Friday, March 4, 2011

Following the Breadcrumbs

You may be great at making plans and tackling goals, but what do you do when you are not really sure what you want to be/do/have or how to get there? Perhaps you know the specifics (or have a general picture) but have simply never pursued it before so don’t know the necessary actions. Or maybe it’s even vaguer than that: “I know I want something different, but I’m not even sure what that something is!”

Lately, I’ve found myself talking a lot about this with clients that have a sense that they want something, whether their idea is crystal clear or totally vague, and are needing guidance on what steps to take to reach their objective. If it’s something that we know how to do, we can create a plan and set up baby steps for getting to that goal. However, when we don’t know the steps or we don’t know whether this is the “right” or “best” goal, we have to take a more indirect path.

I have been saying that we need to “follow the breadcrumbs.” In other words, we have to take one step, see what insight is gained, then make a choice on what next step to take, and repeat. It takes faith and trust that the path will be revealed to us as we move toward the desire. If the pursuit is rooted in core values and what’s important to us (take the Wheel of Life assessment and look at Results section), the end result of this journey will be worth the effort. We also have to relinquish an attachment to it looking a certain way, so there is freedom and space for it to show up just as it’s meant to – and it will be perfect, just as it is.

Using “change in work” as an example, here are the broad stroke steps to take in this process of “following the breadcrumbs”:
  • Step 1. Identify Desire – State as much as you know right now. If it’s clear that you want a new job but not sure what area to pursue, that’s okay, just say that. If you are not feeling stimulated in your day-to-day and you want to feel excited about what you’re doing, then say that. Be as clear as you can.
  • Step 2. Paint a Picture – Again, this is about getting as specific as possible. Outline as much detail as you can so that you at very least can narrow down your “search parameters.” If you want that new job, is it in a particular sector? Do you want it to be as an independent or working for a small/medium/large company? Are there any particular characteristics that you must have or do not want? If it’s the general “needing stimulation” desire, would you be open to keeping your job as is and finding stimulation in your outside activities? If you were to find what you were looking for, what would it feel like to be doing it and what would your ideal day or week look like? Be as specific as you can.
  • Step 3. List Your Resources – Make a comprehensive list of everyone and everything you know that may be of use to you finding out what you are looking for. Who do you know in the areas you are interested in pursuing? What websites exist? What companies may fit your profile? Who has an experience of work that is passionate about what they do and would they be willing to talk with you? Identify potential informational interviews, articles and books worth reading, and people who might be able to shed some insight. Brainstorm ideas with others and don’t be afraid to ask for help, so you can leverage all your resources (and even others’ resources).
  • Step 4. Pick a First Step and Take It – With an eye on getting clarity around what work might be a good fit for what you are looking for, identify one step to take to help you get clear… and take it. Send a few emails out to friends and colleagues asking for assistance – whether that’s a general request for information, a chance to talk about their experience, or even a contact of someone they believe you should be talking to. People are usually pretty willing to help, and they often feel good doing it (a gift to you both). Start reading a book or digging into a particular subject area on the web. Suck in as much information as you need for now.
  • Step 5. Follow the Breadcrumbs – With each new bit of information, you are hopefully getting a little clearer about what you want and don’t want. Meet that person for coffee and pick their brains, jot down your notes as you read your book/websites, talk with friends about what you are trying to achieve and interview them for suggestions on what they see for you (or suggestions they may have).
  • Step 6A. Repeat Steps 1-5 Until Clear – Now that you have more information, go back to step 1 and cycle back through the 5 steps. What do you desire now? Paint the picture, revise your list of resources, and take another “first step” to follow that next breadcrumb. It may seem labor intensive, and may take a few cycles through the process over days, weeks, or months depending on the complexity of the desire or the depth of “confusion” about what you want or where to go. But, clarity does come if you invest the time, energy, and desire in your pursuit.
  • Step 6B. Stop and Go – If after step 5, you know what you want and how to get it, stop the evaluation process. Now it’s time to create a plan by setting up the targets, milestones, and action steps to attain it… and pushing ahead toward your goal/desire.
Yes, this whole process is vague. But it’s a step forward. What you will find is your intention to gain clarity will actually drive momentum, and attract to you so many surprising “coincidences” and “serendipitous” experiences. It’s shocking. And it can even be fun if you let it be, and are willing to release the need for it to look or turn out a certain way.

One word of caution: Guard against analysis/paralysis and perfectionism – particularly if you have a fear of taking steps before all your ducks are in a row. Pull the trigger – you have more than one bullet. Pull it again and again with the idea that it will eventually hit something and provide you with some good information/insight.

Finally, remind yourself repeatedly that this is supposed to be abstract, that “confusion” is part of the process, and it takes time. Strive for patience, and allow curiosity to drive you. You’ll likely feel less frustrated and may open yourself up to a whole new view of who you are and what you’re capable of.