Friday, December 21, 2018

Off the List

There is something inexplicably wonderful about crossing things off a list. Especially if it’s a big, hairy, audacious something - like a goal.

If you know me, you know I have multiple lists of goals that encapsulate all facets of my life. I make them incessantly, always aspiring to the next because the sense of achievement is so profound, it’s almost addictive.

And tiring.

Inevitably, the dreadful "now what" feeling immediately follows. So you add another goal to the list, to constantly keep moving.

But life happens in between writing it down and crossing it off. I realize how much I have missed in pursuit of checking off the boxes.

This past summer, I had a ten-day trip planned with friends to Nicaragua. Then came a travel advisory: civil unrest. With three days until takeoff, we changed our destination to El Salvador.

Typically, I'd have a list of what to see, eat, and do. However, at two days to go, we still had nowhere to sleep. So it fell off the radar, and became the trip mantra: make it up as you go along. This strategy left room for plenty to go wrong, with scaling mountains, surviving undertows, and Arthur the rooster. We sometimes cried, but mostly laughed our way through. The trip, with all its challenges, went better than I could have ever planned.

I realize now most of my goals are plans made out of fear (read: fomo) to ensure I don’t miss out on “the important things” and nothing falls through the cracks. As if this list is the guide to a perfect life.

In truth, this type of focus can give you tunnel vision, leaving room for only what you know. Even worse, it can make you feel unaccomplished, and less than.

If I were to measure my life against the list of where I thought I would be at 30, I’d be miserable - I haven’t crossed many things off. But my life is so much better than what I had in mind. You only know what you know, and the bits that make my life better can’t be measured with a tick.
So I stopped turning my life into a checklist. Instead, I now measure my life against my values.

Values are beliefs about what is important in life and act as guiding posts for actions. Values leave room to experience and appreciate the gray areas: the awful, challenging parts, but also the unanticipated joys.

I have not yet identified all my values.

For my career, one is leadership. Previously, I would have based my success on markers like salary, title and management experience. And a check mark would indicate my arrival to the next stage.
Now, I look at the opportunities I have said yes to, and the ones I had the courage to turn down. I look not just at the number of initiatives I have led or how much revenue I have brought in, but the process by which I got there: how did I get buy-in, collaborate or take a risk?

I think this is important for organizations to take into consideration when it comes to monitoring and evaluating success. For example, if diversity and inclusion is important to your organization, it is worth remembering that there will be no point where you can just check this off as complete. Developing and implementing a plan can be one achievement to measure, but as a value, it is something your organization should strive towards every day in every action, demonstrating its importance in all areas of work.

In theory, it may sound small: abandoning a list by which to measure a life. In practice, it’s a constant battle. That is until I remember that many of my best moments and proudest achievements, professionally and otherwise, are ones I never would have thought to put on a list.