Have you noticed how when it’s time to make money and build stuff, businesses and the design teams they employ use client requirements, data-analysis systems and computer tools to help them make the right design decisions. The best products they come up with are so well built and feature rich that it blows your mind that those levels of quality are even possible.
But when those same engineers, managers and employees try to find their life path and the career that is right for them then they go with hunches, unverified first impressions, stereotypes and outdated best practices. And then they wonder how their lives became such a mess of unfulfilling days, abandoned dreams, stressful careers, hectic family lives, lonely social circles, poor health or wrecked finances. It’s not their fault. That’s how everyone does it.
But just so it doesn't happen to you, in this post we will go over all the things that you don't know that you know. Specifically how do you formulate the right requirements for your life and how to use them to make the best life decisions you can. These are split into two categories; Values and Purpose.
Strengths and Skills also play a role in your decision making, but they are not requirements and matter much less that what you think. For example, business might be very good at making prop engines instead of jet engines, but the FAA safety requirements for the aircraft barely change, no matter the propulsion system.
Living According To Your Values
Values are what is important to you. What is it that you hold most dear in life? The answer to that question is extremely personal to each individual. Not only the values themselves vary from person to person, but also priorities around those values vary from person to person. We will explore what that means to you looking for a path in life.
Lots of people think they have good values. But the first problem is that they don’t live in accordance with those values. They say they value one thing and then they do the complete opposite when push comes to shove. I’ll give you three very simplistic examples that kind of illustrate my point.
For example, family and human connection is a very common value that people say they have. Yet even before social distancing, we were too busy with our lives to truly sit down and listen and support the people closest to us. Our careers and individual worries almost always took over to the point where you barely communicate with your immediate family.
Living a healthy a life is another good value. But when the time comes to choose between Netflix and a workout, we often make the wrong choice. Mostly because we’re exhausted from all the overtime we had to clock in. So our health sinks deeper and deeper in our list of everyday priorities even if it’s something we hold dear inside of us.
Freedom is another one. A lot of people value freedom and independence. Yet here are some quick stats about the middle class in the United-States.
Median household income in the U.S. was 61 372$ as of 2017
The median household debt was 59 800$
This includes car loans, mortgages, credit card loans, student debts and so on. That’s a 95% debt to income ratio. Do you think the average American can afford to live the life they want? Or are they stuck at their jobs because they have bills to pay?
The result of all of this is that we say what is important to us, but we fail to take action to ensure that those things are at the forefront of our daily activities. We say we have values, but we don't live by them. We allow our fears, the expectation of others and the status quo to take control of our lives and we don't truly live.
It is the equivalent of cutting corners to save money in designing an aircraft, when everyone knows that safety should be your number one priority: Eventually you crash and burn and have to clean-up your mess. The same thing applies to our lives.
Figure Out Your Values
The process of finding values is relatively straightforward and is best done with a partner. Although this is where a coach can be most useful, you can do this exercise with someone you trust. Go through the exercises in both links and make sure you talk through the answers you give with your partner. The partner is your sanity check. We are often very bad at introspecting so your partner is here to keep you on track. Do the exercises in both links. If you get similar results from both then you can be sure that you are on the right track.
Write down your top 6 values and order them by priority top to bottom. Once you have a specific list of them think about how your life aligns with those values, or doesn’t. If your top value is family and you never call your mom, it will weigh on you in the long term. In the same way, if your top value is Ambition and success and you don't do anything to progress on your side-hustle then you are also setting up for disappointment.
It might seem trivial at first because no one will die if you don't call your mom one week. But like many other things, we often sacrifice the important and non-urgent tasks in order to deal with the realities of life. But when you neglect them the effects are not immediately visible. But as you compound those effects over years and decades they link directly to your wellbeing, happiness or anxiety and mental health.
Purpose & How to Find It
Purpose is what gives your life meaning. And it is such a vague concept that everyone has their own definition and ways to find it. At Life Engineering we define purpose as the thing that inspires you to wake up every morning. In order to help clients find their purpose we have tools that we use internally during our coaching sessions. Should you wish to try this in your own, we strongly recommend Simon Sinek's books.
