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Look Backward, Advance Faster

It was 3am, on a cold and frosty morning, ten years ago. Sleepless and in bed, I wrestled with my career direction.

Suddenly, the idea struck me like a thunderbolt. I had discovered gold. Within seconds, my mind and soul surged with optimism. It was the most powerful idea I’ve ever had, and I had to act.

Leaping from bed, I scrambled downstairs to my home office. Turning on the lamp, I foraged for a pen and paper. I then cleared everything from my desk.

Eyes half open, I drew a line down the middle of the paper, from top to bottom. At the top of the left hand column, I wrote the heading “Life-Depleting Experiences.” At the top of the right hand column, I wrote “Life-Giving Experiences.” I reflected on my life history related to each of these two headings. I recalled career, friendship, family, volunteer and other experiences.

In the life-giving experiences column, I described situations when I felt purposeful, energetic, capable and valued. I jotted things like, “developing new products” and “thinking strategically.” Conversely, in the life-depleting column, I described situations when I felt purposeless, underappreciated and unsustainable. Here, I wrote things like “day-to-day operations” and “highly structured corporate environments.”

I pooled dozens of notes into the subheadings of “skills used,” “knowledge shared,” “audience type” and “environmental conditions.”

I was captivated by the contents in the life-giving column. While reviewing my entries, it became clear that, to be happy, I needed to pursue a life in the life-giving column. And I should avoid time in the life-depleting column.

I noticed that in certain life-giving situations, for example, I had valiantly and effectively led others. In sub-optimal conditions, I wasn’t able to lead a flock of motherless ducklings. In some settings, I was an excellent coach to someone. At other times, I felt invisible.

The life-giving column was a major guidepost. During this 30-minute process, I unearthed characteristics that clearly suggested where to focus, where I belonged and where I could thrive. Regarding life direction, my answer was right there – in black and white. This was where I could thrive on my terms, and, propose my best offerings to society.

It was powerful.

Of course, it’s not always possible to live entirely in the life-giving column. Knowing that it’s written down, however, is to have an occupational compass.

Additionally, when not in the thriving column, referring to its contents could help individuals incrementally construct those conditions. To shift the balance, for example, a person could promote his or her skills more confidently, and more often, within that space. She could also seek out supporters within that environment to start building her “tribe.”

When you’re in thriving situations, what skills are you using? What knowledge are you sharing? Who most values your input and why? Place yourself in more of those situations. You’ll be happier and you’ll advance faster.

About the author, John

John Benzick is an entrepreneurship coach and the founder of Venture Superfly. He is a Tech Partner at the venture-capital fund of Matchstick Ventures, a Mentor with Techstars Retail accelerator, an Entrepreneur-In-Residence and (former CEO-in-Residence) at the University of Minnesota, and founder and owner in two consumer product businesses. Click the button below to learn more.

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