In my career, I had the opportunity to work in many assignments and roles. There was a lot of variety but I would characterize the roles as operations, horizontal manager and project leader. In my volunteering work I have been a teacher, coach and more. I started with the idea to be dedicated to a single organization. I now feel “self-employed” as various volunteer assignments are chosen across organizations. All of these I would call “work styles”, i.e. characteristics of roles.
I just finished reading a great career planning book, i.e. Body of Work, Finding the Thread that Ties Your Story Together by Pamela Slim. The author offers even better examples but calls these “work modes”: employee, contractor, freelancer, small business owner, non-profit professional, startup founder, social entrepreneur, internet personality and more.
If you are conscious of the style/mode opportunities, it can enhance your career experience and better align with your strengths. Just as different companies and jobs give you powerful career experiences, so do work styles. I learned consensus building and process management as a horizontal manager. I’ve learned humility and active listening as a volunteer mentor. Each style offers unique learning opportunities and deserve exploration and development.
An interesting personal observation is that I usually felt like an owner (another style), even inside a large corporation. I think this reflected my attitude toward work as much as the progressive management style of the company.
What style(s) are you working in now? What are you learning?
Who are you…really? What is your true identity? How did you get this way? Did you make the choice or was it “given” to you?
We are “defined” by experiences, jobs, faith, family, friends, education and more. This is done subtly but profoundly.
- Experiences. A job done with excellence gives you confidence to do more. High school sports might lead you to caring about life-long fitness. Some experiences lead to success and others to failure.
- Family. Parents influence most directly. They take you to a certain church and so we inherit a set of faith beliefs. They love the family (or sometimes leave it).
- Jobs. Someone called to the military knows discipline and respect for authority. A corporate career might define one as a “professional”. An entrepreneur is as much a mindset as a role.
- Education. Someone hears that they are good at math and nurtures this to become an engineer. Others gain a thrill from learning. Others drop out.
- More. Clothes, roles, friends, food, country of birth, neighborhood, color of your skin, illness.
When you choose words that describe who you are, what do you say…caregiver, fighter, free spirit, problem solver, person of action? Can you think back in your life to see the origin of your identity? With this definition come values and individual choices. The patterns emerge and become reinforced with feedback. Before long, we have become “defined”…hopefully with a set of strengths that work for you.
Do you like the person you’ve become? Are we our true self or just an image we want to portray?
Do you have volunteer goals? I suspect the thought of this might not even sound good to some of you. You can have great volunteer experiences without goals but I think they add value because it helps with the “why”.
Here are some examples of goals, don’t be constrained by my framework:
- Physical. Get out of the house 2 days a week just to stay active. Be a basketball coach for teens to get in shape personally. Cut someone’s lawn to lose 10 pounds.
- Intellectual. Learn something new every week or every day. Just show up and do something “brainless”. Use your skill strengths. Develop a new skill to add to your resume.
- Spiritual. Do something to support your church. Find a deeper relationship with God by serving someone who is “hurting”. Experience the connectedness of community.
- Emotional. Answer a crisis hot line to “help save a life”. Mentor someone. Just show up. Make a new friend. Make a difference.
- Other. Just get started. Volunteer at organization “x” or at 2 or 3 different organizations. Volunteer in another city or country. Serve “x” hours per week.
Our goals will be as varied as we are individually unique. There isn’t a best answer, only what’s right for your purpose and your phase of journey through life. Goals become simple milestones to our personal vision and purpose. Make them SMART goals.
Try setting a few goals and feel and appreciate the personal growth as you progress through various assignments and projects. Let them guide you but not rule you.
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give”. – Winston Churchill
Volunteering is something that can add value and meaning to any phase of our lives but there are special times when this value is strategic…a deliberate choice to move us toward our personal vision. Here are some examples:
- As a parent. Parents who volunteer become role models to their children and show that service to others is a normal, essential and wonderful part of life.
