Clarity
Jason Holland has served twenty-five years on his life sentence. He is committed to his own rehabilitation, the rehabilitation of his peers and leaving the prison system better than he found it.
“ I don’t know what I’m looking for.“
“Why not?”
“ Because… Because… I think it might be because if I knew I wouldn’t be able to look for them.”
“ What, are you crazy?”
“ It’s a possibility I haven’t ruled out yet,“ said Zaphod quietly. “I only know as much about myself as mine can work out under its current conditions. And current conditions are not good.”

                         -Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
                                        Douglas Adams

There’s an old bit that Zig Ziglar used to do. Something about people either being ‘wandering generalities’ or ‘meaningful specifics‘. Something else about the difficulty of hitting a target if we don’t really know what the target is. If we feel like we’re wandering around in confusion, not really sure what we’re aiming for and we don’t really know why, that is not a good condition.

In the majority of the personal development material I’ve studied, the emphasis on clarity comes back again and again. Most of us don’t like being confused, spinning our wheels. Most of us don’t enjoy taking up a career or pursuing a degree only to find out years later that we’re really not in a place we enjoy, doing work we find meaningless, on a hamster wheel chasing a carrot and sort of staying in the same place. Yet, many of us acquiesce to that standard of life. At least, until we get disturbed enough to make some changes.

There are probably many reasons why people find themselves in those places. Too many to go into this article. My objective here is to write about how we can begin taking steps to find our way out of one of these vague traps, develop some clarity, so that we can move on to hitting whatever our target truly is. So, why do we want clarity? And in what areas? Well, we want it so we’ll have a better sense that we’re aiming ourselves correctly, ultimately in a direction that will be most fulfilling. Plus, sure, we certainly want to be clear in our ‘goals’. But, more and more as I connect with the people in my life, I find that we need clarity in areas like our values, our relationships, our needs, and even our weak points. Having a practice or method of gaining clarity in any of these areas (and more) should not only enrich our lives, but also inform our goal-setting process.

For example, let’s say Charlie is motivated, smart, charismatic, and has a good work ethic. Yet, he’s never really sat down to figure out what he truly values in life, or why. Charlie could very easily be like many who have all the right talents, focus and intent, but still end up in a lot of conflict (internally and externally); ultimately dissatisfied in many areas of his life.

OK, makes sense. Good. Then, how do we do it? There’s the rub. It could be trickier than you would initially expect, even cumbersome. For me, it boils down to being able to ask the right questions along with the awareness to realize what is and isn’t working. This requires patience at times; also diligence. Honing our critical thinking or self-inquiry skills can be laborious. The comfort of the familiar and ‘what has worked well enough’ is often all it takes to put this off (this is called ‘inertia’). Plus, the discomfort of the process can scare us off from the search. Though, in time, the practice of seeking clarity can make it easier for us to make firm decisions, not to mention the potential for helping our loved ones make informed decisions, as well.

Let’s take a look at how to get started in some of the areas mentioned. 

Values:

There are numerous services online that provide values clarification exercises. Even how to create your own values hierarchy. Spending some time with these two exercises can give us an enormous amount of insight into what truly matters to us and then how to appropriately seek them out.  You could even do these exercises with a spouse and figure out where the two of you could further align and deepen your relationship.

Needs:

Gaining insight into our needs as human beings and as individuals.  Unmet needs will inform your values, and that will inform your decisions and behavior. It’s important for us to gain some understanding regarding how these elements drive us.

Relationships:

What kind of relationship is it? What do you give/receive? And how does that fulfill your needs, and does it do so according to your values? Is there a values conflict happening that is creating dissonance internally or unnecessary tension with the relationship?

Life is about relationships, and they can be incredibly murky. This is worth the time. Example: Love. Okay, what does that word mean? Have you taken the time to ask your partner how she knows when she is being loved? What needs to take place for ‘love’ to be met for her? How do you know you’re being ‘loving’? Getting more clarity here can help identify what’s going right and what may need more attention.

Boundaries:

If you don’t know what your boundaries are, how do you observe them? How do you expect others to do so? As author Brenè Brown writes regarding boundaries, “clear is kind”.  We do ourselves and others a favor when we know what our boundaries are and have the courage to impose them.

I used to have a problem with ‘people pleasing’ because I wanted (valued) acceptance and to be ‘liked’. However, I didn’t know how to set and observe appropriate boundaries. This allowed for me to feel taken advantage of, and that created resentment on my part. I had to learn to take ownership of this.

Weak points:

There are reasons why companies do regular S.W.O.T an analysis. One being we need to get clear about what our weak points are so that we can get stronger. Sticking our heads in the sand is actually a strategy for creating ‘more of the same’. How much more damaging if you actually have a blind spot you’re not even aware of? Better to know and adjust than to stay in the blind.

Struggles/challenges:

What exactly is the problem? Why is it a problem and what’s the best outcome we can hope for? What will it look like when we get there? How do we get there and how can we enjoy the process? What are the barriers in the way?

So many people remain in the same struggle simply because they don’t know how to pin down what the struggle really is, or how it’s related to some of the above areas.

I’ve never actually seen Google. Still, you could probably Google, “Clarifying questions on…” and add one of the above areas. See what comes up. Begin your search. The above is just a short list of areas in our lives where we can start.

If you take a moment, you can see how these areas overlap and in effect, can muddy-up each other. Or conversely, provide valuable insight into how the various dimensions of our lives are interconnected. Ignoring weakness can end up in a perpetual sense of frustration and struggle, which makes it more difficult to have our needs met. 

Not being clear about our values or boundaries, we may begin making decisions that are ultimately hurtful to ourselves and/or others.

This isn’t a good cycle to be caught in. Yet, many well-meaning people are. If we have the courage to go through the discomfort of facing those issues and gaining clarity, we just may figure out how to begin making really strong decisions that immensely improve the quality of our lives. Ranging from the careers we choose and build, how we do so, the relationships we invest in, how we choose to face conflict, and more. I’m not saying this is the answer to having a ‘stress-free’ life. To the contrary, I suggest stress is here to stay no matter what we do. However, I do believe in working to create higher probability to raise the quality of our lives and to do so in a healthy fashion despite stress.

In conclusion, the search for clarity isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be downright tricky. However, gaining clarity in the above areas has not only enriched my life and helped me get a better sense of direction, the practice itself has enabled me to be of better service to the people in my life. For me, it starts with asking the right questions. I hope this article has made you curious enough to ask some of your own. Thank you for your time.

 

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