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How to Envision and Realize a Bright Future Generic advice doesn't always work because there are some things, some very important things, you simply have to figure out for yourself.

By Steve Tobak

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When I agree to help a CEO with his company, the first steps I take are to meet individually with him, his executives, and his board to get an unbiased picture of the situation. Then I make sure we're in agreement on the goals of the project. Only then do I even begin the process of formulating an assessment.

In most cases I also have to speak with customers and analysts to get a completely objective picture.

I would hope it's obvious that nobody can possibly make any reasonably intelligent recommendations without first understanding all the in's and out's of what's going on at the company. And trust me, when people and markets are involved, that can get pretty complicated.

It's the same thing with individuals, small businesses, and startups. Everyone is unique. Every situation is unique. Every business is unique. That's why generic advice – whether it's life advice, career advice, or business advice – never works.

The truth is, nobody can tell you what you need to do or do differently to be happy or successful today, tomorrow or next year without first knowing as much about you and your situation as you know. That's why it's something you have to do yourself. You can't delegate it or outsource it.

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Let me say it a different way so it's crystal clear: There simply is no canned advice that will have any significant impact on your future. You have to figure it out for yourself. The good news is once you learn how to do that, it just becomes a reality check you perform from time to time to see if you're on the right track.

You won't believe how easy it is. Here's how to envision and realize a bright future:

Look in the mirror.

The first step is to look in the mirror. No, not a real mirror. It's a metaphor. Take some time alone, sit quietly, and think about where you are in your life, how things are going, and where you're heading. Actually, don't just think about it. Try to get past your thoughts. Go deeper. What you really want to know is how you feel about it.

If you have trouble doing that, look at it this way. It's like having a conversation or a meeting with yourself. You start with a topic you want to discuss, so to speak. Ask yourself a few pointed questions and answer honestly. What are your goals? Are you making progress? Is it working out for you? Does it feel like you're on the right track?

Consider your goals.

If your gut says, yeah, you're in a good place, then you're good. If not, then you want to start at the top and question your goals and priorities. If your goals don't feel right then you need to rethink them. If your goals do feel right but you're just not getting there, then you need to rethink how you're going about achieving them – what's working and what isn't – and so on.

Come up with a plan.

See, this is not rocket science. This is big-picture stuff. Brainstorm if you have to. Write down all your ideas without judging them and then figure out which make the most sense or eliminate the ones that don't to narrow it down.

Once you know what you want to achieve in the next year or two, you just start at the present and figure out what you need to do to make that happen. That becomes your plan.

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You don't need a detailed plan, just a few key strategies, a reasonable timeline, and some interim milestones. You can figure out the rest as you go. All you really want is to know where you're heading and have a reasonably clear picture of how you're going to get there.

Take the first step.

What's next? Take the first step. Don't waste any time; just do it. Then take the next step. And the next. And you're on your way. That's all there is to it. If you ever feel that things maybe aren't going as well as they should, just do it again.

Now here's the thing. Let's say you've done this sort of thing before and it's not working. That's not uncommon. You're probably not being entirely honest with yourself and not facing reality. In that case, you need to dig deeper into your feelings and figure out what's going on in there, what you're afraid of.

Another possibility is you're not willing to do the work. I'll let you in on a little secret. The only reason you go looking for generic answers is because that's the easy way out. Thinking is hard. Being alone is hard. Taking a good hard look in the mirror and facing what you see is hard. Planning is hard.

Getting online and searching for canned answers, deluding yourself into thinking you're helping yourself when you're really just wasting time, that's easy. The only problem is you won't find the answers you're looking for that way. It's not possible because you and your situation are unique.

Sure, it's hard, but nothing worth achieving is ever easy. If you want to be successful and happy, there are some things, some very important things, you simply have to figure out for yourself. If not, you'll never achieve them, that's for sure.

Related: How to Hire the Best Talent and Avoid the Most Common Pitfalls

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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