Walking the wheel of life one day at a time

Over the last few weeks I have shared the theory and examples of the Career Strategy Framework with hundreds of people of Microsoft.  It has been an amazing experience so I thought I would share one concept that appears to resonate with many people.

We all struggle to bring balance to our life and in most cases make tradeoffs unconsciously each day.   How do we make the “best” decisions to allocate our time, talent and treasure that drives the highest levels of happiness and career impact?  In this post I share a simple picture that changed my life and how the concepts of the Career Strategy Framework can be used to strategically achieve career goals and life happiness.

About seven years ago I was at a place in my career where I knew I needed to make a change.  I was not fulfilled in my job and the extensive business travel impacted the relationships with my family.  Life was good but I knew it could be even better.  My life had been running on auto-pilot for a few years as I attempted to balance the demands of my job and growing family.   After a few unsuccessful interviews I quickly became discouraged as my confidence hit a low.  My life lacked a clear sense of direction and passion.  There was so much more that I wanted to achieve as a father, husband and professional.   That is when I took a time-out one afternoon and sketched the simple picture below.  This strategic model now aligns all of my time and the meaning of success for my life.   Each day there are choices to be made that require a quick response and this is my mental model for making those choices.   This has become so second nature that all actions align to optimizing these outcomes.

what-is-important

Unlike most career strategy programs, the Career Strategy Framework takes a “life” approach by integrating a career into other aspects of life using a strategic model.  “Know” is the first Framework sub-process and this challenges people to “know” who you are, what is important and who you want to become.  I encourage people to create their own model that describes a life purpose (center) and the Critical Success Factors (CSF) that are required to deliver on that purpose.  In my example the five circles represent those critical success factors.  The model also describes the roles I play in life as well.  My experience is that people are challenged in “Know” since many of them really don’t know who they are or want to become.  They have approached planning life and career independently and struggle to fit these two concepts together in a typical day.

I will share a few examples of how this simple model you can serve as your north star to make the necessary changes in your life to optimize life and career success.

A Model for Change

#1 – Stay Healthy: This CSF is first since if I am not healthy and alive then nothing else quite matters.  First I decided to get off the world travel circuit that enabled a more balanced life.   The challenge was that I could never make time for exercise given the demands of work and family life after hours.  So I integrated this important event into my daily routine before the workday.   That was six years ago and today I can say I probably have the highest level of endurance and strength due to my training program.  All it took was a small adjustment to my schedule and knowing that I needed to do this first before all other activities of my day.  I bring a sense of accomplishment and energy as I start my work day at Microsoft.  Spiritual health is just as important to physical health and over the last few years my family and I have become more engaged in a new church in the community.

#2 – Build a Happy Family: This was probably my biggest opportunity area and in my heart I knew it.  I was so busy and focused on establishing career success that for years I had optimized #3 at the expense of my family.  I was unconscious to my broader life until a few signals that provided a wake up call.  For three years I had traveled to Chicago almost every week for an assignment and then one day a fellow colleague asked me a simple question that I did not have a good answer to:  “James, why do you do this?  What motivates you to travel here every week and be away from your family?”   The other signal was that when I returned for those days at home I noticed that my kids would always ask my wife a question when sometimes I would be right there too.  It came to me that my kids had become so conditioned for me not being there and that I was missing out on being a parent.  After #1 Stay Healthy, #2 Build a Happy Family was something that I always wanted given that I grew up in a divorced family.  The memories of challenging times during my childhood was enough for me to drive change that was needed.  This model helped me recognize that I needed to change my career path and live up to my expectations as father and husband.  My transition to Microsoft in 2006 made a world of difference.   I have also made other adjustments that have been energizing.  My wife and I now take a least one vacation a year together so that we have special time just for us.  Given all of the other demands in life it would be so easy to put this off and many years we did. But it’s important to enrich our marriage with special times we will always remember.   On the family front we had put off taking a vacation for so many years that we decided it was time to all get away from the normal routine with a holiday cruise.  As I sat each night at dinner with my wonderful family away from our normal routine I thought to myself that this is what twenty years of investing created – something that money can’t buy.

#3 – Manage Career:  For many years I did not truly manage my career because I was fortunate that most opportunities came my way.  I now use the Career Strategy Framework to actively manage and execute my career with a strong direction.  With the adjustments I made to #1 and #2 I am now bringing all of my energy to the workplace and the energy I generate at Microsoft back home.  My career plan has a direction and I actively manage this as part of my day.  I recently recognized that I needed to develop additional competencies to be a credible professional in my field so I am pursuing a Masters degree in Predictive Analytics.

#4 – Grow Net Worth: As much as I had always loved investing it became clear that I don’t have time to actively invest my money and that I will never be an expert.   A number of years ago I hired an investment management firm to steward my retirement nest egg so I could fully dedicate myself to the other critical success factors of my life.

#5 – Give to Others:  For years I always wanted to help others less fortunate but there was never any time.   I was so busy trying to get my life in order that taking out time to help others was not imaginable at the time.   The model was a catalyst to make some progress in this area and over the last few years our family has made dinners for the homeless and supported other giving events.   I remember a few years back when we served meals at Tent City one evening and there was man with the large block letters “LUCKY” across his sweatshirt.  This was a sign and reminder to me that many of us on a daily basis truly forget how blessed and lucky we are.  Helping someone else can be one of the most important and fulfilling things we do but most of us forget given the busy lives we lead.   Sometimes something small can mean a lot to someone who does not have a lot.   I am sure I would have not have made time for this had I not defined #5 and thought about what small thing I could do to make progress.

Recommendations

I hope the few examples above given you inspiration to create your “What’s Important” model.   Here are a few closing thoughts:

  • You may be living a good life but make it even more meaningful for you and others around you by taking a strategic perspective to each day.
  • Unfortunately life does not last forever so live each day as your last.   Don’t put off things thinking you will do them later in life.
  • Use a strategic model similar to this to align all of your time, talent and treasure.  You will be amazed by the energy and conviction you bring to your day.
  • Establish measures that define what is success and track progress toward you goals.   I wrote a post last summer on this topic so this can serve as a useful reference.

The intriguing part of this model is that it has completely re-focused how I look at life each day.   All of my actions and energy is devoted to delivering on these critical success factors and when I do that the energy is amazing!  I am fortunate to have recognized that I needed to make changes in my life before it was too late.   There are certainly things I would have done differently in my life but I can only look forward to make each day a success.  If you are feeling something in your life requires a change then I would recommend you take a time out to comes to terms with whatever that is before it’s too late.

If you enjoy reading books then I strongly recommend “How Will You Measure Your Life?” by Clayton M. Christensen.  I have shared with book with fellow colleagues who attend my career workshops at Microsoft and this will likely drive you to reflect broadly on life.

Thanks for listening.

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