The One Thing I Wish I’d Learned Sooner

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I’m asked from time to time what advice I would give my younger self. My response to this inquiry from Nashville Business Journal sums it up pretty well (excerpt and article link below).

“At the beginning of 2019, I asked myself, ‘What are my personal and professional goals for this year and for the next decade?’ Now, if an opportunity isn’t aligned with those goals, I say ‘no.’ While it’s meant walking away from some projects and clients I truly enjoyed, it’s freed up my time and energy to pursue the things that matter most.”

Have you ever suffered from “shiny object syndrome,” where you divide your time between lots of different things that sound fun? Or, have you said “yes” to things you know you should’ve said “no” to, just because you didn’t want to disappoint something? I know I have! But, I’ve been actively working on it for more than a year, and the results have been amazing.

At this time last year, my focus was divided among a half-dozen different things on any given workday. I enjoyed all of them and was getting consistent feedback that I was good (or even great) at all of them, but I decided it wasn’t enough to be good/great at a lot of interesting things. I wanted to be THE WORLD’S BEST at something.

So, I asked myself what matters most in my personal life? The answer: Spending time with my husband and son. What’s the ONE THING I can try to be great at in my professional life to accomplish that personal goal? For me, the answer is keynote speaking and thought leadership in the area I’m most passionate about: Creating Superfans.

As last year came to a close, I said goodbye to several things I had been working on (in some cases for years!) to align my time with my ultimate goal of freeing up as much time as possible to spend with my family. I exited a company I had been helming for almost a decade (one whose business plan I put together in my dorm room!). I bid farewell to clients I had been advising and creating with for years. I stopped many of my “professional hobby” activities, including a podcast I was hosting for a client and regular article contributions to several leading websites.

The results have been incredible. Now, instead of focusing on all of that PLUS speaking (which is how I spent the majority of 2018), I only say “yes” to opportunities that align with my goal of being the world’s best speaker and thought leader on creating superfans, because I know that’s what’s ultimately going to help me spend as much time as possible with my family.

If something’s not an obvious yes, it’s a no. Full stop. Have I turned down some really fun sounding and interesting opportunities this year? Yes. But, the time not spent pursuing those things has given me the time and space to learn and grow in incredible ways that are aligned with my newfound purpose. It’s also led to a year filled with incredible speaking opportunities, and the chance to meet thousands of wonderful new people who have enriched my life in ways big and small.

Back to that advice I promised. Here’s what I wish someone had said to me years ago: Figure out what’s the most important thing in your personal life, then align your professional goals so that those two things are supporting each other instead of in conflict with each other. 

Saying “no” to an opportunity doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful. In fact, saying “yes” to something that doesn’t align with your goals is ultimately saying “no” to any number of other opportunities available to the most important person in your world: YOU! 

If you haven’t already identified your top Personal and Professional Goals for 2020 — and figured out what you want your life to look like five and ten years from now — I highly recommend you do so. Otherwise, you may spend much of next year pursuing opportunities that are taking you down a path different than the one you ultimately want to end up on.

Here’s my advice in full to NBJ, along with five other professionals’ takes on how to find your focus.

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