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Time to Dream

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Many of us live day by day unconsciously moving through our lives and our career. It doesn’t matter if change comes in six months, two years, or even five. If you’ve got somewhere around 20 years of work experience behind you, you should be asking yourself what you want to do with the other half.

 

A new year is a time for reflection. Across the world, some people celebrated a new year. Many others will be celebrating new year in a couple of months, and others again in two more. Regardless of when you celebrate your new year, it is a time to look back, on the past year, what we’ve accomplished, where we arrived. And to look forward, to what we promise ourselves we’ll change, begin, attempt.

Most of the year we leave our dreams to the sidelines and deal in reality, in what is practical, in what is needed. A new year is a great opportunity to stop for a moment and make time for dreams. My dear mentor Marcia Wieder taught me that only when we allow ourselves to dream we can also see the path to those dreams. Because only if we clarify for ourselves where we want to end up, do we stand the chance to walk in the right direction. It doesn’t matter if we crawl or run, it’s not even important if we know how to get there. But it is important we know what we want and there is no better time than a new year to ensure we know what we really want.

Benjamin Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, is known around the world as both a guest conductor and a speaker on leadership. I had the pleasure of listening to him speak on a book he wrote with his wife, The art of possibility. One of the lessons in that book is a wonderful one for a new year and new promises. When we was teaching exceptional music students in the New England Conservatory, Zander told his students on the first day that in this class, everyone gets an A. The only condition is that they write a letter, date it to the last day of the school year, and begin with the sentence: “Dear Mr. Zander, I got an A because…”. In other words, Zander asks his students to focus at the start of the year on who they will become at the end, so that they live up to a perfect score, live up to the dream, the goal they set for themselves.

Many of us live day by day unconsciously moving through our lives and our career. One of the “happy new year” calls I made recently lasted over two hours. My friend didn’t receive the role they wanted, can already see the end of the road in his organization. Maybe one more role, a “retirement role” and that’s it, he’s out. No, he has no idea what he will do after that, he has not given this any thought. There is time yet. Is there?

It doesn’t matter if change comes in six months, two years, or even five. If you’ve got somewhere around 20 years of work experience behind you, you should be asking yourself what you want to do with the other half. No, I don’t mean look for a job. First, what is it you want to do? Which is a bit like answering the question: if you were not limited by money, commitment, obligation, what would you be doing? How would you be living your life? And do yourself a favor, write down what comes to mind.

There is something to be said for this process, where we express in writing, drawing, telling others, what is in our most deepest thoughts, our dreams, our desires, those things we’ve always wanted to do, sitting there waiting for the right day, the right time, for when the kids grow up, when we retire, when circumstances change… Only if we define for ourselves what we really want will we be able to look at the full range of possibilities to make it happen. Think back on those times when you’re searching for a particular type of car, suddenly you see it everywhere. Or if you’re pregnant, or just had a baby, and suddenly it seems the world is filled with babies. They were all there before, but our perspective changed, we open up to see them because they are now in the forefront of our mind. The same thing happens with our most inner dreams. If we put them on the table, things happen. If for no other reason than the fact we are now present for the opportunities which show up.

One of the best 2015 TED talks is called Draw your future – Take control of your life and asks the question, which dream do you want to make come true? Research shows that the likelihood of actually making a change, even if your life depended on it, is only 1 in 9! And in that TED talk, Patti Dobrowolski uses a career change example for why drawing your dream will help you be the one who makes the change, not the nine who give up.

When I’m invited to talk about careers, I usually begin with a personal story on a process I took part in a few years ago, when organizations understood they had to go flatter, and layers of management were removed. I remember two individual cases of managers who found themselves without a role. The first couldn’t understand how this happened, he wasn’t close to retirement how is it possible that he was in this situation? The second had been managing an organization at the end of the life cycle so had been asking himself questions about what he wanted to do next, exploring possibilities inside the organization but also in new areas. It was then that I saw the very big difference in how both of these managers dealt with their job disappearing. The first, the one who did not see it coming, took a long time to stand back on his feet on the other side of the change. The second, the one who realized this was a decision point which opened up the possibilities he was already exploring, he was on track within months. And I learned a lesson I never forgot. I want to be ready for when the day arrives.

It is an important question, are you ready or not? Is your entire world connected to your current role or organization? As wonderful and challenging as these may be, should they define all of who you are? If they do, then the day you separate, the organization and you, you might discover that too much of who you are remains behind and not enough moves forward. For me, it was a frightening wake up call, one that called for a plan, a plan to ensure I remember to make time for self-development, the kind that is not directly related to a job or an organization.

It is not easy, to leave time out of the day-to-day for a process questioning the future. In their wonderful book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Dan and Chip Heath refer to the attempt at change in terms of a riding trying to steer an elephant on a desired path. Why an elephant? Because the right measure of wills between our conscious wish to make the change and all the forces acting against it is about the difference in size between the rider and the elephant. How many times have you tried to lose weight, or start exercising? The decision is the rider. But the entire weight of the elephant is what brings us at the end of the day to lose sight of the diet with a good portion of our favorite full-calorie meal, or slouch on the couch when we should be in the gym.

So what do you do? Set the path for the elephant. Or according to the Heath brothers, design action triggers specific enough and visible enough to interrupt our normal stream of consciousness. In the case of our diet, for example, that would mean ensuring that favorite meal we shouldn’t be eating is not around and when we look for it, we find something that is a good replacement in line with our decision to lose weight.

So if you need to make time from your day to day for your own self development, in order to ensure that you are able to, if and when you choose or are forced to move out from your current path, we must create those action triggers. Action triggers which will ensure that we stop and make time for questions around our future, our dreams, our path towards them, new possibilities.

On that new year’s call I told my friend that the job he didn’t receive was a gift the organization gave him for the new year. A gift to wake up to the understanding that his future starts tomorrow and only he is responsible to design it. And for that, he needs to be ready. So for the new year, whenever that is for you, give yourself the gift of designing your next path, consciously setting it out to lead you towards your dreams.