- While unemployed. Unemployment can add time and flexibility to your life. Choosing to serve at this time keeps you active, adds rhythm and purpose, allows you to build new skills and network with others.
- When retired. This is the perfect time to try new things and experiment with new roles and skills. The “second half of life” can move us beyond our traditional view of success because we have less to prove yet much to offer.
- When feeling down. There is nothing better that thinking of others when we are feeling down. We see that “we are all in this together”.
- To refill your spiritual fuel tank. Finding God through service complements prayer or a church experience.
Volunteering can be formal or informal. Formal is when you do it as part of an organization. Informal volunteering can be done almost anytime, for example, helping an elderly neighbor shovel the snow or bringing a meal to a neighbor that is dealing with a death.
Where is service on your personal value system? Be clear on the “why”.
Boundaries are the limits we intentionally place on aspects of our lives. They need to exist to manage stress or maintain the integrity of our character.
Boundaries come in different “levels”. Let’s use an analogy of a backyard to think about these levels in our lives. Some people have no fence (no defined boundary), others have a fence with an easily opened gate (flexible boundary), and still others have a sturdy fence or even a brick wall with a locked gate (immovable boundary).
Boundaries reflect how true we are to our values (what we consider important in making choices). Two situations of where boundaries are needed are time and behaviors.
Time boundaries are essential to maintain balance. If you say “yes” even though you are extremely busy then you have a flexible boundary. The point at which you finally say “no” to accepting a new task or responsibility or another meeting that is in the evening is when your personal boundary condition becomes obvious.
Behavior boundaries in relationships are even more critical. If someone insults you do you walk away or engage? Walking away is like having no fence. Engaging (providing feedback and hopefully not fighting) just means you are protecting a boundary. Personal boundaries are part of living a thriving life. Because they reflect our choices, they can help us remain focused and passionate.
Do you have appropriate boundaries in your life? Can you think of other situations where boundaries are needed?
Working in our strengths is a great way to live…and a lot more energizing than working in our weaknesses.
What are strengths? They are our skills, capabilities or talents that we believe we are good or great at. We know this because they come naturally, they give us energy and they feel like they are part of our true self (not some image we portray to the world). We gravitate to using these skills because it feels good.
Our schools and society sometimes influence us to work in certain ways; we become socialized. Even work does this to us. I recall from an early part of my career that a performance review felt focused on abilities I needed to improve. This was probably part of the system design but I now believe it’s also how my mind worked, i.e. to not show my weaknesses. It was growthful but uncomfortable. As I matured, I accepted the need to continually grow but knew that my strengths were the driver. This simple change in attitude caused me to thrive.
We all have unique or uncommon strengths too. These may be even more important because our apparent mastery lets us make special contributions.
I believe that God offers us a set of life experiences to learn from. Experimentation leads to discovery and this is turn positions us for a life of potential. You can discover your strengths on your own but you may consider something like the on-line StrengthsFinder or Character Strengths tests.
A critical second dimension to time management is the need to manage our energy (and related effectiveness). Symptoms of low energy include tiredness, distraction, stress, procrastination and illness all of which need attention to live a life of potential. This energy issue could be a “right now” problem or a more general feeling such as being overwhelmed over an extended period of time, possibly due to a demanding project or family situation. Note that if depression is a symptom, seek professional help.
Nurture the emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical aspects of our life to address the energy gaps. If this sounds like my thinking on managing stress, it’s because they’re related. Here are some ideas:
- Emotional. Hug someone. Send a “thank you” note. Smile. Eat some “comfort” food. Take a vacation with your family.
- Intellectual. Make a to-list and prioritize it. Do it. Take some things off the list to feel the burden lighten.
- Spiritual. Say a prayer. Sit in silence and quiet the mind. Connect to your purpose. Take a walk in the garden. Express gratitude.
- Physical. Exercise. Climb the stairs. Stretch. Walk the dog. Take a nap. Get more sleep.
