How to Find Your Next Big Thing in 3 Simple Questions
There's an unconscious bias in our innovation economy around the importance of having a vision. And the bigger and crazier the idea, the better. The pressure to have a vision often blocks people who haven't quite figured out their "what's next." They get so caught up in identifying what role they want, what level they want it at and how much money they should get that they forget what a vision is and what role it plays in how they spend their time at work and at home. They forget their vision is about more than salary, title and status. Ego only goes so far.
There are three simple questions that can help anyone move closer to their what's next. The process of answering these questions include a "total me" approach, whereby responses represent personal and professional perspectives. Start with taking a future-based approach: It's three, four or five years from now, you are in your car and looking in the rearview mirror.
What do you want to say you have experienced and had exposure to?
As you answer this question, think about what you have always wanted to see, feel and understand before your time on earth ends. Have you always wanted to fly in a hot-air balloon? Add it in. Always wanted to be in politics? Write it down.
If you struggle to answer this first question, another approach is to think about someone you admire. What would it be like to be in his/her shoes? What has he/she done that you want to do too? For example, let's say you have always wanted to be a life coach but you are not in a financial position to switch careers; you could change the language and say something like "I want to feel what it's like to help people in crisis through the toughest transition or inflections points they are facing so that they can find their way toward a positive life."
This example is an important one because when we limit to a title, we ignore what we really want to do and the experimentation component that is required for finding your next true passion. It's hard to do that when you confine to a job title determined by someone else.
What do you want to say you impacted?
Based on what you stated in the first question, what do you want to have made big, positive changes to? Your areas of impact could be, but are not limited to, your wish-list of changes you would like to see in your life, going on a trip of a lifetime to your dream destinations, positive changes in any of your relationships, and problems or neglected opportunities that you see in the world around that you can no longer put off addressing.
The critical component of this question relates to changes that you would like to make and transformations you believe are important at the micro (you) and macro (the world) and everything in between. For example, I grew up wanting to be a news broadcaster. I started college as a journalism major until one morning in my sophomore year I realized that I wanted my work to be news that scales for the greater good instead of reporting on it. In my 30s, when "being the news" did not have the impact I thought it would, I went back to my roots of wanting to be a broadcaster.
Through some soul-searching, I figured out that I really wanted to enable people to live their lives on their terms instead of settling for a status quo that did not serve them. The way I wanted to help was to be a channel of information and a platform for people to share their stories to help others.
Who are the people you want to say were with you?
This might be my favorite of all the questions, and not just because it's the last one. There is an old saying that still holds true: You are the company you keep.
To answer this question, consider your answers to the questions one and two. Ask yourself who would be the most joyful to accompany you on these journeys? Who will add fuel and not deplete these experiences and impacts you hold dear? Who would be the best position, due to his or her own social networks, to connect you with the right people along your journey?
As you answer this question, aim for people you know in your life already as well as people who represent the end-experiences and impacts you want to make. Your answer can be actual people's names as well as personas. For example, if one of the areas you want to say you have experienced and impacted within the time-frame you have chosen is around U.S. voting numbers, you would probably want to have worked with your local representative's office or powerful and politically influential organizations such as the League of Women Voters or AARP.
At the end of this exercise, you will have a better idea of the direction you want to take. Keep in mind that this exercise is far from one-and-done. Write your answers that come naturally to you. Editing your responses comes later.
This exercise is about progress and not perfection. For now, answer these questions in one sitting. Then, revisit your answers of the course of anywhere from one week to a month. By forcing yourself not to edit your answers, you are intentionally avoiding the by-products of analysis paralysis. Next week's column will cover how you start to test and iterate on your ideas while building the foundation toward your best 'what's next.'