Stay on track or take a detour? | Career lessons from safari

If you read last week’s blog, you know I recently returned from safari in South Africa. It was great, and I can’t help myself but to dedicate this month to career lessons learned on safari. The truth is, career lessons are everywhere, but safari really had a ton of glaringly obvious ones for me to draw on – plus, those lion cubs (this was taken with my iPhone)!

Last week I wrote about the power of a career goal. How having a career goal puts you on the hunt – in pursuit of something specific and focused in your efforts – versus the prowl – ambling around, hoping to find something great.

When you’re on the hunt, you get to step on the gas, pursue your goal with vigor, and charge ahead. It’s a great feeling that gives you a purpose and a clear direction. Without a goal, you’re just floating around, and, I believe, is why so many people feel disengaged from their careers.

In short, having a goal increases your engagement. What a win!

But here’s the kicker – just because you’ve stepped on the gas and know where you’re going doesn’t mean your plans won’t change or you won’t find something else that’s more in line with what you want out of your life or career.

While in South Africa, I kind of got a reputation for being a good spotter – at least with those on my game drives…or just in my own head. Twice, when we had hit the gas and were heading for something specific, I spotted different animals along the way that warranted a quick stop to check out.

Even when you have a clear goal and direction you’re heading, you can’t just put your head down and charge ahead blindly. You have to be open to opportunities and remember your big, overarching guidelines.

On safari, ours was to see cool animals doing cool stuff. So, when I saw that, I said something and we stopped. We didn’t just stop for any impala – what they call “the McDonald’s of the bush.” We stopped for cool animals doing cool stuff!

In your career, your guidelines are your values and what’s important to you. Many people think they know their values – and maybe they do – but don’t actually bring them to the forefront in day to day decisions about their personal life or career.

Knowing your values helps you discern between what’s worth stopping for and checking out – and maybe even amending your original goal or direction – and what’s just a distraction that you should drive on by. But it’s not enough just to know them – you have to keep them front and center.

Once you know your values, I recommend evaluating each day in terms of how your values were expressed. If “fun” is a value of yours, did you have fun today? Was it apparent in your actions that fun is important to you? If not – adjust tomorrow, lest you stray too far from your values and get way out of alignment.

Whether you like to step on the gas and pursue a goal or float around and hope for the best (either is fine, but I clearly have a preference!), you must keep your values top of mind so you know when to stop and take a second look.

From your values, you can discern a simple, overarching purpose statement that serves as a personal mission statement and incorporates your values. Whether your overarching purpose is to see cool animals doing cool stuff (probably not for your career, but if so, I’m for it!), create more opportunity to spend time with friends and family, or make as much money as you can in your life, that statement will support your career when plans hit a snag.

A lack of a clear purpose and awareness of and action in alignment with values leads to feeling lost, stressed, and disengaged at work. So, what’s your big overarching purpose statement in line with your values? It’s worth the effort to find out.

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