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Always Start with the End

Today, I want to focus on the importance of keeping the end in mind. We so often jump into our work or even our lives without knowing where we want to go or what outcome we’d like to see. Yes, not everything needs to be scripted or planned, but when we don’t know what we want or where we want to end up, it often leads to a lot of frustration and wasted energy. So, if you’ve been feeling frustrated or stuck, keep reading.

Okay, so full disclosure, the motivation for this episode was because two weeks ago, I’d started working on a podcast episode about energy. I thought it was perfect timing because the spring semester had just wrapped up, so folks probably had no energy left. Plus, we’d just started the summer Institute and that’s the topic of our first module. I was going on and on about my own experiences and how I’d gotten into this idea of energy and energy management. I had a solid four pages typed and had been sitting there for hours. But for some reason, I couldn’t quite get it to wrap up. Luckily, I had the second half of my interview with Alicia already prepped, so I decided to use that instead.

When I was getting ready to do this week’s article, I thought, “Well I’m certainly not going to let hours of work go to waste. Let’s finish that draft ASAP and get things recorded!” Seemed like a good plan. I read through what I had and thought, “Eek. I see why I couldn’t bring this together. I guess I didn’t know where I wanted to go with this.” So, I took some time and refocused on what I wanted your main take away to be. And I thought I had it. But as I went to rework the original draft – again for quite a while – I realized that since I didn’t write that draft with that in mind, there were really only parts that worked for the updated version.

As I struggled to move things around and refocus that version, I finally realized, “Anne, WTF are you doing?!? None of this really works. It doesn’t matter if you spent hours on it. Just start over. It’s going to be easier than trying to rework this.”

Now I did not want to do this. I mean I’d say I put about five or six hours into the original draft and trying to update it. I was annoyed with myself for not being more focused to begin with and am now annoyed with myself for not pivoting earlier. Lol. But in my struggle, I realized what this episode really needed to be about starting with the end in mind. If I’d just done this two weeks ago, I’d already have this episode done. I also would have had bonus time to do something much more fun than wordsmith my non-focused mess.

When you start with the end in mind, you know where you’re headed. When you know where you’re headed, you can make sure you’re moving in the right direction. When you know where you want to end up, you can assess your progress with appropriate milestones or criteria to make sure you’re moving forward. Even if you decide you’re going to take a road trip, but you don’t want to plan exactly where you go, you still have some sort of objective, right? Like maybe you want to explore the west coast? If that’s the case, you know at the very least you have to head west. If you start seeing signs like, “Welcome to Virginia Beach,” you know you’ve done something wrong.

Or maybe you just want to focus on bonding with your traveling buddy. Then at the very least, you know you should do things that bring you together. If you know your buddy loves history, you might head towards historical monuments even if they weren’t pre-planned. They might suggest heading toward the national parks because they know you love nature. If bonding is your goal, then if you find yourself arguing about where to eat every meal, you know you’ve done something wrong.

And of course, you can absolutely decide to give your road trip more structure. Maybe you want to drive from St. Louis to Chicago and stop in Springfield to see Lincoln’s boyhood home. And when you’re in Chicago, you want to go to the Navy Pier and the Museum of Science and Industry. Those can definitely serve as milestones. But the question you must ask yourself, is that really the main objective of your trip? Are you keeping the end in mind?

Folks can easily let their vacation become stressful because their schedule gets thrown off or maybe one kid says they HATE museums and wants to do something else instead. If this is your vacation, is the objective – the end goal – to relax and bond with your family? If so, are those milestones made out of stone – pun intended – or are they just a means to achieve your goal. Again, if you aren’t clear on where you want to be when you’re finished, then you risk becoming frustrated and not getting what you ultimately wanted out of the experience. You can easily focus on getting to the next location instead of whether you’re spending quality time with your family. That’s lost energy and time.

