Uncovering your priorities

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How do you figure out what matters most to you?

Maybe that question feels intimidating and overwhelming to consider. Sometimes we’ve spent the first half of our career ignoring that question in pursuit of other goals – which is perfectly fine! I think it’s valuable to take time to answer this question, at whatever point in your life it pops up and really demands your attention.

Getting clarity on what you value is a powerful way to help define what might be next for you, or what might need to shift a little in your current set-up. We’ll start there, because often the idea of “finding your purpose” is what’s most overwhelming: as if there’s just one thing you’re meant to do in this life.

My own view on purpose is that it’s more important to have a sense of meaning in what you do, and that definition of meaning can shift over time, and look different from one job to the next, or one phase of life to the next. There are variations of what “purpose” will look like depending on your circumstances at the moment, so don’t stress about finding one particular magical job that is your answer forever.

Here is a simple process to follow to do a deep dive into what matters to you:

Step 1: Reflect on Your Values

Use these questions to prompt your thinking:

  • What are some formative stories from your life that taught you some lessons that still resonate?
  • What are some of the things you want to impart to your kids, nieces and nephews, or other young people in your life? What messages, or what qualities are important for them to know about?
  • What do you think we need more of in the world? What ways of being, what behaviors, what choices would make a difference?

Additionally, you can use lists like this to see what else might resonate with you as priorities in your life – or in your life moving forward.

Step 2: Uncover Your WHYs

Once you have a list of values – whether they’re single words, or stories, or phrases – for each of them, consider why these are important to you. Understanding your WHYs will help with prioritizing – knowing which ones are the most important to you.

Step 3: Prioritize and Analyze

Out of your list, however long it is, identify 3-5 of these values that you want to focus on in this next phase of your life. And then use those to do some introspection on how they match with what you’re currently doing – or to help guide you in making some decisions about where you want to be.

Step 4: Use Values as an Anchor

As you keep these values top of mind, even posted on your wall somewhere, they can be a true anchor to you as you embark upon a shift of any kind – whether changing jobs, pursuing a side passion, or reordering your life priorities. It makes decision-making simpler, if not necessarily easy (there isn’t often an obvious answer, without potential downsides). But the upside is that the decisions you make will feel congruent with who you are and what’s most important to you.

When I interview candidates, I can immediately tell if they’ve done some of this introspection – they are clear about why they’re interested in this particular job, and in that particular organization. They are deeply engaged in the conversation. And they ask thoughtful questions – because they want to do their part to see if there’s a match. They’re not just looking for any job, but the one that will be the right next step for what matters to them.

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