How to Structure the Path to Your Aspirations
I worked for my dad for about ten years, during which time he persistently asked me this question: “How is your system working for you?”
As he explained it, “Successful people develop a structured approach to their work. They are successful because they consistently work their system.” But for years, I frankly had no idea what he meant.
Before working for him, I’d viewed my life as a series of events in the past and a set of planned events in the future. I figured I’d be successful if I reacted well to events as they happened and anticipated well for events in the future. Work hard. Make good decisions. Treat others well. Maintain a good attitude. Hope for the best, but accept what comes.
Wasn’t that enough?
Go with the Flow or Create Your Flow?
According to author and consultant Robert Fritz, people have two vastly different orientations toward life: reactive-responsive or creative-generative. In the first, “you either react or respond to the prevailing circumstances.” In the second, “you organize your life around choices, often about your highest aspirations and deepest values.” Fritz explains that the first orientation takes life as it comes. The second chooses to create an underlying structure that predictably leads to desired goals.
Which is your primary orientation?
Spurred on by my dad’s question, I began to experiment with this “structure” orientation, first by asking myself, What is the critical path to my aspirations? I wondered what I needed to do or not do on a regular basis and how I could structure my life around that critical path.
For example, I aspire to develop deep and sustainable client relationships, but just working hard for clients it isn’t usually enough. I also have to study the client’s industry and their organization and proactively invest in personal relationships. Therefore, I’ve chosen to schedule time on my calendar and be held accountable by others to doing this “harder” work.
I also aspire to develop strong and meaningful relationships with my family. Just working hard at the office and around the house isn’t usually enough. I also have to proactively pay attention to my family, help my children form values and make sure they know that they are loved. Therefore, I’ve chosen to remove technology distractions during certain times of the day and week, and every morning I’m committed to reflecting on their lives and where they need me most.
I resist doing these proactive activities with clients and family because they interrupt the flow of my regular circumstances and inclinations. They represent rocks in a stream, forcing a redirection of my natural flow. But despite the discomfort of this forced redirection, the rocks that form the underlying structure of my schedule and focus advance me toward my aspirations.
Structure Keeps You in the Flow
This structural orientation reduces the need to ruminate over the past, wonder about what to do in the present and worry about the future. Structure maintains focus on the quality of the moment. By proactively creating flow, you’re able to get in the flow.
How about you? Do the choices you make—what to do with your time, where to spend your money and how to relate to others—depend more on the way you’ve set up your life or on your circumstances?
Do you just go with the flow and hope for the best, or do you create your flow with the right structure?