Let’s jump back to me and my episode on energy. What was the end I wanted to get to? To be honest, I don’t really know. I like the concept of energy and truly think energy management is the key to solving many problems, so that’s where I started. But WHAT ABOUT IT?!? “Yes, Anne, I’m sure people are exhausted from the academic year. In fact, they’re so exhausted that if you don’t get to your point quickly, they’re going to stop reading.” Part of my problem is I was so excited about connecting the timing of the end of the year with the beginning of the Institute, that I didn’t flesh out what I wanted folks to take away from the article. When I started writing, I just started vamping what I knew about energy and my journey to better understanding it’s importance. None of it was bad, per se. But nor was it leading anywhere. And I want folks to keep reading because you feel empowered or had an “ah-ha moment.” Oops. My bad.

When you’re feeling stuck or frustrated like I was with my episode, you need to ask yourself, “What exactly is the end goal here? Where do I want to end up?” If you’re talking about your job, there’s obviously going to be some basic requirements like being able to provide for yourself and your family. Okay, sure. That’s pretty standard. But if you’re feeling frustrated or stuck, then there’s obviously something else you need that’s missing. So, maybe it’s to get money to survive plus feel like you’re contributing to society. That’s better, but when you’re feeling frustrated and stuck and you have no end in mind, it makes it incredibly difficult to compare what’s happening to the milestones you’ve set to ensure you’re on the right course.

Let’s go back to basics. You need a job to support yourself and your family. What does that look like? Does it just mean not starve and have a roof over your head? Or do you want to be able to eat a certain way? Do you want to live in a certain area or in a house vs an apartment vs a condo? The more specific you are, the easier it is to know whether you’re on your way to hitting that goal. Now that’s not to say, there aren’t some steps you need to take to get from a packaged ramen to a sushi lifestyle, but you should be able to see how things will progress.

As I’m writing this, I keep asking myself, “How is this next paragraph going to get me where I want to take folks?” If I can’t answer that question, then there’s something wrong. Like most people, I enjoy talking about myself. So, I need to ask, is this story about my own experience going to help you better understand my message? If so, great, let’s keep it in. But if not, it needs to go.

When folks are frustrated and exhausted at work, I so often hear, “But I need to have a job. I can’t just quit.” It’s true that most folks can’t be without a job for long periods of time. But if that’s the only criteria you’re using to assess your situation, then simply the need to have a job is going to keep you stuck. But if you expand that to, “I need a job that allows me to do ____, _____, and _____.” Then you can start assessing whether or not the current job is right for you. Now that doesn’t solve the problem of, “Oh BLEEP! I guess this job doesn’t fit my needs anymore. Now what?” But what it does do is provide you with clarity on whether you’re where you need to be right now based on those needs. And that’s an important step.

Staying or leaving a job is very heavy. But this applies to everything you do. What kind of relationship do you want? With your employees, supervisor, partner, children, etc.? What kind of social life do you want? What are you trying to accomplish with this new initiative at work? Does this report you’ve been having your team do every week really contribute to the outcome you want? Or is it just something someone thought might be a good idea? If you don’t have a clear picture of what these things will look like, you’ll put a ton of energy into things that aren’t actually taking you where you want to go. When you start with the end in mind, you can make sure that you’re focusing your energy on the things that will get you there. This means using less energy and less time to accomplish what you want and need to get done.

I sunk at least six hours into a podcast episode that I’ll never use. That was a lot of time and energy that could have gone toward other things, including doing nothing. For the record, this version took about 90 minutes. Why? Because I knew where I wanted to end up and could catch myself along the way whenever I got off course. It took way less time and energy. Plus, I’ve got the outcome I wanted.

If you’re feeling stuck and frustrated, either with some areas of your job or even the whole thing, then why not use this time when most of the students are gone for the summer to take stock of where you’re going and what you want the end to look like? It’s easy enough to say you just don’t have time or energy, but that’s going to mean you just keep wasting your time and energy on things and places that aren’t helping you get to your end. You don’t have to identify everything, but the more specific you can be the easier it will be to make sure you’re staying on course.

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