“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau
You may have heard this quote before. Maybe it resonated with you, or maybe not. What does it mean to live (and work) deliberately?
I’ve thought a lot about this over the last few years.
Earlier in my career, I certainly wasn’t deliberate. I “went with my gut” a lot. Some of it was my lack of experience. Some of it was an overinflated ego.
As I got more experience, I looked back at earlier decisions that I had made as a leader and realized how poorly considered some of them were. With just a bit more thought, I could have set myself and my team into a much better position. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with people who have modeled what approaching work thoughtfully can look like.
Consider all the decisions you make in a day at your job. You work on this project instead of that one. You choose the opening phrase you make in your pitch to a customer. You attend this training or decide to skip it. You invite one colleague to lunch and not another. You hire this person instead of that one. How much thought do you put into each of these decisions? Do you know why you made this choice? Do you ever go back and evaluate what worked out well or poorly and what you might do differently the next time?
Some of these decisions might seem obvious in the moment. Next time you encounter a decision that seems trivial, take a beat and just think about why the choice is so clear. Every choice you make means that you are also choosing not to do something. Have you considered both options? Every decision is the start of a chain of events. What are the assumptions you are making about the effects of this choice? Later, come back to your decision and test if your assumptions were correct. Was it still the best option? What did you learn from this that you will bring forward?
Thinking through your assumptions, and the implications of a decision, and evaluating the outcome is thinking strategically. Being strategic is critical for big company decisions, but is also valuable in the decisions you make all day.
It does take a bit of practice to do this, but as with anything you practice, it gets easier and easier. It will eventually become second nature.
So, next time you make a hiring decision or decide to work on project X tomorrow so you can do project Y today, ask yourself “Why is this the right thing to do?” If you can’t answer immediately, spend a minute and consider. You may find yourself realizing that it isn’t the right choice, and the next time you may spend a bit more time in making that decision.
“Look at every path closely and deliberately, then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.” – Carlos Castaneda
[Thanks to Diane Guerts for editing help]