But for the purposes of this blog post, we have a shortcut to offer you. Remember how fulfillment and self-actualization is found in helping others? You can get many of the benefits of purpose by substituting it with service.
Specifically, don't do this just for yourself. Do this to inspire someone around you. The tools and the process we teach are used to build the ideal life of health, challenge and abundance. But who else looks up to you? You are not the only one that is questioning yourself. They might not know it yet, but your family, your friends and perfect strangers need you to become the best leader and mentor you can be for their sake. Will you create leaders and inspire change wherever you go?
I'll give you an example. Having witnessed it first hand, I can share some details about how the military operates. It might surprise you to hear that as an organization it doesn’t have the best equipment available, that it is overburdened by bureaucracy and is constantly short-staffed. But despite all these shortcomings, it is the most effective organization I have had the privilege to be part of. Want to know how they do it?
The first thing everyone learns in basic training is to sacrifice your personal well-being for the benefit of the community and work as a team. This means that if you think your work is done, but the team isn’t then you’re not done. This means that if you need to do more than everyone else to help the team succeed then you will. This means that the well-being of others comes before your own.
And they do so for a very specific reason. When you are exhausted, cold, wet, hungry and you haven’t slept in 10 days you can do two things. You can pity yourself and agonize over how miserable you are to no end. This makes the pain so much worse. Or you could shift your focus from your own pain and ask yourself how you can still help the man besides you carry-on.
This simple shift makes your own issues much more bearable and somehow you find the strength to help your buddy that you didn’t have to help yourself. And if your buddy does the same for you, you have just created a total that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The more I study this phenomenon the more I see it happening in great tales of resilience. For the heroes in these tales, accomplishing their great deeds was never about themselves. To them it was some great service to others that gave them great strength. I think it’s part of our biology. It is so hard wired in our brains that it’s second nature and we don’t use it enough. Service gives you superpowers.
Now that you know that you can choose to dedicate your energy to something bigger than yourself that is truly important to you. You can choose to surround yourself with like-minded people and help change the world a little bit. Not because you're paid to do it, but just because you want to.
The Three Secrets of Skills
A skill is something that you have practiced enough to be competent at. Everyone knows what a skill is: playing guitar, coding or applying makeup. You start with being really bad at something and as your practice you become better until you become proficient. Here are 3 things that people don’t know about their skills.
Secret 1: Everyone has skills. We learn skills from the age of 2. Walking is a skill, so is video games, so is knowing your way around a web browser, so is knowing what size a pot to buy to pot a plant. You have been learning things for a long time now. The problem starts when you feel that you have no employable skills. If your skillset doesn’t provide for you financially then it’s not that you are not good at anything. You just need to build new skills that will serve you better. We are at the mercy of what is valuable in the job market. The sooner you accept this the quicker you can move on.
Secret 2: If you think you’re not good at anything, then you over-estimate what it means to be proficient in a skill. The world is built by average people for average people. Of course, the best lawyers, engineers, painters make millions, but for every one exceptionally skilled person there’s an ARMY of average people that do the vast majority of the work. For every aerospace engineer going into space, there are ten others building toilets. And thank god they do. I would hate to do my business in a hole in the ground.
This comparison surprisingly works in a lot of fields and careers. From the outside you look at the impressive interviewer in front of you talking about how they only hire the best. But once you join that team you realize that all the hard work has already been done and every process has been documented and systematized. All that people actually have to do is follow standards and instructions. This is how engineering graduates end up working with excel spreadsheets 40 hours a week and high school students drop out because of bad teachers. This means that you don’t have to excel at something to be proficient at it. You just have to be good enough not to outright suck. Insurance will cover the rest. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying how it is.
