In 384 B.C., a man named Aristotle spoke of what it meant to be smart. He said, the beginning of all wisdom is knowing yourself. In 60 A.D., a Roman philosopher named Seneca continually asked himself three questions: first, what bad habit did I cure today? Second, what temptation did I resist? And third, in what way am I better today, than I was yesterday?
Here we find ourselves at the beginning of a new year and new decade. You’ve undoubtedly reflected on the past ten years – what you looked like, what you were doing, who was in your life…in 2010. It’s fascinating to make that mental journey from one point in time to now. Just as interesting is the exercise of mapping out the seemingly predictable moments that will come in the next ten. Graduations, marriages, jobs, new relationships, etc. – it will all happen.
Ten years or one year, both are a substantial amount of time, enough to be a part of personal transformation. Each year, many of us engage in the tradition of creating resolutions. We seek to accomplish our best selves through a set of goals that we deem the pinnacle representation of that achievement. However, that moment of achievement – when you cross the race finish line, when you reach that weight number, when you realize x, y, z – isn’t where the transformation, or reward, lies.
It’s a concept that is addressed in James Clear’s Atomic Habits. In his book, Clear tackles how to effectively create habits that will help us reach greater heights in our lives. Clear states, setting a goal, which focus on merely achieving an end result, isn’t necessarily the approach we should be taking. Instead, we need to focus on the systems – or processes – required that will ultimately lead us in the direction we want to go. In other words, we need to focus on the journey, not what we perceive to be the final destination – because there isn’t one. After all, there is life after that goal you set and presumably achieve. Instead of solely focusing on the marathon you hope to run in a year, find joy and satisfaction in the training process, in the strength and endurance that is being gained by dedicating yourself to this activity. And sometimes, what we set out to do changes in the process, leading to something better.
Embracing the “Switches” In Your Journey
In my experience with executive coaching, I deal with a lot of professionals who want to change, but one of the hardest parts of change is found in the concept of acceptance. What are individuals willing to accept so they stop getting in their own way to an alternative path? The key is to not resist alternative routes.
I can’t help but think of my own changes in course I’ve experienced. From a Wallstreet professional to a professor, author, coach and radio host, these changes have only helped me improve; they’ve presented amazing opportunities that I could have never dreamed of.
Have you ever played “Ticket to Ride”? It’s a railway-themed German-style board game that won the prestigious Spiel des Jahres award for Best Board Game years ago. The main point of the game is for players to complete as many end-to-end destinations as possible laying train tracks across routes over a map of the United States. Many of the routes you may be dealt in the game cover thousands of miles without a stop. While others are shorter destinations.
Illustrated and set at the beginnings of the railroad era, it’s hard not to think about what transportation must have been like on those early trains and routes. The idea of getting on at one location with the promise of ending up at another, no interruptions, no stops, no alternative routes, sounds simple and nice enough. However, life isn’t that way at all – and thank goodness it isn’t. Like the railroad switches that eventually gave greater options and increased efficiency in the railway world, our lives are full of switches that force us to choose which way we’ll go throughout our different journeys in life.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve found myself in one such switch, where opportunities to explore options I’ve never considered has been presented to me. Months ago, I taped a show for “Mind Your Business” in the ABC studios. I had previously been a guest on the show twice, the first was at the release of A Climb to the TOP, the second several months ago. However, this was my first time pinch-hitting for the host. It was nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at once – I’m grateful I was given the opportunity and that I accepted it. As a result, I find myself hosting my own segment each Sunday evening on 77WABC radio.
In addition to this, I recently headed to Los Angeles to complete the pilot of A Climb to the TOP: Stories Of Personal and Professional Transformation. For months I’ve worked on a script that will highlight some of the greatest moments of my life and career. What an amazing experience this has been, and a “switch” I didn’t necessarily see coming.
We are each dealt “destination” cards at different points in our life or career that we strive to complete, just like the objective of Ticket to Ride. The thing is, veering off course when railway switches present themselves – as they do in real life – can lead to even better destinations than you could have ever imagined. Consider the unexpected opportunities that present themselves that may force you to change course. Just because the destination changes, doesn’t mean it won’t be any less rewarding.
Recognizing the Need for Change
Recently, I had Karen Conlon, licensed CBT Psychotherapist, on my radio show, A Climb to the Top: Stories of Transformation. Her experience epitomizes this idea of embracing the journey even if you don’t know what the destination is. For Karen, a first-generation Dominican-American, the pressure to succeed and make those who came before her proud was significant. Having an innate ability to personally connect with others, she found herself excelling in a sales career for quite some time. However, as she moved from role to role and industry to industry, she became increasingly dissatisfied with the trajectory of her life. She wanted more for herself and her family. Figuring out what that meant was a journey in and of itself.
She ultimately went back to school mid-career to receive her Master’s degree in Social Work with a clinical concentration; her goal was to help others work through their own personal transformations just as she had done. “My experience is why I do what I do today. That personal journey and experience of having to get through the really tough things that can get in the way helped me to understand everyone has inner strength and resilience,” says Karen. “The difference is some people know it and other people are just not aware of them yet. That is what motivates me in this work.”
Karen shared that throughout her personal experience with therapy and understanding where she wanted her life to go, she learned about the things she was conscious of as well as the things she was not aware of that were driving her behaviors and decisions. As a result, Karen says, she reacted to her environment instead of assessing and redirecting as needed. There seems to be a universal fear in altering one’s path, even when it is necessary for one’s well-being.
Events that yield transformation and change can feel like monumental struggles—and sometimes result in a frustrating internal conflict. There is often anxiety, apprehension, and fear inherent in taking on the challenges associate with growth. However, to achieve your true potential, it’s necessary to take these opportunities head-on.
Clients come to me with challenges to overcome in pursuit of meeting their goals. Although each situation is unique, we climb this mountain together. So many of our opportunities come in the package of seemingly small, insignificant chances, suggestions or decisions. Others present themselves as major detours. Either way, these turns in your course can open up to something incredible. As a mountaineer, you can’t always predict what the path will be that you end up taking.
This I do know: detours, switches, and unexpected obstacles will present themselves. The key is to embrace change and the actual process of improvement – not necessarily one specific goal. Make self-awareness and assessment a priority in your individual journey. Be brave enough to recognize a need for change just as Karen did in her life. When we find the strength and resilience that exists within each of us, we can reach the summits of our personal mountains.
Hear my interview with Karen and tune in to hear more stories of personal transformation each Sunday on 77WABC Radio at 9pm ET.
Read the related post Change Must be Led Step by Step and Brick by Brick