2013-05-14

3 Steps For Plotting Your Personal Future In An Uncertain World

What’s the best way to feel productive and valued at work and in life? Having a sense of where you’re going. To do that, you need to forecast your own future, and then put yourself on the path to get there.

In today’s accelerating world of work, it’s easy to get distracted by the million shiny objects vying for our attention. All too often, we spend our time responding to the latest urgent priority, and forget who we are and what really matters to us. A sense of personal or professional mission fades, and our passion and potential goes dormant.

However, forward-focused people and organizations realize that a happy, productive workplace exists only when everyone is aware of their gifts and how to best align their contribution with a larger shared purpose.

Below is a three-phase process to help get reconnected to your motivations, the unique value you offer the world, and a vision for your own long-term trajectory. Cultivating this foresight practice at both the personal and organizational levels can be a powerful way to develop our greatest assets: ourselves.

1. Discover who you are and what drives you.

Before you begin planning where you want to go, it’s helpful to locate where you are now. This first phase of the process involves getting a clearer perspective on who you are, what you stand for,  and what makes it worth getting up in the morning. A few guiding questions can get you started on this mapping process:

What unique value do I bring to the world?

We’ve all got gifts and quirks that make us our loveable selves. Don’t lose sight of these. Ask people who know you well--family, friends, colleagues, professional contacts--which of your traits and contributions are most appreciated. Make a list of what you’re naturally good at, what you’d rather avoid, and the types of conditions that make you thrive or wither. Assessment tools like Gallup’s Strengthsfinder 2.0 can help uncover strengths and talents, while personality indicators like the Myers-Briggs can bring attention to preferences and behaviors that either motivate or frustrate you.

What are my core values?

Dave Logan, author of Tribal Leadership, defines a core value as “a principle without which life wouldn’t be worth living.” Whether you’ve ever explicitly named them before, chances are there are a few driving forces that have been a throughline of motivation and inspiration in your life. Reflect on your experiences and ask “What am I proud of?” or “What am I doing when I shine brightest?” Hone in on the top three to five values that are most important to you.

What is my life purpose?

This is a big question, but worth investigating. Purpose-driven people and organizations are energized by the feeling of being on a mission. Without a clear sense of direction of meaning, work gets done, but the results are not transformative or integrated with the surrounding world in a way that makes an impact.

Try surrendering to the highest voice inside yourself, and listen to what really brings you meaning and significance. Keep asking yourself “Why?” and “In service of what?” to help you get to the essence.

2. Explore the Possibilities

Now that you’ve located yourself in the narrative of your life, begin developing plausible personal futures. Think about the various domains of life that impact our future pathways and quality of life, ranging from health, relationships, finances, creativity, learning, and what we do for fun.

Consider how you engage in these domains now, and to what degree you imagine integrating them into your future. Ask yourself questions like: In which physical environments do I thrive? Who do I want to be spending time with? Which industries might I want to succeed in? Which skills might be needed? What brings me the most satisfaction? Stretch your thinking to explore what you might become.

3. Create a Vision And Plan for Action

Now that you’ve become more aware of who you are and explored options for where you could go, create a vision for your future and choose desired outcomes. What do you want your life to look like in one year? Five years? 10 years? 30 years? How are you staying engaged across life domains? What projects are you working on? What interests and hobbies are you developing? How are you building your capacities? What milestones are you working towards?

Finally, develop strategies and processes for achieving your goals. Build momentum by setting short-term, measurable, achievable goals. Those small wins can be very motivating to keep dreaming bigger. Systems like Getting Things Done or Personal Kanban can help in managing tasks and commitments. Consider assembling a "personal wisdom council" of friends and advisors who can offer you mentorship. A dedicated support network can be a valuable way to create accountability, stay focused, and receive feedback and encouragement.

As time goes by, priorities may shift, and the vision for your future may change. This is normal, and strategies can be adjusted accordingly. The lasting value is in continually honing your futures thinking skills, and staying tuned to your strengths, passions and vision to keep you moving forward towards the future you want.

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4 Comments

  • Azcaballero

    Hi Venessa,

    Based on your article you may be interested in the work this company does: Gap International.  They build on what you've outlined and work heavily on the implementation of strategies towards achieving outcomes.   What they've found is that thinking is behind all the actions you take and those actions cause the outcomes.  If you're not achieving the outcomes that you want, it's worth looking behind the actions and really discovering the underlying thinking going on.  Intriguing work gapinternational.com

  • Vincent McMahon

    Vanessa, I really enjoyed your article. I particularly loved the idea of the personal wisdom council. In our striving to be "modern" we have lost some of our connection to the ancient wisdom of our communities. I had the pleasure and the honour several years ago of sitting with the elders of tribes in West Papua. Part of the daily routine centered around 'wisdom councils' where the dreams, visions and concerns of individuals and the tribe were discussed and necessary support given or action taken. The success of the tribe depended on these sessions. Your article gave a lovely modern context to these ancient ways.

  • Lynn

    So great Venessa.  I can't tell you how helpful it is to hear someone else that focuses on values, vision, and purpose before looking out into what can seem like a future black hole to many. 
    Now if we could just get our educational institutes to teach our children these tools early on, we'd find ourselves in a much happier and better place to create an amazing future full of innovative thinking and actions for all.  Thanks.

    Lynn

  • CoCreatr

    Thank you, Venessa, for this fine focusing future forecasting piece. Yes, we develop our greatest assets: ourselves. Few others could do it for us, and even if they would, we know best where our intuition puts our personal true North. Keep writing for this fine publication.