DISCLAIMER: Obviously, if you have a job with real responsibility and impact on the ground then you better be good at it. I don’t want to see any more oil rigs exploding. I’m just saying that at least 60% of jobs out there have so many fail safes and people double checking you that being average is good enough. This should be good news to you because If you are truly good at something you will look like a superstar. But either way, I think that motivation trumps skill every time. See why in the final section below.
Secret 3: Soft skills rule. You get hired for your hard skills. You get fired for your soft skills. These will carry you further in life than any hard skill ever will. Here are the three most important ones in my opinion in no particular order.
It’s easy to suggest to people to learn how to code. We all know more or less the process to do that. It might surprise you to know that soft skills are no different. They can be practiced and learned just like coding. The problem is no one has a clue how to teach them so you don’t see university classes on “leadership”. Or when you do they just suck and make no difference whatsoever. This is where being able to get out of your comfort zone and learn on your own will serve you well. The best leaders and the most magnetic people I know are self-thought introverts and they learned by doing.
A Word on Strengths And Weaknesses
When you go through career search literature, the topic of strengths and weaknesses eventually comes-up. I have spent many months now thinking about how to define strengths and how to explain them. The conclusion that I inevitably make every time is that strengths and weaknesses don`t really exist.
That`s because every strength is inevitably based on a collection of skills you have and a weakness on a collection of skills you lack. For example, if I say that Cathy is good with people, I could very well say that she's good at listening, communicating, empathy and making people feel good about themselves.
Saying it's a strength just makes it way easier to communicate than to list every individual skill that Cathy has. So in that sense I still use the words strengths and weaknesses, but I take extra care to make my clients understand that those are never something ingrained into their personalities. Strengths and weaknesses are just as fluid as skills. They can be learned and thus they can also be forgotten if not practiced enough.
This is probably the biggest piece of information in this post: It doesn't matter what strengths or weaknesses you have because the skills that compose them can be learned should you want to do it. Or forgotten if you don't want to use them anymore. The only variable being how much time and effort do you want to dedicate to retraining?
This brings us to the the final point.
You Are Not a Smurf
Remember the Chef Smurf? The Farmer Smurf? Just like tools and communists, Smurfs are often named and identified by their function. And we also have the same reflex. We often use what we do for a profession and the skills we have developed and merge them into our identities. We think of ourselves as engineers, lawyers, doctors based only on the fact that we are skillful at accomplishing these tasks.
When we think of career choice, we often think of what skills or strengths would we love to develop to earn a living. That is an ok approach if you LOVE what you do. But this means that your requirements (Values and Purpose) have usually nothing to do with your career choice, only skills and strengths do.
This is both a huge problem and a huge blessing. First, it means that what you do is most likely not bringing your purpose to life and not allowing you to live your life according to the values you have. The corporate world just has a way of sucking the life out of everything. This is the problem.
But the blessing is that the only thing that is standing between you and fulfilled living is in the worst case, retraining new skills. And if you can`t do that then you realize that your purpose and values have NOTHING to do with the work you do and you can make peace that what you do is good enough. I suggest reading through "Why You Feel Miserable at a Perfectly Good Job" if you want the full explanation.
Motivation Vs Skill
And finally, the final final point. I mentioned previously that motivation is much more powerful than skill. Average skill paired with exceptional motivation creates exceptional professionals. Exceptional skill paired with no motivation creates burnt-out and jaded professionals that work at 25% of their capacity.
Purpose and Values give you the best motivation ever. When you know that you work is aligned with your purpose, values, your plan for life and that it's helping you develop your skills to go where you want to go then you will always go the extra mile to make sure your work is well done and on point. If you want to truly develop into an excellent professional and build the life you want then start by understanding why you do this.
Our Offer To You
It can be very hard to find your purpose and values on your own. It's is just so ingrained into our beings and we have been staring at it so long that we can't recognize it for what it is. Self-introspection is hard. The good news is that this is exactly what we specialize in. Through our coaching, we have the tools to help you figure these things out in a couple of hours. And the best news is that we offer two-hour consultations for free to any newcomers. Book your time with us to get started!