Is it Essential? How to decide.

Feeling or ever felt pulled in too many directions? Struggling to make a choice? Uncertain what path to follow? How to decide? And is there a "right" way to even do so?

You are not alone.

We are all confronted with choices every day. Whether making decisions for yourself or with others, those decisions are seldom easy to make if you do not have a clear understanding of your intention, your purpose. So how do you gain clarity?  

A year ago, I was asked how I made decisions or what process I used to evaluate choices. It just so happened to be at a time in my life when I would soon need such a framework and it caused me to finally step up to the plate...and begin to seek such clarity. I've been on this journey since then. If you're at a similar crossroads, keep reading! 

Below are my steps and a quick frame (I'm a fan of consulting 2X2s if you didn't already notice), among several other visual tools... 

1) Awareness: are you truly motivated to explore the concept of purpose? Diving to this inquiry demands earnest desire. If not quite ready, take pause until that desire is truly present. A caution: the wait will entail moving in multiple directions and potential circling without clarity of purpose (a miserable experience, trust me).

Once you have gained an awareness of your desire to truly discover your purpose, consider...

2) Acceptance: what level of uncertainty can you palate? One might call this your risk tolerance. Name it as you wish, but settle with yourself on how to handle the certainty of ambiguity. This can be tricky. If you'd like support, reach out.

Next up...

3) Ask: what is excellence for you? what does success look like and how will you know when you've succeeded? what were you built for? I understand these are big questions, even intangible. Try this on: what are your backstories? These stories, your past experiences, inform "why" and often "how" you do what you do.

I was once called to look at the messes and the merriment of my own script (thus far) and ask how they inform my ministry. Kudos @MarkBatterson This sculpted a new way for me to look at my "life lows" with a newfound appreciation for His plan. My mess IS my ministry. Such truth for me offered both freedom and resultant mission orientation. How about you? 

Or simply not buying it?

Fair enough, try this: split a piece of paper in half and make two lists: one around what you do and the second about what you want to do. Then observe deltas: are you doing what you want to do? what should you stop doing or change to begin doing what you want to do? What drives the wants, the desires, the passions? Those answers shed light on the values and beliefs that inspire your actions. 

There are many, many ways to begin diving into your life's purpose and lovely literature to feed your discovery. From strengths-based analyses and gifts evaluation to the feedback from friends and colleagues, you will glean more and more to answer these worthy asks. Be thoughtful and be gentle with yourself as you contemplate.


4) Answerhow are you answering in a way that drives you toward a clear purpose? Do not fall into the trap of asking without answering! Good questions deserves good answers! While many options exist to help you scribe out your thoughts, I have found the below simple matrix very helpful. Don't thank me, please extend your appreciation to Greg McKeown. In his book, Essentialism, McKeown explores the disciplined pursuit of doing less and makes a compelling case for living with essential intent. In seeking clarity around what is essential, and ensuring to identify what is not essential, he offers this 2X2. 

Essential Intent 2X2

Need a bit more information on how to apply this matrix to chart your essential intent? Sure thing (and highly recommend his book too!). All set? Please press on to #5 - Anchoring down.

First consider the axes of meaning (bland or inspirational?) and measure (general or concrete?). Fill in the top left quadrant with thoughts from your brainstorming around what you are built for, and what excellence is to you. These thoughts may be a bit generic, and that's perfect! Let them flow, just ensure they inspire YOU.

Then, move to the bottom left quadrant and chart the ideas you had around your values (what drives you to do what you do, or holds you to things). Note values may be an umbrella for core beliefs or principles.

Then take a turn towards the bottom right box, loosely suggested as "objectives". Here begin to write some actionable statements that may help achieve your vision. Ensure they are time-bound (such as "Complete X within X months").

With these three quadrants filled, move into the top right quadrant to scribe what is both inspirational AND concrete.

Voila!...yeah, right.  This isn't easy, and it's not meant to be.

As McKeown and countless other brilliant authors highlight, this is hard work but it is worth it. Establishing this intent is your true north and how you gain clarity. How do you know you've reached that intent, and done so in the right way? ...steer on to the last step!

5) Anchor: Is it essential? Once you have landed on your intent, you have the true north to then answer this question of essential-ity over and over again. Your intent is your anchor to ground your past decisions and most of all, your present and future choices. The peace that surrounds establishing your essential intent affirms and assures, as does the promise it holds for you. You know when you've got it right by applying it to your decisions and seeing how immediately you are empowered to make a call that is truly anchored by your clear purpose.

A word on application: in this post, I explored my personal steps and a matrix at the individual level. I would be amiss if not encouraging you to use this same approach when working at the organizational level. Is your firm seeking to re-evaluate the vision? Is your team revisiting values or establishing its core principles? Ground these strategic conversations with proven tools and methods as explored here. If you'd like help, you know where to find me. I'd love to hear your thoughts and how you are applying these ideas! 

Cheers to the Chinese New Year, and a fortune worth charting!