You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great – Zig Zaglar.
Having a focus and purpose in life seems perfectly understandable yet many of us do not really live with purpose and have no real focus. We drift through life, just glad to have a job and a place to live. Yet we all make conscious or unconscious choices about life and the way we live. But to exploit our full potential we need to take charge of our own lives; we need to be proactive and aware of what we can achieve when we have both focus and purpose. Know what you are about and know what you want.
It is largely true that you can often self-determine what you want to be. In my own life journey I believed this and I took action to make it a reality. I became a school principal at an early stage in my professional career. Then I altered course to become the CEO of a regional radio station. I was then also the president of my chamber of commerce. Subsequently, I became the general secretary of the Irish Vocational Education Association and thereafter the general secretary of Education and Training Boards Ireland. Currently I am President of the European Federation of Education Employers.
These roles were not vanity roles; they were tough leadership roles which required considerable initial adjustment and learning. Each provided me with new skills or an enhanced level of skills. Looking back, I now see that each role was a preparation for the next role. Practical experience combined with hard lessons proved to be my university of life. There were steep learning curves initially when I took on each role and I learned my “trade” in each case from a combination of good mentors and occasional non-fatal errors of judgement.
During my radio career I also became heavily involved in community activities. I led a group which transformed the environmental landscape of my town, which thereafter won the bronze medal in the European Entente Florale festival of flowers. I organised major concerts , one with a major European orchestra, which benefited a local charity. I was engaged as an officer in my trade union. In each of these roles I learned essential skills about motivating and organising large numbers of people to achieve a common purpose. Commitment, zeal, hard work and a clear vision provided the leadership which activated local communities to collaborate in common cause. These activities taught me new skills which would also benefit my professional career.
I also had disappointments but, to a large extent, I achieved what I needed to achieve in my professional career. I still have targets and I still know what I want to achieve. I cannot abide by drift; I always need to have both focus and purpose. Throughout my life I have been lucky to have had opportunities to reinvent myself professionally as I moved from career to career. Currently, I have the freedom to do what I have wanted to do for some years past-to write my own books, articles and blogs. My leadership book-Every Leader’s Reality Guide-was a project I set myself and was determined to produce. I am happy that it is selling well and that it has been endorsed by some national and international leaders. This has encouraged me to work on a second book which has given me a new purpose in life.
Early in my working career I learned that my state of mind was my responsibility and I needed to be in the right frame of mind to achieve my goals.. I recall that quote from Gautama Buddha; We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. Centuries ago, Publilius Syrus, a Latin writer who died in 43 BC, stated; A wise man will be master of his mind; a fool will be its slave. Both these quotations were a wake-up call for me and I often need to remind myself of them. They highlight that you have a choice in regard to your mindset but only if you have true awareness and an acceptance that you can change your mindset, attitude and how you view the world.
Bearing in mind also the advice of Aristotle; Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom, I set about discovering who I really was. Genuine self-reflection determined what were my core values and this new awareness altered my perception of the world. I realised early in life that I needed a positive “can-do” mindset if I was to achieve my goals. I learned that my mindset is the source of my inner strength. I knew that my self-image was my responsibility. Equally, I knew that my self-confidence was my choice.
I went through a process of honest self-evaluation and knew I needed to know myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and I needed to live my personal values. This was a transformative period in my life because I realised that inner strength comes from knowing who I was and what I stood for? My values assumed a new relevance in my life and outlook. They may not have always been part of my past but they would be part of my future. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny – Mahatma Gandhi.
Honest self-evaluation gave me a clear understanding of myself and gave purpose to my life. I created my vision for my future career but knew also that I needed key skills to underpin future success. I knew that learning with life experiences would give me the knowledge and skills for the leadership roles I envisaged. Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it – Albert Einstein.
The bedrock of my career success was knowing that I could not advance without strong self-belief. I needed to have it and protect it from the potential undermining influences of others but also from the enemy within-myself. I needed to have what I called the “three C’s”- choice, conviction and courage. Freedom to chose my (SMART) goals; conviction to pursue them; courage to overcome the obstacles in my way.
One of my favourite quotes is attributed to Henry Ford who once stated; Whether you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you are probably right. Perception influences life choices, so getting that right is as important as maintaining it. Attitude is as important as intelligence. How you see the world determines your actions.
As in life, leadership is a mindset and most leaders are self-made (some are accidental leaders who had leadership thrust upon them). Most good leaders know that inner strength comes from personal values. They are embedded in their authentic beliefs, driven by real conviction and sustained by courage and resilience.
You will need these qualities- belief, conviction, courage, resilience- if you are to realise your own full potential. Personal or career goals are only dreams if you do not have the conviction and determination to pursue and achieve them. What we eventually accomplish may depend more on on our passion and commitment than our innate talent. Being smart is not enough; you need grit and determination to succeed. You need passion to drive forward and resilience to endure the inevitable knocks. But these qualities will never surface unless you first have focus and purpose.
Complacency achieves nothing; determination delivers. High achievers are paragons of perseverance; they are also people with purpose and direction. You must know your target and stay focused on achieving it. Purpose gives meaning to life; it’s about having something to live for. We all crave purpose and when you have clear purpose you can set out your goals and objectives. Purpose is your North Star and with passion, planning and perseverance you can achieve your goals. These 4 P’s are more important than talent alone.
Consistency in focus with clarity of purpose can transform your life and your future. Believe you can and you will. Strong self-belief, while acting with purpose and focus, can create the outcomes you crave. It all starts with you. For things to change you must change. The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new – Socrates.
Know your values, standby your beliefs, act with purpose, pursue your goals, show grit and determination and get the outcomes you deserve. You are the source of your life. If it’s to be, it’s up to me – William Johnsen.
(Feature photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash)