“To conquer frustration, one must remain intensely focused on the outcome, not the obstacles.”
“Begin with the end in mind.”
Your core values, or singularities, qualify you to fulfill your purpose in life.
I had no idea what I wanted to do after getting my Ph.D. The best description I could come up with for my future was “something else”. My entire life had been geared toward either working with patients as a clinician or doing cancer research as a professor. However, as my last few years of Graduate school unfolded, I came to realize that neither option was a good fit for me. All of the residents and young medical doctors I knew worked 80 hour weeks, running circles in the hospital with cheap cups of coffee attached to their lips. Likewise, all the post-docs and assistant professors I knew lived in 10-foot by 10-foot prison cells called labs, repeating experiments and writing grant proposals that failed to get funded 93% of the time. The worst part was everyone was unhappy.
I needed to find a new name for my future. I had spent 23 years in school to be a doctor and the future that confronted me looked bleak. As a result, I started to entertain new options. The first question I asked was, “What am I qualified to do?” I made a list of the skills I had acquired in the past and the skills I was currently using. Next, I tried to find a job that was in line with my qualifications. Here’s what I came up with: post-doc, professor, clinician, and intellectual property lawyer. I actually considered the latter until I found out that I needed a law degree in addition to my Ph.D. Finally, I realized that none of the options I came up with would allow me to generate influence and increase happiness in a way that satisfied me.
What did I want to do? Why couldn’t I figure it out? The problem was that I was trying to work forward. I was trying to use the things I had done in the past and the things I was currently doing to name my future. What I needed to do was name my future and adjust what I was doing to get there. Instead of focusing on my qualifications, I needed to focus on my aspirations and work backwards to align my qualifications.
Once I found a name for my goal, the path to achieving it became clear. After failing to figure out my future by working forward, I started to work backward. I made a list of the things I wanted to be doing in my future. In other words, I made a wish list of actions. Some of these actions included traveling the world, speaking in front of an audience, teaching, building professional relationships, pushing the cutting edge of technology, learning from a variety of scientific disciplines, and working from home. Next, I searched for a position, or job title, that would allow me to consistently take those actions. This process was inspiring and helped me generate confidence in my future. Eventually, after several months of attending seminars and conferences, scouring the Internet, and reading industry articles, I came across the phrase “Application Scientist”. Two weeks later, a privately held company offered me a contract to be an Application Scientist.
The hardest part of achieving your goal is naming it. If you can name it, you can do it. My last several posts have focused on finding your purpose of living. There is no use in reading an further until you have named a purpose. Once named, you can align your core values, or singularities, in a way that will bring you closer to achieving your goal. The relationship between your purpose in life and your singularities is the same as the relationship between a job title and your job qualifications. Your singularities qualify you for your purpose. And just as you can adapt or add to your job qualifications to make yourself a better job candidate, you can adapt or add to your singularities to make yourself a better candidate for fulfilling your purpose in life.
Your singularities become your priorities. After I identified the job title “Application Scientist”, I was able to identify the best qualifications for fulfilling an Application Scientist’s job requirements. Some of these qualifications, like software development, were brand new. Others, like public speaking, simply needed to be refreshed and brought to the forefront of my skillset. The key is that aligning my qualifications was easy once I knew the name of the position I wanted. In fact, I was able to align them in a couple of weeks. Similarly, you can change your singularities to better qualify you for any new position you want to attain in life. This is the power of focus. By turning your attention to the skillset you need to achieve your purpose, your entire life will rearrange itself to foster that purpose. For example, if you’re currently working as a bartender and want to be a famous comedian, you better add “humor” to your list of singularities, or bump it up to the top of the list. Only then will achieving your goal be possible.
Do not underestimate the ability of a simple word to change your life. One word, chosen by you to represent a singularity, can affect every decision you make and every action you take. The words you choose to name your singularities will relentlessly pull your attention towards them and ultimately influence the overall direction of your life. In my next post, I’ll show you how to set your singularities so that they are aligned with your purpose in life.