You’ve committed to making a change. Great! Now what? The next step is to Set Your Vision & Make a Plan. You might be thinking, “Didn’t I need to set my vision before I made my commitment?” Excellent question! The answer is, “No,” and a little, “Yes,” but mostly, “No.” When we first commit to change or growth we may only have an idea of what we want to be different, but if we’re going to set a course, we need clarify the vision for where we’re heading, and then build a plan to get there. We are the architects of our own life, either by design or by default. If you’re already 100% clear about your vision for the future, great! But what if we’re not clear? What if we know something needs to change in our business, our career, our relationships, etc., but we’re not sure what that change should look like, or even how to figure it out? Then what?
Question Your Blueprint We’ve worked to build the life we have today. Let’s call it the “house” in which we live. Is it perfect? Probably not, but it’s home. Parts of the floorplan were intentionally designed and built to exact specifications. Others may have been a bit more improvised. We have now come to a point where we need to make a change in our life: We’ve outgrown the house. Letting go can be scary, and moving is a giant pain. So, our first instinct may be to stay put, and try to make our current blueprint work. If we’re only making small modifications, that might be fine. What if the changes we want, however, require far more radical renovations? Then, sticking with our old blueprint could leave us feeling utterly stuck. At least that’s how I felt when it happened to me.
Early in my career I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, inspired to dig deep beneath the surface of human behavior and explore what really makes us tick. I’d envisioned getting my PhD since my first year of undergrad. I was driven, I was focused, and my path ahead was crystal clear, or so I thought.
Starting graduate school thrilled me. I loved to learn, and I was surrounded by friends and colleagues who were curious and motivated about the very things that motivated me. After the first two years, I started to seriously plan for my post-PhD life, and I began to examine specific career options more carefully. That’s when my enthusiasm began to wane. Something just didn’t feel right. I struggled to create a vision for my career that really excited me. I was passionate about working with people to unleash their potential, but my research focused on diagnosing and treating severe dysfunction. I appreciated the need for good data and information, but running in-depth statistical studies did not excite me. One time, after spending days and days on data entry and analyses, I thought to myself, “I really hate this,” but instead of seeing it as a red flag, I shrugged it off, “Well, I hope I eventually learn to like it!” and just kept going.
Did I quit the program? Did I change my course of study? Nope! I “couldn’t,” or so I told myself. I’d already invested too much of my time, too much of my life into this goal. Becoming a clinical psychologist was not just my future career, it was my identity. It was all I had ever really wanted to be. Unwilling to let go of my vision and my plan, I dismissed each of these fundamental flaws in my blueprint as only a minor glitch in the overall design. In short, I was in complete denial. (Freud would have been so pleased.)
Back to the Drawing Board Rather than confront the colossal task of redesigning my life, I figured if I could just make a few minor modifications, then surely I could still use my same blueprint to build a successful future. My first step was to explore my options. So, I scheduled an appointment with the campus career center. I took a battery of interest inventories and other assessments to determine my best opportunities. The results came back crystal clear. Of all the possible career paths represented, I was best suited to be (drumroll please) …a psychologist. Ta-da! (Sigh) Next, I considered building an addition onto my metaphorical house. I looked into adding either an MBA or a Minor in Statistics to my PhD. (Based on my earlier comment about statistics, you can see how desperate and deeply in denial I really was.) I explored the requirements to build each of these additions, including skills, materials, labor, etc., and the possible benefits for my future. I talked to other students, sought counsel from faculty, and even took extra classes. For a while, I was able to suppress that little “this doesn’t feel right” voice in my head. Over time, however, the voice grew louder and became more insistent. The harder I tried to “make this work,” the more unworkable it really felt.
When Your Foundation Starts to Crack The need for change may first appear as a small, subtle crack in our awareness, a polite whisper in our ear: Maybe, just maybe, you should consider doing something different. We may overlook, misinterpret, or even ignore theses early signs; but over time, the urgency and pressure to make a change tends to escalate. At that point, the need for change may feel more like a strong pull or push in a particular direction, like getting blown off balance by a vigorous wind.
Still, denial is a potent defense mechanism. When we consider everything we’d need to do to make a change, and all that we might lose in the process, we often continue to resist, and stick to our current plan.
Ultimately, however, the pressure builds. Tiny cracks in the surface rupture into deep gaping fissures. Unwilling to be denied, the need for change transforms from a subtle whisper or a noticeable push into something that feels more like a blow to the head with a solid oak two-by-four.
After numerous whispers, a few less-than-subtle pushes, and more than one two-by-four cracked across my skull (figuratively speaking), I finally came to grips with my reality: I could not build something new that would truly work for my life using my existing “clinical psychologist” blueprint. It was not an issue with the graduate program. It was not a problem with the general career path, and it was not a lack of effort on my part trying to make it all work. It was that this particular blueprint was not right for me.
Your Fundamental Building Blocks Finally, clear about what I didn’t want, I let go of the old blueprint, and I left the graduate program. The problem was, I still had no vision for what I did want for my future. I no longer felt stuck. I just felt lost.
It may sound counterintuitive, but to create a new vision for our future, it can be helpful to reflect on what we’ve built in the past. Not to replicate it, but to break it down into its fundamental building blocks: our values, strengths, and interests. These building materials are core to who we are, and we’ve used them for a reason.
Once we identify our core building materials, we can use them to build something new. We may choose to build a different type of house, or this time we might decide to build a bridge. Who knows! We may even build a castle. Yes, additional skills and materials may be required, but when we break things down to our fundamental building blocks, we can better assess our starting point. It wasn’t until I really looked at my values, strengths, and interests that I could even begin to imagine the life I might want to create.
Plan for a New Beginning
Life is growth, and growth requires change. Designing our vision and plan is dynamic. We shift, adjust, and sometimes completely rebuild along the way. There is no one perfect blueprint for us to follow, just the core of who we are, and what that means for the life we want to build.
If you’re contemplating change, maybe even a little new construction in your business, career, relationships, or life in general, here are two questions to consider: What are your fundamental building materials? How will you leverage them to build your future?