They are the lucky ones.
The ones who knew from primary school what they were going to do for the rest of their lives.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” the teacher would ask.
They answered with certainty: a doctor, a teacher, an artist.
Twenty years later, they are saving lives, teaching algebra and covered in paint.
They are the lucky ones.
For the rest (and most) of us, we left school behind, maybe attended university, maybe graduated, maybe got a job, but are left still wondering, still looking, still trying to peek around the next corner to see what the rest of our lives hold in store.
In looking back to my early twenties, I’ve realised that three questions dominated my thinking at that time:
- “What am I going to do for the rest of my life?”
- “Where do I belong?”
- “Who am I?”
I’m not alone. These questions will be all too familiar. We stress out about them, pray through them, exhaust ourselves examining them, and sometimes get completely lost in them.
In conversations with others in their 20s, these three questions always seem to raise their anxious heads – we can’t seem to escape them.
I’ve always wondered if there is a better way to ask these questions. Or is there another set of questions that we should be asking?
Enter, Peter F. Drucker[i].
Drucker identifies that most people do not know where they belong until they were well after their mid-twenties. No kidding.
Yet he steps back and asks a set of three questions that are foundational as we look to our future; questions that come before the questions we find ourselves desperately trying to answer.
So often we find ourselves asking the three anxiety-riddled questions, without doing important groundwork beforehand and we end up stuck. In Drucker’s three foundational questions, we are able to approach the three anxious questions from another angle.
They are the questions before the questions.
- What are my strengths?
Identifying what our strengths are, what we naturally do well is hugely significant and should be where our focus lies. We mustn’t waste our time trying to make ourselves something that we aren’t.
Drucker states: “Waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence.”
Being as self-deprecating as we are, we have a fair grasp on what we’re not good at. Instead of kicking ourselves about that, why not invest in identifying our strengths by asking people what they see in us, building feedback into our rhythm, taking a test, taking risks on opportunities we reckon could work for us. From there, build on your strengths.
- How do I perform?
Being aware of how you get stuff done to the best of your ability is important. We are fearfully, wonderfully and uniquely made and with that, we can’t stretch ourselves to engage in work, processes, adventures that simply don’t fit with who we are. Knowing how we perform and act in such a way as to line up with our character will help us see that there are certain roles and tasks that line up with who we are, and some that are made for someone else.
Asking good questions will help clarify how you best perform.
Do you work better in a team or by yourself? How do you cope under stress? Do you need freedom or instruction to work most effectively? Are you a big picture person or a process person?
- What are my values?
Your personal values are the framework that influences your behaviour. Knowing what you value most is foundational – once you are aware of the framework, opportunities that line up with our values can be pursued. Or, we can with clarity reject opportunities that don’t line up well.
Drucker’s three foundational questions must come before the three anxious questions. They build a platform from which we can ask the big questions. They bring clarity to who we are and what we are to do.
Drucker puts it like this:
“Most people do not really know where they belong until they are well past their mid-20s. By that time however, they should know what their strengths are, they should know how they perform and they should know what their values are. And then, they can and should decide where they belong, or rather, they should be able to decide where they do not belong. Knowing answers to these questions enables people to say to an opportunity, ‘Yes, I’ll do that. But this is the way I should be doing it, because this is who I am.’”
Ask the big anxious questions, yet ask them with a greater sense of who you are. Invest in yourself today, for in doing so you will truly invest in your future.
And in all things, known and unknown, constantly and consistently have faith in the One who is constantly and consistently leading us into His purposes.
[i] Drucker is regarded as one of the most influential thinkers and writers around management, corporations and leadership. The above references are from ‘Know Your Strengths and Values’, by Peter F. Drucker in ‘The Essential Drucker’, 2011