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Confused About Your Career? Why That’s Good & What To Do Now

Confused About Your Career? Why That’s Good & What To Do Now

Do you ever pine for the Middle Ages? Oh, those lovely medieval times when life was so limited. How great it must have been to have someone shove a rake in your hand and tell you to go dig potatoes all day long.

Life must have been great when you didn’t have the stress of figuring out a career. No, you just were told: “You’re a blacksmith. You’re a beer wench. You’re a princess.”

There’s no confusion.  You just get on with your potato hoeing, and life is good.

Right?

Uh, wait. What if you don’t like being a potato hoe? Tough potatoes, kid. Who do you think you are?  A minstrel? No. You’re options are limited, so suck it up.

OK, so that’s not what you want.

What you want is to stop feeling confused about your career path. You want certainty that you are doing what you were meant to do and that you will be successful.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and confused, thinking that you should have this all figured out by now, come with me.

I will tell you why you are confused, why this confusion is a good thing, and what to do about it now to feel fulfilled and excited by your life.

The Source of Your Confusion

Every summer for the last 8 years, I have taken groups of teens backpacking and camping in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina. We go deep into the woods for up to 22 days at a time, carrying our food and gathering our water from creeks.

We hike an average of 4 miles a day, and the students learn how to navigate. I don’t guide them; they have to learn how to read the land, read a map, and use a compass so they don’t get lost.

The Appalachian Mountains is one of the hardest places in the world to navigate. There was a time when these mountains were taller than the Himalayas, but erosion over time has worn them into beautiful, rolling, feminine mounds. There are very few peaks to climb to use for triangulation, and in the summer, the lush foliage can make it nearly impossible to see for more than a tenth of a mile.

As a consequence, one rolling mountain knob looks like another. It takes practice to learn to read the subtle distinctions of the land.

Additionally, the maps we use are from 20 years ago, at best. In twenty years, any man-made structure can change. Roads and trails can be re-routed. So you can’t trust the map.

Finally, the compasses that we use go out with hundreds of students and get abused. Sometimes the compass might work well, other times no.  It can’t be fully trusted, either.

Imagine a dozen 14–16-year-olds, most of whom have never done anything like this before (probably never even used a map before), hiking through the woods with limited abilities to understand the world around them, inaccurate maps and potentially faulty compasses.

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Again, I don’t guide them. They work together to figure it out after I teach them the foundational skills.

If they make a mistake, I let them get lost. They have to learn pretty quickly or else they may end up hiking an extra 10 miles because of the mistake.

This is bad news for me, because I have to hike it all with them, knowing we’re going the wrong way the entire time.

Why do I let them get lost? Isn’t that mean?

No. In fact, it would be mean not to.

One crucial navigating skill is learning how to recognize that you are lost, figuring out where you are, and deciding what to do next. If I rescue them or they think I will rescue them, they stop thinking critically.

By letting them get lost, I am teaching them significantly more than showing them the way.

So what does this have to do with you?

You are doing the same thing right now.

Why You Are Confused About Your Career

You are trying to read the subtle distinctions between careers with very limited understanding.

Should I go to law school? What is the difference between a business and entertainment lawyer and a defense attorney?

I want to work with kids. Should I be a teacher, a social worker, a pediatric doctor, or a camp counselor?

Is it better for me to get an MBA or just start my own business?

I have the training, but what’s my niche?

When you don’t know what it’s actually like to be in each job on a daily basis, everything blurs. To a novice, every mountain looks like the next, so how are you supposed to choose?

Plus, you too have an unreliable map that was made 20 years ago. Many people are training for career possibilities that will be obsolete in 10 years. If you trained to be a librarian, you may find yourself a bit screwed right now.

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Technology is rerouting the trails and roads we’ve used for centuries. How are you supposed to confidently invest in the education and training for a career that may not exist in a decade?

And remember that faulty compass?

Did you know that adolescence actually extends to the age of 25 for the average person? What biologically signals the end of adolescence is when your brain fully links up into it’s optimal functioning. Before that, your brain isn’t wholly equipped to make strategic risk-management and predictive decisions by applying past knowledge to current problems.

That means your brain is not a reliably functioning compass until then.

Now, when do most of us decide about our careers? When we are in college around 19 or 20.

We put enormous pressure socially and financially on a 20 year old to have highly attuned internal guidance to make a decision that will determine the destination that we call destiny.

Yet we don’t even legally allow them to decide whether they can have a glass of wine with dinner.

