This is the second post in a series called Making it Count about getting things done and using our precious hours wisely1 .
I have the opportunity to talk with people starting new careers every day. They are at different points in their journey: some are looking to attending our code school as a way to pivot their life on to a different path, while others have graduated from the program and need input on where to move, which job to take and which challenge to take on next.
In those conversations the initial question has almost always led to deeper questions. Answering “which of these is a better job offer?” can be really straight-forward, but more often than not my response is, “what do you want out of your career,” or “within this field, what things are you passionate about,” or “what about your job will make you excited when you get out of bed in the morning a few years down the road?”
Sometimes the answer is simple (e.g., I need to provide for my family) and other times it’s more complex (e.g., I want to control my schedule, or I want to have a leadership role). No matter what the outcome, the questions and answers are really getting at what people value on a deeper level.
What people value is really a reflection of what they believe. (This is also true of organizations, though ultimately the beliefs of an organization are the sum total of its employees’ beliefs about that organization, its products and its customers.)
The interesting thing about beliefs is we all have them whether we like it or not and we all act according to them whether we like it or not.
He does not believe who does not live according to his belief.
Or, in a more detailed way:
People are unique in the inner life of the mind—what they are in their thought world determines how they act. This is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of a dictator’s sword.
—Francis A. Schaeffer
Per the example above, someone looking for a job primarily in order to put food on the table believes something along the lines of, “I have a responsibility to provide for my family.” Acting according to that belief, they will be willing to take a lower salary than they think they might be worth in order to provide. Action flows from belief.
Ok, so why all of the philosophy and what does it have to do with answering the question about getting everything done?
It’s important. In fact, it’s crucially necessary. If action flows from belief, we need to be very careful about what we believe so that what we do will put us on the path we want.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as setting the bearing once and letting everything take care of itself. Humans don’t work that way. We are good at deciding on what we want our destinations to be (“I want to be a good parent,” “I want to get better at writing,” etc.), but our fickle minds and hearts, along with the circumstances in our lives, constantly throw us off course. While we might value our commitment to an end goal, we often choose to believe things contrary to that goal because of convenience, stress, success, failure, personality—fill in the blank.
We’ve all experienced this practically in our lives. Here’s one way this plays out for me:
I believe that I need to be an amazing husband to my wife and spend quality time with her. I also believe that our relationship should be higher priority than almost everything else in my life.
When I say goodbye to her in the morning and leave the house, I go to work and run a business that I care about deeply. It is a true joy to lead a talented team and change our customers’ lives. The work is also very challenging. We are a quickly growing startup with more stuff to do than hands to do it, which leads us to an all-too-common dilemma of our industry: the path to success demands a seemingly infinite amount of my time and attention, which creates tension in other parts of my life that require the same things, such as my aforementioned wife (whom I love profoundly).
When I go home and talk with her about the day and my phone tells me that a potential code school student or hiring partner is calling, I have a choice of what to believe and will act accordingly. Sometimes the allure of potential success persuades me to believe, in that moment, that exploring a possible deal is more important than quality time with my wife—even though if you ask me on any given day I would tell you there’s no question that my marriage is more important than my business.
But one phone call about work in the evening isn’t going to ruin everything. Life happens, schedules change and we have to be flexible. The danger is repeatedly choosing to believe that work is more important than marriage. That will disintegrate my relationship over time (even though I would still profess that my wife is more important).
This is the crisis between the things we value and our choice to ‘temporarily’ change course away from them in a given moment. It’s how the small things turn into big things over time.
The problem for many of us is that we spend a whole lot of time focusing on the action part and not on beliefs. We just want to know what we need to do in order to get the result we want. But if you don’t start with beliefs and consistently steer the helm towards them, you can’t help but constantly change course in reaction to yourself and your circumstances.
And finally, the part about getting stuff done
If you are in a constant state of reaction, it’s hard to make significant forward progress towards a goal, even though it may feel like you are doing lots of stuff.
Beliefs direct what we say “yes” and “no” to, what receives our time and attention and, ultimately, what we actually get done.
Each day I’m faced with more to do than can possibly be done, both at home and at work. Without a belief system to guide where and how I use the precious, limited number hours I’ve been given, I will inevitably waste them on things that do not move me closer to where I want to be. That would’t mean catastrophic disaster (and might be OK for some people), but I won’t be satisfied with a life where I had the potential to do great things and settled for less.
Whew, that was a lot of philosophy. Future posts in this series will dive into what this looks like practically on a daily basis.
1. You can read more about the series and view links to additional posts here.