps you tirelessly working on it without ever stopping day and night until you drop dead, is…well, not having that one thing but having many.
I have always been someone with divergent interests in life. My interests span across different disciplines and areas. This is not a bad thing but actually a very positive one. The problem was that it took me some time to realize that I should cherish and rejoice this fact. Well better late than never right?
Now this thing used to be reflected in the way I used to see myself too. Sometimes I felt like a role-less individual with no specific job description as in “Hi I’m Martin the mechanic” or “Hi I’m Jenny the software engineer for distributed applications & ubiquitous networking.” When someone used to describe himself with that amount of role-specificity it always used to make me feel somehow kind of standing and staring at the merry-go-round with a fast melting ice-cream in my hand if you know what I mean. It used to make me feel like someone who never checked-out of a bookstore but stayed endlessly browsing and flipping through as many books across as many category shelves as possible without ever exiting the store with that one book in hand.
I know people who knew what they wanted to be since they were 8 or 10 and never went astray or broke that devotion once in their lives. I could never quite fully grasp that notion no matter how hard I stretched the synaptic connections in my brain.
Yet later on I came to realize that whether you have one interest in life or many should not affect your clarity and direction in life. This has nothing to do with it.
What really used to hold me back was lack of simplicity and structure.
The first thing I did was make a list of my mission and goals in life.
Mission and Goals
A mission is like having a foundation, a framework of beliefs and guidelines or simply an orientation. It is that main purpose in life upon which everything else threads.
Goals on the other hand should be more specific, practically attainable (despite being challenging), measurable and time-constrained targets that make you achieve your mission in life or at least bring you a step closer to it.
There are also sub-goals or mini-goals. A lot of literature about goal-setting and motivation in fact do recommend slicing down a goal or a problem to solve into manageable chunks. If your mission is for example to establish yourself as a creative writer, one of your high-level goals could be writing articles for a widely distributed magazine or blog. Or perhaps write a book. Then your middle level goal could be writing a series of high quality articles on your own blog until you establish a name, enrich your profile and improve your writing skills. A smaller chunk of that would be to finish off those 3 articles you set to write until the end of this week and an even smaller chunk of that would be to finish off these two paragraphs before you wiggle your bones and walk to the kitchen to do yourself a coffee and then come back to work on it.
It’s a whole chain of goals that are aligned hierarchically and each one of those goals is driven by the bigger goal ahead of it. Many people would tell us that great things come out of a whole series of little simple unassuming baby steps. I agree.
Order, Alignment & Simplification
My difficulty was not in doing or keeping up with the baby steps but in not having those baby steps aligned with a clearly defined mission and goal structure. The structure was unordered, complex and at times conflicting.
More and more I started realizing on the importance of simplifying things and understanding more clearly my mission statement.
These are some of the few things I started doing to understand better my mission, put goals in the perspective of that mission and simplify my action plan.
- Wrote down my Mission Statement declaring in point form what are the highest ends I want to achieve in life. These are broad and encompassing goals or qualities I want to achieve or be.
- I categorized the points into groups according to some label. My labels were: a) Mind: anything relating to learning and the intellect b) Heart: example – happiness, Love, relationships, authenticity c) Soul: expanded awareness and spiritual awakening are my 2 most important in this category d) Productivity: Would do I like to be most productive on and create the most in my life? e) Finance: What level of financial freedom do I seek? f) Health: Physical & mental well being, fitness and longevity are a classical example.
Note: I have used these categories because they seem to encompass everything that is of an interest in my life. These categories are however arbitrary. You can add your own or leave out any of the above which you feel has no importance to your life’s mission.
- The categories above helped me put my concepts into fixed dimensions and thus help me gain more focus on them. For those of you who are more of the visual type, I suggest mind-mapping your ideas. There are some interesting free online tools to do this. Mind-mapping is a very effective way of structuring your ideas and concepts into a very visually stimulating way.
I try to often look into my ‘mission statement’ and reaffirm it mentally. This entrenches a sense of being on the right track which can be motivating and encouraging.
- I then wrote down all of my goals in one unordered list first. These also included all those things that I have wanted to explore or do someday but never had the time or found out that they come after other things which are more demanding, etc.
- As in the mission items, I also categorized my goals according to: Mind, Heart, Soul, Productivity, Finance & Health.
- Cross-checked those goals with their corresponding category in the mission items. It then dawned on me that there were some goals somewhere in my head which were relatively unimportant (relative to my mission) but holding up the queue and weighing down the bag. I realized, for example that some of them were not ‘destination points’ but ‘hub points’ that would be nice to pass through but not necessary to stay there. I discarded these unimportant goals. The result was a more defined and simpler set of goals which already started to be easier to put in perspective.
- After having filtered out the unimportant goals, I tagged the remaining goals by one of these two labels: Important and Urgent. Like other things in life, some things may be important but not urgent while some others may be urgent but not important. Those which are both important and urgent are given utmost priority. Those which are urgent but not important need to be swept away immediately but not a lot of time should be allocated. Those which are important but not urgent are dealt with later but more time is given to planning them.
This exercise has been liberating and has helped me a lot but I still need time to entrench it. Like any new habit, it needs an incubation period to settle. So far the response has been very positive and I am in a much more confident, self-disciplined and goal-oriented mode than I ever was before.
Let me know if you have further ideas, experiences or suggestion. It would be nice to hear them. Thanks