Does this make sense? No!

It’s no wonder that I talk to parents of 20-somethings every day who are deeply concerned that their bright, talented child seems direction-less. “Where did we do wrong?” they ask.

You are not alone if you feel lost in the woods with limited abilities to read the land, holding an unreliable old map, using a faulty compass.

Why It’s OK to Be Confused About Your Career

Are you looking around the terrain of your life wondering, “How did I get here? Is this where I want to be or is this just where I ended up?”

The sheer panic drops down on you when you feel lost and confused.

Ah, man.  I made a huge mistake. I’ve wasted all this time. How could I be so stupid!

Sound familiar?

Guess what I tell my students when they realize they are lost?

Congratulations! You rock!  This is awesome! What great opportunity you have now!

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Why is getting lost a good thing?

Congratulations, you’ve gained experience you didn’t have before.  You didn’t intend to explore this path and discover this waterfall, but you did.  You wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.  You didn’t waste time. You gained know-how and perspective.

You rock because you figured out that you are lost. Many people never will. Or if they recognize that they are lost, they just ignore it, heading in the wrong direction forever.

You rock because you are aware NOW. That is a skill. Not everyone will use that skill effectively.

You rock because you are thinking. You rock because you are brave enough to see the truth.

That feeling of confusion is not telling you that you did something wrong. It’s telling you that you are on the verge of doing something right. (Oh, that’s good. Want to Tweet it?)

This is awesome because now you get to practice how to figure out where you are and where you want to go next. Not everyone will get this opportunity—not because it’s not available to them, but because they avoid it.

Learning how to figure out where you are and deciding where you want to go feels scary when you don’t do it often. You can feel paralyzed that you will make the wrong decision.

To feel successful in life, you have to learn to be an expert at this. Any parent, spouse, student, learner, business owner, leader, pilot, president, commander, artist—to be successful, they must learn how to recognize when they are off track and decide the new course.

Recognizing that you are lost is actually very exciting! Now you get to create a whole new possibility. What a great opportunity!

What To Do Now

Obviously, you care about your life and your career, or you wouldn’t be confused. Confusion can only happen if you care. When you don’t care about something, you’re just, “Whatever.”

“Whatever” is not confused.

But you are confused. Therefore, you rock.

Celebrate yourself and get pumped. Your life is ripe with possibility.  You can create anything you want.

Now, consult an expert. Great navigators love to share what they know. They are proud of what they’ve learned, and they know that navigating is hard.

Look around you. Do you see anyone who has the life or the career you want? If not, there’s this thing called the Internet. Keep looking until you find someone.

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Ask them how they got there. Ask them what they learned along the way. What was a key lesson for them? What tripped them up? What was difficult? What was easy? What do they love about their mission and work? What are the challenges they face?

Also, if you enjoy talking with them and can help them address any of their challenges, offer to help. Use any talent or skill that you have (especially the ones you learned while you were lost) to serve them, and they may find that they are compelled to help you, too.

If you don’t like talking to that person, keep looking until you find someone with a career that inspires you who you enjoy talking to.

Also, get a coach.  This person can be someone you pay or not.  It could be the same person as the one who inspires you. Whoever it is, they need to have a great understanding of the terrain you are in and have a sincere desire to serve your best interest without judgment.

Their personal identity should not be involved at all, which is why parents are not the best choice here. Even lovely parents are not good coaches in this sense. They have bias because they feel intimately connected to your past selves.  You need someone who can focus on the present and the future.

When you get off-track, they shouldn’t fix it for you. You need someone who can stand by you in the midst of your frustration and have faith that the figuring-it-out pain is crucial to your learning process. They will help, but they shouldn’t rescue.

In the meantime, if you have a job or you are going to school, show up and be outstanding. Give your full enthusiasm and talent to each task and interaction. You know that this current situation is not forever.  Any experience or skill you gain will just make you that much stronger and more prepared when you do decide where you’re going next.

The Future’s So Bright—You Know The Rest

Alright, my friend, I’m excited for you. It’s time to step up and lead yourself into the future. In the end, no matter what path you take, you are still creating your life. Have fun with it!

Nothing has more of an impact on your life than you. When you decide to do something, you are unstoppable.  There is no dream that is beyond you. You have the creativity and the will to push and push and PUSH until you breakthrough.

You’ve woken up and seen the truth.  Don’t go back to sleep now.  Don’t let yourself settle for less than you deserve. Don’t confuse “confusion” for “error.”

