In the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey, habit #2 is to begin with the end in mind. On the surface, it sounds like he is talking about setting goals, but what he talks about is more fundamental that that.
Begin with the end in mind means that you must have a clear picture of what you are trying to accomplish in order to get there. That seems pretty straight forward, but it is actually very nuanced. The problem is, a lot of us aren’t self aware enough to really understand what it is we are aiming for. We may have a general picture in our mind and we may think of it every once in a while, but we aren’t consciously designing our outcomes.
Let me give you an example from my life.
I got my degree in accounting and I worked in an accounting job for maybe 5 years of my entire career. I eventually figured out that what I wanted to accomplish had nothing to do with accounting. I was moving forward in my career – just not in the one that was right for me.
That was back in the early days of my career. Once I got onto the right path, my career has been a consistent accomplishment toward the vision I had of my goal. Then, about 4 or 5 years ago, I started to see a new vision. The objective was shifting and the picture has gotten clearer, although I’m still refining it. Starting this podcast is part of it.
Covey talks about all creations being created twice.
The 1st creation is your mental image of it.
The 2nd creation is the physical manifestation of it.
If that 1st creation isn’t made consciously, you aren’t the one driving the objective.
For me, I went into accounting mostly because it was what everyone around me was doing. I knew in college that I didn’t want to be an accountant. I liked business and I was good at a lot of the skills I needed for accounting – so that’s the direction I took. I didn’t know enough about the real business world to define my outcome any other way. So, my 1st vision for my career, although perfectly legitimate on paper, turned out not to be the right vision once I translated it from my mental image into a physical career.
Although I thought I knew what I wanted to accomplish, I was wrong. And, I think this is natural. I don’t feel like I failed because I didn’t stick with accounting. Once I got out into the business world and saw what other jobs were out there that could use my skills, I was able to see a different vision for myself. Once I saw a new vision, I was ready to start moving in that direction.
I think the important lesson is to look up every once in a while and ask yourself if the world you are creating is actually the one you want to be creating.
This is going to require a lot of self awareness.
Self awareness is something we talk about a lot on People Move Organizations because it is so foundational to a successful career.
Self awareness is knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions.
The reason it is important that you have self awareness is that you have to have a good handle on yourself in order to be able to set a goal or a vision that will be fulfilling for you. It is so easy to fall into a habit or a pattern where you get up and go to work every day and do what you do.
Whether it brings you joy and fulfillment or not.
If you aren’t absolutely miserable, you aren’t likely to think about your vision. Defining the end state is about knowing yourself well enough to know – well, not just know – to really take positive action toward, to be motivated to act toward an end goal that will bring you fulfillment.
Daniel Goldman summed it up nicely in his book Working with Emotional Intelligence, “Self awareness is a building block of commitment: if you don’t know you own guiding principles, you may not recognize when something is or isn’t a fit.”
As you become self aware, you start to see where something isn’t a fit and you can start to create a new vision for yourself. Again, Habit 2 is: begin with the end in mind.
When was the last time you spent time thinking about your vision for yourself?
Without the vision for where it is you are trying to get to, it is impossible to take the next step – which is making progress toward the goal.
Begin with the end in mind is for processes too
Do you have a problem at work that you are trying to solve? A process that isn’t working well? Before you can fix it, you’ve got to be clear on what end state you are trying to get to.
Just this week, I found myself spinning my wheels on a problem. I feel like the process we use for forecasting our staffing levels isn’t working as well as it could. I was trying to figure out why it isn’t giving me a result I could trust and I found myself with 10 spreadsheets open and 10 partially completed analyses – none of which gave me an answer. I was in analysis paralysis. So, I literally said out loud to myself “what exactly are you trying to accomplish?” I had lost track of the end result and had to remind myself.
Whether you are using Habit 2 for big life changing decisions of for thorn-in-your-side tactical problems at work, make sure you regularly step back from the daily grind and ask yourself what are you trying to accomplish?
Before you can actually accomplish anything, you’ve got to have a vision for what it is you are moving toward.
And, don’t beat yourself up when you vision changes over time. It is natural for your priorities to change and therefore your vision to change as well.
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