The Secret is to Become a Great Problem Solver.
There are two parts to any dream worth pursuing. The first is a vision of what you really want. Or some people may describe it as a destination on a map. I talked about this last week in Part 1 of Dreaming Big. The second part is the action you take to achieve the vision. Or, in other words, it is the path on the map to the destination.
There isn’t only one map for our lives. Once we reach one destination, the next one reveals itself. Once you achieve your goal of raising $150,000 at the fundraising dinner, you can envision raising $250,000. Once you become a great manager, you can envision becoming a great executive director.
You get to design the path. You are the only one who can take the action needed to reach your destination.
There are many times in our lives where we’re trying to figure out our own path and destination and everything is murky. So we walk someone else’s path. And for awhile it may make some sense to do that. We follow other’s expectations of how to be a good manager at our nonprofit, versus defining your own leadership style. We want to do good in this world and we limit the ways we serve because “that’s how things get done,” versus creating a new project. We create programs that will get grant funded, which usually means meeting a certain status quo.
Somewhere along the way the frustration, burn out, angst, or yearning for something different creeps in. You must listen for what this tension is asking for in these times. In order to be fulfilled, joyous, or peaceful, you must learn to listen to that voice in order to be pulled towards what you really want. It may lead you somewhere unexpected, but it’ll never lead you astray.
I’m re-reading the previous paragraphs and realizing how esoteric they sound. So, before I lose you, let’s make this really practical.
There are certain aspects of your nonprofit job you love and certain parts that you avoid like the plague. You can’t tell the dividing line between the two. It could be that you teach adult GED classes. You love helping the students learn, celebrating their success, and knowing that you have a very real part to play in their earning potential. You avoid the data entry, tracking grades, attendance, outcomes, etc. You always put it off until the last minute, usually missing the deadline. Your boss asks, “What’s really keeping you from not hitting this deadline?” And your response is always, “I just don’t have time.” One day, out of frustration, you bark out, “I just hate doing it.”
Your actions, and in this case procrastination, are making you more miserable than necessary. Nothing will ever change if you’re not willing to admit that you avoid the data entry because you’re feeling insecure about doing it right, it doesn’t involve working with others (and you love working with others), and you continuously put it at the bottom of your priority list because you. just. don’t. see. the. point.
You won’t achieve your dreams if you stay stuck in your frustration. You must take action to fix it. Everyday.
If you’re this teacher, as soon as you admit your frustration to yourself and your manager (and maybe even your coach), you can begin to explore why the frustration is there and create a solution for it. You can then align the need for data entry with celebrating student success. You will feel the burden lifted.
As you move past frustration, you can get more of what you want. More of what you want is the path on the map that will get you to the destination. Here are the steps to living your dream as a do-gooder.
- Become an expert on you. Learn what you want out of life: your values, your career, your finances, your spirituality.
- Choose your path above others’ expectations. Find the career, lifestyle, love life, community, locale, home, etc. that you truly want and will support you in being your best self. As a GED teacher, you can come to appreciate how the data entry connects with your job and re-prioritize it. Or you can learn that you really hate data entry and don’t want to do it, so you could look for a GED teaching job where data entry is minimized and non-essential. A third option would be to help your employer better understand your frustrations so they upgrade technology in order to minimize its impact on your teaching. By choosing your own goals, they become the vision you work towards. If you’re continuously choosing what other people want for your life or only focusing on what you don’t want, you’ll become stuck or move toward others’ destinations, not your own. (Hopefully you and your life partner have similar destinations or can work to determine your destinations together.)
- Take one step at a time. Create time in every single day to move toward your destination. We often get overwhelmed by everything that needs to happen to achieve our big dream, so we never begin. And then we wake up a year later and realize we never made any progress. Block off at least 30 to 60 minutes each day for tiny and large steps toward your dream. If you begin your day in this way, you’ll find joy much more quickly.
- Push yourself to take one more step. Achieving our dreams can be overwhelming and exhilarating. When you feel uncomfortable, be bold and take one more step forward. Don’t look back.
As you break through that discomfort, you’ll learn more about yourself. So then you’ll return to step 1 and start it all over.