You are in exactly the right place at the right time to experience everything you’ve been seeking.

Focus on what you’ve learned.  Focus on what you can give.  Focus on how you can best serve.  Focus on your joy.

Have faith that anything you focus on, you will hit.

You can learn to read the terrain. You can learn to work with an unreliable map. You can learn to overcome an untrustworthy compass.

After all, I’m not still lost in the woods, am I? No. Every group of teenagers I’ve ever worked with has learned to navigate successfully under these conditions.

And they ain’t got nothing on you.

Featured photo credit: o0o0xmods0o0o via morguefile.com

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Published on March 20, 2019

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

Have you ever felt lost in the minutia of your job?

As a business owner, I can relate to getting bogged down in the day to day operations of my business. Things like inventory, payroll, scheduling, purchasing and employee management take up the bulk of my day.

While these things are important and need to get done, focusing too much on the details can make you lose sight of the big picture. This is why having a good mission statement comes in handy.

What is a Mission Statement?

Put simply, a mission statement is an internal document that provides a clear purpose for the organization. It provides a common reference point for everyone in the organization to start from.

In other words, after reading your company’s mission statement, managers and employees should be able to answer the question “What are company’s main objectives?” For example, Southwest Airlines mission statement reads:[1]

“Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.”

In this single statement, Southwest conveys the company’s goals of providing the highest level of customer service as well as providing a good working environment for their employees.

Mission Statement VS. Vision Statement

While the mission and vision statements are related, there are subtle but distinct differences the you should be aware of.

First of all, a mission statement is designed primarily as an internal company document. It provides clarity and direction for managers and employees.

While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your company’s mission statement with the outside world, its intended audience is within the company.

While a mission statement provides a general framework for the organization, the vision statement is usually a more inspirational statement designed to motivate employees and inspire customers. Going back to Southwest Airlines, their vision statement reads:[2]

“To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”

This statement inspires good feeling from the customer while motivating the employees to achieve that vision.

What Does a Good Mission Statement Look Like?

When coming up with a mission statement, it’s important to take your time and do it right. Too often, people (especially entrepreneurs) just write down the first thing that comes to mind and they end up with worthless or (worse yet) a generic mission statement that is utterly useless.

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Remember, a mission statement should provide a common framework for everyone in your organization.

When writing a mission statement, you should always try to incorporate the following;

  • What we do?
  • How we do it?
  • Whom do we do it for?
  • What value are we bringing?

Now, you can see how tempting it is to just come up with something generic that ticks off those four boxes. Something like “We provide the best widgets available online for the consumer.”

After all, that did check off all the boxes:

What we do? Provide widgets.

How we do it? Online.

Who do we do it for? The consumer.

What value we bring? The best widgets.

The problem with this mission statement is that it could apply to any number of companies producing the same widget. There is nothing to distinguish your company or its widgets from any of your competitors widgets.

Compare that mission statement to this one:

“We provide the highest quality widgets directly to the consumer at an affordable price backed up with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If our clients aren’t 100% satisfied, we’ll make it right.”

What’s the difference?

Both mission statements answer all the same questions of what, how, whom and value. But in the second statement, they are differentiating their company from all other competitors by answering the question “what makes us unique”.

Another way to read that is, “Why you should buy from us.” In this example, it’s because our widgets are of the highest quality and we stand behind them 100%.

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You might have noticed the statement didn’t say that we sell widgets at the lowest possible price. That’s because we are emphasizing quality and satisfaction over price.

A different company’s mission statement may emphasize selling widgets at the lowest possible price with little to no mention of a guarantee.

Hallmarks of a Good Mission Statement

1. Keep It Brief

Your mission statement should be no longer than three sentences. This is not your company’s magnum opus.

You should be able to distill the what, how, who and why questions into a succinct message.

2. Have a Purpose

A company’s missions statement should include the reason it even exists.

Make clear exactly what the company does with statements like “We strive to provide our customers with …….”

3. Include a “How”

Take this as an opportunity to differentiate your company from its competitors.

How do you provide a product or service that’s different or better than how your competitor provides it?

4. Talk About the Value You Bring to the Table

This is where you can really set yourself apart from the competition. This is the “why” customers should buy from you.

Do you offer the lowest prices? Fastest delivery? Exceptional customer service? Whatever it is that sets you apart and gives your particular products, services or company an advantage talk about it in the mission statement.