We all have a “peak time” to accomplish the productive things in our lives. Mine is definitely the morning (from 7-9am when the house is quiet). Be sure to protect this time. Don’t forget to monitor the rhythm too.
You can be a good “time manager” but if you manage “energy” too you will increase productivity and effectiveness. How do you manage your energy?
The “skill” of budgeting includes: 1) the ability to develop a short and long-term spending and savings plan, 2) tracking/controlling expenses and 3) having the discipline to save for long-term needs. As you can see, I want to emphasize long-term. A budget may be called a spending plan or cash flow plan.
There are various timeframes that require planning:
- Short-term. This looks at next month. Do I have enough money to pay the bills?
- Medium-term. This looks at the entire year, a 12-month-by-month plan. Am I prepared for periodic expenses?
- Long-term. This is a 20-30 year-by-year plan. This is another element of your Life Plan. Am I on track for life goals?
A primary purpose of a budget is to assure we save. We need to save for medium-term needs, e.g. buying Christmas gifts, vacation or an emergency fund AND we need to save AND invest for long-term needs, e.g. college or retirement.
To develop these plans you will need to define your life and financial goals, e.g. I need $5000 to take a special family vacation in two years. The goal statement then leads to some math, i.e. how much do I need to save per month and some analysis, i.e. does this goal fit (do the numbers add up) with all of my other financial goals.
Using a spreadsheet for both the medium and long-term budgets will help with the math and analysis. The rows are the various budget categories and the columns the time frame (month or year).
Don’t forget to “pay yourself first”.
At work, you might have a project plan. If you are a small business owner, you likely have a business plan. But what about a “life plan”? I’d like to suggest that this is the most important.
As a starter kit, I propose that your life plan includes the following, most of which I’ve written about in previous blogs.
- A Life Purpose statement provides integrating clarity for all of your life choices.
- A Vision causes you to “see” your ideal life.
- Goals provide clarity on milestones.
- A long-term Budget lets you make choices between long-term savings and short-term “wants”.
- Career Plans enable you to link various jobs and assignments into something greater.
There are strategic components to the life planning process, for example, every year renew each of the above. I like to do this thinking and planning around New Year’s Day. Every few months ask “am I working on the right things?”
And there are tactical components. Monthly, ask “am I accomplishing what I said I’d do?” Weekly, ask “what are the few important things to do this week?” I like to do this thinking each Sunday; it takes less than 30 minutes. Daily, identify “what will I get done today/tomorrow?” I like to do this in the evening so I “hit the ground running” in the morning.
Plans could be informal/loose or formal/detailed. They could be in your head or on paper. Plans could be handwritten in a notebook or electronically captured on a document on your computer. Why not put some rigor into your thinking? Start now.
A life of purpose is filled with passion, potential and positivity. Something significant frames our life choices and pulls (calls) us forward. The journey toward a purposeful life is filled with learning, experimentation, practice and reflection. Try to answer the following questions…
- Do I wake up most days feeling energized?
- Do I feel a personal calling or long-term passion?
- Am I clear about my goals and how I measure significance as a person?
- Do I use my talents to add value and meaning to people’s lives? Am I grateful?
- Do I surround myself with people who respect my values?
- Am I living to my potential?
- Do I think of myself and others with positivity?
- Do I have a “life plan” and live it with discipline so as to have no regrets?
- What beliefs do I hold? Do they serve me and others well?
- Do I have a defined purpose statement that I am proud to share?
Can you answer “yes” to most of these questions? How do you feel as you think about them….stressed? excited? indifferent?
The questions can be challenging. The answers will be unique and deeply personal. They evolve as our life unfolds and as we become more in-touch with our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. In the first half of life when we are starting jobs or careers we are likely more focused on ourselves and our families. The 2nd half of life opens new doors and choices and can be freeing. I found purpose in retirement but I hope you start now.