What does it mean to lead in your own life? Are you actively envisioning and then creating the life you want or are you simply leading in all other facets of your life - your family, your career, your kids’ school, your church, your civic or social investments, and not leaving any energy at the end of the day for defining and then creating what YOU want? Are you okay with the ramifications of putting you last? How much time will go by before you start leveraging your leadership skills and apply to one of the most important questions or challenges in life: what do you want?
Why are we so good at leading everywhere else in our lives, except sometimes maybe our own? The past few months have given many a chance to reexamine their life and consider if they're on the path they want to be or if there needs to be some adjustments made, so now is also a great time for you to ask yourself, "Are you leading in your own life?"
For many of us over 45 or 50, we have invested much in many others along the way and established ourselves as leaders in our personal relationships and in our professional pursuits. But if you’re anything like me, I had been literally climbing the corporate ladder for years, always looking at the next 1-2 levels to aspire to and what my next challenge would look like. I loved it and I loved my work.
I was surrounded by the smartest and hardest working colleagues and volunteers and I really enjoyed working to improve prevention and patient care for people with cardiovascular disease and stroke. I experienced my share of success And for the longest time, I kept plugging along, doing what I could to continue helping the organization and the providers and patients we served. I really thought I’d finish out my career in the same field.
I was flying quite a bit, traveling to NY and the northeast, Chicago, Atlanta, west coast, etc., and it was starting to become a bit of a grind to be away from my home so often and working in the taxi, in coffee shops and on the way to catch the plane that wouldn’t land until 8pm. I had been accepting it as part of what I had always wanted and the type of work I wanted to do. The type of impact I wanted to make, so it was part of the deal. But little by little, the back and forth to the airport all the time and the constantly-packed overnight work bag was getting to me.
I typically worked on the plane as it was a time with limited distractions (i.e. no new emails were coming in) and I was finally able to “catch up” a bit. Sometimes on the evening flight I’d listen in to a movie while working and I distinctly remember the movie on the flight one night coming back from NY. I was tired but as I watched Meryl Streep in her killer role as the ultimate bitch boss, Amanda, in The Devil Wears Prada, some questions started popping up in my head. I felt as if I was happy with what I had achieved in my career and I was happy at home and able to spend time doing the things I liked to do, but suddenly the appeal of moving up to that next career step seemed a little less enticing. That was 2008….light years ago. But at the ripe age of 40, it really started me thinking….was this it?
I started noticing the executives and leadership team working almost literally around the clock and that the primary focus of their life was their work. I have nothing against that ambition and interest and I applaud anyone dedicated to driving excellence professionally or personally. But for me, and for the very first time, I started questioning my own professional ambition and if there might be more to life than how I was currently living. I was - like many - not really paying attention to or feeding into that nagging feeling and able to happily continue going about my days for a long time.
Personally though I experienced other changes including divorce and then a friend diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive cancer and my head started questioning more and more. I then took on a role that was a real stretch and challenge and while I was doing okay in some facets of the position, it was definitely not the level of success I had been previously used to and my enthusiasm was definitely falling off. That, coupled with 4 supervisor changes in 2 years was enough to then really kick it all into high gear. So then….what next?
Well, If you decide it might be time to make a change, what does it take to put your years of leadership and corporate experience to bear to focus on the really big question? What do you want in your life?
First, prioritize yourself. It's a mindset and one you'll have to move to the top of the list. Whether it’s a specific amount of time you dedicate toward your physical, mental and emotional health each day or week, you have to first make this a priority or it will keep falling off your long to-do list. Especially as women, we have a wonderful, nurturing tendency to ensure everyone else is taken care of first. Our kids, our spouse, our parents, our siblings. We take care of the daily job, the groceries, the cooking, the laundry, you know the drill. Every once in a while you think about what you want but it’s really it gets lost in between each of the fires.
You HAVE to make yourself and what you really want a priority. One key recommend is to schedule it on your calendar - again best done like a 10 minute meditation or quiet and uninterrupted alone time daily or for a longer period of time weekly to reflect and seek clarity, which will take me into my second recommendation. If you schedule it daily or regularly, there will be fires that come up that need attention and detract you from the time focused on your priorities, but at the end of the month or first few months, you will have spent significant time dedicated to advancing your priority or priorities.
Second, you have to identify what it really is you want. You have to seek clarity in what will make you happy. Nothing unlikely like winning the lotto but instead what is in your power to influence and really create. Again and especially after working for a number of years and before we get too old to enjoy it all, what is it you really want to do or get done? When you think ahead to looking back on your life, is it that you want to proudly remember meeting committee deadlines or that you took a road trip to a winery in Northern California? If you can't afford to retire right now, how can you modify your life to more closely match what you want it to look like?
But getting back to what you really want, you now have to also get back to thinking like a boss. You must set the vision. Create your goal or identify at least 1 facet of your life you want to improve. It may be too daunting to think of the perfect life scenario for you so maybe try to start with one or a few visions of what you want your life to look like and feel like. Again go back to specifically identifying what will make you happy and then create the first goal to tackle.
Third and finally, to lead in your own life you have to actually DO it. You then have to apply the same principles you do to all the other ways you solve problems currently in your life. Like a boss or colleague solving problems at the office. Like a parent in that you’re solving the Covid-induced changes of having your children learning remotely. Which may change again tomorrow or repeatedly for the foreseeable future. Or how you solve problems within your book club. When the coffee shop closed for several months due to Covid, you switched over to weekly zoom calls instead.
In every one of these examples, you identified a problem, you evaluated your options and then you selected what you think was the best solution and then went with it - you implemented it. What works for you in these scenarios? Regular committee meetings? Okay, instead schedule 1 hour per week in your schedule to close off everything else and focus on creating or implementing the plan.
What else works for you? You can place reminders on sticky notes on your bathroom mirror or refrigerator so it's front and center throughout your day. One of my favorites is adopted from my time in college swimming - visualization. To see yourself in your mind in that role, in that position, achieving what you’re setting out to do. Elite athletes do this all the time and there's an entire field of sport psychology dedicated to how the mind directly impacts your athletic performance. One of my favorite authors, Eckart Tolle and others like Tony Robbins highlight the importance of meditation and visualization and positive thinking.
Every minute you dedicate to this pursuit is bringing you one minute closer to that which you seek. What you do every day becomes a habit and as Steven Covey and possibly others before him stated, ”you become what you repeatedly do.” So reflect on what you've spent your time on this past week. Where you spent the majority of your time will reflect the path you're laying down for your next chapter. Does it look like someone hustling from one meeting to the next and then driving kids around and NOT the same image as your ideal visualization? Think about it.
As I changed my career course and published my first book last year, I am blessed to have the opportunity to continue leading in my own life and creating next best chapter, personally and professionally. I am blessed but also really excited to have had the opportunity to contribute to a new book for women executives and business owners, titled "In Her Shoes: Women Who Lead." This book includes a collection of stories and recommendations from 12 different women business leaders and I hope it helps you in your current profession and possibly challenges you to grow in your leadership skills and learn how to expand your influence. Maybe even broadening your impact to your personal life.
Remember to first prioritize yourself to identify WHAT you want, create a critical key step or goal and then actually DO it - lead through the implementation like you do in all other facets of your life. In how you’ve successfully defined, tackled and completed in all the past.
Post a comment to share you journey & how you're leading in your life within our DestinationU Facebook Community and check out my free 90 Day Personal Planning Guide and my Destination Unknown book for additional help and the critical steps to more quickly get you to where you want to be.
Blog Written By: Wendy Deacon
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