I am sitting down with my notebook, getting ready to brainstorm some goals and the direction for the new year. I like to do that, and it’s invigorating. But this time I noticed something new: Knowing where I want to go, how I am perceived, and what’s important to work on is important… The funny thing is that there are at least two aspects that I find challenging!
Challenge #1: What do Others Think About Me?
It’s impossible to answer that question. And more often than not it’s easier to not have an answer at all. The challenge is induced with some more fear: What if I actually get feedback? I might not like it. I might be called a liar, egotistical, or arrogant. But maybe, there is love and openness. My mind tends to run to the negative first.
Then there is the issue with online haters, unsolicited advice givers, and random critics. I perceive discouraging comments much louder than the one which gives empowerment. I read somewhere that a research group found that we need about 7 times the positive feedback to offset the impact that a negative comment had on us. That said: receiving feedback isn’t easy and that makes asking for it even harder.
Challenge #2: How Can I Stabilize My Direction?
The second impossible quest! I was brainstorming ideas for my goal setting session and noticed that I really don’t know where others would put my value. Which of my passions is the most valuable? Am I giving attention to the right areas?
Internal validation is important. Knowing what I want is good. But I find a particular encouragement in having an outside perspective. In exploring that I was presented with the same challenge as above: I can’t see the birds-eye-view. I can only guess what others would say and that’s not really saying anything.
Taking Action: Just Ask!
I am very rational in general. I am trying to figure stuff out in my head, most of the time, by myself. Without any external input. And as you might guess - over thinking what others could think or how others could perceive me is not a good area to start. With that said (and a couple encouraging conversations), I set out to do something new for me. I wanted to ask others for advice.
There is one thing to keep in mind though. Asking others around me for advice is a terrific idea. It took me forever to accept that, but two fears remained: What would they say and how would I react? I had to be ready to take the hit, process it, and ideally become stronger through it.
But the decision was already made. I am going to take myself outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to know. I did enough guesswork, now I needed to find the right list of people and in doing though I remembered a quote by Brené Brown:
“I carry a small sheet of paper in my wallet that has written on it the names of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles. You have to know that I’m trying to be Wholehearted, but I still cuss too much, flip people off under the steering wheel, and have both Lawrence Welk and Metallica on my iPod.”
The list Brené is talking about is super valuable! It’s short, it’s minimalist, and it’s a clarification of whose opinions of me matter. This helps generally helps tremendously (not just with this question asking): got a bad comment online? Check the list. Someone on the street got mad and called you out? Have a look. Not on the list? You can pretty much ignore whatever they think of you.
I took that to heart and create a short list. It’s less than 10 people, it’s concise, and I decided that they would be the people who I would ask to answer three questions.
The Questions: Unique Value, Focus, and Stop!
Now that I clarified who I would ask I had to figure out what questions would be helpful? I came up with this short list:
- What do you see as my unique value that I bring to people, the world, or yourself?
- What should I focus more on next year?
- What should I stop doing right now?
Each of these questions had a very specific motivation behind them. The first one would show me what others value in me, and the responses actually empowered me to set myself up for some goals (the courses for example) that would stretch my comfort zone in a big way.
The second question is seeking a more action based answer. Should I be focusing on learning, writing, or spiritual discoveries? It turned out that this question wasn’t that valuable, but I got some interesting ideas out of it.
Now to the scary part! What should I stop doing? That’s the one that I feared the most and - turns out - the fear was rightfully placed, but I was prepared for what was coming! I got told that I talk too much and that I should learn to listen more. One response said that procrastination is a major problem of mine and I should sit myself down and actually get more productive things done. And finally, I should stop complaining. I have to say: those weren’t easy to read and they were even harder to digest. The good thing was that: I asked for it, I was ready for the responses, and I was in a mindset of learning and discovery.
Ask More Questions!
My experience of asking these three questions was incredible. It gave me more clarity than I expected, I was able to set my goals in a better frame of mind, and I can now step out of my comfort zone more easily because of the encouragement and outside perspective.
What I didn’t expect was that half the people found the questions so intriguing that they immediately asked me to answer them for them as well. So I encourage you to take inventory, create your own list of people, find out what you'd like to learn about yourself, create a short list of questions, and then send them away to be answered for you. Responses might be hard, but that's ok - you are trying to grow here. A trick I used was to prepare myself for the worst (fear setting) of what I could expect (journaling helped). And I'd like to stress one more time: Who you ask is very important! It's way more powerful if you actually value the person (and their oppinion); otherwise, it’s a waste of your and their time.