“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, American writer and Philosopher.
Independence has always been a part of the American character, from frontiersmen hacking farms out of the wilderness to modern-day entrepreneurs hacking niches out of the marketplace. As a nation, we’re well aware of this; after all, this is the Land of Opportunity, where rags-to-riches stories are a dime a dozen.
As the statesman William Jennings Bryan once pointed out, “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.” Bryan is a case in point, a man born to relatively modest means who graduated as valedictorian of his college in 1881, then went on to serve as Secretary of State later in life. He also served in the House of Representatives for Illinois’ 1st District from 1891-1895, and stood three times as the Democratic Party’s candidate for President of the United States. A brilliant speechmaker and dedicated populist, he was also a devout Christian who believed in the dictum “The Lord helps those who helps themselves” rather than a placid acceptance of all that happens as the Lord’s will.
Your Destiny, Your Hands
I’m equally convinced your destiny is yours to mold, wherever you are in your career. Once you reach a leadership position at work, I also believe you’re best off hitching yourself to your company’s star, aligning your goals and your team’s with the organization’s in such a way you all advance together. To do that, you’ll need a strong personal mission statement, based on your core values, and you’ll have to take certain steps to make your dreams come true.
Try these suggestions for setting your mission and achieving your destiny.
1. Aim High. Don’t just decide you’ll settle for middle management for the rest of your working life. While there’s nothing wrong with middle management, you’ll be more motivated to succeed if you chose an inspiring mission. Decide you want to be president of the company…or, like Bryan, the President of the United States. He didn’t achieve that goal, but he never gave up—and he did help shape U.S. government policy for decades. You can extend this standard of excellence to everyone on your team once you have one.
2. Get real. Having accepted the above, realize you’re probably not going to become an astronaut if you don’t bust your hump taking tough math and science courses in college, then forge a distinguished career in one of the armed services as a pilot. Similarly, you’re unlikely to become the next Einstein if you can’t grasp calculus. Be realistic about what you can achieve given your physical and intellectual capabilities, as well as any talents you may have—and always work hard. When you become a leader, take a long look at the talent you have to work with on your team, and shape them toward the best possible alignment with the company’s intended destiny.
3. Root out negativity. Whether it comes in the form of negative self-talk or a disgruntled employee, negativity is toxic, a venomous snake you don’t want to encounter on the road toward your best destiny. Realism about your destiny is one thing; refusing to try when there’s nothing stopping you, or listening to naysayers, is another. Be cautious, yes; but don’t give up when you don’t have to. Even though Bryan never won the Presidency, he always had a chance, so he kept trying…and eventually, he landed the plum role of Secretary of State.
4. Match your core values with your organization’s. We all know it’s possible to pay lip service to an organization’s core values in order to get ahead; we see it happening every day. But if you don’t believe in your employer’s core values, how can you ever get where you want to go? Eventually your values and theirs will diverge, possibly sharply; and you’ll face the need to either part ways, or betray your core values in favor of theirs. It’s best to decide to stay true to yourself in the first place, and keep looking until you find a match. At the team level, make the organization’s core values known, and shape the team to fit them.
5. Interlace your personal brand with your organization’s. Now, I’m not telling you to subjugate your destiny to the organization’s; but while you work within an organization, be of that organization. Your vision need not perfectly match your organization’s as long as they overlap in most places, though they must align in general. As you develop your personal and team missions, grow in the areas necessary to better match what you know of the company’s values, mission, and vision. Meanwhile, help your people do the same.
The Right Road
As the caterpillar told Alice in Wonderland, “If you do not know where you are going, any road will get you there.” But you’re not dandelion fluff, forced to go where the wind takes you. Choose your own best destiny, connect with a compatible organization to help you get there, and help your workplace team do the same. If you’re happy in your job, I suspect a quick review of your organization’s core values and mission will reveal that you’ve already aligned yours with theirs, either fortuitously or subconsciously. Now it’s just a matter of keeping your eye on the prize, shaping your team to succeed, and pushing forward with a flexible and agile methodology that gets you ahead and keeps you there.
So, what’s your destiny…or have you decided yet? What else can you suggest to help achieve it?