Sometimes we choose the themes in our lives, sometimes the themes choose us.
Over the past three months I’ve been immersed in thinking about decision-making. Whether by luck or by subconscious intent, my personal reading, professional development, and even my podcast choices have recently intersected around decision-making. I guess the universe is trying to tell me something.
This theme seemed to crystallize when I sketched out a decision tree to guide my selection of consulting projects:
As simple as it is, just having the visual gave me incredible clarity on a number of things:
Everything starts with people. Looking back on past projects, I can say with certainty that the common thread through all the enjoyable ones has been the opportunity to engage with terrific people. I half-jokingly said to some colleagues recently, I could be doing a project on underwater basket weaving and as long as I was working with awesome people, I guarantee it’d be worthwhile.
What does “awesome people” mean for me? People who ask thoughtful questions, are passionate in their pursuits, and who think expansively. People who bring laughter and a sense of humor to their work. People who are compassionate, and navigate the world from a place of possibility and generosity. And this Venn diagram from LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner does a pretty good job of short-handing the type of people I like working with, too.
My decisions reflect my values. Although the particulars of my past projects and clients have varied widely, all of them have resonated in some way with my values: contribution to community, advancement of social justice, empowerment of the underserved, and protection of the vulnerable. Certainly important work is advanced in other areas, but these are ones that ring true to my own priorities. The projects that speak to me on a visceral level are the ones that I know are echoing my values.
The opportunities that I pass up reflect my values, too. Keeping my commitments to clients and colleagues is important to me, and I work hard to ensure I don’t spread myself so thin that I sacrifice my integrity. Likewise, being able to care for my family and myself are critical to my ability to give my best to others. As a result, family and self-care retain veto power if it seems either will have to be sacrificed too much for the sake of work.
Moving from auto-pilot to intention makes a world of difference. Slowing down and taking the time to carefully consider my options allows intention, rather than inertia, to drive my decisions. And intention, in turn, has unlocked new doors that I might not have opened otherwise.
For example, intentionally seeking to “spread my wings” has made me consciously look for opportunities a bit outside of my comfort zone, which has made my project work richer and more engaging. The research nerd in me loves diving into literature reviews of unfamiliar topics, just as the practitioner in me enjoys gaining new skills to add to my consultant’s toolbox. And as research suggests, recent opportunities to lead trainings and workshops have proved invaluable in advancing my learning, not only because facilitation pushes me to know the content better than before, but also because the questions and perspectives that participants share grow my own knowledge base.
Admittedly, being a consultant offers me a degree of decision-making privilege that many jobs don’t. And yet, it holds true that regardless of our occupation—or our demographics, or any other factors that “define” us—our decisions reflect our values. One question I keep asking myself is, How can I better align my decisions with my values? The decision tree above is one step toward figuring that out in my professional life.
What’s your decision tree, whether in your professional or your personal life? How does understanding your decision-making filters help clarify the values you bring to your work?