5. Make Sure It’s Plausible

It’s okay to shoot for the stars just to settle for the moon, but not in a mission statement.

Being overly ambitious will only set you and your employees up for failure, hurt morale and make you lose credibility. You will also scare away potential investors if they think that you are not being realistic in your mission statement.

6. Make It Unique and Distinctive

Imagine if someone who knew nothing about your business walked in and saw how it was operating, then they read your mission statement. Would they be able to recognize that mission statement was attached to that business? If not re-work it.

7. Think Long Term

A mission statement should be narrow enough so that it provides a common framework for the existing business, but open enough to allow for longer term goals. It should be able to grow as the business grows.

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8. Get Feedback

This is very important, especially from managers and employees.

Getting their input can clarify how they currently see the company and their role within the organization. It’s also a good way to get people “on-board,” as studies show that people are more likely to go along with an idea if they feel included in the decision making process beforehand.

9. Review Often and Revise as Necessary

You should review the missions statement often for two reasons.

First, as a reminder of what the essence of the company is. It’s easy to forget when you are in the day to day grind of the business.

And two, to make sure that the mission statement is still relevant. Things change, and not everything can be anticipated at the time a mission statement was written.

For example, if a mission statement was written before the advent of the internet, a company that use to sell things door to door now probably has a website that people order from. You should always update the mission statement to reflect these changes.

The Value of Mission Statements: Why Go Through All of These in the First Place?

It may seem like a lot of work just for a few sentences that describe a company, but the value of a well written mission statement should not be discounted.

First of all, if you are an entrepreneur, crystallizing the what, how, whom and value questions will keep you focused on the core business and its values.

If you are a manager or other employee, knowing the company’s basic tenants will help inform your interactions with both customers and colleagues alike.

Strategic Planning

A relevant mission statement acts as a framework for strategic planning. It provides guidance and parameters for making strategic decisions for the future of the company.

Measuring Performance

By having the company’s mission in a concrete form, it also allows for an objective measurement of how well the organization is meeting its stated goals at any one time.

Management can identify strengths and weaknesses in the organization based on the criteria set forth in the mission statement and make decisions accordingly.

Solidifying the Company’s Goals and Values for Employees

Part of a well run organization is nurturing happy and productive employees.

As humans, we all have an innate need for both purpose and to be part of something larger than ourselves. Providing employees with a clearly defined mission statement helps to define their role in the larger organization. Thus, fulfilling both of these needs.

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Now I’m not saying that a mission statement can overcome low pay and poor working conditions, but with everything else being equal, it can contribute to a happier and more productive workforce.

To Hold Management Accountable

By creating a mission statement, a company is publicly stating its highest values and goals for the world to see. By doing so, you are inviting both the public and your employees to to scrutinize how well the company lives up to its ideals.

So if you state that you only provide the highest quality products, and then offer something less, it’s fair for both the public and the employees to question, and even call for a change in management.

If management doesn’t take the mission statement seriously, no one else will either; and the legitimate authority that management rely’s on will be diminished.

To Serve as an Example

This is the opposite side of the coin from the previous statement. If the highest levels of management are seen taking the mission statement seriously and actively managing within the framework of the statement, that attitude filters down throughout the organization.

After all, a good employee knows what’s important to their boss and will take the steps necessary to curry favor with them.

Finally, use the company’s mission statement as a way to define roles within the company. You can do this by giving each division in the company a copy of the mission statement and challenge the head of each division to create a mission statement for their respective departments.

Their individual mission statements should focus on how each department fits in and ultimately contributes to the success of the company’s overall mission statement. This serves as both a clarifying and a team building exercise for all parts of the organization.

Final Thoughts

Developing a mission statement is too often just an after-thought, especially for entrepreneurs. We tend to prioritize things that we perceive will give us the biggest “bang for our buck.”

Somehow, taking the time and effort to sit down and think seriously about the what, whom, how and value of our business seems like a waste of time. After all, we got in the business to make money and become successful, isn’t that all we need to know?

That mindset will probably get you started okay, but if you find yourself having any success at all, you’ll find that there really is such a thing as growing pains.

By putting in the time and effort to create a mission statement, you are laying the groundwork that will give you a path to follow in your growth. And isn’t building long term success what we are really after?

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Featured photo credit: Fab Lentz via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Southwest Airlines: About Page
[2] Fit Small Business: 10 Vision Statement Examples To Spark Your Imagination

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