One of lesser known perks of being 24 and still living at home is that everyone wants to give you career advice. Most of the time when my parent's friends do this I smile and nod politely, thinking to myself that I want their idea of a good job about as much as I want that white picket fence in the suburbs (read: not very much). But recently I've come across some really good advice for young people like me who want to make a difference, make some money and be really effective at what they do.
This advice comes in the form of two books, both of which have overly long titles. The first is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a self-help classic published in 1989 that was named the most influential book of the 20th century. The second is the recently released Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money, and Community in a Changing World, a book that has the potential to become the 7 Habits equivalent for a whole new generation of professionals looking to make an impact alongside paying the bills.
Blend these two books together and voila, you have The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Changemakers.
Habit 1: Develop a Personal Mission Statement
Just as organizations need mission statements to spell out their overall goals and guide their decision-making, so too do individuals. After all, we all want to live meaningful lives but each of us have a different idea of what that means. At the same time, getting to the root of what a meaningful life means for each of us can be a difficult process. Stephen Covey of 7 Habits recommends envisioning your funeral and writing down what you want your family, friends, colleagues and significant others say about you. Billy Parish and Dev Aujla of Making Good have a slightly less depressing take on this idea, framing the mission statement as a "daily mantra" to remind you of what's important and who you are. Parish and Aujla recommend thinking of a time when you felt your most powerful and then writing your mission statement. Though it might seem silly to write a mission statement when many of us can't even find a job, beginning our career search with the end goal in mind can help us find a direction. As Covey says, "It's incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap...to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover that it's leaning against the wrong wall."
Habit 2: Envision What Success Looks Like
Research has shown that the secret to success for almost all world-class athletes and other peak performers is visualization. They see themselves succeeding, feel it and experience it before they actually do it. This practice of visualization has exploded in the non-profit world where organizations frequently write out vivid descriptions of what it would look like for them to accomplish their mission statement. For example, an organization working on saving mountain gorillas in Rwanda might vividly describe what it would look and feel like to triple the population of gorillas and the employ hundreds of former poachers as tourist guides. This same principle applies to individuals; even more than writing down your goals, visualizing yourself accomplishing them makes you more likely to actually complete them.
Habit 3: Cultivate Your Special Powers
I went to a liberal arts college that taught me to be interested in everything. Then I graduated and realized that I was good at lots of things but great at nothing. Particularly for those of us without technical degrees, figuring out what we're good at can be a challenge. One of the more hilarious activities suggested by Making Good to answer this question is to pair up with a friend and write all of your important life experiences on stickie notes, making maps of your lives on a wall. By doing a little homework on yourself, you can figure out what unique skills you have to offer and how you can best cultivate those skills. Then you can focus on offering those skills to your job, family, friends and community, using this practice to turn your skills into superpowers. For example, if you're like me and love to write, you can use your skill to write compelling content for your company's website, compose your family's holiday letter, scribble love notes to your friends and volunteer to blog for a cool non-profit. All of this writing not only benefits your community, it makes you a better writer.
Habit 4: Find Your Inner Circle
As Making Good explains, "Our culture celebrates the myth of the individual achiever...we tell stories of heroes who accomplish incredible feats on their own. But this isn't how things work." Behind every successful person is a strong network of loved ones who has helped her get there, what 7 Habits calls the "paradigm of interdependence." Despite the fact that we regularly like, follow, poke, text and email thousands of people, research has shown that humans can only hold 150 meaningful relationships at one time. Making Good suggests concentrating on an inner circle of 15 people who you spend the most time with since you inevitably you take on some of their characteristics. Then, take a look at that list, think about what it says about you and figure out who you'd like to build a stronger relationships with. If you want to change, focus on building stronger relationships with people who push you or have more experience than you. As Cervantes said, "Tell me the company you keep, and I'll tell you what you are."
Habit 5: Practice Deep Listening
There is a reason I talk to my dog. Unlike many humans who listen with the intent to reply or butt in before my thought is fully finished, my dog just sits there with these deep, understanding brown eyes. Of course, genius dog though he is, I'm not quite sure my dog can follow the 7 Habits principal, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Fortunately, I have a few friends who practice deep listening even better than my dog. After reading Making Good, I've begun to develop coaching relationships with a few of these people, relationships where we trade off deeply listening to each other, practicing focused listening without judgment or trying to steer the conversation. It's amazing what we can hear when we really listen.
Habit 6: Seek Synergy
7 Habits calls this "synergizing." Making Good calls it "organizing." Though one concept is designed for older business professionals and the other more for young activists, the principal of cooperation is the same. Whether we're building a movement or working on a team project, there are bound to be disagreements. As 7 Habits explains, the key is to value these differences and, back to habit 5, seek to understand where the other person is coming from. Only then can you both work to seek a synergistic third alternative.
Habit 7: Practice
As Aristotle famously said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
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