The Path FROM Success: Working Backwards to Plan Your Future
"Chance favors the prepared mind." – Louis Pasteur
Each day that we show up at work, we like to think we’re making progress toward a larger goal – that we’re doing more than just staying afloat. Whether it be stockpiling in case of misfortune, making something of ourselves, living the high life or simply avoiding failure, we are seeking to gain more – more abundance, security, fun, influence, and freedom.
What keeps us going is the hope that each accomplishment will take us farther along the path to our success. We try to gain momentum… work smart, not hard… keep our eyes open for opportunities… take on new responsibilities… find partners with equal passion… even plan out our career goals and pursue them. But by focusing our efforts on what we’re doing now, we can actually water down the potential we work so hard to create. That is, if we don’t have a clear mental picture of our particular kind of success.
Live Your Successful Life Now
Repeatedly playing a mental video of successful performance is an effective training method for many professional athletes. It is proven to open up channels of communication between the mind and muscles, preparing the body to respond when called upon. In this way, an expert pianist can quickly become an expert typist because those channels between his or her brain and fingers are already open.
In the same way, by taking time to engineer in your mind a video of you living your future success, you can prepare yourself to actually live it when key opportunities finally arrive. It will feel familiar to you, and you will be less likely to shy away from success… or miss the open door altogether.
But before you start visualizing your life on a yacht surrounded by wealth, beauty, power, romance, luxury and exotic places, consider where you got that image of success. Was it handed to you? Were you pushed toward it? It’s essential that the mental picture – or Career Success Model – that you create truly represents your inner potential and deepest desires. Because if you are conflicted about what you truly want out of life, you will not be able to create an image powerful enough to program those all-important channels of communication between your mind and your muscles. It’s not enough to see it in your mind – you have to feel it in your body and experience the emotions as if it’s happening now.
Creating a Career Success Model
If you were planning to take the bus to an appointment with a new doctor at 3 p.m. on the other side of town, it wouldn’t make much sense to take the first available bus that stopped at your corner. You would look at the bus schedule to see which bus arrives at the destination just before 3, then you would see what buses you could take to hook up with that bus from your point of origin. The logic is, if you know where you want to end up, you can then follow the possible routes backwards to your current position in order to map your itinerary. The more bus routes, the more options you have to get you where you want to go in a timely fashion.
Career planning can be approached similarly. By first defining a clear expectation of your success, you can then map out the trip according to what will get you there – from destination to origin. The more connections you create through your dedication to work in the present – through accomplishments, networking, gaining expertise, and developing complementary career paths – the more routes you’ll have from which to choose that will ultimately bring you to your destination.
The first step is to create your Career Success Model – that mental video of your personal version of success. Here are some questions to help you brainstorm the details (the more detail you put into the answers, the more powerful mental image you’ll have working in your favor):
Career role – What kind of work do you see yourself doing, if any? How do you spend your days? Do you see yourself doing most of your work in an office, at home, in a cabin, on the road, on a boat, or elsewhere? What are you using to get your work done? Are you directing others, letting someone else call the shots, or on your own? What do people call you at work? At the end of the work day, what gives you a sense of deep accomplishment?
Focus – What was the one thing, more than anything else, that was the catalyst for your success? What understanding about yourself finally came through as a revelation, clearing away assumptions or self-imposed obstacles that had gotten in your way previously? What decision did you make that changed everything? At what moment did the momentum start building… and keep building?
Work environment – As you look at the office, garden, home theater, work bench, ski jump or studio where you do your work, what’s on the walls? What’s in the refrigerator? What’s under your feet? What tools do you have in easy reach? Is the environment calm or fast-paced?
Sphere of influence – Living your future success, what types of people surround you? How are you connected to power and resources? What relationships have lasted throughout difficult transitions, and why? When you are in public, how are you interacting with people? What are you known for, and among whom? In what ways has your career path to that point had a positive or negative impact on others?
Lifestyle – What geographic area do you see yourself calling home? What does your home look like? How many people are in it? What kinds of relationships are parts of your successful life? What colors are on the walls? What do you smell when the windows are open? What does your favorite chair feel like? How do you spend your free time?
Personal profile – Who are you as the person living your career success? What skills and abilities do you have? What moral positions do you take, and how are they different or the same from the ones that got you to where you are? What meaning and purpose has brought you this far, and what drives you forward? What hurdles have you overcome or skills mastered?
Onward and upward – From where you are in your success, how much more success is available around you? How could you have accomplished even more than you have in your vision? What would make that future life even more fulfilling? And from that moment, where are you headed? What is the next challenge, goal, or reward that you would pursue? How would you give back?
Your model will continue to develop as you put thought into it going forward, so don’t worry about nailing everything down now, and leave yourself room to adjust it as new inspiration arrives.
Mapping the Journey
Once you’ve filled in the puzzle pieces to arrive at a beginning Career Success Model, consider it from a bird’s eye view. Imagine a grid made of triangles covering a map of all potential career opportunities available to you – even those you don’t know about. Find the dot where you are, and the dot where you intend to be, then notice how many ways you can follow the line segments formed by the triangles to get from your destination to your point of origin.
Perhaps some segments of the pathway are clearly labeled with names (for example, "get part time job in as accounting clerk to help pay for college", "join a professional association", "get accounting degree", "pass CPA exam", "mentor with a self-employed CPA", "find job as CPA", "start financial strategy blog", "become partner in CPA firm", "open own corporate accounting firm", "gain several Fortune 500 clients", etc.) while others have yet to be labeled.
Like a transfer point between bus routes, the node at each crossroads can be considered a benchmark of progress – like a flexible checklist. ("Got the part-time job", "started the blog", "got the mentorship", "spoke at a conference", "got a scholarship", "got the degree", "passed CPA test", "got certified as financial advisor", "taught community workshops", "taught classes at local college", "opened own financial strategy consulting firm", "found partners to expand business", "landed first Fortune 500 client", etc.) Each time you reach a new node, revisit your Career Success Model to add additional detail.
The point is, there are many paths that lead to your vision of success. The key is to know what to look for on the way and be ready for catalysts as they come. You’ve begun a new form of mental exercise that becomes easier and more productive with practice – one that will position you in the pocket of opportunity where conditions are most favorable for manifesting the necessary resources for the next leg of your journey. Following the grid can take the fear out of taking the next step, knowing that all routes are interconnected.
For more information about the science behind the use of mental imagery for success, read <a href="http://www.suite101.com/content/visualization-a17777" target="_blank">Setting Yourself Up for Success: How and Why Visualization Works.
Ellen Berry is a member of the BrainTrack.com writing staff and has contributed a great deal of content to the site’s <a href = "http://www.braintrack.com/career-planning-guide" Career Planning Guide.