Today is as a perfect day to talk about embarking on a journey of true exploration and discovery. After all, the stuff of Happy Mondays—meaning, purpose, fulfillment and impact—aren’t commodities that can be easily acquired. Finding them requires exploration, both of our inner-selves and the world-at-large.
If we want work that challenges and fulfills us, we need to give ourselves the permission to embark on this journey. If we want a great job, or to build a great company, I would argue that there are four worlds we need to explore first.
1. Explore Your Interests
What makes your brain light up and smile?
For me, it’s ideas—small hinges that swing big doors. How about for you? What are you really (really) interested in, and always have been?
Give yourself permission to explore as many of your interests as possible without pre-judging it. If you’ve always wanted to do something, stop daydreaming about it and go do it!
One of the things we don’t realize is that we don’t have to quit our day job, or radically upend our lives, to give something a try and make room for a possible pivot. Go take a class. Go volunteer in the area that interests you. Put on the “uniform” and try it out for size. Don’t prejudge it or kill the idea before it has a chance to teach you something about yourself. Don’t get too serious, too quickly.
Simply do it and have fun.
But do observe and be mindful of how you feel while doing it. What do you enjoy most about it? What do you enjoy least?
Give yourself permission to explore the ins and outs of what interests and excites you. This will open gateways to new possibilities. And it works whether you’re 20 or in your 60s.
Remember “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
2. Explore Your Core Values
We know that companies have core values, but shouldn’t people have them too?
I think this is important because contrary to popular belief, “success” in life is not about materialism. Money and material possessions are necessary but after a certain basic threshold they are far from essential. Far from core.
What people seem to regret at the end of their lives is never the acquisition of more material things that they can’t take with them. The regrets come from the realization that they may have chased too hard after the wrong things in life, or followed the wrong priorities.
That’s where our core values come in. They function as your North Star in life. They may not always tell you exactly how to get to your destination (like GPS can) but they always keep you on the right heading. By identifying and living a life in accordance to our core values, true success becomes possible.
But how many of us take the time to explore our inner depths and identify our deepest values. And keep in mind that you may have 20, 30 or even 40 closely held values but only a handful form the very core of your being. Those are the ones you need to identify and respect when you make your decisions.
So map them today!
3. Explore Your Strengths
What are you uniquely qualified to do?
You have innate talents, skills, life history and work experience that makes you unique and potentially exceptional. The problem is that too few people understand this, or discount what they’re capable of accomplishing. Or, they are too scared to strive!
That said, you may be good at a lot of things but on a few of those things you have the opportunity, if you’re willing to invest hard work and effort, to truly stand out and make a unique impact.
But you won’t do it trying to fit in or by merely being “good.” Good is now a commodity. A lot of people are good. Real good. That’s why you need to be exceptional. And the only way to be great is to work on sharpening and polishing your unique strengths—to do work you are uniquely qualified to do and to learn to do it better, and more boldly, every day.
But do you know, with precision, what your strengths are? I think too many (most) people don’t.
Let’s fix that. Strengths Finder has worked for me. I think it will work for you too.
Also, explore your history in detail. When did you stand out? Where did you succeed? Doing what?
Those are also valuable clues.
It’s never too late to discover, understand and learn to use your unique “superpowers.”
4. Explore Opportunities to Serve Others
Identify a problem that is troubling people.
How might that problem be solved? Can you lead the solution effort? Even if money is scarce and resources tight?
This requires exploration because you have to train your mind and senses to spot opportunities to serve others. Oftentimes they’re hidden and unless you’re deeply curious you’ll miss the less obvious ones—the ones with great potential that others overlooked.
You also have to be flexible because one opportunity may morph into another. And it requires a proper mindset and work ethic because as Edison aptly suggested, many opportunities are missed because they’re dressed in overalls and look like work.
The exploration process involves questioning, challenging, analyzing, hypothesizing, testing. Why did something work? Why did something else fail?
Likewise, we can also learn from high achievers and people we admire, but we can often learn more from those who have failed or with whom we may violently disagree (like critics).
Own it. Don’t wait for others to solve it, you do it!
Explore it all. Keep notes. Make a map of all this in your head. A similar process helped Columbus become the best dead reckoning navigator of his day. Steve Jobs had a similar ability to intimately understand what people wanted and the right problems to solve. This skill can only be honed through deliberate practice and mastery takes time. Start now.
A Last Word About Insight vs. Outsight
It’s not an either or proposition. We need to explore both.
First, our inner world of interests, values and strengths in order to define the work we want to do and the impact we want to make. And then the world-at-large so we can understand the new rules of the game and what works in the 21st century.
In the past, most of what I’m telling you didn’t matter much.
Life and work were in many ways predefined for most of us. But as modernity and technology’s march encroaches on the status quo, it offers up the hope of abundance and a seemingly infinite number of possibilities.
But the world-at-large can be cruel. The window of opportunity, that enables the luxury of choice, slowly opens and then shuts close, leaving the late-responders on the outside looking in.
It used to be you went to work, lunchpail in hand, and simply did the work that you were told to do.
You didn’t make trouble nor give quarter to highfalutin ideas. Head down, nose to the grindstone. You took it on faith that the system would take care of you, and for a good while it sort of did, but now that world is unraveling.
A new world is emerging.
It belongs to the explorers.
Are you among them?